What Is Sallekhana?

In Jainism, there is an ethical code of content which consists of many vows. One of the vows found in the code of conduct is the vow of Sallekhana, which is the vow of volunteering to fast to death.

This vow can only be done at the end of a person’s life. The person vows to fast to death by gradually reducing the intake of food and liquids. Jains consider this a pure death because it is voluntary, panned, undertaken with calmness and peace. While fasting, the person continually recites the Namokar Mantra to keep his mind focused.

Jains believe that withering of the body and focusing the mind on spiritual matters will end something known as the “rebirth cycle” because the body is withdrawing from all physical and mental capabilities and removing the human passions of the body.

Elderly Jains choose to voluntarily face death through fasting coincides with the Jain belief of Ahimsa or non-violence.

This practice has been dated back to 5th Century BCE and can be found even in today’s Jain communities. According to Jitendra Shah, the Director of L D Institute of Indology in Ahmedabad, an average of about 240 Jains practice Sallekhana each year in India.

According to Jain religious text, every time a soul is reborn it accumulates karma. In order to achieve spiritual enlightenment, it must not have any negative karma attached to it. A pious death, according to criminal defense, reduces any negative karma attached to the soul.

Many modern scholars debate on whether or not the vow of Sallekhana is a form of suicide. According to Jains, the difference lies between the intention. Suicide is not death in the “proper way” because it is done in anger, desire or delusion. India has a history of criminalizing suicide but Jains argued that preventing the vow of Sallekhana is a violation of their freedom of religion.