To give or not to give? What the scriptures say
To give or not to give? What do the scriptures say? This question often plagues the minds of many organ donors. Different religions advocate different sets of tenets for the body after death. Most religions have indicated a level of support for organ donation, including the diagnosis of death by the brain criterion. Organ donation is seen as a gift of love and fits within a communitarian ethos that most religions embrace.
In Hinduism, following death, the soul lives on and is reborn in a new body. Even though it is accepted that the body and soul separate at death, there is a general belief that the body must remain undefiled after death. Like in other religions, there is a conflict between the orthodox and liberal thoughts in Hinduism too.
I happen chanced to meet His Holiness Sri Sri Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, the Sankaracharya of the Gobardhan Peeth at Puri. I put forth this question to His Holiness, who in his true exalted self, gave me a very enlightening and informative discourse which lasted a good half hour.
His Holiness made many references to the scriptures to support the concept of organ donation. In fact ‘daan’ is an original Sanskrit word which denotes ‘selfless giving’. In the list of the ten Niyamas (virtuous acts), Daan comes third.
In the Hindu tradition, the Niyamas are taken as rules of personal behavior. These qualities, however, do not emerge by cultivating self-righteousness, but they arise as a result of living a natural, balanced life. Like ideal ethical principles, the personal qualities that comprise the Niyamas originate from an individual’s connection to his higher self.
His Holiness narrated the parable of Sage Dadhichi, who had given away his body for the fight against demons. Dadhichi was born on Bhadrapada Shudda Ashtami, the day observed as Dadhichi Jayanti and is considered in the Puranas as one of our earliest ancestors. He set an illustrious example of sacrifice for the sake of the liberation from suffering.
Once a Brahmin named Vrutra underwent penance for years and became the head of the demons. He gave up his dharma – the duty of doing well to others and instead began to battle the devas. He unleashed a reign of terror against the devas and was given the name Vrutasur, ‘Asur’ meaning demon. Slowly he got the upper hand and the frightened devas, along with Indra, went to Lord Vishnu for help. Vishnu told them that Vrutasur could not be destroyed with ordinary weapons.
“Only a weapon made from the bones of a saintly rishi will kill Vrutasur,” revealed Vishnu.
“But nobody will give up his own body. Who would die to give up his bones for a weapon?” inquired the devas.
“O devas! Go to Dadhichi rishi. Make a weapon with his bones. A saintly sage will not worry about giving up his life for the good of others. Ask Dadhichi for his bones as bhikhsha –alms.”
The devas went off in search of Dadhichi rishi. When they reached his ashram, they were apprehensive. They tiptoed to the sage, who asked “What can I do for you?”
“Vrutrasur, the leader of the demons, is destroying us. We are losing against his evil might. We asked Vishnu for help and he has advised us to make a weapon from your bones. O great rishi, please help us and deliver us from this evil,” pleaded the devas humbly.
“O devas!” said Dadhichi. “It is better that my bones help you attain victory, rather than rot in the ground. The message of Sanatan Dharma is to remain happy in the happiness of others. I will give you my body.” So saying, he sat in meditation and meditated upon the Paramatma, until he left his human body.
The devas collected his bones. Dadhichi’s bones were very powerful because of the tapashakthi and the Narayana Varma Japa Shakthi that he used to perform. His bones were very hard and unbreakable. Indra made the vajra weapon from them. With these bones, the devas battled Vrutrasur. It is said that the battle lasted for 360 days. In the end, the devas won.
On the same note, there is a verse in the great Tamil work Tirukkural: “Anibilaar ellam thamakkuriyar, Anbudaiyaar enbum uriyar pirarkku” meaning “The selfish (compassion-less) people consider everything in the world for their own use, whereas even the bones of the compassionate and selfless people are for other’s use”.
Life after death is a strong belief of Hindus and is an ongoing process of rebirth. The law of Karma decides which way the soul will go in the next life. The Bhagavad Gita describes the mortal body and the immortal soul in a simple way, like the relationship of clothes to a body:
“Vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya
navani grhnati naro ‘parani
tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany
anyani samyati navandi dehi.”
“As a person adorns new garments
after giving up the old ones’
the soul similarly accepts a new body
giving up the old and useless ones.”
—Bhagavad Gita chapter 2:22
I asked the seer for his specific advice on eye donation. His holiness then told me of Nayana Deeksha (passing power through eyes), which is practiced in the guru sikshak parampara. A guru or god can pass miraculous powers to a devotee just by looking at him or her. He told me of the various goddesses who have names connotative with the eye. Names like Meenakshi, Kamakshi, Visalakshi, Neelayathakshi, Rudrakshi, Indrakshi etc. Nayana and Akshi are Sanskrit words for eye.
The pontiff said that in the karmic structure, the recipient of a donated eye, if he indulged in sinful activities, would affect the karma of the donor. However, he said that the intention of the giver is of importance. He gave me the example of a person who gave a rupee each to two different beggars. The first used the money to buy some wicks which he used to light a lamp before god in the temple. The other went forth and brought fish hooks which he used to catch fish for the pot. Both the deeds would add to the karma of the giver, one good and the other bad.
Organ donation is seen as sharing body parts. In Hinduism, it is believed that if one shares body parts with another, that person’s karma can enter your body in different ways. The body must then guard against this person’s karma. The idea of someone else’s karma inside another’s is the main reason for Hindu’s to be against organ donation and transplantation.
I asked a straight question to his Holiness. All the scriptural and puranic references had confused me. Should I or shouldn’t I?
His holiness looked straight at me in the eyes. It was Nayan Deeksha time.
“Your decision to donate is a personal one. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide. Your feelings and involvement should be respected by those closest to you, as finally it is they who will decide. As long as your intention is genuine, you should donate. Donation is a norm of nature. Just as trees bear fruits for others, so can people donate their organs to save others,” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes. I came back all the more wiser.
By Anil Dhir