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death with equanimity

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(Chapter VI.4, cont.)

6.42

6.42 The Highlights Of The Practice of ‘Voluntary Death’ In The Present Times –

From an analysis of the incidence as well as ten case–studies cited above it becomes clear that the practice of Sallekhanā, Samādhimaraṇa and Santhārā are quite prevalent in the Jaina way of life at both levels – householder as well as ascetic. The following are the highlights of this practice as it is being practised in the two traditions in the present times: –

  1. These vows are accepted by those people whose life–styles have been religious and pious.

  2. In the sky–clad tradition, generally, the end–practice of fasting to death “Yama–sallekhanā” is preceded by a preparatory penance called Niyam Sallekhanā, which is not the case in most cases in the white–clad tradition where the ordained ascetics as well as the householders take the vow of Santhārā “fast unto death” directly.

  3. The Yama–sallekhanā in the sky–clad tradition is by giving up all four kinds of food that includes water as well while in the white clad tradition the Santhārā is with water and without water or a combination of both.

  4. Most Santhārās reported “in 93 percent cases” are accepted at the very end and last for periods ranging from a few minutes to some hours to a day or so. Rarely “only in 7 percent cases” they last for longer durations.

  5. The vow of Samādhimaraṇa is invariably accepted voluntarily, with an intent to achieve spiritual benefit, without any prompting or pressure or coercion from any quarters.

  6. Sallekhanā and Santhāra are accepted with the permissions of the spiritual masters and the kith and kin. Only in one or two exceptional cases the kṣapakas broke this rule and accepted the vow of their own accord but took the formal vow on receiving the permission of the spiritual master.

  7. Extreme old age and incurable illnesses account for the reason for accepting these vows. In some cases, however, the vow of peaceful death is accepted in cases of deaths occurring due to accidents.

  8. The vow is given and taken in full consciousness of the person taking it.

  9. The practices, especially those that last for longer durations are conducted under the supervision of senior monks or nuns and with the help of assisting monks or nuns or householders.

  10. The institution of Niryāpakācārya and that of Niryāpaka is more structured in the sky–clad tradition than it is in its white–clad counterpart.

  11. The kṣapakas and kṣapikās maintain calm, composed and peaceful disposition throughout the duration of this practice. In practices lasting for days and months it has been reported that the practitioners generally settle down in equanimity of mind as the days pass.

  12. The practitioners spend their time in self–contemplation, scriptural study, prayer and listening to the devotional songs and chanting of holy hymns that goes on by their side. Those who can even answer the visitors’ queries.

  13. The practice of migrating to another monastic group “Gaṇasaṅkramaṇa”, by the heads of groups, for the practice of Samādhimaraṇa seems to be no longer in vogue.

  14. The kṣapkas are very well respected and revered both in their own groups as well as in the others. The Jaina and the Non–Jaina societies also recognise the spiritual worth of this practice and view it with honour and admiration.

  15. The practices have, generally, attracted favourable media reaction as compared to other forms of voluntary deaths. However, in one odd case where the troublemakers lodged police complaints there have been some investigations by the police as well as by the press people. These investigations could not find anything adverse and the resulting stories that appeared in the press have only enhanced the prestige of this practice.

  16. The practitioners of longer lasting Sallekhanā–Santhārā do confess their flaws of conduct to the Niryāpakācārya.

  17. The process of forgiving and seeking forgiveness and thereby shedding the spiritual sting is invariably gone through by all practitioners.

  18. The accounts do not support the popular view that it is only the most austere people, used to long and rigorous penance, accept the vows of Sallekhana–Samādhimaraṇa.

  19. Most practitioners contemplate ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ for long before taking the vow. There are very few spur of the moment decisions to accept such a critical form of penance.

  20. Some kṣapakas experience some unusual happenings that can be described as miracles.

  21. The kṣapaka or the persons interviewed by the researcher expressed the view that the Utkṛṣṭa Sallekhanā “of twelve years’ duration” and Iṅginī and Prāyopagamana forms of Samādhimaraṇa are not possible to be practised in this age and time. However, some cases of twelve year long Sallekhanā have been reported in the sky–clad tradition.

  22. The mortal remains of the kṣapakas are taken out, on a palanquin, in a religious procession with traditional fervour and to the accompaniment of chanting of holy hymns and slogans praising the ultimate practice by him.

6.5 Critique –

An analysis of the contents of this chapter reveals that the practice of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ is very much in vogue in the Jaina society of both – Digambaraas well as Śvetāmbara traditions.

There is a long standing tradition of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa that traces its origin to the period of Bhagwan ṛṣabhadeva in the third phase “Ārā” of the current descendent time–cycle “Avasarpiṇī Kāla” and that has been going on unhindered throughout the periods of time to the present age.

On an average the present times witness almost twenty cases of Samādhimaraṇa per month, which is, by no means a mean figure.

The practice of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ is undertaken in accordance with the scriptural provisos except for some rituals like migration to other monastic groups etc that are overlooked due to unavoidable constraints. However, the practice seems to be better structured in the sky–clad tradition than it is in the white–clad tradition.

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