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death with equanimity

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(Chapter V, cont.)

5.4

5.4 The Result –

Irrespective of their philosophical views on the matter of voluntary death, all religious traditions are unanimous in holding the view that when it is embraced with a view to seek spiritual emancipation or in the defense of own faith or to avoid compromising one’s ethical and moral values, it is considered to be a noble death that is spiritually beneficial.

1. All the treatises of the Arddhamāgadhī canonical literature – The Ācārāṅga, the Upāsakadaśaṅga, the Antakṛddaśāṅga, the Anuttaropapātikadaśāṅga, the Uttarā–dhyayadhana, the Daśavaikālika, and a number of prakīrṇakas like Mahāpratyākhyāna, Saṁstāraka, Ārādhanāsāra, Bhaktapraijñā and the two versions of Ārādhanāpatākā – that deal with the subject of Voluntary Peaceful Death are unanimous in holding the view that it being the welcome non–violent form of death in a state of equanimity of mind, is the noblest form of death, which results in spiritual purification and depending upon the purity of the soul achieved, it results in a rebirth in higher heavens or spiritual emancipation and final liberation from the mundane existence itself either in the same birth or in a maximum of seven to eight noble rebirths in higher heavens like the Anuttaravimānas.i

2. Bhagavatī Ārādhanā mentions that 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. Those, who remain in the grip of the lotus hue gain rebirths in higher heavens like the Lokāntika, Graivaiyaka and Anuttaravimāna and those who die in the colourless spiritual state attain the supreme accomplishment of final liberation. Such a kṣapaka becomes enlightened, gains omniscience and omni–vision 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.ii Speaking about the result of undertaking Voluntary Peaceful Death, all the scriptures and Ācāryas are unanimous in holding the view that the practice of voluntary death in a state of equanimity of mind is soul–liberating. According to Dharmaparīkṣā a person who frees himself from the clutches of passions and binding desires and embraces voluntary peaceful death liberates in a maximum of twenty–one births. In Ārādhanāsāra, Ācārya Devasena says, “Even those aspirant practitioners who undertake only the minimal “Six month–long” practice of Sallekhanā liberate in seven to eight births”. In Pākṣikādi Pratikramaṇa the result of embracing Voluntary Peaceful Death is stated as liberation in about two to three births or in a maximum of seven to eight births. According to Ādipurāṇa, too, the householder who dies a voluntary peaceful death after steadfastly observing his householders’ vows becomes fully detached and liberates. In Prabodhakā–ṣṭakaṁ Ācārya Mahāvīrakīrti has held that the practice of Samādhimaraṇa is a remedy for the worldly miseries and, consequently, for liberating. In Ratnakaraṇḍa Śrāvakācāra Ācārya Samantabhadra says that the aspirant practitioner, who practices Sallekhanā, ends all the worldly miseries, drinks the water of the ocean of eternal bliss and gains the rare accomplishment of spiritual liberation. Stressing the importance of death in a state of equanimity Śivārya, too, says in his canon–equivalent work Bhagavatī Ārādhanā that even those who engage themselves in the practice of the right faith for long but die in flawed frame of mind are condemned to endless cycle of worldly wandering. By prevarication, he implies that lifelong adherence to the right–faith and following the liberating ‘tri–gem “ratnatraya”’ also bears the ultimate fruit of liberation only when equanimity is maintained at the time of death. “One, who dies a peaceful death in a state of equanimity “samādhi” even once, does not wander much and liberates in a maximum of seven or eight births”, he says. Not only that, even those that praise the practitioner of Samādhimaraṇa also gain nirvāṇa after enjoying the heavenly rebirths.iiiOther treatises are also unanimous in holding the view that the practice of Voluntary Peaceful Death is soul–liberating. They hold the view that depending upon the rigor of the practice undertaken and the volitional purity and equanimity achieved at the time of death, one may liberate in about two to three births or a maximum of seven to eight births. Only ‘Dharma Parikṣā’ mentions a maximum of twenty–one births for this purpose. On an appraisal it seems that the prediction of the time taken for liberating by an aspirant is only a matter of conjecture as each individual case is different from the other and it certainly depends on the spiritual purity attained by an aspirant during his practice and the environment in which he lives and his volitional and physical activities in the following births.iv

