IS SUICIDE A CRIME?
A LETTER AND A REPLY
THE writer in the London Spiritualist
for November, who calls the "Fragments of Occult
Truth" speculation-spinning, can hardly, I
think, apply that epithet to Fragment No.
3, so cautiously is the hypothesis concerning suicide
advanced therein. Viewed in its general aspect,
the hypothesis seems sound enough, satisfies our instincts
of the Moral Law of the Universe, and fits in with our
ordinary ideas as well as with those we have derived from science.
The inference drawn from the two cases cited, viz.,
that of the selfish suicide on the one hand, and of the
unselfish suicide on the other, is that, although
the after-states may vary, the result is invariably bad,
the variation consisting only in the degree of punishment.
It appears to me that, in arriving at this conclusion,
the writer could not have had in his mind's eye all the possible
cases of suicide, which do or may occur. For I maintain
that in some cases self-sacrifice is not only justifiable,
but also morally desirable, and that the result of such
self-sacrifice cannot possibly be bad. I will put one case,
perhaps the rarest of all rare cases, but not necessarily
on that account a purely hypothetical one, for I KNOW
at least one man, in whom I am interested, who is
actuated with feelings, not dissimilar to these I shall
now describe, and who would be deeply thankful for any
additional light that could be thrown on this darkly mysterious
subject.--(See Editor's Note I
Suppose, then, that an individual, whom I
shall call M., takes to thinking long and deep on the vexed
questions of the mysteries of earthly existence, its aims,
and the highest duties of man. To assist his thoughts,
he turns to philosophical works: notably those dealing
with the sublime teachings of Buddha. Ultimately he arrives
at the conclusion that the FIRST and ONLY
aim of existence is to be useful to our fellow men; that
failure in this constitutes his own worthlessness as a sentient
human being, and that by continuing a life of worthlessness
he simply dissipates the energy which he holds in trust,
and which, so holding, he has no right to fritter
away. He tries to be useful, but--miserably and
deplorably fails. What then is his remedy? Remember there
is here "no sea of troubles" to "take arms against,"
no outraged human law to dread, no deserved earthly punishment
to escape; in fact, there is no moral cowardice
whatever involved in the self-sacrifice. M. simply
puts an end to an existence which is useless, and which
therefore fails of its own primary purpose. Is his act
not justifiable? Or must he also be the victim of that transformation
into spook and pisacha, against which Fragment
No. 3 utters its dread warning? (2.)
Perhaps, M. may secure at the next birth more favourable
conditions, and thus be better able to work out the purpose
of Being. Well, he can scarcely be worse;
for, in addition to his being inspired by a laudable motive
to make way for one who might be more serviceable, he has
not, in this particular case, been guilty of any
moral turpitude. (3.)
But I have not done. I go a step further and say that M.
is not only useless, but positively mischievous.
To his incapacity to do good, he finds that he adds a somewhat
restless disposition which is perpetually urging him on to
make an effort to do good. M. makes the effort--he
would be utterly unworthy the name of man if he did not make it--and
discovers that his incapacity most generally leads him into errors
which convert the possible good into actual evil; that,
on account of his nature, birth, and education,
a very large number of men become involved in the effects of his
mistaken zeal, and that the world at large suffers more
from his existence than otherwise. Now, if,
after arriving at such results, M. seeks to carry
out their logical conclusion, viz., that
being morally bound to diminish the woes to which sentient beings
on earth are subject, he should destroy himself,
and by that means do the only good he is capable of; is
there, I ask, any moral guilt involved in the act
of anticipating death in such a case? I, for one,
should certainly say not. Nay, more, I maintain,
subject of course to correction by superior knowledge,
that M. is not only justified in making away with himself,
but that he would be a villain if he did not, at once and
unhesitatingly, put an end to a life, not only useless,
but positively pernicious. (4.)
M. may be in error; but supposing he dies cherishing
the happy delusion that in death is all the good, in life
all the evil he is capable of, are there in his case no
extenuating circumstances to plead strongly in his favour,
and help to avert a fall into that horrible abyss with which your
readers have been frightened? (5.)
M.'s, I repeat, is no hypothetical case.
History teems with instances of worthless and pernicious lives,
carried on to the bitter 1 end to the ruin of nations.
Look at the authors of the French Revolution, burning with
as ardent a love for their fellowmen as ever fired the human breast;
look at them crimson with innocent blood, bringing unutterable
disasters on their country in Liberty's sacred name! apparently
how strong! in reality how pitifully weak! What a woeful result
of incapacity has been theirs? Could they but have seen with M.'s
eyes, would they not have been his prototypes? Blessed,
indeed, had it been for France, if they had anticipated
Again, look at George III. of England, a
well-meaning, yet an incapable Sovereign, who,
after reigning for a number of years, left his country
distracted and impoverished by foreign wars, torn by internal
dissensions, and separated from a kindred race across the
Atlantic, with the liberties of his subjects trampled under
foot, and virtue prostituted in the Cabinet, in
Parliament and on the Hustings. His correspondence with
Lord North and others abundantly proves that to his self-sufficiency,
well-meaning though it be, must be traced the calamities
of Great Britain and Ireland, calamities from the effects
of which the United Kingdom has not yet fully recovered.
