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VEDANTA MASS MEDIA Growing Gracefully into Old Age | Swami Dayatmananda  





     That which is born is sure to decay and die, living or non-living. Existence is inevitably associated with growth, youth, old age, decay and death; there is no exception.


     Shankaracharya, it is said, was walking along a street in Varanasi, accompanied by his disciples. He saw an old man trying to master Sanskrit grammar. Taking pity on him, he advised him not to waste his time on learning grammar at his age but to turn his mind to God in worship and adoration. That is how the famous hymn Bhaja Govindam came to be composed.


     “As long as one is fit and able to earn and support one's family, all the kith and kin are affectionate. But no sooner does one become old and infirm and one's earnings cease, no one cares to enquire of one's well-being even in one's own home.


     “Childhood is wasted in sport and play. Youth flies off in pursuits of passions. Old age passes away in brooding over the past and the future. And there is hardly any time left for contemplation on God.



     “The body is worn out. The head has turned grey. All the teeth have started to fall out. The legs totter and the old man moves about with the support of crutches. Even then the desires are so strong.”

     In the Bhagavatam, old age is depicted as an “ugly grey haired unwanted daughter of Time, and the sister of fear.”


     When the young prince Siddhartha beheld an old and tottering man, a diseased man and a dead man he was horrified. He did not expect to see such a sight. He never thought he would have to confront old age, sickness or death. When he realised these were inevitable, he renounced home in search of a cure. He did not find a cure for these ills of life. He found a spiritual way to become immortal. He became Buddha, the Enlightened.


     Like Siddhartha none of us want to suffer from old age, sickness or death. There is no way to cure the ills of life, but we can become Buddhas and overcome them.


     The cult of youth rules our present day. No wonder even the old people try to pretend, appear and behave like young people.


     Fearing old age, millions are taking recourse to all kinds of therapies - drug and diet therapy, gene therapy, hair colouring, hair implantation etc. - to maintain their youthful appearance. Billions of dollars are being spent by the cosmetics industry in search of products to hide the outward signs of aging.


     Appearances are deceptive. No amount of cosmetic change could change the fact of old age. Is it not then far better to accept the fact of existence and grow old gracefully?


     The World Population census tells us: “The global population was estimated to have only 1% of people aged 65 years and over. By 2000 this figure was 7%, and by 2050, the estimated proportion will be 20% to 25%. The world's population 'boom' is not a result of an increase in birth rates, but rather a decrease in death rates within the next 15 to 20 years.”


     What this means is in another two decades one quarter of the population will be old or elderly. Thanks to progress in medicine, more people will be living longer, stronger and full of energy. Already a large proportion of money is being spent on the health and social care of the elderly. Like it or not, we have to accept this fact. What would be the economic and social impact of this fact is anybody's guess!

     Signs of old age



     Old age brings many changes physically and mentally. There is, often, a general physical decline, and people become less active. Old age can cause, amongst other things: wrinkles and liver spots on the skin; change of hair colour to gray or white; hair loss, lessened hearing, diminished eyesight, slower reaction times and agility; shaking of the limbs; reduced ability to think clearly; difficulty in short-term memory. One perhaps repeats the same old story again and again!

     More importantly; biological aging apart, there is something called mental aging. One loses enthusiasm; perhaps pessimism sets in; one loses faith in God and high ideals; becomes a sceptic and develops the habit of ridiculing everything; grows wisdom teeth at the cost of a wise and happy life; often looks back with a sigh at the (non-existent) 'golden past'!!


     Young or old, when one is not prepared to change bad habits and to form good habits one is old.


     When good advice falls on deaf ears, when one takes offence easily at even insignificant things, one has definitely become old.


     To sum up: it is not merely the biological age that matters. It is the mental and spiritual state of one's mind that really counts.


     Cheerfulness, harmony, positive attitude, a higher goal in life and self-control are the characteristics of a mature personality and maturity in age. When these are absent one is definitely old and needs treatment.



     When does old age begin?



     As one wag said : “From day one! Otherwise why do we ask, 'How old is the baby?'”


     According to one report (from the internet) old age begins at 27. New research shows that many well-known effects of aging may start decades before our twilight years. According to scientists, our mental abilities begin to decline from the age of 27 after reaching a peak at 22.


     There is some good news, though. The report states that abilities based on accumulated knowledge, such as performance on tests of vocabulary or general information, increase until at least the age of 60.


     According to Sri Ramakrishna when one's hair starts to turn grey one should recognise old age. According to him age 50 is good enough to accept that one is old and gracefully step into the Vanaprastha Ashrama,the third stage of life.


     In Hinduism, life was divided into four stages: childhood, youth, middle age, and old age; but our modern culture has downsized the categories to three: childhood, youth, and “you are looking fine.” (Courtesy of Swami Adiswarananda).



     Reactions to old age



     Is old age really that bad? Why is it old people do not wish to gracefully accept old age? These days it is an offence to ask elderly people their age (even on their birthdays!!).


     Loneliness, frustration, fear of being treated as insignificant etc., and boredom are some of the reasons why people do not accept old age. Unable to bear this loneliness some even commit suicide. Old age also hardens one's habits, likes and dislikes, prejudices and perceptions.


     Many of us get panicky when we become old. This is because we never planned for this event; we never pause to think that one day we also will become old and are emotionally illprepared to face it. And mere acceptance of becoming old is not enough. Just as we plan for our financial future we also have to plan for the day when we become old, retire and have to spend our days fruitfully.


     Vedanta tells us not to worry. It tells us the way to grow old gracefully, joyously and become fruitful. We will discuss this in our future editorial.

     (to be continued)

     Swami Dayatmananda












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International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015











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