Monday Morning Greetings #33 – Sixty-Five is the New Fifty

August 15th, 2016

About 25 years ago one sādhu in Vṛndāvana told me why traditionally at the age of fifty a person would start considering a life of renunciation.
“The Hindi word for fifty is pachasa. Asa means hope. At fifty, one still has hope. Hindi for fifty-one, however, is ikyavan, van means the forest.  Go to the forest, renounce life, there is no hope.”
Although I had taken sannyāsa at the age of thirty-two, even at the age of fifty it seemed as if I still had hope, ambitions, and dreams connected with garnering distinction. Old age was thus still something in the future. Marc Jacobson of the New York magazine describes this phenomenon:
“Throughout my life, there has always been a number that sounded old. When I was sixteen, it was twenty-seven; at twenty-nine it was forty-two; at thirty-eight, it was fifty-two, at sixty-five, however, it was sixty-five.”
Sixty-five means the creaky knees and bad digestion and other creeping physical anomalies. It’s destiny representing the voice of God telling you loudly that the vehicle you are riding in, in my case a vintage 1950 New Yorker, has had its days. It is the stark realization that you just can’t trust the future, for no matter how much you calculate there are just a few more years.
But for me, more than anything else, it’s the stark understanding of what death means and the fear of facing that in ignorance expressed so clearly to me by a Vaiṣṇava scholar and friend:
“The pain of death is not the physical pain. For if that becomes too intense one will either automatically go into a coma or will be medicated. The real pain is the losing of all one’s attachments at once.”
Am I ready?
Another friend related to me a sobering thought:
“What we think of at the moment at death will be what our mind spontaneously gravitates to and not what we will because our body and mind will be too disturbed. Do you want to have a glimpse of what that will be? Just look at what you dream. It is directly analogous to what you will think of at death because, like death, your thoughts are not consciously directed.”
Now that is really a sobering thought! And more sobering is the fact that what we are putting in our minds now will determine what we think of when we die. How much is about Kṛṣṇa? And what else do we put in? At sixty-five this seems to really be the challenge — to consciously re-program the mind in an even more serious way than ever before, to significantly increase the download of chanting and hearing and to ultimately gauge the success of that programming by what I am dreaming now.
It’s strange, but at sixty-five I am being called to real sannyāsa, something I took 33 years ago, and something that should have been taken at least by fifty — not just the change of cloth and a new position, but the death of the ego, the chance to die while living so that I am detached at that stark moment when everything is ripped away.
I feel the need to get serious as never before.
Sixty-five is the new fifty.

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