death with equanimity



Chapter – VII

Distinction between samāsadhimaraṇa, other religious deaths, honour–death,euthanasia and suicide


7.1 – 7.223

7.1 Introductory –

The life – own or other’s – is sacred and taking it away either by accident or by design is considered as a sin by all the religious philosophies of the world. Life, not only human but also of the lowliest of the low creatures, has been considered as sacred and inviolable by the Jaina Prophets and preceptors down the ages. Even then man has resorted to killing others in the name of wars or game or otherwise and taking his own life away under various pretexts. Also life is very dear and all the thinkers, preceptors and philosophers have vexed themselves eloquent in saying that ‘all living beings want to live and none wants to die’. On the other hand there is death, which can be either natural “Cyut”, forced “Cyāvit” and voluntary “Tyakta”. Whatever be its form, in most cases it has always evoked fear. Even then the history of human race is replete with the incidents of death inflicted on oneself and the others on one pretext or the other.

Among the voluntary deaths also there are deaths by personal choice under widely varying circumstances and those that are part of religious rituals or practices. Amidst this line of thought, there are quite a few religions that consider voluntary death, embraced under suitable frame of mind, as soul–liberating and recommend it for their followers. Jainism is one such religious philosophy that glorifies voluntary peaceful death “Samādhi–maraṇa” as a very potent means of shedding the karmic encumbrance that the soul has been carrying since time immemorial and, hence, a way to seeking spiritual emancipation and final liberation from the mundane existence. So much so that all the incidents mentioned in Jaina scriptures where an aspirant practitioner has liberated, he has done so by embracing voluntary death in a state of equanimity of mind, with his soul free from desire, passions and attachment and aversion and at peace with itself.

However, all is not well with ‘voluntary deaths’ and these very religions consider many of such deaths as not only not liberating but positively soul–shackling. Jainism is no exception to this distinction amongst various forms of voluntary deaths that can be grouped under the following heads: –

  1. Samādhimaraṇa or ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’,

  2. Other religious deaths,

  3. Honour deaths,

  4. Euthanasia, and

  5. Suicide.

This chapter aims at distinguishing various forms of voluntary deaths according to their merits or demerits in relation to their physical and emotional characteristics, their social, ethical and moral aspects and their spiritual values.

    1. Samādhimaraṇa And Other Religious Deaths –

Jainism is not alone in prescribing voluntary deaths as religious observances for spiritual purification, emancipation and final liberation. Hindu tradition, Buddhism and Christianity are not far behind in this respect. This section endeavours to bring out the essential distinguishing features of the voluntary deaths practiced in these religious traditions and also refers to what the Islam thinks about voluntary deaths.

7.21 Samādhimaraṇa –

The Uttarādhyayana beautifully describes the form that Samādhimaraṇa must take. It says, “There are two ways of facing death – death with one’s own will “Sakāmamaraṇa” and death against one’s will “Akāmamaraṇa”. The first kind is the death of the ignorant man “Bālamaraṇa” and the second the death of the wise man “Paṇḍitamaraṇa”. When death comes at last, the ignorant fool trembles in fear and dies the undesired ‘death against his will “Akāmamaraṇa”’. On the contrary, the learned wise man’s ‘death with his own will “Sakāmamaraṇa” is full of peace and without any hurt or injury to anyone is the ‘death of the virtuous that are restrained and subdue their senses “Paṇḍitamaraṇa”’. Such wise and virtuous aspirants do not tremble with fear at the time of death. A wise man, having considered both kinds of deaths and having decided in favour of the better one, is bound to become calm through the practice of patience and through an undisturbed mind when the death stares him in the face”. “When the right time to face death arrives, a faithful follower must suppress all emotions and wait for the dissolution of his body”, it adds. i

