To Be Forever Young


A SANSKRIT verse which has inspired many generations of people in India by its simplicity and profundity, translated into English says: 'Behold! Seated under the banyan tree are aged disciples and a young teacher. The teacher expounds in silence and the disciples are free from doubt.'

This verse refers to Dakshinâmurti, an aspect of the great god Șiva. It depicts him as the quintessential teacher, eternally young. It intrigues the mind by placing in juxtaposition youth and age-youth connected with wisdom and age with perplexity. The magnificence of the banyan tree, Nature's symbol of longevity and even perpetuity, forms the background.

According to ancient traditions, all immortals are ever young. We cannot imagine an immortal growing perennially older and older, 'sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything', to use Shakespeare's words. Such a person would hardly be an inspiring deva figure. The devas or immortals do not grow old, which is suggested by the concept that the immortals never touch the earth. If they do so, they are tainted and punished. Devas are not only always young, but radiant with light, alert, and happy.

According to theosophical literature, the adepts or liberated ones who have transcended the bondage of karma, can live for many years in the physical body (if they wish to have one) without appearing to grow older. Talking to Charles Johnston, who asked her some- thing about her Master's age, Madame Blavatsky replied:

I cannot tell you exactly, for I do not know. But this I will tell you. I met him first when I was twenty-in 1851. He was in the very prime of manhood then. I am an old woman now, but he has not aged a day. (Cranston's biography of HPB)

Karma affects all of us at the physical, emotional, and mental levels. The body we have, and the condition into which it is changed by our actions, emotions and thoughts-all are part of the play of karmic forces. If we are born with certain genetic traits and racial characteristics, it is the outcome of karma.

But by the quality of our life in the present we can endow the body with grace or make it unattractively old. The body changes according to our mental conditions. Anxiety produces lines of care on the face; ambition hardens it. Desires and selfishness cause stress, and affect not only the health but also the appearance of the body. Therefore some grow graceful with age while others are unattractive even by middle age.

Mental attitudes vary enormously, depending on whether one lives with or without attachment. The adepts, being free from attachment to the unrealities of the world, have no problems, which mar the body's condition. They do not create karma in the present, and most of them have exhausted the karma created in the past. Hence their bodies do not deteriorate-at least not at the same rate as those of ordinary people.

It is wonderful to be young, as we all realize. People who are desperately trying to be young, sense in some way the beauty of youth, and also suffer from fear of death. The young are alive, have enthusiasm, and respond with joy and spontaneity to Nature, to fellow human beings, to the good and beautiful. They are spontaneous, being less conditioned than adults. Innocence makes them skip with joy for no reason at all, happy as adults are unable to be. On contact with the young, adults experience vicariously part of that joy, spontaneity and innocence. They long to find a way of remaining young.

At different times, people have attempted to discover the Elixir of Life. Vedic Indians sang about the soma juice that the gods enjoy. Alchemy has been practised, incantations have been used, potions made, and severe austerities adopted to preserve the body and prevent it from ageing. But none of these means seems to have been successful, for nobody has passed on the secret of youth to the world.

Can Time be conquered by such activities? To find out, we must enquire into what is the essence of youth, its source. Does it inhere in the body? Can youth and longevity be pinned on to the body by changing its composition or by grafting borrowed material-a pig's liver, a monkey's brain?

As people grow older in body, the mind too grows old and stiff with memories, prejudices, desires, and attachments. Or is it the other way round? In the verse quoted earlier, the young teacher is bright with wisdom, able to communicate without speaking. The context poses the question repeated by Sri Ramana Maharishi: 'Who am I?' Who is the 'I' that wants to be young? This is a crucial question; without a true answer it is impossible to discover the secret of remaining young. Dinosaurs with small brains lived long, but surely humans wish to be young like the devas and not endure for ages like the dinosaurs!

The Bhagavadgitâ likens the body to a vesture; just as worn-out garments are cast off and replaced by new ones, we must let go of bodies as they age, and enter new ones. We realize that fresh clothes are better than worn-out ones, but even the very sick, paralysed and bed- ridden cling to the exhausted body. The Buddha taught that all that is put together will disintegrate, while the Bhagavadgitâ points out that what is born must die, and whatever is subject to death is subject to rebirth. The Dweller in the body alone is immortal and invulnerable. Unless we realize that the Self is not the body, but that mysterious element which uses it, and leaves it when necessary, we shall not discover the secret of ageless and immortal being.

