Clarification of the Concept of Samlekhana in Jainism

Published: 19.10.2015
Updated: 16.12.2017

Contemporary Issue of Santhārā (Samādhi Marana) in Jainism as Suicide

Santhārā is a Jain technical word which means the voluntary, step by step termination of body with full awareness, wisdom and insight. The 24thTīrthankara 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 Santhārā. The basic concept underlying the vow of Santhārā is that a man who is the master of his own destiny should resolve himself/herself to follow the best method of leaving the body. Santhārā is considered as the king of all the vows and it is the highest spiritual vow rather than the ritual. On August 10, the Rajasthan High Court banned Santhara, a Jain ritual of voluntary fasting unto death, and made it an offence under Section 309 (attempt to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code. It held that any person supporting the practice would be prosecuted for abetting suicide. So on 10.8.2015, the Rajasthan High Court banned Santhārā and declared that it is illegal like suicide, Sati pratha and Euthanasia. The research paper is an attempt to do a comparative study of Santhārā and Suicide. The paper is divided into three major sections. The first section deals with the introduction of Santhārā, its procedure and how it's a pure spiritual practice of dispassionate state of mind and soul, it is discussed in brief. The second section deals with the concept of Suicide and Sati Pratha and Euthanasia in brief and the third section deals with the comparative study of the Jain concept of Santhārā and the Suicide in general parlance.

Section I

Meaning and Definition of Saṃlekhanā

The term Saṃlekhanā is derived from the two words, Sam and lekhanā. Sam means praiseworthy, lekhanā means emasculation of the body and passions, so Saṃlekhanā means a praiseworthy process of emasculating the body and passions.[1] Santhārā (Peaceful Death through Fasting) is facing death (by an ascetic or a householder) voluntarily when he/she is nearing his/ her end and when normal life according to religion seems to be impossible due to old age, incurable disease, severe famine etc. Santhārā is nothing but the subjugation of all passions and abandonment of all worldly attachments, by observance of austerities and by gradual withdrawal of food and water, and by simultaneous meditation on the real nature of the self until the soul parts from the body.[2] The basic concept underlying this vow of Santhārā is that man who is the master of his own destiny should face death in such a way as to prevent the influx of new karmas even at the last moment of his life and at the same time liberate the soul from the bondage of new karmas that is clinging to it from beginningless past.

Ancient Evidences of Practice of Santhārā by Ascetics and Householders

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. There are so many āgamic and ancient evidences of practice of Santhārā undertaken by ascetics and householders in this regard as asked by the High Court Authority of Jaipur. Jainism is known for many a unique spiritual practice and accomplishment since it is propounded by the first Lord Prophet Rishabhadeva, centuries ago at the beginning of this time cycle. The antiquity of Jain religion and the practice of Santhārā is unquestionably proven by its relevant mention in the ancient scriptures. It is equally modern and rational in its philosophy and approach. It is modern in the sense that spiritual aspirants, in the pursuit of immortality, undertake this practice. It is rational in the sense that the very purpose of human existence in its spiritual evolution to perfection and to overcome all impediments that hinder its progress towards this noble goal of liberation. Here it is relevant to quote the reference of the book entitled 'Sallekhana is not Suicide' by Justice T.K. Tukol. In this book, his studies on the relevant inscriptions on Saṃlekhanā a undertaken by Vishak Muni.[3], by Chandragupta Maurya[4] so on and so forth. Numerous ascetics both monks and nuns and lay followers adopted the vow of Samlekhana is mentioned by him in his book and in the same inscriptions comprising of 8 volumes.[5]

