(599-527 B.C. to 5th century A.D.)

Acaranga Sutra: The Seventh Lecture,    called Liberation
Upasaka-Dashah: Ten Chapters on Lay    Attenders: The Story of Ananda
Tattvartha Sutra: Passionless End is    Not Suicide


Although the origins of the Jain tradition are unknown, some have speculated that, like Buddhism, it developed within Hinduism. Mahavira, the figure recognized by the Jain tradition as the last of a chain of twenty-four omniscient teachers or Jinas, was roughly contemporaneous with the Buddha some two and a half millennia ago. According to traditional dates, Mahavira lived from 599 to 527 B.C.; however, scholars who accept a later date for the Buddha would adjust Mahavira’s dates accordingly, approximately 100 years after the earliest traditional dating. Mahavira and the Buddha lived and taught in the same region, though there is no record that they ever met. In their central departure from the brahmanical tradition, Mahavira and the Buddha did not accept the Vedas, primarily because they rejected the sorts of sacrifices associated with the Vedas but which violated the key principle of ahimsa or nonviolence.

The ethics of suicide are seen rather differently in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions, even though these traditions spring from some of the same roots and although the difference may be as much a matter of emphasis as of normative view. The Hindus, especially the Brahman lawgivers, generally held that suicide was not permitted, except as a penalty for a great crime, or when an ascetic chooses to end his life, or when a figure of great spirituality walks toward the Himalayas in “the Great Departure,” the journey that ends in death. Buddhists permitted suicide only in exceptional cases, usually cases of self-sacrifice to relieve the suffering of another; in self-respecting cases, it held, rather, that a person should wait and bear suffering without seeking to escape. But Jains ­permitted—indeed, revered—sallekhana as the culmination of one’s present life and the transition of the soul into the next.

Sallekhana, also called santhara or santharo in the Shvetambara branch of Jain tradition, sometimes called “spiritual death through fasting,” is the central austerity that forms the ideal conclusion of a life of progressive stages of asceticism and withdrawal from the necessities of ordinary life. Jains are adamant that sallekhana is not suicide, and although it is the believer who knowingly and voluntarily takes the steps that lead to his or her death, this is not considered self-destruction. Rather, death in this way provides a measure of control of the transition from one life to the next, recognizing, as do all Indian religions, that the last moments of a person’s life are of utmost importance in determining the condition of one’s subsequent incarnation. It is “scratching out body to save soul.”

In Jain belief, there are certain conditions in which sallekhana can be performed, essentially those in which the purposes of life have been served and circumstances are such that one’s religious vows would be compromised. Most commonly, Jains ask for permission to undertake sallekhana in the case of terminal illness, when death is imminent. Other circumstances have been permissible for monks and nuns, namely in order to head off a catastrophe that would cause them to compromise their vows of total renunciation, such as blindness or the inability to walk and collect alms, or in the case of an unavoidable calamity, such as severe drought. It is said that Mahavira’s parents, who were followers of the 23rd Jina, named Parshvanatha, undertook sallekhana at the end of their lives.

Sallekhana is not to be conflated with suicide in any usual sense, and it is to be done without striving, without passion, and without emotional arousal or turmoil of any form. It must observe the central ethical principles in Jainism, nonviolence and the avoidance of spiritual contamination. Sallekhana is seen as a wise or holy death for which one should prepare for one’s entire life. In contrast, suicide, which in the Jain view arises from ignorance, despair, inadequacy, anger, agony, and the like, and which does violence to the body with methods like poisons or weapons, or hanging oneself or jumping from a cliff, is a “fool’s death.”

In Jain thought, an “impure” death by suicide involves an increase in the passions; a “pure” death, as in sallekhana, does not. This is an important distinction for Jain theology; passions are seen as a direct cause of the influx of karma impurities to the soul and they thus result in rebirth at a lower level, while a passionless state of mind leads to both the cessation of the accumulation of karma and the destruction of existing karma that is already attached to one’s soul. Thus, in Jain belief, by liberating oneself from the passions, one liberates the soul. Further, sallekhana is to be seen as the ultimate expression of the Jain doctrine of ahimsa or nonviolence, since by ceasing to eat, one stops both the intentional and unintentional destruction of all living beings.

In sallekhana, one gradually reduces one’s intake of food and liquids so that the body is “scoured out” (sallikita) of its negative elements; thus the mind can focus exclusively upon spiritual matters, without disrupting the inner peace within. Sallekhana is to be performed with a sacred formula on one’s lips, and only with the approval of one’s immediate (Jain) spiritual advisor. It must involve “pure means.” It is a peaceful, voluntary, planned religious death, to be undertaken with full joy and calmness of mind. A person may have taken a vow to perform sallekhana well in advance, not knowing when the appropriate time would arrive, but when it does arrive, one seeks leave to do so from one’s teacher or mentor, engages in confession, self-censure, and the ritual of forgiving and asking forgiveness, and enters upon a course of fasting and renunciation that will end in death. Sallekhana may be seen as the logical conclusion to a life dedicated to nonviolence and restraint. Death is not to be sought or wished for, nor may it be tainted by any overt desires concerning rebirth, but it is the expected and accepted outcome of these austerities. A request for leave to undertake sallekhana is not granted lightly; part of the teacher’s role is to determine whether a given individual has in fact attained the degree of spiritual development and discipline required for this sustained practice. Death is to occur while fully conscious, in a state of complete awareness, while in meditation. This is in accord with the “universal prayer” of the Jains:

      Cessation of sorrow,
      Cessation of karmas,
      Death while in meditation,
      The attainment of enlightenment;
      O holy Jina! Friend of the entire universe,
      Let these be mine,
      For I have taken refuge at your feet.

