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Vedantic idea of Retired Life

Vedantic idea of Retired life


Good morning to all of you. It is a pleasure to be here today to speak to you all about
your preparations for life after retirement. As I am given to understand, you will all retire from
Govt of India service during this financial year. National Academy for Customs, Excise &
Narcotics contacted our Belur Math and requested for some monks to be sent as resource persons
for this seminar. Belur Math asked both Swami Mahamedhanandaji and me to speak in the
seminar, and that is how I am here today. As introduced by Sri Debashish Gupta, I serve in
Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira, a Polytechnic College & Skill Development Center, while
Swami Mahamedhanandaji serves in Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira. Both these
institutions are in Belur Math and both are called Mandira, but there is no puja and worship in
the conventional terms going on there. These are educational institutions and since they are
executed in a worshipful attitude, we call them temples.
Now, coming to our discussion today; what I plan to do is something like this. I will
speak to you all for about 20 minutes. I wish to share a couple of ideas with you. Then we will
have a couple of questions related to what was discussed. Then Swami Mahamedhanandaji will
speak to you. Then other speakers will come in and hold sessions. That is how we have planned
todays program with Sri Ashok Das, Superintendent of NACEN.
People work for organizations and then retire. This is an ongoing process. Generally,
what we see is organizations use people, suck from them whatever is possible & more, and
then discards them out when they are old and inefficient. However, recently, the Govt of India
has started thinking on how to allow a person to retire with grace. Can the Govt guide him in any
way about his post-retirement life? This seminar is a maiden effort along that line. Of course, in
the West, these ideas have been around for quite some time now. We Indians are picking it up
just now. Well, better late than never!
What are the prevalent ideas about post-retirement life? I see it in three distinct aspects.
Firstly, you have become habituated to receiving your monthly salary for the last 25-30 years.
Very soon, you will stop receiving that money. That could create problems for you if you dont
plan properly right now. Plan your retirement emoluments investments. Today, even in India, we
have sufficient number of advisors and consultants who will guide you, perhaps for a fee. Invest
wisely so that you dont face trouble in your old age. Of course, most of you would have fulfilled
your responsibilities such as childrens education and daughters marriage, etc. But, there might
be some among you who might some of those responsibilities still left. Then there are the old age
medical expenses. All these call for proper financial planning of your retirement money. The
pension you receive will certainly help you substantially too. So, this financial planning is one
aspect, a very important aspect. I say important, because, if that is not taken care of, life becomes
painful later on.
Secondly, there is a psychological aspect to post-retirement that we need to consider.
What do I mean? You see, for the last 25-30 years, you have become habituated to coming to the
office every day. Maybe a driver picks you up and drops you home. Maybe a peon brings in a
water bottle every day in your office. Maybe the peon runs small errands for you like paying
your house electricity bill, etc. Certainly you had friends in your office who shared your pains,
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Vedantic idea of Retired Life

sorrows and joys. Surely you had confidantes in your office that discussed and advised you all
sorts of matters, personal & official. All that will suddenly stop soon. A day will soon come
when all that will suddenly stop! Are you planning for that? How do you plan for that? There are
two ways: one start withdrawing from all social life right now; two start building avenues for
continuation of all those things right now. Which one should you choose? You will have to
decide. Depending on which option you go for, your life will take a corresponding turn.
Modern psychology analyses this issue in the following way. Let us see what got you this
job and enabled you to continue and grow in this job for all your life. There are three important
ideas here.
1. Your personal competence. You had some very specific skills. The organization
needed those skills. Hence you were chosen. If you werent sufficiently skilled, you
wouldnt have gotten the job at all. Then, you wisely chose to upskill yourself
regularly. That is the reason you didnt lose relevance in your organization. That is
the reason you have continued working here till your superannuation. But that is not
all.
2. You enhanced the effectiveness of your team. None of us work alone. We are always
part of the system. There are colleagues and bosses and subordinates. Knowingly or
unknowingly, we have been enhancing the effectiveness of our team, by our inputs,
by our attitudes, by our behavior, sometimes by our mere presence.
3. You enhanced the value of individuals around you. Throughout your long career, you
have taught many people, corrected many people, helped many people, again,
knowingly or unknowingly.