Tīrthaṅkara Kunthunāth, Aranāth, Malli Prabhu, Munisuvrat Prabhu, Neminātha, Pārśva and Arishtanemi undertook the vow of Santhārā and realized nirvānā after observing a month long period of Santhārā.[6] The Antakrtadasā canonical text highlights the several instances of monks and nuns who observed Santhārā and attained the realm of heaven and after three to nine births, they achieved the ultimate goal of liberation. Among those instances, few persons are Gajasukumar, Atimuktaka Kumar, Mudgarapani, eight queens of Lord Krishna etc.[7] The canonical text, Uvāsagdasāo cites the life history of ten house holders who culminated their life by undertaking Santhārā.[8] In, also we find the essence of Santhārā in the fifth chapter i.e. 'ārāhiyā duve loye', i.e The one who undertakes Santhārā enjoys life here and hereafter in the next birth also.'[9]Along with that the then prevailing Santhārā practice can be seen in many Manuscripts of Jaina Vishva Bharati Institute library. Seventeen volumes of Shāsan Samudra book of Muni Navaratanmalji highlights the brief life sketch of Santhārā observed by monks and nuns of Terapanth Sect in about 200 years. Thus the canonical evidences and the stories highlighting the Santhārā being undertaken is the living proof of traditional ancient religious practice of the vow of Santhārā is in vogue.

Canonical Reasons for Undertaking Santhārā

A Jaina resolving to undergo Santhārā knows it well that he has eaten a lot of food to sustain his body during this life and voluntarily gives up the food. 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 the knowledge of giving up the body artistically, happily through the gradual process of Santhārā.

According to Samantabhadra, Santhārā 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[10]. Akalaṇkācārya in his Tattvārtha Rājavārtika, suggests the conditions that are required to undertake Santhārā, is old age, disease, deterioration of power of sense organs, loss of physical strength and six essential duties (Sadāvaśyaka) seems to be in-observable, Santhārā can be undertaken.[11] This signifies that the process of Santhārā 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. 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 any treat. But if the body refused to respond to our earnest endeavours, one should not falter to forsake it like a villain in the interest of saving the peace of mind.[12] Thus if one is encountered with the causes of the termination of life span of the present life, one should resort to the performance of the process of Santhārā 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. Now, it is essential to explain various types of samādhimarana.

Types of Samādhi Maraṇa in Jainism

Santhārā is of two kinds; internal and external, internal, internal Santhārā consists in emaciating the passions while the external ones consists in emaciating the body.[13]The eighth chapter of Ācārāñga Sūtra mentions three forms of peaceful death. They are bhaktapratyākhyāna maraṇa, ingini maraṇa and padopagamaṇa maraṇa.[14] The last two are distinguished by restriction of the movement of the person and the motion of his limbs.

1. Bhaktapratyākhyāna maraa

The first one is prescribed for a well-controlled and instructed monk. One 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 maraa

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. Pādopagamana 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 Santhārā and stated that death is of three kinds: bāla maraṇa, bālapandita maraṇa and panditamarana.[15]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/violence 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 Tīrthaṅkara, Ganadharas and of monks and nuns is of this kind.

The Procedure of Saṃlekhanā and Santhārā in Scriptures

Santhārā is to be performed at the last phase of a regular religious career. Both the levels of persons householders and houseless monks/nuns may perform this vow according to one's capacity. A householder is advised to first perform eleven pratimās, (special kind of advanced spiritual practices) in which he practically leads the life of an ascetic. At the end of this practice, he/she is to give up food and drink and wait for embracing spiritual death. The procedure of abstinence from food for fasting unto death is explained in detail in Ācārānga sūtra.[16] '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.'

A Jain monk is required to prepare himself to pursue a course of gradual fasting which may last for years together. In Pravacana Sāroddhāra there is a specific methodology of observing Santhārā on the basis of difference of time limitation. Minimum time limit of Santhārā 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.[17]

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 Santhārā period, the practitioner 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. Only when he has confessed without any concealment all his transgressions[18], krta, kārita, or anumata, he is fit to assume the mahāvratās in their entirety for as long as his life lasts.

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

In the first four years either vikrti parityāga (i.e. abandonment of rich food) or ācāmla (i.e. eating only a single item of food) is undertaken. 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 alternatively. At the end of the 12th year fasting for a fortnight or for a whole month or bhaktapratyākhyāna etc. is undertaken.

In the Ratnakaranda-Sravakācāra, 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 undertaken and water is also given up.[19] According to the Niśītha cūrni taking food is reduced in such a way that completes 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 reciteing the namaskāra mantra etc.[20]These are the different methods for undertaking Santhārā according to one's capacity.

