I remember distinctly a story which the Panditji told during Bhagwat Katha at our home more than 30 years back
When God created the world and was about to determine the duration of life for all the creatures, the donkey came and asked, “Lord, how long am I to live?”
“Thirty years,” answered God. “Is that all right with you?”
“Oh, Lord,” replied the donkey, “that is a long time. Think of my tiresome existence carrying heavy loads from morning until night, dragging bags of grain to the mill so that others might eat bread, only to be cheered along and refreshed with kicks and blows! Spare me part of this long time.”
So God had mercy and gave him eighteen years. The donkey went away satisfied, and the dog made his appearance.
“How long do you want to live?” God asked him. “Thirty years was too much for the donkey, but you will be satisfied with that long.”
“Lord”, answered the dog. “Is that your will? Just think how much I have to run. My feet will not hold for so long. And what can I do but growl and run from one corner to another after I have lost my voice for barking and my teeth for biting?”
God felt that he was right, and he took away twelve years. Then came the monkey.
“Surely you would like to live thirty years,” said the Lord to him. “You do not need to work like the donkey and the dog, and are always having fun”.
“Oh, Lord,” he answered, “so it appears, but it is different. When it rains porridge, I don’t have a spoon. I am always supposed to be playing funny tricks and making faces so people will laugh, but when they give me an apple and I bite into it, it is always sour. How often is sorrow hidden behind a joke. I cannot put up with all that for thirty years!”
God had mercy and gave him ten years. Finally man made his appearance. Cheerful, healthy, and refreshed, he asked God to determine the duration of his life.
“You shall live thirty years,” spoke the Lord. “Is that enough for you?”
“What a short time!” cried the man. “When I have built a house and a fire is burning on my own hearth, when I have planted trees that blossom and bear fruit, and am just beginning to enjoy life, then I am to die. Oh, Lord, extend my time, please.”
“I will add the donkey’s eighteen years,” said God.
“That is not enough,” replied the man.
“You shall also have the dog’s twelve years.”
“Still too little.”
“Well, then,” said God, “I will give you the monkey’s ten years as well, but you shall receive no more.”
The man went away, but he was not satisfied.
Thus man lives seventy years. The first thirty are his human years, and they quickly disappear. Here he is healthy and happy; he works with pleasure, and enjoys his existence. The donkey’s eighteen years follow. Here, one burden after the other is laid on him; he carries the grain that feeds others, and his faithful service is rewarded with kicks and blows. Then come the dog’s twelve years, and he lies in the corner growling, no longer having teeth with which to bite. And when this time is past, the monkey’s ten years conclude. Now man is weak headed and foolish; he does silly things and becomes a laughingstock for children.
A new study shows that animals’ life is written on their DNA. For humans, it’s 38 years. DNA is the blueprint of living organisms and it is an obvious place to seek insights into ageing and lifespan. Based on DNA, ‘natural’ lifespan of modern humans is 38 years. This matches some anthropological estimates for early modern humans. However, humans today may be an exception to this study as advances in medicine and lifestyle have extended the average lifespan.
A brief history of ageing
Over the past 200 years, life expectancy at birth has doubled from around 40 years to over 80 years in countries like the UK. In some countries such as France, where 250 years ago life expectancy at birth was slightly over 25 years, it has increased by almost 55 years. In India from 35 years in 1950, in last 72 years it has doubled to 70 years. In 1840, life expectancy was the highest among Swedish women, who lived on average 45 years. Today the longest life expectancy is to be found among Japanese women, whose lives on average exceed 85 years. This improvement appears to have been steady, with an average increase in life expectancy of three months every year until the present day. Male longevity has risen rather more slowly yet still shows the same linear rise, with Japanese men now holding the record for the longest male survivors at an average age of just over 78 years.
Historical demographic analysis has exposed a line of challenging enquiry: will life expectancy continue to rise, as predicted from the previous trends, or are we reaching a biologically determined ceiling? It would be rash on the basis of the historical trends to promote the idea of the attainment of eternity among humans or even an untrammelled route to a life expectancy at birth of 100 years by 2060, as some enthusiasts have done. Nonetheless, it is certain that centenarians will soon become commonplace individuals in our midst.
Increases in life expectancy of just a few years can produce very large changes in the numbers of the old and particularly the very old. And a continued reduction in mortality among the oldest old suggests that longevity increases will be larger and population ageing will be more rapid than many high-income countries expect, which could have major implications for social security and medical care systems. Perhaps one of the most significant implications of historical demographic analysis is that it has exposed the danger of believing that the expectation of life cannot rise much above its current uppermost level. As the so-called ‘baby boomer’ generation ages, longevity is becoming a highly significant debate. Whichever school of thought – those who believe the ceiling has been reached and those who do not – proves to be correct, the result will have enormous implications for how societies evolve, and manage their health and welfare issues, in the future.
Historical demographic analysis has exposed a line of challenging enquiry: will life expectancy continue to rise, as predicted from the previous trends, or are we reaching a biologically determined ceiling?
Are you prepared to take care of yourself and your loved ones for this increasing lifespan? Are you saving enough to fund yourself for extended period of life in this beautiful world?