I think I'd like to die now.
July 1, 2010 1:34 PM   Subscribe

This year 45 Jains have already embraced Santhara.
Voluntary death by starvation also know as Sallekhana.
Fasting is very common in Jain spirituality. It's not suicide,”... “You have to understand that for us death is full of excitement.” Jain's produce some of the most beautiful stone carved temple art in the world.
posted by adamvasco (59 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is quite interesting; I'd never heard about this before. Thanks!
posted by Greg Nog at 1:42 PM on July 1, 2010


NPR story on one of these women.

One of the factors in the starvation is that it is a ritualistic rejection of food that takes years. It is not just a stop eating and die sort of thing.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:44 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a huge Jain temple just up the street from our new place. It's pretty incongruous to see this giant carved temple (apparently all the blocks were brought over directly from India) in between...like...a dry cleaner and a Mexican take-out place. I love southern California.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:46 PM on July 1, 2010


I've been to the Jain temple in Ranakpur. Pictures can't do the place justice, but here are a few of my own.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 1:46 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm always impressed with a ritualized belief system that practices what it preaches. I have my reading for the evening. Thank you.
posted by Mooski at 1:47 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's nice to see religious fanatics kill only themselves, for once.
posted by Dasein at 1:49 PM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


Fascinating.

From the second link: "In case the person undergoing the fast falls ill or loses peace of mind, he should abandon the process of Sallekhana and resume his normal life."
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 1:52 PM on July 1, 2010


This also ties in to the Jain notion of ethical behavior - which is to harm no living thing. Since it takes the consumption of living things to survive, the question of living becomes problematic to begin with.

So this is literal self-effacement. And yet, in the cause of higher rewards (for the soul). I've always found that contradiction interesting.
posted by mondaygreens at 2:01 PM on July 1, 2010


"It's not suicide"

Of course it is.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:02 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Of course it is.
posted by Joakim Ziegler


Who died and let you write the dictionaries?
posted by shii at 2:08 PM on July 1, 2010


I classify it as suicide as well, but then suicide doesn't hold a stigma for me in certain situations.

If you're end of life and ready to move on it's your choice. There's a difference between a 27 year old and an 97 year old making this choice though.

I found the way these people live to be absolutely joyless. They aren't supposed to form connections because doing so opens you to grief. One of the monks felt guilty because she had a friend. That friend died and she realized she shouldn't have broken the rules. Argh!

Same planet, different worlds.

Who died and let you write the dictionaries?

The joke would have been funnier if you had written, "Who killed himself and let you write the dictionaries?" Also, there was no need for this, since the dictionary already has a definition of suicide.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:12 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Jainism is awesome. I have to respect a religion that actually walks the walk and doesn't fudge on the details. "Don't kill" means "don't kill," not "don't kill, unless it's not human, or it's in self-defense, or it's a time of war, or the other person believes in the wrong thing." If you're serious about achieving liberation you're going to go naked in the mountains in the winter because "no possessions" means "no possessions" and that's pretty straightforward. Monastic Jainism appeals to me because the rules are so simple yet following them is one of the hardest things in the world. I wish I had even an ounce of the commitment these people do.
posted by lilac girl at 2:13 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Previously: The Jain's Story, a sci-fi comic.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:17 PM on July 1, 2010


Well, if one of the central tenets of your religion is that attachment/craving is what holds you to the miserable cycle of rebirth, then, yes, friendship, clothes, even food must be overcome.

I managed to horrify someone with the whole starving Japanese monks, purposefully dehydrating themselves and working their body fat down to amazingly low levels, all so they can attain the sign that they have achieved Buddhahood after death — a mummified corpse. It's interesting how the more extreme corners of religions search for signs of divine favor (grace, for the Protestants), then work on ways to game getting those signs.

What, I wonder, are the signs for which the Jain search?
posted by adipocere at 2:25 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


So this is literal self-effacement. And yet, in the cause of higher rewards (for the soul). I've always found that contradiction interesting.

I've always found it idiotic, but it taught me that principles are merely what people die for.
posted by rhizome at 2:32 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why glorify this and not anorexia?
posted by eeeeeez at 2:36 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


eeeeeez: "Why glorify this and not anorexia?"

