The sages have contemplated that when a person reaches the age of fifty, when the sense organs become weak and the passions dont obsess him any more he should seek Gods shelter. He should pray to the God who lives in the cave of his heart, God, now that I have become old I dont have the energy to perform tapasya or yajna. I dont even have the energy to practise the yamas and niyamas. I have spent all my life in the market of maya. Now I have acquired a bit of sense and I dont know which path to follow. Please grant me your grace. Let me have a vision of you and I will completely surrender at your feet.
In old age, try to spend your time in remembrance of God. No longer should you run after children, money and tax. Now whatever happens, whatever joy or sorrow comes your way, whoever dies or lives, you should not be concerned. If you have a glimpse of God once, you should have nothing to do with this world of illusion. Until the age of fifty, you may perform all kinds of different sadhanas to control the senses, but after fifty, the state has been described in the Bhagavad Gita (2:59):
Vishayaa vinivartante niraahaarasya dehinah
Rasavarjam rasopyasya param drishtvaa nivartate.
The objects of the senses turn away from the abstinent man, leaving the longing (behind); but his longing also turns away on seeing the Supreme.
It is a state where all the fives senses have withdrawn. The attributes of the mind manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara have withdrawn and nearly retired. After fifty, the senses, the digestion, the eyesight, the hearing and the muscles become weak. When the senses become sluggish, they cannot run after the objects of the world just as a weak person cannot carry a heavy load. In such a state, the only sadhana should be of samarpan, surrender.
Younger people need to perform hard sadhana to train and capture the mind so it does not misbehave. But when the senses begin to slacken, then their objects begin to lose intensity. There is awareness of sense objects, of money, children, husband and wife to an extent, but the intensity of the awareness is subdued. And even the little taste for life that is left over finishes when one gets a vision of the God residing within.
Before the age of fifty, you may follow many different ways. After the age of fifty there is only one way, the one that leads to God. If someone looks for a different way at that time, he will be lost. That is for certain. After all, what capacity does one have after the age of fifty? The only path left for him is surrender. Adi Shankaracharya says in Mohamudgar (v. 14):
Angam galitam palitam mundam dashana viheenam jaatam tundam;
Vriddho yaati griheetvaa dandam tadapi na munchati aashaapindam.
The limbs are weak, the eyes are weak, the teeth have fallen, one needs to walk with the help of a stick; yet, expectations are not let go of.
Give yourself over to God now. Resolve in your mind that whatever God does, you will let him. You may do your japa when you wake up in the morning, visit a temple during the day, create a program of chanting the Bhagavad Gita or the Ramayana, or participate in a satsang. However, the real thing is to be able to say to God that you are unable to do anything now and are handing over the key of your vehicle to Him. One who surrenders himself completely to God is protected by God.
What is the role of yoga in old age?
Yoga is your very support in old age. It is an old mans crutch. What age will you call old? A sannyasin might be considered old after the age of seventy, but a householder gets old at sixty. Household circumstances wring the life force out of you much faster.
When you begin to feel your age, make it a habit to go for a walk in the morning. Practise asanas for ten or fifteen minutes and pranayama for ten or fifteen minutes. As you advance in age, run your vehicle less frequently. If you keep on running an old car, the tyres might puncture and the brakes might fail. So run the car only when necessary. This means that you should have less to do with worldly life, children and spouse. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa treated his wife as his mother at the age of thirteen; if you can do this at the age of sixty it will still be beneficial.
You should also reduce the amount that you eat after turning sixty. Eat only once a day and preferably during midday. Have a fatless diet and abstain from sour food. However, the basis of managing old age is not food, wife or children. The basis is yoga and bhajan, and most of all, solitude. When you become old, try to live alone even if you live within the family.