death with equanimity



(Chapter V, cont.)


5.3 The Procedure –

In various religious traditions, the procedure to be adopted for embracing voluntary death also differs in accordance with the underlying philosophy of voluntary death. The traditions that believe in non–violent means of embracing voluntary peaceful death prescribe an elaborate procedure to be followed for overcoming mundane and bodily attachments and for weakening the passions so as to ensure mental equanimity and equilibrium at the time of death. On the contrary, the traditions in which violent means of death are resorted to have no such elaboration and believe in making a quick work of it by adopting one or the other means of instantaneous death. The Jaina tradition belongs to the first category.

1. Amongst the Arddhamāgadhī canonical works, the Ācārāṅga and some of the Prakīrṇakas like Ārādhanāsāra, Bhaktaparijñā and two versions of Ārādhanāpatākā variously describe the procedure for the practice of Sallekhanā and the end–practice of three kinds of Samādhimaraṇa in great detaili while the Uttarādhyayanasūtra does it less descriptively.ii The essential features of the procedure are 1. Identification of the occasion for deciding to undertake the practice of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa or Samādhimaraṇa as per the demand of the situation, 2. Scrutinizing the eligibility of the aspirant, 3. To forsake all attachment for the mundane matters, 4. To forgive all and to seek forgiveness from all, 5. To search for a suitable supervising Ācārya, 6. To criticize and condemn all conduct flaws and to atone for them as per the expiation awarded by the Niryāpakācārya, 7. Selection of place for taking up the bed for the end–practice, 8. To take the vow of temporary or permanent Santhārā as the case may be, 9. To give up three or four kinds of foods as per ones capacity, 10. To spend ones time in scriptural study, pious contemplation, twelve types of desirable reflections and meditation and lastly, 11. When the final moment comes, to be prepared to embrace death in a state of equanimity of mind. It goes without saying that all these measures prepare the aspirant practitioner physically and mentally to welcome death and to embrace it with peace and equanimity.

2. In Śaurasenī canonical works, the most detailed procedure for undertaking the practice of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa is found in the Bhagavatī Ārādhanā, which not only mentions very detailed guidelines for the twelve yearlong Sallekahanāiii but also covers the subject of Samādhimaraṇaiv under its two manifestations – well–considered end–practice by undertaking fast unto death “Svicāra Bhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa” in great detail under no less than forty considerations such as the eligibility of the aspirant practitioner, his gender and appearance, his level of scriptural knowledge, his rectitude in the observance of proper monastic conduct, his stability of mind, his ability for self analysis, his readiness to renounce mundane material and mental encumbrance, his mental readiness to undertake the end–practice, search for a proper supervising Ācārya, migration to another monastic group, criticism and condemnation of all conduct flaws in front of the guru and to atone for them as per the expiation awarded by him, the suitable place for undertaking such critical practice, the bed for the aspirant end–practitioner, forgiving all and seeking forgiveness from all, gradual withdrawal of food, giving solace to a disturbed aspirant, the result of properly undertaken end–practice, the final disposal of the dead body, etcv and that of emergent embracing of voluntary death “Avicāra Bhaktapratyā–khyāna–maraṇa”.vi The procedures for undertaking the more severe forms of end–practices – Inginīmaraṇa in its three forms “Niruddha, Niruddhatara and Pramaniruddhavii and two forms of Prāyopagamanamaraṇa “Nirhārim and Anirhārim” have also been mentioned in sufficient details. viii These procedural descriptions are duly supported by the descriptions available in other prescriptive and explanatory works of the Digambara tradition such as Mūlācāra,ixGommaṭasāra,xSamādhimaraṇotsāha Dīpaka,xiTattvārthasūtra,xiiSāgāra Dharmāmṛta,xiiiRatnakaraṇḍa Śrāvakācāra,xiv and Vasunandi Śrāvakācāra.xv The essential features of these procedures have been summed up by me in the fourth section of the third chapter. xvi

3. The Buddhist tradition offers no philosophical thought for voluntary deaths to be embraced by the members of its clergy and the lay followers and therefore, the Pāli canonical works have no procedural descriptions as such. In most of the incidents of voluntary death that have been reported in these works, the subject monk or lay follower had used a weapon or another form of violent means for dying. Bhikṣu Vakkali Kulaputraxvii used a weapon to die; Bhikṣu Channaxviii too did that; Godhikāxix an Upāsikā, who suffered from an incurable disease, died voluntarily; queen Śivalidevixx gave up the ghost through yogic procedure; Siṁhāxxi hanged himself; Nahātakamunixxii died a peaceful death after giving up all attachments; Sappadasaxxiii used a weapon to die; Meghrājaxxiv was suffering from incurable leprosy and ended his life voluntarily; Uttaraxxv was hanged for a crime he did not commit but realizing the futility of mundane existence assumed equanimity of mind in the final moments; Mahānāmaxxvi jumped from a mountain peak in frustration. All these incidents point towards a lack of any procedure or policy for embracing of Voluntary death in the Buddhist tradition.

