The Secret of Long Life

Selected articles from the magazine "Sree Sajjana-Toshani" or "The Harmonist"

~Edited by Paramahamsa Paribrajakacharyya Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj, published between 1927 – 1936

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati (1874 – 1937), was a prominent guru and spiritual reformer of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the early 20th century in India. He received both Western and traditional Indian education and gradually established himself as a leading intellectual among the residents of colonial Calcutta, earning the title Siddhanta Sarasvati ("the pinnacle of wisdom") while still a teenager. His command of Bengali, Sanskrit and the English language was quite extraordinary.

The following articles are written in very concise and profound English common to philosophical and scientific publications from that time period, but which may be difficult reading for people of the current era.

The Secret of Long Life.


It is a very patent fact that human life is very short, and that too, most uncertain. The man who walks about with full vigour, hopes, and forms expectations of future, and without the least suspicion of any blast, breathes his last the very next moment. He stops for a good while on his legs as it were. Such occurrences are quite common. Yet they are hardly taken proper notice of, except a passing one. They seem to leave no impression on the minds of the people, as would appear from their usual course of life and modes of activities. Of course, life would, indeed, be miserable and impossible if the horror of death was to haunt the mind at all hours. So our Chanakya said,—‘one should think of the means of acquiring learning and wealth free from all thoughts of infirmity and death. Learning and wealth are no doubt two of the ends of life which can not altogether be over-looked, for ensuring a happy worldly life on this side of existence even by those who consider the present life as the only life and end of all existence. But the sages of India—and also her people—have never been so short-sighted. They have the perspective of an existence beyond the ken of the present life,—of the true and eternal life—the end and ideal of which substantially and greatly differ from those of this short life. So while advocating those two ends of our present, temporary, mundane life Chanakya did not lose sight of the ultimate one, nor forget to remind and advise at the same breath,—‘that one should practise Dharma (i.e. lead a religious life for truth) caught hold of by hair, as it were, by death’.

But this last advice a man will hardly listen to, although he takes readily to the first one as being conducive to a life of sensuous pleasures. It appears from the manner of his spoiling the precious moments of life, as if he counts upon an endless tenure of life. He never cares, however mis-spent his time may be. In his eagerness for enjoyment of the pleasures of life he grows rather impatient and seems to think every moment that time moves very slowly. A boy would be eager to leave behind his boyhood as early as possible in order to live the free youthful life of his elder brothers beyond the tutelage of his parents. A youth would aspire after the active life of a grown-up man occupying a position of honour in society. A grown up man again would look forward to reach the old age full of ripe experience, commanding respect from all, to enjoy a life of retirement and inactivity. A usurer is busy counting the days and watching the expiry of the terms when interests will up his pockets. To an affianced the day of marriage would appear too far off. A maiden lover would consider the appointed hour of meeting a full year off, and so on. So every body considers his time, and part of life as unnecessarily long—although he would consider the life as a whole to be too short.

This is the way of the world. But will anybody stop for a moment and ponder,—what are these activities and eagerness for? They are for momentary sensuous pleasures,—for trash, which would leave nothing permanent, no trace,—behind. If so, are not so much time and energy altogether wasted? But most people do not, and can not, realise this waste, for they are short-sighted and have no conception of the truer and higher life. It does not behove us,—rational human beings,—to be blind and waste the precious moments of life; we should turn every moment into account, and live a true life full of worth. We boast of our wisdom in all matters, but it is a pity that we are ignorant of what a true and real life is, and how to live it.

Such an assertion will no doubt appear to many—to almost all—as a bold, arrogant and meaningless one; for there are many great men who have made the world what it is, and have left foot prints for others to follow. Far from being ignorant of the meaning of life and the art of living it, it is rather they who have shown what a life is and should be. To damn them with ignorance of the idea of a true life is surely preposterous.