It is clear from this exposition that the principle underlying the vow of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ is that an ascetic or a householder should, while embracing such death voluntarily, have complete peace of mind, consistent with the pious life of self–restraint and austerities that he has led. According to Justice T.K. Tukol, “Calmness, patience and mind undisturbed by emotions of joy or fear will conduce to purgation of Karmas. It is mental peace that will lead to liberation from the Karmas in life; so at death, one should have equanimity of mind and die while engrossed in deep meditation. Jainism prescribes Sallekhanā “meaning Samādhimaraṇa” as the final step for further liberation from the bondage of Karma even in the hour of death and in the manner of dying.”ii

Giving a brief definition of Sallekhanā, he adds, “Sallekhanā is facing death “by an ascetic or a householder” voluntarily when he is nearing his end and when normal life according to religion is not possible due to old–age, incurable disease, severe famine etc, after subjugation of all passions and abandonment of all worldly attachments by observance of austerities gradually abstaining from food and water, and by simultaneous meditation on the real nature of the Self until the soul parts from the body.”iii This definition brings to the fore the underlying concept behind this practice in as much as it recognizes the man as the master of his own destiny who should prepare himself for the final moment of his life in a manner that when he faces death he not only does not attract and bind new Karma but liberates from the clutches of the karma that might stick to it at that time.

This consideration of Samādhimaraṇa clearly highlights its these four aspects – 1. Circumstances under which it is undertaken are old–age, incurable disease, severe famine, imminent danger to one’s life due to natural and man–made calamities, when normal life according to religion is not possible, 2. The means adopted for embracing death are non–violent, patient and peaceful; the aspirant aspiring to Samādhimaraṇa leaves all food and water and patiently awaits death except in circumstances, which threaten compromising his basic virtues, and 3. Having overcome passions and worldly attachment the Volitional disposition of the aspirant practitioner of Voluntary Peaceful Death is detached and dispassionate. He maintains equanimity in the face of pleasure or pain, loss or gain, honour or insult and attention or apathy. 4. He patiently and courageously endures all hardships and afflictions caused by nature, gods, humans or animals and entertains no ill will towards the perpetrators of such trouble. Besides, these four main features of Samādhimaraṇa, its right practice is free from the following eight flaws:iv

    1. Desire to enjoy this–worldly pleasures as a result of this practice,

    2. Desire to enjoy other–worldly “heavenly” pleasures as a result of this practice,

    3. Desire to live on to enjoy the praise and adulation that generally comes the way of the aspirant practitioner undertaking this extreme form of penance,

    4. Desire to die quickly to end the pain and misery that must accompany the long drawn fasts unto death and

    5. Recalling the pleasures enjoyed earlier here, in this world, and desire to enjoy them again hereafter in the next birth,

    6. Affection for the kith and kin,

    7. Making a binding wish to be fulfilled as a result of this practice.

    8. Fear of pain and misery during the prolonged fasting unto death and that of uncertainty of the beneficial spiritual or temporal result to be gained by this practice.

7.22 Other Religious Deaths –

Besides Jainism, all the other spiritualist religious traditions that believe in the existence of a soul distinct from the body also view death as separation of the soul from the confines of the body and worldly transmigration from one body to the other as painful and endeavour to seek liberation from mundane existence as the goal of their spiritual practices. By prevarication, they, too, hold karma responsible for such worldly misery and aim at freeing the soul from the clutches of karma in some way or the other. The more arduous and exacting the spiritual practice undertaken, the more soul–purifying it is considered by the advocates of karma theory. Voluntary death being the most arduous and exacting of all spiritual practices, it is considered to be the most soul–purifying and recommended for the aspirants who seek an early end to their worldly misery and liberate. In this run up to liberation, some religions have kept their head and maintained that only non–violent and peaceful means of embracing voluntary death be resorted to while some others lost it and went for any form of voluntary death – even by the most violent means – and gave their approval for them as soul–purifying and liberating penances. While Jaina concept of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa stuck to the earlier premise of adopting only non–violent means, of fasting unto death and meditating, for embracing voluntary death, the same cannot be said of the other religions. In this section we shall examine the precepts and practice of voluntary death in various religious traditions other than Jainism and compare and contrast them with those of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa.