Spiritual Activities Undertaken During the Santhārā

The mental attitude of the person who has adopted the vow of Santhārā 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 consent till that date without hesitation or sense of secrecy. One should be aware while undergoing Santhārā that he/she should remain free from the five transgressions namely.

Section II

Concept of the Suicide

Human nature being the same everywhere, the causes of suicide has been universally identical all over the world. Suicide is killing oneself by means employed by oneself. The corresponding word in Sanskrit is ātmaghāt or ātmahatyā (self-destruction). It is normally a misfortune of one's own making. A victim of suicide is either a victim of his/her mental weaknesses or of external circumstances, which he is not able to circumvent. In modern times mental and ethical strength has been fastly deteriorating, whether it be an individual or in any social group. Present scenario has brought with it a large number of psychological problems which an individual without courage can hardly solve.

Sociologists have put forward numerous explanations in their suicide notes,…Abnormal grief accruing from the loss of the loved one, mutual jealousy, mental difficulties, infidelity, family discord, anger, pride, remorse and shame are all symptoms of difficulty in personal adjustment. The forces of fear and anxiety, feeling of inferiority, hatred, aggressiveness, revenge, guilt, and other mental disorders are such that they prevent people from attaining emotional maturity. This emotional immaturity has been the most powerful factor compelling a man to choose suicide as the only solution to seemingly insurmountable difficulties.[21]

The main psychological and physical features of suicide are:

  1. The victim is under an emotional stress;
  2. He or she is overpowered with a feeling of disgrace, fear, disgust or hatred at the time when suicide is resorted to;
  3. The main intention of committing suicide is to escape from the consequences of certain acts or events; disgrace, agony, punishment, social stigma or tyranny of treatment etc.
  4. The kind is far away from religious or spiritual considerations
  5. The means employed to bring about the death are weapons of offence or death;
  6. The death is sudden in most cases unless the victim is rescued earlier;
  7. The act is committed in secrecy (8) it causes misery or bereavement to the kith and kin.

In Samavāyānga Sutra and Bhagavati radhanā[22] text seventeen types of deaths are discussed in brief. Here we find the references of deaths occurring due to common methods adopted for commiting suicide like jumping from heights, jumping into wells, having poison etc. I n Purushārathasidyupāya text of Amritchandra has given reasons for ātmahatyā like a person out of passions, calls death by stopping one's breath or by hanging oneself, by falling in water, poisoning by use of drugs, burning oneself with the use of fuel and by using weapons etc.[23] and on the other hand three types of pious and peaceful ways of attaining death is adopted in the process of Santhārā.

Sati Prathā

In the ancient history the practice of sati, that is self-immolation by the wife on the funeral pyre of the husband. The Mahābhārat, the Rāmāyana, and the Vishnu Purān contain examples of such immolation. Dr.Thakur quotes from Mitākshar on Yajnavalkya (1.86) to show that the object behind the practice was religious merit:'She who follows her husband in death dwells in Heaven for many years as there are hairs on the human body, viz. three and half-a- crores of years. According to Harita: 'that women who follows her husband in death purifies three families, viz. of her mother, of her father, of her husband.' But there are old commentators who are opposed to this custom.[24] The opposition seems to have been voiced from time to time to such practices on the ground that self-destruction was most horrible.

Another practice which was glorified in India is the practice of Jauhar. Whenever the Rājputs lost in a battle or their city was captured by their enemies, every female in a family or the whole tribe as necessary, had recourse to immolation by burning themselves in fire in order to escape from the threatened dishonour. It is difficult to assess at this distance of time whether all such deaths were voluntary or were forced on unwilling women by fear of social stigma or fear of religious punishment. We have records of cases where women running back from the pyres were driven back or subjected to tyranny of horrible character.[25]