They're on a mission from God.
posted by rhizome at 2:39 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jainist thinspo livejournals are way less annoying.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:44 PM on July 1, 2010


Stuff like this is why I heart atheism. The level of hatred, extremism, and irrational nonsense you need in you to convince others to slowly kill themselves is beyond evil. The concept of karma is victimizing. It creates caste systems in India and the acceptance of injustice in Buddhism.

Wikipedia:

Statistically Sallekhana is undertaken by more women than men and some have argued that in this way Sallekhana serves as a means of coercing widows and elderly relatives into taking their own lives.

Disgusting.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:48 PM on July 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


from link: “It's not suicide”

Joakim Ziegler: “Of course it is.”

shii: “Who died and let you write the dictionaries?”

This may be a somewhat tangential point, but Joakim Ziegler's point is emphatically not a semantic issue. And, though there seems to be widespread misconception on this issue, every "is X really Y?" question or statement does not necessarily reduce to the definitions of words. In fact, we generally agree on what words mean far more than we tend to give ourselves credit for nowadays. In this example, I'm pretty sure we all mean the same thing by the word "suicide;" so if we're going to talk about whether this is an instance of suicide, we might spend a little bit of time clarifying what we mean by the term, but we don't have to spend a lot. It's pretty obvious. That's why language works; because of common understanding about what words mean.
posted by koeselitz at 3:10 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, people out here actually think Yoga is supposed to be good for you. Ha.
posted by koeselitz at 3:11 PM on July 1, 2010


“You have to understand that for us death is full of excitement.”

You have to understand that for us, other people's deaths are full of excitement.
posted by Faze at 4:32 PM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm finding the subtle imposition of Western ideals (especially around faith and death) from people on this thread slightly disturbing. Just because Jains don't have the same concept of fear/hatred of death like the Western world does doesn't make them stupid, or fanatical, or useless.
posted by divabat at 4:34 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


divabat: “I'm finding the subtle imposition of Western ideals (especially around faith and death) from people on this thread slightly disturbing. Just because Jains don't have the same concept of fear/hatred of death like the Western world does doesn't make them stupid, or fanatical, or useless.”

I appreciate where you're coming from, and I think we could have more of a discussion about what's going on here. However, I really don't think that the whole "suicide is a bad thing" trip is really a "Western ideal."
posted by koeselitz at 4:49 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


And the idea that so-called "Westerners" (which in my mind do not exist – "Western" and "Eastern" are not actually coherent categories, as far as I can tell) are the only ones that fear or hate death seems kind of silly to me.
posted by koeselitz at 4:51 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, Western and Eastern are not very coherent to me either (I've lived in the East and in the West) but I do think the split is historically and culturally meaningful. Suicide as bad thing is not exclusively Western, certainly, but a lot of Indian cultures view life as recurrent, and also view breaking this cycle as an ultimate kind of freedom. Gandhi fasted as a way of protesting non-violently, and some people (self-serving politicians, some activists) still do that.

That said, in my experience, these ideas (not to mention the cultures) are changing very rapidly.

Also, I'm unable to parse your comment about Yoga. You believe it's bad?
posted by mondaygreens at 4:58 PM on July 1, 2010


Those fasts are/were supposed to be "unto death", for what it's worth.
posted by mondaygreens at 5:00 PM on July 1, 2010


mondaygreens: “koeselitz, Western and Eastern are not very coherent to me either (I've lived in the East and in the West) but I do think the split is historically and culturally meaningful. Suicide as bad thing is not exclusively Western, certainly, but a lot of Indian cultures view life as recurrent, and also view breaking this cycle as an ultimate kind of freedom. Gandhi fasted as a way of protesting non-violently, and some people (self-serving politicians, some activists) still do that.”

And a lot of Indian cultures are traditionally atheistic, and view this stuff about death being embraced as superstitious nonsense bandied about by the sorts of fools who believe in gods. And intentional fasting unto death is not unknown in Europe and America, either. I'm just saying – I don't really know if there's any meaningful way to characterize millions of people all together through geographical terms.

“Also, I'm unable to parse your comment about Yoga. You believe it's bad?”

