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Thoughts On No Death Or Immorality In Hinduism

The survival instinct is the basic instinct of all living creatures. None wants to die and none can imagine oneself as non-existent. Ever since the dawn of history, humankind has been struggling to find ways and means of becoming immortal, through some sort of elixir of life, ambrosia or amrita. Such attempts have been depicted in the mythologies of all countries and cultures. In Hinduism, for example, there are stories of asuras or demons, like Hiranyakashipu and Ravana, who performed severe austerities to get the boon of immortality, but ultimately landed up with choosing only the conditions for their deaths.

Yet, in Indian mythology, there is a mention of eight persons who are chiranjeevis, those who are ever living, in their original bodies. They are Ashwatthama, Bali, Vyasa, Hanuman, Vibhishana, Kripacharya, Parashurama, and Markandeya. And it is said that one who remembers these eight eternal beings daily will live for a hundred years without disease.

However, an eternal life, an ability to live without the shadow of death, need not be an unadulterated boon. Of the eight persons mentioned above, it is believed that Ashwathama is still living with a painful open wound on his forehead which emits a foul smell. Alas, poor Ashwatthama, being one of the immortals, cannot die! Death, the great deliverer, is denied to him, and he is cursed to everlasting pain and suffering.

Excerpts from article titled ‘Life Enhancement’ by Swami Brahmeshananda in Prabuddha Bharata Magazine April 2006 issue.