Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Physical Immortality and Light Translation

I wanted to open the following theme for discussion. The theme is a questioning whether human beings need to age and die. I do believe that (1) it is possible for human beings to not age and die, (2) that aging and death are not necessary, (3) it is part of the spiritual life to include the body in our transformation process and learn how to not age and die, and (4) it is the karmaic seeds, called samskaras, stored in our subconscious mind, that cause illnesses, aging, and death, and by removing these samskaras our body can learn to regenerate itself, and keep itself alive, youthful, and vital. Although the Four Noble Truths talk about the inevitability of aging and death, this is a relative teaching which is related to the ego consciousness which is still driven by craving, negativity, and delusion. Such an ego consciousness is destined to eventually age and die when the good karma is exhausted and the unwholesome karma has its lawful result. According to a few traditions, Guatama Buddha did attain physical immortality, but chose to do a special tonglen practice, taking on a large portion of karma from humankind and letting it destroy his physical body, by doing so he accomplished a few goals. One is that he created a storehouse of merit to make meditation easier for later generations of Buddhist practitioners. Two is that he was able to demonstrate how to die a noble death and how to do phowa (consciousness ejection practice) at the time of death. Three is that he could release the Sangha, the Buddhist community, to find its own destiny, having left behind approximately 60 enlightened masters behind (30 male masters and 30 female masters). Four is that he could recreate another physical body made out of etheric matter and still guide his community from a more liberated space. Five is that he could evolve the Tantric teachings with his wife Yasodara in this more liberated space. Both of them had taken vows of celibacy during their historical incarnation and during the death they were released from these vows. While there is very little said about their relationship after Buddha left his home to become a wandering sannyasin, there is nothing I have found that indicates that he ever divorced his wife. The fact that she joined his community as a nun and brought many women with her into the community shows that she had a deep spiritual life of her own. The Lotus Sutra records in parable form the activites of the Buddha in this second physical body.

In Buddhism, there have been reports of many masters who accomplished going beyond the need to age and die. Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, and Mandara were examples of this. Padmasambhava never ages and dies, but "takes his body with him" in a process that is called "the great transfer". It is like phowa, but includes the body as well as the mind. Padmasambhava and Mandarava conquer aging and death by doing a large number of interlocking meditation practices, mainly involving chants, visualizations of deities, and mandalas, in a place called Maratiki Cave (whose name means "conquering death"). There have been Kriya Yoga masters in India who have been reported to have conquered aging and death, as well as Taoist Masters. There have been many others that I have found in my studies who have at least attained some signs of partial immortality, either living longer than 127 years of age or having a physical body that died but did not undergo the usual cellular decay. Modern science has questioned whether humans need to age and die, and have found no "absolute biological clock" (some mechanism that requires humans to die and that we cannot stop). They have found relative biological clocks, aging indicators, which seem at least partially reversible, and mechanisms which "mercy kill" the body when the decay reaches a certain point and when the body has no more purpose for living.

I did find a pattern with the accounts of those who had extreme longevity or physical immortality. They all had some version of a meditative energy breathing method, they were mostly vegetarian or vegan, did some kind of physical exercise like Hatha Yoga or Tai Chi, used herbs for cleansing and healing, and lived a life of compassion. Milarepa, when he sees that Rechungpa is karmaically fated to die early, sends him to a Dakini (female tantric master) who is 500 years ago at the time, who cures him of this karma through a method involving not sleeping for two weeks (I gather the body is resting in this two week period, but the mind stays awake and does something like lucid dreaming).

Even without historical examples, it is possible to present a case for physical immortality. There are only two theories that can be given regarding aging and death. Theory one is that aging and death is due to controllable causes. Theory two is that aging and death is due to uncontrollable causes. There is literally no evidence for theory two. No one has shown a mechanism that requires us to die. Theory one has been at least partially verified in that we have found thousands of controllable causes for aging and death (like not smoking cigarettes, not eating toxic food, etc.). The variable lifespan of human beings shows that some humans have at least partially succeeded in living longer and happier lives. There are longer lived groups of people like the Hunzas and a tribe in Venezuela. There is a pattern, too, in their lifestyle, definite lifestyle factors that enable people to live longer. Aging, too, is not linear, where you merely get worse and worse over time. I have noticed that people seem to age more rapidly when they are under a lot of stress or after a traumatic event, and seem to at least partially reverse this process when they release the stress, relax more deeply, and take care of themselves. All this indicates that the causes and conditions are negotiable and modifiable. If you parallel the human body with a car, the lifespan of a car can vary a lot depending on how the owner takes care of the car. If you change the oil often, tighten all the bolts, make sure all the fluids are topped off, make sure all the parts are working, and keep the tires inflated, then the car can last a very long time. The human body differs from a car, though, in that it is a self regenerating system, designed to replace almost all its cells every 7 years. I suspect the harsh survival conditions of the planet prevented many from accomplishing deep longevity in certain time periods, but through science and democracy (at least more democratic than an old monarchy) we have made more tolerable life conditions with more possibilities. The other set of conditions has to do with having a certain kind of knowledge about how to take care of yourself. Paralleling the car, you would need to know how to do a good maintenance routine, where and when to tighten the bolts, change the fluids, etc. This parallels to the body as knowing when and what to eat, when to cleanse, how to exercise, and how to burn out the karmaic seeds in the subconscious mind.


  1. Thank you Will for initiating this discussion. The big question for me, as relates to this topic has always been: “What is the way?” It seems I have spent a great many years searching and experimenting with the “when and what to eat”…and related healing modalities, spiritual practices, etc. I feel I might have been better served to put more of my attention on deep breathing and reducing the stressors in my life (in part by focusing on reducing my attachments to the illusions surrounding them). I would love for you to say more on the “how to” of removing karmaic seeds.
    Recently I celebrated my 50th, soaking in hotspring pools, and swimming in ice cold river waters. I felt it youthened me by atleast 25 years…then I returned to some survival stressors that seemed like they aged me by atleast 15 years…all in the course of two weeks! How changeable the aging process can be! I find that I at least always bump up against the issue of discipline; doing those things which we already know are life-enhancing on a regular basis. My friend and yoga teacher Michal Palzewicz recently shared a beautiful thought with me on the subject of discipline: “surround yourself with images , people, symbols…create an environment: the environment creates the discipline – then the discipline will come effortlessly!” Don’t you love that!
    So this feels like a beautiful forum for surrounding ourselves with the energies that celebrate renewable, sustainable vitality! I would love to hear of actual daily life rhythms, practices, perspectives that are supporting our human family to be filled with living/love …and embrace and experiment with the possible, even if we haven’t a lot of proof of living indefinitely with renewable living energies!
    Right now, the monthly chaotic meditation, as envisioned by Osho, that you are offering our community feels like a huge boost to blissful life force. It is my hope that there will be enough of us soon, able to commit to doing it on a daily basis for a concentrated period of time…To LIFE! To LOVE!

  2. Dear Maria, thank you for being the first person to post on the blog. You did have an experience which verifies that aging/stress and youthing/relaxation is a variable process and related to conditions that we can control or do something about. This is a key observation to build up an understanding of physical immortality and light translation. As far as going to "the removal of karmaic seeds", this is a big subject and will needs more space than this comment posting has. I will try to post something about this soon.