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death with equanimity

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(Chapter IV, cont.)

4.45 – 4.46

4.45 Mahājanaka Jātaka on Voluntary Death –

Mahājanaka, the great king of Mithilā, was motivated towards asceticism and accepted monastic ordination “Pravrajyā” and left the kingdom and the capital town of Mithilā for pursuing the monastic life. His queen, Sīvaḷī Devi, who found the separation from her husband unbearable, tried her best to variously pursue the king to come back and enjoy the regal royal life. When she failed in her attempt to bring him back from the ascetic life, followed him into the forest. In the forest, the king met some enlightened souls who impressed upon him the importance of staying alone for an uninterrupted pursuit of his monastic goal. When he failed in his several attempts to pursue the queen to go a separate way, he decided to leave her while she was asleep and left on his spiritual quest on the quiet. When the queen awoke and did not find the king there, she was very upset and when the search for the king proved futile, she fainted. The followers’ revived the queen and brought her back to the palace in the capital town of Mithilā. Gradually, however, the queen, too, had developed detachment for the mundane life and became a nun. She soon became well versed in yogic practices and started meditating. Once she attained perfect meditation and saw that her end was drawing near, she gave up her body “voluntarily through yogic practices” and went to the world of the supreme beings “Brahmaloka”.i This instance shows that even though the Buddhists did not prescribe voluntary death as a regular spiritual practice signifying a noble death, the practice of Voluntary Peaceful Death was not an anathema to the Buddhist thought.

4.46 Miscellaneous Instances –

Besides the works mentioned above, there are many more instances of voluntary death in the Buddhist Pāli literature, which may or may not fit into the definition of Samādhimaraṇa but can be considered as voluntary deaths.

  1. In Majjhimnikāya there is an instance of a husband killing his wife for the fear that she may not be his wife in the next birth and then killing himself as well.ii This is an instant of voluntary death due to intense affection but certainly not that of Samādhimaraṇa.

  2. In an incident, mentioned in Dīghanikāya, pregnant Pāyāsi wanted to find out about the sex of the foetus and when she could not control her curiosity slit open her womb and died in the process.iii This, again, is an incident of ignorant voluntary death due to sheer curiosity.

  3. According to Therigāthā, Simhā was engaged in spiritual practices for a long time. After some seven years of intensive practice, she had a thought that her practices were not leading her anywhere near her goal and she ended her life by hanging herself.iv This is, yet again, an incident of thoughtless voluntary death due to frustration.

  4. Another Theragāthā incident of Nahātaka Muni, a born Brahmin Buddhist monk, who used to live in jungle alone and had attained the Arhat status by devoted spiritual practices, once suffered from severe gout, which hindered his monastic practices. When Lord Buddha enquired as to how he proposed to cope with his malady, he replied, “I shall not pay any attention to the physical suffering and keep up my devotion as long as possible. When it becomes absolutely impossible to continue with my monastic practices, I shall free my mind from all worldly thoughts and embrace voluntary peaceful death and, thus, become free from the worldly transmigration”.v This decision, to embrace voluntary peaceful death, by Nahātaka Muni can surely be compared with Samādhimaraṇa. Bahagavatīsūtra also mentions similar decision by Ekadaṅga Muni.vi

  5. The incident of Sappadāsa, the court priest of king Śuddhodhana “Lord Buddha’s father”was continuously tormented by carnal desires. Out of sheer frustration, he decided to end his life and when he prepared to die by cutting his veins with a razor, he attained stability of meditation and with time became an Arhat.vii Though, strictly speaking, this is also not an incident of voluntary peaceful death or Samādhimaraṇa, the purity of thoughts attained due to a decision to embrace voluntary death is worthy of notice.

  6. Megharāj suffered from incurable leprosy and sought Lord Buddha’s permission to embrace voluntary death, which he readily granted.viii This is a perfect incident of Samādhimaraṇa in which voluntary death is embraced when the body becomes very incapable of practising piety.

  7. Uttara, the disciple of Sāriputra was falsely accused of theft, when someone put the stolen item in his water gourd, and was sentenced to be hanged. Initially, he was very perturbed but when the time of hanging came, he realised the fruitlessness of the worldly existence and embraced the inevitable death in a state of equanimity.ix This incident is also comparable with Samādhimaraṇa.

  8. Mahānāma could not concentrate his mind on meditation and out of frustration died by jumping from a mountain peak.x This death is, however, nowhere near the concept of Samādhimaraṇa.

  9. In the Mahāyāna sect of Buddhism also the incidents of voluntary death even by Śākya Muni “Bhagvān Buddha” himself, in his previous births, abound. In one, he threw himself in front of a hungry tigress,xi and in another, he jumped into fire.xii Both these incidents are those of violent deaths and cannot be compared to Samādhimaraṇa. However, the first incident can be condoned for its compassionate disposition.

  10. In the countries like China and Japan, where the people are predominantly Buddhists, many forms of voluntary deaths were prevalent. While the Chinese believed that a person embracing voluntary death was sure to be reborn as a Buddha incarnate, the Japanese believed that it yielded heavenly rebirth. The Chinese chose death by self–immolation while several types of voluntary deaths such as Hara–kiri, Śijhu and Juṁśi were practised in Japan. However, all these kinds of voluntary deaths fell in the category of violent deaths and could not be compared to Samādhimaraṇa.xiii

i Quoted from ‘Āgama Aur Tripiṭaka : Eka Anuśīlana’, Vol III, ibid., pp. 588–603.

ii Majjhimnikāya II, Mahābodhi Sabhā, Sarnath, 109. ‘Quoted from Samādhimaraṇa, Dr. Rajjankumar, PV, Varanasi, p. 25.’

iii Dīghanikāya II, 246. ‘Quoted from Samādhimaraṇa ibid. p. 25.’

iv Herigāthā, 77. ‘Quotef rom Samādhimaraṇa ibid. p. 26.’

v Theragāthā, 220. ‘Quoted from Samādhimaraṇa ibid, p. 28’

viBhagavatīsūtra, ‘Ed.’ Ghāsilalji, pp. 438–444.

vii Theragāthā, 215. Ibid. p. 29.

viii Theragāthā, 164. Ibid. p. 29.

ix Theragāthā, 121. Ibid. p. 29.

x Theragāthā 115, Ibid. p. 30.

xi Jātakamālā ‘i’, Ibid. p. 30.

xii Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, xxii. Ibid. p. 30.

xiii Ibid. p. 30.

Section – 4.5

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