Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Dreaded Four Ds


The body being a structure, an object, is subjected to impermanence and decay. In addition to the gradual weathering (aging, as discussed), a body suffers damages suddenly due to various agencies and reasons. The harm can come from external agents such as microbes or from internal causes such as organ failures or from mental influences such as stress and anxiety.

These days it is easy to cure the diseases caused by external agencies, because of their purely physical nature. There is a good understanding about the nature of microbes and medicines that kill them. Still people die from pathogenic infections in millions. The reasons are social and Egoic, not a lack of knowledge and resources. Anyhow the progress in this regard is extraordinary, when you compare the situation today with ancient days, when an infection meant a certain death. The body has built in defences against microbes, else it wouldn't survive for even one day, but sometimes the pathogens find a way in. Needless to say that it is of prime importance to keep this immune system in good shape, all one needs to do is not to damage it intentionally. One can damage it by the means of substance abuse or a shabby and unhygienic lifestyle or by maintaining too much cleanliness. By too much cleanliness, I mean the indiscriminate use of chemicals that kill microbes inside or outside the body. Immune system constantly needs stimulants in order to maintain its defences, and in the absence of any microbes it becomes inactive. So a good rule of thumb is to avoid dirty surroundings, stale food, harmful substances and operation theater quality cleanliness.

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The internal kind are relatively difficult to cure or prevent and usually become a ticket out of this world. Organ failures such as that of heart, liver, kidney or lungs and failures at cellular level such as cancer and endocrinal diseases are some examples of the internal afflictions. The causes can be varied and sometimes no apparent cause can be found, the body stuff just breaks down. A common cause is unhealthy lifestyle - too much eating, too much alcohol, fat, sugars and oils, little or no exercise and substance abuse. All these contribute towards breakdown of organs and if the organ is weak, it fails. Some people are resilient and remain healthy in spite of a bad lifestyle, but these should not become a role model for the rest of us. Prevention is better than cure, but if one is afflicted, a huge change in lifestyle is needed. A disease can limit human experience severely, and usually there is no option but to lessen the pain. Note that even with discomfort and pain, suffering is optional and one need not suffer if one is aware and in knowing. Just do whatever needs to be done and make use of the remaining time in the body, which would be short.

Due to its proximity to the body, the mind exerts a great influence on it and can sometimes make it sick. Too much fear, anger, hate, stress or anxiety can affect the body. The direct influences are that certain organs are made to work very hard (such as the heart) or certain chemicals are secreted in unnatural amounts or the immune system is thrown into confusion and chaos, which makes it easy for infections to enter the body. Apart from that the mind affects the body in mysterious ways. One can experience this directly. Simply read about a disease with full concentration and seriousness and soon you will sense the presence of those symptoms in your own body [1]. Sometimes a mere suggestion is enough [2] and the disease appears in its full reality. Of course, the reverse is also true, a suggestion or a dummy medicine taken with a strong intention to be cured, cures a disease [3]. Knowing this peculiar effect of the mind on the body, a wise person keeps his mind free of negativity. In general, if your Mind is free from all the afflictions we discussed in this blog, the chances of being afflicted with bodily diseases go down. If a bad mind can cause disease, a good mind can prevent or cure them, simply put.

Since the body is only an appearance, means other than physical or mental can be used to heal it. The body is a continuation of the Mind, an extension, and therefore it is not very surprising that the Mind can affect it. The trick is to learn how to affect it the way we desire. Here we enter the non-physical dimensions and since for most of us, this sort of thing is not a direct experience, we will not go there for now.


Diseases, accidents, birth defects and violent acts can cause deformities in a body. These range from absence of teeth to absence of limbs. Deformities result in ugliness of the body and that adds to the suffering caused by the deformity itself. One not only suffers from the discomfort but also from the inferiority complex and depression as a result. Fortunately, most of the time a deformity won’t cause death and some means can be used in order to function more or less normally. It still limits one’s experience, but the suffering is still optional. One need not suffer by thinking constantly about what one cannot do with a deformed body, one needs to be happy and content with what one can still do. If you can't do X, find Y. One need not demand acceptance of others, but accept oneself and know why others behave the way they do. This will prevent the extra suffering caused by social tendencies of others.


