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By Nithin Sridhar
The Rajasthan High Court, on Monday, ruled that the Jain practice of “Sallekhana” is illegal and hence punishable under section 306 (attempts to suicide) and 309 (abetment to suicide).
Jaipur-based lawyer Nikhil Soni had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in 2006 against the Jain practice of Sallekhana wherein a person in old age or about to die, will voluntarily give up food and water in a gradual process and undertake fast onto death.
The contention was that the practice of Sallekhana is a denial of Right to Life and should be treated on par with euthanasia and suicide.
In the light of the high court judgment that upholds the equation of Sallekhana with suicide, it becomes necessary to examine whether they are indeed same? Or have the activists working against the Sallekhana missed the nuance of religious principles?
The answer to these questions can only be found by diving into Jain scriptures to know what actually constitutes Sallekhana, its philosophy and purpose. Further, this practice must be understood in the larger context of Indian traditions. Only then, any proper examination and comparison between Sallekhana and suicide can be drawn.
What is “Sallekhana”?
Acharya Abhayadevasuri in his seminal work, “Sthananga Vritti” defines Sallekhana as an activity by which the body is weakened and the internal passions are overcome. A similar definition is given in “Vrhadvrtti” which defines Sallekhana as peeling of internal passions and bodily strength so as to strengthen the spirit.
So, the purpose of practicing Sallekhana is two-fold: to overcome the limitations of the body and to purify the mind. The weakening of the body, and hence overcoming the attachment and dependency on the body is called as “drvaya sallekhana” and the control of the mind and the senses resulting in transcending the mental passions like lust, anger etc. is called as “bhava sallekhana”
In the Jain philosophy, as in Hindu philosophy, the attachment to the body and the senses, the desires and the internal passions like anger and lust are well understood as the root cause of Karmic bondage. Therefore, the spiritual practice of Sallekhana aims to overcome these factors and attain spiritual merit.
Speaking about the spiritual merits of Sallekhana, “Mrtyu Mahotsava” says that those who die a peaceful death devoid of thoughts filled with passions like fear and anger, neither go to narakas (realms of hell, where one undergoes sorrow), nor take birth as animals. Instead, they attain human or heavenly birth. It further says that those who embrace death with an equanimity of mind through “Samadhi marana” (it is end practice taken before death. Sallekhana includes not only the end practice but also the long preparatory practices that may be as long as 12 years), will attain same spiritual merit as attained by those who practice very severe penances in their life.
Who is eligible to practice Sallekhana?
The practice can be adopted by both ascetics and householders. The practice is usually adopted when a person is very old and is approaching death, or by a person who is terminally ill and hence is about to die. It may also be practiced by people in the face of natural calamities that is bound to cause their death.
In other words, people who are on the verge of death and who no longer can practice their obligated duties can undertake the practice of Sallekhana to develop dispassion and equanimity of mind, so that they can die peacefully and gain spiritual merit as well.
But, old age or having diseases as such does not qualify one to opt for the final “Samadhimarana” practices.
“Mulachara” lists following competencies: right-belief, control of senses, detachment, dispassion, patience, courage, and absence of pride.It further says that the practitioner must completely renounce violence, untruth, theft, sex, and material and emotional hindrances at physical and mental levels.
“Bhagavati Aradhana” says that only those who are able to destroy the four passions of anger, pride, deceit, and greed are eligible to embrace voluntary death. “Maraṇavi bhakti” brings out the nuance between longer practice of Sallekhana and the end practice of Samadhi-marana. It says that those who have weakened the body and the passions using external and internal Sallekhana alone are eligible to embrace voluntary death through Samadhi-marana.
Further, people who have worldly duties and responsibilities are not eligible to take Sallekhana as their goal is running away from those duties and not attaining spiritual merit.
It is necessary to clarify here that the term Sallekhana is often used as synonymous to Samadhi-marana and does refer to the spiritual practice of voluntarily entering death. At the same time, at other places the term Sallekhana refers to the initial practices of gaining dispassion and mind-purification, whereas the term Samadhi-marana specifically refers to the final practices leading to discarding the body.
How is the Sallekhana practiced?
In his thesis “A Critical Study of the Concept of Voluntary Peaceful Death ‘Samādhimaraṇa’ in Prakrit and Pali Canonical Literature”, Dalpat Singh Baya gives the following general steps adopted in Sallekhana:
- Detachment from the mundane existence and a strong desire to liberate and do whatever is necessary for achieving liberation.
- Premonition of death by the analyses of the Rishtas or realization that for one reason or the other the body has become weak enough to hinder the performance of one’s spiritual duties.
- Rise of a desire to embrace voluntary peaceful death.
- Search for a supervising monk.
- Migrating to the monastic order of the supervising monk or leaving the house and staying in a temple or a prayer hall for carrying out the practice.
