The Spirit of Health: Living Immortality in Daily Life
A poor man whose profession was custodian of the Vedas, believing he could make greater spiritual progress by breaking the bonds of attachment to everything worldly, made an impulsive decision to sacrifice everything he owned, which wasn’t much.
His son, Nachiketaas, thought to himself, “A man who sacrifices only a dried up old cow will surely end up in an afterlife without joy.” Finally, unable to contain himself, and wanting to add value to the sacrifice, the son blurted out, “And to whom do you give me, father?”
Taken by surprise, the father made another rash decree, “To Mrtyu!” In one impetuous moment, the boy found himself irretrievably bequeathed to the impulse of intelligence that brings about transformation and change. By tradition, the father’s word, once spoken, had to be respected.
As a bud is destroyed for the flower and in turn, the flower for the seed; or as a lily sprouts out of the decay of the mud in a bog, transformation from one state to another is the characterizing feature of the matter fields and force fields that comprise the smaller manifest (vs. larger unmanifest) portion of the universe. Mrtyu is the name given to this quality to change and transform. Mrtyu could also be called Death, because the reactants are destroyed in the creation of the products. Mrtyu is ancient Sanskrit from which we inherit the word “mortal.”
Nachiketaas found himself, quite literally at Death’s door, and Death happened to be away. He waited patiently until Death returned after three days. Upon seeing the boy, who was himself also a traditional custodian of the Vedas, he realized an offense of disrespect had been committed.
“Please forgive me for keeping you waiting. I grant you any boon.”
“In that case,” the boy requested, “tell me about death.”
No, that is the one boon I cannot grant. No one can ever know about death while still in a human body. Pick another boon.”
“This is the only boon I want,” replied the boy.
But Death would not yield. “Pick health and a life as long as you choose, with riches, children, pleasures and comforts, and sovereignty over all the land. Pick any boon but this.”
Nachiketaas stood firm. “Knowledge of death is the only boon worthy of you. If you don’t grant me this request, you can just consider your offense against the Vedas forever unpardoned.”
Death was pleased. Nachiketaas had proven himself worthy of the knowledge of what lies beyond because he was willing to sacrifice everything worldly to have it. You, dear reader, must be eager to hear Death’s account. But if Death was wise enough to test the boy before revealing what everyone else must pay with their life to know, then surely I would be negligent if I simply gave you an abbreviated version of his message. Your test may be having to go to the library or Internet (http://www.angelfire.com/electronic/awakening101/upani_katha.html#N1) to read the whole conversation.
A Fatal Life Lesson
The teaching Death gave to the boy reminded me of Wim, a Brazilian father of Dutch descent who was an engineer’s engineer. He had founded a company of 250 civil engineers that designed and built huge projects, like dams and bridges over the Amazon. Wim came to our health and retreat center twice yearly to recover from the stress of completing his huge contracts under budget. He would do Ayurvedic purification treatments, meditate, and take long walks in the New England woods. Other guests invariably called him the phantom, because he spent his time inwardly in retreat.
At his first visit, Wim was 59 but looked much older. Ten years later, he looked about 59. Once I lent him tapes of my teacher describing the organization of the Veda into stanzas and chapters. He left that week saying, “The pylons of our bridge need to have the same structure as the Rig Veda: ten bundles, with the First and Tenth bundles holding all the weight and the other eight acting as support. We can anchor them in the river more easily than one big one.”
Just three months later, Wim was back. “You’re not due for four months, Wim. What’s up?”
“We underbid the competitors for the bridge by thirty million dollars. Now we’re bidding on a tunnel and my senior engineers need me to solve a technical problem. They sent me to find inspiration.”
His routine exam revealed a lump in his armpit. The surgeon who excised it told me it was dark blue, a sure sign of metastatic malignant melanoma. I searched every cranny of his skin and membranes with a Wood’s lamp without finding a primary lesion. Wim had some scars on his trunk. A curandero (South American traditional healer) removed some moles a year ago with moxibustion. The proposed interferon to prevent further metastases gave only a 15% chance of success but a 100% chance of feeling even worse than powerful chemo.
He went home and opted for a milder treatment, launching himself into his tunnel with the same structure as the Vedic literature. He came back six months later with his wife and friends. He must have known it would be his last trip.
Wim had always been serious about immortality. He knew I subscribed to a medicine based on the unified field and was always inquiring regarding the anatomy of that part of nature never subject to transformation. He felt that if his designs were based on a physics of immortality they would last longer, even if they were still just cement rotting in water. Even before his diagnosis, he would repeat a Sanskrit phrase: anor aniyaan mahaato mahiyaan (smaller than the smallest and greater than the greatest). It was Mrtyu speaking to Nachiketaas about the structure of the Self “lodged in the heart of every creature,” a perfect description of the physics of the unified field where infinity is seen at every point. He tells the boy, “The knowing Self is neither born nor does it die. It did not originate from anything, nor did anything originate from It. It is birthless, eternal, undecaying, and ancient. It is not injured even when the body is killed.”
Death’s Saintly Glow
I called Wim every few weeks, as a friend, over his last months. He had restructured his engineers into teams to deal with some bad apples, guided by Vedic principles: “Every verse of the Veda describes the Totality, but in terms of the knower, the known and the connection between them, so I have given my teams a three-in-one structure. Totality at every point.” Wim’s oncologist would call me with updates. She was Japanese and spoke Brazilian, but in her limited English managed to convey that he was physically slipping. Unlike her other terminal patients who appear to have the life drained from them, Wim’s face appeared to her aglow with light. “He is accomplishing engineering miracles,” she marveled, “with a brain full of metastases. He looks more alive than the healthiest man. Some days it seems he’s becoming a saint.”
Wim delighted in finding smaller than the smallest in the same place with greater than the greatest; perhaps the reason for his success was that he consciously integrated this principle into his brain functioning and his work, bringing infinity into the world of boundaries, whether it was a bridge or a team of engineers. I call this living immortality in daily life, because even though we may appear to be just so much flesh, from the perspective of a quantum physicist, even our very physicality, the subatomic particles, and from there our atoms, molecules, tissues and organs, are all the expressions of an underlying, infinite, and immortal unified field.
At the end of his teaching, Death tells Nachiketaas, “When all the knots of the heart are disentangled in this lifetime, a mortal becomes immortal. This much alone is the essence of my instruction.” We all have our knots, the twists and kinks in our brain’s neurons from over- or underutilization of our senses, emotions and intellect; the excessive avidity of our neurons’ receptors in the brain’s pleasure-reward pathways for neurotransmitters caused by taking too much, or maybe too little, of a good thing; or the reef knots from the traumas of daily living. All these create boundaries in our brain’s functioning: stresses, hang-ups, blockages, demons — call them what you like. Boundaries literally bind us and prevent us from living in the world of the unbounded that is the very nature of the world of our seemingly finite physiology.
I like to believe that Wim freed most of his knots through his intensive spiritual practice, his intense pursuit of pure knowledge, and the conscious application of his practice and knowledge to every aspect of daily life. Even if Death arrives at your door to instruct you, unlike a travel guide, you will never know the details of the glories of what awaits you on the other side until you finally arrive. This mystery is the most profound of all miracles. You can, however, know all about infinity in this lifetime and live immortality in daily life.
Katha Upanishad. In Eight Upanishads with the commentary of Shankaracharya. Translated by Swami Gambhirananda. Advaita Asharama. Calcutta, 1957
Jay Glaser, MD is a board-certified internist with a practice in central Massachusetts. You can learn more about Vedic medicine at his web site, http://www.AyurvedaMed.com.