Yes, such an assertion is a very bold one,—but none the less true. And the builders of the world are all great and wise men—no doubt, but in matters worldly only. In spiritual matters beyond the range of Maya or sense-experience, they are all as ignorant as any—so declares the Srimad-Bhagabat, the Lord of all the Puranas, the purest and highest authority in transcendental matters, and the fountain-head of all pure and unadulterated knowledge. The knowledge of the greatmen of the world was confined to this material world, and centred round their conception of the soul as being identical with the material body; they had no conception of their real selves (their souls) except and beyond the physical encasement. They were altogether blind in regard to matters of Vaikuntha, the transcendental world, lying beyond and above the range of material experiences of mind and body. So with all deference to their wisdom let us for once turn and listen to the words of the Srimad Bhagabat.—

A truly wise man should strive without any delay after the surest and highest good of life, till death comes upon him; for he has now obtained the life of a human being after innumerable births as inferior creatures a life which is very, very difficult of attainment, yet transitory and uncertain; but only in which the supreme good is attainable; material objects of enjoyment can be had in the life of all and any other creatures.

We are human beings and the pick of the creation. And our present life is the best and highest of all lives. Hence it is but rational and our bounden duty, to live it truly and attain the proper end of it. Our life is much more than mere animal life and we should not waste it away in animal enjoyments, viz., in eating, sleeping, sexual and other forms of sensuous enjoyment. To eat, drink and be merry is not, and should not be the end of a human life.

And what is the span of a human life? Not more than a hundred years or so at the longest, and that too is quite uncertain. So we can not afford to let slip this opportunity of living and realising the true life scorning base worldly enjoyment available to inferior creatures. It will then really be no human life, but a suicide. A man may live even the longest period in material enjoyment, but that is no proper kind of life, and no better than that of a beast. Such a person does not really live. Then what to speak of his longevity? A man who has not outlived his animal life, and lived a true human i.e., rational life, can not be said to live at all as a man.

We may argue,—‘let us first enjoy the pleasures of the senses for some time, and then we shall seek to live the proper life. Such an argument does not lie in the mouth of a rational being. As has been already pointed out, life is most uncertain and very short too. What is even the fullest period of a hundred years as compared with eternity? It is not even like a drop in the ocean and relatively speaking, no more than the shortest moment. Yet this moment is full of infinite possibility, and we can make it full of worth—if it is properly and timely utilised. For in this life of ‘moment’ only we have the singular opportunity of realising the eternal life of a Jiva-Soul. Here in this human life only we can realise the supreme good, and so we can certainly ill afford to waste a single moment of this short but precious life. Then again, once this opportunity is let off, there is no knowing if it will come at the next turn. There is no guarantee whether our next life will be the life of a human being or of any other creature. We may sink down deeper and deeper, and it may be millions of births before we may come up to the present level again.

A mere intellectual life also is not the true human life in the sense of the Srimad Bhagabat. It is no doubt in a certain sense more rational life than that of beasts. And the popular notion is that an intellectual life is really a truly rational human life. But it is nevertheless a material life opposed to and quite different from spiritual life. It can never be anything but a sensuous life. It builds itself and rests upon sense-experiences. Such a life at its best is a life of mental material recreation or enjoyment. Because the stuff of the mind is nothing but matter, although of a finer quality, which is evolved out of, and is under the sway of (word in Sanskrit) or Physical Nature. Our Scriptures say that this also is not the true life of a jiva: it is also a life within and under (Prakriti) Phenomenal Nature or (the limiting or delusive power).

We should, therefore, live a truly rational life which is located beyond this world of limitations and therein lies our superiority over all other creatures. True rationality consists in trying to realise, and actually realising, the deathless eternal life in supremely blissful communion with, and constant, selfless, loving service of, the transcendental, personal God-head, the Supreme Lord Krishna. Then and then only we would have turned this shortest life into the longest one. Our life is lived and prolonged in proportion to our effort to realise the eternal life. This is the true meaning and secret of longevity.

Our Scriptures further declare that a truly devotional life is the only key to such longevity which is an eternal life of supreme bliss. To seek to live such a long life is the science of all sciences and the art of all arts. It is the most perfect, transcendental, science and art. So it can not be acquired by acting according to individual pleasure and choice.

It has to be systematically, properly and thoroughly learnt from a perfect Master,—a true Teacher,—an Acharyya. Otherwise there is the surest chance of going astray and succumbing to grim death, fortunately for us such a transcendental master or Acharyya comes into this world and moves amongst us. He is never far away from the sincere seeker. One who has sought after such an Acharyya, and has completely submitted to him when found, for initiation into the art of proper living is really fortunate. To him the gateway to unmixed bliss is opened up for eternity, and all mystery is revealed,—so says the Srutis.