Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wrong side of 30

According to my meticulous examination of multiple Wikipedia pages, there are four stages of life for those who choose to follow the Vedic way of Hinduism, namely: student, householder, retired/forest dweller and renunciation/ascetic. You get the general idea of what each stage entails from their names. If you graphed it, it would look like a single peaked mountain measuring earthly attachment over time.

We're born naked, the number of possessions starts at zero. Over time we build up social, occupational and material attachments, receiving aid and mentoring from the older generation. A drag on parents and society for a time but with promise of a brighter future. Eventually the child becomes a man, the student becomes the householder, the net negative becomes a net positive, producing food and wealth that sustains a family and people in other stages of life. All the while living graciously and virtuously.



In this system, the peak of responsibility occurs around mid 40. The attachment slope upwards stops and starts moving downwards. The focus turns from building of skills, possessions and responsibilities to the passing off of those things. This is the pivot point, the fulcrum. The column tracking earthly attachments dwindles down while the column tracking enlightenment is supposed to rise. Eventually reaching a point where all material ties have been renounced and you are a 70 year old, natty bearded yogi mumbling "moksha" with your eyes closed.

I personally know many people who seek enlightenment, although some confuse it with salvation, and all see it as an urgent quest. I completely understand this position. If one believes that an eternal soul exists, matters related to the maintenance of it are quite obviously the most important thing in this short life. We all know we can't take our possessions with us. The Book of Common Prayer puts it "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

That's why the existence of a householder stage on the Hindu path to enlightenment is so fascinating to me. Why not cut straight to the chase and encourage teens to give up the few possessions they have accumulated and live their entire life as an ascetic? Perhaps that's a differently phrased version of "why did Jesus wait until 30 to start his ministry?" Maybe it's because enlightenment just doesn't work that way. Just as a crate that is placed on sand leaves an imprint when it's picked up, the weight of responsibility leaves an imprint on us even after it's lifted. Just as the exact thing you're looking for is often in the last place you look.

I can respect an enlightenment process that makes you wait. Patience is not exactly a common virtue. Forcing your future monks to endure a family life first probably makes a lot of sense. Anyone who has lived the with the chaos of toddlers has a clearer appreciation of quiet contemplation.

And that is really the cycle of things isn't it? The thrill of creation inevitably leads to the drudgery of actually doing the dirty work. There are wildly creative inventors who have a million patents but can't actually run a business. There are serial entrepreneurs who start businesses and move on, never maintaining one for the long haul. There are scared inheritants who do nothing but maintain what someone else has gifted them. Rare is the person who patiently weathers all the stages. And it is through completing all stages that one seems to find meaning.

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Getting older is sure a strange experience. We get farther and farther from our earthly creation and closer and closer to our earthly death. Regarding the passage of time, I'm not sure if the womb shoots us forward like a cannon or death sucks us in like a black hole. Either way, they both conspire to keep our time on earth short and tidy. We're dropped on a fast moving conveyor belt, ride the bumps with white knuckled persistence and our hair thrown back by the wind until we reach the looming pneumatic hammer and, squish.

But it's not doom and gloom, in fact much the contrary. Thirty trips around the sun so far and I can't say they've been dull. The last decade was mostly split between college and work, but the balance was full of marriage, two kids, church and a couple bands. I regret basically none of it and that by itself deserves a hallelujah. Good, lucky or blessed, or maybe all of the above.

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