I don't say it's "bad" or "good." I guess I would say I disagree with it quite a bit, but it's a whole belief system, so I wouldn't say that I can reject a thing so diverse that's been believed by so many flatly as "bad." However, I think there are some profound misunderstandings of Yoga in America, where I live. Specifically: Yoga is here often seen as a "healthy exercise" intended to make you feel good and improve your body and your flexibility. It is no such thing. That's not to say it's evil; but the purpose of Yoga has more to do with self-denial and the conquering and negation of the body than "being healthy." We are aware, I think, of similar things in other societies; fasting, for example, and any kind of disciplined asceticism intended to elevate the soul by debasing and punishing the body. But we don't realize that Yoga is intended as the same sort of spiritual practice; we tend to think of it instead as kind of a neat "Eastern" way to be healthy and fit.
posted by koeselitz at 5:15 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not a lot of cultures, no. And I meant meaningful mostly in terms of how the different regions have been studied and thought of, and have often defined themselves, too. Individually, yeah - I've never found any use for it.

I have always seen, practised and heard of Yoga (in India) as about a process of gaining control over the body. Denial is part of that, but I don't know that it's the goal; it's certainly never been put to me that way. That said, I haven't studied it or anything, just used it now and then as a way to calm down without having to be inactive or meditate, neither of which work for me. So I don't know, I don't see any kind of purism or much historicization about it even here. But it's changed, you know?
posted by mondaygreens at 5:28 PM on July 1, 2010


But in terms of the "canon" or philosophy, I do think it's a somewhat applicable distinction, if only because of the lack of much mingling and contextualization. For instance, I find that in the West the individual is a very very significant category, whereas where I didn't find it to be the case here at all, either growing up or in literature/religious philosophy.

It's all getting a lot muddier though, thanks to globalization etc.
posted by mondaygreens at 5:31 PM on July 1, 2010


Hmm. Well, I have never been to India, so I can't speak much about that – and I'm sure that there are a lot of interesting things going on. Also, I agree that currently in American society individualism is in vogue.

I guess a big part of what I'm saying, though, has to do with the fact that I don't really believe there's a canon of philosophy, and I don't believe in historical world-movements or in ideas being cultural. There are only people, and some people agree with each other, and some disagree with each other. The trouble with trying to visualise a Western canon, which I know is something people do a lot, is that very few of the authors in that canon actually agree with each other at all. People like to act as though there's a typically "Western" way of thinking and acting, but I've never heard a convincing account of what that means.
posted by koeselitz at 5:57 PM on July 1, 2010


So come! I love escorting people around! And trying to parse what East / West means to them, or begins to mean, or stops meaning. :)

Also it would enable me to finally say I've been to a Metafilter Meetup. You don't know how that "no other members nearby, sorry" thing hurts.
posted by mondaygreens at 6:09 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now I can bust out that "Jain's addiction" pun I've been saving for a rainy day.
posted by dr_dank at 6:56 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gautama died fat. I bought a six-pack of Sam Summer* at a liquor store** run by Vietnamese immigrants who had a shrine to the Buddha, and there were fresh flowers, a full plate of something home-made that smelled awesome with a torn-off crust of fresh bread from the soul food place down the street, and a teacup full of some wine - "It's summer. He likes a local chardonnay."

That, I can respect. This? I just can't.

* - This is the only place in North America that sells magnums of Belgian Trippels =chilled= - I was just in the mood for Sam Summer, which is a lot better this year than it has been in the past.

** - "Packy" in Rhode Islandese - for "Package Store" as Liquor Stores are still illegal in terms of title.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:14 PM on July 1, 2010


Would the modern version of this involve shutting down your immune system with drugs?
posted by Phalene at 9:26 PM on July 1, 2010


I'm with koeselitz on this one. I don't think cultural relativity is a good defense because cutting the borders of where culture ends and begins is very difficult. Who exactly is my culture, or am I not allowed to make critical comments about anyone?

As for if they have a different perception of death, well yeah, and people eating poisoned banana pudding so they can leave the earth on a comet do too. Is it okay to say that this cult was wrong? It seems to me that believing you are inherently impure because of the way the food chain works and social inequality exists, so masochistically attempting to slowly remove your person hood will solve the impurity problem is just as barmy as comets in spaceship

If I was going to get really silly, I could say that as a child of the British empire, acting like I know best for other people is practically my national past time. Certainly my ancestors had centuries of missionary work and trotting about in pith helmets saying things like "You may NOT set widows on fire!" and "No, no! Boil it first! It's not food if you can taste it!" to bemused and/or alarmed natives.
posted by Phalene at 10:07 PM on July 1, 2010


That, I can respect. This? I just can't.

