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A twice-born person, having, through folly, drunk wine, shall drink wine red-hot; he becomes freed from his guilt, when his body has been completely burnt by it. — (90)

(Manusmriti verse 11.90 - Expiation of drinking Wine (surā)

‘Red hot’— Though the text uses the word ‘varṇa’ colour, yet it is mere heat that is meant; as is clear from what follows, about ‘the body being burnt.’—(90)

(Medhātithi’s commentary)

...according to Nārāyaṇa the death-penance is meant for all twice-born men partaking of liquor distilled from grains, and by Brāhmaṇas who have drunk any of the three kinds of liquor described under verse

(Explanatory notes by Ganganath Jha)

Gautama (23.1).—‘They shall pour hot wine into the mouth of a Brāhmaṇa who has drunk wine; he will be purified by death.’

Āpastamba (1.25.3).—‘A wine-drinker has to drink exceedingly hot liquor, so that he dies.’

(Comparative notes by various authors)

What do dharma śāstras say about such atonements that can result in death or getting admitted to a hospital due to third-degree burns? Isn't it same as suicide which itself is a big sin? Is suicide, if part of atonement, not a sin? Were there any scholarly debates on this, if so, what's the conclusion?

  • Dharma sastras are mostly obsolete in today's world. Your example gives another example why they are obsolete. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Sep 17 '18 at 13:34
  • Scripture says that a man who thinks of God at the point of death goes to God alone (See Gita 8.6) and (Gita 18.66). Think of God, ignore all outside happenings. Do not worry about karma, think of God. – Swami Vishwananda Sep 18 '18 at 6:27
  • I have updated my answer (in case u have missed the update). So, there's one authority at least whose thinking matches with urs. – Rickross Sep 26 '18 at 6:05
  • @PradipGangopadhyay, dharma shastras will never be obsolete. what becomes obsolete is people's knowledge of dharma shastras, their willingness to follow it, their strength even if they are willing, and ultimately the people themselves become obsolete. we need not drag down the ideal just because we can't follow it. – ram Nov 15 '18 at 23:35
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As shown in this answer one definition of ShAstra (scripture) is the following:

ShAsanAdanisham devi varnAshramanivAsinAm |
TAranAt sarva pApebhyoh ShAstra mityabhidhiyate ||

O Devi! Because it constantly rules (ShAsana) all dwellers of all the orders of life, and because it protects (TArana or TrAna) all from all kinds of demerits, it is called ShAstra.

KulArnava Tantram 17.40.

So, it is evident that following scriptural injunctions can not lead one to accumulate sins. It's in fact the other way round. Because scriptures are there for protecting one from accumulating sins.

Similarly, Manu Smriti says, one who follows the rules mentioned in the Sruti and Smriti, attains bliss and higher stations. So, by not following such injunctions one incurs sins in fact and not by following those.

2.9. For that man who obeys the law prescribed in the revealed texts and in the sacred tradition, gains fame in this (world) and after death unsurpassable bliss.

2.12. The Veda, the sacred tradition, the customs of virtuous men, and one’s own pleasure, they declare to be visibly the fourfold means of defining the sacred law.

So, in particular, whatever is stated in Manu Smriti is the sacred law (Dharma).

But, at the same time, suicide is clearly held as a bad Karma (Adharma) as per the same Smriti and other scriptures.

5.89. Libations of water shall not be offered to those who (neglect the prescribed rites and may be said to) have been born in vain, to those born in consequence of an illegal mixture of the castes, to those who are ascetics (of heretical sects), and to those who have committed suicide

So, the simple argument here is that such atonement measures can not be regarded as the same as suicide, because the same scripture which prescribes them as sin-cleansing, regards suicide as a sin.

It should be understood like this.

Also, note that, although suicide is considered as a sin, one can end his life by fasting under certain circumstances, and in which case it is regarded as a good Karma as opposed to a sin.

6.29. These and other observances must a Brahmana who dwells in the forest diligently practise, and in order to attain complete (union with) the (supreme) Soul, (he must study) the various sacred texts contained in the Upanishads,

6.30. (As well as those rites and texts) which have been practised and studied by the sages (Rishis), and by Brahmana householders, in order to increase their knowledge (of Brahman), and their austerity, and in order to sanctify their bodies;

6.31. Or let him walk, fully determined and going straight on, in a north-easterly direction, subsisting on water and air, until his body sinks to rest.

6.32. A Brahmana, having got rid of his body by one of those modes practised by the great sages, is exalted in the world of Brahman, free from sorrow and fear.

UPDATE:

All the Smritis agree with such punishments for some grave sins, so according to those scriptures the punishment obviously leads to removal of sins as opposed to accumulation of the same.

The only contrary view on this matter is held by Harita, the author of Harita Smriti. According to him, suicide itself is a big sin and hence it can not be a remedy. This is mentioned in Apasthambha Dharma Sutras 1.28.16:

A man who has had sex with the wife of an elder, however, should enter a hollow metal column , have fires lit on both sides, and burn himself up. ‘That is wrong,’ says Harita; for anyone who kills himself or another man becomes a heinous sinner without a doubt . What such a man should do is to live in the above manner* until his last breath. No rehabilitation is possible for such a man in this life; his sin, however, is removed.

