Would you like to live forever? Does it sound attractive? For me, I would totally jump at the chance to become immortal. I would imagine that most people, if given the choice, would gladly choose not to die.
A View from Science
With the advancement of science, some people think the cure for death is just around the corner—people like billionaire investor Doug Casey. He shares his view in the following interview with fellow investor James Turk:
Technology has been advancing very quickly today. […] We’re at the stage that you can basically grow new ligaments, new veins. This is advancing and compounding […] in a very finite length of time […] if you can survive only another twenty years, perhaps, you might be able to grow a brand new body. And not just any old body! Maybe one that resembles Bruce Jenner’s who won the Decathlon a few years ago. This is the best reason I can think of for becoming wealthy. Because you want to be able to afford wonderful things like that. And it’s as it should be. Why? Because, the way you get wealthy is by producing goods and services for other people. You get wealthy by creating wealth. So, of course, people that have money should be rewarded with being able to buy these things. 11th November 2011
What do you think? Do you agree with Casey’s point of view? Wouldn’t it be great if we could cure death? Shouldn’t the rich be entitled to get first dibs with any anti-death treatment?
A View from Ancient Teachings
Let’s compare and contrast Casey’s enthusiastic account of the possibilities of curing death with a section from A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada’s commentary on the Sri Isopanisad, a book of ancient Indian philosophical wisdom:
By its so-called advancement of knowledge, human civilization has created many material things, including spaceships and atomic energy. Yet it has failed to create a situation in which people need not die, take birth again, become old, or suffer from disease. Whenever an intelligent man raises the question of these miseries before a so-called scientist, the scientist very cleverly replies that material science is progressing and that ultimately it will be possible to render man deathless, ageless, and diseaseless. Such answers prove the scientists’ gross ignorance of material nature. In material nature, everyone is under the stringent laws of matter and must pass through six stages of existence: birth, growth, maintenance, production of by-products, deterioration, and finally death. No one in contact with material nature can be beyond these six laws of transformation; therefore no one—whether demigod, man, animal or plant—can survive forever in the material world.
Material scientists and politicians are trying to make this place deathless because they have no information of the deathless spiritual nature. This is due to their ignorance of the Vedic literature, which contains full knowledge confirmed by mature transcendental experience. (Sri Isopanisad 14)
So, who is right? These are clearly two opposite views of the world. Let’s keep exploring.
What If We Could Cure Death?
How about a thought experiment conceiving of what would happen if Casey’s view of the world were to come true? Let’s suppose we could cure death. The exact mechanism of such a cure is unimportant. It could be a new body grown in a vat, a drug that stops the ageing process, nano-tech machines that repair cell damage, or any number of other techniques. Let’s just suppose there were some way to prevent death.
The rich will almost certainly be the first to get the cure. They have the power, resources, and influence to become deathless before anyone else. However, as soon as the news breaks that scientists have cured death, everyone will want the cure. Very quickly, a black market of salesmen will promise the cure in exchange for people’s life savings. Some genuine, most fraudulent.
People will riot in the streets, demanding the anti-death treatment from their governments. You can almost hear them shouting: “Why should only those upper 1 percent get cured? We want it too!”
In a couple of years the cure will become reasonably available to everyone in the western world. It will guarantee that you will never die a natural, peaceful death. Only violent destruction of your body can truly kill you. Socially, the cure will cause massive changes. Almost immediately the institution of marriage will go out the window. People can cope with being married to the same person for ten, twenty, or thirty years. But three hundred years of marriage, or three thousand years? Can you imagine spending the rest of eternity with the same person? The divorce rate is already at 50 percent, but with the cure for death it will increase to 100 percent. Marriage vows will be changed from “until death do us part” to “until we get bored of each other.”
The traditional religions will protest against the cure, probably while secretly partaking themselves. They have everything to loose. What use is the promise of an after life, if the current life lasts forever? New religions will be established, religions not based on fear of death, but based on celebration of life. People will welcome humanism as their saviour, not God. A new saviour, a well-intentioned saviour, a saviour whose solutions, unfortunately, come with some unexpected and unfortunate side-effects, such as those described in the following paragraphs.
There will be no more retirement. What reason is there to ever retire? However, since no one is retiring and children are still being born, unemployment will skyrocket. How do you get a job as a young person if all the other applicants have five thousand years of experience?
Soon, everyone will have done everything there is to do, a million times over. You’ve taken every drug there is, you’ve gotten drunk in every bar on the planet, you’ve slept with every conceivable type of partner, you’ve played every sport ever invented, you’ve visited every tourist destination in every country in the world. You’ve done everything, and so you seriously ask yourself: what’s the point of it all? What goal could you possibly strive for? Intense boredom sets in: boredom leads to despair, despair leads to suicide. A wave of suicides sweeps across the population.
