Eye and Organ Donation – what does Sikhism say?

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This is second of a two-series article on organ donation. Gurbani teaches us that the sole purpose of human life is to serve and to show kindness and the will to help others. Veteran activist and writer Nanak Singh Nishter presents the Sikh viewpoint on organ donation and pleads to Sikh individuals and organisations to come forward for this noble cause.

Organ donation requires a clear understanding by the donor and relatives of donors who have to act posthumously as well as a quick response from the medical fraternity. A declaration made by filling up a pledge form is only the first step. There is need for special instructions, education and procedural explanation for attendants after the demise of the donor.

This article is an attempt to give the Sikh viewpoint on organ donation with special emphasis on eye donation. Eye, Blood, kidney and other organ donation of the body is generally opposed by self-styled religious guides of different faiths on the pretext of desecration of the dead body.

This paper is presented to educate, instigate and inspire Sikhs to come forward for donations. I expect and appeal to religious leaders of all faiths including the Sikh faith, to come forward and give a lead to the people of their faith, in this most humane crusade.

The sight can be restored with cornea transplantation, by surgery known as “Penetrating Kerato Plasty”, and its only source is from a human dead body.

Religion has a very powerful influence on people. Some have raised obstacles against donating eyes and other organs of the body. Significantly, when it comes to receipt of organs many take the opposite view and are much happier to receive organs rather than to donate. Voluntary organizations and social activists have made several appeals to the leaders and intellectuals to come forward. Still there is a lof of apathy and resistance.   

In India, we have an estimated 4.6 million people with corneal blindness that is curable through corneal transplantation, which can be made possible by eye donation. More than 90% of the corneal transplantation is carried out successfully and helps restore vision in people with corneal blindness. Corneal transplantation in infants born with cloudy cornea can make a big difference to their lives.

The cornea is a clear circular transparent portion (white) at the front surface of the eyeball, which is the main focusing element. Damage to the cornea can be hereditary, due to infection, chemical burns, accidents or trauma, resulting in a loss of vision.  The sight can be restored with cornea transplantation, by surgery known as “Penetrating Kerato Plasty”, and its only source is from a human dead body.

Sikhism teaches us the art of living and inculcates desire for purposeful dying. Sikhism is nothing but a spiritual form of staunch humanism, which is evident from the teachings of the scriptures and lives of the Sikh people. The Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib (1666-1708) transformed the Sikhs; who were then known as “Nanak Panthis” or “Sikhs of Guru Nanak” into the present form of “Khalsa” and declared that they are Wahguru Ji Ka Khalsa (sovereign people of the Wondrous God) in the year 1699.  He instructed, “Recognise the human race as one religion”.

The Sikh scriptures show, how to sanctify the human body, as against preserving it in its total form, and reject the undue importance given by society to the putrefying dead body. It is up to readers to decide the better way, either utilizing their eyes and other body organs for giving life and vision to fellow beings, or disposing it off as a perishable commodity.  Remember always, “Service to man is service to God”.  

Grant us the association of those dear ones, on meeting whom one is reminded of Tera Naam (Your name – God). Says Nanak, may the Naam (name-God) be ever held high! In Your (God’s) will, may the good prevail for all.

The First Master, Guru Nanak Sahib (1469-1539) said on P.3, “The Dharam (righteousness-religion is not the correct translation) is the son (born by) of Daya (mercy), and contentment is its son (born to it)”. He said on P.468, “He alone is the true human being, who receives good teachings and shows mercy to other living beings and gives something in charity”. He specifically declared on P.1257, “After the death, the limbs or body will not accompany you as it is made up of air, water and fire, and will disintegrate here itself”. Regarding the disposal of dead bodies his mandate on P.648 is above any confusion, “Some bodies are cremated, some are buried and dogs eat some.  Some bodies are thrown into water and some cast into tower of silence, this much is not known, as to where do they go and disappear?”  

The Fifth Master, Guru Arjan Sahib on P.269 says that, “False is the body which does not do any good to others”.  On P.273 He continues, “One who is delighted in doing good to others is a God’s realiser in true sense”.  On P. 824 He declared, “The person and his tongue which sings the praises of Har (God) and ever does good to others is invaluable. Prabhu (God) lives in his mind and body”.  On P.1160 it is said, “If you put sandalwood paste to the dead body, then what is the gain it makes?  And if the dead body is rolled in human dung, then what does it lose?”

Bhagat Sheikh Kabir Ji (1398-1495) a Muslim weaver of Banaras of Uttar Pradesh says on P.870, “When a man dies, he is of no use to any man, but when a animal dies, it serves ten purposes”.  Bhagat Parmananda Ji, a Brahmin of Sholapur district of Maharashtra, says on P. 1253 that, “O man, what is that you have learned by mere listening the holy books?  Devotion has not welled up nor has given alms to the hungry?  You have not helped any needy person. Your hardhearted mind has not cherished mercy for living creatures”.

The Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions (Sikh Rehat Maryada)
This is a product of collective Panthic (community) wisdom, for ensuring uniformity of observances of religion’s code of ethics and avoiding unintended heresy.  It was approved and updated in the year 1945.  It defines the religious living stating that, “The concept of service is not confined to fanning the congregations, service to and in the free common kitchen-cum-eating house i.e., Langar, etc. A Sikh’s life is for selfless service to others. The most fruitful service is that which secures the maximum good with minimum efforts”.

For the dead body, it is mentioned that it be cremated. However, where arrangements for cremation cannot be made, there should be no qualms about the body being immersed in flowing water or disposed off in any other manner.

The Sikh supplication Ardas concludes with a desire for the wellbeing of entire humanity saying, “Grant us the association of those dear ones, on meeting whom one is reminded of Tera Naam (Your name – God).  Says Nanak, may the Naam (name-God) be ever held high!  In Your (God’s) will, may the good prevail for all”.

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In view of this, the body of a Sikh, alive or dead, should be of some use to others, in the larger interest of service to mankind.  And donation of Blood, eyes, and body organs and dead body are very much in consonance and conformity with the letter and spirit of the scriptures of Sikhism.

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