4. In the Hindu tradition, some forms of voluntary deaths are certainly peaceful and they also have well–chalked out procedures. For instance, the practitioners of Mahā–prasthāna have to consider their eligibility for seeking voluntary death as a means of emancipation and only the old, weak, feeble, terminally ill and the like who have done their duties by the faith, the society at large and towards themselves can so proceed on the great departure from life. Then, too, the preferred procedure is to go to jungle or mountain or to a place of pilgrimage and to keep walking without food and water till one dropped dead. Only in exceptional cases could one use external means to end ones life. The case of Bhūsamādhi is also similar and it, too, amounts to a well considered voluntary death, which is nor instantaneous and, hence, not an outcome of a fit of the moment. Other forms of voluntary deaths such as falling from mountains and trees, drowning in water, self–immolation, and by imbibing poison, however, are all violent ways of dying and can hardly be termed as Samādhimaraṇa or peaceful deaths.

The voluntary deaths permitted by the Christian tradition are only under emergent situations when ones faith or moral virtues are threatened and they, per force, have to be instantaneous deaths using external means. No procedures can be and have been laid down for such deaths and the means to be adopted depend on individual circumstances and preference. Their being peaceful or otherwise also depends on the psychic disposition of the person practicing such death.

A comparison of the procedures adopted for embracing voluntary deaths by the aspirants of the Jaina, Buddhist and other traditions clearly marks out the Jaina tradition as the practitioner of Voluntary Peaceful Death in which only fisting unto death is permitted and no violent means are used except under very exceptional circumstances when ones virtues are threatened. The Buddhist tradition is open to use of weapons and other external means of dying and so is the Christian tradition. Hindu tradition is also very close to the Jaina tradition in the matters of embracing voluntary deaths. It, too, does not permit violent means of death under normal circumstances.

iSection – 5.3

This thesis, sec 2.53 and endnotes 75–80; Ibid, sec 2.795 and endnotes 248–74; Ibid, sec 2.796 and endnotes 275–89; Ibid, sec 2.797 and endnotes 290–325 and Ibid, sec 2.798 and endnotes 326–79.

ii Ibid, sec 2.78 and endnotes 154–71.

iii Ibid, sec 3.21 and endnotes 31–33.

iv Ibid, sec 3.31 and endnotes 43–46.

v Ibid, sec 3.311 and endnotes 47–184.

vi Ibid, sec 3.312 and endnotes 185–93.

vii Ibid, sec 3.32 and endnotes 194–204.

viii Ibid, sec 3.33 and endnotes 205–17.

ix Ibid, sec 3.71 and endnote 261.

x Ibid, sec 3.731 and endnote 270.

xi Ibid, sec 3.732 ‘A’ and endnote 271.

xii Ibid, sec 3.732 ‘B’ and endnote 272.

xiii Ibid, sec 3.732 ‘C’ and endnote 273.

xiv Ibid, sec 3.732 ‘D’ and endnote 274.

xv Ibid, sec 3.732 ‘E’ and endnote 275.

xvi Ibid, sec 3.4 and endnotes 219–46.

xvii Ibid, sec 3.44 ‘1’ and endnote 28.

xviii Ibid, sec 3.44 ‘2’ and endnote 36.

xix Ibid, sec 3.44 ‘3’ and endnote 41.

xx Ibid, sec 3.45 and endnote 42.

xxi Ibid, sec 3.46 ‘3’ and endnote 45.

xxii Ibid, sec 3.46 ‘4’ and endnote 46.

xxiii Ibid, sec 3.46 ‘5’ and endnote 48.

xxiv Ibid, sec 3.46 ‘6’ and endnote 49.

xxv Ibid, sec 3.46 ‘7’ and endnote 50.

xxvi Ibid, sec 3.46 ‘8’ and endnote 51.

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