Eastern vs. Western Views of Death and Suicide

Updated on March 23, 2018

There is some debate about death and especially what happens to you if you commit suicide. The first examines the typical Christian attitude that taking ones life is a major sin and hell would be the result. The other more literal one actually proclaims that hell might be layers under lithosphere(top-layer of Earth) that are lava and full of some negative energy. If hell is below the Earth's first layer does that mean Heaven means floating out in space?

I am writing this hub to give an Eastern perspective of death with a special focus on Japanese suicide. I am not advocating for either one but something in the middle. While I view human life as a good westerner as precious, I also respect the Buddhist idea of reincarnation. So I will argue for both and use Chrisitan and Buddhists ideas together.

First lets look at the Japanese long history of suicide. It has never been a sin to commit suicide in Japan. It is quite the opposite. Suicide in Japan is about shame. In the west suicide is about guilt and sin. The Japanese feel that if they shame themselves or their family then dishonor has occurred and some sacrifice must be made. At least in Japanese society people are aware of their own faults and try to redeem themselves and take this responsibility to the death.

Japanese, especially the Samurai, glorified and romanticized the idea of suicide in Japan. For the Samurai everything was about honor and duty. He existed only for these two qualities and so if he failed his high standard of living he must end his life. This is also known as losing face. Roxanne Russel states this in a her thesis paper.

"Historically,suicide has been the primary means of showing one’s innocence, regaining lost honor, and saving face for a past transgression."(http://vcas.wlu.edu/VRAS/2005/Russell.pdf)

During World War II the western world experienced this sort of glorified samurai attitude in the form of the Kamikazi. It was not just the pilots who honored their country. The Japanese generals committed suicide because they felt that they had failed in the war so they were shamed or dishonored.

The Buddhist advocates that there is no individual soul that retains a particuluar identity. It seems as if this is a loose issue because the Tibet Buddhist look for the Dali Lama while he is a child by letting him look over a number of items. If the child chooses the previous Dali Lamas items then he is identified as the reincarnated Lama. This might add to the ability to end ones life without any consequence to that soul. Buddhism also promotes reincarnation, the idea that the soul lives more than one life. I think this part is a little unclear and the Japanese Buddhists manipulate the doctrine to fit their cultural view of suicide. Buddhist have the belief that there is a wheel of birth, life and death also called Saṃsāra. Life is suffering. To get off the wheel, and to not reincarnate again one must reach enlightenment. So if a person committed suicide one would have the mark of suicide on their soul and thus would not have been englightened. The end result is one would have to come back, continue the wheel of life and suffer some more. So instead of the Christian view of suffering in hell, the Buddhist view is that you come back into the Earthly existence because you have not reached englightment and until one understands the nature of suffering which is attachment to desires then you will reincarnate again and again. One unclear part of Buddhism is that if the soul is not eternal- with a distinct underlying sameness throughtout each incarnation then why does it continue to return to Earthly experience without enlightenment?

I believe that if a person takes their life then they will suffer greatly when they cross over from life to death, but it will not be the hell fire of the Bible or a layer of Earth underneath us. I do believe the soul will be in a sort of darkness, an absence of light depending on their state of mind and heart when they committed suicide. I think committing suicide because you think you dishonored yourself and or your family is different than someone who is deep depression and loaths themselves. Their is a different intent per culture or for each individual and I think this matters. I believe it will be something like in the movie "What Dreams May Come" where the wife is in a sort of hell of her own making, but that people of light are sent to help the soul understand their actions and thus they can be released from their own self-imposed bondage. I do believe in the wheel of birth, life and death, Saṃsāra - that we reincarnate and this suicide act would stay with us until we learned to forgive ourselves and to release the pain.

The Christian or Western point of view is that suicide is a sin and that one will be punished accordingly after they die. Taking ones life is against god and so you must suffer for your actions. The western world psychology is one of guilt, shame and failure and thus one has no options and takes his or her own life. The Christians judge the person as a sinner and sometimes refuse to give the last rites to the dead. They will spend eternity in hell paying for their choice to take their own life.

Ultimately we are spiritual beings first and we decided to have an Earthly experience where our vibration is decreased to expereince something very specific. Life and death are an illusion for learning. If death was not here we would not take life so seriously, and we would not pretend so hard. Death makes life precious, but it should not be feared. It is all quite amazing.

I say these things with my intellectual understanding but when someone dies, like my father too early, I was torn into tiny pieces. I felt that I am wandering inside myself picking up the shreds of my heart trying to put it all back together with only some scotch tape. My heart doesn't beat the same, it is eternally broken. So one foot is in flesh and bone and one foot is striving to understand the higher purpose. It is not an easy task, but my father taught me well. He was my teacher of all these metaphysical ideas. He did not commit suicide but left this Earth in quite a hurry. Sadness was in his heart, but also a wisdom to know it was a time to go.


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    • profile image

      Nick Wolf 

      5 years ago

      Hello, Kori Lee, I wanted to ask if I could use a few of your opinions for a paper I am currently writing? Also, could you tell me the year you wrote this? Thanks in advance! :)

    • Raine Law Yuen profile image

      Raine Law Yuen 

      5 years ago from Cape Town

      Thanks Kori Lee for your insightful post. I explore the intersections between East and West in my writing so its always interesting to understand the insights of others.

    • Kori Lee F.P. profile imageAUTHOR

      Kori Lee F.P. 

      7 years ago from Northern Arizona

      I don't control Google and what they post. I do not make any money with this writing. It is only one view point. I never advocated that it was the absolute truth. The original intention of this writing was to address the levels of hell and how I did not think it was an Earthy place. This is a cultural and or religious perspective only.

    • profile image

      a pissed off learner 

      7 years ago

      Why is Google only showing me websited like this? Standard templated with somebody who knows absolutely nothing about a subject but who earns a living trying to appear to.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Let's say that any change in one's viewpoint is similar, whether through a trip to Maui, a walk down the block, or one's life ending. Any of these events change one's view of things. The difference in any viewpoint change is introduction of areas that one was not conscious existed. Leaving a life form may be different than a casual stroll.

      Regardless, the more conscious one is of where one is, the more conscious one will be of where one is going. One has a better understanding of context.You can know \where the next ride is in Disneyland or you can wander around looking for it. That is about the level of importance dying has, no matter how it happens. My opinion. Just have fun and things will likely work out okay.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      Amy DeMarco 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Very interesting to learn of different cultures and their beliefs in death / suicide. I don't believe in hell and I don't think people are punished for committing suicide. I like the Buddhist idea that we begin the cycle of life again after commiting such an act. It seems to make a little more sense. This hub is well written and very thought provoking! Voted up.

    • Kori Lee F.P. profile imageAUTHOR

      Kori Lee F.P. 

      10 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Thanks Andrew for the suggestion. I put your link in Japanese Kanji and English. Good idea. Do you think I was accurate in my reasoning or off? Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Andrew Grimes 

      10 years ago

      I would like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles dealing with mental health issues in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

      Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

      Japan: 0120-738-556

      Tokyo: 3264 4343

      AMDA International Medical Information Center:


      Tokyo Counseling Services:




    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Your offereings are a joy; pure and simple. As I heard it told once: if one were to give their life in a selfless act of protection, that is not suicide, but to take one's life out of desperation throws away the greatest gift of the Universe: life, and you will have to balance that negative Karma in another lifetime. I love reading your Hubs. You have an ardent fan. Be well, always.


    • robert.lipscombe profile image


      10 years ago

      thank you for sharing your experiences, a very interesting article, it gets you thinking.....


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