Although originally sallekhana may have been a practice of ascetics, it gradually extended to the laity, and hundreds of inscriptions all over India record and glorify the sallekhana of both male and female Jains, including husband-wife couples. The practice seems to have ceased to play even an ideal role  in lay spirituality by about the 12th century. However, modern Jain communities still sometimes see sallekhana deaths, like that of the great Digambara Jain teacher Shantisagara, who performed the ritual fasting until death in 1955. Somewhat in common with Western medical practices involving voluntary cessation of eating and drinking as a passive alternative to physician-assisted suicide or active euthanasia, sallekhana, also called santhara, is also practiced by some contemporary Jains in extreme old age or terminal illness. Recent legal challenges in contemporary India have raised the issue of whether “fasting to death” is constitutionally protected as a religious practice or is unconstitutional, a “social evil” analogous to the outlawed Hindu practice of sati [q.v. under Bana, Hindu widow, and elsewhere]. Opponents of santhara call it “cold-blooded murder”; proponents say that the Jains who do so “do it consciously to attain enlightenment” and that it is a “religious achievement”; they are emphatic that it not be spoken of as “suicide.” Several hundred Jains, especially in the state of Rajasthan, perform the ritual of sallekhana each year.

The Acaranga Sutra (c. 3rd–2nd centuries B.C.), the earliest known writing on the rules of conduct for mendicant monks and nuns in the Shvetambara tradition, is the first text, or limb, in the Shvetambara canon, which was transmitted orally for centuries. Tradition relates that the knowledge contained in these texts was transmitted by Mahavira directly to his chief mendicant disciples, who then systematized his teachings into the 12 Angas, and that a final redaction was made at the Council of Valabhi in the 5th century A.D. The first and third lessons are about the importance of non-harm (ahimsa) to all living beings and of adhering to vows that one has taken. They provide a context for understanding the lessons regarding how life may end. The third lesson refers literally to cold; in the fourth lesson, the reference to cold is interpreted in the authoritative tradition as reference to potential seduction by a woman. The fourth lesson appears to permit suicide by poison or other means for the mendicant who cannot keep his vows including “the influence of cold,” understood by the authoritative commentaries as being unwillingly seduced by a woman; however, such suicide only puts off the last struggle for nirvana, though it is better than breaking the vow. Ending one’s life by means such as this, however, was permissible for mendicants if they found themselves in circumstances where their vows of chastity would likely be compromised or if their mendicant community would be defamed. Under these conditions, these were not “fool’s deaths” and it would not preclude attaining an auspicious rebirth. A religious death, sallekhana or itvara (the latter consisting in starving oneself while keeping within a limited space), is usually permitted only to those who have undergone preparatory penance, chiefly protracted periods of fasting, over a period of 12 years.

The Upasaka-Dashah (“Ten Lectures on the Religious Profession of a Layman”) is the seventh text in the Shvetambara canon. One of the stories is about Ananda, a rich man who was a lay disciple of Mahavira. Ananda gradually withdraws from his wealth and, following precepts dictated to him by Mahavira, dies the religious death of sallekhana.

The Tattvartha Sutra, attributed to Umasvati/Umasvami (c. 2nd–5th centuries A.D.), insists that the passionless end that the householder seeks in sallekhana is not suicide. The opening line, “The householder courts voluntary death at the end of his life,” is the sutra itself; the remainder is commentary by the Digambara monk Pujyapada (6th century A.D.).


Acaranga Sutra, “Seventh Lecture, called Liberation,”  in Gaina Sutras, tr. Hermann Jacobi, in Sacred Books of the East, ed. F. Max Müller, Oxford University Press, 1884, Vol. 22, pp. 62-78, reprinted by Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, 1989. (Traditionally this Seventh Lecture was considered lost, the lecture called “Liberation” is usually numbered Eight, but Jacobi did not follow this convention.) “Ten Chapters on Lay Attenders:  The Story of Ananda,” as “The Story of Ananda, a Lay Disciple of Mahavira”:  from Padmanabh S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of PurificationDelhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers,  1979, 1988, pp. 233-240, text and translation Hoernle, 1888. Tattvartha Sutra 7:22, from Reality: English Translation of Srimat Pujyapadacarya’s Sarvarthasiddhi, tr. S. A. Jain, Madras: Jwalamalini Trust, 1992, pp. 205-206. Material in introduction from E. Washburn Hopkins, Ethics of India, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1924, pp. 120-121; Padmanabh S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of PurificationDelhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers,  1979, 1988,  pp.  1, 226-229, 231-232;  Paul Dundas, The Jains, The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices, eds. John Hinnells and Ninian Smart, London and New York: Routledge, 1992, pp. 155-156, 161, 206-207, 227; S. Settar, Pursuing Death: Philosophy and Practice of Voluntary Termination of LifeDharwad: Institute of Indian Art History, Karnatak University, 1990, pp. 256-257, Kristi L. Wiley, Historical Dictionary of Jainism, Lanham, MD, Toronto, Oxford, UK: The Scarecrow Press, 2004, pp. 181-182, and personal communications from Kristi L. Wiley and Kim Skoog. Material on court cases from Ammu Kannampilly, “Indian ‘fasting to death’ custom faces court test, AFP (Agence France-Presse), reported March 27, 2011.