In other words, other people's spiritual beliefs are just fine. As long as they align precisely with American hedonism and epicureanism. Good to know.
posted by atrazine at 10:45 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many instances of Santhara are forms of self-euthanasia. Others are suicides driven by social pressures. Both of these happen in the West, but with a huge degree of self-deception attached to make everybody feel better. Self-starvation is a pretty common way for elderly folks to kill themselves, especially alongside other illness, because we kids can lie to ourselves and ascribe it all to wasting and it being "time." (See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2706338)

The great lie in the Western way of death is that there's this clear division between death that should be fought and "natural causes." But people do not die for convenient, generic reasons. They die because a specific bad thing happens, and when we expect "natural causes" it's often code for the rest of us giving up on medical intervention. And the voluntary euthanasia issue is choked with issues around family and medical coercion. There's a reason palliative care lags in the Netherlands (http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/apr19/hendin/hendin.html).

There are many areas for concern, but Santhara is often the thrifty counterpart to what richer folks get to play with through ritual medicalization, and maybe it's more honest, too.
posted by mobunited at 11:05 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


mobunited: “Many instances of Santhara are forms of self-euthanasia. Others are suicides driven by social pressures. Both of these happen in the West, but with a huge degree of self-deception attached to make everybody feel better.”

And they happen in "the East," often with the same self-deception. Also, they happen in "the West" without that self-deception.

“The great lie in the Western way of death is that there's this clear division between death that should be fought and ‘natural causes.’”

As I've said over and over and over again, there is no such thing. There is no "Western way of death;" there is no "Western way of thinking;" there is no "West." This is a fictitious concept which patently does not exist. Do you sincerely believe that I can generalize about two billion people, extrapolating from nothing but their geographical location various conclusions about their individual beliefs, their motivations, their goals, and their experiences in life, without going completely, absolutely wrong in 99% of cases?

There is also, most importantly, no such thing as "the East." What's funny about "the East" and "the West" is that these ridiculous, obnoxious terms are often used by various nervous modern intellectuals in the United States and Europe to indicate with a soppy kind of sternness how "we Westerners" do things wrong and "those Easterners" do things right. They do this as though this meant anything – as though the geographical region and the collection of nations that fall under the Eastern heading were not societies made up of people who all have different and differing opinions and ideas. No, to us intellectuals, India, China, Japan etc aren't societies; they're ideas, and they're airy, floating symbols. Never mind that millions of people in India would stop the conversation right now to laugh at the Jainists, saying they're crazy zealots or worse, so that even if there were such a thing as "the East," Jainism wouldn't exactly be the best choice for a representative belief system; never mind that there are just as many multifarious and varied opinions and beliefs within India and China as there are in any other nation, or that plenty of people in Asia think the stuff we call "Eastern philosophy" is totally ridiculous bunkum. Never mind that there are people in India who call themselves "materialists" and "atheists," and have been at least since the time of Buddha. Never mind that hedonism, as a human impulse, is just as ever-present to Asians as it is to any other people on the planet.

No, we're too concerned with our lofty ideal of "the East" to be bothered by the actual human reality: that people in Asia and the eastern nations live their lives just like we do, have their own ideas just like we do, and are remarkably diverse just like we are.

Also, while I'm on the subject: it hasn't come up yet in this thread (thankfully) but if anybody tries to say that "the West" is a whole epistemological framework founded by Aristotelianism, I will probably have to kill them. I've heard this dozens of times, and every single time I have to point out that I've never met anybody who really agreed with Aristotle, and that this is probably the great disappointment of my life.
posted by koeselitz at 11:36 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I mean, I honestly believe "the West" and "the East" are just stupid mistakes people make because they're lazy, and because they can't be bothered to say what they mean. Most of the time when people say "the West" they mean quite specifically "American mainstream society;" and when they say "the East" (and they know what they're talking about at all) they mean "traditional Hindu or Buddhist India," or something close to that. Really, is there a reason to be this intellectually sloppy? Do people really mean to include ancient Orthodox communities in Bulgaria along with the American TV-watching public whenever they say things about, for example, "the Western way of death?" Do they actually intend to throw in the Carmelite monastery outside Santa Fe, or the hundred-year-old Buddhist communities in San Francisco, or the Scientology world headquarters in LA, when they make vague and broad pronouncements about "the West?" I'm almost certain they don't; they have something else in mind, and that's okay, but clear thinking requires that we say what we mean, and not just reach for vaguely evocative phrases like "the West" and "the East."

