death with equanimity



(Chapter VIII, cont.)

8.4 – 8.5

8.4 Voluntary Peaceful Death In Śaurasenī Canons –

Śaurasenī Prākṛta literature of the Digambara tradition of the Jainas deals with the precept and practice of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa, in all its aspects and forms as well as precepts and practice rather comprehensively.

Entire development of the concept of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa in the Śaurasenī Prākṛta literature is based on the following works: –

      1. Mūlācāra by Vaṭṭakera,

      2. Mūlārādhanā or Bhagavatī Ārādhanā, by Śivārya and

      3. Gommaṭasāra by Ācārya Nemicandra Siddhāntacakravartī.

Besides these Śaurasenī Prākṛta works, the following Saṁskṛta works also throw significant light on this subject: –

  1. Tattvārthasūtra by Vācaka Umāsvāmi,

  2. Samādhimaraṇotsāha–dīpaka by Ācārya Sakalakīrti Gaṇi,

  3. Sāgāra Dharmāmṛta by Pt. Āśādhar,

  4. Ratnakaraṇḍa Śrāvakācāra by Ācārya Samantabhadra, and

  5. Vasunandi Śrāvakācāra by Ācārya Vasunandi.

Dealing with the issue of Death, Mūlārādhanā mentions seventeen types of death “in two categories of discreet and indiscreet” of which only five types – Paṇḍitamaraṇa, Bhaktapratyā–khyānamaraṇa, Iṅginīmaraṇa, Prāyopagamanamaraṇa and Kevalīmaraṇa are considered to be discreet and the rest twelve as indiscreet. Mūlācāra confines itself to naming and describing three types of Sallekhanā–SamādhimaraṇaBhaktapratyākhyāna–maraṇa, Iṅginīmaraṇa and Prāyopagamanamaraṇa” while Samādhimaraṇotsāha–dīpaka mentions seventypes of death of which two “Bāla–bāla–maraṇa and Bāla–maraṇa” are considered to be inauspicious and remaining five “Bāla–paṇḍita, three kinds of PaṇḍitamaraṇaBhaktapratyākhyāna, Iṅginī and Prāyopagamana” and Paṇḍita–paṇḍitamaraṇa as auspicious.

Gommaṭasāra divides death in three categories according to the way it takes place – Cyutamaraṇa is the natural death, Cyāvitamaraṇa is the death by an external means such as a weapon or accident and Tyaktamaraṇa is the death in which the person renounces his physical self and the attachments and embraces death peacefully. It is plain that the third kind of death is Samādhimaraṇa.

Voluntary Peaceful Death –

As far as the concept of Voluntary Peaceful Death is concerned, Śaurasenī canonical and canon–equivalent works mention Sallekhanā and Samādhimaraṇa synonymously, both meaning Voluntary Peaceful Death. Though, generally, no distinction is made in the rigour with which the practice of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa is carried out either by an ascetic member of the order or by a householder one, Ācārya Vasunandi has mentioned in his work, entitled Vasunandi Śrāvakācāra, that a householder aspirant may retain his clothing and renounce only three types of food until the very end.

The Śaurasenī works state several synonyms of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa such as Santhārā, Paṇḍitamaraṇa, Sakāma–maraṇa, Saṁnyāsamaraṇa, Antah<kriyā, Uttamārtha, Udyuktamaraṇa, etc and mention a period of time for its practice that may extend up to twelve years during which the aspirant practitioner undertakes myriad external and internal austerities to weaken his body and the passions. However, when an aspirant practitioner undertakes this practice when he is very old, critically ill and nearing his death, his period of Sallekhanā–Samādhi–maraṇa may only last for a period ranging from an antarmuhurta to an unspecified longer duration.

Bhaktapratyākhyāna, Iṅginī And Prāyopagamana –

All three Śaurasenī works – Mūlācāra, Mūlārādhanā and Gommaṭasāra mention these three types of ‘Tyaktadehamaraṇa’. Mūlārādhanā further divides Bhaktapratyā–khyāna into two sub–types, namely – Savicāra and Avicāra according as it is embraced, sufficiently in advance of the death, with due and deliberate thought or very near the death when there is not much time for deliberation.

The practice of Savicāra Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa is subject to forty considerations that touch upon various aspects such as the eligibility of the aspirant, his canonical knowledge, his state of mind in general and detachment from the mundane in particular, the administrative arrangements, the volitional preparation, the result and the disposal of the dead body after the practice is concluded, etc. This detailed coverage of all the possible aspects of this most critical practice is unique and leaves nothing to chance. A scrutiny of the consideration reveals that a great emphasis has been placed on the volitional aspects of the aspirant practitioner. The considerations like his level of knowledge “Śikṣā”, humility of disposition “Vinaya”, equanimity of mind “Samādhi”, his thought process “Pariṇāma”, ascendant volitional disposition “Bhāva–śreṇi”, Internal penance “Ābhyantara Sallekhanā”, process of mutual pardoning “Kṣamaṇā–kṣāmaṇā”, Confession–criticism–condemnation for expiation and atonement for one’s flaws “Ālocanā”, sermon by the supervising monk “Aṇuśiṣṭi”, reminding “Smaraṇa”, shield “Kavaca”, equipoise in all circumstances “Samatā”, meditation “Dhyāna” and spiritual colouration “Leśyā” prove this point.