Disabilities can range from restrictive movements to dysfunction of senses such as blindness or deafness. I made a distinction between deformity and disability, a deformity is surely a disability, but I'm using the term here to denote an affliction that does not include a gross deformity or damage. Disabilities can still very much limit human experience and same tricks mentioned above in the case of deformity can be applied to do your best even with disabilities. Usually, the disabilities increase with age, especially the mental disabilities. Perhaps there are some tricks and books out there that may help in dealing with a weak brain, but I cannot offer any tips here. Know that the brain will start breaking sooner or later, however, the ability to remain aware should carry you through this difficult time to the other side. Be aware that the memory will not function, logical ability will break down, muscular coordination will degrade and so on and so forth. This will be a time to retire, relax and reflect, instead of suffering and resisting the inevitable. Instead of harbouring anger and frustration over the disabilities, utilize your abilities. Think of what you can do instead of what you cannot. If you spend your life or old age fretting on disabilities, it will be just a waste of it all. Know this and carry on. A disability doesn’t mean no life, it only means a different life.

Its only a matter of time, science will conquer most of the diseases, fix all deformities and restore all abilities of the disabled. Perhaps even more, like extra abilities will be added to the already extensive treasure of human abilities. Till that happens, one should manage these afflictions with whatever means currently available. Even if you are able to completely avoid suffering, it is still desirable to restore or improve the functionality of the body.

Why do I keep saying that the suffering is optional, is that some kind of a sick joke? The Self is incapable of pain and suffering, the pain is just physical signals, a sensory object and the suffering is a state of the Mind. The Self merely witnesses it all. Of course the pain and suffering coming from the body is not fun, but you suffer only when you identify with the body or Ego, the "poor me" who is suffering. Cutting this identification cuts down the suffering. Abide as Self. It will not magically cure the disease or make your pain disappear instantly, it just relieves you from the additional burden of suffering. When you are not busy in a state of suffering, you are free, your Mind works better and you arrive at a cure faster. Not only that, you learn to avoid making the mistakes in future that lead you to the disease. Being in awareness also helps to observe the impermanent nature of the body and helps to get rid of the attachment to it. One can turn a discomfort into a stepping stone towards ones goal.


Well, its not an affliction to be exact. It marks the termination of the human experience. Once a body breaks down completely, the life processes come to a grinding halt. All systems shut down. The cells stop dividing and starve to death. A death is thus not one but trillions of deaths, depending on where you look. The dead matter is soon invaded by surrounding microbial life and other creatures and is converted to manure, ready to be recycled into other bodies of plants and animals. The body comes from dirt and goes back to dirt.

We encounter an age old question here - why is there death? Why isn't everyone immortal? A simple answer is - impermanence, everything changes and is destroyed. This is by necessity, else there would be no change, and no birth too, to start with. Fortunately, there is no physical law that prevents preservation of the body for long durations, so in theory it is possible to achieve very long life spans, thousands of years long. All you need to do is continuously and accurately maintain cellular regeneration. If you look closely, the cells themselves are immortal, some cells such as cancer cells refuse to die. The natural death of the body is an outcome of death of the cells. Cells die because of programed death, errors in DNA replication and accumulation of toxins. At least that’s what is known till date. Basically these are the same reasons as those for aging, if you recall. So the death, natural death to be precise, starts early, we die a little everyday, until one day the body gives up totally. But it is possible to minimize or delay these defects and hence very long lives can be achieved.

In fact we intend to preserve the person, the identity, not the body. The body changes every second anyway, its not a great disappointment if it is destroyed, only if the personality remains intact. This can be achieved by getting a new body for the personality, e.g. by transplant of the whole head of an old person on a young torso. Repeat when the new body also degrades and a person can live for a long time till the original brain decays away. In fact, one needs to transplant only the brain areas responsible for identity and memories. To make it even simpler, one can discard most of the memories and can also allow some loss of the identity, since one forgets most of the stuff anyway and the personality is ever changing. So one can expect that after an approx. transplant, the person would still retain most of his old self in a brand new body. Moreover only the neuronal patterns need to be transferred to a new brain, not the original tissue. So the life can be extended indefinitely in this way.