Sorry about the little rant, modunited. It's just something that pisses me off endlessly, and I can't get myself to let it slide.
posted by koeselitz at 11:44 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Argh, mobunited, I swear I was thinking that when I typed your username. Sorry about that.
posted by koeselitz at 11:45 PM on July 1, 2010


koeselitz: Since I brought up the East/West thing, does it help you or change anything if I say that I'm an Easterner?
posted by divabat at 4:49 AM on July 2, 2010


Koeselitz: I appreciate that it's important to evaluate all spiritual practices critically and skeptically, whether they're from the East or the West. I also agree with you that many people in the west will embrace practices from the East that they don't understand the implications of. Personally, my mind recoils at the idea of ritual suicide, but this revulsion might be a result of my Buddhist upbringing; while Buddhism grew out of the same background as Jainism, it also specifically rejects many parts of it as unhelpful, specifically extreme asceticism and the idea that suicide can ever be justified. I can't presume to push my beliefs on these Jains, however, and I must say that I have to respect the discipline and dedication that a true Sallekhana must take, if it is actually an independent decision and not a result of social pressure.

I have never, however, read anything from the East or West that claims that Hatha Yoga was designed specifically to negate and dissolve the physical body. Do you have anything to back this up?
posted by sid at 6:40 AM on July 2, 2010


Gautama died fat

The image of the fat buddha, or laughing buddha, doesn't represent the historical siddhartha - he is meant to prophesize the future incarnation of the buddha, according to certain forms of buddhism. There's no evidence that the original buddha died fat, and he's usually represented pretty skinny...
posted by mdn at 8:19 AM on July 2, 2010


When I see East/West division I usually read it as greek => roman => christian tradition that had more interest in external, physical, rational, mechanistic and deterministic dimension (and relatively intolerant monotheism arguably related to that) vs. hinduism / buddhism / taoism that lean into the internal, introspection, intution and so on. In short, and brutally simplified: where Western approach to the universe is as to a mechanism, Eastern approach is as to a Tree. Or, another version is: Western: mechanism to be manipulated, Chinese: Tree that grows, Indian: Theater where we play our roles.

You can argue that it's a generalization, but the same can be said about any judgement of large things. Even a small nation is a collection of hundreds of thousands of people each of whom have their own perspectives and so on.
posted by rainy at 8:58 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


As for if they have a different perception of death, well yeah, and people eating poisoned banana pudding so they can leave the earth on a comet do too. Is it okay to say that this cult was wrong?

The criticism of cults is socially acceptable while the criticism of religion generally isn't, be it in the "west" or the "east." The problem is that people still think ideas like souls, karma, sin, etc are real or could be real while we almost universally agree that aliens on comets is probably false. Once mindsets change to utterly dismiss ridiculous and unproven concepts like karma, souls, afterlife, etc we'll be able to casually dismiss them and do so in a socially acceptable way like we do cultists and other organizations with poor PR and universally ridiculed beliefs.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:59 AM on July 2, 2010


... but the purpose of Yoga has more to do with self-denial and the conquering and negation of the body than "being healthy."

Yes and no, in Yoga perspective, being healthy is integrally related to denial of craving and clinging to the body and life. So, the reasoning goes that craving and clinging creates impurity and subjugation of higher mind which is more important than health but at the same time undermines health. And then imbalance descends from higher bodies to lower: higher mind => intellect => emotional mind => body. Therefore the idea is that causes and effects are not always immediately apparent: you may fast which seems like negation of body whereas in effect it makes higher mind free from craving => intellect clearer => emotions balanced => healthy body. In other words, that's like a chicken that's looking at chicken feed through a plexiglass screen: it has to go around to get to the feed but then, counter-intuitively, it has to go farther away from the seeds, which really messes with its head. According to yoga, higher mind / intellect / physical mind are exactly the same except that plexiglass is of a more fancy kind.
posted by rainy at 9:09 AM on July 2, 2010


Also, I agree with the east/west divide as largely fictional. What we should be focusing on the is relgiousity of the cultures specically. A Hong Kong middle-class businessman has little in common with a rural Indian Jain, but we would lump them as Easterners and start making all manner of silly assumptions and proclamations of superiority to "the West."

