Saṃlekhanā (Peaceful Death) in Jainism is Not a Suicide

Published: 26.04.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015


The 24th Tīrthankara Mahavira was great religious preacher who not only paved the path of leading an artistic life by implementing the great and small vows but also showed us the path of ending the life journey very artistically through the process of saṃlekhanā. Saṃlekhanā is considered as the king of all the vows and it is the highest sādhanā. Pujyapada in his text, Mrityu Mahotsava highlights the essence of Saṃlekhanā with the following sūtra:

Tapthasya tapasasyāpi pālitasya vratsya ca.
Pathitasya srutasyāpi phalam mrtyu samādhinā

It means all religious observances, fastings and austerities would be unavailing, if at the last moment of life, at the time of approaching death, if one does not undertake saṃlekhanā. The paper is an attempt todo a comparative study of Saṃlekhanā and suicide. The paper is divided into two sections. The first section deals with the introduction of Saṃlekhanā and its various proceedings in brief. The second section deals with the comparative study between the Jain concept of Saṃlekhanā and the suicide in general parlance.


Definition of Saṃlekhanā

The term Saṃlekhanā is derived from the two words Sam and lekhanā. Sam means praiseworthy, lekhanā means emasculation of the body, so Saṃlekhanā means a praiseworthy process of emasculating the body, appears to have been at the root of the ritual meaning of Saṃlekhanā[2]. The householder is expected to generally observe it at the last moment of his life māranāntikā Samlekh am, to ensure a passionless, peaceful, unpressured end.[3] Sri Ravi Shankar in his book, "Wisdom f or the New Millennium' rightly says that knowledge of death gives the knowledge of life".[4]

It is a well experienced fact that the last thought in our mind before falling asleep will be the first thought when we awaken, so also will the last impression in our mind come to us in the next life as the first impression i.e. yallessā marai tallessā upannai.[5] There are so many agamic evidences in this regard. Tīrthankara Pārśva and Arishtanemi undertook the vow of santhārā and realized nirvānā after a month long period of santhārā.

The Antakrtadasā canonical text highlights the 70 instances of monks and nuns who observed saṃlekhanā and attained the realm of heaven and after three to nine births they achieved the ultimate goal of liberation. Among those instances, few are Khandaga, Aniruddha Kumar, Mega, eight queens of Lord Krishna etc. The canonical text Uvāsagdasāo cites the life history of ten house holders who culminated their life by undertaking Saṃlekhanā. In Uttarādhyayana sūtra, also we find the essence of santharā in the fifth chapter i.e. ārāhiyā duve loye[6] i.e. The one who under takes saṃlekhanā enjoys life here and hereafter in the next birth also.

Conditions for undertaking Saṃlekhanā:

According to Samantabhadra, Saṃlekhanā is a vow to be adopted for seeking liberation of soul from the body as a religious duty during a calamity, severe famine, old age or illness from which there is no escape or against which there is no remedy[7]. Akalaṇkācārya in his Rajavārtika, suggests the conditions that are required to undertake saṃlekhanā, is old age, disease, deterioration of power of sense organs, loss of physical strength and six essential duties (Sadāvaśyaka) seems to be inobservable, saṃlekhanā can be undertaken.[8] This signifies that the process of saṃlekhanā is to be adopted either in special circumstances when the religious observances are being endangered on account of unavoidable bodily infirmities and the like, or on the occasion when the time of natural death has been known in all probability.[9]

No doubt, the body which is the medium of the upliftment of the soul is to be properly nourished and cared for and the diseases are to be seriously met with, without any treat. But if the body refused to respond to our earnest endeavours, we should not falter to forsake it like a villain in the interest of saving the peace of mind.[10] Thus if one is encountered with the causes of the termination of duration of the present life, one should resort to the performance of the process of Saṃlekhanā which is not only other than the spiritual welcome to death, but a way of meeting the challenge of death undauntedly. This happy embracement of death has been calculated to carry the spiritual dispositions to the next birth.[11] Now, it is essential to explain various types of samādhi maraṇa.

