3.3 The Unresolved Riddle Called Life


More than five decades of experiments in the most sophisticated labs has not been able to produce a single building block of life from its material substrates. We know the processes of life but not life itself. We know that something turns the genetic clock and unwinds its cryptic code into a decipherable script of life and its many moods and colours. But we do not know what force or substance does this magic of translating the language of genes into a conscious breathing frame. So rare is the probability of life evolving out of matter that the man who discovered the genetic code could not accept that it is possible at all for life to evolve out of matter upon earth. Being an atheist, he theorised that life must have been seeded upon earth from some other planet by aliens! Not that one has to be a believer in God to believe that there exists an aspect of consciousness that manifests itself as life in matter. Like the mind this force or power of consciousness uses material instruments to express itself. These instruments are not the generators of life but simply means to receive and circulate the life-force through matter. Matter draws life energy through the breath and circulates it through the body by means of blood. When this life energy withdraws, the person dies even if we keep the breath and circulation going by artificial means. So long as the subtle link between the physical body and the vital body of life remains, there can be a return of life into a body that had stopped functioning but not when the force of life has withdrawn or the connection cut off. Yet, an excessive preoccupation and consequent conditioning with material energy has been so evident in the last century that we assume there is no other form of substance, energy or power than physical matter. The only body we know is our physical body and any mention of life brings to our mind the notion of embodied life and its processes in living matter. A belief in the existence of life beyond matter is suspected to be a kind of return to the old ‘vital magnetism theories’ which science has already discarded. Discarded yes, but disproved?

Science has been passing through a phase of exploring matter and hence had closed its eyes to everything else. But now that it has dived deep into matter and sounded its limits, it can more readily turn to understand and accept the independence (as well as the interdependence) of life energy, mind energy and spiritual energy. Yogic experience indeed affirms that we have not just one body but two or three or four and more bodies composed of a different quality and vibrational intensity of matter. The physical matter is the densest of these and therefore least responsive to the subtler forces of other domains. Between our denser and less opaque physical matter and the subtler and etheric mental and spiritual substance lies the intermediary range of life force or vital substance. It is more fluid and plastic, capable of a greater degree of interpenetration. This vital body has a direct bearing upon our health and illness. A strong vitality is a great preventive against many an illness despite the excesses! A weak vital force in contrast creates a climate of diseases. A holistic approach to prevention of illnesses should therefore include knowledge of the ways and means of strengthening and reinforcing this vital envelope in us. Its perfect mastery would teach us how to prolong youth, and delay death and disintegration.

In everyday life also, two men with identical bodies and an identical genetic make-up may vary greatly in their dynamism, output capacities, creativity and vision, character and temperament. In identical twins too, the differences cannot be simply wished away by environmental difference! All bodies utilise oxygen through the Krebs cycle, yet there is an enormous difference in people, too striking to be explained away by chance or the multifactorial theory. Why are Buddha, Napoleon and Einstein different? This chance difference may be the influx from other planes of consciousness, which can alter the balance of our genetic and material destiny. The material body can be said to be like a flying strip for a wide range of aircrafts, which different pilots can use. The physical body can be seen as the ‘hardware’, which can accommodate a wide range of ‘software’, programmes which the user or ‘skinware’ may choose. Thus soul, mind and life act through the body but are not confined to it. They spill over beyond the boundaries of our physical body. Our thoughts can reach out to another beyond the confines of our material body even as we can receive others thoughts (telepathy). Our emotions can touch and influence others even at a distance. Our desires begin to circulate in the world to find the means for fulfilment.

Modern science, unable to let go of its strict material determinisms and methods, often isolates itself rigidly and refuses to see and understand any other force than the physical. And because it closes its eyes, it is unable to fully utilise the powers of Nature hidden within us. It stubbornly discards auras and their photography as mere humbug; it denies the evidence of homoeopathy; and refuses to acknowledge that prayer and Grace can help, heal and cure. This happens because these phenomena contradict the comfortable cocoon of our customary theories based on a material origin of life. But Nature has many more secrets and treasures than our science can dream of. One such power is ‘Life’.