7.221 Voluntary Deaths In Hindu Tradition –

Hindu Vedic and Brahminical tradition condemns suicide unequivocallyv but prescribes voluntary deaths “Samādhi” in a number of peaceful non–violent and not so peaceful and, at times quite violent ways. The methods employed for embracing voluntary death that have religious sanction are as follows: –

a. By self–immolation “Agnipraveśa” as in the case of Śarabhaṅga ṛṣi who entered fire voluntarily and achieved divine rebirth.viTīrtha Vivecana Kāṇḍaṁ says that one who embraces voluntary death by entering fire, with due rituals, liberates from the worldly existence and is not reborn.viiMatsyapūrāṇa mentions that even a great sinner who voluntarily enters fire in the holy land of Kāśī liberates.viiiŚivapur-ṇa,ix Ātrismṛti,xYāgyavalkya–smṛti, xiManusmṛti,xiiMṛcchakaṭika “Śūdraka”,xiii and ‘History Of Suicide In India’ in the episodes of Kumargupta,xivKumarilaxv and Jayapalaxvi also mention a number of instances that uphold this view.

b. By drowning in rivers and ponds “Jalapraveśa” as in the cases of Lakṣamaṇaxvii and Lord Rāma accompanied by Bharat, Śatrughna, his subordinate kings and the citizens of Ayodhya.xviii By drowning in the confluence of three holy rivers at Prayag.xix Raghuvaṁśa also mentions the episode of Aja who entered the holy river of Sarayu to embrace voluntary death.xx Other holy books that support this view are – Agnipurāṇa,xxiMatsyapurāṇa,xxiiĀtrismṛti,xxiiiManusmṛti,xxiv Yāgyavlkyasmṛti,xxv and the Gāngeya episode mentioned in the Epigraphica Indica.xxvi

c. By fasting unto death “Anaśana”, as mentioned in Mahābhārata “Anuśāsan– parva”,xxvii Manusmṛti, xxviii A_dipurāṇa, xxix etc.

d. By jumping off mountaintops “Giripattana”.xxx

e. By jumping off trees “Tarupattana”.xxxi

f. By going to places of pilgrimage and dying there by various means like in the case of Kāśī–karavat.xxxiiMatsyapurāṇa says that one who performs self sacrifice at Kāśī “Varanasi”, liberates.xxxiii The concept of liberation by embracing voluntary death under a banyan tree near the holy confluence, as mentioned in the Tīrthavivecana Kāṇḍaṁxxxiv is also supported by Agnipurāṇa.xxxv

g. By embracing voluntary death on the banks of holy rivers. According to Tīrtha Vivecana Kāṇḍaṁ one who embraces voluntary death on the banks of holy river Mandākinī “Yamunā” goes to heaven and on descending from there, too, gets a noble rebirth and becomes the king–emperor of Jambū–dvīpa.xxxviMahābhārata, Śalyaparva also says that one who gives up the ghost to the chant of holy hymns on the banks of holy river Sarasvatī does not suffer the pain and misery after death.xxxvii

h. By taking poison “Viṣabhakṣaṇa”.xxxviii

i. By disemboweling by the use of a weapon “Śastraghāt”.xxxix

j. By proceeding on an irrevocable last great journey “Mahāprasthāna”.xl

k. By taking the vow of Prāyopaveśana, the sacred death.xli

Thus, we see that the Hindu tradition very clearly advocated embracing of voluntary death as a means of seeking spiritual emancipation or noble rebirths. However, the means recommended such as self–immolation, drowning, jumping off mountaintops, jumping off treetops, taking poison, with a weapon, etc. are mostly violent and their spiritual benefit may be doubtful.

