IF I CLAIM "I'm middle-aged," I'm lying. When you turn fifty, you're facing old age.
By now I ought to know what I'm doing. Why continue pretending with the little time I have left? When you start getting older, people begin to respect you for your seniority, so you shouldn't let them down by behaving like a young fool who can't make up his mind whether he wants to be a devotee of Krsna or something else.
Yet still there's confusion. For example, I can't be sure whether I'm a hypochondriac or just sensible. When I attend the temple programs, I can't figure out whether my dislike for the too-fast kirtanas is because of my evolved spiritual taste or because I'm too old to jump and dance. When the young devotees make gung-ho speeches saying everyone should go out and convert the demons, I often see through their hype. But is that my mature vision or loss of nerve? Nowadays I also tend to see the Absolute Truth in various philosophies and religions. Is that a sign that I'm reaching universal realization, or does it mean I'm drifting and becoming unchaste? When I lecture I can't figure out if I'm enthralling people or boring them. Have I gone from stable to stodgy?
In some ways I think I'm becoming more Krsna conscious. But illusion may come even to an old man. When I was younger, maya used to present one kind of calling card. I thought I was handsome. Now that's no longer possible, because my face is full of lines and my teeth and hair are falling out. But maya has some new calling cards. I think I'm accomplished and better than other people. Young people often seem foolish and superficial to me. And when I think about my own youth, I romanticize the 1960's, when "we were more idealistic than young people today." I don't want to kid myself, but these illusions keep coming even at my age.
The most frightening thing is death. It's coming nearer, but I haven't become much more serious about it.
What does frighten me, though, is that time is passing more quickly than it used to and I'm not living up to my expectations or the ones Srila Prabhupada had for me. I've been given the greatest gift, the association of a pure devotee. From those to whom much has been given, much is expected. But I'm afraid that all I'm doing is routine and mediocre. I'm not accomplishing anything wonderful. If something wonderful is going to come out of me at all, when will it be? The realization that my total life's output is not going to amount to much is a hard thing to accept. I have failed in big ways, but I haven't come to regret it much. And maybe I'm too old now to make major reforms. All I can do is pray to Krsna to please help me become aware of my small place.
Some things are getting better. The essence of Krsna consciousness stands out to me more clearly. I'm getting down to the basics of chanting Hare Krsna and hearing from Bhagavad-gita. I also think I'm advancing in my attraction for Radha and Krsna.
Maybe it's just because my senses are growing older, but I feel less inclined for sex. Recently I've also begun to pray, for the first time in my spiritual life. I reminisce about my personal association with Srila Prabhupada, and I'm writing down my memories and praises of him. So good things are happening, and I sense more of this good fortune ahead. I can hardly wait to appreciate more what it really means to be a follower of Prabhupada and Radha-Krsna, but I understand that the key is humility and service, as always. I just hope it's not too late for me to make it.
What Srila Prabhupada has written about old age is encouraging. He says that if a person is Krsna conscious he can work like a young man even when he's seventy-five or eighty years old. Prabhupada gives the example of Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, who when very old wrote the Caitanya-caritamrta, the most wonderful book about the activities of Lord Caitanya. Srila Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami began their spiritual lives at an old age, after they retired from their occupations and family lives.
The effects of old age don't harass a devotee. Srila Prabhupada writes:
Apparently a devotee may grow old, but he is not subjected to 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 to become fearless and thus happy. Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.27.24, Purport
I realize I'm just a newcomer to old age. The challenges of infirmity and debility lie ahead. As Bhaktivinoda Thakura sings, vrddha kala aola saba sukha bhagala: in old age, all kinds of happiness disappear. I hope that when it gets difficult, I will be able to depend on Srila Prabhupada and get through without dishonor. Srila Prabhupada's personal example is a light for the darkness that lies ahead.
Srila Prabhupada, your old age was glorious! Though I can't imitate you, how can I think of retiring when you, my own spiritual master, kept traveling, preaching, and writing even into your eighties? Dear Srila Prabhupada, please give me the strength to serve you.
Let me dedicate my remaining life to serving you with youthful vigor.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.