Acceptance of Death with Understanding

March, 2021 by Dr. Abhay Doshi
There is a very profound shloka in Bhagwat Geeta that explains death wonderfully:

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय

नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।

तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा

न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।।2.22।।

Meaning: As after rejecting worn-out clothes a man takes up other new ones, likewise after rejecting worn-out bodies the embodied one unites with other new ones.

Every Indian philosophy considers that the human body is ever-changing. But, when the time for this change comes at that point because of the long human associations and the infinite ‘I’ – ego and stubbornness, we do not like this change. The soul is attached to the body that s/he is leaving. A deep philosophical understanding is a must to destroy this attachment. With this deep understanding Jain preaching – Jain Darshan has talked about the process of Sallekhanā (the religious practice of voluntarily fasting to death by gradually reducing the intake of food and liquids) for the Sadhaka has to follow in the last leg of her/his life.

If the body has deteriorated because of age or some disease, if it is not fit enough to support the practice of devotion or worship, if the decision of death is made by auspice, astrology or any other medium then the Sadhaka  is not afraid of death and surrenders again to these four – Arihant, Siddha, Sadhu and Dharma – wholeheartedly. Asks for forgiveness for all the sorts of sins s/he has committed during his life. Adopts the old vows again or accepts new ones if possible. Approves of others good from the heart and slowly abstain from food, medication etc. Here, some feel that the Sadhaka is intentionally accepting death but that is not the fact.  Sallekhanā Vratachiar also talks about ‘Maranasasappoge’ – meaning a wish to die sooner – do not wish for death when in trouble or pain. Here there is no death, but the rejection of the fear of death. The Sadhaka is unafraid, is brave, and so abstains from the medication and food, which are supporting the life unnecessarily. According to the Shastras, for Sallekhanā one must start with the basic fasting, having just buttermilk etc and if that detoxing of the body leads to a disease-free body that the Sadhaka can go back to her/his regular life.

Sallekhanā or abstinence complete food is the last point of a longer sadhana kriya. Usually, this sadhana moves ahead with Ayambil, Ekantar Upavas, Chhath, Aththam etc. We cannot generalize that for each Sadhaka this is the pre-decided sequence. However, as per the condition of Sadhaka’s body and mind the elderly and those on the same path gives the correct guidance.

This complete sadhana of Sadhaka is described in detail by keeping the last worship or Antim Aradhana. The process or the ritual of Sallekhanā is also described in etc, here various life sketches of great men are presented who keep a stable mind amid many pains. In other Upangas, it is described how King Shrenik’s ten queens bravely observed their Antim Sadhana.

Oh great monk, Megh! A prince with a delicate body attained self-realization on the top of the mountain Vaibhargiri. Rajgruhi’s, the prosperous men, Dhanna Sheth and Sahlibhadra, who were wealthier than the royal, had lightened the lamp of sadhana in the caves of Vaibhavgiri! To attain ultimate many great men have chosen the path of Apporva Prayaan.

The first step of this Sadhana is to ask for forgiveness from all.  For ages, from various births, the soul would have hurt others in various ways, even in this birth whatever harm has been done to others with envy or anger all that should be dissolved before Sallekhanā by asking for forgiveness. Once that is done and the good faith of friendship is established then one can move ahead in this Sadhana. If there, any hindrance remains in the heart caused by a feeling of vengeance then a supreme practice like Sallekhanā is not successful. The so-called Panditmaran Aradhana becomes a cause of death in childhood – bal-maran. Aradhana practiced by the purest of the mind only helps in attaining moksha and end the cycle of rebirth.

According to Pancharitkay Granth, “There are two kinds of Sallekhanā, internal and external. Making the body weaken by abstinence from food etc is external Sallekhanā but to weaken the Kashaya (Sins as per Jain Shastras – anger, pride, illusion and greed are the four kashayas) are internal Sallekhanā. To weaken the anger and the other sins (Kashaya) with self-virtues, becoming stable in the divine (Parmatmapadartha) with infinite knowledge and virtues, also waning other evils and abstaining from food along with that to weaken the body is the way to Sallekhanā.

Ancient scripture Achaarang Sutra also has references of Sallekhanā. According to Achaarang, when the body has become fragile or when the Sadhaka  is not fit enough to observe any religious practices, at that point to let go of the body for Vratabhang is one of the best practices. This is similarly told in scriptures like Uttaradhyayan Sutra, Sthanang Sutra, Shwetambar Agams and Bhagwati Aradhana. These scriptures talk about mainly three ways of letting off the body – Deh Visarajan.

In Bhaktpratyakhyaan, Ingit Maran and Padopgaman Bhaktapratyakhan the Sadhaka abandons food so in Ingit Maran Sadhaka controls her/his movements to a certain space. As per Padopgaman Anshan, the Sadhaka goes out of the village and lies down on a grass bed. The Sadhaka does not take any one’s help in these practices. All three ways are strenuous than other ways but as par, those who know the Shastras consider these three kinds of deaths the superlative.

