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The Quest for the Royal Road: The Vision of Death

Published: 27.02.2016

It happened two thousand five hundred years ago. There was a king called Vijay who ruled the city of Polaspur. His queen's name was Shree Devi. Their son, Atimukta Kumar, exhibited religious traits right from childhood. One day, while he was playing with his friends outside the palace, he saw Indrabhuti, who was Bhagwan Mahavira's chief disciple. He brought Indrabhuti to the palace and Shree Devi gave him alms with her own hands.

When Indrabhuti was about to leave after accepting alms, the prince asked him, "Oh, respected one, where do you live?" Indrabhuti replied, "My guru Bhagwan Mahavira is camping at the Shreevan Udyan on the outskirts of the city. I am staying with him." The Prince said, "Can I go with you to have the darshan of Bhagwan Mahavira?" Seeing the eagerness of that child, Indrabhuti said, "There should be no delay in doing something good. Come with me and see Bhagwan Mahavira right now."

Prince Atimukta went to the Shreevan Udyan and saw Bhagwan Mahavira. Although the prince was young in age, he was very wise. He joined the congregation to listen to Bhagwan Mahavira's discourse. After hearing Bhagwan Mahavira's sermon, the prince's mind turned away from the world. Paying his respectful obeisance to Bhagwan Mahavira, he said, "Oh, respected one, I want to be initiated by you and become a recluse. My parents are in the palace. I will present myself before you after seeking their permission."

Everyone in the congregation was astounded by the prince's decision. How would that gentle, tender teenager follow the hard conduct of the ascetic life?

The prince went to the palace with a calm mind. Very respectfully, he sought the permission of his parents to be initiated.

The king and the queen took their son's wish as merely a childhood prank and tried to brush it aside. But the prince was adamant. When he refused to relent at his decision, they said, "Son, you are still a child. Do you know the meaning of religion?" He said in his spontaneous words full of knowledge, "I know but I am also ignorant of it. What I do not know, I also know."[1]

The king and the queen thought their prince was talking in riddles. They said, "Dear son, we do not know what you are talking about. Explain clearly what you know and also you do not know."

The prince said, "I know that what is born is sure to die. But I do not know how, where and when one would have to die." By making such a simple statement, the prince expressed a profound philosophical truth that death is something permanent.

Death is permanent. It is a matter known through direct experience, yet there is nothing like philosophy of death. All the saints and sages so far have talked about philosophy of life. There are so many viewpoints that enable us to understand life in the true sense and live in the light of that understanding. But death has been neglected by accepting as an inevitable phenomenon. Most people have not been able to realise that there is a philosophy underlying death as well. That is why the philosophy of death has not been useful in people's life like the philosophy of life.

Jainism is a philosophy, which has given as much importance to death as to life. The person who lives aesthetically, draws out the essence of life even while living in the midst of its many contradictions. In the same way, the person who understands the art of death, instead of being frightened, challenges death. The Jain philosophy has discussed this matter comprehensively.

Death means the separation of jeeva (soul) from the physical body when the vital energy corresponding to the life-span is extinct. This happens in many ways. Briefly, they can be classified as fool's death and sage's death. Death of a person devoid of self-restraint (or renunciation) and lack of samadhi is fool's death. Premature death, suicide, death of an ignoramus etc. fall in the category of fool's death. Death of a person who is self-restrained and equipped with samadhi is sage's death. Even if one just cherishes that feeling of self- restraint and samadhi in the last moments, that death is sage's death which is in fact a 'Death Sublime.'

Some people panic at the very mention of death. They give importance to life. Everyone thinks in his own way. If I had to give my opinion, I would give greater importance to death, because the meaning of life depends only on death. "One who is conservant with this ideology of death has written[2]: "When any person has performed penance, observed the vows and has followed his religion with an awakened mind during his life-time, would ultimately get absorbed in samadhi at the time of death."

Acharya Hemachandra, who was impressed by this aesthetic aspect of the Jain philosophy wrote:

"I would not like to be an emperor, deprived of the Jain religion. If my soul is influenced by Jain religion, I do not mind being a poor slave."[3]

Man yearns to live, and death swoops down upon him. This is not a good situation. Giving an open invitation to death is a sign of valour. But when should one invite death? The Jain scriptures have indicated the entire process:

A sadhaka, afraid of committing a wrong at every step, considers the smallest fault a noose. He nourishes life so long he keeps on accomplishing higher and higher attainments. No sooner he realises that he is gaining nothing new through the worn out body let him deliberately renounce his body.[4]

In a way, both life and death are natural. But what would be the special significance of man's exertion with regard to what happens only in a natural course? His would be an extra-ordinary attainment if he could express his art and make both in living his life as well as dying his death. There is a particular practice called sanlekhana[5] for making one's death sublime. Through that sanlekhana, karma, passions (anger, pride, deceit and greed) as well as the physical body gets attenitated. As the body becomes feeble and one realises that it is not co-operating in the pursuit of sadhana he must estimate his will power and abandon all food items (except water). After that he would gradually give up taking water too. In that state, the path of self-realisation becomes clear. With the earnestness felt in the depth of heart, when food and water have been given up, not yearning for death even for a moment, is the greatest art and ideology of death. In the Jain philosophy, this is called fasting unto death or maranantik sanlekhana.[6]

Five wishes are forbidden for the person who accepts to die through maranantik sanlekhana:

  • Wish for any material object pertaining to this world.
  • Wish for any material object pertaining to the other world.
  • Wish to live.
  • Wish to die.
  • Wish to enjoy sexual pleasure.

After freeing from these five wishes, when one rings to end his life, he finds the essence of entire life. How strange this philosophy of death is, in which there is no wish to live, but no wish to die either. In that state, the only wish is to delight in one's proximity to the soul. The next stage for the individual who passes into such moments of merging with the soul, is found to be happy and propicious.


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Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Hemachandra
  3. Anger
  4. Bhagwan Mahavira
  5. Body
  6. Darshan
  7. Deceit
  8. Fasting
  9. Greed
  10. Guru
  11. Hemachandra
  12. Indrabhuti
  13. Jain Philosophy
  14. Jainism
  15. Jeeva
  16. Jinadharma
  17. Karma
  18. Mahavira
  19. Pride
  20. Sadhaka
  21. Sadhana
  22. Samadhi
  23. Sanlekhana
  24. Soul
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