3. In the instances of voluntary death cited in the Pāli canonical works, most are by violent means either due to incurable illnesses or due to frustration or anxiety or curiosity. While the Buddhist literature is silent about the result of embracing voluntary deaths in general, when the violent voluntary deaths, by the use of weapons, of certain monks like Bhikṣu Vakkali Kulaputra and Bhikṣu Channa who suffered from incurable diseases and were in miserable condition and unable to carry out their monastic duties were reported to Lord Buddha, he had approved of these deaths and said that they had done no wrong and had achieved the ultimate goal of spiritual emancipation. Certainly, Lord Buddha who was an omniscient Arhata, must have known these monks’ equanimity of mind at the time of death when he pronounced his approval. This clearly shows that the Buddhist thought placed a great emphasis on the mental state or psychic disposition “Bhāvanā” while acting in a particular way and considered the means employed as of little or no consequence. However, Jaina thought considers both – the psychic disposition and the means equally important and permits instantaneous voluntary death only under extremely grave circumstances when the very righteous conduct “Śīla” is threatened and there is no escape from adopting the violent way of dying. We have to take the question of equanimity of mind in the face of violent death with some reservation.

4. In the Hindu and Christian traditions, too, voluntary deaths are approved of only when the subject aspirant becomes unable to perform the duties expected of him and also in the defense of one’s faith and virtues. While the voluntary deaths such as Mahā–prasthāna, Bhūsam-dhi, etc in which the aspirant practitioner takes up these practices along with fasts unto death and which are of non–violent character are peaceful and must result in desired spiritual benefit, the spiritually beneficial results of those voluntary deaths in which violent means are resorted to seem to remain doubtful. The voluntary deaths of hara–kiri and the like are, in any case considered to be honour–deaths and do not have any spiritual overtones. A careful consideration of this aspect must reveal that the spiritually beneficial voluntary deaths must be essentially non–violent deaths and the others in which violent means are adopted can, at best, be considered as honour–deaths.

Comparison –

A comparison of the contemplated results of various forms of voluntary deaths brings forth the following points: –

a. Arddhamāgadhī and Śaurasenī canonical and explanatory works and other supporting treatises of similar genre are unanimous in holding the view that the practice of voluntary peaceful death of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa by undertaking the preparatory penance of short, medium or long Sallekhanā and that of the end–practice of one of the three kinds of Samādhimaraṇa “Bhaktapratyākhyāna, Iṅginī and Prāyopagamana” by undertaking fasts unto death with other relevant observances and restrictions certainly results in spiritual benefit and yields spiritual emancipation and final liberation or noble rebirths in higher heavens like Anuttaravimānas and thence, too, in liberation in three to four or a maximum of seven to eight rebirths.

b. The practice of voluntary peaceful death under normal circumstances is by peaceful means of fasting unto death while simultaneously endeavouring to weaken the passions and attachment–aversion in order to gain equanimity of disposition.

c. Only under exceptionally emergent circumstances when one’s righteousness and virtues are threatened that one may resort to instantaneous voluntary death by the use of a violent means of death. However, the results of such deaths depend on the equanimity of mind, which seems quite difficult under such circumstances and while using such means.

d. The Buddhist literature mentions the voluntary deaths of monks and householders who have generally used violent means of embracing death. However, under circumstances of incurable diseases and extreme forms of misery Lord Buddha had approved of their voluntary deaths and pronounced their deaths as noble and yielding the ultimate spiritual benefit of nirvāṇa.

e. The voluntary deaths such as Mahāprasthāna, Bhūsamādhi, etc, which are of non–violent character compare well with the Jaina concept of Samādhimaraṇa and must yield desired spiritual benefit. However the voluntary deaths of Hindu and other traditions in which violent means are used may not be considered in the same category.

We can conclude this comparison with the remark that while some traditions may only consider the mental disposition as important and the means employed as of little or no importance, the Jaina thought considers both – the psychic disposition and the means equally important and permits instantaneous voluntary death only under extremely grave circumstances when the very righteous conduct “Śīla” is threatened and there is no escape from adopting the violent way of dying. We have to take the question of equanimity of mind in the face of violent death with some reservation.

iSection – 5.4

Ibid, sec 2.8 and relevant endnotes.

ii Ibid, sec 3.3134 and endnotes 180–182.

iii Ibid, sec 3.5 and endnotes 247–255.

iv Ibid sec 3.83.

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