When Alexander Chased Immortality
Sadhguru tells us a story about Alexander and how he chased immortality, to remind us about the most fundamental factor in our life – death.
Sadhguru: The fear of death has always made people do crazy things. For ages, whenever people become affluent, all the powerful people, the greatest emperors always looked for immortality. The mummies in Egypt are an example of this. When people became affluent, when they felt they had everything but life still had not happened to them – this is the experience of the affluent – naturally they sought immortality. Every king, every powerful person on the planet always sought to be immortal somehow. But that would be the worst curse for anyone. If you really want to curse someone, do not wish them death; wish them endless life. Just imagine, after ten thousand years, still walking the same planet, still trying to do the same stupid things, how would it be. What a curse it is!
In search of immortality, Alexander naturally came towards India because so many stories had reached Greece and he had heard a lot about Indian yogis.
There is a story about Alexander the Great. I don't know why he is called “Great.” What is great about the man? From the age of sixteen till he was thirty-two when he died, for sixteen years non-stop, the man fought, killing thousands of people – people he never knew. He would just come to a new country, kill the people and say “I have conquered.” What has he done that is of any consequence or any good to any other human being? What has he done of any consequence or any good to himself? He lived an utterly idiotic life and died a miserable man. He is called “Alexander the Great” but they forgot his last name – it should be “Alexander the Great Idiot.”
Alexander and the Yogi
Alexander, as he sought many other idiotic things in his life, also sought immortality because he wanted to conquer the whole world with his might. In a most brutal way he has conquered half of the known world at that time and he was becoming desperate because now he saw that he needed much more time to fulfill his project. So he wanted to become immortal. In search of immortality, he naturally came towards India because so many stories had reached Greece and he had heard a lot about Indian yogis. People had told him that many of these yogis were immortal so he was eager to meet one.
He sent a team of soldiers ahead of the rest of the army and told them, “Get me a yogi.” After a search, they found a yogi sitting in meditation. The soldiers said, “Come with us. Our Emperor wants you.” The yogi replied, “I am not going anywhere. If your Emperor wants, let him come here. He is most welcome but I am not going anywhere.” When they heard this they pulled out their swords, “Either you come with us or we cut your head off and take it with us.” The yogi laughed and said, “Okay, take my head. What is he going to do with my head. Let him take it. Anyway I have reached a point in my life where I am finished with everything that I have to do. I am just waiting to go. You have come to assist me.”
Alexander set up an expedition. With a group of his bravest soldiers, he went into the forest. As the yogi had indicated certain landmarks, accordingly he went and found the cave.
The soldiers had never seen anything like this. These soldiers were deadly people. It was nothing for them to take a life. The moment they pull their swords out everyone trembled. But this man says, “Okay. Take it.” They did not know what to do. They went back to Alexander and told him, “We met a yogi.” “Where is he, where is he?” “He is not willing to come.” “Why didn’t you drag him and come?” “No, he is not that kind. He is not even afraid. We threatened to take his head but he says, ‘Take it.’”
Alexander thought, “If he said, ‘Take my head, I am not bothered,’ he must be immortal. I want to meet him.” Alexander went and asked the yogi, “Oh yogi, are you immortal?” The yogi said, “‘Yes, I am not only immortal, I am all-pervading. I have crossed the limitations of the physical. I am everything and nothing.” Alexander asked, “Can you teach me immortality? I will give you anything you want.” Alexander asked his soldiers to bring huge chests of all the looted jewels, pearls, diamonds and gold. He opened it and said, “The treasure of the world is here.” The yogi laughed and said, “You have been picking things from the earth. All these gems and stones and gold are just earth. Somehow you attached too much value to it. You did not attach value to the mud that you walk on, which feeds you every day. This stone and this metal are no good for anything. You cannot eat it, you cannot do anything with it, but you carry it as treasure. This is trash which you picked up from earth. Why are you seeking immortality? This is not for you.” Alexander replied, “Either you teach me immortality now or we are going to take off your head!”
The yogi looked at the man, very amused and said, “Okay, you want to know it so badly. There is a particular forest here.” He gave Alexander the directions as to how to go there. And the yogi told him, “If you go to this place, you will find a small cave. Enter the cave. There will be a small pool of water. Take a handful of water and drink it. You will become immortal.”
