This article is just plain disturbing. It describes the Jain ritual of fasting and how some followers in India take it to its extreme. Jainism is my family’s religion, and the whole fasting thing is part of what drove me away from the religion (and all religion) in the first place.
Granted, in America, I’ve never heard of Jains fasting until death, but there are many Jains who fast for eight days straight (boiled water being one exception) during the holy season, which is scary enough.
If you’re not familiar with Jainism, try making sense of this paragraph from the article:
… Jains believe in reincarnation. But Jains also believe that salvation can be reached by an individual’s effort to follow an ascetic, non-violent life. Fasting is part of that effort.
The practice of fasting until death is supposed to be reserved only for Jains facing an unavoidable calamity–old age, disease or severe drought, for example. By fasting, it is thought that a Jain can free his or her soul, ending the cycle of reincarnation. A Jain wishing to fast until death must receive permission from family members and gurus. About 200 Jains die in India from such fasts every year, according to scholars.
Of course, the article isn’t really so much about the fasting itself. It’s about how Jains want the freedom to “practice their religion” and kill themselves via fasting, opposing those who claim euthanasia is banned in India.
I’m actually on the Jains’ side here– they should be allowed to do as they please. I just think they’re gravely mistaken in thinking their fasting is getting them any closer to breaking “the cycle of reincarnation.” That thinking is what needs to be stopped, not the fasting. Of course, no one’s going to attack a religious tradition…