The human body is designed to die. This is part of the process of evolution, the perpetual cycles of change, rise and fall, birth and death. Each moment we die and are reborn to a newer moment, a new experience. Every morning we are reborn to a new world. Though death is part of life, man fears death and does not want to die. This is a natural and useful fear from the point of view of survival of the individual and the species; it is vital to the course of evolution. The urge to survive is probably the greatest of all man's compulsions (vasanas). It is the inherent, instinctive striving for fame, greatness or immortality. For life is sacred. Our children, who inherit our genes, our personality traits and our life spark, are our most cherished possession. Man's quest for immortality, his deepest urge to survive and to propagate the species, is driven on by a great and unconscious force, which is at the root of our conscious and subconscious existence. It is driven by our deepest energy, our most primitive instinct. Sigmund Freud called it both eros and thanatos, to distinguish the dual nature of the instinctive drive. Eros is the externalised aspect of the force, pingala nadi, the sympathetic nervous system, pravritti marg, the urge to love and to achieve vicarious immortality through progeny. Thanatos is the internalised form of the life urge, ida nadi, the parasympathetic nervous system, nivritti marg, the inward path, the 'death' instinct. In thanatos the life force seeks its immortality through transcendence into the super conscious state of nirvana.
Yogis called the life force kundalini, which lies hidden in mooladhara chakra, coiled three and a half times around a shiva lingam, symbol of the creative energy of the universe. When the fullest potential of this energy is realised and made actual, the dual aspects of the life force merge and become one. Man becomes a self-realized being, a god standing fully one octave above his ordinary state, immersed in cosmic consciousness.
Mooladhara chakra is the location for man's instinct of self-preservation, the root urge for immortality of consciousness rather than body, thanatos. Swadhisthana chakra is the location for the instinct of survival of the species, the pleasure principle in outer life, eros. When the kundalini awakens, eros and thanatos merge into one force via the act of transcendence of duality. Man still lives in the world, acts, bears children, instils his new understanding into a concrete externalised order. At the same time the inner world has been opened. He has died to his little self and been borne to a higher, unified existence.
When kundalini is dormant, latent, asleep, its energy trickles out from the animal and preanimal unconscious depths of mind. But when this energy is sublimated through work, ambition, love, and so on, it provides the basis for the whole growth of our civilisation, for all man's achievements in his striving to evolve, to grow, to know, to become more fully human. It is the energy which prompts us to reach for the stars, to create, to become gods and thus to dare to rival God, to live forever.
This sublimated energy which we see expressed as the will to survive and propagate, is itself expressed in all science, art and literature. For example, in Mary Shelley's 19th century novel Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, man creates life, but is in turn destroyed by his own creation, his monster. It is this deepest, most instinctive energy which has subconsciously driven men to create a modern science which can install pacemakers into worn-out hearts, replace lungs, hearts, blood vessels, lenses for eyes, kidneys, legs and arms by machines, plastics and transplants.
Today we wipe out diseases that once plagued and wiped us out. Yet, as in Shelley's novel, man's creation, his monster, extracts a price - a life for a life. Our creation, civilisation, is creating new diseases which in many ways are more insidious than the old. Mankind is frantically trying to find new ways, new means to attain peace of mind, happiness and immortality. In the past, man sought to keep the dead alive by dyeing their bones red and burying them near the family hearth or by building pyramids or monumental tombs to house mummified bodies. Today, modern science is taking rapid strides in the direction of immortality using its machines and chemicals. On its way it has found that yogic theory and techniques hold the keys to many of the mysteries of life, death, liberation and immortality.
The life force and the death urge are both programmed into the total psycho physiological structure of every human being. Every second, millions of body cells die and are replaced so that the processes of life and growth can continue. The body grows automatically; we just have to give it food, water and exercise, and lubricate the joints and tissues. Growth is programmed into the very depths of our cells, and movement and change characterise life. Even when physical growth ceases at about 20 years, emotional growth continues up to about 35, mental growth up to about 45 or 50, and higher mental and spiritual growth begin beyond this, when we start to prepare for the death of the body.
Each individual life is programmed by DNA, an intertwined double helix molecule that forms genes and chromosomes. DNA is the basic blueprint that designs the body and triggers the various changes that occur from the moment the life spark, the male sperm and the female ovum, merges at conception, through to old age. The basic pattern of this growth is fixed to a set inviolable pattern in each normal individual. The details, speed of growth and fine points vary infinitely, no two people being alike. We are all unique. Each parent contributes half of his or her basic genetic pattern to the offspring. When the two parts fuse they start to divide so that each cell formed carries the information required for the development of the whole body: eye, brain, heart, size, shape, colour and so on. How this occurs is one of the biggest mysteries facing modern geneticists. The questions arise "If the body must die, is the time of our death also programmed? Is our fate set out for us? Do we have a choice? Can we alter the genes of our lives so as to extend our lifespan?"
