Aging and dying are inevitable. However, coming to terms with this truth can be difficult, especially in the modern context with an excessive dependence and faith in biomedicine. Advances in biomedicine and life-prolongation strategies along with changes in social-cultural structures pose a different kind of predicament – the percentage of aging population is on the rise and, at the same time, traditional strategies for taking care of the elderly and their problems are being replaced by more impersonal state-driven methods. India, with its large population, poor biomedical facilities for the average person, and widespread poverty, yet fast changing attitudes towards family and the aged, faces a great crisis today.
The collection of essays in this volume addresses different aspects of this issue. The first section is both philosophical and prescriptive. It explores our rich religious and philosophical tradition to probe the very concepts of life and death and then suggests strategies - age old and time-tested - for coping with the inevitability of aging and dying. Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic perspectives on aging, dying, euthanasia, and related concepts are explored and coping strategies suggested.
The second section deals with socio-ethical issues related to aging and dying in the Indian context, in light of the existing state of affairs and possible directions for the future. The third and final section looks at the most pressing problems that confront both Indian society and medicine – end-of-life care.
Chapter 3: Life and Immortality in Indian Thought
Life and Immortality in Indian Thought
What is Life?
In his book, What is Life, which, according to Roger Penrose, had ‘a great impact on human thinking’, Schrodinger asks: ‘What is the characteristic feature of life?’1 He answers that when a system is isolated from an environment charged with energy, all motion in that system usually stops very soon. The physicist calls this the state of thermodynamical equilibrium.2 It is the state of total disorder or death. How does the living organism avoid this state? The obvious answer is—by eating, drinking, breathing and (in the case of plants) assimilating. The technical term is ‘metabolism’, derived from the Greek word metabole, meaning change, transformation, or a process by which energy is made ...