First Lesson

I say: To friendly or hostile (heretics) one should not give food, drink, dainties and spices, clothes, alms-bowls, and brooms; nor exhort these persons to give (such things), nor do them service, always showing the highest respect.  Thus I say [1].  (i)

(A heretic may say): Know this for certain: having or not having received food, &c.  (down to) brooms, having or not having eaten (come to our house), even turning from your way or passing (other houses; we shall supply your wants). Confessing an individual creed, coming and going, he may give, or exhort to give, or do service (but one should not accept anything from him), showing not the slightest respect.  Thus I say.  (2)

Some here are not well instructed as regards the subject of conduct; for desirous of acts, they say: ‘Kill creatures;’ they themselves kill or consent to the killing of others; or they take what has not been given; or they pronounce opinions, e.g. the world exists, the world does not exist, the world is unchangeable, the world is ever changing; the world has a beginning, the world has no beginning; the world has an end, the world has no end; (or with regard to the self and actions): this is well done, this is badly done; this is merit, this is demerit; he is a good man, he is not a good man; there is beatitude, there is no beatitude; there is a hell, there is no hell.  When they thus differ (in their opinions) and profess their individual persuasion, know (that this is all) without reason [2].  Thus they are not well taught, not well instructed in the religion such as it has been declared by the Revered One, who knows and sees with quick discernment.  (One should either instruct the opponent in the true faith) or observe abstinence as regards speech. Thus I say.  (3)

Everywhere [3] sins are admitted; but to avoid them is called my distinction.  For ye who live in a village or in the forest, or not in a village and not in the forest, know the law as it has been declared.  ‘By the Brahman, the wise (Mahâvîra), three [4] vows have been enjoined.’  Noble and tranquil men who are enlightened and exert themselves in these (precepts), are called free from sinful acts.  (4)

Knowing (and renouncing) severally and singly the actions against living beings, in the regions above, below, and on the surface, everywhere and in all ways—a wise man neither gives pain to these bodies, nor orders others to do so, nor assents to their doing so.  Nay, we abhor those who give pain to these bodies.  Knowing this, a wise man should not cause this or any other pain (to any creatures).  Thus I say.  (5)

Second Lesson

A Mendicant may exert himself, or stand or sit or lie in a burying-place or in an empty house or in a mountain cave or in a potter’s workshop.  A householder may approach a mendicant who stays in any of these places, and say unto him: O long-lived Sramana!  I shall give you what I have bought or stolen or taken, though it was not to be taken, nor given, but was taken by force, viz. food, drink, dainties and spices, clothes, an alms-bowl, a plaid, a broom—by acting sinfully against all sorts of living beings; or I shall prepare you snug lodgings; eat (the offered food), dwell (in the prepared house [5]).  (i)

O long-lived Sramana!  A mendicant should thus refuse a householder of good sense and ripe age: O long-lived householder!  I do not approve of thy words, I do not accept thy words, that, for my sake, thou givest unto me what thou hast bought or stolen or taken, though it was not to be taken, nor given, but was taken by force, viz. food, drink, dainties and spices, clothes, an alms-bowl, a plaid, a broom—by acting sinfully against all sorts of living beings; or that thou preparest pleasant lodgings for me.  O long-lived householder!  I have given up this, because it is not to be done.(2) A mendicant may exert himself, &c.  (first sentence of § i): A householder, without betraying his intention, may approach him who stays in some one of the above-mentioned places, and give unto him what has been taken, &c.  (all as above, down to) or prepare  pleasant lodgings, and accommodate the mendicant with food (and lodging).  A mendicant should know it by his own innate intelligence, or through the instruction of the highest (i.e. the Tîrthakaras), forsooth, for my sake injures all sorts of living beings, to give me food, &c., clothes, &c., or to prepare pleasant lodgings.  A mendicant should well observe and understand this, that he may order (the house-holder) not to show such obsequiousness. Thus I say.  (3)

Those who having, with or without the mendicant’s knowledge, brought together fetters [6], become angry (on the monk’s refusal) and will strike him, saying: Beat, kill, cut, burn, roast, tear, rob, despatch, torture him!  But the hero, come to such a lot, will bravely bear it, or tell him the code of conduct, considering that he is of a different habit; or by guarding his speech he should in due order examine the subject, guarding himself.

This has been declared by the awakened ones: The faithful should not give to dissenters food, &c., clothes, &c., nor should they exhort them (to give), nor do them service, always showing the highest respect.  Thus I say.  (4)

Know the law declared by the wise Brâhmana: one should give to one of the same faith food, &c., clothes, &c.,. and one should exhort him (to give) or do him service, always showing the highest respect.  Thus I say.  (5)

Third Lesson

Some are awakened as middle-aged men and exert themselves well, having, as clever men, heard and received the word of the learned [7].  The noble ones have impartially preached the law.  Those who are awakened, should not wish for pleasure, nor do harm, nor desire (any forbidden things).  A person who is without desires and does no harm unto any living beings in the whole world, is called by me ‘unfettered.’  (1)

One free from passions understands perfectly the bright one [8], knowing birth in the upper and nether regions.

‘Bodies increase through nourishment, they are frail in hardships.’  See some whose organs are failing (give way to weakness).

A person who has no desires, cherishes pity.  He who understands the doctrine of sin, is a mendicant who knows the time, the strength, the measure, the occasion, the conduct, the religious precept; he disowns all things not requisite for religious purposes, in time exerts himself, is under no obligations; he proceeds securely (on the road to final liberation) after having cut off both (love and hate) [9].  (2)

A householder approaching a mendicant whose limbs tremble for cold may say:

O long-lived Sramana!  Are you not subject to the influences of your senses?

O long-lived householder!  I am not subject to the influences of my senses.  But I cannot sustain the feeling of cold. Yet it does not become me to kindle or light a fire [10], that I may warm or heat myself; nor (to procure that comfort) through the order of others.