Still, even with people committing suicide in unheard-of numbers, overpopulation will become the number one problem in the world. Currently, without a cure for death, scientists like Hans Rosling estimate that world population will increase from the current seven billion until it stabilises at about eleven billion people by the year 2100. With a cure for death, however, there will be as many as eighteen billion people by 2100, and the number will keep going up and up, until famine or war alleviates the pressure of excess population.
You might think: “Hey, not my problem, I’ll be dead by…oh.”
The increase in population will lead to intense shortages in natural resources. Oil will, of course, run out. Or rather, not run out per se, but become so expensive and energy intensive to extract, that it is no longer viable to mine. Access to clean drinking water will become a closely-guarded privilege for the rich. Food production, reliant on clean water for irrigation, will become more difficult, and food shortages will ravage the world. Countries with strong militaries will try to invade less powerful nations to steal their resources, at first with some pretense of “fighting terrorism” or “peace keeping,” but soon everyone will realise the wars are entirely for natural resources. Most people won’t care.
Governments might even encourage these resource wars, because lots of people dying in wars effectively helps reduce the world population. Suicide might also be encouraged for the same reason. People who kill themselves might be seen as “helping their fellow man.” Perhaps there will be governmentsponsored suicide centres where people can safely and humanely end their own lives.
Ultimately, some nation, pushed to the brink of collapse by all the above pressures, will take to using nuclear weapons in a desperate attempt to kill off the ever-growing population. Other countries will follow suit, and humanity will self-destruct.
Perhaps curing death is not such a good idea, after all?
What Would It Take?
What would it take to cure death, but not destroy everyone’s life in the process? What would a hypothetical scenario be that could let people live forever, without any negative side effects?
We would need unlimited resources, or 100 percent recycling to ensure that resources never run out. Also, people would have to have deeply meaningful, satisfying and rewarding things to do all day, every day, for eternity. We would have to have a total population of saints without any kind of selfish desire, no desire to enjoy at other people’s expense. People would also have to be free of desire to harm themselves in any way. Laws and police wouldn’t be able to achieve this; that would only create a police state. Instead, people would need to freely and willingly choose a saintly lifestyle, ultimately causing laws to become completely unnecessary. With such a society, and a cure for death, we might be able to realistically live forever.
Fantasy? Fiction? Fallacy? Let us turn to the Vedas, the spiritual literature of ancient India, a literature that suggests a realistic method to actually achieve the above scenario.
The Bhagavad-gita, foremost spiritual literature, gives us an initial hint:
“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (2.20)
There are two aspects to this statement. First, the soul is eternal: it is never born and it never dies. There is no overpopulation, because the total number of souls remains constant. Birth and death only happen to the material body, a body controlled and owned by the soul, but ultimately apart from it. There are no resource shortages, because the soul is not a physical thing and does not require any limited material resources to survive.
Second, there is reincarnation: the soul can move from one material body to another. A new body gives a new chance in life, a chance to learn from past mistakes; learn, with the previous life being remembered subconsciously.
How do we know there is a soul, a thing that makes eternal life and reincarnation possible? Well, how do we know there is a sun in the sky? We perceive both the soul and the sun by their symptoms. The symptom of the sun is light; we see the light and conclude that there must be a sun. The symptom of the soul is consciousness; we observe our own consciousness and conclude that there must be a soul.
It seems therefore, that, if we accept the Bhagavad-gita, we have nothing to worry about. Our consciousness, our soul, never dies.
“Wait just one minute!” I can hear you saying, “Living forever isn’t enough. People’s qualities also need to be transformed. Otherwise you end up with the distopian future mentioned earlier. How are you going to do that?”
How to Do It?
How do you do it? How do you develop spiritual qualities? How do you practice real yoga, going beyond mere physical exercises? How do you develop into a being of pure consciousness?
The secret is to practice the original and greatest form of yoga: bhakti-yoga, the yoga of loving devotion to Krishna. It’s yoga practice that will gradually transform the heart, mind, and soul, ultimately leading to an eternal life of bliss and knowledge.
This transformation very much makes your life better in the here and now. You develop good qualities, qualities that lead to health, happiness, and fulfillment. Obtaining an everlasting, ever-cognizant, ever-blissful spiritual body in the future, is just a welcome side effect.
The first step in this practice is to start a regular programme of mantra meditation, chanting the great mantra, the maha-mantra, a mantra that transforms consciousness:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
In the comic to follow, Dadhici teaches us that if we falsely think the material body is our true self, then we will act selfishly to preserve the body at all costs. However, the body is only a temporary covering of the eternal spirit soul. If we neglect the needs of the soul and focus solely on pleasing the body, we will inevitably be frustrated, as the body will certainly perish. With this understanding we take care of the body for a higher purpose—the purpose of spiritual enlightenment.