By Sean Hillman

Since returning from the International Summer School for Jain Studies in India, the end of which had me giving my first paper presentation ever on “Jain Voluntary Death as a Model for Secular End-of-life Care” in New Delhi, several opportunities to present on the topic have come.  The novel practice of Jain voluntary death was received enthusiastically by Thanadoulas (assistants to the dying) who are in training as part of the Contemplative End-of-life Care program at the Institute of Traditional Medicine, as well as by the director of the program Dr. Michele Chaban, a social worker and leading thanatologist, who plans on incorporating the research into her lectures. Next I presented the paper to both Jains and Jainologists at the University of Ottawa during the “Social Consciousness and Jainism” conference.  Just before classes start I will be again be talking about India and my research at a day-centre for the elderly, which is host to a diverse group that is keen on all things multicultural as well as the subject of death.  This fall I will talk about Jain voluntary death in hospital at Ethics Rounds at the request of Dr. Steve Abdool, a senior ethicist from the Centre for Clinical Ethics and the Joint Centre for Bioethics at U of T, and a co-worker at St. Michael’s Hospital. The paper itself will soon be published in an Indian quarterly Jainology journal called “Sramana” that is produced by the Parshvanath Vidyapeeth Centre for Jain Studies and Research in Varanasi, as well as a second publication in Canada TBA.

This summer, interestingly, it may be that my two visits to the Holy Mother Ganga were more powerful for me than my first visit to Saranath, the location where the Buddha delivered his first lecture and where the order of Buddhist monastics was founded.  In Varanasi, I spent a great deal of time at both the major and minor burning ghats where open cremations are performed around the clock.  I also spent some time in the river itself!  It makes sense that I would be drawn to a place where death practices are performed publically and naturally, out of personal interest and for my research, but I cannot explain the deep connection I feel with Ama Ganga.  I will indeed be spending more time in India’s religious capital in the future.  Just before leaving India, another moment outside of time occurred on a beach in Goa, where I spontaneously got involved in the ancient wrestling game of kabbadi, a game played by Prince Siddhartha himself as a youth.

My deepest gratitude to Dr. Shugan Jain and everyone at the ISJS for the precious opportunity to return to my second home for both research and renewal.

See my blog on the ISSJS trip here: