Question: Can someone please tell me what happens to those who commit suicide?
The scriptures state that one who commits suicide will have to remain as a ghost for the period of time that one’s body was supposed to exist. A ghost is nothing but a person with no physical body. According to the sankhya system, our body is made up of two coverings, the sukshma-sharira (subtle body) and the sthula-sharira (gross body). The gross body is made up of the panca-bhutas (earth, water, fire, air and ether), and the subtle body is made up of the mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and identification (ahankara). It is the subtle body which accompanies the soul into the next body at the time of death.
The gross physical body has a particular duration of existence based on one’s prarabdha karma. When one commits suicide, one brings one’s physical body to an end prior to it having completed it’s alloted time. One’s next body is prepared in the akasha, ready to manifest at the end of one’s alloted time (the normal death of one’s physical body).
Thus if one was supposed to live for 100 years, one’s next body will be waiting for you after that 100 years. If for some reason one were to commit suicide at the age of 50, then one’s next body will not be ready, and one will remain in an ethereal state until the ballance 50 years of existence pass.
This state of existing as a ghost is a great suffering for the individual, as they lack the senses through which to act. The desires to act remain, as the mind, intelligence and identification of the subtle body are still existing. But lacking a physical body with senses, it becomes impossible to satisfy the desires one has. This leads to a hellish state of existence for the soul.
One may deliver a friend or relative from this ethereal existence, and put them back on their path, by performing Vishnu puja. This is known as the shraddha ceremony, wherein food is sanctified by offering it to Vishnu, and the remnants are offered to the forefathers for their purification. If any of the forefathers had been in such a ghostly situation, they would become delivered by receiving the blessings of Vishnu prasadam. For those who are unable to perform the sraddha ceremony, the chanting of Vishnu’s names should be performed, either in japam or through group bhajana. Govinda-nama-sankirtana is the most powerful method of delivering one’s friends and forefathers from negative circumstances, both while they are living and after.