The continuity of the experience of identity is important, not the absolute -ness or exactness of it. Even the substrate is not important and one can transfer his identity into inorganic substrates, such as a neuromorphic computer [4], instead of a brain. One can either have a robotic body or can opt for no body and experience a disembodied existence. One can also have a virtual body, an avatar in a virtual world. All this should be possible in future with scientific advances. Of course, this theory assumes that the personality or memory is dependent mostly on purely physical neuronal patterns. What happens to the Self or the Consciousness? I guess, since the Self is independent of bodies and identities, one would still report the exact same Self as before. Note that it all happens on the screen of Self anyway and therefore the one and only Self shines through all identities and bodies. How will you know this? There is probably no way for the Mind to know this directly. However one can infer from experiments and transfer of personalities into different bodies or substrates is one such experiment. If the person reports no difference in his old experience of the Self and new one, then it will become evident (at least for that person) that the Self remained exactly the same before and after. Of course this is a brute force method, there are more elegant ways to infer the unity or universality of the Self.

Perhaps science will achieve the long desired goal of immortality in due course, but what are the consequences of playing with natural order? Population explosion, cut throat competition for limited resources - food and land, eternal rule of an immortal tyrant, immortality divide - where only the filthy rich are allowed to undergo immortality treatment and the peasants are left to die. We can think of all sorts of troubles the death of death can bring. However there can be some benefits, the main is elimination of fear of death which is currently causing a lot of suffering for many. There would be no murders, as it would be possible to revive anyone from a backup of his memory or brain structures. The furious run to hoard stuff and need to have as many pleasures as possible before death would disappear (hopefully). There would be no need to suffer from diseases or disabilities, as one can simply switch to a brand new healthy body and throw away the defective one. The body would become a commodity, one can change it just for fun or one can switch to a male/female/child body if that experience is desired. There would be no destruction of knowledge with passing of the person holding that knowledge. Thousands of years would be available to gain knowledge and explore. There would be many spin offs such as colonization of distant planets and improvisation of bodies. One need not stick to human form. The implications are many and are being discussed by the experts and futurists at this time [5] [6].

Its all very interesting and exciting, but lets pause the fantasy for a while and come back to the philosophy of death. What does it mean to die and what does it mean to be immortal?

From the point of view of the body, it is a change of physical structures. Taking on a new body will be just another change. So for the body its still as good (or bad) as death. From the point of view of the personality (aka identity) there would be a continuity of change. The personality changes continuously because the experiences of the person constitute his personality, and they change continuously. A person today is not the same as he was yesterday and will not remain the same person after a few years, and will surely become something totally different after few thousand years. The old person will be dead fairly quickly, even though there will be this illusion of continuity because of memory. From the point of view of the Self, its all just a continuous change of experiences. The Self remembers nothing, the impressions are mental structures. The Self doesn’t change, because there is nothing to change into. It’s the same Self before and after death.

So if we look closely, death is a change and so is immortality, there is not much difference. From the point of view of the Self there is no difference anyway. Thus in the grand scheme of things, the death or immortality do not matter much. Its not the duration but the quality of the life which is important. If you lived forever and achieved nothing at all then its a grand waste, nothing else. If you lived a short life and could free yourself, then it was worth. Immortality cannot free anyone, one must take up a path, and that does not necessitate a long life.

If the Self is eternal and you abide in it, then you are already eternal, beyond birth and death. I have a strong intuition that this business of births and deaths (i.e. changes) of bodies and personalities is already going on. We do not know it because of the limitations of the Mind. This sounds like reincarnation, but with an important difference - the reincarnation is not of a person, the reincarnation just is. The Presence takes up new forms and generates new personalities, there is no one there to reincarnate.

We find that we encounter the limits of the Mind and hence limits of knowing when we try to study death. However some interesting inferences can be drawn from direct experiences and reasoning. We will discuss those in the next article.



[1] The Nocebo Effect:

[2] Hypnosis

[3] The Placebo Effect




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