Week Seven: Suicide, Handout Two
A Cross Cultural View
Two most fundamental, psychological reasons for suicide, cross-culturally
Feeling lack of self-worth
Feeling a lack of control over one’s own life and destiny (i.e, not being able to do what your soul
wants to do)
Suicide is one of the areas where Western and non-Western thinking sharply diverge
CAVEAT: Be careful when looking cross-culturally at worldwide religions and philosophies.
There is much variation in large groups.
Cross-cultural suicide statistics
Global suicide rate: 14.5 per 100,000.
Middle East and Orient: suicide rate have two peaks: adolescence and old age
½ million suicides reported each year in India; 5-9 million Indians reported to attempt suicide each
Indian teens have highest rate in world (in Tamil Nadu, for young women 15-19 years old, is 148 per
This is reverse of most countries and cultures, where young men are more likely to complete suicide
attempt – men 3x more likely to kill themselves.
Brief look at attitudes in major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam
Both Hinduism and Buddhism: To kill oneself because one is unhappy with life, saddened by loss of
love—is wrong. One must accept life as it is.
Buddhism: suicide leads to greater pain and frustration in next lifetime.
This is not to say one must accept all pain and suffering. Buddhists have a term, “idiot
compassion,” to refer to misplaced compassion – do not, for example, excuse spousal abuse and
allow it to continue.
Hinduism: The Upanishads state, “He who takes his self [life] reaches after death sunless regions
covered with darkness.” Suicide is permitted for
Drowning oneself at the sacred confluence of the Ganges and Jumuna rivers
Wandering and starving during old age
Those with an incurable or painful disease
Suttee (also called sati) – widow immolation
Hunger strikes for political purposes
Suicide is strictly forbidden because Islam stresses predestination: “No mischance chanceth
either on earth or in your own persons, but ere we created them, it was in the Book [of our
eternal decrees] – for easy is this to God.” (Qur’an 57:22)
“O believers! (…) commit not suicide—of a truth God is merciful to you. And whoever
shall do this maliciously and wrongfully, we will in the end cast him into the fire; for this is
easy with God." (Qur'an 4:29-30)
Look at suicide in Japan; Kerala, India; and among indigenous peoples
, Reading Packet One)