Though these considerations have been mentioned under Savicāra practice of Bhaktapratyākhyānamaraṇa, they are variously applicable to all three types of its Avicāra practice as well as the practices of Iṅginīmaraṇa and both the types of Prāyopagamana–maraṇa, which can be viewed as its extensions only, because they generally follow the practice of Bhaktapratyākhyāna.

Procedure –

Though very detailed procedures have been given for the practice of the end–vows, they basically boil down to the following few steps: –

    1. Detachment from the mundane existence and a strong desire to liberate and do whatever is necessary for achieving liberation.

    2. Premonition of death by the analyses of the Riṣṭas or realisation that for one reason or the other the body has become weak enough to hinder the performance of one’s spiritual duties.

    3. Rise of a desire to embrace voluntary peaceful death.

    4. Search for a supervising monk.

    5. Migrating to the monastic order of the supervising monk or leaving the house and staying in a temple or a prayer hall for carrying out the practice.

    6. To confess, criticise, condemn one’s flaws in front of the supervising monk and atone for them by undertaking the expiation awarded.

    7. Undertaking external and internal austerities to weaken the body and the passions.

    8. To accept fast unto death when the body and passions have weakened.

The Result –

The Śaurasenī works are 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.

Flaws Of The Practice Of Voluntary Peaceful Death –

Though various works mention the flaws under different names, they fall in the following categories: –

  1. Desire to live on for continued enjoyment of the service, honour and adulation received during the period of practice,

  2. Desire to die quickly to end the physical pain and mental misery caused by the rigorous practice,

  3. To recall the previously enjoyed pleasures and to wish to enjoy them again,

  4. To be caught by the attachment for one’s kith and kin and to fear separation from them,

  5. To make a binding wish for either heavenly or earthly pleasurable rebirth as a result of the piety earned by this practice.

When we examine these flaws carefully, we realize that all of them are actuated by worldly attachment and consequent desires and fears and that these six are essentially the same as the five mentioned earlier. The fear–flaw mentioned by the author of Ratnakaraṇḍa Śrāvakācāra is the same as the fear of being deprived of the pleasures of this life and that of not gaining the worldly or heavenly pleasures in the following birth.

Conclusion –

The conclusion drawn from this chapter is that Śaurasenī canonical and canon–equivalent works provide a fund of information on Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa – the most critical and severest practice to be undertaken by any aspirant practitioner.

8.5 Voluntary Peaceful Death In Pāli Canons –

From a critical study of the Pāli canonical and explanatory literature, mentioned in the fourth chapter, it has become evident that the Buddhist tradition does not support the concept of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ as a part of its spiritual practices to attain nirvāṇa. On the contrary, it is quite opposed to the idea of embracing death voluntarily for achieving eternal peace.

From the entire Buddhist thought, which supports the middle path as opposed to the Jaina thought that prescribes extreme forms of penance as means of spiritual purification, it is only to be expected that it would not prescribe the voluntary death, the extreme form of penance, for its followers.

However, there are passages in the Dhammapada that maintain that a short but spiritually productive life is better than a long but unproductive one.

The Visuddhimaggo prescribes contemplation about death, variously, for overcoming the fear of death and maintaining one’s equanimity “Samādhi” in the face of death but stops short of prescribing voluntary death, even the peaceful one, for the Buddhist clergy as well as the lay followers.

There are, however, instances where the Lord held the embracing of voluntary death by certain monks and lay followers, under extremely exceptional circumstances, as correct. The examples of Sīṭha, Sappadāsa, Godhika, Bhikṣu Vakkali Kulaputra and Bhikṣu Channa, who were suffering from incurable diseases and embraced voluntary deaths prove this point. When Tathāgata Buddha came to know of the voluntary deaths of Bhikṣu Vakkali Kulaputra and Bhikṣu Channa, by the use of a weapon, He held that they were free of any blemish and that both the monks had attained nirvāṇa.

Even in the medieval times, the practice of Hara–kiri, voluntary death by the use of a weapon, was prevalent amongst the Japanese Buddhists as a means of saving their honour.

However, there are some differences of procedure in the case of voluntary deaths in the Jaina and the Buddhist traditions. As opposed to the Jaina tradition, the Buddhist tradition permitted the use of a weapon for embracing voluntary death instantly. The Jaina thought is opposed to such prescription as it smacks of desire to die, which is a flaw of the voluntary peaceful death, and due to which reason it may be termed as suicide rather than Samādhimaraṇa. According to them, “if there is no desire to die then why such a haste?”

In most of the instances cited in the Buddhist treatises, voluntary death was caused, instantly, by use of a weapon rather than waiting peacefully in full consciousness for the death to come naturally. Apart from this departure from the practice of Samādhimaraṇa, these fitted the frame of peaceful deaths and could be considered as voluntary deaths in peaceful frame of mind. Even the use of weapon does not make them unacceptable as Samādhimaraṇa. Even the Gṛddhapṛṣṭamaraṇa form of voluntary death permits the use of a weapon under exceptional circumstances.

An analysis of various forms of voluntary deaths practised, from time to time, by the Buddhists brings out the fact that they were generally violent in nature and used external means to embrace death.

The conclusion drawn from this chapter is that though the Buddhist thought did not support the concept of voluntary death under ordinary circumstances, it was not opposed to the idea under extremely exceptional circumstances. In addition, in some cases, especially those approved by Lord Buddha, the volitional dispositions of the practitioners were such that, not withstanding the means employed, they very nearly embraced Samādhimaraṇa as far as their states of equanimity at the time of death were concerned.

| Contents |