The Life-Energy

This ‘life-energy’ can be likened to a horse. It is known as prana in India, and chi in China or Japan. But like Mind, Life also has different levels. In fact the ancient seers speak of a fivefold movement of prana, which can be likened to five forms of corresponding activities in which the life-force engages itself in man. These can be roughly divided into the following:

  • The life-force or prana involved in the most material processes such as the activities required for the preservation of the physical body, its functioning including reproduction through which the seed and force of life no less than the genes extend into another body.
  • The prana involved in the pursuit of obscure desires and activities linked to the physical preservation, such as fear, rage, lust etc. This movement of prana is closely linked to physical states and, therefore, there is a strong interdependence upon it.
  • The prana that expands and extends itself to unconquered territories of human life in the form of ambition, achievement, possession, etc.
  • The prana that becomes somewhat more refined and subtle and takes the form of movements of emotional bondage, courage that is full of sacrifice, attachment, etc.
  • The prana that goes into the power of thought and creative expression and at its highest can help the mind climb to spiritual summits.

Quite naturally, the lower movements of prana are largely dependent upon the physical condition and are easily altered by it while the higher movements can override the physical and can exist independent of it. Of course the lines of demarcation in our being are not watertight and there is clear fluidity in our being that always creates a certain degree of dependence of the higher on the lower, and which also has a therapeutic use, a possibility of influencing the lower by the higher. The higher is stronger yet younger in the evolutionary process. Therefore, the lower movements have an initial strong hold upon the human consciousness. Yet as a man develops in the scale, the balance is reversed and therefore newer possibilities of manipulating our bodies open up.

It is also important to note that the prana has a triple linkage as an energy feeder. First, it is the source of energy to the body. Second, it is linked to the mind and also provides energy to the thought. Third, the prana is closely linked to the subtle cosmic energies especially through the nervous system. This link provides for a two-way flow of prana at least in principle and in possibility even though habitually we still use it the way animals do, that is receive the vital energy through physical means or even directly from physical Nature. But we can and in fact do also receive energy from higher regions of thought as well as from subtle realms of existence. Picture a man becoming forgetful of food while he is absorbed in intense mental activity of a higher and creative nature. The other thing to understand here is that prana is locked in matter and this energy is released through metabolism as the vital force eats up the material substance even as it builds it through anabolic processes. A disturbance of this balance is one of the most common causes of disease. If the fuel is eaten up more readily due to either a wrong utilisation of vital energy or an inability to conserve it, the physical organs suffer depletion and fall ill. Equally there may be a subtle force in the vital atmosphere of man that can eat away the body and/or deplete the prana and cause the person to fall ill. Certain associations, especially where there is a close and intimate physical contact, may be a source of much problem and even illness. On the other hand, some people are natural givers of life-energy, full of good cheer and hope and generosity. They can facilitate a cure much more readily. These are subtle truths of our multidimensional existence that we are yet to explore or rather rediscover.

The operation of matter and its processes are therefore only one pole where life-energy works. It also works on many other levels, for in essence it is force and power, material force, force of anger, force of ambition and lust, force of love, force of thought and intelligence and, at its highest in the most developed type of humanity, it is released and realised as a force of the spirit. This knowledge opens new doors of perception and understanding, with profound practical implications. This life-energy, if left wild and untamed, destroys. If properly guided and trained, it can be harnessed profitably. Man habitually operates more at the level of thought and so becomes conscious only of mental perception. Life, being anterior to thought and infra-rational in its working, is felt only when it reaches a strong intensity of vibrations or is given a mental form through thought. Most of us are unaware of the vibrations of fear, anger, lust, greed, ambition or even desire, unless too strong to be ignored. Yet, they are there, operating below the level of ‘our’ conscious awareness. These vital vibrations can also create a physical sensation around the abdomen and chest extending below into the legs when they seize our nerves and twist our muscles and organs in unhealthy patterns.


The Seeds and Roots of Illness

Many illnesses are simply results of an imbalance in the flow of life energy. Take desire, for example. A little bit of desire stimulates the organs but as it grows, it begins to irritate them, leading to one form of excess (and consequent imbalance) or another. Desire can lead to exhaustion by impelling the individual to throw out life force into wrong channels of action and sensation, cut off from the universal whole. It creates a ‘catabolic’ stimulation, to use a medical term. The imbalance created by desire is because it cuts us from the whole. The separate person becomes excessively important (if not exclusively important, though that too is common enough). The result is we lose our Gestalt, the harmony of the whole through which our individual existence derives value and strength. So a deeper understanding of life sees desire as the seed of death. Desire creates an atmosphere of deviant pleasure, which brings a host of negative and harmful influences in its wake. Fear (of losing objects we desire), anger (on not getting what we desire), anxiety (for desired things) and very obviously lust (desire for possession) and greed (desire for more and more) are forces that are natural offspring of desire. On tackling desire, the rest wear off.

