Assisted Death

What are your views on euthanasia?  

Our reply (by Caitanya Carana Dasa): According to the Vedic philosophy, we have to live in this body for a particular period of time. And in that period, there is a certain amount of karma (reactions in the form of happiness and distress) that we have to endure. If we try to avoid them prematurely by destroying the body, we gain further karma. Why? Because we have destroyed the body that was entrusted to us by God — it is as good as suicide. Whoever assists the patient in his death — a doctor, friend, or a relative — that person also incurs karma.

The Vedic understanding is to allow nature to follow its course. This means that we don’t accelerate our death by taking substances that kill our body, which is now known as medically assisted suicide. Nor do we over-endeavor to prolong our life by putting artificial support systems for a very long time. If the doctors declare that the body is dysfunctional, or it cannot survive without a support system, then extending the person’s life on that support system is not recommended. If the soul is destined to go to the next body, why stay attached?

There is, however, one form of voluntarily accepted death mentioned in the scriptures, which might seem like euthanasia but is different. It is called praya-vratah. Praya-vratah means a person decides to fast to death. This is the religious method of departing from the body. You may call it suicide or you may call it euthanasia. But when a person feels that he has no more desire to live, he takes up an austere life and enters into a state of religious or devotional trance through meditation. He then shuts himself off from the world and gives up the body.

The important thing here is that the person does not take any artificial substances to reduce his bodily pain. He does not violate any laws of nature that invite karmic reactions. Fasting is a sacred activity, and usually people fast on Ekadasis and other auspicious days. But when one sees that the body is no longer capable of functioning properly, he decides to fast until death, not to torture the body, but to quit the body in a dignified manner.

The practice of bhakti-yoga encourages one to absorb the mind in Krishna , which enables one to transcend all bodily pain and achieve purification of the heart. Of course, we understand how much pain a terminally ill patient has to undergo until he or she dies, and we don’t wish to be hard-hearted by sentencing people to suffering. But sentimental or quick-fix solutions to avoid suffering may well end up in making the suffering worse. Courageously facing life’s challenges by absorption in Krishna has much greater salvific benefits for that person, and it offers tremendous inspiration to others.

Closing Curtains while Eating

Why do we keep curtains or doors of the altar closed when we offer food to the Lord or when we are taking prasada in front of altar?
 —R. M. Pujari

Our reply (by His Holiness Romapada Swami Maharaja):
According to Bhakti-rasamrtasindhu, it is an offense to offer the Deity food that has been seen by animals or uninitiated persons. In addition, others should not directly see the bhoga prior to its being offered to the Deity because we may lustfully consider enjoying that which is meant for Krishna , even within our minds, and thus commit an offense. There is the story of Madhavendra Puré, a great devotee, who felt he committed a great offense by desiring to taste the sweet rice before it was offered to Gopinatha, the Deity at Remuna in Orissa.

Srila Prabhupada taught us that we cover the tray of not-yetoffered food preparations from the kitchen to the altar with a cloth, and we offer bhoga with the altar curtain (or door) closed to the public. Sometimes a half-curtain is utilized for this purpose, such that the Deity can be seen but the unoffered food items cannot be seen until the offering is completed.
The act of our eating is not a clean activity; thus we cleanse the area fully wherever eating has taken place after eating, and we do not eat in front of the deity.