Two of these forms, namely Mahāprasthāna and Prāyopaveśana, also admit of non–violent means such as subsisting on water and air alone and walking on in an auspicious direction till the end of one’s life and fasting unto death, respectively. These two come closest to the concept of voluntary peaceful death as enshrined in the Jaina canon and, therefore, deserve a closer scrutiny.

Mahāprasthāna “The Great Journey” –

Mahāprasthāna is the most well–known of the means of embracing voluntary death in the Hindu tradition. It means proceeding on the last great journey from which one may never return. It is said to be the holiest of the holy deaths that results in liberation from the miserable worldly transmigrations or in heavenly rebirths. However, it is not that one just goes out on a last journey at the fit of a moment and liberates. This practice must follow a holy and pious life comprising observances such as penance, austerities, charity and yajña.xlii

Besides the two great epics – Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata – it has also been mentioned in a number of other holy books.

According to opinions of scholars, expressed in Tīrthaprakāśa “Vīramitrodayā”, an aspirant to the great journey must embrace voluntary death by way of entering the fire or water or by jumping off the mountaintops or some other high place.xliiiTīrthasthalī Setuxliv and Tīrthavivecana Kāṇḍaṁxlv also express similar views. MahābhārataVanaparva” says that such an aspirant must embrace voluntary death by drowning in the holy confluence of Gaṅgā and Yamunā or by self–immolation or by jumping off high places.xlvi According to Brahmapurāṇa, one who has taken the vow of Mahāprasthāna must walk on in the high Himālayas because one who dies such a noble death gains heavenly rebirth.xlviiManusmṛti says that an ascetic suffering from an incurable disease must leave his station and undertake the great journey “into the void” by walking on in the auspicious direction of North–East while subsisting on water and air only. He should do so till he drops dead. This is the religion–approved way to die for an ascetic. However, embracing of such a voluntary death by an ascetic who is hale and hearty and able to perform his religious duties is prohibited.xlviii

Rāmāyaṇa, the great epic on the life and deeds of Lord Rāma, mentions the great journey undertaken by Him. Moved by the disappearance of His queen consort Sītā and the death of His dearest brother Lakṣamaṇa and having come to know that His end was drawing near, Lord Rāma expressed a desire to proceed on the ‘great journey’ as per the scriptural dictates. His court priest and guru Vaśiṣṭa performed all the rituals and permitted Him to proceed with His Mahāprasthāna. Then, constantly contemplating the form of Brahma, the Supreme Being, Rāma walked to the bank of the holy river Sarayu and entered in its water never to come out again. Thereby He attained nirvāṇa and went to His heavenly abode.xlix

Mahābhārata, yet another great Hindu epic on the lives and times of the Kuruvaṁśa “the most powerful ruling clan of India at the time”, also mentions the ‘great journey’ undertaken by Pāṇḍavas “the five sons of PāṇḍuYudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva” along with their queen consort Draupadī. Yudhiṣṭhira was deeply moved by the immense loss of life in the great war with his cousins, the Kauravas, and further by the internal strife of the Yādava princes, the consequent elimination of the entire clan and the sad demise of his cousin and friend and well–wisher – Lord Kṛṣṇa and thought of proceeding on the traditionally approved ‘great journey’. He let his wishes known to his brothers and their queen – Draupadī – and obtained their consent. Then, all of them gave up all worldly attachment and material possessions, gave up all food except water and air and donned clothes made of tree–barks “Valkala vastra” and started walking in the auspicious direction of the East. All the time they meditated in deep concentration and kept on walking. Exhausted by their arduous journey, one by one they fell to the ground in the order of Draupadī, Sahadeva, Nakula, Arjuna and Bhīma. Yudhiṣṭhira, the most pious of all, survived them all and was taken to the heaven, alone, with his physical body.l

From these two instances of the practice of Mahāprasthāna and related injunctions in other works, it follows that –

    1. It was considered to be the holiest form of voluntary death to be embraced by the holy and the pious.

    2. This practice was undertaken at the end when one realised that his purpose of life had been accomplished or when one either suffered from extreme old–age or incurable disease or had a premonition of death or when death was imminent due to some natural or man–made calamity.

