No. It can be pleasant. It can be happy. But it is all in our hands. If it was dreadful to most of men, it was because men failed to make life happy.
The search for justice began with Plato. But we are still after justice in the world. To rid the world of its sorrows?this was the mission of the Buddha. But sorrow has not left us in all these years.
Aging is a biological process. We can do little to reverse it. But old age? It is what we make of it. Alas, we all die without knowing why we are here on this earth! It is a bloody shame! It is time to know why we are here on earth. The Hindus were a thinking people. They could have found the answers. But their life was disrupted for a thousand years. They must resume their quest.
Most societies have developed ways to cope with the problem of aging and old age. We Hindus have contributed the most to this process. But look at the mess we are still in!
All our life, we are preoccupied with God and life here-after. There is a religion which says that men were created only to praise the creator! Is it for this that we are here on this earth? Is the earth only a place of sojourn? We have got it all wrong. The earth is a place in the universe where the greatest cosmic experiment is going. It is a sacred place. We should aid Nature, not run away from it. The humanity has wasted its prayers, when it should have been planting fruit trees. God has little to do with the mess we are in.
Vedic culture was life-affirming. Vedic men were joyful. They were distinctly this-worldly. Their emphasis was on material prosperity, long life, progeny, etc. In one of the hymns of the Rig Veda, the rishi says: Never may we suffer from want… living a happy life, may we attain old age. Ayushman bhava?this is how the Vedic people greeted each other. Perhaps they had no afflictions? They hardly thought of life after death.
And yet by the 6th century BC, people were obsessed with death and life after death! They yearned for moksha. With that the neglect of the earth and man began.
The reformers of the age believed that there was some cause for aging. But it could be avoided, they thought, by propitiating the gods. The preoccupation with rituals began. Not preoccupation with the destiny of man.
The Buddha changed the way we thought. He provided a critique to the Vedic people'slust for life, arguing that aging is an evil and a source of suffering. He spoke of the three evils?old age, disease and death. But he did not seek for himself an early exit from life. In fact, he was in favour of a long and healthy life. He refused to die when urged by Mara. He died at a ripe old age.
Aging is inherent in all compounds, the Buddha said. He opposed the karma-oriented social ethics and philosophy of the Vedic people. Being an abode of pain, a human body could never be the abode of anything but evil, asserted the Buddhists. They saw no atman dwelling inside the body. This was in violent contrast to the position of Vedanta. In short, Buddhism gave little thought to making life on earth happier. As against this, we have the Hindu ideal of the four ashramas. This was a kind of balance between the Vedic way and the Buddhist way. Manu was opposed to renunciation at a young age. But he also said that at a certain stage, ?one should cultivate disgust of the body as a storehouse of urin, blood, faecal matter and semen.? It is this attitude of disgust that is our legacy. We have taken death as a liberation from a painful life. Care of the aged has never been in our thoughts.
Of course, there were other trends. For example, the worship of the body as exemplified by Kama Sutra. Vatsyayana extols the satiation of bodily desires. But sexual permissiveness led to a shorter life.
As I said before, the Hindus have contributed the most for a healthy life. Ayurveda and Yoga?these are distinct Hindu contributions to the humanity. These have influenced the world'sthinking for millennia.
But, Good Reader, how did we fail to produce a caring society? Because we think as individuals, not as a collective. Individualism made us independent thinkers. But lack of collective thinking made us weak. Then, again, the earth is no caravan serai as was claimed. It is the only place we have to build our heaven. And instead of looking at the body in ?disgust? we should treat it as an abode of the divine (isn'tthe mind and consciousness part of the divine?) Life could be pleasant, it could be happy, but we must create a caring society of Hindus, who care for each other. Old age, then, can be happy.