Q. In a previous Sanga you seemed to justify euthanasia or mercy killing. Hindu dharma prohibits any form of killing, so your words are not in tune with Hindu dharma or the philosophy of Sri Caitanya. The only answer to the question of euthanasia is ‘NO,’ but unfortunately some neo-thinkers consider in their wisdom that sympathetic killing is allowed. However, according to our ageless dharma killing is killing whether it is suicide or murder. Any form of killing is a sin, thus physical suffering is not an excuse to end one’s life.
This is because our scriptures stress the importance of remembering the Lord at the time of death as a way to attain eternity. Therefore all efforts should be made to keep the person alive so that he or she will have the opportunity to turn towards the Lord. In fact the premature ending of life means that one has to be born again to exhaust the remaining karma. While there may be exceptions under special circumstances, the instances cited in your Sanga cannot be standing examples for the general public, and such matters cannot form a subject matter for open discourses.
A. In that Sanga I did not say that I condoned euthanasia in all respects, but rather that I do not think the answer to this complex question is black and white. As I mentioned, euthanasia (from the Greek) means a “good death.” What is a good death? Scripture says that in spite of circumstances, if at the time of death one remembers God, then one’s life and death are successful, ante narayana smrti. Thus, again, there are forms of suicide that at least in ancient times were acceptable and even laudable to many Hindus. Among these are fasting until death and the controversial Sati rite, as evidenced by the existence of over 300 historic Sati temples in India.
Ask the Swami: Matters of Life and Death
Basically, Hinduism has two distinct moral views on the subject of euthanasia. The first view is that by helping to end a painful life, and furthermore by doing so within the context of creating auspicious and spiritual circumstances, one is performing a good deed and thereby fulfilling moral obligations.
The second view is that by helping to end the life of a suffering person one is disturbing the timing of the cycle of death and rebirth. In this view, those involved in the euthanasia will take on the remaining karma of the patient. This second argument suggests that keeping a person alive on a life-support machine would also be undesirable. Another consideration is that our material life is largely deterministic, for although we are units of consciousness that are in one sense aloof from the determinations/laws of nature, we are nonetheless conditioned by nature owing to our identification with it. Thus it is not clear that one who performs euthanasia at the request of another or otherwise—in situations where the dying person is unconscious—is doing anything more than acting as an agent of destiny and is thus not culpable for interfering with the karmic determination of the dying person’s duration of life. The idea that the karma of a dying person is transferred to the agent of euthanasia is also suspect, for karma is concerned with intent. It is one’s intent that determines more than anything else the nature of one’s action and thus one’s karmic reaction.
Hinduism also makes important distinctions with regard to what might be called a pre-modern form of euthanasia. If one commits suicide for selfish reasons, one will continue on the wheel of birth and death (samsara). People who aid such deaths are also further implicated in samsara. However, if an individual seeks death consciously and willingly for spiritual reasons, a different result ensues. Thus there are forms of spiritual suicide.
In the Gaudiya tradition we find both Raghunatha dasa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami desiring forms of spiritual suicide at one point in their lives. Although Caitanya Mahaprabhu advised Santana Goswami that suicide would not be favorable for his pursuit of prema, he did not always object to suicide. Indeed, in the case of his associate Chota Haridasa he approved of his suicide undertaken as a means to overcome an impediment (aparadha) to liberation and prema. Thus some sadhus maintain that Hindu doctrine permits the shortening of life when impediments hinder spiritual discipline in pursuit of moksa. The Laws of Manu also allow prayopavesha (fasting until death). Thus it is said that if you commit your body to a slow and willful dissolution for spiritual purposes, you will become free from sorrow and fear and attain liberation.
I realize that such suicides are not entirely analogous to modern forms of euthanasia wherein death is brought about by the hand of another with or without consent of the dying person. However, in the case where the choice is whether or not to pull the plug on a life support machine (which is arguably itself a form of artificial tampering with a person’s duration of life) and consent is given on the part of a person interested in spiritual emancipation, I see little difference in this and pre-modern forms of spiritual suicide. In contrast, administering a drug to induce death does seem objectionable to me.
Again, I am not an advocate of euthanasia per se but rather feel that moral dilemmas of this nature require nuanced thinking and an essential grasp of scripture, which must be applied in consideration of unique circumstances arising in today’s world. Finally, as I implied in my original discussion of euthanasia, my perspective is that of a Vedantist rather than that of a moralist, both of which have validity within Hinduism and which may differ for important reasons.
[Note: the following questions have been answered by the Sanga staff.]
Q. Reading the sanga of HH. Tripurari Maharaja, I see that you are using small letters for divine pronouns. Using small pronouns for Krishna, Mahaprabhu,Radharani or any divinity is not something that goes well with me and it is not something that our previous acaryas will be approved of. Thus, I will henceforth stop reading your sanga postings. In fact I will delete it the moment it comes in my account.