Perhaps after the mendicant has spoken thus, the other kindles or lights a fire that he may warm or heat himself.  But the mendicant should well observe and understand this, that he may order him to show no such obsequiousness. Thus I say.  (3)

Fourth Lesson

A mendicant who is fitted out with three robes [11], and a bowl as fourth (article), will not think: I shall beg for a fourth robe.  He should beg for (clothes) which he wants, and which are permitted by the religious code [12]; he should wear the clothes in the same state in which they are given him; he should neither wash nor dye them, nor should he wear washed or dyed clothes, nor (should he) hide (his garments when passing) through other villages, being careless of dress.  This is the whole duty [13] of one who wears clothes. But know further, that, after winter is gone and the hot season has come, one should leave off the used-up (garment of the three), being clad with an upper and under garment, or with the undermost garment, or with one gown, or with no clothes—aspiring to freedom from bonds [14] Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (1)

When it occurs to a blessed [15] mendicant that he suffers pain, and cannot bear the influence of cold, he should not try to obviate these trials, but stand fast in his own self which is endowed with all knowledge [16].  ‘For it is better for an ascetic that he should take poison.’  Even thus he will in due time put an end to existence.  This (way to escape trials) has been adopted by many who were free from delusion; it is good, wholesome, proper, beatifying, meritorious. Thus I say.  (2)

Fifth Lesson

A mendicant who is fitted out with two robes, and a bowl as third (article), will not think: I shall beg for a third robe.  He should beg for robes which are allowed to be begged for; he should wear the clothes, &c. &c. [17]  This is the whole outfit of one who wears clothes.  But know further, that after the winter is gone and the hot season has come, one should leave off the used-up garments; having left off the used-up garments, (one should) be clad with the undermost garment, with a gown [18], or with no clothes at all—aspiring to freedom from bonds.  Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (1)

When the thought occurs to a mendicant that through illness he is too weak, and not able to beg from house to house—and on his thus complaining a householder brings food, &c., obtained (without injuring life [19]), and gives it him—then he should, after deliberation, say [20]: O long-lived householder!  It does not become me to eat or drink this food, &c., or (accept) anything else of the same kind.  (2)

A mendicant who has resolved, that he will, when sick, accept the assistance of fellow-ascetics [21] in good health, when they offer (assistance) without being asked, and that vice versa he, when in health, will give assistance to sick fellow-ascetics, offering it without being asked—(he should not deviate from his resolution though he die for want of help).  (3)

Taking the vow to beg (food, &c.) for another (who is sick), and to eat (when sick) what is brought by another; taking the vow to beg, &c., and not to eat what is brought; taking the vow not to beg, &c., but to eat what is brought; taking the vow neither to beg, &c., not to eat what is brought—(one should adhere to that vow).  Practising thus the law as it has been declared, one becomes tranquil, averted from sin, guarded against the allurements of the senses.  Even thus (though sick) he will in due time put an end to existence [22].  This (method) has been adopted by many who were free from delusion; it is good, wholesome, proper, beatifying, meritorious.  Thus I say.  (4)

Sixth Lesson

A mendicant who is fitted out with one robe, and a bowl as second (article), will not think: I shall beg for a second robe.  He should beg for such a robe only as is allowed to be begged for, and he should wear it in the same state as he receives it.  This is, &c. (see lesson 4, § 1).

But when the hot season has come, one should leave off the used-up clothes; one should be clad with one or no garment—aspiring to freedom from bonds.  Knowing what the Revered One, &c. (see lesson 5, § 1).

When the thought occurs to a mendicant; ‘I am myself, alone; I have nobody belonging to me, nor do I belong to anybody,’ then he should thoroughly know himself as standing alone—aspiring to freedom from bonds.  Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (1)

A male or female mendicant eating food &c. should not shift (the morsel) from the left jaw to the right jaw, nor from the right jaw to the left jaw, to get a fuller taste of it, not caring for the taste (of it)—aspiring to freedom from bonds. Penance suits him. Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (2)

If this thought occurs to a monk: ‘I am sick and not able, at this time, to regularly mortify the flesh,’ that monk should regularly reduce his food; regularly reducing his food, and diminishing his sins, ‘he should take proper care of his body, being immovable like a beam; exerting himself he dissolves his body [23].’  (3)

Entering a village, or a scot-free town, or a town with an earth-wall, or a town with a small wall, or an isolated town, or a large town, or a sea-town, or a mine, or a hermitage, or the halting-places of processions, or caravans, or a capital [24]—a monk should beg for straw; having begged for straw he should retire with it to a secluded spot.  After having repeatedly examined and cleaned the ground, where there are no eggs, nor living beings, nor seeds, nor sprouts, nor dew, nor water, nor ants, nor mildew, nor waterdrops, nor mud, nor cobwebs—he should spread the straw on it.  Then he should there and then effect (the religious death called) itvara [25].  (4)

This is the truth: speaking truth, free from passion, crossing (the samsâra), abating irresoluteness, knowing all truth and not being known, leaving this frail body, overcoming all sorts of pains and troubles through trust in this (religion), he accomplishes this fearful (religious death).  Even thus he will in due time put an end to existence.  This has been adopted by many who were free from delusion; it is good, wholesome, proper, beatifying, meritorious.  Thus I say.  (5)

Seventh Lesson

To a naked [26] monk the thought occurs: I can bear the pricking of grass, the influence of cold and heat, the stinging of flies and mosquitos; these and other various painful feelings I can sustain, but I cannot leave off the covering of the privities.  Then he may cover his privities with a piece of cloth [27].

