death with equanimity



(Chapter II, cont.)


2.9 Critique

This chapter deals with the concept and practice of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ as obtained in the Ardhamāgadhī Canonical works like Ācārāṅga, Sthānāṅga, Samavāyāṅga, Vyākhyāprajñapti “Bhagavatīsūtra”, Uttarādhyayanasūtra and a large number of miscellaneous treatises “Prakīrṇakas” of the Śwetāmbara tradition of the Jainas. “Section 2.1”

Arddhamāgadhī canonical works like Samavāyāṅgasūtra, Sthānāṅgasūtra,Vyākhyā–prajñapti, Uttarādhyayanasūtra and many a Prakīrṇaka mention various types of death, ranging from two types to seventeen types, that have been classified into in voluntary and involuntary deaths, noble and ignoble deaths, auspicious and inauspicious deaths, ignorant and enlightened deaths, well–considered and emergent deaths, violent and peaceful deaths, etc. Samavāyāṅgasūtra lists and describes seventeen types that cover all kinds of death. These include ten types of ignorant violent inauspicious and ignoble deaths, six of the enlightened kind and one of the mixed type. Even the voluntary well–considered deliberate and peaceful death has been sub–categorised into several kinds depending upon the rigour of the practice “Bhaktapratyākhyāna, Iṅginī or Pādapopagamana”, level of consideration before undertaking the practiceSavicāra or Avicāra”, circumstances under which it is undertaken “Niruddha, Niruddhatara or Paramaniruddha”, and the requirement of disposal of dead body or otherwise “Nirhārim or Anirhārim”. “Section 2.2”

The Śwetāmbara tradition makes a clear distinction between Sallekhanā and Santhārā “Samādhimaraṇa” that, according to the Ardhamāgadhī literature, are the preparatory penance and practice of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ respectively. “Section 2.3”

Deliberate Sallekhanā “weakening of the body and the passions by undertaking various types of external and internal penances” practices of different durations ranging from a minimum of twelve fortnights “six months” to a maximum of twelve years have been described in various works. In a deliberate and well–considered practice of Voluntary Peaceful Death, such a preparatory penance precedes the actual practice of Samādhimaraṇa by resorting to fast unto death of varying severity. These works specify different kinds of penance to be undertaken by an aspirant practitioner undertaking a twelve year–long Sallekhanā. The severity of penance varies in the first four years, the following four years, the next two years, the eleventh year and in the first and the second halves of the twelfth year. However, no such deliberate preparatory penance can be undertaken when the practice of Voluntary Peaceful Death is resorted to under emergent circumstances and there the aspirant practitioner must undertake the fast unto death, directly, by establishing himself in a state of equanimity of mind. “Section 2.4”

The end–practice of Voluntary Peaceful Death “Santhārā or Samādhimaraṇa” can be either temporary and conditional one or a permanent and unconditional one. In a temporary conditional Santhārā the fast unto death is undertaken, with a peaceful psychic disposition, in a life–threatening emergent circumstance on the condition that if the death occurred the peaceful psychic disposition and complete renunciation of food and other worldly attachments and aversions ensured a spiritually rewarding death and if the circumstance improved and the threat to life withdrew, the fast unto death could be revoked and normal life could be restored. The permanent unconditional Santhārā, in the form of a fast unto death with a peaceful psychic disposition, is undertaken either with deliberate thought or in an immitigable calamity and it is irrevocable, ending in the peaceful death of the aspirant practitioner. “Sub–section 2.52”