Jainism Explains Various Types of Attaining Samadhi Maraṇa:

The eighth chapter of Ācārāñga sūtra has explained three forms of death. They are bhakta praty ākhyāna maraṇ, ingini maraṇa and padopagamana maraṇa.[12] The last two are distinguished by restriction of the movement of the person and the motion of his limbs.

1.  Bhakta pratyākhyāna maraṇa

The first one is prescribed for a well-controlled and instructed monk. We should desist from doing, causing or allowing to be done any movement of the body, speech and mind. This type of maraṇa permits attendance and service of both kinds, i.e. by oneself and by others.

2.  Ingini maraṇa

The second one which is still more difficult requires the monk not to stir from ones place and check all motions of the body. It admits of one's attending on one's self but forbids receiving help or assistance from others.

3.  Padopagamana maraṇa

The third one is still more difficult. In this sort of Maraṇa, the person neither attends his own body nor insists others to look after him. The monk should examine the ground most carefully and lie down wholly unmindful of his body, putting up with all kinds of mortification of the flesh. He should seek the enlightenment in the soul without any delusions of life. A monk or a pious layman should reach the end of his life without any attraction to external objects after having patiently chosen any one of the three methods of death for attainment of liberation.

Ācārya Kundakunda has referred to this vow of Saṃlekhanā and stated that death is of three kind s: bāla maraṇa, bālapandita maraṇa and pandita maraṇa.[13] Bāla-maraṇa is the death of an individual who has right faith but does not possess full self control. The second is a kind of death which is faced by a householder who has reached the fifth stage of his spiritual progress and who is unable to abstain from the himsa of one-sensed being and is still indecisive in the matter of self-restraint. Pandita maraṇa is the death of an ascetic who has attained pure knowledge about his own self. The death of Tīrthankara or Ganadharas or of monks is of this kind.

The Process of Undertaking Saṃlekhanā

Saṃlekhanā is to be performed as the last phase of a regular religious career. Both the levels of personalities householders and houseless monks may perform this vow. A householder is advised to first perform eleven pratimās, in which he practically leads like an ascetic life. At the end of this period, he is to give up food and drink and wait for death. Now the procedure of abstinence from food for fasting unto death is explained in detail in Ācārānga sūtra.

First of all, the monk, who wishes to undertake fasting unto death should examine the suitability of place, such as a village, forest garden, mountain, cave, etc. which are free from living being, the monk should spread a bed of straw in the place where he undertakes abstinence from food an d the place where he will rest his body should be cleaned by himself.[14]

Having abstained from food, he should lay peacefully, and untouched by hardships like hunger, oppressed by the favourable and unfavourable man made troubles, he should not transgress his undertaking.[15]

Moreover, it is said, animals that crawl on the earth, the birds that fly in the sky and creatures that live in the burrows may feed on his flesh and blood, but he does not injure them, nor does he flap them away.[16] Creatures may injure his body, but he should not budge from his 'stand', he should tolerate, when oppressed by various hardships.[17] On the falling off of these coils, that is, when these coils are abandoned, the monk reaches the end of this life span and he al so reaches the end of his determination of fasting unto death.[18]

A Jain monk is required to prepare himself to pursue a course of gradual fasting which may last for years together. In Pravacana Saroddhāra there is a specific methodology of observing saṃlekhanā on the basis of difference of time limitation. Minimum time limit of saṃlekhanā is six months. The medium time limit of it is twelve months and the maximum time limit of it is twelve years which ends with death.

It is very often seen that the self has more attachment with one's own body; he cares for it with all hooks and crooks. But during saṃlekhanā period, the practioner realizes that body and passions are the main causes of inflow of karmas. So prior to the adoption of the vow, one is required to give up all feelings of love, hatred companionship and worldly attachments with a pure and calm mind. He should obtain forgiveness of one's kinsmen and of others with all humanity at the same time forgiving them sincerely.[19] Only when he has confessed without any concealment all his transgressions, kṛta, kārita, or anumata, is he fit to assume the mahāvratās in their entirety for as long as his life lasts.[20]

The dravya saṃlekhanā last for twelve years. According to the Uttarādhyayana sūtra (36.25. 255), the order in which food can be curtailed is as follows:

The first four years are done by either vikrti parityāga (i.e. abandonment of rich food) or ācāmla (i.e. eating only a single item of food). The next four years - special penance such as fasting for a day, for two days, for three days etc. and taking appropriate breakfast. During the 9th and 10th year fasting on alternate days is practised and ācāmla in breakfast. The first half of the 11th year fasting for one day and two days is practised. Then in the second half of the 11th year severe penance of fasting is increased to three or more days.

