If life is sacred and the soul survives then death is merely a transitional state which ought to be sacred too. As Hindus believe in re-incarnation death is seen as a regeneration event when the old used body is cast away like worn out clothes – Lord Krishna The Gita 2.22 – and the soul moves onto gain a new garb created from the Vedic five elements, earth, air, water, fire and the Akaash atmosphere. Indeed for this transitional state Hindus pray to Lord Shiva the God of re-generation, sometimes also called the God of Death.
Hindus appreciate this cycle of life and death because of their fundamental belief in Karma, the law of cause and effect for all our actions. We have three types of karma: Prarabhada’s Past actions bearing fruits now or in future, Sanchita’s Accumulated Personality traits continually evolving and Kriyamaan’s Present Actions. The first two rest in our larger sub-conscious mind which sways its own weight over what we may ‘choose’ to do through our Kriyamaan present actions as we make decisions in our ‘conscious’ mind.
Karma is best understood in the context of several lifetimes and what the soul wants to experience to attain liberation. For instance, it is often misunderstood that in Karma the previous ‘bad’ actions justify unfair punishment for a disabled person. But Karma is non-judgemental. Karma itself does not enforce morality on anyone, it leaves it to God-given free choice to understand right and wrong in a situation and act appropriately. Hence everything that happens to us is of our own making but what is important is that we understand our own purpose in a given lifetime and try and fulfil it as best we can.
What happens when we lose that sense of purpose? Terminally ill may well be suffering their Prarabhada past karma and for a purpose too but of what value is it if their life is kept in pain by artificially extending it with modern techniques only for the sake of keeping them alive? All over the world, people prepare for their death in different ways. In the modern world, the preparation for death is done in a more legal sense, considering what happens to a person’s material belongings after they die, and depending on how they die. People leave intricate wills, sometimes multiple wills and the courts decide if probate is required or not. In cases of assisted dying, often the will might be ignored in favour of adhering to the law, which might go against the passed person’s wishes. In other cultures, death is a communal process that is often welcomed, without involving the hospitals and their intricate procedures. This does not mean to say that people can commit to dying when they see no purpose left to live. In that sense, life remains a sacred gift which they have no right to end, either others’ or their own. But the terminally ill who are also in incessant pain, yet not others, should be allowed compassionate leave to put a stop to their senseless suffering in such extreme cases.
It should not be difficult to legislate a fool-proof system with expert opinions and if necessary an application to Court so as to deliberate a judgement before granting one the right to die or not, considered on the merits of each case and to safeguard an early death under pressure from life or from protecting the near and dear’s interests.
Hindu Council UK
15 July 2014