Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sex or Death: Robin Willams' "suicide" (video)

Editors, Wisdom Quarterly; Mork; Maurice O'Connell Walshe "Buddhism and Death"

Is it funny (autoerotic asphyxiation)? Is it heavy (depression)? Sex or suicide? The loss of comedic genius, hyper-kinetic former coke-fiend and alcohol abuser Robin "Mork" Williams comes as a shock to us all. He was a funny stand up, an over-the-top Oscar-winning actor, and all around Hollywood icon. The coroner does not say he was "fully clothed" but leaves it at that, which sound erotic. But what if it was suicide?

The Great Unmentionable
(Nadeem Mayhar/flickr.com)
It is sometimes said that DEATH today has replaced SEX as "The Great Unmentionable." And certainly it is, for most people, an uncomfortable subject which they do not care to think much about.

Yet, if there is one thing that is certain in life it is that we shall all die, sooner or later. There was once a creed that declared: "Millions Now Living Will Never Die," and it had great appeal -- but all those who first heard it proclaimed are now dead. [The great appeal of New Testament Christianity is the promise of "eternal life," one of the three things living being crave and suffer over.]

So we all have to face death, whether we like it or not. And we all know it, however we may try to forget the fact. Let us, then, at least for a while, stop trying to forget it and look death straight in the face....

Though there is a strong fear of death, there is, strangely enough, also a desire for it.
  • [In Buddhism "craving" (tanha) refers to three things -- sensual desire, for continued being, and for annihilation, all of which lead to frustration and disappointment.]
Psychoanalysis has much to say about this, though it is perhaps not very illuminating. But the fact remains that many people show suicidal tendencies, or even actually commit suicide, whatever be the explanation.

The Buddha in fact included this "death-wish" as the third of three kinds of craving: besides desire for sense-pleasures, we find in the formula of the second of the Four Noble Truths the desire for becoming (bhava-tanha) and the desire for cessation (vibhava-tanha).

Why annihilation? Since life is -- by its very nature -- frustrating, we can never get it on our own terms; therefore, there is an urge to quit the whole thing. The fallacy, of course, lies in the fact that one will not just get off the carousel so easily. Why? Death by suicide, like any other death, is followed immediately by rebirth in some plane of existence or other -- quite possibly in one worse than this one.

The traditional Christian view is that suicide is a "mortal sin" -- with the implication that it would be a case of "out of the frying-pan and into the fire."

Some psychoanalysts speak -- ignorantly -- of the "Nirvana-principle" in connection with the death-wish. But what we are here dealing with is not in fact the urge for true liberation, but merely an escapist-reaction to disappointment, frustration, and suffering of all kinds.

Sign or cry, but death is no escape.
[What is this "suffering" (dukkha) Buddhism speaks so much of? The Buddha defined it as: "Now this, meditators, is the ennobling truth of suffering: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, DEATH is suffering; sorrow, lamentation (crying), pain (illness), grief, and despair (losing hope) are suffering; coming into contact with the unloved is suffering; separation from the loved is suffering; not getting what we want is suffering. In brief, the Five Aggregates that are clung to are suffering."]

Only if by insight more profound than that of the Freudians, this revulsion is followed by complete equanimity can it be turned towards the supramundane, which is the goal (nirvana) of Buddhism. This will not happen spontaneously.

It should be noted that the "death-wish" here referred to is associated in Buddhism with the "heresy of annihilationism" already mentioned.

Robin Williams reaching out to his wife in hell with appreciation and regret in this clip from 1998's modern version of Dante's Inferno, "What Dreams May Come"

[This is the belief that death brings annihilation, the wrong view of scientists and materialists that there is nothing further at death by the demise of the physical body. This is a pernicious view that leads to much suffering here and hereafter, but by holding to the wrong view that there will be no hereafter, people who hold this view do not worry about the consequences. BEFORE they die, they are sure to realize that there is more to come. Of course, by then it's really late to do or think anything about it other than regret. This is why the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths and showed the path to making an end of ALL suffering, which does not happen with simple death. Some may rejoice that we do not die, but we do in a sense because this personality, this ego, this name, body, karmic result, these relations, these abilities are all hurtling toward destruction; it will not survive. Something will but not I, me, and mine. Death is certain, and rebirth is worse as it insures that there is more suffering and disappointment to come, sometimes much worse depending on the karma, our deeds of body-speech-and-mind, we make now.]

In a somewhat aggressive form it can even serve to mask repressed fear of death. This would seem to explain the vehemence with which people like Dr. Ernest Jones assert the desirability of their anti-survivalist views. By way of curiosity, it may be mentioned that a distinguished biologist has gone on record as declaring that whether or not we believe in survival is entirely determined by our genes, which is pushing determinism pretty far. More

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