One of my pet peeves is overeducated middle-class types lovingly describing horrible religious systems as some kind of modern and socially acceptable 'noble savage' sentiment. These Jains generally grew up in places with incredible amounts of religiousity and few to no opportunities to be educated. These people killing themselves probably had no chance. They were born into an oppressive system and taught that destroying themselves for religion is a desirable thing while their grandkids salivate at the thought of an early inheritance and not having the burden of elderly care.

I think its morally disgusting to convince old people to kill themselves via any justification, but I guess some people disagree with me.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:12 AM on July 2, 2010


damn dirty ape: you're confusing two different things here. It's a well known fact that there's a westernisation movement in the East as well as various Eastern-flavoured movements in the West. The point is, did the Hong-Kong businessman buy into the loosely-defined western ideals or even more loosely defined eastern ideals or if he didn't buy into anything or maybe he's doing his own thing? The same can be said about a rural Jain. If you step out of the city you don't magically lose the ability to think for yourself.
posted by rainy at 9:20 AM on July 2, 2010


I also think it's a veiled condescension to feel that if they do something that's don't feel right to us, the only possible explanation is that they were gullible and simple-minded enough to have been tricked into doing whatever they're doing. What if they were to say the same thing about our relationship with death?
posted by rainy at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


rainy: “When I see East/West division I usually read it as greek => roman => christian tradition that had more interest in external, physical, rational, mechanistic and deterministic dimension (and relatively intolerant monotheism arguably related to that) vs. hinduism / buddhism / taoism that lean into the internal, introspection, intution and so on. In short, and brutally simplified: where Western approach to the universe is as to a mechanism, Eastern approach is as to a Tree. Or, another version is: Western: mechanism to be manipulated, Chinese: Tree that grows, Indian: Theater where we play our roles.”

But that's not just a 'generalization;' it's a patent falsification or misunderstanding of the actual facts. Leaving aside the gross caricature of vast numbers of Asian societies, there is absolutely no coherent, singular Western "tradition" that stretches from the Greeks to the Romans to the Christians; and even if there were, it would be ludicrous to say that that tradition was characterized by "external, physical, rational, mechanistic and deterministic" philosophy, considering that the Greeks and the Romans and the Christians both (a) disagreed with each other vehemently and (b) were none of those things you're calling them. I'm sure some exist, but I can't even think of a single example from Christian, Roman, or Greek writings of considering the world as a mechanism. And even if we could come up with one, it would no more define those ages than any other random and uncharacteristic thing.

Sincerely, again, this is a kind of laziness – I'm convinced of this. At most, you're talking about European Enlightenment movements and their new outlooks toward the world starting about 500 years ago. It's absolutely insane to even imply that those things had any kind of direct and simple relationship with Greeks, Romans, and Christians in the premodern era.

“You can argue that it's a generalization, but the same can be said about any judgement of large things. Even a small nation is a collection of hundreds of thousands of people each of whom have their own perspectives and so on.”

If any generalization about "large things" is equally valid as a generalization, then the generalization that "all black people are descended from humans who lived in Africa" is as valid and correct a generalization as "all black people are stupid." Isn't it clear that generalizations can be more or less true? Isn't it clear that we should be aiming for correctness here, even if it's hard to speak about large populations? Finally, what exactly is the necessity which leads us to make ridiculously grandiose generalizations where such generalizations are bound to be incorrect? Wouldn't it be better just to speak carefully?

“damn dirty ape: you're confusing two different things here.”