So, among all the Dharma Shastra writers, only Harita agrees with your view. Also Apasthambha seems to be agreeing with Harita's views as well. In his Smriti Apasthambha cites Harita on many occasions.

(Also note that in the above passage "wife of an elder" is actually "wife of the Guru".)

  • 1
    First of all she was a Jain girl so she must have rules of her own religion to follow.. And secondly Manu 6.32 does not apply to a 13 yr old girl.. The verses I have given applies only to a Brahmin who's living in the Sannyasa (Vanaprastha ) Ashrama.. He is a forest dwelling ascetic. @sv – Rickross Sep 18 '18 at 6:01
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Hinduism allows one to fast unto death under certain circumstances.

The prince, the ape Angada, was immensely wise, with thick and long arms and shoulders like that of a lion or a bull. He spoke these words, 'All of us followed the instructions of the king of the apes and left. O apes! Do you not realize that we spent an entire month inside the cave? Meanwhile, the time that Sugriva had himself set has elapsed. All of us, who reside in the forest, should now undertake an act of praya. Sugriva's nature is innately fierce and he has now obtained the status of our lord. Since we have committed a crime, he will not pardon all of us. Since we have not brought back tidings of Sita, he will certainly commit this injury. Therefore, it is better that we now engage in praya. Before we return and the king kill all of us, let us abandon our sons, our wives, our riches and our residences. ...On seeing that I have transgressed, he will make up his mind to fiercely chastise me and kill me. When my life comes to an end, what is the point of my well-wishers witnessing my hardships? I will resort to praya on the shores of this auspicious ocean.'

Ramayana, Kishkindha Kanda, Chapter 4(53) translated by Bibek Debroy

Praya stands for fasting to death. It is allowed for a person who has given up all worldly things and desires. Strictly speaking Sannyasis are allowed to do praya.

I have stated that the Dharma Sastras are mostly obsolete in my comment. Let me give examples from Mahabharata that shows that ancient Hindus used to drink wine without worrying about going to hell.

There is scriptural evidence that Hindus drank alcohol thousands of years ago.

The women of the party, all of full rotund hips and deep bosoms and handsome eyes, and gait unsteady with wine began to sport there at the command of Krishna and Partha. Some amongst the women sported as they liked in the woods, some in the waters, and some within the mansions, as directed by Partha and Govinda. Draupadi and Subhadra, exhilarated with wine, began to give away unto the women so sporting, their costly robes and ornaments. And some among those women began to dance in joy, and some began to sing; and some amongst them began to laugh and jest, and some to drink excellent wines.

Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Section CCXXIV

It was so prevalent that periodically Kings had to step in to stop drinking.

At the command of Ahuka, of Janarddana, of Rama, and of high-souled Vabhru, it was, again, proclaimed throughout the city, that from that day, among all the Vrishnis and the Andhakas no one should manufacture wines and intoxicating spirits of any kind, and that whoever would secretly manufacture wines and spirits should be impaled alive with all his kinsmen. Through fear of the king, and knowing that it was the command of Rama also of unimpeachable deeds, all the citizens bound themselves by a rule and abstained from manufacturing wines and spirits.

Mahabharata Mausala Parva Section I

So what is the answer to the question asked above?

There is no definitive answer because it depends on one's attitude towards Dharmasastras. If one thinks that the recommendation that a person's body must be completely burnt due to the sin of drinking is reasonable then prayascitta and suicide (not praya explained above) are automatically reconciled. After all it is scripture speaking.

If, on the other hand, one follows Bhishma's statement that 'scripture is no scripture if it cannot stand the test of reason' then the answer is different. Then the advice to commit suicide because of wine drinking will be seen to be highly unreasonable and in fact completely over the top. In that case the advice to commit suicide because of drinking should be robustly rejected and a text that records such an advice should not be accorded the status of scripture. As I have shown ancient Hindus were smart enough not to commit suicide because they drank wine.

I am adding this to point out that the Dharmasastras themselves ask us to discard anything unreasonable in them.

However, discard the desire (kama) and material wealth (artha) if contrary to Dharma; as also, any usage or custom or rules regarded as source of Dharma if at any time they were to lead to unhappiness or arouse people's indignation.

(Manu Smriti 4.176)

  • How can you take Angada's statements made out of fear as standard? He's encouraging everyone (who are on a mission) to commit suicide to escape punishment of the king. What's the gist of your answer? – sv. Sep 18 '18 at 18:39
  • I have now completely answered the question. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Sep 19 '18 at 10:45
  • There is scriptural evidence that Hindus drank alcohol thousands of years ago. ---- So what does that prove? Hindus also have been committing murders and many other heinous crimes since eternity.. See the Upanishad verse given in my answer here. Driniking Sura is regarded as a great sin in all Hindu scriptures. @PradipGangopadhyay – Rickross Sep 20 '18 at 7:07

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