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How Old Are You?

Yogis teach that, with every breath, there is a corresponding rising and sinking of energy in spine.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2004 14:07 IST
Swami Kriyananda
Swami Kriyananda

Swami Kriyananda is a direct disciple since 1948 of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi. He is the founder of Ananda Sangha, and of seven Ananda communities in America and Europe. Now 78, he has moved to India to make his Guru’s teachings known in the land of his birth: to teach the liberating meditation technique of Kriya Yoga, and to establish communities where householders and renunciates alike can seek God in the company of fellow devotees.

Logicians for over two thousand years have enjoyed playing with the paradoxes of the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno. In one of his logical conundrums, Zeno proposed that it is not possible to cross a road. He reasoned that one must first go half that distance, then half the remaining distance, then half of the remainder still. No matter how far one goes, he must forever go half the remaining distance before he can complete the journey. One might go on forever, chopping increasingly microscopic distances in half, but never reach the other side!

What Zeno's logic overlooked, of course, is that motion doesn't depend on going from point to point in space: It has a reality of its own. Indeed, motion produces the space it moves in. The points along that journey only give the illusion of being stationary.

One could have fun playing with this concept. Many thinkers have, in the past. Here, however, my point is less abstract and more immediate as regards actual human experience. It is to pose you a simple question: What part, in the vast parabola of time, does one lifetime play in our total existence? The answer is, it is like those real-seeming, but illusory, divisions of Zeno's in the simple act of crossing a road.

Each life, as we live it, seems so real to us in its immediacy. Yet the shastras say that it is illusory. Sri Krishna, in chapter two of the Bhagavad Gita, tells Arjuna that the soul never dies, and is never born. It is eternal.

We know, of course, that we come into our bodies at physical birth, and leave them at death. Krishna says, however, that our birth is no more than the assumption of new clothing for our souls. Death, then, means we merely shed that clothing again.

In light of Zeno's paradox, and of the deeper reality of the soul's constant movement through time, we may say with equal validity that each day is, for us, a new incarnation. With every day we face new challenges, new opportunities to grow and to learn. We can "chop" time further still and say, as some yogis do, that every inhalation is like a new birth; every exhalation, like a new death. (In fact, when we are born our first act is to inhale; when we die, our last act is to exhale.)

We may divide time finer still and say that every fresh thought brings us new life; every fading one, a new death. Yogis teach that, with every breath, there is a corresponding rising and sinking of energy in the spine. This rising and descending accompanies every flicker of desire.

In practical terms, we can use these facts to affirm any wholesome change in our lives. Try it. If you want to change some quality, don't wait for the opportunity afforded you by a new incarnation, or by a new day after you've "slept on" a problem: Try simply inhaling deeply, then, while holding the breath, think of what you want to change in your life. Focus that thought in strong affirmation at the point of concentration between the eyebrows, the so-called ajna chakra.

Tense your body, to fill it with what new energy. Then exhale. Even as death gives some release from the ego-identities of one life, offering one a chance to affirm the desire to do better "next time," so as you exhale after making your affirmation, cast out of your consciousness your mental identity with the habit you've determined to change.

A strong affirmation of will can change old habits in a day. So my Guru once told me when I said I wanted to overcome a fault in myself. Indeed, strong affirmation can change those patterns with a single breath!

Remember, every lifetime is as fleeting as that single breath. As you are not likely to identify yourself with one breath, or with one day in your life, so, tell yourself, this identity you've accepted with this one body is illusory also.

You, in your true essence, are eternal! You are as old as Brahman! Live in the consciousness of timelessness, to be freed from the temporary disappointments and triumphs of one short lifetime.

Swami Kriyananda's programme appears at 2200 hours IST on the Sadhna Channel. (For more,

First Published: Feb 26, 2004 12:06 IST