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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2011 27 In the tIme of ShakyamunI Buddha, there lived a man in his eighties who had done little about his spiritual life, and so he set out to find the Buddha’s encampment, which he had heard was nearby. Looking like a beggar, old and hopeless, he arrived at the encampment and asked one of the senior monks if he could be accepted into the sangha. after testing the old man’s attainment, the monk replied, “you are an old man and haven’t done any practice, so there’s no point in giving you teachings now.” Completely dejected, the old man lay down in front of the door. When the Buddha came by, he asked the old man why he was lying there. the old man told his story, to which the Buddha replied: “Some of my monks don’t realize that just because the body is old, there’s still every reason to practice. all you need is courage and enthusiasm to study and meditate. I know you have insight and the roots of virtue. I will take care of you.” the Buddha blessed the old man, and within a short time, that old man became an arhat. that story, recounted by the dalai Lama during a recent talk in new york City, offers encouragement to all of us who are moving along in years. Reinforcing the point, he went on to say: “there’s no reason to feel old just because the body is old. the mind can still be young and full of enthusiasm. We can have the courage to carry on our study and practice.” as an elder himself, the dalai Lama’s extraordinary presence touches countless people across the planet, whether they are Buddhist practitioners or not. What about the rest of us? how are we responding to the inevitable process of aging and dimin- ishment? Where do our practice, study, and way of life fit in here? Precisely because we live in a culture that is in denial and pho- bic about death, I’ve been intrigued by these questions—even determined to find a path through old age that is inspired and sustained by practice. Consider the central Buddhist tenet of the three characteristics—dukkha (suffering), anatta (nonself ), and anicca (impermanence). all three are beating the drum of our diminishing years. time to wake up! from the Buddha’s own culture comes the tradition of the ashramas, the four stages of life that are considered guidelines for wise living. after the student and marketplace stages comes the forest monk stage, the assumption being that when your chil- dren are adults and your career has reached fruition, it’s time to shift focus to your inner life, to go on retreat and deepen com- mitment to practice. In today’s Western culture, we face many challenges to honor- ing the inner life, to shifting down from a fast-paced, accomplish- ment-oriented lifestyle to a more contemplative interiority and time for practice. We may not realize the extent to which we’ve been conditioned by the Western model, subtly driven by the com- pulsion of doing over being—a subtle addiction in itself. here’s where a short version of the five remembrances— phrases the Buddha recommended be repeated regularly or med- itated on as a reminder of life’s ephemeral nature—can come in handy: My aging, physical diminishment, and death are inevitable; PhotoSBykenjInakamuRaandCandIdaPeRfoRma Touch of Grey There is a sacred dimension to growing old. In the face of aging and dying, says Olivia ames HOblitzelle, we can call upon practice to sustain and inspire us.