A naked monk who perseveres in this conduct, sustains repeatedly these and other various painful feelings: the grass pricks him, heat and cold attack him, flies and mosquitos sting him.  A naked monk (should be) aspiring to freedom from bonds. Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it.  (1)

A monk who has come to any of the following resolutions,—having collected food, &c., I shall give of it to other monks, and I shall eat (what they have) brought; (or) having collected food, &c., I shall give of it to other monks, but I shall not eat (what they have) brought; (or) having collected food, &c., I shall not give of it to other monks, but I shall eat (what they have) brought; (or) having collected food, &c., I shall not give of it to other monks, nor eat (what they have) brought; (2) (or) I shall assist a fellow-ascetic with the remnants of my dinner, which is acceptable [28] and remained in the same state in which it was received [29], and I shall accept the assistance of fellow-ascetics as regards the remnants of their dinner, which is acceptable and remained in the same state in which it was received;—(that monk should keep these vows even if he should run the risk of his life) (3)—aspiring to freedom from bonds.  Penance suits him.  Knowing what the Revered One has declared, one should thoroughly conform to it.  (4)

Thus I say.  (5)

Eighth Lesson

The wise ones who attain in due order [30] to one of the unerring states (in which suicide is prescribed), those who are rich in control and endowed with knowledge, knowing the incomparable (religious death, should continue their contemplation).  (1) Knowing the twofold (obstacles, i.e. bodily and mental), the wise ones, having thoroughly learned the law, perceiving in due order (that the time for their death has come), get rid of karman.  (2)

Subduing the passions and living on little food [31], he should endure (hardships).  If a mendicant falls sick, let him again take food.  (3)

He should not long for life, nor wish for death; he should yearn after neither, life or death.  (4)

He who is indifferent and wishes for the destruction of karman, should continue his contemplation.  Becoming unattached internally and externally, he should strive after absolute purity.  (5)

Whatever means one knows for calming one’s own life [32], that a wise man should learn (i.e. practise) in order to gain time (for continuing penance).  (6)

In a village or in a forest, examining the ground and recognising it as free from living beings, the sage should spread the straw [33].  (7)

Without food he should lie down and bear the pains which attack him.  He should not for too long time give way to worldly feelings which overcome him.  (8)

When crawling animals or such as live on high or below, feed on his flesh and blood, he should neither kill them nor rub (the wound).  (9)

Though these animals destroy the body, he should not stir from his position.  After the âsravas have ceased, he should bear (pains) as it he rejoiced in them.  (10)

When the bonds fall off, then he has accomplished his life.

(We shall now describe) a more exalted (method [34]) for a well-controlled and instructed monk.  (11)

This other law has been proclaimed by Gñâtriputra:

He should give up all motions except his own in the thrice-threefold way[35].  (12) He should not lie on sprouts of grass, but inspecting the bare ground he should lie on it.

Without any comfort and food, he should there bear pain.  (13)

When the sage becomes weak in his limbs, he should strive after calmness [36].

For he is blameless, who is well fixed and immovable (in his intention to die).  (14)

He should move to and fro (on his ground), contract and stretch (his limbs) for the benefit of the whole body; or (he should remain quiet as if he were) lifeless.  (15)

He should walk about, when tired of (lying), or stand with passive limbs; when tired of standing, he should sit down.  (16)

Intent on such an uncommon death, he should regulate the motions of his organs. Having attained a place swarming with insects, he should search for a clean spot.  (17)

He should not remain there whence sin would rise.  He should raise himself above (sinfulness), and bear all pains.  (18)

And this is a still more difficult method [37], when one lives according to it: not to stir from one’s place, while checking all motions of the body.  (19)

This is the highest law, exalted above the preceding method:

Having examined a spot of bare ground he should remain there; stay O Brâhmana!  (20)

Having attained a place free from living beings, he should there fix himself.

He should thoroughly mortify his flesh, thinking: There are no obstacles in my body.  (21)

Knowing as long as he lives the dangers and troubles, the wise and restrained (ascetic) should bear them as being instrumental to the dissolution of the body.  (22)

He should not be attached to the transitory pleasures, nor to the greater ones; he should not nourish desire and greed, looking only for eternal praise.  (23)

He should be enlightened with eternal objects [38], and not trust in the delusive power of the gods; A Brâhmana should know of this and cast off all inferiority.  (24)

Not devoted to any of the external objects he reaches the end of his life; thinking that patience is the highest good, he (should choose) one of (the described three) good methods of entering Nirvâna.  (25) Thus I say.

End of the Seventh Lecture, called Liberation.

