(Chapter VIII, cont.)
8.8 – 8.9
8.8 Distinction Between Samādhimaraṇa, Other Religious Deaths, Honour Deaths, Euthanasia And Suicide –
The critical study of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa, other religious deaths, honour deaths, euthanasia and suicide reveals that though all of them come in the category of voluntary deaths, their individual merits and demerits widely differ and, spiritually speaking, they do not belong to the same class. The detailed critique, which follows in the subsequent paragraphs, will bring out this fact more vividly.
8.81 Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa And Other Religious Deaths –
The main contest is between Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa and the ritual deaths of Mahāprasthāna and Prāyopaveśana of the Hindu tradition. We have already conclusively proved 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.
As far as voluntary deaths in the Buddhist tradition are concerned, most of them are by violent means and their being peaceful deaths is debatable in spite of favourable comments by Lord Buddha in some cases. However, the modern analysts put them in the category of suicides only.
Christianity is opposed to voluntary deaths as a matter of principle and those that used to be resorted to in order to avoid religious persecution etc were against the church’s injunctions and, therefore, enjoyed no religious sanction and merit. The Islam also forbids voluntary deaths of any kind.
8.82 Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa And Honour Deaths –
Honour deaths are also voluntary deaths in order to save one’s individual group or national honour bu that is where the comparison ends. The practice of Sati, by voluntary burning of the bereaved wife on the funeral pyre of the deceased husband, though a form of voluntary death, is markedly different from the practice of Sallekahnā–Samādhi–maraṇa. The Jaina concept of Sati is that if an occasion arises when only one’s chastity and righteousness or life can be saved the preference must go to saving the righteous virtues including chastity. However, no incidents of widows being burnt with the husbands’ corpses are found in the Jaina lore, nor do the Jaina precepts and preceptors support such practice.
The practice of Jauhar, too, suffered from the same flaw as Sati in that it, too, was an extremely violent form of mass voluntary deaths. Though it was a form of embracing death to save one’s honour, it was not a spiritual practice and no spiritual benefit could be expected to ensue from it.
The very concept of Hara–kiri was that of violent voluntary death to defend one’s honour and proving one’s loyalty to one’s sovereign and it had no spiritual overtones. In this sense, it does not compare with the practice of Sallekahnā–Samādhimaraṇa, which is a spiritual observance.
To sum up this section we can say that the idea of honour death was very noble and lofty and even patriotic but it always fell short of the spiritual benefit that the practice of Sallekahnā–Samādhimaraṇa logically and systematically promises.
8.83 Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa And Euthanasia –
Euthanasia, even in its active and voluntary form is a highly debatable issue and has drawn very strong opposition from almost all religious traditions the world over. Its opponents base their opposition to this other wise humane and dignified death for the incurably ill and suffering multitudes that would prefer the end of their misery by going into the oblivion of a painless death, on the grounds that, all said and done, it is killing and that is not acceptable as only that who can grant the gift of life can grant the gift of death also., none else is empowered to so and none else ought to try to play God. It is a form of death that does not enjoy religious approval and speaks of no spiritual benefit for the departed soul. Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa, on the other hand, is a spiritual practice that is accompanied by well–defined spiritual practices and results in predictable spiritual benefits.
This comparison clearly shows that there is nothing in common between the practices of euthanasia and Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa except that both may be voluntary. No spiritual benefit can ensue from the practice of euthanasia.
8.84 Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa And Suicide –
There is nothing in common between Suicide and Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa. that there is nothing common between the two except that voluntary deaths occur in both. In the first case the death is in a highly passionate and emotionally disturbed state and is brought about by highly violent and objectionable means while in the other it is in a state of complete mental equanimity, peace and calmness and is brought about be peaceful and non–violent means. It will only be right to conclude this exposition on the note that ‘Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa Is Not Suicide’.
This chapter clearly brings out the futility of the claims of the advocates of voluntary deaths, other than Sallelkhanā–Samādhimaraṇa, – religious, honour, mercy or suicide – and conclusively proves that only Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa, with its well–defined spiritual and non–violent character, can hold the promise of a spiritually rewarding form of voluntary death. All other forms of voluntary deaths including those approved by other religious traditions, fall grossly short of their promise of liberation and the violent ones out of them are positively spiritually degrading and harmful. The Jaina way of ‘voluntary peaceful death’ is the only answer for the seekers of spiritual emancipation and final liberation from karma and miserable mundane existence.
8.9 Final Conclusion –
I would like to conclude this thesis on the note that embracing ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ by fasting unto death after a preparatory penance “Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa” is the ultimate form of penance that culminates in a fearless death in a state of equanimity of mind. It is a noble form of death, which does not use any violent means to die in a fit of the moment and it is perfectly non–violent as it causes no injury to the self or the other.
The Jaina way of embracing ‘Voluntary Death’ is perfectly peaceful, calm and quiet and is distinct from the voluntary deaths practised by the followers of the pther faiths in that it uses no violent means to die and that there is no desire to die associated with it. It is simply a noble way to voluntarily discard the wornout and diseased body that does not remain spiritually productive any longer.
Practice of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ has been a tradition with the Jainas eversince the dawn of civilisation and it has been practised by the Jaina ascetics and lay followers since the time of Bhagwan ṛṣabhadeva to the present age. Jaina scriptures, rock–inscriptions and media reports amply bear evidence to this fact.
‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’, practised the Jaina way cannot be compared with suicide, Sati or any other form of honour deaths and it attracts no provisions of law against it. So much so that Justice TK Tukol has opined that omission to take food is not an act under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with suicide and that it is not an offence because it does not injure others. Even the Supreme Court had rejected a petition to stop a Jina monk from undertaking a fast unto death and maintained that ‘Santhārā is not suicide’.
Finally, Sallekhanā, Santhārā or Samādhimaraṇa, call it by any name, is a noble act and its practitioners are venerated at home and abroad.
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