death with equanimity



(Chapter III, cont.)

3.3114 (39) – 3.312

3.3114 The Result –

39. Phala “Result” – The release from the bondage of karma that is achieved through the practice of Sallekhanā is called its result. The result of an aspirant practitioner’s sādhanā depends on the psychic state that he maintains during his practice. The aspirants who remain in the grip of yellow spiritual hue and die therein can only hope to gain rebirths in the heavens like the Saudharma heaven etc.i Those, who remain in the grip of the lotus hue gain rebirths in higher heavens like the Lokāntika, Graivaiyaka and Anuttaravimānasii and those who die in the colourless spiritual state attain the supreme accomplishment of final liberation. Such a kṣapaka becomes enlightened, gains omniscience and omnivision in the form of infinite pure knowledge “Kevalajñāna” and infinite vision “Kevaladarśana” and, with time, on exhausting his four non destructive types of karma, he liberates from the mundane existence and becomes ultimately accomplished “Siddha” supreme soul.iii

3.3115 The Final Ritual –

40. Parityāga “Disposal” – When an aspirant practitioner of Sallekhanā “kṣapaka” passed away on completing his practice, his dead body was to be watched over and required to be disposed of very carefully in accordance with the instructions laid down in the scriptures.iv

These rituals concerned the looking after the dead body, tying it up to the carrying palanquin and preventing it from becoming stiff due to the setting in of rigour–mortis until morning if the kṣpaka passed away during the night and performing the final rites of carrying to the disposal ground and placing it on a well prepared niṣidhikā in the morning of the following day. It must be noted that the dead bodies of the kṣapakas were not cremated on funeral pyres in those days but left for the wild beasts and carrion birds to devour and pick them. However, if the kṣapaka died during the day–light hours and there was sufficient time for disposal it was done on the same day. Here, it must be understood that the times to which these scriptural instructions relate were the olden times when the ascetics lived in the forests or in lonely places that were well outside the habitated areas. When a kṣapaka died the attending monks had no one to fall back upon for the disposal of his dead body but had to do it themselves.

The times have changed and so have the rituals, over time. While the dead bodies of lay practitioners are disposed of by their families and society at large, even the dead bodies of the ascetic kṣapakas, who now live in towns and villages, are handed over to the lay followers of the faith for disposal and they dispose of them with due reverence and ceremony. However, some rituals like carrying the dead–bodies of kṣapakas, on palanquins – in a procession – and observing a fast by all members of the religious order “saṅgha” on the day of death still persist. Lastly, the kṣapaka is praised for his great spiritual accomplishment, gained through such a critical end–practice, and everyone thinks that all those who practice such severe penance to gain the ultimate accomplishment of liberation are the glorious members of the order.v

3.312 Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna “Fasting Unto Death In Emergency” –

Bhaktapratyākhyāna without the eligibility conditions mentioned in the Arihā–adhikāra of Savicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna is said to be Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna.vi It can be practised not only by those under the imminent threat of death but also by those that have become so weak as to have lost all enthusiasm and bodily power and prowess.vii When the death presents itself suddenly, without any warning, and there is no time to practice SavicāraBhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa, an aspirant has no choice but to embrace the voluntary Peaceful Death by giving up all food until death and such a practice is called ‘Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa’.viiiAvicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa has been sub–categorised in three sub–categories – Niruddha, Niruddhatara and Paramaniruddha – as followsix: –

  1. Niruddha Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa – If a person faces sudden imminent death and for reasons of lack of strength and such others, beyond his control, has to stay in the same monastic order and carries out the practice for the rest of his life with the help of the others of the group, and having become distraught due to great and unbearable pain and realising that his end is near, he goes to the head of the monastic order and confessing, criticising and condemning his flaws and renouncing all kinds of food for life engages himself in the pursuit of the ‘ratnatrya’ by giving up every possession like the shelter, bed, monastic equipage, body and every other mundane material possession and attachment thereto, dies peacefully in a state of equanimity of mind, his death is called Niruddha Avicāra Bhakta–pratyākhyāna–maraṇa.xIn other words when an aspirant practitioner is held up in his own monastic order due to extreme weakness and debilitating disease and cannot migrate to another monastic group for carrying out his end–practice, his practice is called Niruddha Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa.