This may sound so contrary to modern thinking where we acknowledge desire as the very reason of living. Our modern civilisation, built on desire as the lever, has resulted in various social pathologies and stress-related disorders. Yet, try telling a medical man, conditioned with microbes and immunity, that ‘desire’ (and its allies ‘fear’ and ‘anger’) is the single largest killer! In fact much of behaviourism is about a human being been driven by desires. While this may be true of a large majority of humanity, it is not the sole possibility or driving force of human action. A future psychology needs to acknowledge and admit selfless action, wilful sacrifice, and action done for a larger good of all beings, even at one’s own expense, as legitimate motivating forces in human nature. However rare they may now be, they are yet the future of humanity, for a civilization based solely on the satisfaction of desire is foredoomed to failure sooner or later. History bears this out in the lost glories of Atlantis, Lemur, Lanka and Rome. In fact it is the first obscure attempt to recover the lost oneness that is instinct in humanity. But its means are counterproductive for it devours and destroys that with which it unites. And since it works on the basis of separating one unit from another therefore it misses the total harmony of life. No wonder when an organ is overused under the pressure of desires, it cuts itself from the whole and thereby derails itself and falls sick.


Words of Caution

“All Matter according to the Upanishad is food, and this is the formula of the material world that “the eater eating is himself eaten”. The life organized in the body is constantly exposed to the possibility of being broken up by the attack of the life external to it or, its devouring capacity being insufficient or not properly served or there being no right balance between the capacity of devouring and the capacity or necessity of providing food for the life outside, it is unable to protect itself and is devoured or is unable to renew itself and therefore wasted away or broken; it has to go through the process of death for a new construction or renewal.

Not only so but, again in the language of the Upanishad, the life-force is the food of the body and the body the food of the life-force; in other words, the life-energy in us both supplies the material by which the form is built up and constantly maintained and renewed and is at the same time constantly using up the substantial form of itself which it thus creates and keeps in existence. If the balance between these two operations is imperfect or is disturbed or if the ordered play of the different currents of life-force is thrown out of gear, then disease and decay intervene and commence the process of disintegration.

And the very struggle for conscious mastery and even the growth of mind make the maintenance of the life more difficult.

For there is an increasing demand of the life-energy on the form, a demand which is in excess of the original system of supply and disturbs the original balance of supply and demand, and before a new balance can be established, many disorders are introduced inimical to the harmony and to the length of maintenance of the life; in addition the attempt at mastery creates always a corresponding reaction in the environment which is full of forces that also desire fulfilment and are therefore intolerant of, revolt against and attack the existence which seeks to master them. There too a balance is disturbed, a more intense struggle is generated; however strong the mastering life, unless either it is unlimited or else succeeds in establishing a new harmony with its environment, it cannot always resist and triumph but must one day be overcome and disintegrated.” [1]

This profound truth is evident from microbes to malignancy. It is also evident in social pathologies where one group strives to eliminate another and in the end both get eliminated! To cut off from the truth of the Whole and of Oneness is the secret origin of diseases. To re-establish this lost harmony and recover the sense of the whole is the radical way to a lasting immunity and cure. No wonder that the races in harmony with their environment are less prone to illness despite every possible exposure. It is only when these are corrupted in their thought by the half-lit ignorance of modern man that they lose their innate balance and begin to pay the price of being civilized by an increase of individual and collective, physical and social pathologies. Modern man has lost this natural oneness we see instinctively present in the animal world. This has happened due to the extreme development of the mind that is essentially a force of division and works on the principle of separativeness. And also because the very advent of mind creates an additional demand upon the vital energies, it disturbs the balance and a new balance has to be established again. That is one reason why we are more predisposed to illnesses during certain developmental stages of our life. Well, what has been thus lost has to be regained, but not by falling below the mind to the animal spontaneity but by rising above the mind to a higher and conscious oneness and spiritual spontaneity. Mind, division, ego, desire are only intermediary terms of the great journey of life. Disease intervenes to show us the inadequacy of this way of living. Harmony and oneness are the future wherein disease will become impossible because the architecture and pattern of individual life will no more be grossly disturbed in relation to the whole. Till we arrive at that oneness even at the very physical level, the secret of lasting health may well lie in a balanced lifestyle wherein each part is given its just place in relation to the individual whole and each individual lives in a cooperative existence with the life around itself.