During the whole of the 11th year, the ācāmla in breakfast is practiced. In the first six months reduced diet on the day of ācāmla and a full diet on such occasions is permissible during the next six months of the 11th year.

During the 12th year, ācāmla coupled with another penance, i.e. either continuous ācāmla with another penance alternately. At the end of the 12th year fasting for a fortnight or a whole month or bhakta pratyākhyāna etc. is taken.

In the Ratnakaranda- Sravokācāra, we get the order of curtailment in diet as follows. First, cereals are given up, one practices to take only mild. Then, mild is also given up and only buttermilk or hot water is taken. Then, according to one's capacity, gradually fasting is taken up and water is also given up.[21] According to the Niśītha cūrni taking food is reduced in such a way that complete abandonment of food and death coincide. During the last four months of this year, the mouth is kept oiled so that the speech organs do not cease to function and there is no difficulty in reciting the namaskāra mantra etc.[22]

Activities Undertaken During Saṃlekhanā

Mental attitude of the person who has adopted the vow of saṃlekhanā should be pure in thoughts and must have severed all connections, having forgiven everybody and asked everybody's pardon in sweet words, a person with Right-faith and Right-knowledge would always believe that being born as a human being is itself a rare chance for annihilation of all karmas and that increased attachments to relatives and friends, business and occupations, and accumulation of property of any kind would only entangle the soul with new karmas of different kinds of varying intensity. These ties are all due to the karmas. Every kind of relationship and attachment perishes with the body. Such thought will create a sense of detachment and free the mind from passions of every kind like love, anger, pride deceit and greed. The person concerned should make a frank and full confession of his actions and thoughts before his preceptor. He should discuss with his spiritual guru whatever sins he might have committed by himself and by others with his consent till that date without hesitation or sense of secrecy.

In the Ācārāṇga Sūtra, we find an aphorism, kasāye payanue kiccāppahāro titikshā. In this sūtra the thinning of the passion and the reduction of the diet have been propounded as a twofold austerity. The mere reduction of diet without thinning the passions cannot achieve the end. Therefore the internal austerity of thinning the passions and the external austerity of reducing the diet are both accepted as penance by the followers of the Jina. So such an auspicious way of achieving death can never be compared with the irreligious act of suicide. There is a radical difference between the saṃlekhanā and suicide.


Saṃlekhanā is not a Suicide:

  1. Saṃlekhanā is undertaken voluntarily without any sort of pressure, out of one's own will and for the purpose of having religious holy death. It is not suicide because it is undertaken without passion. To commit suicide is to kill oneself out of anger, agony, malice or frustration, whereas fasting to death purges the soul of its passions and perversities by conquering the fear of death.
  2.  Saṃlekhanā is adopted by monks and nuns after the due permission of guru before the huge audience. Lay persons have to acquire permission from their guru and as well as from relatives. The ācārya in a Jain sect is the responsible authority who decides when and under which situations one should be allowed for such a great vow whereas suicide is committed without such permission and is done with lot of passion, emotions and excitements in isolation.
  3. Saṃlekhanā is a Jain technical word which means the voluntary, step by step termination of body with full wisdom and insight. Whereas suicide is killing oneself ley means employed by oneself suddenly drugs, burning oneself with the use of kerosene or petrol or use of electrical wires (live) etc.
  4.  The systematic methodology of saṃlekhanā takes the life span of twelve years of gradual limitation of food, water etc. whereas the common methods adopted for committing suicide are jumping from heights, jumping in ells or deep water jumping or lying down before a running train, shooting, hanging, poisoning by use insecticide or other drugs, burning oneself with the use of kerosene or petrol or the use of electrical wires (live) etc.