    3. It was undertaken in one of the several ways of entering fire or water in a state of equanimity of mind or by giving up all food “sustaining life on water and air only” and walking in either of the auspicious directions of the East or North–East till the thread of life gave away and one fell down to the ground never to rise again.

    4. Before starting on one’s ‘great journey’ one had to overcome one’s worldly attachments, control one’s passions like greed and deceit and give up all worldly possessions.

    5. This great journey could be undertaken with the consent of one’s kith and kin only.

    6. It could be undertaken by only those brave and pious aspirants who could withstand this most rigorous practice.

Prāyopaveśana –

Prāyopaveśana means ‘departure from life by sitting down and abstaining from food’ or ‘fasting unto death’ li or ‘abstaining from food and awaiting the approach of death in a sitting posture’.lii

Raghuvaṁśa’, the epic poem by Kālidāsa, on the great clan that began with Raghu “the first forefather of Lord Rāma”, describes the practice of this great end–practice by king Aja in great detail. It says that the incurably ill king, Aja, wanted to free his soul from the confines of a diseased body and handed over the rein of his kingdom to the able Crown–prince. Desiring to embrace Prāyopaveśana by starving himself to death,liii he went to the confluence of the two sacred rivers – Jahnyu and Sarayu – and died there. Thereupon, he gained a heavenly rebirth and united with his queen and enjoyed the heavenly pleasures in the celestial garden – Nandanavana.liv

In his commentary on the verse describing this incident, which is illustrative of the practice of Prāyopaveśana, the commentator Mallinātha says that this practice may be undertaken by those aspirants who are either victims of invasion or by the incurably ill or by those who face imminent death due to extreme old–age or by other natural or man–made calamities or by those who wish to atone for their sins or by those that aspire to gain heaven or liberation.lv This practice can be undertaken by entering the lighted fire or by falling from mountains etc by persons of both sex and either social class “varṇaBrahmin, Kṣatriya, Vaiśya or Śūdra”.lvi

Another example of Prāyopaveśana, in the recent times, is by Ācārya Vinoba Bhave. He had taken the vow of Prāyopaveśana on 8th November, 1982 and gave up food and water completely. He was not moved from his resolve even by the request of taking water by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India and declined her request by telling her to utter ‘Rāma–Hari’. He was very old at the time but was fully calm and maintained perfect equipoise during the thirteen days’ period for which his Prāyopa–veśana lasted.lvii

From these descriptions of Prāyopaveśana also the following features of this practice emerge: –

  1. The practice of Prāyopaveśana is the way to embrace voluntary death as approved by religious tradition,

  2. It may be undertaken by any person who faces imminent death for one reason or the other,

  3. The scriptures permit those that wish to atone for their sins to undertake this practice,

  4. Those who wish to achieve spiritual purity to gain heavenly rebirth or liberation may undertake this practice,

  5. There is no bar of sex or social class for this practice,

  6. The aspirant must maintain mental equanimity during the period of this practice,

  7. Food and water are given up completely without going through the ritual of gradual reduction,

  8. In extreme cases it can also be practiced by entering lighted fire or falling from great heights.

  9. It must be practised in a state of freedom from any worldly desire and, in this sense, it is quite distinct from fasts undertaken for fulfilment of any demands – personal or political.


