In California, on June 9, a law lets patients suffering from terminal illnesses to end their lives with help from a physician. This incident let to several debates as to whether human life should be prolonged against the desire to die peacefully as well as with dignity.
Jainism is one of the most ancient religions of India and it teaches a way of life, unique in its own manner. Jainism gives importance to the lives of all beings-living and non-living. Apart from India there is prevalence of Jain faith in other parts of the world as well. It is believed that it was a religious reformer named Mahavira who brought the concept of Jainism amidst common men and women. Mahavira, like Buddha, was born in a royal family, as well. But after the passage of his parents, he left the life of the royal household and embraced the life of an aesthetic.
Jainism is rooted in the concepts of certain values:
- Ahimsa or non-violence
- non-attachment to worldly possessions
- Abstaining from stealing
- Chastity or celibacy
The last vow was added by Mahavira himself and these principles are called mahavirbratas after him. Mahavira gave Jainism its present structure and today there exists so many followers of this religion.
Jainism believes that the soul is immortal and ever-lasting. It cannot be destroyed but it can be transformed from one body to another, one state to another, like energy. Therefore, their life is not built around the worldly pleasures; instead, it is based upon their acceptance of the eternal and inevitable truth of life-death. They do not assume death to be a morose welfare, yet, it is supposed to be the departure of the soul from one body to another. They are firm believers in karma. According to Jainism, there is no particular God or Creator; the actions of men truly define what their fate is going to be.
Recently, the Jain concept of fasting unto death was greatly debated upon. It has been officially recorded that over 200 Jains, fast unto death every year when their urge to live is gone. Not only in India, but it is a widely followed ritual among Jains all over the world. This according to them is their “rite to final passage”. This concept of entitlement to a peaceful departure from the living state of the body is distinctly different from the concept of “right”.
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They do the needful to free the soul who has become tired of that particular life, in that, they see no sin. However, the legal system in India has viewed this as a violation of the law against suicide when a young lawyer called Nikhil Soni filed a case against this ritual or practice of the Jains in 2006. The verdict came out last year, in the favour of Soni. Soon after the verdict came out, the Supreme Court withdrew its verdict and has yet not decided whether to criminalise the practice of “rite to final passage” or not.
Debate still continues on whether “rite to final passage” should be granted by the law or should it be considered as a punishable offence. No matter what the verdict is, it is true that a religion is as unique as its beliefs. Scrapping away their practices, which inflict no harm upon innocents, is probably infringing upon their freedom of religion.