  1. This and the following paragraph are extremely difficult to translate.  I have translated the words according to the scholiast, and supplied what he supplies; but his interpretation can scarcely be reconciled with the text.
  2. The Gaines do not espouse one of the alternative solutions of the metaphysical and ethical questions; but they are enabled by the syâdvâda to believe in the co-existence of contrary qualities in one and the same thing.
  3. In all other religious sects.
  4. Gâma = yâma.  These are, (I) to kill no living being, (2) to speak no untruth, (3) to abstain from forbidden things (theft and sexual pleasures).  Or the three ages of man are intended by gâma, which we have rendered vows.
  5. Later on in the commentary (beginning of the sixth lesson) this is called udgamotpâdanishanâ.
  6. The above-detailed benefactions.
  7. The scholiast says that there are three classes of the awakened: the Svayambuddha, the Pratyekabuddha, and the Buddhabodhita.  The last only is treated of in the text.
  8.  i.e. self control.
  9. The latter part of this paragraph is nearly identical with lecture 2, lesson 5, § 3, to which we refer the reader for the explanation of the dark phrases.
  10. The original has fire-body, which the faithful are enjoined not to injure; see lecture 2, lesson 4.
  11. The three robes allowed to a Gaina monk are two linen under garments (kshaumikakalpa) and one woolen upper garment (aurnikakalpa).  Besides these (kalpatraya), the monk possesses, 2. an alms-bowl (pâtra) with six things belonging to it, 3. a broom (ragoharana), 4. a veil for the mouth (mukhavastrikâ). The alms-bowl and the articles belonging to it are specialised in the following gâthâ: pattam pattâbamdho pâyatthavanamka pâyakesariyâ I padalâi rayattânamka gokkhao pâyaniggogo II
  12. Things, &c.: this is the meaning of the technical term ahesanigga yathaishanîya, allowed objects of begging.
  13. Literally, outfit.  Cf. II, 5, 2, § I.
  14. i.e. freedom from worldly cares and interest.
  15. Vasumam: rich (in control).
  16. But he should not in order to escape these trials, commit such suicide as is only permitted to ascetics who have reached the highest degree of perfection, when they are ripe for Nirvâna.  Suicide only puts off the last struggle for Nirvâna; but it is better than breaking the vow.
  17. See lesson 4, § I.
  18. The MSS.  Are at variance with each other in adapting the words of the former lesson to the present case.  As the commentaries are no check, and do not explain our passage, I have selected what seemed to me to be the most likely reading.
  19. Abhihada=abhyâhrita: it is a typical attribute of objectionable things.  The commentator explains it here by gîvopamardanivritta.
  20. The original has only âloeggâ, he should examine whether the food &c. is acceptable or not.  This is called the grahanaishanâ.
  21. Sâhammiya=sâdharmika, one who follows the same rule in cases where different rules are left to the option of the mendicants.  The word abhikamkha=abhikâṅkshya is not translated, the commentator makes it out to mean, wishing for freedom from sinful acts.
  22. As in the preceding lesson a man who cannot conquer his sensuality, is permitted to commit suicide (by hanging himself, &c.), in order to put an end to his trials and temptations, so in this lesson a man whose sickness prevents him from persevering in a life of austerities, is permitted to commit suicide by rejecting food and drink.  This is called bhaktapânapratyâkhyânamukti.  It seems therefore to have been regarded as leading to final liberation (mukti).
  23. There is no finite verb in this sentence, nor any word which could supply its place. The old Gaina authors were so accustomed to surround their meaning with exclusions and exceptions, and to fortify it with a maze of parentheses, that they sometimes apparently forgot to express the verb, especially when they made use of fragments of old verses, as in the present case.
  24. This is one of the most frequent gamas or identical passages which form a rather questionable ornament of the Sûtra style. The gamas are usually abbreviated, e.g. villages, &c., all down to capital, or eggs, &c., all down to cobwebs, which we shall presently meet with.
  25. Itvara or iṅgitamarana consists in starving oneself, while keeping within a limited space. A religious death is usually permitted only to those who have during twelve years undergone preparatory penance, consisting chiefly in protracted periods of fasting. The scholiast says that in our case the itvara is not enjoined for sick persons who can mo longer sustain austerities; but they should act as if they were to commit the itvara suicide, hoping that in five or six days the sickness would leave them in which case they are to return to their former life. But if they should not get better but die, it is all for the best.
  26. Akela.
  27. This is the katibandhana or kolapattaka; it should be four fingers broad and one hasta long.
  28. Ahesanigga: it had those qualities which are required of a thing the mendicant may accept.
  29. Ahâpariggahiya=ahâparigrihîta.
  30. The preceding lessons treated of suicide conceded to sick persons as a means of entering Nirvâna.  The eighth lesson, which is written in slokas, describes the different kinds of religious deaths which form the end of a twelve-years’ mortification of the flesh (samlekhanâ).  But the ascetic must ask and get the permission of his Guru, before he commits suicide.
  31. Compare lecture 7, lesson 6, § 3.
  32. i.e. for preserving the life, when too severe penance brings on sickness and the probability of instant death.
  33. Here commences the description of the bhaktapratyâkhyâ–namarana, suicide by rejecting food.
  34. Viz. the ingitamarana, which differs from the preceding one by the restriction of the motions of the candidate for suicide to a limited space.
  35. i.e. of body, speech, and mind; doing, or causing, or allowing to be done.
  36. He should not give way to melancholy thoughts.
  37. It is called pâovagamana, translated by the commentators pâdapopagamana, remaining motionless like a felled tree.  This etymology, which is generally adopted by the Gainas, is evidently wrong; for the Sanskrit prototype is the Brahmanical Prâyopagamana.
  38. This is the scholiast’s interpretation of nimamteggâ nimantrayet.




The Story of Ānanda

During the time of Mahāvīra, in a city called Vāņijagrāma, capital of the Licchavi nation, there lived a householder called Ānanda.  He was a very prosperous man, with wealth unequalled by any person in that city.  He possessed forty million measures of gold buried in a safe place, another forty million put out at interest, a well-stocked estate of equivalent value, and forty thousand cattle divided into four herds.  Ānanda was consulted by numerous kings and merchants with regard to every sort of business.  He was the pillar of his family, ministering to them and guiding them in all matters.  His wife was called Śivānandā—a woman dear to her husband, devoted, attached, and loving.  The two of them lived together very happily as house holders.  Their respective families too, being large and well-established, lived in pleasure and contentment.

At that time the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra visited Vāņijagrāma and took up residence in a park outside the city. Large numbers of people, together with their king, went to pay their respects and listen to his sermons. The householder Ānanda, having heard this news, reflected thus: “Truly the venerable one is staying here on a visit.  This is a most auspicious event.  Let me go to pay my respects.”

