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death with equanimity

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INTRODUCTION

0.1 The Subject –

Underlining the concept of eternality of the soul and its reincarnation after death or rebirth after death in a particular life and body, Śrīmad Bhagvadgītā says, “The ones that are born certainly die and the ones that die are certainly “re” born.”i As long as the soul remains in mundane existence, the death is a certainty for any living being. However, though death is such a natural phenomenon for every creature, no one takes it so naturally. The literature in all languages, the scriptures of all religions and preachers of all faiths have vexed themselves eloquent to emphasise the inevitability of death but, at the same time they have also said that the death is one of the most fearsome, painful, sorrowful, miserable and frightening happening. The Uttarādhyayana says that birth, death, decay and disease are sorrows, the mundane existence itself is full of sorrow, where the living beings feel miserable.”ii In the same vein Ādi Śaṅkarācārya says that repeated births and deaths and lying in the wombs of mothers is very painful.iii

It has, therefore, been the endeavour of all the great and noble saints and prophets down the ages to find a way to free the living beings in general and the humanity in particular from this pain, sorrow and misery. Almost all the faiths and creeds propounded and preached by all of them have incorporated ways to achieve the eternal existence in a state of supreme bliss that can only be attained through cessation of the cycle of births, deaths and rebirths, ad infinitum. The very fear of death is enough to make any living being, however strong, feel miserable when the death approaches him at the end of his life. The Jaina preceptors have thought of a unique way of overcoming this fear and, thereby, to overcome the attendant misery. They have made this inevitable event welcome by developing a state of mental equanimity at the time of death and actually approaching death voluntarily in such a state of equanimity. They have been able to do this by associating voluntary death in a state of mental equanimity with shedding of karma–matter associated with the soul and, thus, projecting it as a means to achieve spiritual emancipation and final deliverance. This concept is unique to the Jaina creed and is popularly known as Samādhimaraṇa or Peaceful death. This thesis is devoted to a critical examination of this unique concept of the Jainas and also to juxtaposing it with the Buddhist thought on the issue of death – voluntary or otherwise. While doing so the work also dwells on the issues of the other forms of voluntary deaths such as suicide, euthanasia, Icchā–mṛtyu, honour–death, etc and compares and contrasts them with the concept of Samādhimaraṇa.

The question arises as to what can be termed as Samadhimaraṇa? What distinguishes it from other non–violent forms of voluntary death? The SaṁstārakaPrakīrṇaka says that the one whose body, mind and vocal faculties have become lax; who has risen above attachment and aversion; who is free from three spiritual stings of pride, desire and falsehood; who has conquered four great passions of anger, pride, guile and greed; who always refrains from four types of gossip – talks about matters of food, state, country and women; who steadfastly observes five great vows of non–violence, truthfulness, non–stealing, sexual continence and non–accumulation; who is five–way well comported; who abstains from killing or hurting six categories of creatures; who is free from seven types of fears; who is without eight types of prides; who observes nine disciplines of celibacy; who flawlessly observes ten monastic duties and shuns company successfully mounts the bed “Saṁstāraka” of peaceful death or Samādhimaraṇa. On the contrary, the Saṁstāraka of one who is proud, does not regret and repent for his faults in front of his spiritual master, is of corrupt view and of lax conduct is flawed. That is, he does not reap the benefit of the ritual gone through.iv

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