death with equanimity



(Chapter VIII, cont.)

8.6 – 8.7

8.6 Comparative Study –

From a comparative study of the concept and practice of Voluntary Peaceful Death in the two traditions – the Jaina and the Buddhist – we come to know that the Jaina canonical, explanatory and other sacred texts have discussed the issue of voluntary peaceful death or Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa in the greatest detail. The Pāli canonical works do not recommend embracing of voluntary death as a policy for seeking spiritual emancipation but mentions a number of instances when the members of Buddhist clergy and laity had embraced voluntary deaths, which evoked favourable comments from Lord Buddha. The Hindu and other religious traditions also approve of voluntary deaths under varying circumstances, which either makes the performance of one’s duties impossible or in defence of one’s righteousness, virtues and faith when they are threatened.

The subject of types of death has also attracted wide attention from the authors of religious texts of all traditions. In the Jaina tradition various works mention two to seventeen types of deaths some of which are considered as auspicious and the others as either inauspicious or not so auspicious. To mentions some of the either type we have Bhaktapratyākhyāna, Iṅginī and Prāyopagamana “Ācārāṅga and Mūlacāra”, Sakāma–maraṇa of three kinds “Uttarādhyayanasūtra” and two kinds of Paṇḍitamaraṇa mentioned in the Sthānāṅga and the Vyākhyāprajñapti and similar mentions in the Samavāyāṅga, Samādhimaraṇātsāha Dīpaka by Ācārya Sakalakīrti Gaṇi and the Prakīrṇakas as the auspicious kind and Akāmamaraṇa of the Uttarā–dhyayana , twelve kinds of Bālamaraṇa mentioned in the Vyākhyāprajñapti and nine of the seventeen types mentioned in the Samavāyāṅga and Bhagavatī Ārādhanā as those of the inauspicious and not so auspicious kind. the Buddhist literature does not distinguish voluntary deaths as auspicious and inauspicious as such but from the incidents of voluntary deaths available therein it can be surmised that the ones that received the approval of the Lord can be termed as spiritually beneficial and the others as not so beneficial. The Hindu tradition also deals with this subject at two levels – some forms of voluntary deaths are by non–violent means “Mahā–prasthāna by fasting unto death and Bhūsamādhi in conjunction with such fasting” and they can certainly be considered as auspicious and the others that employ violent means to embrace voluntary death “drowning, falling from a mountaintop or a tree, by use of a weapon, etc”. The Christianity generally condemns voluntary deaths as suicide but recommends such deaths under exceptional circumstances in order to defend one’s faith and virtues and calls such deaths as auspicious.

As a concept the Jaina way of embracing voluntary peaceful death is generally by non–violent means and is divided into two clear–cut parts – Sallekhanā, which is the deliberate preparatory part and may extend from a period of twelve fortnights to twelve years and Samādhimaraṇa, which is the end–practice part in the form of fasting unto death with some more observances, contemplations and restrictions in order to destroy passions and karmic encumbrance. The Buddhist literature offers no such concept but considers any form of voluntary deaths in which the aspirant embraces it with a desire to liberate as Samādhimaraṇa. The Hindu tradition emphasises Samādhi as the essential ingredient of spiritually beneficial voluntary deaths and recommends both violent and non–violent means to embrace it. The Christianity considers even violent forms of voluntary death in order to defend the faith and virtues as noble deaths.

Various religious traditions prescribe the procedures to be adopted for embracing voluntary death in accordance with the underlying philosophy of voluntary death subscribed by them. Jaina tradition that belongs to the category of believers 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.

A comparison of the contemplated results of various forms of voluntary deaths brings forth the fact that various treatises of the Jaina literature are unanimous in holding the view that the practice of voluntary peaceful death of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa, generally by non–violent means 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. 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. 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. The voluntary deaths such as Mahāprasthāna, Bhūsamādhi, etc, which are of non–violent character compare well with the Jaina concept of Samādhi–maraṇa 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.

A comparison of various flaws of this practice mentioned by various sacred texts of the two Jaina traditions show that they are, mainly, eight – 1. Desire to enjoy worldly pleasures as a result of this practice, 2. Desire to enjoy 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, 5. Desire to enjoy sensory pleasures as a result of this practice. 3. Affection for the kith and kin, 6. Recalling pleasures enjoyed here and desire to experience them again hereafter, 7. Making a binding wish to be fulfilled as a result of this practice, and 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. 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 eight are essentially the same as the first five mentioned herein. The fear–flaw 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.

The Buddhist literature makes no mentions of any such flaws nor does the Christian tradition possibly for wand of any concept of spiritually rewarding voluntary deaths in these traditions. The Hindu tradition, however, believes in spiritual emancipation through Samādhi “maraṇa” but most of its methods are violent in nature and the spiritual benefit to be gained through them may be questionable. In final analysis we may say that basic flaws of the practice of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa are attachment and desire, which give rise to those mentioned in the previous section.

The concusion drawn from this chapter is that all religious traditions have, in one way or the other, approved of voluntary deaths for the reasons of 1. Spiritual emancipation, 2. For defending the faith, 3. For defending one’s righteousness, moral values or virtues and 4. Personal, ethnic or national honour. The means of embracing such voluntary death are both – violent and non–violent. It stands to logic that non–violent means of embracing voluntary deaths are more conducive to peace and equanimity of mind at the time of death and are so much the better for their this quality.

8.7 Incidence And Practice Of Voluntary Deaths In Modern Times –

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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