Now, modern psychology says, your personality will continue to have all these three
faculties even after you retire from this job. A faculty is a power. Once that power is in play, it
has to be dealt with properly. If you want to stop using it, you have to either phase it out
gradually, or change its direction. Abrupt stopping of a kinetic force will create great damage.
Your life after retirement must have a plan for utilizing all these aspects of your personality. You
have to engage all these three aspects meaningfully. If you dont, you will even lose your mental
balance. There are cases, you know. In fact, if you look up the statistics, you will find that
people, who completely stop working after retirement, tend to die within a year or two of
retiring! So, notwithstanding the feeling the work & work pressure seems to killing us, the fact
is that not working certainly kills you! So, plan to engage yourself in some activity. Remember,
it must be a genuine activity, involving your brain, your senses, your hands and feet, not passive
activities. What are passive activities? Seeing TV or movies, reading books, these are all
classified as passive activities. They dont ever engage these three faculties that human activity
ought to engage. What about time spent with your grandchildren? Surely that is real activity.
Yes, that qualifies, but then how long can you do so? By the time the kids are 4 or 5, they are
sent off to school now-a-days. What will you do when they go away to school? So, plan for
engaging in a suitable activity, an activity that will allow all these three faculties in you. Some
people after retirement start working for NGOs. Some volunteer for social service.
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If you google for people who have achieved success in life after their retirement1 from a
regular job, you will be surprised by what you will see. Innumerable names come up, and the
things they have achieved will put any regular working man to shame.
So, the financial part and the psychological part are taken care of. The Western countries
are doing this kind of post-retirement planning quite efficiently. I wish to add one extremely vital
idea here today.
There are some topics in India which we dont speak about in public. They are taboo. Sex
is one such topic. Another is death. We dont speak about death. It is considered a big No. If
you all permit me, I wish to talk about that topic for a little while. Our ancient Indians have given
sufficient thought to this topic. The old Indian society was designed in such a way that normal
human life was meant to be a preparation for death. But, at present, our society avoids speaking
or thinking about it. Why? Many reasons are there. Every man and woman was supposed to be a
student for some time. Then everyone was expected to get married and raise a family and earn
wealth. Then, everyone was expected to gradually get detached from social life, handing over the
1 Can we expect happiness and success after 60? We can if history is any indicator. Consider the following examples. F.
Murray Abraham got his first decent screen role as an actor when he was 45. The role was in the movie Amadeus and he won
an Academy Award for his brilliant portrayal of Antonio Salieri. He had thought of giving up acting just two years before but
thankfully didnt. Andrea Bocelli didnt start singing opera seriously until the age of 34. Some experts told him it was too late
to begin. Phyliss Diller became a comedian at the age of 37. She was told by many club owners that she was too old to become
a success. Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, was 43 when he began drawing his legendary superheroes and his partner Jack
Kirby was 44 when he created The Fantastic Four. Julia Child didnt even learn to cook until she was almost 40 and didnt
launch her popular show until she was 50. Elizabeth Jolley had her first novel published at the age of 56. In one year alone she
received 39 rejection letters but finally had 15 novels and four short story collections published to great success. Mary
Wesley was 71 when her first novel was published. Talk about not giving up! Ricardo Montalban had his dream house built at
the age of 68. That was when he was finally financially able to do so and he went full-speed ahead with it. Harlan Sanders, the
Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, was 66 when he began to promote his style of cooking and create an empire.
Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing as a columnist in her 40s. Contrary to a belief begun by the TV series about her family, the
popular Little House books werent written when she was a young girl at all. They were written and published when the girl
was in her 60s!
