A Jataka tale on why we can't conquer death
Long ago, there was a king called Chirayu. He had a trusted minister called Nagarjun who was an expert in chemical and herbal remedies. Nagarjun carried out varied experiments. Once, he mixed several valuable ingredients, and ' viola ' he had the immortality concoction. He shared it with Chirayu and both of them swept death aside and became immortal. Now, the process was costly and the ingredients expensive, so immortality was confined to Nagarjun and Chirayu.
The immortal Nagarjun had a son called Somadev, whom he loved dearly. One day, he suddenly died, and Nagarjun grew depressed. He swore to conquer death. He worked day and night at making his immortality concoction cheap and readily available. He researched for many years to find cheaper equivalents. Years of hard work bore fruit, Nagarjun was in the final stages of preparing Amrut ' the nectar of eternal life.
As the progress report reached the heavens, Indra , the ruler of heaven, was annoyed. It was after all the sole right of the gods to be immortal. A mere mortal couldn't tamper with it. He couldn't let it go on. Calling on his divine physicians, the Aswins , he commanded, "Go to earth and put an end to Nagarjun's experiment by all means."
The Aswins took the form of human beings and came visiting Nagarjun. They said, "Minister, why are you working towards upsetting the entire administration of the universe? You're violating the divine law which makes man mortal. You're also invading the rights of gods who alone have the privilege of conferring immortality on humans. It's not correct to take on the task of removing the distinction between mortals and immortals. We know you are angry about your son's death, we assure you, he is happy in heaven ."
Nagarjun was not entirely convinced, he dilly-dallied about his aim. Soon, Jayasen, Chirayu's son, was declared as the successor to the throne. Grand festivities were organised for thecrowning ceremony . The Aswins unable to persuade Nagarjun returned to heaven. Indra devised another plan. Disguised as an old Brahmin, Indra went to meet the crown prince, Jayasen. He said, "I'm sorry for you, young man, though you're the crown prince, you've no future as a king. Your father is immortal and he will always be king and you will remain a mere crown prince."
Jayasen was disappointed and thought of the crowning ceremony as a nasty joke. Seeing Jayasen upset, Indra said, "However, there is a way out. You know Nagarjun never denies anything to anyone before he sits for his meal. Go and ask for his head, and your way to the throne will be clear."
Jayasen followed the old man's advice and went and asked Nagarjun for his head. Nagarjun did not hesitate; he gave the young prince a sword and said, "Take my head!" As Nagarjun was immortal, the sword moved away from his neck without even a scratch.
The king heard of the incident and came to stop his son. He tried to advise his son, when Nagarjun said, "Don't blame him. He's just an instrument in bigger hands. I'm aware of the plot behind his request. I've given up my head ninety-nine times in my past births. Let this be the hundredth time."
Nagarjun, then, applied the juice of an herb along the edge of the sword and asked the prince to cut off his head. This time, with a single stroke of the sword, the prince beheaded Nagarjun. Bereaved King Chirayu, too, tried to kill himself but Nagarjun's head said, "Dear king, don't grieve, am always with you." The king renounced everything and left for the forest to spend his time in penance and meditation.
Jayasen got his throne and Indra was satisfied that he had throttled Nagarjun's attempts to impart immortality to all human beings. What Nagarjun had almost succeeded in achieving, no one has ever attempted again. That is why we are all still mortal.