Sallekhana : How to make it successful

December, 2022 by Dr. Shuddhatm Prakash Jain
There are two main sufferings in the world, birth and death. There is suffering in the womb and suffering of old age. Before birth, there is suffering in the womb and before death there is old age. In this way,  the soul, in the beginning and end of life, at both times experiences great sufferings.

Almost all philosophies of the world teach the art of living but it is only Jainism, which teaches us the art of dying. In Jain philosophy, Sallekhana is one such subject which teaches us such an art of dying.

The soul has forgotten the suffering of birth, and suffering of death has not yet come, therefore, it says when birth comes, it will be seen, but when suffering of death comes, one cannot say that one will get the time to see, nor can one have rehearsal of it. Hence, one must give thought about Sallekhana before death comes.

It is said in the SAMANSUTTAM- “one who is desirous of performing aradhana (the set of auspicious acts to be performed at the time of death) ought to always perform parikarman (practice of the set of auspicious acts) for one whose mind is permeated with parikarman, finds it easy to perform aradhana.” (582)

According to Sallekhana Vrat, one should not keep any desire and any thorn in the end of life. Both of these give so much sorrow in the leaving body. As mentioned in the SAMANSUTTAM- “Mental thorns (salya) like deceit, perverted attitude and a desire for worldly enjoyments in next life in a person observing the vow of sallekhana, causes him greater pain than a tainted weapon, poison, devil, an evil-motivated amulet or an angry serpent, for in the presence of these salyas, right understanding becomes impossible and involvement in an infinite trans-migratory cycle becomes inevitable. (577-78).

Sallekhana in most Religions and Philosophy:

It is not just Jainism, but Hinduism and Buddhism as well, that have many references to Sallekhana. Buddha believed craving for life and desire for death as unethical.

Even though there is no direct reference of Sallekhana in Hinduism, a death which in meaningful points to Sallekhana being definitely endorsed.

  1. Saint Vinoba Bhave as well accepted this kind of a death for himself. He gave up food and eventually medicines. Upon Indira Gandhi insisting on sending a doctor he replied saying, ‘I have lived consciously all along and would want to die consciously. The name of God is my only medicine now.’
  2. According to Buddha, BhavTrishna is Jivitasha and VibhavTrishna is maranasha (atichar of Sallekhana).
  3. Famous Hindi writer Kaka Kalelkar’s book, ‘Paramsakha Mrutyu’ has been published in English. It is titled, ‘Sallekhana is not suicide.’
    Prof. Dr. Settar of the “Dharwad University has written the below 2 books in support of Sallekhana-(1) Invited Death and (2) Pursuing Death.
  4. Maharashtriyan Sant kavi has said- “माझे मरण पाही एले डोला तो झाला सोहला अनुपम्य” means I have seen death by my eyes, this is a great festival.

Types of Sallekhana:

Different types of Sallekhana have been given.  Below 3 are the principle types:

  1. Bhakta Pratyakhyan: Giving up 3 types and 4 types of food and the death resulting out of this is called Bhakt Pratyakhana.
  2. Inginimaran : Fasting unto death at a certain fixed place is called Ingini Maran.
  3. Paadpogaman: Death by fasting under a tree. In this type, the one does not serve oneself nor does one lets anyone else serve him.

Importance of Sallekhana:

Jaina tradition has shown the way of Sallekhana. Sallekhana is called the festival of death. Sallekhana involves weakening of the defilements which is internal Sallekhana, while weakening of the body is external Sallkehana. Giving up food and subsequently water weakens the body.  A weak body lets the soul leave with ease at the time of death. However, healthy body does not let the soul leave quite easily during death.

It is said in Bhagwati Aradhana that, even if the soul leaves the body peacefully in just even a single paryaya, that soul will not be found in the Sansara for more than 7-8 paryayas.

Acharya Pujyapada in his book ‘Mahotsav’ writes that the merit derived out of Sallekhana death is much more than of serving mahavratas and other austerities.

Who fears death?

The way a student fears examinations because he is not prepared for them, the same way one fears death when one is under prepared for the other world. Therefore, one must start to prepare well in advance rather than to repent during death. The way we prepare ourselves for our journey in this lok (Present Birth), we never prepare ourselves for our journey to the other world. We know that we have to end lives in this lok (Present Birth) and proceed to parlok (Next Birth) or the other world.