Uttardyayan Sutra’s 32nd Adhyayan talks of 12-year abstinence from food. According to this, the Sadhaka stays away from milk and other dairy products for four years, then for the following four years by observing various penances the Sadhaka makes her/his body weaker. The following 2 years s/he have to observe fast on alternate days, starts his day with Ayambil (a special type of fast in which one eats only boiled grains that too once in a day). In the eleventh year, the first six months are of simple penance and the remaining six months the Sadhaka has to fast thrice or four times and is supposed to start the day with Ayambil. In the twelfth year, Ayambil is to be followed daily and in the last month, s/he abstains from food completely. These Sutras mentions Sallekhanā that was done by Ambad Parivrajaks 125 disciples who decided to not take any food or water.

Thus, in all the Sutras abstinence from food has been highly appreciated and considered auspicious to attain Samadhimaran (A death by becoming one with the supreme.) This abstinence that is observed with Kashayjay – winning over the sins – is considered and appreciated as a death that is to be worshipped; it stops the cycle of birth (Bhav Bhraman) and giver supreme happiness.

Kashayjay is very important in the process of Sallekhanā Sadhana and to start Kashayjay all sages have suggested that one must ask for forgiveness from all living beings of the world. 16the Century well-known poet Samaysundar has written in ‘Pratyek Buddh Chopai’ about Dadhivahan King’s wife, the queen Padmavati of Champanagari. The queen is stuck in a jungle riding on an inebriated elephant, she has no hopes that she will be saved and at such a moment she decides to ask for forgiveness from all. This is how the poet has described the same:

“Now queen Padmavati is as if pausing all living beings, from one sense to all five senses, she is asking for forgiveness from all the sins (Viradhana) she has committed in this and previous births.”

In Panchsutra Granth, Haribhadrasuri has considered Chatuh Sharangaman, Sukrutanumodana and Dushkrutani very important ones. These Panchsutras are transliterated beautifully by Upadhyay Yashovijayji in Amrutvel Ni Sajjzay.

In 18th century Vinayvijayji has wrote a Stavan – a prayer in simple Gujarati keeping the Samadhimaran’s importance as its subject. This describes implementation of Sadhaka Sallekhanā or Samadhimaran beautifully. This Stavan is called Punyaprakash and is quite well-known.

In this Punyaprakash Stavan, Vinay Vijayji Maharaj has talked beautifully about ten types of Antim – Aradhana or the last worship as we may call it. Shree Mahavira Swami has shown ten types of Sadhanas to Gautam Swami, which are infact mentioned in the beginning and then Vinay Vijayji talks about ten rights, which are as follows:

  1. Reviewing and criticizing the trespassing of this life.
  2. To observe the five mahavratas or twelve vratas in front of the Guru. If you observed them earlier take an oath again with a pure bhava.
  3. Ask for forgiveness from all and consider everyone a friend.
  4. Renounce 18 sins (Paap Sthanak).
  5. Surrender to these four: Arihant, Siddha, Sadhu and Dharma.
  6. Repentance for the wrong deeds of this birth and previous birth, also getting rid of the instruments/ mediums used for them.
  7. Appreciate and approve the good deeds of others and self.
  8. Have equality for all.
  9. Observe fasts.
  10. Chant Navkara Mantra.

With eight rights, he is showing the initial steps for Sallekhanā the Sadhaka by befriending and asking for forgiveness from all. By Kashayajan (keeping away from four sins) Sadhaka gets prepared for internal Sallekhanā. Their pure mind, now, is keen to leave the attachment for the body and is ready for the upward journey of the soul. To explain this, he writes:

Have Avasar Jani, Kari sallekhanā saar;
Ansan aadaria, pach kami chare aahar.
Laluta savi muki, chhaandi mamata ang;
Ae atam kehle, samata gyan tarang.

Meaning: At the last sojourn of life let us recognize the time for Sallekhanā, let us accept and honour the abstinence from food and quit four kinds of food, as in Ashan, Paan, Khaadim, Swadim. Let us get rid of the greed of taste that is with us for ages. Let us leave the attachment for the body and the soul will play along in the waves of equality and knowledge.

Thus, Punyaprakash Stavan proves to be a guide for those who want to do last worship – Antim Aradhana – it talks of the preparation and direction too for those who want to attain moksha.

The great sage from the last century Shrimad Rajchandraji has also written highly about Samadhimaran in his letters. He has guided his concomitant Sadhaka as regarding how to go about Samadhimaran.

Death is a definite event of life. The one who is born will certainly die. The one that is going to come should be accepted naturally and that is a way to celebrate death – this is Sallekhanā. To prepare for this Kashajay, Dushkrutninda, Sukrut-Anumodana, the Sadhaka should follow friendship for all, Chatuh Sharangaman etc every day and s/he will achieve the external Sallekhanā of abstinent from food very easily. Then the death will be an auspicious celebration. Recently renowned Acharya Anandsagarsuriji observed Sallekhanā at Surat in a meditative state. Everyone knows about it. Dr. Sagarmalji Jain who is a great scholar and is known for writing long articles on Sallekhanā has recently left his body by observing Sallekhanā. We all have witnessed this. These men are phenomenal as they followed an ideal way showed by our Shastra in these difficult times.

About Author

Dr. Abhay Doshi

Dr. Abhay Doshi

Currently working as a Head and Associate Professor at Mumbai University, Department of Gujarati. His area of research is mainly Medieval Gujarati Jain Literature. He has published 7 books and more than 40 research papers in various journals. 6 students were awarded Ph.d Degree under his guidance and 6 more are working under his supervision.


co edited – Virati Visariya

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1 month ago

Your point of view caught my eye and was very interesting. Thanks. I have a question for you.