Having made this decision he bathed, adorned himself with his finest clothing, and went out on foot, surrounded by a great retinue and protected by an umbrella held over his head.  Walking all the way through the city, he arrived at the park; there, Mahāvīra was residing in a caitya (temple) called Dvipalāsa. Approaching this spot, Ānanda circumambulated the sage three times and, having thus expressed his veneration, sat down to listen to the sermon. Then the venerable Mahāvīra expounded the law to the householder Ānanda, and to the large company of people present on that occasion.  When the congregation had departed, Ānanda, pleased and elated, spoke thus:

Venerable sir, I believe in the doctrine of the Niganthas; I am convinced of the Nigantha doctrine; I am delighted with it. It is so, sir, it is exactly so. It is true. It is what I accept. Indeed, sir, it is  really so, just as you have declared it. Venerable sir, although many  nobles, bankers, and merchants have, upon hearing your sermon, renounced the household life and entered the monastic state, I, sir, cannot do the same. But I will, in your presence, take upon myself the twelve-fold restraint of a householder, consisting of  the five anuvratas, three guņavratas, and the four śikşāvratas.  May it so please you, venerable sir, not to deny me this honor.

Then the householder Ānanda, in the presence of venerable ascetic Mahāvīra, renounced all gross forms of injury to living beings, saying: “As long as I live… [see Chapter VI, n. 35] I will not do it, nor cause it to be done, either in thought, word, or deed.”

Next he renounced all grossly lying speech and all gross taking of things not given; he also limited himself to contentment with his wife and restricted his possessions by pledging not to accumulate further wealth in any form. Similarly, he renounced the various kinds of activities dealt with by the other vratas. At this point the venerable Mahāvīra addressed Ānanda, saying: “Truly, Ānanda, you have now become a disciple of the ascetic [śramaņopāsaka]; you must now be aware of the transgressions pertaining to all twelve vratas, and must avoid them.”

Then the household Ānanda, having formally taken the vows administered to him, praised and worshiped the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra and solemnly spoke to him thus:

Truly, venerable sir, it does not befit me, from this day forward, to praise or worship any     man of a heterodox community, or any of the objects of reverence of a heterodox community.  Neither should I address nor converse with one of their teachers unless he first addresses me, nor give food or drink to such teachers, except if it be required by the king, or by the elders, or by the exigencies of life.  On the other hand, it behooves me, venerable sir, to devote myself to providing the ascetics of the Nigaņţha faith with pure and acceptable food and other provisions permitted to them: clothes, blankets, alms bowls, medicines, and the like.

Having thus promised and having engaged in religious discourse with his teacher, Ānanda respectfully took leave of the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra and returned from the park to his home.  Calling his wife to him, he said:

Truly, beloved of the gods, I have listened to the law in the presence of the venerable  ascetic Mahāvīra, and that dharma is what I desire, what I accept, what I am pleased by. So now, beloved of the gods, go and praise the venerable ascetic and listen to his sermon, and take upon thyself in his presence the twelve-fold restraint of the householder.

Then Śivānandā did as he said, receiving the same vratas in a similar manner as had her husband. After some time, the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra went away to a different part of the country.  Ānanda and Śivānandā, having become his disciples, devoted themselves to mindfully keeping their vows and honoring the Nigaņţha mendicants with due charity. Fourteen years passed thus, during which time the śramaņopāsaka Ānanda trained himself with constant exercise in the moral restraints imposed by his vows, as well as in those called for under the various seasonal abstentions. Then, during one night in the fifteenth year of his discipline, as he reflected upon his progress, it occurred to him:

Truly I am the support of numerous families in this city; I have many responsibilities. But because of this situation I have been hindered from living in complete conformity with the teachings and restraints received in the presence of the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra.  It is better, indeed, that after sunrise tomorrow I should place my eldest son in charge of my household; then I may repair to the fasting hall of my community and live there, leading a life in which I fully observe the vratas of a householder.

Accordingly, on the next morning he invited all his friends and relatives to his home and fed them abundantly.  The meal completed, he appointed his son the head of the family, and addressed them all, saying: “Do not thou, my beloved son, nor you, my dear friends, any of you, from this day onwards, ask me or consult me regarding any of the manifold affairs with which I was hitherto connected.  Nor should you cook or prepare any food for my sake.”  Then Ānanda took leave of his friends and kinsmen, went out of the house, and walked to a suburb of the city in which was located the fasting hall belonging to his own community.  He swept the grounds of hall, spread a bed of grass, and placed himself upon it.  He continued to live there, in accord with the rules, taking one after another of the eleven pratimās for a full period of five-and-a-half years; he persevered in the performance of ascetic practices (mainly fasting), and became extremely thin.  Then Ānanda reflected as follows:

Truly, though these ascetic exercises, I have become reduced to a skeleton.  While there  is still within me the vigor and energy of faith, therefore, I should, after sunrise tomorrow, devote myself to a determined sallekhanā that ends in death, renouncing all   food and drink and patiently awaiting my end.

Then the śramaņopāsaka Ānanda, by reason of his splendid transformation and the purity of his extraordinary resolution, gained a supernatural vision which enabled him to see, from where he sat, and area of five-hundred yojanas (a yojana is eight or nine miles) across the earth, as well as upwards to the first heaven and downwards to the first hell.

Now it happened that at that very time the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra again arrived in Vāņijagrāma for a visit, accompanied by his gaņadhara, the venerable Indrabhūti Gautama.  This Gautama was given to the habit of taking food only once every six days.  On one such day he went around the city with his begging bowl, moving from house to house collecting alms.  There he heard from various people of the great austerities of the householder Ānanda and about his vow of sallekhanā.  The venerable Gautama decided to go and see him, and so proceeded to the place where Ānanda was residing in seclusion.  When Ānanda saw the venerable Gautama approaching, his heart was filled with happiness and he spoke to him thus:

Truly, venerable sir, I have now become, through my vratas, reduced to a skeleton.  I am therefore unable to come forward into your presence in order to salute you and bow my head to your feet.  So please, venerable sir, graciously take the trouble to come near me so that I may do so.