The seven conditions under which a person can adopt saṃlekhanā are

  1. incurable disease
  2. old age
  3. If human, infernal, animals cause upasarga (hardships)
  4. when a favourable situation are present before the monk for deviation from conduct
  5. due to calamity if pure means of acquiring alms becomes impossible
  6. in furious forest if monks seeks no secured place
  7. the visual power, hearing power decreases and legs do not help in walking, saṃlekhanā can be adopted.[23]

Whereas suicide is instantial and committed due to the disappointment and frustration in personal life, emotional or sentimental breakdown in married life or love affairs, unexpected and unbearable economic loss in trade or business, sudden and heart breaking grief brought on by the death of the nearest and dearest, appearance of some disease which is incurable or socially reprehensible, sudden development of melancholia or depression either due to heredity or other hidden causes, public disgrace or dishonour of one's self or the family, an unexpected shock due to failure to realize an ambition and many other unusual factors may be regarded, either individually or cumulatively, are causes driving an individual to commit suicide this dreadful act of human being is condemned by each and every religions and not only by Jains.

In Ishovāsyopanisad, it is clearly written that one who commits suicide goes to the dreadful infernal realm.[24] It is said that the person who commits suicide out of anger, fear, pride, kl eśa have to take the next birth in infernal realm for 60,000 years and have to repent for the misdeed committed by oneself.[25]  Even in the jain canonical literature of Uttarādhyayana sūtra it is said that the person who commits suicide spoils this life and the next life where as saṃlekhanā is nothing but a way of facing death artistically, it is considered that if a monk leaves his body in Samādhi maraṇa he surely attains the heaven. This systematic process of Samādhi Maraṇa influenced even Vinoba Bhave to such an extent that once he commented I wish to die according to the Jain system of death. So Saṃlekhanā is a Jain religious injection essential for shedding of karmas and purification of soul.

So such an auspicious death can never be compared with suicide. Sri Ravi Shankar comments that those people who are not familiar to Jaina views, thoughts and rituals claim that saṃlekhanā is suicide. Justice T.K. Tukol says, saṃlekhanā is not a suicide. Jain philosophy is a philosophy of non-violence. In the case of suicide, a death with passion is nothing but violence whereas Jain Saṃlekhanā is observed thoughtfully in an impassionate state without craving for materialistic pleasures and takes the oath of abstaining from food, water entirely willingly and even resolves not to harm oneself or any other member of the society at large. So we can never compare saṃlekhanā with the suicide which is committed in a passionate and abnormal state.

In the text, The History of suicide in India, p-107 Upendranath Thakur writes that why Jain sallekhana is considered as suicide is that very crude methods have been employed in it like complete giving up of all kinds of food & water. So it should be clearly kept in the mind, that since the milk of a cow and milk taken out of the particular plant 'aka' seems equal but one is nectar i.e. nourishes the body, the other is poison which destroys the body i.e. takes away the life. Likewise there is a great difference between suicide and sallekhana.Suicide is the cause of worldly wanderings whereas Samadhi Maraṇa is the cause of eliminating karmas, and thereby limiting the circle of life and death. A man of less intellect only commits suicide to get rid of one's physical diseases, mental disorders and other unfavourable situation that is why, it is rightly said that "Suicide is the temporary solution to the permanent problem." While a man of intellect observes sallekhana to get rid of bhava vyadhi i.e. wandering disease which is material cause of all the diseases and problems.

