- a translated reprint from the Third Edition of the Lin Kok Buddhist Journal

In late March this year, there was a report on a mass suicide of members of a cult, known as "Heaven's Gate", in San Diego. Most of the victims, 21 women and 18 men, were in their 40s.

Recently, the cult stated through their web site on the Internet, "The Hale-Bopp comet's approach is our long-awaited sign. We are happy in preparing ourselves to leave this world." Many of the reported suicide victims were computer specialists. They believed that they could follow the comet to reach their ideal world.

Judging from the background of the alleged suicide victims, one could conclude that their action was not because of materialistic deprivation. Rather, their hasty depearture from this world was due to a sense of insecurity and misguided leadership.

Mankind is fragile and in order to survive needs a social environment. At a tender age, we need to be nurtured by our parents, guidance from our teachers, and mutual encouragement among fellow students. If deprived of a caring environment, a gloomy shadow will be cast over our lives. And, when we venture forth into society, we depend even more on mutual assistance among friends. Everyone has a different life experience. When we are downhearted, we need to seek help and support from others. However, we become depressed if a sense of inferiority prevents us from seeking help and we hide our anxiety and agony within ourselves. When we are successful, we consider ourselves a cut above the crowd and do not bother to be friendly with others. Therefore, we can easily drive ourselves to isolation and alienation through inferiority or superiority complex. To-day, many young people can quickly sink into loneliness and despair. This could transform their lives into a state of depression or frustration, and provoke them to pursue a fantasy of a different world. It is natural that this mind-set can lead to a strong desire for a religion. If, at that point in their lives, they are exposed to a religion with a high standard of morality, they could become enthusiastic saviours of our society.

However, if unfortunately they should encounter an eccentric with charismatic leadership, who on the one hand ingratiate himself with their pessimistic views of life, and on the other pander to their fantasy with vivid description of the existence of another world, such a leadership, by presenting himself as a father-figure and using sweet language and honeyed words, could attract a following whose aim in life are in confusion and despair. Firstly, by exploiting their blind faith, then by 'carrot-and-stick' strategies, the followers were persuaded to end their lives as a short-cut leap to their world, resulting in the tragedy of the reported mass suicide. This has caused great grief to many families and instability in our society. This trend must not be encouraged. Thus a religion must be chosen with great caution.

Buddhism teaches us how to avoid suffering and attain happiness. In the realities of life, Buddhism shows us the way to change our attitude for the better in order to achieve the ideal of "Happiness begets happiness, and relief of own suffering sparing other's suffering."

Firstly, an attitude of love is the basis for "Happiness begets happiness". Being pro-active is always more successful than being passive. Although it is fortunate to be loved, we cannot force others to give us love or material goods. Also, being able to show love is a blessing. To show love towards others is an expression of our beneficence. Our llife will be one of fulfillment and happiness. Helping others will make our life even more meaningful and precious.

Secondly, compassion can be used as guidance for "Relief of own suffering sparing other's suffering". The precept of "not to kill" is applied not only to human beings, but also includes all living creatures. Moreover, one must not commit suicide. Life is governed by the Law of Cause and Effect and serves as a vehicle for punishment or reward for deeds committed during one's previous life. It also provides an opportunity to create a future life for ourselves. If, a person cannot tolerate his present life or is impatient for change for a better environment, and he commits suicide before fulfilling his obligations in life, he will attract a negative impact by his action. Because, by committing suicide and urging others to follow, thereby planting additional seeds of criminal behaviour, he will be reborn in an even more unfavourable environment. Apart from having to continue to exhaust his outstanding retribution, he will have lost the opportunity to create for himself a bright future.

In fact, in the field of interpersonal relationship, one can often find happiness if one goes through life in a spirit of peaceful coexistence. There is no reason to shorten one's life. If we should perform as much good deeds as possible now, we will be reborn in good places.

In Buddhism, liberation refers to liberation of the mind and not to being liberated from one's body.

People who live in loneliness and despair, and long to elevate the value of their lives, should study the true teaching of Buddhism and learn the ways to relieve oneself from suffering and attain happiness. Do not waste this life.