Like every other practice, this one is also prone to certain flaws, which must be guarded against. The flaws of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa, though differently named in different treatises, fall in these categories – desire to live on and enjoy the adulation for some more time “Jīvitāśaṁsā–prayoga”, desire to die quickly and end the pain and misery of this harsh practice soon “Maraṇāśaṁsā–prayoga”, desire to enjoy the worldly pleasures like being a king or a wealthy person in the next birth “Ihlokāśaṁsā–prayoga”, desire to enjoy other worldly pleasures such as being a heavenly god or a celestial king in the next birth “Paralok-śaṁsā–prayoga”, to recall previously enjoyed pleasures and to want to enjoy them again in future “Sukhānubandha”, to fear separation from the near and dear ones “Mitrānurāga” and to make a binding wish to be fulfilled as the fruition of this highly meritorious practice “Nidānakaraṇa”. “Sub–section 2.55” When we analyse the reasons that actuate these flaws it clearly dawn on us that at the very base of these flaws is the mundane attachment that gives rise to desires and fear and which, in turn, give rise to flawed practice.

The end–practice of fast unto death can be undertaken with different degrees of rigour. Bhaktapratyākhyāna is the least rigorous one in which the aspirant practitioner can move about wherever needed and desired and has no restrictions on taking care of his own needs or receiving the services and assistance from the others. Iṅginī, in which the aspirant practitioner restricts his movements to a predecided place only and looks after his own needs but does not avail of anyone else’s services or assistance is comparatively more rigorous one. The most rigorous practice is the Pādapopagamana wherein the aspirant practitioner does not move at all and keeps lying like a fallen tree. Also, he neither attends to his own needs nor avails of the others’ services or assistance. “Section 2.6”

The subject of Sallekhanā–Santhārā has been widely covered in the Arddhamāgadhī primary, secondary and tertiary canonical works like the Ācārāṅga, Sthānāṅga, Samavāyāṅga, etc; Uttarādhyayana and the Prakīrṇakas. In the first part of the first and foremost canonical treatise – Ācārāṅga, the eighth chapter, Vimokṣa, mentions the three kinds of long, medium and short Sallekhanā and three progressively more and more rigorous forms of Santhāra. It recounts the occasions like extreme old–age, terminal illness and emergent circumstances, either threatening life or liberty of a person or forcing him to compromise his righteous monastic or lay followers’ conduct, when the practice of Santhārā must be resorted to. It says that the qualities of restraint, knowledge, patience and detachment are essential for the successful conclusion of this most critical practice. The message of Ācārāṅga is very clear, “When the death knocks at one’s door or when it becomes impossible to live with monastic propriety, righteousness and dignity and without compromising one’s monastic vows, it is better to embrace voluntary death in accordance with scriptural dictates.”

Upāsakadaśāṅga, Antakṛddaśāṅga and Anuttaropapātikadaśānga are collections and compilations of outline life–sketches of some of the prominent lay followers and monks and nuns who practiced severe penances in their lives and culminated their practices with either of the three kinds of fasts unto death and derived great spiritual benefit resulting in their rebirths in highly enviable higher heavens or in final liberation itself.

The Uttarādhyayana is a complete scripture that covers all the four sections of the religious lore – precepts, practice, legends and cosmology. True to its name, it devotes quite a bit of its sacred space to the coverage of this most critical form of penance and end–practice. Its fifth chapter deals with two kinds of deaths – 1. Sakāma–maraṇa or voluntary deaths and 2. Akāma–maraṇa or involuntary deaths. “When the body becomes incapable of performing the duties expected of it, it is better to embrace a pious, dignified and peaceful death rather than to carry its burden only to compromise one’s righteous conduct”, it says. The thirty–sixth chapter deals with short, medium and long preparatory penance and details the procedure for a twelve year–long Sallekhanā. Besides, it also mentions five psychic dispositions – Kāndarpī, Ābhiyogī, Kilviṣī, Āsurī and Mohī – that are detrimental to the equanimity of mind and, therefore, to be shunned by the aspirant practitioners.