Section – 7.2

Uttarādhyayanasūtra, 5. 2, 3, 16–19, 29–31.

ii Tukol T. K., Sallekhanā Is Not Suicide, LD Institute Of Indology, Ahmendabad, 1976, p. 6.

iii Ibid, p. 7.

iv This thesis, Chapter 5, sec 5.5.

v a. Manusmṛti, ‘Ed.’ Hargovind Shastri, Chaukhamba Samskrit Series, Varanansi, 1965, 5.89.

b. Yamapurāṇa, 20.21.

c. Ādiparva, 19.20.

d. Dharmaśastra Kā Itihāsa, Pt. I, p. 10.

vi “Tato`gniṁ sa samādhāya hutvācājyena mantravat |

Śarabhaṅgo mahātejāḥ praviveśa hutāśanaṁ ||” – Rāmāyaṇa, Araṇya Kāṇḍa, 5.38.

vii “Agnopraveśaṁ ye kuryur vimukte vidhānataḥ |

Praviśanti sukhaṁ te māṁ na punarbhāvino janāḥ ||”

Tīrthavivecana Kāṇḍaṁ, ‘Ed.’ Rangasvami Ayangar, Anand Ashram Press, Pune, 1942, p. 21.

viii “Vārāṇasī tu bhuvanatrayasārabhūtaramyā . . . atrāgatā vividhaduṣkṛtakāriṇo`pi pāpakṣayā dvirajasaḥ pratibhāntimartyāḥ |

Matsyapurāṇa, 76.78. Read in conjunction with Samādhimaraṇa, Dr. Rajjankumar ibid, p. 21.

ixŚivapurāṇa, ‘Q. Tīrthavivecana Kāṇḍam ibid, p. 262.’

x “Vṛddhaḥ śaucasmṛtairlupta pratyākhyātabhiṣakakruyaḥ |

Ātmānaṁ ghātayedyastu bhṛgvamanyaśanāmbubhiḥ ||” – Ātrisamṛti, 218.

xi “Tathā ca Brāhmaṇagarbhaḥ | Yo jīvitaṁ na śaknoti mahāvyādhyupapīḍitaḥ . mahāprasthāna–gamanaṁ jvalanāmbupraveśanaṁ | Bhṛgutanaṁ caiva vr,thā necchtu jīvituṁ ||

Comments by Aparārka, Yāgyavalkyasmṛti, p. 536.

xii “Āsāṁ maharṣicaryāṇāṁ tyaktvā`nyatamayā tanuṁ |

Vīta śokabhayo vipro Brahmaloke mahīyate ||” – Manusmṛti, 6. 32.

xiiiMṛcchakṭika, 1.4.

xiv “Śauryasatyavratadharo yaḥ Prayāgagato ghane |

Ambhasīvakarīṣāgnau mgnaḥ sa puṣpapūjitaḥ ||” – The History Of Suicide In India, p. 96.

xv “Śrutyarthadharmavimukhāṁ sugatāṁ nihantuṁ |

Jātaṁ guhaṁ bhuvi bhavantamahainna jānaḥ ||” – Ibid, p. 91.

xvi Tīrthavivecana Kāṇdaṁ p. 259. Q. Ibid, p. 96.

xvii “Dṛṣṭmetanmahābāho kṣayaṁ te romaharṣaṇaṁ |

Lakṣamaṇena viyogaśca tava Rāma mahāyaśaḥ ||” – Rāmāyaṇa, Uttara Kāṇḍa, 106.8.

xviii “Taṁ nadīmākulāvatāṁ sarvatrānusaranṛpaḥ |

A_gataḥ saprajo samastaṁ deśaṁ Raghunandanaḥ ||” – Ibid, 110.2

xix “Caturvidye ca yatpuṇyaṁ satyavādiṣu caiva yat |

Snāta eva tadāpnoti Gaṅgā–Yamunasaṅgame ||” – Mahābhārata, Vanaparva, 85.85.

xxRaghuvaṁśa, 8.94. ‘Q. The History Of Suicide In India, p. 96.’

xxiAgnipurāṇa, 111.13. ‘Q. Samādhimaraṇa, ibid, p. 21.’

xxiiMatsyapurāṇa, 76.78. ‘Read in conjunction with Samādhimaraṇa, ibid, p. 21.’

xxiiiĀtrisamṛti, 218.

