Samādhimaraṇa (Saṅthārā / Sallekhanā)

Posted: 31.12.2008
Updated on: 02.07.2015

Sallekhanā, saṅyāsa, samādhi, nirupādhi and vīriyamaraṇa are all synonyms of Sallekhanā.

According to religious texts, it is an eternal law that an entity, which is born, has to die also. One can die prematurely also due to the activation of inauspicious karmas (pāpa karma).

One can earn auspicious or meritorious karmas by practicing religious austerities intelligently and die peacefully when one is faced with incurable diseases or old age makes it clear that the end is approaching fast. If one does not practice religious austerities, then he /she earns inauspicious karmas. In this way death is inevitable in both situations and according to the philosophy of rebirth, he / she has to enjoy the fruits accordingly in their next birth/s.

All living beings know that body and soul are different and distinct but from eternity the belief that body and soul are one has taken root. He is busy enjoying the subjects of five senses and four passions (anger, deceit, greed and pride) and hence could never understand the real nature of the soul /self. Until one understands the true nature of self i.e. intuition, knowledge and bliss; he will continue to be deluded in attachments and aversions with other living and non living beings and hence keep on accumulating karmas resulting in the endless cycle of birth-death. Until one experiences the true nature of pure soul, he cannot eliminate the attachment and aversion with other living and non-living beings. By eliminating attachment and aversion, we will have neither enemies nor friends and a state of equanimity will develop instead. Equanimity will result in dissociation of accumulated karmas and further bondage will be stopped. But it is not easy to suppress or destroy desire. Until we acquire complete knowledge about the nature of self, we cannot understand this fact / reality. By taking a vow not to indulge in sinful and ill activities along with repenting upon the wrong deeds done, and contemplating on the nature of the self; developing belief in it (nature of self) and practicing right conduct can stop influx and bondage of new karmas; penance /austerities will then dissociate all existing karmas resulting in attaining the pure state of the self. This knowledge of the true nature of self is possible only in the company and with the blessings of the monks and holy teachers.

Here I will like to emphasize that till recently, knowledge of yoga, prāṇāyāma, meditation etc was available to a privileged few even though these were explained in details in the holy texts of various Indian philosophies. But now the situation has changed. Yoga, its practice and such techniques had been taught to common persons for whom the credit goes to our sādhus, ācāryas and teachers. As a result a number of people tried to understand Yoga and then started practicing it to maintain good health, concentrate their mind on useful and productive activities and move forward on the spiritual path of purification. Hence it is important to know correct and specific spiritual purification activities.

Till now, even I was ignorant about Sallekhanā and Saṅthārā. Now after some efforts, I have found detailed and crisp description of these two doctrines and techniques in Jain literature. Keeping these in mind, I am making a humble attempt of writing this paper to arouse interest of others also on the subject.

Jain philosophy has detailed discussion on the doctrine and practice of Sallekhanā. True and eternal nature of the self is knowledge and perception (jñātā -dṛṣṭā). By accepting body and self as same, one cannot understand the true nature of self. But he is an intelligent one who understands body, sensual organs as distinct from the self /soul. By suppressing the desires, the soul gets purified easily. Virtues (dharma) can exist in a pure soul only and it helps in making the self purer. Soul, which is free from the kārmika bondage, is called paramātmā. Once the soul achieves this pure state, it stays happy in all lives to come.

Jain religion is one of the ancient religions that prescribe the human values. This religion not only talks about human welfare but also extends it to the animal world. Jain religion asserts that consciousness is present not only in humans, but in all animal world, for example elephant and even ant. This has been emphatically stated on the basis of experience by the first tīrthaṅkara Ŗṣabhadeva and reemphasized by the 24th tīrthaṅkara lord Mahāvīra. All this knowledge was traditionally handed to the Śrutakevalis and finally to the ācāryas who codified it. This tradition is still maintained by the ācāryas, monks, spiritual leaders, intelligible beings etc.

None of the tīrthaṅkaras were born in the Jain tradition. There were from the Kṣatriya / Yādava class. They traversed the path themselves and showed the path of winning oneself. The one who wins his own self is the Jina and who is worshipper and follower of Jina is Jain.

Samādhimaraṇa (Saṅthārā / Sallekhanā) is the path that changes the life of the individual and is mentioned in the Jain philosophical scriptures and other literature. The issue of death is also discussed in other religious and philosophical system, but does not discuss as the rite of the end. They discuss it only from the point of view of attaining siddhis (divine powers) and to know the self (ātma Śākśātakāra). In Vedic literature this path is one among the 16 saṅskāras (rituals of life) and also known as Mṛtyū Saṅskāra. Even if this is the last ritual of life, even any lay follower performs this. It is worth noticing that this rite by Hindus is performed for the pleasures and the gifts are given in the name of the dead one. We get a little insight about such death as a spiritual death, or for Mokṣa. There is less information on the nature of liberation, that is, to liberate oneself from life and death. In Jainism, on the other hand the importance is wholly on the spiritual death and liberation. In this rite, since there are no passions involved, there is no bondage on the soul.

There are many such examples of lay followers, monks, saints, who after renouncing (dikṣa), undertake the rite of Sallekhanā. They destroy their attachments, cravings and hatred; along with it they also destroy craving for food etc and do tapa with equanimity to give up their body. They free themselves from Karmas and attain liberation. Not all are fortunate to follow this path.