And when the venerable Gautama had approached, Ānanda respectfully saluted him and asked: “is it so, venerable sir, that a householder, one who has not become a monk, can indeed win the power of supernatural sight?”

And Gautama answered, “Yes, it is so.”

Then Ānanda continued: “if that is so, venerable sir, I would like to inform you that I can see an area of five hundred yojanas across the earth, and upwards to the first heaven, and downwards to the first hell.”

Then the venerable Gautama said to Ānanda, the disciple of the ascetic: “I do maintain, Ānanda, that a householder can indeed possess supernatural sight, but not to such and extent as you claim. Therefore, Ānanda, it is only fitting that you should acknowledge your infraction in this matter [exaggeration, a violation of the satya-vrata] and perform a penance in expiation.”  Then the householder Ānanda answered: “Is it required by the law of Jina, sir, that one should take upon oneself a penance for speaking of things which are real and actual?”

Gautama replied, “No, it is not so required.”

And Ānanda said: “If, sir, what you have said is true, then you, venerable one, should indeed yourself acknowledge an infraction in this matter and undertake a penance in expiation thereof.”

Then the venerable Gautama, having been spoken to thus by Ānanda the householder, was unsettled and filled with doubt.  He departed from that place and returned to the Dvipalāsa caitya, where the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra was residing. Having reported the entire incident, he asked: “Venerable sir, tell me, is it for Ānanda, your lay disciple, to acknowledge his transgression in this matter and to take a penance upon himself, or is it for me to do so?”

Then the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra, turning to Gautama, said without hesitation: “Indeed Gautama, it is you who should acknowledge transgression in this matter and take a penance upon yourself. And you should forgive his rudeness in contradicting you.” The venerable Gautama, saying “so be it,” humbly accepted the decision of the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra.  Having done so, he acknowledged his transgression, took an expiation upon himself, and forgave Ānanda.

Mahāvīra and his gaņadharas then went away to live in another place. At that time the śramaņopāsaka Ānanda, having persevered for twenty years as a lay servant of the ascetic and having conscientiously observed the twelve vratas and eleven pratimās of a layman, undertook the course of sallekhanā, which ends in death, for a period of one month.  During this period he consumed only water. At the end of the month, having confessed his transgressions and begged forgiveness of all beings, he sank into deep meditation and thus attained his mortal end. He was reborn as a celestial being in the first heaven.

When the venerable Gautama came to know of this, he inquired of the venerable ascetic Mahāvīra: “Venerable sir, Ānanda the heavenly being, upon making his descent from the world of the gods, after the termination of his life in heaven, will be reborn in what realm?”

And Mahāvīra replied: “Gautama, he will take human form in the great Videha country, and there he will attain to arhatship.”




The householder courts voluntary death at the end of his life.

The loss of the senses and the vitalities at the end of one’s duration of life acquired by one’s own dispositions is death. The end refers to the particular state of existence. That which has death as the end is maraņāntah. That which has death as its object is māraņāntikῑ. To make the body and the passions thin is salelkhanā.

Sallekhanā is making the physical body and the internal passions emaciated by abandoning their sources gradually at the approach of death. The householder observes sallekhanā at the end of his life. ‘Joşitā’ means observing it with pleasure. Hence sevitā, though clear in meaning, is not used. If there be no willingness, sallekhanā cannot be forced on one.  If there is liking for it one does it oneself.

It is argued that it is suicide, since there is voluntary severance of life etc. No, it is not suicide, as there is no passion.  njury consists in the destruction of life actuated by passion. Without attachment etc. there is no passion in this undertaking. A person, who kills himself by means of poison, weapons, etc., swayed by attachment, aversion or infatuation, commits suicide. But he who practises holy death is free from desire, anger and delusion.  Hence it is not suicide. “It has been taught by Lord Jina that the absence of attachment and the other passions is non-injury and that the rise of feelings of attachment and the other passions is injury.” For instance, a merchant collects commodities for sale and stores them. He does not welcome the destruction of his storehouse. The destruction of the storehouse is against his wishes. And, when some danger threatens the storehouse, he tries to safeguard it. But if he cannot avert the danger, he tries to save the commodities at least from ruin. Similarly, a householder is engaged in acquiring the commodity of vows and supplementary vows. And he does not desire the ruin of the receptacle of these virtues, namely the body. But when serious danger threatens the body, he tries to avert it in a righteous manner without violating his vows. In case it is not possible to avert danger to the body, he tries to safeguard his vows at least. How can such a procedure be called suicide?

1 Comment

Filed under Ancient History, Asia, Jain Tradition, Selections

(599-527 B.C. to 5th century A.D.)

Acaranga Sutra: The Seventh Lecture,    called Liberation
Upasaka-Dashah: Ten Chapters on Lay    Attenders: The Story of Ananda
Tattvartha Sutra: Passionless End is    Not Suicide

  1. Margaret Battin

    From Prof. Kim Skoog, University of Guam, who is currently in India:

    A court in Rajasthan has ruled that Santhara (Sallekhana) is Suicide and has placed a ban on the practice in the country. As you might guess the nuns here (called Samanis—at least the ones with more freedoms, can get in cars, planes, etc.) are upset and Jain legal teams are working to win a filed appeal. It says that there are approximately 200 sallekhana deaths each year in this area (Ladnun is a rural town a few hours west of Rajasthan). Evidently there are a few in Mumbai too. Reading into it, it appears that some reformer activists started all the trouble with claims that some elderly people or people with terminal illness were FORCED to stop eating and drinking water in order to die quickly. It sounds pretty familiar to conservative arguments against PAS or active euthanasia. Anyway, if you are interested you can look at the article in the Hindustan times. Here is the link:

Leave a Reply