xxivManusmṛti, 6. 32.

xxvgyavalkyasmṛti, p. 536.

xxviEpigraphica Indica XII, p. 211. ‘Q. Samādhimaraṇa ibid, p. 22.’

xxvii “Sa*rīramṛtsṛjet tatra vidhipūrvamanāśake |

Adhravaṁ jīvitaṁ jñātvā yo vai vaidantago dvijaḥ ||”

Mahābhārat, Anuśāsan Parva, 25. 63, 64.

xxviiiManusmṛti, 6. 32.

xxix Samādhimaraṇa, ibid, p. 21.

xxx a. Śivapurāṇa, Q. ‘Tīrthavivecana Kāṇd,aṁ, ibid, p. 262.’

b. Ātrisamṛti, 218.

c. Yāgyavalkyasmṛti, p. 536.

d. Manusmṛti, 6. 32.

xxxiYāgyavalkyasmṛti, p. 536.

xxxiiMatsyapurāṇa, 76.78. Read in conjunction with Samādhimaraṇa, ibid, p. 21.

xxxiii “Avimuktaṁ prasādena vimukto jāyate yataḥ |”

Matsyapurāṇa, 76.75; Kāśī Khaṇdava, 77 verse 25. ‘Q. Samādhimaraṇa, Ibid, p.21.’

xxxiv “Baṭamūlaṁ samāsādya yastu prāṇān parityajet |

Sarvalokānatikramya rudralokaṁ sa gacchti ||” – Tīrthavivecana Kāṇḍam ibid, p. 142.

xxxvAgnipurāṇa, 111.13. ‘Q. Samādhimaraṇa ibid, p. 21.’

xxxvi “Strīsahasrākule ramie Mandākinyāstaṭe śubha . . . tataḥ svargat paribhraṣṭa Jambūdvīpapatirbhavet . . . | – Tīrthavivecana Kāṇḍam ibid, pp. 138–39.

xxxvii “Sarasvatyuttare tīre yastyajedātmanastanuṁ |

Pṛthūdake japyaparo nainaṁ śvomaraṇaṁ tapet ||” – Mahābhārata, Śalyaparva, 39.33.

xxxviii Samādhimaraṇa ibid, p.23.

xxxix Ibid.

xlMahābhārata, Vanaparva, 85.85.

xliRaghuvaṁśa, 8.94. ‘Q. The History Of Suicide In India, p. 96’ mentions the Prāyopaveśana practice undertaken by king Aja of Ayodhya.

xlii Samādhimaraṇa ibid, p. 19.

xliii Tīrthaprakāśa ‘Vīramitrodayā’, pp. 242–48, 342, 347, 372–73.

xliv Tīrthastahlī Setu, pp. 290–316.

xlv Tīrthavivecana Kāṇḍam ibid, p. 258.

xlviMahābhārata, Vanaparva, 85.85.

xlvii “Mahāpathasya yātrā ca kartavyāḥ tuhinopari |

Āśrityaṁ satyaṁ ca sadyaḥ svargapradā hi sā ||”

Brahmapurāṇa. ‘Q. Tīrthavivecana Kāṇḍam ibid, p. 258’

xlviii “Aparājitāṁ vāsthāya vrajeddiśamajihyagaḥ |

Ā nipātāccharīsya yukto vārynilāśnaḥ ||”

Manusmṛti, 6.31 and Manvarthamuktāvali commentary by Kullūka Bhaṭṭ<a on the maxim ibid.

xlixVālmikī Rāmāyaṇa, Uttarakāṇḍa, 104.12–13 and 109. 3–4 and 110.7, 12

lMahābhārata, Mahāprasthānikaparva, 17. 1. 3–5, 18–19, 27, 29–31; 17. 2. 3, 8, 12, 19, 23; 17. 3. 21–23.

li Saṁskṛta–English Dictionary Pt. II, V.S. Apte, Prasad Prakashan, Pune, 1958, p. 1132.

