Humans have a great fear of growing old. We worry about the loss of looks, stamina, and abilities. We are concerned about our declining health and ultimately, we are concerned about the fact that every day we grow older, we are moving one step closer to death. People react to this fear in various ways. Some people accept the fact, but lament it; while others strive to hold onto their youth for as long as possible. In either case, the end result is misery.
In the first instance, the individual will sit idly by as their life slips away, and they will live in mortal fear of its passing — embracing every ailment and every pain as further reason to lament. In the second instance, a person will dye their hair and undergo plastic surgery to maintain the illusion of youth. One will expend their lives in a mundane search of adventure, believing this to be the purpose of their existence, and not understanding the suffering they are bringing on themselves through such senseless activity.
No matter how hard one tries to escape it, aging and death are inevitable; but they do not have to lead to misery and suffering, nor do they need be a cause of lamentation. Krishna Consciousness can teach the reality of old age and death. The Bhagavad-Gita states:
mam asritya yatanti ye
te brahma tad viduh krtsnam
adhyatmam karma cakhilam
“Intelligent persons who are endeavoring for liberation from old age and death take refuge in Me in devotional service. They are actually Brahman because they entirely know everything about transcendental and fruitive activities” (BG 7.29).
Srila Prabhupada’s purport on this verse further says: “Birth, death, old age and diseases affect this material body, but not the spiritual body. There is no birth, death, old age and disease for the spiritual body, so one who attains a spiritual body, becomes one of the associates of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and engages in eternal devotional service, is really liberated.” The Bhagavad-Gita instructs us that we are not these bodies.
vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya
navani grhnati naro ‘parani
tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany
anyani samyati navani dehi
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones” (BG 2.22).
The physical body is temporary. Disease, old age and death of this physical form is inevitable. This knowledge is greatly needed at the present time. ISKCON is 50 years old this year, which means that many devotees are now in their 70s and 80s. They are feeling the effects of this material condition. What is to become of the devotee who suffers a terrible disease or infirmity which prevents him from caring for himself? Like many people, he may need to enter a retirement facility or hospice where he can be cared for.
Unfortunately, in almost every instance, these facilities are not Krishna Conscious. One may ask why this matters. Are the devotees not receiving the medical care and attention required? The answer is yes and no. Different facilities have different standards of care, but even if one receives the best care that western science can provide, that care is still deficient without Krishna.
The Krishna Conscious lifestyle will greatly enhance the spirit soul, but it can also make the material life better. To demonstrate this point, let us consider three key elements: Diet, Association, and Sankirtan.
The Bhagavad-Gita says:
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pacanty atma-karanat
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin” (BG 3.13).
The devotee who is fed only Krsna Prasad will enjoy a karma-free diet that aids in the liberation of the soul. Such a diet will also benefit the heath of the material form. The diet of most western non-devotees is high in fat, cholesterol, starch and artificial additives. It usually also includes liberal quantities of alcohol. Each of these will lead to health issues such as heart, kidney and liver disease. The greatest contributor to these problems is meat consumption.
To offer just one thing to illustrate this point, we should consider that humans are designed like herbivores, and as such, our intestinal tract is twelve times the length of our bodies. So, when a person consumes meat, it will sit in the intestinal tract where it will rot and pick up parasites which can lead to further health problems. Despite this, nursing homes, hospitals and hospice facilities continue to serve meat. In fact, many doctors argue that meat consumption is necessary for a healthy diet.
Our acarya, while still a small child, demonstrated the fallacy of medical science. In the first volume of Srila Prabhupada lilamrta, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami writes:
When Abhay was one-and-a-half years old, he fell ill with typhoid. The family physician, Dr. Bose, prescribed chicken broth.
“No”, Gour Mohan protested, “I cannot allow it.”
“Yes, otherwise he will die.”
“But we are not meat-eaters,” Gour Mohan pleaded. “We cannot prepare chicken in our kitchen.”
“Don’t mind,” Dr. Bose said. “I shall prepare it at my house and bring it in a jar, and you simply…”
Gour Mohan assented. “If it is necessary for my son to live.” So the doctor came with his chicken broth and offered it to Abhay, who immediately began to vomit.
“All right,” the doctor admitted. “Never mind, this is no good.” Gour Mohan then threw the chicken broth away, and Abhay gradually recovered from the typhoid without having to eat meat” (p. 5).
The Second aspect of the devotee’s life to consider is association. The Srimad-Bhagavatam states:
satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvido
bhavanti hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ
taj-joṣaṇād āśv apavarga-vartmani
śraddhā ratir bhaktir anukramiṣyati
“In the association of pure devotees, discussion of the pastimes and activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and the heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes advanced on the path of liberation, and thereafter he is freed, and his attraction becomes fixed. Then real devotion and devotional service begin” (SB 3.25.25).
In the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada explains: “One must give up the association of materialistic persons and seek the association of devotees because without the association of devotees one cannot understand the activities of the Lord.” When placed into a typical retirement home or hospice facility, the devotee is surrounded by materialists who speak of everything except Krishna. They may discuss issues of heath from a secular standpoint. They may discuss sporting events, the lottery or wins and losses at a recent trip to the casino. They may discuss the illicit activities of royalty, celebrity, and neighbor. They may blaspheme or use foul language. One will hear every manner of foolishness coming from the lips of these people, but never will one hear the transcendental vibration of Hare Krishna. Surrounded by such individuals, one could fall down in one’s service, relax one’s chanting, or otherwise be harmed in body and spirit. So, it is crucial that devotees have the opportunity to associate with other Krishna Conscious devotees.
The final aspect of the devotee’s life to consider in this article is Sankirtan, the chanting and hearing of the Holy Names. The regular chanting and hearing of the transcendental vibration of ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare’ is the supreme method of attaining Krishna Consciousness in this age of Kali. The benefits, both spiritually and materially, are legion. For example, Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.11.2 tells us that “the Holy Name vanquishes the fear of material existence”, and in the Nectar of Devotion, it says “By chanting the Holy Names one becomes fearless of death.” Sankirtan is perhaps even more important for the elderly. It is indicated in Srimad-Bhagavatam that:
dakinyo yatudhanyas ca
kusmanda ye ’rbhaka-grahah
kotara revati jyestha
unmada ye hy apasmara
vrddha bala-grahas ca ye
sarve nasyantu te visnor
Here, elderly gopis are speaking to Lord Krishna. “The evil witches known as Dakinis, Yatudhanis and Kusmandas are the greatest enemies of children, and the evil spirits like Bhutas, Pretas, Pisacas, Yaksas, Raksasas and Vinayakas, as well as witches like Kotara, Revati, Jyestha, Putana and Matrka, are always ready to give trouble to the body, the life air and the senses, causing loss of memory, madness and bad dreams. Like the most experienced evil stars, they all create great disturbances, especially for children, but one can vanquish them simply by uttering Lord Visnu’s name, for when Lord Visnu’s name resounds, all of them become afraid and go away” (SB 10.6.27-29).
So, by chanting the Holy Names, one can be protected from many dangers and negative elements.
In conclusion, we can find that diet, association, and sankirtan are the crucial elements that will allow the elderly to accept aging without lamentation, and to accept death without fear. They will allow the devotee to live a healthier, happier, and more meaningful life right up to the moment of death. However, these are the very elements that are being denied many of our elderly devotees in traditional care facilities. This is why it is so important that Krishna Conscious retirement homes and hospice facilities be constructed. Once established, the elderly devotee in need of care will be fed delicious prasad, while being surrounded by other devotees engaged in the service of Krishna. Please help the Vedic Care Charitable Trust to attain this worthy goal.