Alexander set up an expedition. With a group of his bravest soldiers, he went into the forest. As the yogi had indicated certain landmarks, accordingly he went and found the cave. He entered the cave and was about to put his hands into the water and drink. There was a crow sitting on the other side of the pool. The crow said, “Wait! Stop!” Alexander looked surprised. A crow speaking Greek, not “Caw!”
The crow said “A long, long time ago I made the mistake of drinking from this pool, and I have been sitting here for I don’t know how long. My problem is I cannot die. I am finished with life in every way but I cannot die.” Can you imagine the predicament? “And I will sit here forever. Do you want to do this?” Alexander had his hands in the water. He was about to drink. All his life he wanted to become immortal. Now this crow put such a question and suddenly his life was in a different perspective. Conquering the world is a big thing for the next fifty years or so. But after five million years of sitting here, what would it mean? And you still cannot die.
Alexander just stood there, trembling. Sense dawned on him. Slowly he walked back and never drank from the pool. Otherwise we would have had to suffer Alexander even today. Aren’t we glad all the dead people are dead? Maybe you think, “No, but my father was such a wonderful man!” If he lives too long, he will become insufferable. He should live his normal course of life and go. Only then it is good.
Life & Death in One Breath
The greatest calamity of the human mind is that it is against death because the moment you reject death, you also reject life. Every moment of living here, we can either refer to this process that you are going through as life, or we can refer to it as death. Death is not something that is going to happen to you. Death is not in the future. The moment you are born, one half of death occurred. Your inhalation is life, your exhalation is death. When a child is born, the first thing the child does is one gasp of an inhalation. And if you look at your life, the last thing you will do is an exhalation.
If in the very process of life, you know the relaxation of death, then life is an utterly effortless process.
Between life and death – life needs a certain tension; otherwise you cannot keep it going. Death is utter relaxation. Right now, you can experiment and see, if you take one big exhalation and one big inhalation and see how your body and your mind is, you will find the exhalation to be more relaxing. In fact, whenever you get tense, when things build up too much in you, the natural mechanism in the body wants to exhale. This is what you call as a sigh. It relaxes you a little bit. If in the very process of life, you know the relaxation of death, then life is an utterly effortless process.
This is how it would have naturally been if human beings’ minds had not banished death as evil. If traditions and cultures had not taught you that death is evil – that it should be avoided – you would breathe in a completely different way. If you observe, for almost 99% of people, because their mind has rejected death, they will inhale, but exhalation does not happen totally. This is one of the reasons why, over a period of time, you build up so much tension within the system that mentally and physiologically, it reaches a point of snapping.
A Reminder of Your Mortality
Right now, it takes a lifetime for people to understand that they are mortal. When you are young you think you are immortal. As the body starts creaking a little bit, you start to realize that the earth is calling. This body is a loan from this planet. The very body that you are is just the food that you have eaten. The food that you ate is just the earth. So you are just a piece of earth. The earth is calling you all the time but when you are old, you hear it very clearly.
If you are constantly reminded that you are mortal, this whole life process will want to experience everything; it will become super alert.
You need to celebrate and enjoy every moment of your life because the goddamn thing is ticking away; it does not wait for you for a moment. Especially because you are mortal, it is extremely important that you make this into a joyful and fantastic process. If you were immortal, you could enjoy a hundred years each of depression, anxiety, madness and misery, and then on the 500th anniversary, you could become joyful. But it is not so; you are mortal and life is ticking away. There is no time for frustration, depression, anxiety or anger; there is no time for any unpleasantness in this life.
If you are constantly reminded that you are mortal, this whole life process will want to experience everything; it will become super alert. If you know you are going to die in the next one hour, you would notice every little bit of life. You will not miss anything. If every human being structures their psychological and emotional framework around the most fundamental fact of their life – their mortality, if you accept death as a process of life – constantly, moment to moment – your values of life would be completely different. Like a flower which blooms in the morning and dies in the evening, if you knew that you are also very much the same process – right now you are blooming, tomorrow morning you may be dead – then you would not miss a single flower on the road. You would become extremely life-oriented and your life will unhinge itself from the physicality and look for something beyond, naturally. The spiritual process will become a natural process of growth for you.
Editor’s Note: Download the video “Unraveling Death”, in which Sadhguru explores the intricacies behind death and dying, from the time of entering the womb to exiting the body.