lii Saṁskṛta–English Dictionary, Monier and Monier Williams, Oxford University Press, 1964, p. 708.

liii “Samyagvinītamatha varmaharaṁ kumāramādiśya rakṣaṇavidhau vidhivatprajānāṁ |

Rogopasṛṣṭatanudurvasatiṁ mumukṣuḥ Prāyopaveśnamtirnṛpatirbabhūva ||”

Raghuvaṁśaṁ, Kālidāsa, 8. 94.

liv Ibid, 8. 95.

lv “Samāsakto bhavedyastu pātakairmadābhiḥ | Duścikitsyairmahārogaiḥ pīḍit ovā bhavettu yaḥ | svayaṁ dehavināśasya kāle prāpte mahāmatiḥ | Ābrāhmāṇaṁ vā svargādimahāphalajigīṣyā | Praviśjjvalanaṁ dīptaṁ bhṛgataḥ patanaṁ tathā |” – Raghuvaṁśaṁ of Kālidāsa, Comm. By Mallinātha, Ed. GR Nandargikar, Motilal Banarasidas, Delhi, 1971, p. 256.

lvi . . . narāṇāmatha nārīṇāṁ sarvavarṇeṣu sarvadā |” – Ibid.

lvii ‘Vinibaji Kī Apūrva Sallekhanā‘ by Mulcand Badjate, in January 1998 issue of ‘Tīrthaṅkara’, Heera Bahiya Prakaśan, Indore, pp. 28–30.

7.223 Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa, Mahāprasthāna And Prāyopaveśana –


When we compare and contrast these three practices we come across a host of considerations on some of which these three agree while on many others they do not. These points of comparison – similarities and differences are shown in the table below: –












Religious approval –




Achievement of

spiritual purity –

Yes, there is a well–laid down procedure for achieving spiritual purity through passion–control, confessions and forgiving and seeking forgiveness of others.

Uncertain, all Pāṇdavas who undertook Mahā–prasthāna did not go to heaven; only Yudhiṣṭhira did. Others fell short of necessary spiritual purity.

Uncertain, as a contrast to the practice of Sallekhanā– Samādhimaraṇa, there is no laid down procedure for ensuring the requisite spiritual purity.

Guidance /supervision in practice

Available in the form of Niry-pakācārya

Not available.

Not available.

Remunciation of

material possessions




Giving up of worldly attachment –




Giving up of passions




Gradual preparation for the final end–practice –

Sallekhanā is the preparatory part,

There is no preparatory part, it is undertaken as a snap decision.

There is no preparatory part, it is undertaken as a snap decision.

Currently practiced –

Yes, in a number of cases.


Yes, rarely.

Mythological or


Historical evidences abound from ancient to modern times

Only mythological mentions available.

Only one reported case of Ācārya Vinobā Bhave available.

Institutional support –


Not available.

Not available.





Means of embracing voluntary death –

Non–violent means conducive to peaceful death.

Non–violent and violent both means are employed.

Non–violent and violent both means are employed.

Result of practice –

Liberation in a maximum of seven to eight births.



Peaceful death

This is the practice of peaceful death in a state of equanimity of mind.

Possible only when non–violent means are employed.

Possible only when non–violent means are employed.



Thus, we see that there are more points of dissimilarity in these practices than there are points of similarity. We can logically conclude that the practices of Mahāprasthāna and Prāyopaveśana are practices of voluntary deaths but they are far from being the practices of peaceful deaths. When the cases of the most glorified deaths are such, the lesser said the better for the other more violent forms of embracing voluntary deaths. They may well border on being suicides. In the later Upaniṣadas, like Jābāla and Kaṇṭhaśruti, it is expressly laid down that the ascetics that have acquired full insight may only enter upon the ‘great journey’ or choose death by starvation or by drowning or by fire or by hero’s fate.i


i Sallekahanā Is Not Suicide ibid, p. 65.

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