Happy had it been for England if this ruler had, like M.,
seen the uselessness of his life and nipped it, as M.
might do, in the bud of its pernicious career!
(1.) "Inquirer" is not an Occultist, hence
his assertion that in some cases suicide "is not only justifiable,
but also morally desirable." No more than murder,
is it ever justifiable, however desirable it may sometimes
appear. The Occultist, who looks at the origin and
the ultimate end of things, teaches that the individual--who
affirms that any man, under whatsoever circumstances,
is called to put an end to his life,--is guilty d as great
an offense and of as pernicious a piece of sophistry, as
the nation that assumes a right to kill in war thousands of innocent
people under the pretext of avenging the wrong done to one.
All such reasonings are the fruits of Avidya mistaken for
philosophy and wisdom. Our friend is certainly wrong in
thinking that the writer of Fragments arrived at his conclusions
only because he failed to keep before his mind's eye all the possible
cases of suicide. The result, in one sense,
is certainly invariable; and there is but one general law
or rule for all suicides. But, it is just because
"the after-states" vary ad-infinitum, that
it is as erroneous to infer that this variation consists only
in the degree of punishment. If the result will be
in every case the necessity of living out the appointed
period of sentient existence, we do not see whence "Inquirer"
has derived his notion that "the result is invariably bad."
The result is full of dangers; but there is hope for certain
suicides, and even in many cases A REWARD
if LIFE WAS SACRIFICED TO SAVE OTHER LIVES
and that there was no other alternative for it. Let
him read para. 7, page 313, in the September
THEOSOPHIST, and reflect. Of
course, the question is simply generalized by the writer.
To treat exhaustively of all and every case of suicide and their
after-states would require a shelf of volumes from the British
Museum's Library, not our Fragments.
(2.) No man, we repeat, has a right to put
an end to his existence simply because it is useless. As
well argue the necessity of inciting to suicide all the incurable
invalids and cripples who are a constant source of misery to their
families; and preach the moral beauty of that law among
some of the savage tribes of the South Sea Islanders, in
obedience to which they put to death, with war-like honours,
their old men and women. The instance chosen by "Inquirer"
is not a happy one. There is a vast difference between
the man who parts with his life in sheer disgust at constant failure
to do good, out of despair of ever being useful,
or even out of dread to do injury to his fellow-men by remaining
alive; and one who gives it up voluntarily to save the
lives either committed to his charge or dear to him. One
is a half insane misanthrope the other, a hero and a martyr.
One takes away his life, the other offers it
in sacrifice to philanthropy and to his duty. The captain
who remains alone on board of a sinking ship; the man who
gives up his place in a boat that will not hold all,
in favour of younger and weaker beings; the physician,
the sister of charity, and nurse who stir not from the
bed-side of patients dying of an infectious fever; the
man of science who wastes his life in brain-work and fatigue and
knows he is so wasting it and yet is offering it day after
day and night after night in order to discover some great law
of the universe, the discovery of which may bring in its
results some great boon to mankind; the mother that throws
herself before the wild beast, that attacks her children,
to screen and give them the time to fly; all these are
not suicides. The impulse which prompts them thus to
contravene the first great law of animated nature--the first instinctive
impulse of which is to preserve life--is grand and noble.
And, though all these will have to live in the Kama
Loka their appointed life term, they are yet admired
by all, and their memory will live honoured among the living
for a still longer period. We all wish that, upon
similar occasions, we may have courage so to die.
Not so, surely in the case of the man instanced by "Inquirer."
Notwithstanding his assertion that "there is no moral cowardice
whatever involved" in such self-sacrifice--we call
it decidedly "moral cowardice" and refuse it the name
(3 and 4.) There is far more courage to live than to die
in most cases. If "M." feels that he is
"positively mischievous," let him retire to a
jungle, a desert island; or, what is still
better, to a cave or hut near some big city; and
then, while living the life of a hermit, a life
which would preclude the very possibility of doing mischief to
any one, work, in one way or the other, for
the poor, the starving, the afflicted. If
he does that, no one can "become involved in the effects
of his mistaken zeal," whereas, if he has the
slightest talent, he can benefit many by simple manual
labour carried on in as complete a solitude and silence as can
be commanded under the circumstances. Anything is better
even being called a crazy philanthropist--than committing
suicide, the most dastardly and cowardly of all
actions, unless the felo de se is resorted
to, in a fit of insanity.
(5.) "Inquirer" asks whether his "M."
must also be victim of that transformation into spook and
pisacha! Judging by the delineation given of his character,
by his friend, we should say that, of all suicides,
he is the most likely to become a séance-room spook.
Guiltless "of any moral turpitude," he may
well be. But, since he is afflicted with a "restless
disposition which is perpetually urging him on to make an effort
to do good"--here, on earth, there is no
reason we know of, why he should lose that unfortunate
disposition (unfortunate because of the constant failure)--in
the Kama Loka. A "mistaken zeal" is sure
to lead him on toward various mediums. Attracted by the
strong magnetic desire of sensitives and spiritualists,
"M." will probably feel "morally bound to
diminish the woes to which these sentient beings (mediums and
believers) are subject on earth," and shall once more
destroy, not only himself, but his "affinities"
Theosophist, November, 1882
"No Religion Higher Than Truth"
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