The Concept of Euthanasia

Saṃlekhanā can be defined as planned detachment with the present body under special circumstances, for the purpose of decreasing the accumulated bad karmās, leading to purity in the thoughts. But in common parlance, saṃlekhanā is considered as a kind of suicide, a kind of euthanasia. But this is not the case, as Jains believe in non-violence; they will never allow such violence oriented act of suicide. In Jainism much value is placed on the soul and not to the physical body, as one will continue to carry the soul into a new body till liberation. Therefore when physical body can no longer function towards spiritual progress, a planned death is prescribe d that is called saṃlekhanā. This modern concept is a debatable issue, as few consider it as a kind of murder, few consider it as physician assisted suicide, and for few, it is a merciful method of death. The problem of Euthanasia is related with both the animals and human beings. Here point of consideration is for human euthanasia which is of two types viz. Voluntary and in voluntary euthanasia. Euthanasia by consent with the persons direct Euthanasia may be conducted consent i.e. voluntary euthanasia and without consent i.e. involuntary euthanasia. Since involuntary euthanasia is conducted without an individual's specifically given acquiescence in the opinion of some this equates to murder.

Euthanasia by means may be conducted passively, non-aggressively, and aggressively both. Passive euthanasia or non-aggressive euthanasia entails the withdrawing of life support and is more controversial. Aggressive euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill is the most controversial means. It entails the withholding of common treatments (such as anti­biotics, pain relief medications, morphine or surgery) knowing that it may also result in death (principle of double effect). Passive euthanasia is the most accepted form and it is a common practice in most hospitals.

Voluntary euthanasia has often been rejected as a violation of the sanctity of human life. Specifically, some Christians argue that human life ultimately belongs to God, so that humans should not be the one to make the choice to end life. Christians view as quoted in Bible, The god giveth and the god taketh; no one else has a right to intervene in the divine process of life and death. The man cannot give life, so he must not take life, voluntarily or otherwise. Orthodox Judaism takes basically the same approach. Even Jains would never allow this kind of act of euthanasia, as Jain aphorisms claim that life is dear to everyone, no one wants to die.[26] In such a situation, euthanasia is an immoral act, inhuman behaviour as per Jain view. It is also illegal i n most of the countries. Jainism, as it is basically a non-violent religion is in opposition with this kind of mercy killing or death through Euthanasia.


Thus the basic concept of undertaking the vow of Santhārā as Samādhi Maraṇa is that a man who is the master of his own destiny should resolve himself to follow the best method of leaving the body. A Jaina resolving to undergo santhārā knows it well that he has eaten a lot of food to sustain his body during this life. So the essence of human life is to get the recourse of saṃlekhanā bravely so that death may convert into festival. It is very essential for a man who drives a car to have knowledge of giving break to the car. If he learns merely driving but never learns to give a break, this driving will be very harmful for the driver if he meets with a severe accident likewise the person having the knowledge of how to lead an artistic life must have knowledge of giving up the body artistically through the gradual process of Saṃlekhanā.


Original Texts

  • Ācārāṅga Sūtra. Ed. Yuvācārya Mishrimalji 'Madhukar'.With original Text, Hindi version, Notes, Annotation and Appendices.Beawar: Shri Āgam Prakashan Samiti.1998. Tattvārtha Sūtraṁ of Umāswāmī. Ed. J.L. Jaini. Delhi: Barrister Champat Rai Jain Trust. 1956.
  • Bhagvatī Sūtra.Ed. Mishrimalji Maharaj. Beawar: Āgam Prakāshan Samiti. 1991.
  • Jacobi, Hermann M. Sacred Book of the East. Ed. F. Max Müller Jaina Sūtrās. Delhi: M.B.D. Part-II, vol.-45. 1994.
  • Ratnakaraṇdak Srāvakācāra of Samantabhadra.Ed. Manikchanda. Bombay: Digambara Jain Granthamālā. 1982.
  • Mūlācāra of Vattakera. Ed. Kailash Chandra Shastri, New Delhi: Bhāratīya Jñānapītha.2000.
  • Dharmāmṛta Sāgār of Āśādhar. Ed. Kailash Chandra Shastri. Delhi: Bhāratīya Jñānapith Prakaśan.1978.
  • Uttarādhyayana Sūtra. Ed. Muni Mishrimalji Maharaj. Trans. Muni Rajendra. Beawar: Āgam Prakāshan Samiti.1991.

Secondary Sources

  • Ravi Shankar, Wisdom for the New Millennium.
  • Upendranath Thakur,The History of Suicide in India, Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Oriental Publishers,1963.


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