By Rudra Shivananda
There are diverse reasons for seekers to pursue a spiritual path – some are striving for liberation from pain and suffering, others are seeking knowledge of their their true nature and reason for being, and yet others want freedom from death and to achieve immortality. Of course, it may be reasoned that all these goals can converge and are not conflicting with each other. However, the confusion in the minds of seekers over their final objective can impede their progress on the path and also lead to pursuit of illusionary ways and means.
It is taught by the sages that our essential nature is divine and that the pursuit of True Self will lead to the experience of our divinity in the sense of freedom from the limitations that plague the human condition, including that of death. It is a given that immortality is an attribute of divinity. Other attributes include freedom from desires and negativities and universal knowledge and wisdom. We are not talking about attaining to the state of angelic beings who are designated as devas or light beings in the timeless teachings of the ancients. Our True Self is beyond that of these devas who themselves are on the path of realizing themselves.
Although the attainment of our divinity bestows immortality, the path may seem long and arduous to many seekers. Even in the ancient times, there arose diverse paths that focus on the attainment of immortality and freedom from death.
The sages gave their teachings in the Upanshads that focused on the atman or spirit – our True Self. In the Katha Upanishad, the hero Nachiketas refused the gift of physical immortality in order to learn the secret of attainment of liberation into divinity. The theme of the sages is consistent – only the spirit or atman is truly immortal and beyond the karmic bonds of life and death, pain and suffering. Even the long-lived devas have a finite existence – some will last the life of a galaxy while a few till the dissolution of the universe. The theme of spiritual immortality is a central one taught by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. It is the spirit that is beyond death and cannot be harmed by the elements.
As humanity descended into deeper ignorance, there arose a greater longing to evade physical death and prolong a particular life-time. Stories of immortal beings were used as examples of the possibility to attain physical immortality and various means were prescribed, such as the use of magical herbs or chemical compounds made from mercury and sulfur to transform the decayable body. Stories of successful transformations formed the basis for generation upon generation of experimentation. However, such pursuits merely tended to side-track the spiritual student from the path of liberation.
The Naths and Siddhas – upholders of the many yogic paths for thousands of years have been responsible for preserving the teachings of the great masters. However, their writings are often couched in coded and abstruse words to prevent those with impure motives to misuse them. Some of these writings on alchemy are often cited as supporting the path of physical immortality. Indeed, many of the Naths and Siddhas were able to transform their bodies into adamantine or non-decaying nature and lived for many generations in order to do some great work for humanity. However, we need to keep in mind that they all achieved liberation in their life-time before they transformed their bodies – they attained their divinity first.
Indeed, the founder of the Naths, Mahavatar Gorakshanath, has pointed out in his Amanaska Yoga, that in order to attain an immortal body, one must transcend the limitations such as carnality, hunger, thirst, sleep, disease, old age etc. He has also said that the attainment of a vajra-deha or immortal body is only possible when one has attained akhand samadhi or an unbroken and sustained realization of the True Self.
Therefore, one should only aim for divinity – immortality follows divinity and not necessarily the other way around.