The Climate of Illness

If the physical constitution can be seen as the soil, the psychological constitution can be regarded as the atmosphere that helps or hinders the illnesses from taking root. This psychological atmosphere is created not only by our thoughts but even more so by the forces of life that emanate from us. Thus, forces born from the basic principle of division and desire such as fear, anxiety, greed, jealousy, depression, doubt, ambition, etc. pollute our psychological atmosphere in which our sense and power of harmony gets stifled and asphyxiated. In contrast, the forces born from a sense of unity such as trust, faith, love, harmony, peace, kindness, cheerfulness, etc. are like a breath of fresh air that rejuvenate life and defeat the battalion of death and illnesses. To the man endowed with a capacity for occult vision, this psychological atmosphere actually appears as a protective shield enveloping the body as a subtle aura. The ‘genuine’ Reiki healer can see the gaps and plug and reinforce this envelope by supplying a healthy current of life from outside. Quite evidently this is neither a lasting or true solution since the individual’s psychological being will continue to undo it again by emanating the same forces of illness from within. Reiki and similar methods are also at best temporary stop-gaps, a moment’s respite to gather ourselves and not a final cure. If the inner factory of desires continues to pollute our thoughts and bodies and atmosphere, then no amount of cleaning will eventually help. The real house cleaning has to be done within by tackling the roots of illness from where spring the shoots of fear, grief, suffering and pain. This is only possible by radically altering the motives, aim and direction of our life force, by conserving rather than wasting it on desires, by sublimating it to higher and wider goals rather than letting it move in the narrow and polluted circle of petty gains and small inner aims.

Of course, the roots go still deeper and illnesses can become patterns that go into our subconscient parts and get thrown up from there again and again. And due to the stronghold of the subconscious upon the physical there is a tendency for illnesses to return but that is a subject to which we can turn later.


The Science of Subtle Prevention

The significance of this protective aura or subtle envelope, though not yet recognised by modern medicine, is an important factor in the trilogy of agent-host-environment. The environment may not only be physical but also psychological. A good, cheerful psychological disposition can easily override the deficiencies of our physical environment, as is being increasingly acknowledged today. The tribal may live in physically poor surroundings yet have amazing resistance to diseases. They have less fear and fewer desires and a less anxiety-laden mind due to an acceptance of life and events as the will of God. The same truth is seen in epidemics, where the crucial factor deciding who will succumb, recover or remain unaffected is medically inexplicable. It is, however, now recognised that our psychological state influences immunity. Depression depresses the immune response, faith stimulates it. The subtle reason behind this is that depression, fear, anxiety, greed, etc. create holes in our auras by depleting and draining energy. In contrast, cheerfulness, optimism, goodwill, generosity, calm and gladness, all reinforce the aura and prevent the entry of the forces of illness.

Again just as the host and environment are not only physical but also psychological, so too the ‘agent’ is not just a physical entity (a germ or microbe) but also a psychological force, a distorted energy and will of disorder, an adverse formation that enters through the subtle envelope. It is only when this line of defence is breached that the ‘vibration’ of illness settles into the physical body and makes it ill. So fear, anxiety and depression attract forces of disorder, whereas trust, peace, joy and cheerfulness provide a sort of security and a psycho-physical immunity against illness.