Who can accept Sallekhana?

Shraman and Shravaka both can observe Sallekhana. It is foremost amongst the Vratas. It is the best observed at the time of Death. A Sadhaka even after observing the best austerities all through the life, when at the time of death, gets entangled due to Raag and Dwesh, results in failure of his life.

Death is classified as ‘Bal Maran’ and ‘Pandit Marana’. They are further classified into different subtypes. Sallekhana is essential for both, a layman and a monk. As per their capability, they must give up their body for securing Sallekhana.

As per Acharya Kundakunda, Samadhimaran is for a Shramana and Sallekhana is for a householder. However, according to Acharya Umaswami, it is the same for both a layman and a monk.

Some scriptures however also show subtle differences between Sallekhana and Samadhi Marian,  such as in Ratanakand Shravakachar by Acharaya Samantabhadara.

When to observe Sallekhana?

  1. When afflicted by an incurable disease.
  2. Upsarga done by a human, nature or animals.
  3. Under circumstances when one fears the loss of character / dignity.
  4. Old age and impending death.
  5. On the body and senses getting weak.

Before accepting Sallekhana, one should gain knowledge about his own death. Shwetambara Acharyas have shown many ways to know of death. By using Amnay of the updeshmala, the time of death can be known.

Sallekhana needs practice to make it successful:

Sallekhana requires daily practice for making it successful. At night, at the time of sleep one should ask for pardon and forgiveness to all beings. Then the sagari santhara vow is taken, known as santhara poursi. Sagari means (no compulsion), one can continue his daily routine the next day. A person may not wake up at all in the morning. The purpose for this vow is to remain vigilant since one cannot be sure of death. Thus Sallekhana can be taken on both temporary and permanent basis. Temporary basis is taken when circumstances are not congenial and also on a daily basis as mentioned above, and there is a permanent santhara which lasts till one’s life. The greatest significance of these vows is that by practicing these vows, a layman virtually participates to a limited extent and for a limited period of time in the routine of an ascetic, without actually renouncing the world. It is obvious that such practices maintain a close tie between the laymen and ascetics, as both are actuated by the same motive and are moved by the same religious ideals.

Sallekhana is not Suicide:

Suicide is committed due to compelling circumstances whereas Sallekhana is voluntarily observed. In observing Sallekhana, there is death of desires, whereas in suicide there is an unfulfilled desire. A veer or brave person embraces death as his friend.

The way our soldiers do not fear death when going out for war, the same way shravaka or a muni do not fear death. Death is our friend, since it helps us get rid of the old worn out body and old circumstances, it helps us get a new body, a new set of circumstances.

In conclusion, we should take a vow of Sallekhana in our lifetime and try to make it a success by following suggestions given in this article. Sallekhana is the 13th vow of a Shravaka. Death does not gives us a chance for, practicing Sallekhana, but we can practice for it daily at night when we go to bed, because sleeping is like a half death. Hope there is useful information in this article to all. Thanks, Jay Jinendra.

References :-

  1. Sallekhna/Samadhimaran: Pt. Hukamchand Bharill, Pt. Todarmal Smark Trust, Jaipur 2015
  2. Jainology course book of second paper of MA previous, Jain Vishv Bharti University, Ladnun. Rajasthan
  3. Sammansuttam, translator- pt. Kailashchandraji Shastri and muni nathmalji, Sarv seva sangh prakashan, Varansi, 2010
  4. Sarak Sopan Magazine, Shri GyanSagar Shrut Samvardhini Sansthan, Meerut.
  5. Ratnakarand Sravakachar,Acharya Samantabhadra, Veetrag Vigyan Prakashan, Ajmer, Rajasthan

About Author

Dr. Shuddhatam Prakash Jain. Associate Professor and Head of the Centre for Studies in Jainism, K. J. Somaiya Institute of Dharma Studies, Somaiya Vidyavihar. He has a knowledge of Sanskrit, Prakrit and Philosophy.

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vivek jain
vivek jain
1 year ago

well written post.

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