A. Discerning our previous acaryas’ views on pronoun usage may not be as straightforward as you imply, given the fact that our acaryas have not had a uniform standard. In Bengali there are no uppercase letters, but the familiar case of pronouns was generally used rather than the honorific form (see Caitanya-caritamrta). This is the equivalent of using a lowercase pronoun rather than an uppercase one.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, in accordance with the prevailing British usage of the time, which leaned toward heavy capitalization, capitalized not only pronouns referring to divinity but many adjectives and nouns as well. Here is an example of the style he used:
“Obeisance to the most Magnanimous, the Giver of the Love of Krishna, the Own Self of Krishna, the Lord bearing the Name Krishna-Chaitanya and possessed of the Form of golden hue! I submit myself to Sri Krishna-Chaitanya, that merciful Person of wonderful deeds Who by the nectar of the treasure of His Own Love intoxicated the world, delirious with ignorance, by freeing it from the malady of nescience.” (“The Attainment of Krishna Prema”) [Note the capitalization of such words as “Magnanimous,” “Giver,” “Love,” “Form,” and “Who.”]
Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, also in accordance with the prevailing usage of the time in which he wrote, had a different policy than Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. He did not capitalize adjectives and nouns referring to divinity. Furthermore, in the edition of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s Brahma-samhita published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT), Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s writing was presented in contemporary usage rather than the style that he himself used previously:
“Krishna is the exalted Supreme entity having His eternal name, eternal form, eternal attribution and eternal pastimes.” (Sri Brahma-samhita) [Note the lowercase “entity,” “name,” “form,” and so on.]
The editions of Brahma-samhita from Sri Caitanya Saraswat Math and Gaudiya Vedanta Samhiti also reflect this trend toward lighter use of capitalization.
The current prevailing usage, as delineated in the Chicago Manual of Style, the preferred style guide for book publishing in North America, is not to capitalize pronouns referring to divinity. Taking into consideration that our previous acaryas have utilized the prevailing usage of their times and the fact that using lowercase pronouns to refer to divinity is in accord with the original Bengali, we have carefully adopted our current policy. In light of the facts above, we cannot agree with your assessment that our policy would not be approved of by our previous acaryas. Rather history shows that our policy is in line with the dynamic approach of our previous acaryas, who sought to present Gaudiya siddhanta in contemporary forms of the ever-evolving English language.
Q. In light of the fact that both Sanskrit and Bengali languages have no method of capitalisation of letters of divine pronouns, but English language does. Thus I cannot agree with your assessment. Chicago Manual Style may be a standard for English literary works, but it has no authority over as to what is divinity. The style of modern languages is to bring divinity down to their levels. BBT also tried it for a while but had to discontinue because of devotees’ opposition. We are not to pander to mundane use of languages. Rather we should language in glorification of their Lordships.
A. You seem to have missed both my points. Although Bengali has no way of capitalizing letters, it has its own way of doing the same thing: the honorific forms of pronouns. It is significant that our Gaudiya acaryas do not generally use these forms for Krishna. The reason for this is that although according to tattva-vicara Krishna is God (corresponding with honorific usage), from the angle of rasa-vicara he is my friend (corresponding with familiar usage). In other words, a key aspect of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is to bring divinity down to a humanlike level to facilitate intimacy. The Vrajavasis see Krishna as their friend, not as God. Thus from different angles of vision both the honorific usage and the familiar usage are correct, but the familiar usage is more true to the heart of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, and it is the usage employed in most of our Gaudiya scriptures.
Secondly, you seem to be ignoring the evidence that our previous acaryas’ usage of English has evolved in tandem with the evolution of the English language. Although our acaryas are not bound by the conventions of language, they nonetheless follow them because it is favorable to a contemporary presentation. This holds true not only in terms of language, but in other ways as well, such as the use of automobiles and the printing press. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura even said that he was prepared to serve meat in Mayapur if it was necessary for the spreading of Krishna consciousness. Thus there is substantial basis for a progressive presentation of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. In fact, true orthodoxy in our lineage is dynamic not static.
A final point about your conclusion that the use of lowercase letters for pronouns referring to divinity is an attempt to bring divinity down to a lower level: this is mere speculation, albeit widespread, which betrays a lack of knowledge about the evolution of the English language. Old English contained much more capitalization as a result of its Germanic roots (all nouns are still capitalized in German). Here is an example of a sentence from 1749: “Examine your Heart, my good Reader, and resolve whether you do believe these Matters with me.” Capitalization usage began to change in the 1800s, mainly due to aesthetics in typography. Instead of using capital letters for all nouns, only proper nouns were capitalized. Thus capitalization in English is not meant to be a sign of respect, as is evidenced by the fact that Satan, Hitler, and the Ku Klux Klan are capitalized but demigod and angel are not. The use of lowercase letters for divinity follows a larger trend of increasing readability by decreasing comma usage and capitalization. The Bible in its original languages of Hebrew and Greek did not capitalize pronouns, and most current editions of the Bible do not capitalize pronouns referring to divinity. As the three major style guides in the United States don’t capitalize pronouns (other than “I,” for typographic reasons), doing so gives publications a dated feel for many readers, and this is highly likely to only increase in the future. Do we wish to lead the pack or be pulled unwillingly from behind?
I do hope you will reconsider your views on this issue, not so much in terms of your own usage decisions but rather your harsh condemnation of our usage policy, which I think I have sufficiently established is well thought out and not based on pandering to those with bad intentions.