Another important issue in point here is that the force of life is less bound by the body than the physical forces. Therefore, it easily lends itself to an interchange with other psychological forces and atmospheres around us. Some people who are essentially ‘givers’ reinforce and strengthen this aura and thereby prevent illness in others and help us recover faster. Others, who are primarily ‘takers’ pull our life energy and deplete us. This would explain many disconcerting things about the effects of our social interactions on health and illnesses. Since every social interaction is also an inadvertent interchange of the forces of life, it has a bearing not only upon our minds but also upon our body and physical well-being. Its implications for the paramedical staff are obvious since the atmosphere of the healer and the healed also influence each other in a positive or negative way. It would explain the difference between results of two doctors practicing the same system. It would also explain why the mere company of a saint or the effect of a place charged with positivity could be therapeutic, at times even verging upon the miraculous. For in reality there are no miracles but only subtle and subtler processes waiting for their hour of discovery.


The Yogi’s Vision of Illness

“To whatever cause an illness may be due, material or mental, external or internal, it must, before it can affect the physical body, touch another layer of the being that surrounds and protects it. This subtler layer is called in different teachings by various names, — the etheric body, the nervous envelope. It is a subtle body and yet almost visible. In density something like the vibrations that you see around a very hot and steaming object, it emanates from the physical body and closely covers it. All communications with the exterior world are made through this medium, and it is this that must be invaded and penetrated first before the body can be affected. If this envelope is absolutely strong and intact, you can go into places infested with the worst of diseases, even plague and cholera, and remain quite immune.

It is a perfect protection against all possible attacks of illness, so long as it is whole and entire, thoroughly consistent in its composition, its elements in faultless balance. This body is built up, on the one side, of a material basis, but rather of material conditions than of physical matter, on the other, of the vibrations of our psychological states. Peace and equanimity and confidence, faith in health, undisturbed repose and cheerfulness and bright gladness constitute this element in it and give it strength and substance. It is a very sensitive medium with facile and quick reactions; it readily takes in all kinds of suggestions and these can rapidly change and almost remould its condition. A bad suggestion acts very strongly upon it; a good suggestion operates in the contrary sense with the same force. Depression and discouragement have a very adverse effect; they cut out holes in it, as it were, in its very stuff, render it weak and unresisting and open to hostile attacks an easy passage.” [2]

A whole new world of understanding dawns if we admit with humility the knowledge of ancient seers to the knowledge of the scientist. There are worlds and forces, energies and substance beyond our material world. There are modes of perception and knowing that are more direct and essential than that of sense observation and deductive analysis. In fact our mind (strongly conditioned by modern education that stubbornly refuses to admit anything more than the physical) fail to perceive and register a whole range of phenomena that can greatly enhance our understanding. Faith and suggestion work both ways. Science often condemns inner knowledge as being a product of suggestibility and superstitious belief. But its own knowledge is conditioned by the suggestion and belief that there is no other reality than a material one! The ‘nervous envelope’ or ‘aura’ is perceived by all of us, for example, in the shock of a vehicle almost brushing past us. Though it has not touched us physically, yet the sensation is palpable. The aura and its effects are not only confined to humans but to the animal and the inanimate world as well. It is this knowledge that has been traditionally used in certain ancient systems to effect a cure by charging a material substance such as a flower or an amulet by a distinguished occultist or a genuine yogi. Of course these things may be misused by some just as medical knowledge can be misused. There are quacks in every field but their presence does not negate the authenticity of a rare knowledge and phenomenon. If anything it only points indiscreetly to the existence of a possibility that is being misused by a quack!


A New Basis of Social Psychology

This subtle envelope and its composition is also one of the reasons for our affinity towards some people and repulsion to others (there are other reasons too). The personal protective envelope is like a blueprint with our psychological address attracting those who want to reach out to us. Generally speaking (not as a rule though) we feel attracted to people who reinforce our nervous envelope; those who disturb or hurt it repel us. This subtle interchange is a constant phenomenon and opens doors to a new kind of social psychology. The sense of peace, strength, lightness and comfort people feel when they visit a saint or a place with such a centre is not just an imagination or suggestibility of the gullible. There is a subtle, almost material basis to it, explaining many cases of cure and protection against illness. Millions of people overcome their grief, loss and depression without visiting a psychiatrist but by simply reading the Gita, Bible or a work embodying vibrations of peace, harmony and strength. The knowledge of material processes does not invalidate the knowledge of subtler forces and processes just as the laws of Einstein and the quantum world do not invalidate the propositions of Newton and our linear world. Each is valid in its own plane and even complements each other!

[1] Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter XX, p. 204

[2] The Mother, Questions and Answers 1929 – 1931, 16 June 1929