- To confess, criticize, condemn one’s flaws in front of the supervising monk.
- Undertaking external and internal austerities to weaken the body and the passions.
- To accept fast unto death when the body and passions have weakened.
The Uttaradhayayana Sutra says that the Sallekhana can be practiced for 12 years, or 12 months, or 12 fortnights depending upon the circumstances of the individual. In the 12 year duration Sallekhana, for the first four years, the practitioner must give up nourishing foods like milk and curd. He must also practice external and internal penances to cleanse the mind and control the senses.
The next four years must be spent in taking fasts for longer durations like 1-day, 2-day, and 3-day fasts. After that, for two years, one must take only one meal on alternate days. The meals taken should be devoid of taste or special nourishment.
In the eleventh and twelfth year, the duration of the fast must be increased. Finally in twelfth year, he must start fasting for a fortnight or a month at a time.
For overcoming passions, “Vyavaharabhasya” suggests practicing forgiveness (to overcome anger), humility (to overcome pride), straightforwardness (to overcome deceit) and contentment (to overcome greed).
The intake of food and water must be gradually reduced in the twelfth year.
“Pravacanasaroddhāra Vṛtti” says that when the practitioner attains the stage of taking only one morsel of food and one gulp of water in a day, then he must further start reducing the food and water intake until he reaches the stage wherein only one grain of food and one droplet of water is consumed in a day. After reaching this stage, the person is ready to undertake the final vow to voluntary peaceful death.
Therefore, the practice of Sallekhana is a gradual but rigorous process which helps a practitioner to become fully detached and dispassionate about the body, overcome dependency on food and water, and purify the internal impurities like greed etc. before finally embracing a peaceful release from the bodily limitations.
Is Sallekhana same as Suicide?
The Oxford dictionary defines suicide as “the action of killing oneself intentionally.” It further states that suicide is a course of action that is “disastrously damaging to oneself or one’s interests”. Therefore it is an act of self-killing or self-murder. Hence, it can be considered as much ethically wrong as the murder of another person is.
Within the Jaina tradition, the “Purusharthasiddhyupaya” defines “atma-vadha” (self-killing) as an act of severing one’s prana (life force) under the influence of internal passions and through acts such as taking poison, drowning etc.
Therefore, the Jaina tradition recognizes suicide as an act which is very different from that of Sallekhana. The factor that differentiates suicide from sallekhana is that the former is an outcome of internal passions, whereas the latter is the outcome of an equanimous mind devoid of passions. This is the nuance that appears to be missing from the present discourse on Sallekhana.
Various studies across the globe have found that suicides are often related to issues like depression. Many external life events may trigger suicides. People with suicidal tendency are often found with psychological conditions like depression, anxiety etc. Sometimes, work-stress, examination stress, love failure, shame or public dishonor have led people to commit suicide. In other words, suicides are largely an impulsive act guided by factors like anger, frustration, sorrow, jealousy etc. which puts a person under extreme stress. Therefore, the acts of suicide can be clearly established as being rooted in internal mental passions.
On the other hand, Sallekhana, as already shown, is a gradual rigorous process wherein the external attachments on food and water, as well as internal attachment to various desires and internal passions are slowly weakened and eventually removed. After purifying oneself over a long period, the practitioner finally undertakes the fast unto to death with a sound and equanimous mind which is devoid of sorrow, attachment, anger or frustrations.
Elaborating on the differences between suicide and Sallekhana, Dalpat Singh Baya lists following observations:
- Sallekhana is not suicide because here the practitioner leaves the body through ritual practice and not by coming under the influence of internal passions and adopting lethal means as done in suicide.
- Though both are voluntary deaths, the body is killed in suicide whereas it is respectfully and peacefully left in Sallekhana.
- Psychologically, a suicidal person have conflicting desires to live and to die simultaneously. These desires may be conscious or subconscious in nature. On the other hand, the practitioner of Sallekhana, has no such desires. He first overcomes all such desires and only then undertakes voluntary death.
- There is a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness in a suicidal person, whereas no such feelings exist in spiritual practitioner. The spiritual practitioner is dispassionate, self-controlled and practices Sallekhana for spiritual merit. He is further at peace with himself, whereas the suicidal person is agitated, depressed or in anxiety.
Also, it can be added that suicide is an act of running away from worldly responsibilities when one is unable to cope with it. But, Sallekhana is voluntary renunciation of the worldly desires in order to attain spiritual merit. Here, there is no running away from world out of failure or fear, but only renunciation of the world due to detachment and dispassion.
Therefore, it is very clear that Sallekhana is a spiritual practice, a tapas (austerity) that a person undertakes to gain chitta-shuddhi (purification of the mind) and vairagya (dispassion towards the body) and not an emotional attempt at killing oneself as in a suicide.