If you're right about generalizations, why does it matter? He's just speaking loosely. People are bound to be wrong about this stuff; why worry about it?
posted by koeselitz at 9:41 AM on July 2, 2010


Actually, I can't see how you can argue that there was a strong cultural and philosophical tradition stretching from Greeks to Romans to Christianity. If you were a stereotypical Roman, a large part of your education would be based on works of Greeks or works inspired / formed / related to greek myths and philosophy. Medieval culture was very thoroughly based on Greek and Roman heritage. When Dante wrote Commedia, it'd be absurd to him or any contemporary to justify numerous references to Roman and Greek authors and culture. The same things show up in virtually all notable works of art, philosophy, literature. Did you miss that or something?

It's true that Greeks, Romans and Christians disagreed with each other vehemently, but it's also true that Greeks disagreed with Greeks vehemently. And Romans disagreed with Romans vehemently. And Christians... ahh, I *hope* you catch my drift.

That Romans in particular were thought of being mechanistically-minded is almost a cliche.

I'm sure some exist, but I can't even think of a single example from Christian, Roman, or Greek writings of considering the world as a mechanism.

That might be because nearly *all* of their writings betray an approach to the world as a mechanism? The fish usually don't talk about water. In the same way, Indian traditions don't talk about the world as a theater, it'd just odd to them if it was approached from a different angle.

We're talking about Axioms that are not discussed directly because they're the level field for all discussions in relevant cultures.

I never said that any generalization about "large things" is valid, I said that any such generalization can be attacked on the basis that it involves a lot of - in this case - nations - many of whom can be shown as being counter-examples in some cases to the generalization. Your examples of generalizations are strawmen. We're talking about attitudes in regards to death. It's not similar to a historical fact of people being descended from an original African population. You're talking instead of one set of cultural traditions and another set - you can't compare these two sets in a precise way and you know this perfectly. You also must know perfectly that I was referring to some common traits that run through the two sets in question and that do not apply uniformly across either one of the sets. And yet people talked about Asian outlook vs. European outlook through millenia, from time of Herodotus and before him to our time - are you ready to label all of these people as being stupider than yourself, just because they don't have a mathematical formula to point to?
posted by rainy at 10:12 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Btw, I think it's humorous that you're coming at this from a distinctly Western angle: you want a mechanistic basis for this generalization, e.g. you want something like "all people came from Africa and we got radio-carbon dated strata to prove it".
posted by rainy at 10:19 AM on July 2, 2010


Rainy, you don't have to be stupid to be wrong. A very smart person could believe that magnets cure cancer, but I'm not going to wave my hands and say "Okay sweetie, whatever tickles your fancy, have a good natural death!" Being a caring person involves being responsible for my neighbour to the degree I'm capable. Sometimes I'm going to get it wrong, obviously, but if I was doing something that will kill me, I'd want some foreigner to point out that I'm doing something dangerous.

I also don't see how deciding to starve yourself to death is not suicide. Plenty of suicides believe that they're doing the right thing, to end their own or other's suffering. Just like the Jains, they often believe that their life will not get any better, otherwise they wouldn't end it. True a 21 year old painting the wall behind him with his brains isn't doing it because a prophet told him too, but a lot of people doing it doesn't make it right. This is a classic logical fallacy.

I'm not demanding hard evidence because I descended from people in the British Isles, I'm demanding it because it works. Life is not some isolated series of islands where we occasionally visit each other and keep awe filled silence and the beautiful, beautiful diversity. It's an organic mass of people trading back and forth, intermarrying, debating philosophies, getting into fights over silly things, and that's a good thing. Get stuck on an island and your culture and technology stagnates.

A Jain has the right to shake their head at me and say something about hoping I get forgiveness from the universe, just like I have the right to say that killing able bodied humans because you don't like that we evolved in a food chain is a waste of a perfectly good human.
posted by Phalene at 11:13 AM on July 2, 2010


Really, folks? You decided that instead of taking what I wrote in the context of this post, this bread and this site you'd toss up intentionally obtuse essay length assays about the arbitrariness of East and West? For fuck's sake, it is indeed arbitrary when expressed in a vacuum, which this decidedly was not, it being on Metafilter and in response to a specific post about a specific part of the world.

Yes kids, I know that Pakistan, where my uncle Farook comes from, is different than Indonesia, where my Indo ancestors come from. And I also know that the Netherlands, where I also have family, is not the same as Canada, where I was born and live.

