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August 2008


Ageing gracefully


An Ashramite speaks about ageing in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Sri Aurobindo spoke of the Ashram as a laboratory. One could extend the image and say that Auroville is the field experiment where the first results of the laboratory are being tested in the outer reality of the world. The experiment is being conducted upon many levels and in many fields of human experience. One such issue is the phenomenon of ageing.

The very first results that strike even a casual onlooker is the fact that ageing seems to slow down here in the Ashram. Initially, I felt prompted to believe that it was probably due to the rather stress-free and simple lifestyle and the emphasis given to physical education and, of course, the healthy and hygienic food given as prasad at the dining room. But a closer look revealed that while these may be contributory factors, the real cause is something deeper and subtle.

One obvious factor is that the concept of age somehow does not seem to exist here. Normally in life outside, the idea of age is constantly reinforced upon you from several quarters such as the various milestones of marriage, children and, most of all, retirement. None of these exist in the Ashram, at least for the majority.

Besides, life is not burdened with care, which happens when you have to earn a livelihood, please your boss, look after a family, plan for later years etc. These factors surely must be contributing in some way to a delaying of the ageing process. Added to this is the fact that the Ashram has no age-specific norms, such as dress, custom or life-style, denoting an age group. The youngest can address the eldest simply by name or as a brother. These things may appear insignificant but often small things add up in our subconscious parts where the suggestions of old age accumulate.

One recalls how when a group of people wanted to celebrate Nolini-da's 80th birthday, the Mother forbade it, saying that it would spoil all Her work of trying to make Nolini forget his age. So much for the current obsession of celebrating one's 75th year, 90th year etc.

But there is a deepest factor as well. Many persons here, however they may appear in their outer nature, carry in their consciousness a childlike quality that comes from the inmost psychic and its way of relating to the Divine as a child would to its mother.

This single factor is enough to undo many suggestions of old age for it instantly connects us to that which is ageless and deathless within us. Also, there is nothing like an end-point here at which people can rest and say with vain satisfaction, – “Ah we have arrived and achieved!” There is always something more to do and strive for, inwardly if not outwardly. It is this sense of the Illimitable and the ever expanding frontiers of the Infinite that makes old age not only uninteresting but almost vanish before this urge to progress that keeps us always full of hope and faith.

I am told that when someone asked the Mother what work a sadhak should do when he is no longer able to work and serve well with his body. The Mother said that if one is no longer able to work with the body then one should invoke the Grace. I have seen quite a few devotees who, during their last few months of life, lived in a state of constant Grace and even made unprecedented inner leaps. They got rid of long-standing habits of the outer nature, difficult attachments, through finding that part in us which is free.

Let me close with two brief anecdotes witnessed by me with regard to the youngest of the old, Amal-da. One was when a group of young Buddhist monks visited him and asked for a message. A brief pause and then came the reply: “Look forward, always look forward, never stop, keep moving forward.” What an inspiring message from a man aged 102 plus to young men who were already looking at this world as illusion and hurrying to step out of the game as if wearied of the play! Another was on his birthday two years back when someone asked him the secret of his long, healthy and happy life. Amal immediately replied, “Love for the Mother.” If only we could cultivate this flaming love and live always looking forward, ever forward.

Dr Alok Pandey



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