Practices similar to Sallekhana in other Indian traditions:
A practice similar to “Sallekhana” called as “Prayopravesha” exists in Hinduism. Even in Prayopravesha, the rules like a person must have approached death or is unable to perform other worldly duties are applied.
Apart from this, many saints and ascetics take voluntary Samadhi usually through voluntary control of breath and discard the body. These are the genuine spiritual practices that have been well recognized and practiced from very ancient times. Therefore, branding these spiritual practices as suicide does a great disservice to the Indian religious and spiritual practices.
It is high time that the philosophy and nuances behind various religious practices rooted in Indian tradition be it Hindu, Jaina, Buddhist, or Sikh are highlighted and people are made aware of them.
But this is not to suggest that voluntary or forceful suicides in the name of religion are to be encouraged. Instead, the need of the hour is to discriminate between voluntary spiritual practices like Sallekhana and acts of suicide committed due to various worldly reasons including forced practice of Sallekhana.
A Sallekhana is no Sallekhana if a person is forced by his/her family to practice it. A true Sallekhana is only that which is voluntarily practiced out of intense dispassion towards material objects and with a burning desire for spiritual emancipation.
It is hoped that governments and the higher judiciary will come to appreciate this subtle difference between Sallekhana and suicide as any indiscriminate equating of both does a great disservice to the spiritual tradition of Jainas.
The works referred for writing this article include-
Jack Daniel's is the world's most popular whiskey brand, but until recently, few people knew the liquor was created by Nathan "Nearest" Green, an enslaved Black man who mentored Daniel.
"We've always known," says Debbie Staples, a great-great-granddaughter of Green's who heard the story from her grandmother. … "He made the whiskey, and he taught Jack Daniel. And people didn't believe it … it's hurtful. I don't know if it was because he was a Black man."
But people believe it now — in large part because Brown-Forman Corporation, owner of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, has acknowledged the foundational role Green played in the brand's development.
"The truth of the matter is, Nearest Green was the first head distiller of Jack Daniels whiskey," says Matt Blevins, global brand director for Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. "We're very proud of this story and are very committed to amplifying it and acknowledging that. In the past, we did not amplify it the way that we could have in earlier eras, but we're about the future and moving forward."
America's first-known Black master distiller
The story begins in Lynchburg, Tennessee, current home of the Jack Daniel Distillery. In the mid-1800s, Green's slaveholders hired him out to a local preacher named Dan Call. Green, who had a reputation as a skilled distiller, made whiskey for Call, using a sugar maple charcoal filtering process that is believed to have originated in West Africa. Daniel, a boy who worked for Call, became Green's apprentice and learned the special technique that gave the Tennessee whiskey its smooth taste.
After emancipation in 1863, when all enslaved people were freed, Daniel purchased Call's distillery and hired Green as Jack Daniel Distillery's first master distiller.
"The best knowledge that we have is that they had a mentor-and-mentee sort of a relationship, and I would say, a friendship," says Blevins. "The stories that have been passed down [talk] about the care that Jack Daniel took to always acknowledge … the Green family."
Historic photo of Jack Daniel (in white hat) seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan "Nearest" Green Image source: VOA
There are no known pictures of Green, but there is one of Daniel with Green's son, George, sitting next to Daniel, rather than being relegated to the back.
"That photograph shows the respect that they had for one another and for their families," says Stefanie Benjamin, an assistant professor of tourism management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "To be not only allowed in that photograph, but also positioned in the foreground and sitting right next to Jack Daniels himself."
Search for the truth
Green's role in the history of the brand was uncovered by a writer and entrepreneur named Fawn Weaver, who became fascinated by Green's unheralded contribution to the world's most popular whiskey. After extensive research, including interviews with Green's descendants, Weaver shared her documentation with the company.
"I was very pleasantly surprised when they embraced my research and updated their records to reflect that," Weaver told VOA via email. "I think it said a lot about the character of their company that they moved that quickly to course correct."
Jack Daniel's has incorporated Green's contributions into the official history of the brand, but Weaver has gone a step further. She invested $1 million of her own money to establish Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is now the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history.
Fawn Weaver (center in red) with her leadership team at Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, including master distiller Victoria Eady Butler (far left), the great‐great‐granddaughter of Nearest Green. (Photo courtesy Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) Image credit: VOA
The company's master distiller is Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great‐great‐granddaughter.
"Uncle Nearest is the most-awarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the fact that it is the bloodline of Nearest Green blending and approving what goes into our bottles is something I marvel at regularly," Weaver says. "Victoria is an absolute natural when it comes to blending, and to watch her work is to see something pretty darn close to perfection."
Seven generations of Green's family have worked at the Jack Daniel Distillery, a tradition that continues today with Staples and two of her siblings. But the Green family did not benefit when the Daniel family sold the Jack Daniel distillery to Brown-Forman for $20 million in 1956.
