Old Age

There tend to be three times in a person’s life (I almost said a man’s life, and I still wonder if that’s more accurate), when it is common to have spiritual awakenings. Once is at the dawn of adulthood in the early twenties when some people go explore the world to find themselves. This is when many young people ordain. Another time is in middle age when we look around and realize that all the things of the world — work, family, money — haven’t brought the total happiness that we hoped. And then there is old age, when we start to look death more clearly in the face. This is a sutta about that third awakening.

Venerable Pingiya said to the Buddha, “I am old and weak. My skin is sallow, my eyesight is bad, and I’m half deaf. I am afraid that I am developing Alzheimers. Please teach me the way to go beyond the cycle of birth and old age.”

The Buddha replied, “Pingiya, you have seen others die before their time. And you know that those without mindfulness suffer in this life. So, Pingiya, you know that it is vital to let go and not be reborn.

“North, east, south, west!” said Pingiya. “Northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest! Above and below! In all of these directions there is nothing that you do not see, hear, or understand. Please teach me how to give up birth and old age.”

“You see for yourself that people are victims of craving. Therefore they suffer with old age. So, Pingiya, be mindful! Give up craving right now and you will be reborn no more.”

-Sutta Nipata 5.17

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