Yet another list mentions the age at which people did wonderful things: At 62: In 1885, Louis Pasteur gives the first
injection against rabies. In 1969, John Wayne ("The Duke") wins an oscar for True Grit. At 64: In 1940, Winston Churchill
becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain proving that courage is not reserved for the young. Vows Churchill, "We shall fight on
the beaches, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." At 68: In 1966
Lillian Carter, President Carter's mother, joins the Peace Corps and spends the next two years working as a nurse near Bombay,
India. At 73: In 1981, Rex Harrison completes a successful 11-month tour in "My Fair Lady." Cathleen Nesbitt (92) plays his
mother. At 74: In 1981, Katharine Hepburn stars in On Golden Pond with 76-year-old Henry Fonda. At 75: In 1954, Elizabeth
Arden, founder of the beauty empire that bears her name, is keeping fit doing yoga handstands. At 76: In 1942, H. G. Wells
completes his doctoral dissertation, earning a D.Sc. from London University. He had dropped out of school at 14. At 80: In 1940,
Grandma Moses, who only started serious painting in her 70s, stages her first solo show. She will work for another 20 years. At
82: On August 20, 1994, Fred Lasby completes a solo around-the-world flight in his single engined Piper Commanche. At 83: In
1789, Ben Franklin adds to a long list of inventions with something every midlifer can use--bifocal glasses. At 86: In 1961,
Robert Frost recites his poem "The Gift Outright" from memory at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. At 90: In 1971, Pablo
Picasso is still at work as a painter, as is Georgia O'Keffe in 1977. At 94: In 1978, Catherine Booth, commissioner of the
Salvation Army in the United Kingdom, is chosen Toastmaster's Best Speaker of the Year. At 96: In June of 1993, Stanley Wood
of Shoreham-by-Sea England is at the controls of a Piper Cherokee, capping a flying career that spans over 80 percent of the
history of aviation. At 97: In 1976, Sir Robert Mayer tours the U.S. with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, which he had
founded 25 years earlier. At 98: On October 10, 1976, Dimitrion Yordanidis completes a marathon (over 23 miles) in Athens,
Greece. At 100: On August 5, 1994, Ichijirou Araya climbs Mt. Fuji (12,388 ft.) in Japan. At 102: In March 1971, Alice Pollock
of Haslemere, England publishes her first book, Portrait of My Victorian Youth. On May 31, 1991, Minnie Munro (age 102)
marries a man young enough to be her son (Dudley Reid, age 83) in Point Claire, New South Wales, Australia.

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family baton on to their children. After getting accustomed to a life of reduced activity, everyone
was expected to finally take up monastic vows and prepare for death. This was the original idea
in our society. Due to various reasons, it has now been decreed that one must directly jump from
being a student to monastic life. One cant be married and then later on be a monk. Be that as it
is. But, this change in the lifestyle in Indian society has deprived people of a very grand
opportunity, which is, the opportunity of planning for death.
An objection here: Doesnt it sound to be a bit pessimistic, this thinking about our own
death? I dont see what is pessimistic about it. It is something that is certainly going to happen to
us. When we know for sure that it will happen to us, should we leave to chance? Look at the
Govt of our country. The Govt certainly feels that since you have worked for it all your life, it
should provide you with some ideas for dealing with your post-retired life. That is why this
seminar is being conducted. Similarly, shouldnt someone feel for preparing you for another
bigger retirement that is coming in your life?
Another objection: Some of us may feel, since we know nothing about death, why
bother? You cant plan for the unknown. This life is certain. I know I am alive now. Shouldnt I
concentrate on enjoying to the hilt now, instead of morbidly fixating on an unknown something
like death? Ah! I have two things to tell you for this: Firstly, if you are truly saying this, feeling it
in the depths of your being, you have solved one of the greatest existential problems of life, my
friend. But in most cases, we say such things, and deep down in our own hearts, we have an
unspoken fear of the unknown death! The fear of pain during death seems to be pervasive among
us humans. All of us across culture, religion, caste, gender, age have a fear of dying. If you fear
about your own death, I think the logical thing to do would be to prepare for it. Secondly, death
isnt all that unknown. Men have known sufficiently about death. Death has been studied in great
depth in India. In fact, I am going to place those findings before you today, and those ideas form
the crux of my lecture Vedantic idea of retired life.
There is a wonderful book called Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. In that book, there is a
wonderful conversation between a great scholarly monk called Yajnavalkya and a great King
called Janaka. The King approaches the monk and asks him what impels a man to see. Just
imagine! What a question to ask a great scholar! Isnt it obvious what impels a man to see? But
there is a great depth in this question. You see, seeing is mentioned as standing for all activities
that man does in his life. So, when Janaka asks what impels a man to see, what he means to ask
is what impels a man to do whatever he does see, hear, talk, touch, feel, think. In short, we all
have been working for the last 25-30 years. Every day we got up from sleep, came to office and
worked till evening. Why? Todays economy gives us the option of saying that we did it for the
money. In all probabilities, the economy of the Upanishads time wasnt so money-based. Those
were simpler times. Yet man worked then too. King Janaka too had worked very hard and
sincerely. He was a great King. So, naturally he introspected on why he had worked. Please
follow the argument here carefully. These were extremely free minds. They had absolutely no
bias. They observed this world just as children observe it, with fresh eyes, and an open heart.