Most of us sense something deep inside ourselves, which is not the body we see, apart from 'being' or Self. We also observe emotions, memories, thoughts, and other internal activities. The sense of 'being' is not in any of that. If the body is mutilated, it does not affect the sense of being; no one feels that his own nature is mutilated. Memories, images, and fluctuations of the mind-these are all what Krishnaji called the content of consciousness. They continually arise and disappear. The experience of being remains, unaffected and unidentified with each thought or feeling that arises only to disappear. If we were to identify with such fluctuations we would be constantly changing our character. Underlying all the changes there is a sense of being, which we may feel in our quiet moments.

Though people may visualize the Lord Buddha through a mental picture, he himself said that he who sees the dhamma is the one who truly sees him. The Buddha is essentially the enlightened consciousness and not a figure. Being one with the dhamma or truth is a state of wisdom. He who grasps the true teaching and reaches wisdom knows the Buddha.

In a similar vein, HPB declared that people who want to see the Master, often merely want to see a body and face: that is a mask, not the Master. The Master is a consciousness, which is all-pervasive, lofty, full of love, wisdom, and peace. It never changes or loses the purity of its own nature. In the Yoga-vâsishtha there is an explanation of deathlessness by an immortal: 'My mind dwells neither in the past nor in the future, but is ever in the present.' Past and future are mental phenomena caused by movements of the mind. Going back to recapture experiences, it creates the 'past'; moved by desire or hope in another direction, it makes the 'future'. When the mind does not wander, but remains steady in the present, it is free of time. In the present alone there is love-true, universal relationship.

Proceeding with his teaching, the immortal says that thoughts such as 'I obtained this today, and will obtain something better tomorrow', never arise in his mind. Never does his mind experience: 'This is my friend, my kinsman; the other is an alien, a stranger.' Freed from the bondage of desire-which projects the future and looks back to the past to acquire desirable things-is the sage of steady mind described in the Bhagavadgitâ. He is serene, peaceful and joyous and surely immortal, having delivered him- self from the clutches of time.

Dr Besant in a lecture printed in The Spiritual Life says:

magic lantern on the life he cannot age. Why are the gods figured forever young, save to remind us that the true life is untouched by time? We borrow some of the strength and calm of eternity when we try to live in it, escaping from the meshes of the great Enchanter.

The tyrant Time lives within us, fed by our mental activities and desire for transient things. Depending on our mental condition, time runs swiftly or passes slowly. Passions and emotions trouble the minds of mortals, while the gods, uncontaminated by worldly thought and desire, experience immortality and youth.

To be young and beautiful, we must necessarily become free from the drives-the urge to arrive somewhere, to be first, to achieve-that enslave us to time. Time deprives brain and mind of sensitivity and flexibility, and makes them prone to the anxieties of self-centredness that age the body.

One must live absolutely differently in order to preserve youth. The Dhammapada says: 'Death carries away a person who plucks at worldly flowers, just as a great flood sweeps away a sleeping village.' Worldly flowers, however glamorous they may be, are illusory sources of happiness. The Voice of the Silence says: 'Under every flower there is a serpent coiled.' In the Bible too we find such phrases as, 'Arise from the dead', which is not a call to raise a dead body from its coffin, but to emerge from the death-like condition of worldly-mindedness.

Attachment is the very essence of the worldly mind; absence of attachment is freedom. To be young, the mind must be free, not tethered. To quote the Dhammapada again: 'The absence of mindfulness is the road to death. The mindful ones do not die, the unmindful are as if already dead.' Vigilance in daily life that helps one to shed every selfish passion, thought and attitude is a pathway to a god-like state, replete with love and wisdom. Selfishness is ignorance, lack of wisdom. Shall we make ourselves young by living rightly, or shall we wait for technicians and magicians to prolong the misery of self-centredness?

Asiatics have a proverb: Thou only-if thou wilt-art 'immortal'. Combine with this the saying of a western author that if any man could just realize for an instant that he had to die some day, he would die that instant. The Illuminated will perceive that between these two sayings, rightly understood, stands revealed the whole secret of Longevity. We only die when our will ceases to be strong enough to make us live.... However this may be, the physical man must be rendered more ethereal and sensitive; the mental man more penetrating and profound; the moral man more self-denying and philosophical.

The Elixir of Life