Paṅdita Āśādhara in his Sagāradharmāmrta has extensively written on this issue and has mentioned that Sallekhanā is under taken when a person lives his life with a holistic approach. Kundkund ācārya(1st cent.A.D.) has mentioned in his Caritra Pāhuda (Gāthā No;26) about the special rite of Sallekhanā. Samantabhadra(2nd cent A.D) in his Ratnakaraṅdaśrāvakācāra (Sloka No: 122) shows that this type of death is necessary:

upasarge durbhikṣe, jarasi rujāyan ca nihi pratīkāre\\
dharmāya tanuvimocanamāhu sallekhanāmāryāhā.\\

i.e. when faced with hurdles, famine, old age, or disease; one should for religion observe Sallekhanā. To discard ones body in this way is called Sallekanā. Further he states,

Antakriradhikaraṇa tapahafalam Sakaladarshinha stuvate\
Tasmāt yāvadvibhavan Samādhimarana Prayatitanvyam\\

At the end of life when one attains such a death it is considered as the fruit of tapa. That is why to attain such a death should be the aim of one’s life. With this the Indian seers have attained the heights of knowledge of the self. At the point of death if there are no passions the person discards body without any pain and does not have any fear of death and dies calmly. One who is capable to attain a good destiny (gati) on his own, attains so; and when he attains so, the previous bad karmas cannot do anything, but if at the moment of death there is a mental distress even the good karmas will not help him for a good gati (state of existence). In this manner a series of bad destinies continues. Hence it is worth to notice the significance of Sallekhanā.

Taptasya tapasaścāpi pālitasya vratasya ca \
Pathitasya Śrutasyāpi falam mṛtyu samādhina Mṛtyū Mahotsava-16

It means penance, followed by observing vows, and reading scriptures give the fruits when one attains the Samādhimaraṇa, otherwise all is futile.

One should not therefore doubt that, “when all things happen with Samādhimaraṇa, only, than why should one do japa-tapa, one will attain Samādhi at the end of life.” But one should not think likewise, instead engaging oneself in tapa, lessening ones passion, will lead to a proper Samadhi death. Probably this is the reason that Kundakunda has given this death a place in Śikśā Vrata. In Samādhimaraṇa and the tapa as a form of conduct there is a cause-effect relationship. When difficulties arise or sudden death arises or if any wild animal attacks or fire or storm occurs, the practice of tapa alone helps. If one spends his whole life in conduct and at the moment of death deviates from the self, then the dośa does not fall on conduct, but possibly lack of self-effort on his part and the lack of self-discipline.

Ācārya Śivakoti says, “When there is no rescue, when wild animals approach you, on proper conducive food is attained in famine, when no proper rules of conduct can be followed or when old age appears or when disease are there, in such a case it is necessary to take Sallekhanā and abandon the body.”

One who does sādhanā is a seeker. At the time of death one who engages in his soul is also a seeker. At the end of life, to see body and soul as different and to overcome attachment to the body one has to take refuge in Sallekhanā. If for the whole life one does tapa, but at the end engages in attachment and hatred, his life goes a waste.

Ācārya Śivakoti says, “One attains many lives if he cannot sustain a proper death even if he in his whole life works for Jñāna, darśana, caritra. But on the other hand if Sallekhanā is pursued the seeker enjoys the bliss.”

Upāsakadhyayana (896) says, “Aspirant who is doing fasting etc and engaged in studying to overcome passions, such a person should come to the sangha and undertake Sallekhanā.

Ācārya Śivakoti has highly envisaged Sallekhanā; says, one who dies at instant that is at that moment with sallekhanā, he never lives more than 7to 8 lives. Expressing the importance of sallekhanā, he further writes, “One who is fully engaged in service of a sallekhanā practitioner also attains the pleasures of the devagati or heavenly destiny and than attains the highest place(liberation).

Similarly Pujypāda Devanandi (6th Cent A.D.) in his Sarvathasiddhi highlights the importance and necessity of Sallekhanā and says death is not liked by all. If at all the disease attacks the body, one a seeker who takes sallekhanā, automatically is liberated from the effect of the disease.

Ācārya Amrtacandra, in his Puruṣārthasiddhaupāya (10th Cent. A.D.) wrote, “When death is nearing and it is confirmed at that time when the aspirant is on the path of liberating from passions, how is it that the self is destroyed. One who is engaged in activities with anger, his self is definitely destroyed.

All the tīrthaṅkaras , ācāryas, saints, monks, gurus, have asserted this path as necessary for the well-being of all humans.

Sāgāradharmarta has the following numbers of gāthās 8/1, 8/6, 8/7-8, 8/9. 8/12, 9/2 vividly describing sallekhanā.

In Bhagavatisutra Ārādhanā there are around 2500 gāthās, and there are reflections on sallekhanā in numbers 25,28,64, 65 and others. In this text there is a vast description on one of the death called Bhakta Pratyākhyāna.

A sinner who has committed sins throughout his life; even if he asks forgiveness at the end he liberates himself from the guilt. In the similar manner a sinner if undertakes sallekhanā at the end of his life can attain a good state of existence. Even vedic literature mentions that one who repents for sins attains a place near God (vaikuntha). Ajāmīla, committed sins through out his life; but towards the end repented by taking the name of Nārāyaṇa he attained Vaikuntha. Jivandharakumāra, said Namokāra Mantra to a dying dog and tīrthaṅkara Pārśvanātha uttered this mantra to snakes dying in fire. The snakes attained the devagati. Even Manusmrti mentions about sallekhanā. Sant Kālidasa, Kabir, Tukārāma also have mentioned about it.

After the war of Mahābhārata, Bhiṣma also asked for voluntary death.

Sallekhanā is a special tapa, which is done for spiritual growth and self development. Hence after attaining such a death only very few births are left for the person to attain liberation. Once all the karmas are gone liberation is attained. Sallekhanā.

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