'The Santhārā is no different and it is also a process to commit suicide in the name of religion as in the case of Sati. There is absolutely no need to protect the practice of Santhārā by the State.' This is the statement made by the Rajasthan state government. As per my view, this is not the case in Jain concept of Santhārā. In sati prathā, the women have attachment towards his husband and she cannot imagine the life without him. In such a condition, she voluntarily or out of respect for their cultural tradition, jumps onto the funeral pyre of the husband and ends her life. On the other hand, a person abide by the vow of Santhārā, dispassionately gives up body for attaining the higher purpose, i.e. emancipation from the cycle of birth and death whereas the women dying out of emotional attachment wanders in the world. Moreover, in Sati Prathā, only women are indulged, no men are bothered to ever follow such type of social culture. But in Santhārā, both men and women voluntarily participate in this spiritual vow for shedding off one's karmas and thereby purifying the self. It seems that due to cognition of one-sided truth, the court has arrived at such a judgement, so it needs further verification as both the practices are radically different in nature and the purpose behind the actual undertaking of such action.

Concept of Euthanasia

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. The euthanasia is of two types; active and passive. The active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill a person. The passive euthanasia entails withholding of medical treatment for continuance of life, withholding of antibiotics where with giving it, a patient is likely to die, or removing the heart lung machine, from a patient in coma. 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). Both the methods are illegal without legislature, provided certain conditions and safeguards are maintained. Passive euthanasia is the most accepted form and it is a common practice in most hospitals.

Generally, the euthanasia may be voluntary and non-voluntary. The voluntary euthanasia is, where the consent is taken from the patient, whereas non-voluntary euthanasia is, conducted without an individual's specifically given acquiescence and relatives give their consent to take away life-saving treatment. In the opinion of few, this equates to murder. It is not a crime, but whether not taking food consciously and voluntarily with the aim of ending one's life is a crime under section 309 IPC is a question, which need not be decided here. After considering the question of non-voluntary, passive euthanasia, the Supreme Court laid down certain guidelines for the procedure for permitting death, under certain conditions. The Supreme Court laid down a procedure detailing the conditions for such action till the Act is enacted by the Parliament. The procedure provides for a decision to be taken by the patients to discontinue life support or the spouse or other close relatives and in their absence by a person next or by the doctors attending the patient. The Committee of three reputed doctors after consulting such medical authorities/medical practitioners, preferably comprising of a Neurologist, Psychiatrist and Physician passive euthanasia can be permitted.

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 of canons 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 in 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.

Section III

Santhārā is not a Suicide

Those who have not understood the correct meaning of the Santhārā misinterpret it as suicide. But in depth study proves that both are entirely different. In the Ācārānga Sūtra, we find an aphorism, kasāye payanu kiccāāppahāro titikshāye.[27] 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, both are accepted as penance by the followers of the Jina. So such an auspicious way of achieving death through penance can never be compared with the irreligious act of suicide.