"Although they [the Green family] were very well off in terms of finances [in the 1800s] in that time, they were not the owners or co-owners of the Jack Daniel distillery," Benjamin says. "And so, those millions of dollars have been passed down through generations of the Jack Daniel family, and not necessarily the Green family."
Maturing barrels of whiskey in a barrel house on the grounds of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Jack Daniel's) Image credit: VOA
Weaver's Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has joined forces with Jack Daniel's to launch a program that provides support, expertise and resources to African-American entrepreneurs entering the spirits industry.
Staples says her family is thrilled their great-great-grandfather is finally being recognized.
"It's kind of mind-boggling … and we are so proud," Staples says. "And to think that from here to Africa, that recipe goes all the way back. And to think that he played such an important role in establishing this company. It sometimes seems unreal. It really does."
Because of Weaver's tenacity, Green's story, although left untold for more than a century, will not be lost to history. But that's not the case with so many other stories of Black achievement and contributions to the nation.
"Part of telling his story and sharing his legacy is to give credit and to give attention to a person who, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have the Jack Daniel whiskey as we know it today," Benjamin says. "It showcases yet another example of how formerly enslaved people, Black people, African American people who have really built this country, are left out of the dominant narrative that we tell." (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally written by Dora Mekouar)
Keywords: Jack Daniel's, Whiskey, Nathan Green, Slavery, Black achievement
Cricket fans can now book the ultimate experience with the official accommodation booking partner for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup, Booking.com. The T20 Pavillion, a bespoke cricket-themed luxury stay that transforms the Presidential Suite at Grand Hyatt Mumbai Hotel and Residences into a classic cricket stadium.
The suite offers guests an all-inclusive once-in-a-lifetime experience during the India vs Pakistan ICC Men's T20 World Cup match on October 24, 2021, packed with quirks and luxuries that is sure to satisfy even the biggest cricket enthusiast. Additionally, as a part of the experience, guests will also have the exclusive opportunity to meet Bollywood actor Shraddha Kapoor at The T20 Pavilion.
The booking window that opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021 and check-out on October 25, 2021. | Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash
For one night only, guests can soak in the energy of a roaring stadium to enjoy the epic match on a life-sized screen while seated on comfortable sofas -- just like the luxury box seats at the stadium. They can also head to the locker room (dining room) next to the field (living room) to have some energy drinks, just like a cricketer would do or head to the bedroom, transformed into a net practice area. It's got the field, the pitch, the locker room, pitching nets and cricket memorabilia infused in every element of the room.
The booking window opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021, and check-out on October 25, 2021. The T20 Pavilion is priced at Rs 6666 only in honour of all the great sixes smashed at the T20 World Cup. The T20 Pavilion can accommodate up to four guests. Cricket fans can visit the website or mobile app to book this cricket-inspired stay. (IANS/ MBI)
Amid the rush to find quick treatments for Covid-19 last year, the world saw a global race to find new stem cell-based treatments. Now, researchers report that such therapies were filled with violations of government regulations, inflated medical claims and distorted public communication. There are reports of patients suffering physical harm -- including blindness and death -- from unproven stem cell therapies.
"Efforts to rapidly develop therapeutic interventions should never occur at the expense of the ethical and scientific standards that are at the heart of responsible clinical research and innovation," said lead study author Laertis Ikonomou, associate professor of oral biology at University at Buffalo, New York. There are clinics offering unproven and unsafe "stem cell" therapies that promise to prevent Covid-19 by strengthening the immune system or improving overall health, the researchers noted in the paper published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.
There are reports of patients suffering physical harm -- including blindness and death -- from unproven stem cell therapies. | Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash
The findings from preliminary studies on possible stem cell-based Covid-19 treatments are frequently being exaggerated through press releases, social media and uncritical news media reports. Clinics selling supposed stem cell treatments on a direct-to-consumer basis sometimes use these findings and news reports to exploit the fears of vulnerable patients by unethically advertising the unproven benefits of stem cell treatments to boost the immune system, regenerate lung tissue and prevent transmission of Covid-19, said co-author Leigh Turner from the University of California, Irvine.
"Patients suffer financially as well, as the products range in price from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, and people are often encouraged to receive the expensive treatments every few months," added Ikonomou. Patients led to believe they are protected against Covid-19 may decide against vaccination, stop wearing masks, cease engaging in physical distancing, or otherwise avoid behaviours intended to promote personal safety and public health.
They may also become less likely to take part in carefully-developed clinical trials conducted by companies that follow ethical standards. "Scientists, regulators and policymakers must guard against the proliferation of poorly designed, underpowered and duplicative studies that are launched with undue haste because of the pandemic, but are unlikely to provide convincing, clinically meaningful safety and efficacy data," Turner stressed. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: findings,studies,therapies,unproven,reports,treatments, pandemic, covid, world