When the number of breaths of a soul in a body are fixed, how can a purpose-driven attitude increase longevity?
This question is based on this statement from the article “After the laughter”:
“He reports how the inmates who couldn’t find any meaning or purpose to their sufferings succumbed much earlier than their biological capacity to endure. In contrast, those who could find meaning and purpose were able to survive much longer and eventually emerged stronger through their harrowing experiences.”
Transcription by– VandanaGoel and Keshav Gopal Das
Question-In your article ‘The suicide of Robin Williams’ you mentioned that having a purpose driven attitude to life have shown to increase the longevity of people as you mentioned VictorFrankyl’s book. But then we know that numbers of breaths are fixed, so can the life span actually be lengthened bycertain attitude or does it mean that they were meant to die earlier than what was biologically expected then they died at the right time only? They did not either decrease or extend the life span.
Answer– We should not confuse philosophical principles that are given for us to make right choices and stick to the path of Dharma. We should not mistake those philosophical principles as a call for passivity or neglect of one’s duty. What I mean by this is as far as longevity is concerned if certain choices, certain actions can promote our health and can help us to live longer then we should choose them. In fact Krishna Himself talks about this in the seventeenth chapter where he talks about food in the mode of goodness, he says-
āyuḥ-sattva-balārogya- sukha-prīti-vivardhanāḥ rasyāḥsnigdhāḥsthirāhṛdyā āhārāḥsāttvika-priyāḥ (BG 17.8)So vivardhana means to increase.Firstly Krishna says is by eating food in the mode of goodness the ayuh the life span increase. Now if the life span is fixed than how can the life span increase? But Krishna Himself is telling that by choosing the food in the mode of goodness the life span will increase. The overall message of the seventeenth chapter is that one should live in goodness as a platform for attaining transcendence. That means one should also eat the food in mode of goodness as an inducement for eating food in mode of goodness, one of the advantage is that one can increase his life span. One way of reconciling is to say that if we cultivate the mode of goodness naturally we will not be so passionate. That will be expressed in a way of our breathing frequency. We will not breathe so fast as happens when we become passionate, we will breathe slower. And if our breath slows down then without our number of breaths being changed we will be able to live longer as Krishna is telling but the key point is that ultimately right now when we are living we don’t know how long we are going to live. We don’t know how many breaths we are going to have. And it’s our responsibility to take care of the body that Krishna has given us because shariram dharma sadhanam.
That the body should be seen as a means for dharma.Without body we cannot pursue dharma, we have to take care of our body. If certain foods, certain attitudes can enhance our life span then why not follow? Similarly if one is cultivating a purpose drivenattitude towards one’s life that also will bring more close to goodness and that can even possibly decrease one’s breathing speed and therefore increase one’s life span but the important thing is we don’t know right now. So what is important for us is that we should make healthy choices.
Bhagwatam tenth canto Vasudev tells Kamsa that deathis inevitable and imminent. Death is going to come so even if you kill Devaki still death is destined it will come. You will not be able to avoid destiny. Therefore why kill Devaki and do bad karma? Now Vasudev doesn’t turn around and take the logic and say Devaki’s death is also inevitable. If she is going to die she is going to die. Why I am bothering so much trying to check Kamsa? Let himkillDevaki. Why does not he think like that? Because the whole purpose of the Vedic culture is not to become fatalistic; fatalistic means becoming irresponsible in the name thateverything is destined. Vedic culture is not destiny centered it is duty centered. Duty centered means that the focus is on doing our duty properly. The whole philosophy is meant to enhance us to do our duty. Our duty is to serve Krishna, to protect the facilities which are given to us for serving Krishna, and one such facility is the body. For Vasudev as the king, as a husband, is also responsible to protect thecitizen and also his wife. So he was doing his duty. For Kamsa to kill his own sister was gross violation of his duty and that’s why tocheck him from doing that he reminds him of destiny. So overall, if we find out from modern medical science, or from Vedic science like Ayurveda, that such and such things, foods, attitudes can increase life span, then if choosing that is not making us violate any principle, then choosing that is good, because you will have longer time to purify ourselves and render service in this world with this body.
So the two principles are not contradictory, the reconciliation is that goodness can slow down our breath and the number of breath will not change. More importantly, because we do not know how many breaths we have, we should not focus on how many breaths I have but focus on what I do with the breaths I have. Am I making the best choices with whatever breaths I have? Am I doing my duties? Am I creating a facility for myself by which I can keep doing my duties properly? Srila Prabhupada in a letter tells a devotee that if you do not take care of your health now, then in the future even if you are enthusiastic to serve Krishna then you will not be able to serve. Therefore, please take care of your health.