  1. Santhārā is a Jain technical word which means the voluntary, step by step termination of body with full awareness, wisdom and insight. Whereas suicide is commited in laxity, and without insight. Any act committed in laxity is violence, so suicide is violence to self as per Acārānga Sutra.
  2. Amritchandra Suri has defined suicide with such precision that his definition can stand the scrutiny for any modern Jurist: He, who actuated by passions, puts an end to his life by stopping breath or by water, fire, poison or weapons is certainly guilty of suicide. In Santhārā, all the materialistic and worldly desires and passions are subjugated and mind remains in bliss and peace.[28]
  3. A Jain resolving to undergo Santhārā knows it well that he has eaten a lot of food to sustain his body during his life. Now, when the body does not cooperate to help in living meaningfully any more, the person should resolve for Santhārā. As per the Jaina religion, the body is called a boat, the soul is a boatsman, the worldly existence is an ocean which the great sages cross over through the pious practice of Santhārā.[29]But in suicide, the body is healthy, all the organs of the body are well functional and some unfavourable situation which he/she feels to be incapable of facing it courageously, ends one's life merely to elope from the life situations.
  4. Santhārā is undertaken with positive thinking and perfect understanding of the purpose of human life. During the period of Santhārā, all the relatives, if available, monk or nun try to sing inspirational songs and motivate the observer to stay in equanimity and embrace the death happily. While suicide is the result of negative thinking and deluded world view towards the purpose of human life.
  5. In many cases of Santhārā, many mysterious incidents occur. The observer achieves extra-sensory-knowledge and foretells that I am going to take birth in a particular realm. Moreover a shower of incense of saffron (kesarbarsaat) is experienced in many cases as the soul becomes pure by confessing one's sins frankly and honestly and repents for all the misdeeds performed in the present life. Whereas in suicide due to absence of such purity, neither any mysticism takes place nor confession and repentance of one's deeds takes place.
  6. Santhārā is a Jain technical word which means the voluntary, step by step termination of body with full awareness, wisdom and insight. Whereas suicide is commited in laxity, and without insight. Any act committed in laxity is violence, so suicide is violence to self as per Acārānga Sutra.
  7. The agent of Santhārā does not adopt any external weapons/aids for self-killing,whereas suicide is killing oneself by means employed by oneself. The common methods adopted for committing suicides are jumping from heights, jumping in wells or deep water, jumping or lying down before a running train, shooting, hanging, poisoning by use of insecticide or other drugs, burning oneself with the use of kerosene or petrol or the use of electrical wires (live) etc. out of emotional immaturity and in psychological depression.
  8. It is very clear that the vow of Santhārā is a spiritual practice and it is done patiently and by minimising the attachment and aversion towards all the nearest and dearest family members and towards one's possession. Whereas in suicide, both the reasons are available and it is done in impatience.
  9. Man of Santhārā has an eye on his upward journey i.e., (liberation) and does not think of the external objects i.e., worldly pleasures. He should protect his body for annihilating the past karmas.[30] But it is not the case with the suicide, as it is done when the person is unable to enjoy the worldly pleasures and such an act leads to the bondage of new karmas.
  10. Santhārā is undertaken voluntarily without any sort of pressure, out of one's own will and with full awareness for the purpose of having religious holy death. It is not suicide because it is undertaken with awareness. An injury to life motivated by passions is violence.[31]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.
  11. Santhārā is adopted by monks and nuns after the due permission of guru before the huge audience with the open mind of forgiveness and compassion towards all. 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, consent and is done with lot of passion, emotional excitements.
  12. There is a systematic methodology of Santhārā in canonical literature which takes the life span of twelve years of gradual limitation of food, water etc. and minimization of passions. It is done with the due permission of the parents or husband /wife and from spiritual mentor, in the presence of huge public. While suicide is committed in secrecy and by adoption of questionable devices at once in isolation.
  13. The seven conditions under which a person can adopt Santhārā 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, furious forest if monks seeks no secured place, 7. the visual power, hearing power decreases and legs do not help in walking, Santhārā can be adopted.[32] Whereas suicide is committed instantly 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.
  14. Practice of Santhārā is based on the Double–effect theory. The death is exactly an incidental product that accompanies the spiritual purity through the elimination of karmas exactly as chaff is an incidental growth accompanying the corn which is the essential product of the seed.But suicide is not based on such theory but it is a sort of pessimistic thought process leading towards the painful death. Not only by Jains,but this dreadful act of human being is condemned by each and every religions.
  15. In Ishovāsyopanisad, it is clearly written that one who commits suicide goes to the dreadful infernal realm.[33] It is said that the person who commits suicide out of anger, fear, pride, kleśa have to take the next birth in infernal realm for 60,000 years and have to repent for the misdeed committed by oneself.[34]Even in the jaina canonical literature of Uttarādhyayana Sutra, it is said that the person who commits suicide spoils this life and the next life where as Santhārā 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.
  16. It is said in Saman Suttam text that a wise person who is free from anxiety dies a peaceful death once; by such a death, he immediately puts an end to an infinite number of deaths. [35] Suicide is the cause of worldly wanderings whereas Samādhi Maraṇa is the cause of eliminating karmas, and thereby limiting the circle of life and death.
  17. . Justice T.K. Tukol says, in his book, 'Sallekhanā is not a Suicide' that Jain philosophy is a philosophy of non-violence. In the case of suicide, a death with passion is nothing but violence whereas Jain Santhārā is observed thoughtfully in an impassionate state without craving for materialistic pleasures and one 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 it is incomparable with the suicide which is committed in a passionate and abnormal mental state.
  18. In the text, The History of Suicide in India, p-107 Upendranath Thakur writes that why Jain samlekhanā is considered as suicide is that very crude methods have been employed in it, like complete giving up of all kinds of food and water. So it should be clearly kept in mind, that since the milk of a cow and milk taken out of the particular plant 'dhatura/cactus' 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 samlekhanā.
  19. 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 Santhārā to get rid of bhava vyadhi i.e. wandering disease which is material cause of all the problems. There is thus difference between suicide and Santhārā as regards intention, situation, means adopted and the consequences of death.

