Genesis 23: 6-Answering Maharishi Dayananda Saraswati

Is cremation scientific and burial injurious to health?


Those sentences which are colored in orange are from Maharishi Dayananda Saraswati book Satyarth Prakash (The Light of Truth) and those which are colored in black are Jerry Thomas’s response.

"In the choice of our sepulchers bury thy dead….. but that thou mayest bury the dead." (23:6.)

C. The burial of the dead is highly injurious to the (health of the inhabitants of the) world, because decomposition of dead bodies sets in the pollutes the air which in its turn gives rise to disease.

Christian. – It is not good to cremate those whom we love, while the burial of the dead is like laying them down to sleep; hence this mode of the disposal of the dead is good.

C. If you love your dead, why don't you keep them in the house? Why do you even bury them? The soul you love leaves the body after death, what is the good of loving the dead decomposing body? But since you love it, why do you bury it under the ground? It pleases no one to be addressed "Let us bury your under the ground." Besides, how can it be and act of love on your part to throw earth, bricks, stones, lime, etc. on his eyes, mouth chest and other parts of the body? If the dead body be place in a coffin before it is buried, foul smell issues forth from the ground. Ti then pollutes the air which int run gives rise to terrible diseases. Again, a piece measuring at least 3 yards long, and 2 yards broad is required for burying one dead body. At this rate one can imagine how much ground is required for the burial of hundreds of thousands of dead bodies and rendered useless. That ground can neither be tilled, nor used for gardening, nor can it be fit for human habitation. Hence burial is the worst of all methods in vogue for the disposal of the dead.

A little better than this is to throw the dead body into (flowing) water, because crocodiles and other creatures living in water soon tear it into pieces and at it up, but still the bones and other matter that will remain behind will decompose and pollute the water and air and thereby injure the (health of the inhabitants of the0 world. A little less injurious method (of disposing of the dead) is to leave the body in a jungle. Carnivorous animals and birds will devour it but sill the extent to which the marrow of bones and other refuse behind, will pollute the air, the same will be the measure of its being injurious to public health. The cremation is the best of all (methods for the disposal of the dead) because the fire breaks up the dead body into its component elements which are carried away by air.  

Ch. – Even cremation gives rise to foul smell.

C. Yes a little, if cremation be not conducted properly, but nothing compared with what takes place in other methods, such as the burial. But if cremation be conducted in accordance with what has been prescribed in the Vedas, not pollution of the air results. The Vedic method of cremation is, in brief, as follows:-

Let a Vedi, 7' 6'' feet long, 5' 3" broad and 4' 6" deep, be dug in the ground. The walls should slope in such a manner that breadth of the Vedi at the bottom is one-half of that at the top, and let sufficient quantity of wood of such trees, as Butea Fondoea as well as sandal wood (at least 40lbs.) be piled in the Vedi and the dead body placed on it. Let the same kind of wood be put on its top till it is one foot short of the mouth of Vedi. Let sufficient amount of camphor, agar, tagar be also scattered here and there in the pile of wood. Not, let fire be st to the pile and oblations of clarified butter, whole amount of which should weigh as much as the weight of the dead body, and to which musk, at the rate of I grain, and saffron, at the rate of 8 grains, per pound of ghee, has been added, be poured over it. This mode of cremation causes no foul smell. Even this is called Antyeshthi, Narmedha, Purushmedha Yajna. however poor the deceased be, in no case should less than 40 lbs. of ghee be used in cremating the body, whether that quantity of ghee be obtained by begging or as a gift from his caste-people or from the Government, if need be, but the body should always be cremated only in the above-described manner.

But if the Ghee and other materials (mentioned above) could not be procured in any way, mere cremation with wood alone is far better than burial. Millions of dead bodies can be cremated on a piece of ground having an area of 201/4 sq. yards or even in one Vedi, nor is the soil polluted as in burial. The sight of graves is also the cause of fear to the timid. Hence, burial and other methods of disposal of the dead are altogether reprehensible.


Answer: Before answering the unscientific statement of Maharishi that cremation is better than burial, let me note that neither Hindus cremate nor Christians bury their dead for scientific reasons.

One of the probable reasons for Hindus to cremate their dead might be the belief in incarnation. If atman leaves the body, it must be taking another body and this body has to be burned. Further, it appears to be a belief of the Vedas that souls were carried through fire as from the following hymn:

Rig Veda 10:51:3-5

3. “In many places, Agni Jātavedas, we sought thee hidden in the plants and waters.Then Yama marked thee, God of wondrous splendour! effulgent from thy tenfold secret dwelling,

4. I fled in fear from sacrificial worship, Varua, lest the Gods should thus engage me. Thus were my forms laid down in many places. This, as my goal, I Agni saw before me.

5. Come; man is pious and would fain do worship, he waits prepared: in gloom thou, Agni, dwellest. Make pathways leading God-ward clear and easy, and bear oblations with a kindly spirit.

Similarly, the practice of burial among the Christians could have been for the following reason:

Genesis 3: 19- “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; For dust you are, and to dust you shall return."

So both these practices have their own metaphysical reasons behind it.

However, since Maharishi seems to be interested in taking cheap shots at the Christian faith, let us see if cremation or burial is better.

Professor Roger Short of the University of Melbourne through his research found that burial is more environment friendly than cremation.

Given below is the report from Cosmos Magazine, April 19, 2007 (http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/1228/environmentally-friendly-death)

“Cremation is contributing to global warming, argues an Australian scientist who yesterday called for an end to the age-old tradition.

Roger Short of the Univers

ity of Melbourne, said people could instead choose to help the environment after death by being buried in a cardboard box under a tree.

The decomposing body would provide a tree with nutrients, rather than create large quantities of carbon dioxide while burning. The tree would in turn convert carbon dioxide into "life-giving oxygen" for decades. "Think earth to earth," he said, "but not ashes to ashes or dust to dust".

"What a shame to be cremated when you go up in a big bubble of carbon dioxide," said Short. "Why waste all that carbon dioxide on your death?"

The cremation of the average male in Australia – during which the body is heated to 850°C for 90 minutes – produces more than 50 kg of carbon dioxide. And that doesn't include the carbon cost of fuel, or the cost of the emissions released during the production and burning of the wooden casket.

A single tree over a hundred-year period absorbs over a tonne of carbon dioxide, said Short "so imagine the difference it could make if everyone was buried and had a tree planted in their memory".

"Photosynthesis in trees is the single most efficient way of sequestering carbon dioxide – not only that, but they do what no other method of carbon minimisation can do, and that is to produce oxygen", he said.

He presented his idea of environmentally friendly death at the World Conference of Science Journalists held in Melbourne this week.  

Short noted that the contribution of cremation to harmful greenhouse gases is relatively small, and said he did not wish to prevent people from choosing how their body was disposed of according to their religion.

But to bury the hatchet with environmentalists, he suggested it would not be a bad idea to bequeath one's body as food for a forest. "You can actually do, after your death, an enormous amount of good for the planet," he said. "The more forests you plant, the better."

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