Dr. Vijai S Shankar MD.PhD.
Published on www.acadun.com
21st February 2009
The start of life as birth is a moment of joy and merriment and signals impending celebrations. It is universal and the scale of celebrations reflects how opulent the concerned parents are. The same run of emotions accompanies the purchase of a new object, and there are many, and so the celebrations are many and varied. Celebrations ensue after the purchase of a house too.
Life is a process of energy-transformation. It is a continuous process that happens spontaneously, uncontrollably and unpredictably. The process is beginningless and endless, meaning that no man knows or can know when it began or when it will end. Old age is a good index of this particular transformation.
Everything that exists becomes old and this surprises no one. It is taken for granted and old age is no exception. The animate and the inanimate succumb to this process too. If an object perishes or is destroyed man feels dejected and sad if it is invaluable, and the sadness is profound if sentimentality is attached to the loss. If not, the object is picked up and consigned to the bin where it is believed to belong.
He soon replaces the lost object with another either similar or completely different from the primary. He may find something that generates sentimental value and soon the primary sentimentality is mummified. His emotions are minimal if the loss of an object befalls the neighbour and a social show of sadness in the form of a card or flowers is the outcome.
Man’s reaction is selfish for he does not feel loss to the same extent if a stranger is the victim. Neither is he concerned about the loss of objects that happens elsewhere in the world, and it does happen, as the process of transformation is universal.
He is not so perturbed or dejected when vegetation is lost: he may shed a tear or two and soon plant another seed in the ground. Mass destruction of vegetation due to arson or natural calamities appalls man, but he soon gets over the emotional plunge of despair and loss after a discussion in the local pub, club or place of worship. Prayers are offered to the divine so that such a calamity may not befall the country, community or any place in the world.
But doesn’t everything in the world happen because the Almighty permits or wills it? If this were true, why would the Almighty not prevent the loss? The process of transformation needs to be understood and conclusions about it also happen so that an understanding may happen that every conclusion is illusory, for no conclusions can be made about a continuous process of transformation.
The question is whether a process of transformation can perish. It cannot for, if the meaning of transformation is real, it means that transformation can not end for it will go on for that which has ended.
Old age refers only to human beings and the animal kingdom, but not to vegetation or objects. But what is and could be old age? Could old age exist in a process of transformation? Would the process not require the old and the new to be included in the same moment? It certainly would, and could such a phenomenon be included within time?
It could not, for time suggests the possibility of recognising the old as separate from the new. If so, then the world would have begun at some time and would therefore end too. Transformation means that the old transforms as the new and into old again in the same moment and the two cannot be demarcated or separated.
If the beginning of the world were recognisable, man would know when birth begins, when youth, teenage, middle age and old age start and when old age will eventually end. But does man know any of these with clarity? How could he when life is timeless and thoughtless? How could he when life is a singular process of transformation?
So what could old age be? What is beyond old age? If life is a circle, and it needs to be if it is beginningless and endless, an absolute cause or an absolute effect cannot be identified for every point in the circle would represent the cause and effect. Life is causeless and effect-less, which means that an end as an effect cannot be found either. Hence, old age is not suggestive of an impending end to life; old age is suggestive of the first steps of birth as birth is suggestive of the first steps of old age.
Therefore, old age is present at birth as birth is at old age, because life is a transforming process of energy. This process projects an optical and auditory illusion of birth, youth, middle age and old age. So, old age is to be celebrated for it signifies the arrival of birth that will be celebrated. The cycle of celebrations goes on if life is understood rightly. Every stage of life needs to be celebrated for it is passing by to the next, and every moment at every age is the first step of the next phase in life.
Old age will happen to everything and everyone in life. It is an index of the transforming process and an opportunity to understand the preciousness of life. The little girl or boy down the street will eventually transform to an old lady or old man on crutches. Every faculty and every sense makes its circle of birth-growth-decay to be born again. Every age is an illusory manifestation of light and sound and not an actuality in time and space.
Is age a number? How could it be when life is beginningless and endless? Which point would indicate the beginning of old age or any age for that matter? Old age is not a number; it is a state of energy that reflects an optical illusion of despair, dependency and despondency. It is the same young girl or young boy with exuberance, vitality and enthusiasm that transforms into a state of apathy, immobility and dejection.
During childhood the child is told what to do and what not to do, how to speak and what not to speak, what to think and what not to think. At old age too, the old are told what to do and what not to do, what to speak and what not to speak, what to think and what not to think. All with good intentions surely, but does this not mean that a child and an old man do not know what to think, speak and do?
It surely does, and it is a stark reminder that the man in middle age does not either. Understand that, at every age, thinking, speaking and doing happen to man. At middle age man thinks he knows what to think, speak and do, but he does not realise that it happens to him. Life happens to man; he does not make it happen. Thinking, speaking and doing is life that happens.
It is the exuberance of life that makes the speech happen to a child; it is the vitality of life that expresses itself as the movements and play of a child; and it is the enthusiasm of life that propels the child towards its goals, no matter how illusory. All these qualities of life run their course and, in the downward journey, appear as apathy, immobility and dejection. Once you understand the circle of life, then love and compassion for the old will be reflected, patience will replace impatience, and care and concern will become genuine.
It is not love that is expressed at any time in life to the young or the old, for the mind is calculative and therefore cannot love. When man meets man of his age, the calculations of the mind are mutual and common and life seems to bustle. But, with the old, the calculative mind does not find any return in their company and so impatience boils within. Old age does not deserve to be put into care, but care be given to them at home, which is rightfully theirs to begin with. The old, when young, do not put the young into care, but take care of them in rain or shine, riches or poverty.
The love for the young is actually the love of your expectations of them and the love for the old is a polite way of requesting the old to pass on. Love is not conditional but unconditional. Everyone waits for the old man to die so that property and savings can be divided and shared, if not amicably, by bitter fighting in the court of law.
Everyone becomes old having graced this planet earth. Life is an aging process that may end abruptly, drift smoothly or be a rough ride into old-age territory. In what manner old age will receive man no one can know. The variety of old age is limitless because life is limitless. Old age may be disease-ridden or disease-free, freely mobile or the mobility may be restricted, natural bodily functions may function or may be deficient. Sight, the hearing faculty, taste and the ability to smell and touch may or may not be optimal.
No one can say what is in store for us in old age. Man may not even reach old age - who knows? So, be grateful if you reach old age and respect those who have reached it and help them through it gracefully. It is the old who have given life to the young and not the young to the old. It is the old who have given you the opportunity to be in life. You cannot come into life without their presence in life before you. If this understanding happens, then gratitude and respect for the old will reveal itself. God is everywhere and the old is how God looks too.
© Copyright 2009 V. S. Shankar