Importance of Santhārā

It is a religious fast unto death on the pretext that when all purpose of life have been served, or when the body is unable to serve any purpose of life. Acharaya Samantbhadra in his text, Mrityu Mahotsava highlights the essence of Santhārā with the following sūtra:


It means all religious observances, fasting and austerities would be unavailing, if at the last moment of life, at the time of approaching death, if one does not undertake Santhārā.It is not only the spiritual welcome to death, but also 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. Such a kind of peaceful spiritual death cannot be regarded as the suicide at any cost because here we have a logic and spiritual reason behind the acceptance of Santhārā. 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 Santhārā period, the practitioner realizes that body and passions are the main causes of inflow of karmas. So prior to the acceptance of the vow, one is required to give up all feelings of hatred, companionship and worldly attachments with a pure and calm mind. He/she should obtain permission from the Guru and householders from their nearest relatives and ask forgiveness from one's kinsmen and from others with all humanity at the same time forgiving them sincerely. Death by Santhārā according to scriptural rules is the victory of the soul over karmas and other infirmities of the mind and body.

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 peaceful death. So Santhārā 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 vows, views, various practices and rituals claim that Santhārā is suicide.


Thus the basic concept of undertaking the vow of Santhārā as Samādhi Marana is that a man who is the master of his own destiny should resolve himself to follow the best method of leaving the body happily, peacefully and artistically. It is a well-planned spiritual death inspired by the highest ideal of self-realization to ward off further entanglement in the bondages of karmas. Hundreds of instances of Santhārā have been recorded in the inscriptions found in different parts of the State of Karnataka and collected in twelve volumes of Ephigraphia Carnatica published by the state government and many scriptural and documental evidences are authentic to prove logically the age old ancient tradition of Santhārā being practiced.

It is emphatically denied that Santhārā is a voluntary suicide. Sallekhanā (Santhārā) is arbitrarily equated with the offence of suicide or Sati or euthanasia by IPC. It is submitted that a voluntary fast unto death is an act of self-destruction, which amounts to "suicide", which is a criminal offence and is punishable under section 309 as declared by Rajasthan Court. But there is a radical difference between the Santhārā and Suicide, Sati Pratha and Euthanasia, so it cannot be equated in any way with the above mentioned concepts philosophically, conceptually, and conventionally. It is a matter of pleasure that with the efforts of Jaina community, a bench led by the Supreme Court Chief Justice H L Dattu ordered a stay on the High Court order and issued notices to the state government and others.

Moreover, the tradition of Sati Pratha which is radically different from Santhārā from all angles of human understanding. The emerging concept of euthanasia needs to be further studied as few Western and Eastern scholars both relate it with the passive euthanasia but it is not so because the intention behind the vow of Santhārā, the situation, means adopted and the consequences of death everything must be taken into the consideration before arriving at final judgement. So the need of the hour is to reinvestigate the entire procedure of pious death of Santhārā comprehensively. Moreover the case history study of the persons who have undergone such a practice of pure meditation and self-introspection with Supreme forgiveness towards one and all must be taken into consideration for better clarification of the fact. Sallekhana is a retreat to peace in true sense, to be yourself entirely free from all distractions for pure contemplation and introspection. It can be finally concluded that it is a noblest way to die in the pursuit of immortality.


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