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Death and Suicide in Sri Lanka

Author(s): Rev. Kekanadare Dhammasiri
Date Authored: June 01, 2002

In most Buddhist countries the suicide death rates are not very high. Unfortunately, in my country Sri Lanka, the suicide rate has gone up. In 1980, we turned to an open economic system. Before that time, the suicide rate was very low. With the new economy, society started to change. Many people went overseas to find jobs. They came back and mixed Buddhism with other concepts. The suicide rate went up. But still, our idea is that we never allow suicide; we are against it. Unfortunately, it does happen.

In Sri Lanka, people donate the bodies to medical colleges. A monk may sign a document that says "don't do any special ceremony for me when I die." The monk offers his body to science. There is no objection to autopsy. It is up to the medical person. The family is more concerned about organ donation, and in Asia, many people donate eyes.

In my country, a family is very happy to bring the body of a loved one home. They keep the body at home for at least three days. If family members are overseas and will return home, sometimes the body is kept for seven days. Monks' bodies are kept four to six days. Now, this custom is changing. The time limit is a very personal, family choice.

Some educated people write wills that say to take care of the body within 24 hours, to have no ceremony, to not spend anything, and to donate money to some mentioned organization. Some monks don't allow themselves to be put in a casket. They ask to be cremated, not buried. Previously in Sri Lanka, burials weren't done on Tuesday and Friday. Now this has changed. That which they do in the Vietnamese community, to contact the monk and find out advice for burial time, is different than anything that happens in Sri Lanka. The family brings the body home and invites the monk to come to the home on the last day. The monk comes to the house, follows the body to the burial place, and then does the final rights.