What is Immortality? The greatest fear for a majority of us is death, maybe for some it is a fear of failing in the future, a fear of falling behind. The Gita suggests that the Body dies but the soul is immortal. Some live by this rule, some contradict it as they don’t believe in the soul. Without getting into the philosophical question of whether there is a soul, and what does it mean to be dead or failing, I shall try to just share my personal understanding of immortality.
An idea that comes out explicitly from The Gita is – “The small is large”. There is an eternity in every moment. Ever felt how deep and long a moment or a breath can last during an amazing meditation or asana practice. I am addicted to these moments now. I believe the very idea of all yogic practices is this feeling of connecting this not so apparent small with the apparent large, connecting the present to our eternity, our individual self with the entire creation, the atman with the Brahman; on a purely physical level, having that effortless connection between the deeper muscles and the outer muscles in a yoga pose. For a beginner, I believe this is why Yoga Asanas are a good start- helping to develop this basic understanding that what appears as a stretch in the hamstring is actually a deeper relation to the feet, the spine, the pelvis- the entire body. This understanding of the relation between the obvious and the not so obvious, of the evolution from the hamstring of today to the spine of tomorrow, from the deep exhale of today to the full body, breath and mind engagement of tomorrow, can eventually be extended to the wider realm of spirit, soul, Brahman or plain enhanced performance, for the ones who don’t believe in any of the former.
Bringing the question of happiness into this perspective, a lot of happiness is related to the future or the past. And it is defined in terms of fulfillment. But what is happiness? Is it the surety of happiness in future or the memory of happiness in the past? Or is it in the present, this very moment, experiencing all my faculties living to their fullest.
Life and happiness, one view suggests, are always in the present, not in the future, not in the past. I will be happy, I was happy versus I am happy. I will be living, I was living versus I am living.
Yoga philosophy speaks of the state of “Nirvana”, a state of “Samadhi” or “Pratyahara”. When all your senses are in control, when the body, mind and soul are in control, free from fear or desires, then a state of immortality is achieved. Is this state fully living in the present, or fully disconnecting from the present. Or is it eliminating the difference between the present, past and future? As Herman Hesse suggests in The Siddhartha– you are your past, present and future together at the same time. Like a river which is at the same time peaceful in some places, agitating in others.
Humans are said to be different from other species in our capacity to think- to learn from the past and plan for the future. Fortunately or unfortunately, this has led to a lot of worrying about our past and the future- regrets and plans. (Some studies suggest the average human spends around 50% of her/his waking time either thinking about the past or the present). Contradictory to this inherent nature of humans is the happiness we get from immense involvement in a task- all our faculties working towards an objective, living in the present, which obviously requires us to forget the past and the future.
I believe we feel happy when we are in connect with our basic elements of construction. All living beings are made up of the same basic elements- water, air, earth and fire (sun). Yoga philosophy speaks of a universal energy which is shared by all living things (our souls would be a rough approximation for it). We all have an amazing amount of similarity, an unconscious connection to each other. This could be one reason we feel good in nature. Although there is a continuous evolution happening, we always feel good when we connect to the basic elements of our construction.
Hence the argument that almost all yoga poses are derived from animals- a desire for us to be more similar to the “less thinking” animals, a desire to be closer to our base nature, the less evolved self, which was more an animal and less human. Isn’t that the idea of Tantra Yoga which means to bring us closer to our baser instincts? In fitness circles, animal flow is a developing trend.
But we cannot actually become animals, although a part of me feels we’d be much better off if it was to be the case. The idea, my current understanding permits, is that we need to rebalance our present with the past and future. Too much of our current lifestyle is devoted to the past and the future. And without totally letting go of it, we need to just shift the balance more towards the present- find more of the animal within us. It is just this shift in balance, more towards our present, more towards the animal within us, which will tilt the scale towards recognition of our immortality from the continuous fight with our fear of mortality.