The Prakīrṇakas are a veritable treasure as far as the procedural details of the end–practice of Samādhimaraṇa is concerned. While some of the smaller works on the subject deal with it only cursorily, four – Maraṇasamādhi, Paryantārādhanā andtwo versions of Ārādhanāpatākā cover it in all possible details. In Maraṇasamādhi Prakīrṇaka, the concept of Samādhimaraṇa has been analysed in its fourteen sections, known as Adhikārasūtras, such as Criticism, Preparatory penance, Forgiveness, time–period, renunciation, death–bed, detachment, freedom etc.The incidents of some famous practitioners of Samādhimaraṇa such as Sanatkumāra, Gajasukumāla, disciples of Skandaka, etc. have been described. The Ārādhanāsāra “alias Paryantārādhanā” deals with the subject quite comprehensively in twenty–four sections called ‘dvāra’. They are – Sallekhanā, Sthāna, Samyak, Aṇuvrata, Guṇavrata, Pāpasthāna, Āgāra, Catuh<śaraṇa, Duṣkṛt–garhā, Sukṛt–anumodanā, Viṣaya, Saṅgha–kṣamāpanā, Caturgati Jīva–kṣamāpanā, Caityanamana, Anuṣaṣṭi, Bhāvanā, Kavaca, Śubha–dhyāna, Nidāna,Aticāra and Phala dvāras. There are two prakīrṇakas by the name of Ārādhanāpatāka. The first by an unknown Ācārya deals with the subject of Samādhimaraṇa in thirty–two dvāras similar to those mentioned in the Ārādhanāsāra. Besides some of those mentioned therein, it also mentions the considerations of Parīkṣā, Niryāmaka, Yogyatā, Agītārtha, Asṁvijña, Vasati, Saṁstāraka, Dravyadāyanā, Gaṇanisarga, Ālocanā, Pratikramaṇa and Śkrastava dvāras with obviously relevant meanings. The second Ārādhanāpatākā, by Vīrabhadrācārya, deals with the subject of Savicāra and Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna, Niruddha, Niruddhatara and Paramaniruddha Iṅginīmaraṇa and Nirhārim and Anirhārim Pādapopa–gamanamaraṇa most extensively in four sections and thirty–nine sub–sections. The first section, Parikarmavidhi Dvāra, deals with the issues like eligibility, identity, scriptural learning, humility, equanimity, unsettled residence, volitional disposition, renunciation, ascendance, thought current and weakening of the body and the passions. The second section, Gaṇasaṅkrmaṇa Dvāra deals with issues like direction, forgiving, handing over control of the monastic group to the next Ācārya, leaving own monastic group, proper search for a suitable monastic group and a good supervising Ācārya, seeking permission, testing, confession and criticism, questioning by the Niryāmaka and acceptance. The third section, Mamatva–vyuccheda Dvāra, deals with matters like confession and criticism, shelter and bed for the aspirant practitioner, qualities of the supervising master and the monks, possibility of harm to the practice, renunciation and forgiving and begging forgiveness. The fourth section, Samādhilābha Dvāra, deals with issues like preaching by the supervising master, relieving pain, providing psychic armour against revulsion and deviation, meditation, spiritual hues, result of undertaking this practice and facing death peacefully, in a state of equanimity of mind, when the moment arrives. It is clear that this prakīrṇaka covers the subject in greatest detail and in all possible aspects of this most critical practice. It compares well with forty considerations and measures mentioned in Bhagavatī Ārādhana.

Dealing with the result of undertaking the practice of Sallekhanā and the end–practice of Samādhimaraṇa, all the canonical treatises have mentioned that it undoubtedly results in liberation in the same birth or at the most in a maximum of seven to eight noble rebirths in higher heavens. “sec. 2.8”

I would like to conclude this chapter with the remark that the practice of Sallekhanā and Samādhimaraṇa was considered to be of such great importance and spiritual benefit that it was dealt with by almost all canonical works that dealt with the subject of spirit purifying penance and that Arddhamāgadhī canonical works, as a whole, cover the subject of Sallekhanā–Santhārā most comprehensively, in all possible details.

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