  2. Niruddhatara Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa – If a person faces sudden imminent death due to snake–bite, fire, attack by a tiger when passing though a jungle, mauling by a bull or a bison, attack by a wild or maddened elephant, attack by a bear, ambush by an enemy, attack by a thief or robber or a barbarian or a religious fundamentalist, giddiness and choleraxi and he is unable even to move from his place, his voluntary Peaceful Death by going on a fast unto death with equanimity of mind is said to be Niruddhatara Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa for reasons of his inability to migrate to another monastic group for his end–practice and dying at the same place in the company of his own monastic group.xii However, the rituals prescribed for the practice of Savicāra Bhakta– pratyākhyānamaraṇa are applicable to this practice as well.xiii

  3. Paramaniruddha Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa – If a person faces sudden imminent death and he not only becomes unable to migrate to another monastic group but also becomes unable to talk, he should still remember the paragons of spiritual virtue like the Arihanta, Siddha, Ācārya, Upādhyāya and Sādhu and criticise and condemn his flaws silently, and renouncing all attachments mentally, embrace death peacefully in a state of equanimity of mind. For reasons of his inability to migrate to another monastic group as also of his inability to criticise his flaws in front of the Ācārya in person, his death is called Parama Niruddha Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa.xiv As far as the observance of rituals is concerned, though the aspirant, for his inability to speak, cannot confess his flaws in front of the Ācārya, he is to go through the process of confession “criticism and condemnation” silently in his mind making the Arahantas and Siddhas as his witnesses.

From the abovementioned, it is becomes clear that the critical features of Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa can be summed up as follows: –

  1. Quick Decisions – Decisions regarding renunciation of food, shelter, bed and equipage have to be taken quickly as there is little time for deliberation.

  2. Gradual Withdrawal Of Food – Though the time factor is critical, the food should be withdrawn only as per the wish of the aspirant. Sudden withdrawal may leave him in shock and adversely affect his state of equanimity. In this case it must be remembered that there is some time available for gradual withdrawal of food in the Niruddha Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa, very little or no time for such a ritual in the Niruddhatara type and no time what–so–ever in the case of Paramaniruddha category.

  3. Migration To Other Monastic Group – The aspirants are so weak, diseased and feeble that they are unable to observe the ritual of Gaṇasaṅkramaṇa and have to undertake this practice in own monastic group under the supervision of own Ācārya.

  4. Confession – In the case of Niruddha and NiruddhataraAvicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa the aspirants are in a position to make quick confessions in front of the Ācārya or available elder monk. However in case of Paramaniruddha Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa he is unable to do so and he confesses silently in his own mind making Arahantas and Siddhas as his witnesses.

  5. The Time Factor – Though the time factor is critical in all three cases, it is short in the first case of NiruddhaAvicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa, shorter in the second case of NiruddhataraAvicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa and shortest, to the extent of dying on the spot, in the case of ParamaniruddhaAvicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa. However, when we compare the time of an antarmuhurta available for the practice of Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa with that of twelve years for the practice of Savicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa, we are forced to think if the time factor is important from the spiritual emancipation point of view. An analysis of the causes that lead to spiritual purification reveals that time factor is, after all not that important for self–realisation. The very aim of Sallekhanā, whether deliberately long drawn or instantaneous, is attainment of a state of equanimity in the face of death, which can only be attained with pariṇāma viṣuddhi or psychic purification achived by withdrawing one’s thoughts from mundane matters, attachment and aversion and passions to the contemplation of the self. An aspirant deciding to face death boldly and equanimously is already in a right frame of mind and achieves the desired detachment within an antarmuhurta or even instantaeously. No wonder then that a number of kṣapakas have attained spiritual emancipation and final liberation by practising Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa. Therefore, one ought not to think that long drawn Sallekhanā results in liberation or heavely rebirth and a short one in lesser achievement. Everything depends on the state of mind at the time of death.

