By Devaki Devi Dasi
For a person in the renounced phase of life it is good to move – as the saying goes: A rolling stone doesn’t gather any moss… After all, we are not meant to get too comfy, homey and cozy. It feels good to move on as soon as one gets too comfortable and settled. Then it may be time to pack up the suitcase and say farewell…
This mood is described in the purpport to the SB 11.3.26:
“Thus a pure devotee of the Lord is aniketatam, without a fixed residence, meaning that he accepts neither the gross nor subtle body as his eternal residence. Since one’s so-called home and family are expansions of his body, such material creations are also not to be considered one’s actual residence. […] Thus a devotee should understand that his eternal residence is fixed in the dust of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. […] A pure devotee may travel all over the world distributing Krishna consciousness, but he should never consider any material place to be his actual residence. One who has become mature in this understanding may take the tridanda-sannyasa order of life under the direct shelter of the Lord.”
A renunciate also cultivates a certain mood and attitude in regards to eating, which is explained in the verses of the SB. 11.8.2 & 3:
“Following the example of the python, one should give up material endeavors and accept for one’s maintenance food that comes of its own accord, whether such food be delicious or tasteless, ample or meager. If at any time food does not come, then a saintly person should fast for many days without making endeavor. He should understand that by God’s arrangement he must fast. Thus, following the example of the python, he should remain peaceful and patient.”
The tongue is most voracious and always demands some gratification and enjoyment. A person in the renounced phase of life is meant to control the urges of the tongue and develop a higher taste, where eating is not any longer a prominent source of pleasure in life. This point is strongly expressed in the verses of CC Antya. 6.225 to 227:
“If a renunciant is eager for his tongue to taste different foods, his spiritual life will be lost, and he will be subservient to the tastes of his tongue. The duty of a person in the renounced order is to chant the Hare Krishna mantra always. He should satisfy his belly with whatever vegetables, leaves, fruits and roots are available. One who is subservient to the tongue and who thus goes here and there, devoted to the genitals and the belly, cannot attain Krishna.”
A very nice and practical explanation is found in the verse of the SB. 11.8.11:
“A saintly person should not think, “This food I will keep to eat tonight and this other food I can save for tomorrow.” In other words, a saintly person should not store foodstuffs acquired by begging. Rather, he should use his own hands as his plate and eat whatever fits on them. His only storage container should be his belly, and whatever conveniently fits into his belly should be his stock of food. Thus one should not imitate the greedy honeybee, who eagerly collects more and more honey.”
In this regard, I remember being in a Maharaja’s room around 25 years ago when he was visiting Riga/Latvia. He was just about to close his suitcase to leave for his next destination, when a devotee came to offer him a jar with home-made jam. Maharaja burst out laughing, exclaiming: “What am I going to do with that?! How can I take that along with me? If devotees see that I am traveling with a jar of jam, they may wonder: What kind of Sannyasi is he?!”
It is indeed cumbersome to travel with so many bags of prasadam and bhoga – as if there will not be anything to eat in the next place. And it may reflect a mindset inappropriate for the renounced phase in life.
Another important aspect of the renounced phase in life is expressed in CC Antya, 6.225:
“A vairagi [a person in the renounced order] should not depend on others. If he does so, he will be unsuccessful, and he will be neglected by Krishna.”
Gurudas Prabhu (or is it Srutakirti Prabhu?) tells the story where Srila Prabhupada is at Radha Damodara Mandir in Vrindavan, together with a group of his disciples. Srila Prabhupada cleaned the floor in his own room, going down on his knees, saying: “Never depend on others…!”
When allowing oneself to depend too much on others one may easily lose one’s brahminical aloofness and may compromise, not being able to say or do what needs to be said or done. One may even become subjected to manipulation, agreeing to unacceptable circumstances because of external dependence. In this way, a renunciate may not be able to act for the ultimate spiritual benefit of others around him. We are meant to deepen our dependence on the Lord. Internally we may cultivate our dependence on the Vaishnavas, but not in an external sense.
