Recently one of my close friends died when the plug of his life support was pulled by the attending physician of ICU of the hospital. It is stipulated that my friend must have signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order form before he became unconscious. Be as it may, I was asked by his family members to address his condolence meeting in one of the local temples. This article not only contains the content of my speech but also my research on artificially sustaining life and euthanasia (mercy killing).
Most Hindus know and believe that when the soul leaves the physical body never to return to the same body, the soul does not die. However, what is not known by many is that the soul continues to occupy the astral body, a subtle, luminous duplicate of the physical body. This subtle body is made of higher-energy astral matter and dwells in a dimension called the astral plane. The soul functions with complete continuity in its astral/mental bodies. The astral plane is equally as solid and beautiful, as varied and comprehensive as the earth dimension-if not much more so. Spiritual growth, psychic development, guidance in matters of governance and commerce, artistic cultivation, inventions and discoveries of medicine, science and technology all continue by astral people who are “in-between” earthly lives. Many of the Veda hymns entreat the assistance of advanced astral or mental people. Yet, also in the grey, lower regions of this vast, invisible dimension exist astral people whose life pursuits have been base, selfish, and even sadistic. Where the person goes in the astral plane after death is dependent upon his earthly pursuits and the quality of his mind.
Hindus believe that all souls reincarnate. The soul continues to have experiences in the astral plane until it is reborn again in another physical body as a baby. It takes one body and then another, evolving through experience over long periods of time. Thus, death doesn’t end our existence but frees us to pursue an even greater development. Understanding this death process, the Bhagvad Gita tells us to be vigilant of our thoughts and mental loyalties because the contents of our minds at the point of death in large part dictate where we will function in the astral plane and the quality of our next birth.
Suicide is generally prohibited in Hinduism, on the basis that it disrupts the timing of the cycle of death and rebirth and therefore yields bad karma. According to one Hindu website, suicide is not approved in Hinduism because human life is a precious opportunity to attain higher states of rebirth that even the gods envy. It also has dire consequences for the soul’s spiritual progress.
According to Hindu beliefs, if a person commits suicide, he neither goes to the hell nor the heaven, but remains in the earth consciousness as a bad spirit and wanders aimlessly till he completes his actual and allotted life time. Thereafter he goes to hell and suffers more severely. In the end he returns to the earth again to complete his previous karma and start from there once again. Suicide puts an individual’s spiritual clock in reverse.
Artificially Sustaining Life and Euthanasia
There is a critical timing in the death transition. The dying process can involve long suffering or be peaceful or painfully sudden: all dependent on the karma involved. To keep a person on life support with the sole intent of continuing the body’s biological functions nullifies the natural timing of death. It also keeps the person’s astral body earthbound, tethered to a lower astral region rather than being released into higher astral levels.
An important lesson to learn here is that karma is conditioned by intent. When the medical staff receives a dangerously ill or injured person and they place him on life support as part of an immediate life-saving procedure, their intent is pure healing. If their attempts are unsuccessful, then the life-support devices are turned off, the person dies naturally and there is no karma involved and it does not constitute euthanasia. However, if the doctors, family or patient decide to continue life support indefinitely to prolong biological processes, (usually motivated by a Western belief of a single life) then the intent carries full karmic consequences. When a person is put on long-term life support, he must be left on it until some natural biological or environmental event brings death. If he is killed through euthanasia, this again further disturbs the timing of the death. As a result, the timing of future births would be drastically altered.
Euthanasia, the willful destruction of a physical body, is a very serious karma. This applies to all cases including someone experiencing long-term, intolerable pain. Even such difficult life experiences must be allowed to resolve themselves naturally. Dying may be painful, but death itself is not. All those involved (directly or indirectly) in euthanasia will proportionately take on the remaining prarabdha karma (see my article on the Karma Doctrine) of the dying person. And the euthanasia participants will, to the degree contributed, face a similar karmic situation in this or a future life. Finally, there is exercising wisdom-which is knowing and using divine law-in the overall context of any situation.
Freedom from Rebirth
Life’s real attainment is not money, not material luxury, not sexual or eating pleasure, not intellectual, business or political power, or any other of the instinctive or intellectual needs. These are natural pursuits, to be sure, but our divine purpose on this earth is to personally realize our identity in and with God usually referred as Enlightenment or God-realization. After enlightenment there is no longer a need for physical birth, for all lessons have been learned, all karmas fulfilled and Godness is his natural mind state. That individual soul is then naturally liberated, freed from the cycle of birth, death & rebirth on this planet.
The belief in karma and reincarnation brings to each Hindu inner peace and self-assurance. The Hindu knows that the maturing of the soul takes many lives and that if the soul is immature in the present birth, then there is hope, for there will be many opportunities for learning and growing in future lives.