“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्
नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतो ऽयं पुराणो
न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ‘yaṁ purāṇo
na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
An exercise conducted in theory, though with a real-life example documented in Vedic literature, take the situation of approaching an empowered benefactor. The commonly discussed scenario is rubbing a magic lamp and having a genie emerge:
“I can grant you three wishes. Choose wisely. Think about what it is you desire.”
Immortality is on your mind, but that is not an option. The idea gets squashed immediately. What options remain? In what direction should the mortal human being, gifted with enhanced intelligence in comparison to other species, explore?
1. Build component pieces
The best example from history is Hiranyakashipu. He didn’t have to rub a lamp. He didn’t visit a remote cave where a bearded old man welcomed those visitors lucky enough to find him. Rather, the best of the Daitya race engaged in rigid austerities. This is the time-honored tradition rooted in Vedic culture. It has yielded great results many a time, and Hiranyakashipu was able to find the ultimate success.
His sacrifice was so extreme that it caught the attention of Lord Brahma, the creator. Brahma is something like the master engineer, taking the three ingredients of goodness, passion and ignorance and generating an output of up to 8,400,000 distinct body types. These are the species, and the temporary occupants are the sparks of the Brahman spiritual energy.
Hiranyakashipu wanted immortality, as he defined it. Stay in the same body forever. No destruction. No forced exit. No succumbing to the forces of nature. Brahma himself does not have this ability, so he could not very well grant it to others, no matter how much they pleased him.
Hiranyakashipu then decided to build component pieces to achieve the same result. He was not limited to three wishes. In essence, the benefactor subtly gave him permission to try his best:
“Go ahead. Think of ways to become immortal without asking for it directly. Be as clever as possible. I will not stand in the way.”
The leader of the Daityas asked for immunity from death in so many situations. Safety from attacking weapons. Different species would not be able to kill him. Cover the two time periods in a day, the daylight hours and the nighttime. Brahma agreed to everything.
2. Unlimited enjoyment
If I know that I will have to pass on at some unknown time in the future, one option is to request unlimited enjoyment. At least let the time be spent peacefully and without disturbance. Enough food to eat; maybe at a grand buffet. Wine to consume, associates with whom to spend time. A loving family. The ability to travel far and wide without being tied down to daily responsibilities.
3. Realize that you are already immortal
The glaring flaw with the first two options is that the reality of eventual death remains. Hiranyakashipu could not account for every situation, meaning there was still mortality no matter how cleverly his requests were constructed.
With the option of unlimited enjoyment, there is still the limitation in terms of time. Eventually, that way of living has to end. The individual moves on to a different situation, a different place with a new body.
Another option is to realize that you are already immortal. The elusive boon is already part of your existence. Shri Krishna explains that the soul cannot be killed. Only the body gets destroyed. The real agent of change is kala, or time, but sometimes we attribute other external factors as the trigger agent, such as lethal weapons, disease, old age and the like.
If I realize that I am already immortal, I can find a way to influence my future destination. Specifically, after this lifetime expires, the place travelled to next can be decided. I am not completely helpless. Shri Krishna again gives the hint.
यं यं वापि स्मरन् भावं
त्यजत्य् अन्ते कलेवरम्
तं तम् एवैति कौन्तेय
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
The state of being is everything. My consciousness. What is it focused on at the moment of exiting the body? There needn’t be so granular an analysis. Choose spiritual or material. It is easy to identify the latter. Anything where I will again be subject to birth and death, where I live in a destructible body – that means the state of being will be the same.
Spiritual means that I will no longer be subject to death. I will be immortal in the fullest sense that my body and spirit will be identical. This is already the case with the Supreme Lord, Bhagavan for whom no distinctions in duality apply.
The individual souls are meant to live the same way, to be free of anxieties, to be permanent residents of the land known as Vaikuntha. Consciousness is the key, and through genuine spiritual life practiced under the proper authority, the wish is already granted. Those who think of Krishna at the end will attain the same nature, they will get to associate with Him in the future and be immune from the trials and tribulations of material existence.
With granting wishes three,
Request that death never to see.
Settling for next thing best,
Where enduring time’s test.
But the end arriving still,
But the soul nothing can kill.
Immortal in that sense already,
Realized through devotion steady.
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