As one’s Krishna consciousness matures, one is firmly established in eternal reality, which is described in the verse of SB 10.14.22:
“One who accepts the kingdom of God as home, the Lord Himself as the object of love, and the material universe as paraphernalia for being engaged in the Lord’s service dwells within eternal reality wherever he may go within the material and spiritual worlds.”
Your servant, Devaki dd
Retiring From Family Life
By Devaki Devi Dasi
Throughout the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada emphasizes again and again the importance of retiring from family life around the age of fifty. He clearly gives this deadline – again and again.
In the purport to SB. 3.30.14. Srila Prabhupada explains: “Family attraction is so strong that even if one is neglected by family members in his old age, he cannot give up family affection, and he remains at home just like a dog. In the Vedic way of life one has to give up family life when he is strong enough. It is advised that before getting too weak and being baffled in material activities, and before becoming diseased, one should give up family life and engage oneself completely in the service of the Lord for the remaining days of his life. It is enjoined, therefore, in the Vedic scriptures, that as soon as one passes fifty years of age, he must give up family life.”
The idea is to retire from family duties while we still have physical strength and good health to absorb ourselves in devotional service. However, taking to the Vanaprastha ashram does not mean that the husband puts on saffron and walks out. No, it is a team work between the husband and wife. They both support each other in retiring from family life which is only natural, since the children are grown up. Thus very naturally the worldly duties reduce and diminish. The body is getting older and becomes less suitable for running around and engaging in exhausting services and tasks. We are meant to switch to more internal activities, deepening our hearing and chanting. We may also preach or engage in studies and other services, with more time for contemplation and introspection. We pass down our life experience and wisdom by reaching out to the younger generation and giving guidance and advice. We may also spend more time in the holy dham. Husband and wife can either do these activities together, or separately. The Vanaprastha ashram has many forms and variations how it exactly manifests. There is not only one possible version. The underlying principle is to deepen our internal spiritual life, giving up the comforts of the cozy home and accept a more simple life with austerities. This will enhance our spiritual practice and deepen our hearing and chanting, and thus it will strengthen our loving relationship with Krishna, until we long to reach Him at the moment of death.
Interestingly, a devotee has a very different attitude to old age than a materialist. Srila Prabhupada explains this in the purport to SB. 4.27.24:
“Because a devotee rigidly follows the instructions of Narada Muni, he has no fear of old age, disease or death. Apparently a devotee may grow old, but he is not subjected to the symptoms of defeat experienced by a common man in old age. Consequently, old age does not make a devotee fearful of death, as a common man is fearful of death. A devotee knows that after death he is going back home, back to Godhead; therefore he has no fear of death. Thus instead of depressing a devotee, advanced age helps him become fearless and thus happy.”
For a materialist, old age and death are the most unwanted and fearsome aspects of life. And he tries to counteract them by all means: with plastic surgeries, various cosmetics promising to reverse the effects of old age, by dying the hair to hide the fact that we are greying, etc. In modern life centered around sense gratification, a person is willing to do anything in order to try and appear young and attractive forever.
In spiritual life we have a very different attitude to old age and death. We happily embrace it, knowing that the time will come closer where we can finally get out of the material world. Krishna has been waiting for us for so long! Why not join Him as soon as He indicates that our time here is up?!
In the Mukunda-mala-stotra, verse 37, we can find a wonderful and humorous purport:
“One can see enlightenment among the elderly at pilgrimage sites in India, especially in Vrndavana. There one sees many old people visiting temples with intense devotion early in the morning. Hundreds of old people walk the circumambulation (parikrama) paths despite physical debilities. Some are bent nearly double! Someone might criticize that these people are not being provided with the Western medical treatment that could add a few years to their lives or ease their pain. But the sincere babajis and widows of Vrndavana who somehow make their way every morning to see Krishna in the temples and who call out “Jaya Radhe!” are actually fortunate and most intelligent. They are taking the krsna-rasayana, the elixir that will grant them eternal life in Krishna’s spiritual abode. The Vedic shastras recommend that one drink this elixir from the beginning of life, but even if one neglects to do so earlier, one should by all means drink it during the waning days of life and thus cure the disease of repeated birth and death.