But you know what? Any reasonably honest participant in this thread could, upon a second of reflection, could understand that "West" means "the cultural biases in the parts if the developed world that issue a particular mix of colonial heritage and subtextual white supremacy," but that is really fucking awkward, isn't it?

Let's just say that Uncle Whitey McYank-Jesus is getting really "Santhara" right under your nose, or you're killing him for reasons other than easing *his* pain, so crapping on Jains for a more straightforward rendering of this tradition because you're playing for the Ricky Dawkins Fan Club is just damn silly.
posted by mobunited at 11:21 AM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Phalene, koeselitz was not talking about it as if there's some piece of evidence we're missing but that it's an intellectually lazy and yes, a stupid viewpoint. Herodotus did not have a framework of evidence for people coming from Africa. Noone's saying it would be stupid of him to suggest otherwise. It's quite another matter that people like him throughout ages who made these generalizations after reading western/eastern works, meeting people, traveling, - to say that such judgement is ludicrous on a fundamental level is to question their.. not even intellect but sanity.

I don't see why it's important whether it's suicide or not. If we called it peachy cream, what does that change? We know what they're doing and what happens next, we aren't so sure about their motivations and the extent of independence of these decisions. That's the point. It's pretty obvious that this is very different from what we normally understand as suicide, but I don't care if you call it that as long as the word is not used derisively in itself.

I also like hard evidence but you may emphasize things that can be precisely measured and pay relatively less attention to intuitive synthesis that accounts for many things that can not be precisely measured OR you can go in the opposite direction. That doesn't mean that either ignores the other approach, the difference is in emphasis.
posted by rainy at 11:54 AM on July 2, 2010


Is Santhara against the law? Our constitution says that every person living in India has a right to live. If I have a right to live then I have a corresponding right not to live - that is, to die... The goal is to live a dignified life. It is my right, it is my body. It is not the property of the state.... "No one can force you to eat"
posted by adamvasco at 12:08 PM on July 2, 2010


Phalene, your earlier comment said: "Would the modern version of this involve shutting down your immune system with drugs?"

Right there is another divide that you assumed without acknowledging: that the West or drugs are modern, while people fasting till they die right at the same time as all those drugs are being dispensed in the "modern" world are... what? Backward? Existing in another century?

With all due respect, the modern/backward split is a far, far lazier and indefensible approach to understanding what's going on here than East and West, which is not logically defensible but, yes, historically meaningful, because we didn't always have the internet, and because even now, on this thread, there are no Jains as far as I can tell, and because European culture did not, for the most part, interact, let alone integrate, with Indian culture in any way that wasn't already predicated on (assumed) differences between the East and the West - which, aside from all the Orientalism or whatever, can at the very least be understood as an acknowledgement of differences between two cultures that have their own projects of development or understanding or even just living.

If you want to understand what's going on here before you judge it, you have to at least acknowledge your own lack of context about the culture in which such things happen as naturally as drugs happen in your own. That context is necessarily historical. Saying that East and West are meaningless is not the way to understand it, but it does enable you to rush to a point where you feel secure in what you think you know about it or what you think it means. In your other comment you came in with a lot of assumptions not only about what suicide means, but also what it means to care. You are clearly unable to see that you are demanding "hard evidence" in large part because you're located in your own time and place. The time thing you've already acknowledged (poorly) with the "modern" comment, but the place you're refusing to see.

So, again, I think maybe in your case, East and West would be a better approach that just assuming that Jains are killing themselves because they just haven't figured out how things work yet and you're ready to help them understand, as a well-meaning foreigner. Bah!
posted by mondaygreens at 12:29 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


These Jains generally grew up in places with incredible amounts of religiousity and few to no opportunities to be educated.

Not really, no. Though they're pretty small potatos, as far as world religion demographics go, they're generally highly educated. A lot of them become teachers. They have the highest literacy rate in India (over 95 percent, which is a staggering 50% higher than Hindus or Muslims), and the highest rates of employment for both men and women.

I think its morally disgusting to convince old people to kill themselves via any justification, but I guess some people disagree with me.

I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I don't think that's necessarily what's happening here, and I don't think that dying intentionally by renouncing food is necessarily repugnant, especially if you're already terminally ill, and whether or not you're ritualizing that in some way or doing something similar via the secular route (under hospice care) seems immaterial.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:20 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


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