Yajnavalkya replied, Man sees because of the light of the Sun. Dont assume anything beyond
what you see. If you do that, it will seem as though the Sun regulates everything that a man does
here on earth, doesnt it? We wake up and go to work when Sun rises. We stop working and fall
asleep when the Sun sets. Good. It makes sense. Then Janaka asks what impels a man to see (in
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other words, what impels a man to work) when the Sun isnt shining. Yajnavalkya replies, The
light of the moon, stars and fire impels a man to see when the Sun doesnt shine. Very true
again. No one ever falls asleep as soon as the Sun sets. It is with the help of the light from bulbs,
wood-fire, etc. that man works at night for some time and then falls asleep.
Then Janaka asks something very strange. He asks, What impels a man to see when
none of these lights are there? Again, I wonder at this Kings perception! What a question
indeed! You can see how minutely this King has observed himself. Look at ourselves. We all
work during the day. Some of your children may be in the software industry and they may be
working at night. But that is because it is day in the country where their clients live! Look at it
whatever way you wish; the Sun is connected with our activity. When the Sun goes down, we
move around a bit and then fall asleep by putting out the other lights. Does our activity stop with
that? No! We dream. We conjure up grand worlds and see and feel and use and do everything
that we did when we were awake. What light works there then? Janaka meant this activity here.
Yajnavalkya says It is by the light of the Atman, the self, that man does this activity.
Now, this is something very simple, but not so obvious. He further says, All dreams are purely
made up by the self. If you have done good things when you were awake, you will make up good
dreams. If you did bad things, you will be making up bad dreams.
So, one thing is clear from this Janaka-Yajnavalkya conversation. We are selfluminescent; we are self-propelling. There is something in us which drives us. We know hardly
anything about it. The conversation goes on further. Both these people were extremely keen
observers and extremely logical in their thinking. I wont explain the whole book. I just wanted
to use this opportunity to introduce you to this idea. There is something very interesting in all of
us, about which we know next to nothing. Why not spend some time after retirement to find
about more. Find out how? By reading? That would be useless. Find out by observing oneself.
All these years of sincere working would have certainly sharpened your faculties. You are now
supremely qualified for this study.
Anyway, coming back to my original topic of preparing for death; you see, everything we
know about death is by conjecture. Some say there are heavens and hells. Some say what you do
here while living has a great impact on what happens to you after you die. But that is all
conjecture. No one knows for sure. But the Upanishad sages had a great brain-wave, you know.
They too had questions about death. They too had heard any number of conjectures. They
werent satisfied. But they realized one interesting thing. They studied how we go to sleep every
day and then wake up and work and then go to sleep, in a seemingly endless cycle. They saw the
uncanny similarity between this birth-work-death cycle and sleep-wake-work cycle and inferred
that since they are both very similar, studying one should give you vital clues about the other!
See the genius of these sages!
Every day we wake up from sleep. It seems we are waking up in the same body and we
are the same person. But then, there are some subtle differences too. Every day we dont feel the
same. Some days we are fresh. Some days we feel like hell. Could it be something similar with
death and rebirth too? More importantly, by studying this sleep-wake-work cycle in oneself, the
sages found out something that never sleeps, hence never wakes, and doesnt need to work. They
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found out the ever awake Atman. Could it be, further, that this Atman doesnt die, hence doesnt
take birth, and doesnt need to work? In the book I mentioned, the discussion goes along these
lines and Janaka gets a grasp of this Atman. Yajnavalkya then certifies, Janaka, O King, you
have now gone beyond the fear of death!
I gave you three ideas today regarding your post-retirement life. You need to do some
serious financial planning. You need to plan for fulfilling your psychological need through
continued activity. You need to discover something in you that will enable you to overcome the
fear of dying. I wish you all a very fulfilling life ahead. Now I will sit back there and enjoy the
next lecture by Swami Mahamedhanandaji.
Thank you all.
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