  6. Rituals – In general, though Avicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa is supposed to be under circumstances where the rituals of Arahā “eligibility conditions”and Gaṇasaṅkramaṇa “migration to another monastic order” may be compromised, as far as the other considerations out of the forty mentioned for Savicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa are variously but equally applicable to all three types of this practice also.

An at a glance comparative study of these factors is as follows: –







Decision making





Food Withdrawal






Not possible

Not possible

Not Possible



To own guru

To guru or elder monk

To self assuming presence of Arahantas and Siddhas.





Shortest, almost no time



Variously applicable

Variously applicable

Variously applicable

i “Ye`pi jhaghanyārādhanāṁ Tejoleśyāpravṛttāmupanamanti te`pi Saudharmādiṣu devā bhavanti, nādhobhāvini devāḥ ||” – Ibid, verse 1934 ‘com.’

ii Ibid, verses 1927–31.

iii “Iyamukkassiyamārādhaṇamaṇupalittu Kevalī bhaviyā |

Logaggasiharavāsī havanti siddhā dhuyakilesā ||” – Ibid, verse 1923.

iv “Evaṁ kālagatasya śarīramantarbahirvāvasthitaṁ vaiyāvṛtyakarāḥ svayamevāpanayanti yatnena||” – Ibid, verse 1960 ‘comm.’

v “Te dhaṇṇā te ṇāṇī laddholābho ya savvehiṁ |

Ārādhanā bhayavadī paḍivaṇṇā jehiṁ sampuṇṇā ||” – Ibid, verse 1996.

vi “Avicāraṁ vakṣyamāṇārhādinānāprakārarahitaṁ || “ – Ibid, p. 104.

vii “Parākramaḥ utsāhaḥ etenaiva sahasopasthite maraṇe parākramarahitasya Avicāra–bhaktapratyākhyānaṁ bhavatīti labhyate ||” – Ibid, p. 104.

viii “Tattha avicārabhattapaiṇṇā maraṇammi hoi āgāḍho |

Aparakkammassa muṇiṇo kālammi asampuhuttammi ||” – Ibid, verse 2005.

ix Tatthapaḍhamaṁ ṇiruddhaṁ ṇiruddhatarayaṁ tahā have vidiyaṁ |

Tadiyaṁ paramaṇiruddhaṁ evaṁ tividhaṁ avicāraṁ || – Ibid, verse 2006.

x “Tassa ṇiruddhaṁ bhaṇidaṁ rogādaṅkehi jo samabhibhūdo |

Jhna]gh-balaparihīṇo paragoṇagamaṇammi ṇa samattho ||

Iya saṇṇiruddhamaraṇaṁ bhaṇiyaṁ aṇihārimaṁ avīcāraṁ |

So ceva jadhājoggaṁ puvvuttavidhī havadi tassa ||” – Ibid, verses 2007, 2009.

xi “Bālaggivagghamahisagayariñchapaḍiṇīya teṇa micchehiṁ |

Micchāvisuciyādīhiṁ hojja sajjo hu vāvattī ||” – Ibid, verse 2012.

xii “N,accā saṁvaṭṭijjantamāugaṁ sigghameva to bhikkhū |

Gaṇiyādīṇaṁ saṇṇihidāṇaṁ ālocae sammaṁ ||” – Ibid, verse 2014.

xiii “So ceva jadhājogaṁ puvvuttavidhī havadi tassa ||” – Ibid, verse 2015.

xiv “Vālādiehiṁ jaiyā akkhittā hojja bhikkhuṇo vāyā |

Taiyā paramaṇiruddhaṁ bhaṇidaṁ maraṇaṁ avīcāraṁ ||

ṇaccā saṁvaṭṭijjantamāugaṁ sigghameva to bhikkhū |

Arahantasiddhasāhūṇa antigaṁ sigghamāloce ||” – Ibid, verses 2016, 2017.

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