Vaishnava Perspective on Organ Donation

Question: In my country organ donation will become compulsory. Therefore I would like to know the Vaishnava perspective on this.  Some say that one cannot get liberated if the entire body is not cremated or one becomes a ghost. Others say that it is an act of charity to donate organs and will create good karma. Again others say that organ donation may result in sin because sinful people may use your donated organs to digest alcohol, meat and drugs. What is your opinion on this or what can we find on this in shastra?

Answer: Liberation does not depend upon the cremation of the body. yam yam vapi smaran bhavam (BG 8.6) – that is the principle of rebirth or next destination. Devotees do not become ghosts just because the full body was not cremated. It will be an insult to bhakti even to think that a devotee became a ghost just because his/her whole body was not cremated. It would mean the Holy Name has no power. You know the verses speaking of the power of the name. Even Yamaraja instructs his servants not to approach the devotees. Chota Haridas drowned himself in Ganga. Did he become a ghost? His body was not burnt. In the Mahabharata war so many soldiers from both sides lost their limbs and then their bodies were not always burnt, but sometimes eaten by vultures and jackals. It is not mentioned that they became ghosts. Moreover a devotee is not interested in liberation. His interest is in service in this or the next life, wherever he/she is born.

Question: “Others say that it is an act of charity to donate organs and will create good karma.”

Answer: This is true if this is what one wants. In Gita (17th ch.) Krishna talks of charity in the three gunas and one can read there what is the effect of such charity. It also involves desha-kala-patra (time, place and individual). But does a devotee want good karma? Is devotee interested in seva or karma? What does a devotee has to do with good karma? Does he work to accrue good karma? Then how can such a person be called a devotee? In Srimad Bhagavata (SB 11.20.9) Lord Sri Krishna tells Uddhava:

tavat karmani kurvita na nirvidyata yavata
mat-katha-sravanadau va sraddha yavan na jayate.

Question: “As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for hearing and chanting topics of Me one should act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.”

Answer: He categorically forbids devotees to engage in fruitive actions. This is an injunction and not an option.

Question: “Again others say that organ donation may result in sin because sinful people may use your donated organs to digest alcohol meat and drugs.”

Answer: This should be answered by the above.

Question: “What is your opinion on this or what can we find on this in shastra?”

Answer: My opinion is that a devotee is interested in devotional service, not in altruistic activities. Even if he wants to do altruistic activities it should be dovetailed with devotion and not done independently. The best welfare to society lies in bhakti. This was the question posed by Shaunak Rishi to Suta Gosvami in the very first chapter of Srimad Bhagavata – what is the best welfare for humanity? The answer was Krishna Bhakti. All other solutions are ultimately useless and create another problem, as Sri Prahlada has said in Srimad Bhagavata. A devotee hits at the root of the problem. That is why he is not appreciated by common persons because they want an immediate solution (which definitely leads to a new problem). So if we donate our limbs to a devotee that is very good. If we donate to a non-devotee it does not matter. From our perspective it is neither good nor bad. Because in the ultimate sense it makes no difference. Therefore a devotee neither gets a good karma nor bad karma. He/she is not interested in it.

Karma also depends on sankalpa and not on mere act. If there is a hungry person a devotee gives food not because it is an act leading to good karma. His compassion is not independent of devotion. King Bharata became a deer because he became compassionate on a deer cub independent of devotion. Otherwise it was not possible. He was such a great devotee. So a devotee is compassionate from the devotional point of view and not independently.

Question: Thank you for your enlightening answers. Please allow me, however, to probe a bit more because I am very slow of understanding. You said that donating organs to a non-devotee (thus a potential meat-eater and drinker) would not matter. Are we then not assisting in his sinful activities or do you consider us anyway free from sin because of our nAmAshray? But if we know in advance that the recipient of our organs is a sinner, would that not amount to nAmno balAd pApa buddhiH, as in the nAmAparAdhas?

Answer: Certainly a devotee is not interested in donating his/her limbs to a meat-eater non-devotee, at least I would not like to do that. But if it is a law in some countries, then I have no choice. In that case I will not get sin. But if I donate to a sinner knowingly and then think I am free from sin because I am a devotee then that will be nAmAparAdha. If it is compulsory to donate, even then I should think that my limbs are meant only to serve the Lord and may whoever gets them will use them only to serve the Lord. That I think is the proper attitude. Making a good use of a bad bargain, as the saying goes.

Comments ( 5 )
  1. purushottam das

    excellent clarification. when basics of bhakti is understood then all answers are simple and can be implemented. these are very pertinent and important Q A, only available here. thanks babaji

  2. Kurt Shoemaker

    Is is true to say that the only liberation one should desire is liberation from the thought one needs to be liberated?

    • The only liberation one should desire is liberation from the thought of being enjoyer independent of God, and that includes the thought of liberaration, because liberation without devotion to God is also trying to be independent enjoyer.

    • Kurt Shoemaker

      Thanks for the quick response Babaji. So is it safe to say that when references are made to liberation from Samsara in Sastra, it is really referring to liberation from the thought that Samsara is a punishment or bad process? I think of the journey of King Bharata in his multiple lives and how he not only learned more about being a proper devotee from these experiences in multiple births, but also left behind the stories which teach others. In the end could it be said that Samsara is an opportunity to serve the Lord and to improve in that endeavor not necessarily bondage? Is the statement “liberation from the misery of repeated births” really only referring to liberation from the misery and not the repeated births? I hope this makes sense what I am asking. Thank You.

  3. snd

    There are two types of sadhakas viz. personalists and impersonalists or devotees and non-devotees, they both take different meaning of the word liberation. The first category takes it to mean service to the Lord and sees the samsara as a place to learn, serve and become perfect. The second category of people see it as a place of misery and thus want to get out, get liberated from the misery of birth and death cycle. Freedom from misery of birth implies freedom of birth.

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