Man is gaining the power to alter his genes and genetic engineering has allowed the conception of the first test tube baby to take place. On July 5, 1978, in Great Britain, Louise Brown was born after her father's sperm and mother's egg had multiplied in a test tube and been implanted in the womb. Man plays God?
Half a dozen lines of research suggest that we will be able to alter the designs of our bodies so that they do not self-destruct. Anti-ageing drugs, for example, Vitamin E, are being tested. We are learning about our internal clocks, cycles and environmental cues that trigger the various changes in our genes and neuroendocrinal controlling mechanisms. By studying these we may be able to slow ageing.
Scientists are also studying diseases such as proia, in which ageing speeds up, so as to learn the Mechanisms involved in normal ageing. Progeria affects one in eight million children (in the USA). The child develops normal emotions and intelligence, but the body ages prematurely. The normal sized head is larger than the stunted body with its wrinkled, opaque, parchment-like skin through which the blood vessels show prominently. The hair is sparse and white, the eyes protuberant, and the child suffers from such diseases of ageing as heart disease, high blood pressure and heart attack, which usually kill him at the age of 12 to 18 years. Is this disease due to a speeding up of the normal cellular clock? Research seems to show that there is some timing mechanism to trigger the various changes in growth and that they can be regulated.
Yogic texts are full of stories of yogis who have lived for hundreds of years, some without taking food and water into their bodies, some without sleep. The sage Vashishtha is said to have lived to thousands of years while doing austerities and deep meditation. Occasional stories of incorruptibility of the physical body at death have also been reported, the corpse remaining for hundreds of years, sometimes emitting beautiful perfumes and lights.
The ancient seers and sages understood the inherent principles in life and developed this into the science and art of yoga and tantra. They foresaw the science of genetics. The force and power of the double-helix molecule DNA was represented by the intertwining forces of the nadis, ida and pingala, which ascend from mooladhara chakra intertwined around the spinal cord. These two opposite but complementary forces tap the root instinct of preservation and take the life energy up to every cell of the body, animating and vitalising, maintaining the dynamic equilibrium of body and mind.
The theory of genetic clocks was also anticipated. However, yogic physiology measured a man's life not in years but by the number of breaths he took. They considered that each of us is allotted a fixed number of respirations and that by making each breath longer and slower we could affect the energies and inter and intracellular mechanisms so as to prolong life.
We can better understand this theory when we realise that while relaxed we automatically breathe slower and when agitated or nervous our breath speeds up. This is due to the play of mind and emotions on the limbic system, the hypothalamus and the autonomic nervous system. Relaxation is conducive to a long and happy life. The ancient yogis must have noticed that long lived animals were those that breathed slowly, such as the snake, tortoise and elephant. Animals with faster breathing rates, such as the dog, bird and rabbit, lived only a few years.
This theory was the basis for many practical yogic techniques such as asanas, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. They slow the breath, heart, brainwaves and thereby the whole metabolism. These techniques are a means to tap the instinctual energies of the root chakras and to transform them into Intuition and pure knowledge of the self.
This science is a direct and safe way to speed up the evolution of human consciousness. At present society is evolving very slowly but the individual has the choice of whether to follow the pravritti marg, eros, and his basic genetic makeup, thereby flowing with the current of nature, or to turn and swim against the tide by following nivritti marg and the transcendental pathway. As we speed up our evolution, our understanding of life, our knowledge of ourselves and the mechanisms that make us work, we will be better able to solve the riddles of the body, DNA, ida and pingala, cellular clocks, breath rate, and thereby lengthen our lifespan.
In ancient Greece the average life expectancy was 22 years of age. This was enough time to guarantee the propagation of the species and fulfil the basic instincts at mooladhara and swadhisthana chakras, the seats of the animal in man. As we have increased the average lifespan in the course of time through the processes of evolution, the development of our faculties has proceeded at a slow and natural pace. The generation of new ideas, the practical application of these ideas, and the resultant development of society has left man with more leisure time, more time to think and plan, more time to develop himself. Thus the increased popularity of yogic and many other esoteric doctrines.
Today we can launch a rocket ship to the moon and beyond. The yogis who speeded up the ascent of kundalini, however, were able to project their consciousness to the stars without the aid of rocket ships.
If we follow in their footsteps, we will be able to develop and concentrate our minds to such a degree that the combination of a vivid image-making capacity, logic and intuition will allow us to utilise the inherent powers of awareness and prana shakti to actually perform our own genetic engineering from within. By using practical techniques we can actually affect the subtle structure of the body, the chromosomes and DNA, the genetic mechanisms, the chemical interactions, the hormone composition of the bloodstream, and so develop strong bodies that will withstand the ravages of time. In the process, we will develop a healthier, more evolved genetic makeup to pass on to our children and our children's children. Finally, as did the yogis of yore, we will open the doorway of immortality and move into infinite and transcendental realms of spirit and super consciousness.