“Materially, when a man becomes tired by rendering service in his physical body, he is allowed retirement, but in the transcendental service there is no feeling of fatigue because it is spiritual service and is not on the bodily plane. Service on the bodily plane dwindles as the body grows older, but the spirit is never old, and therefore on the spiritual plane the service is never tiresome.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.3 Purport)
Work hard all your life, save up enough money, and then be done with work. Go to the same job, day after day, week after week, and year after year until you are ready to retire. Retirement is the panacea, the release from pressure. No more going to work. Ah, but too bad you don’t have as much energy. In your youth you could have marathons of playing video games, watching movies, playing sports, and hanging out with your friends, but in old age you have trouble staying awake into the primetime television viewing hours. Is all that hard work worth it, then? Is there any other option? In one discipline there is actually no end to the activity, even if the body starts to deteriorate. As the activities in this discipline are not dependent on the body, they are considered spiritual. And as the spiritual continues indefinitely, it is in line with the constitutional position of the individual.
The soul is the identifying force within all animate creatures. There are both moving and nonmoving creatures. The tree is alive but it doesn’t move. The snake is alive as well, and it slithers from here to there. The human being is alive and can move around or remain stationary. As long as there is life, the presence of the soul is there as well. The soul remains localized until it is ready to travel to another body, where it will again serve as the vital force. The surrounding bodies take birth, develop, leave byproducts, and eventually decay, but the same does not happen to the soul.
Activities that relate to the body and not the soul go through the same cycle. They cannot be carried out indefinitely, nor does one desire to have an indefinite period of activity. Think of the nine-to-five office job. The happy hour at the local bar is frequented because of the dislike for long, extended hours at the office. The same applies to the job involving manual labor, where one works very hard, gets tired at the end of the day, and then rests up so that they can repeat the same behavior the subsequent day. All the while, the body is slowly dying, though the vibrant force within is not. Spiritual life seeks to meet the desires of the soul. Thus spiritual life can continue on without stoppage.
What is retirement like in spiritual life?
It is actually similar to non-retirement life. The soul’s constitutional position is to serve. This is known as its dharma, which means an essential characteristic. The term “dharma” is used in other contexts as well, but it basically has the same meaning all the time. If there is a dharma for a particular occupation, it relates to the set of activities which maintains the characteristic essential for that occupation. The dharma for the doctor is the practice of medicine, for the lawyer the study of the law, for the teacher the instructing of students, and so on.
Though dharma in these instances relates to a kind of set of guiding principles, there is still the link to the essential characteristic. In the same way, those procedures which help the soul maintain its essential characteristic get tagged as a dharma. In this sense there is only one true dharma. In the Vedas it is referred to as sanatana-dharma or bhagavata-dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end. Bhagavata refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the most fortunate person. God is without beginning and without end, so the soul’s proclivity for serving Him is the same way.
In a land where there is the option to choose to meet the demands of the body, activities are recommended for the practice of sanatana-dharma. In the spiritual world, where the material option is unavailable, all activity is sanatana-dharma; there is no need for distinction. There isn’t even the need to think in terms of devoted and non-devoted. As soon as there is any hint of envy of the Supreme Lord or a desire to compete with Him for enjoyment, residence in the material world is granted.
The quintessential act of spiritual life is thinking. And that thinking is about God, who is full of features and a transcendental form. Through hearing thinking becomes easy, and you can hear easily by chanting. Thus through chanting alone one engages in perfect spiritual life. The best words to chant are those which most completely describe God and His features. Krishna means all-attractive and Rama means the source of transcendental pleasure. Hare refers to the Lord’s energy, so through these words we get the superior mantra, the formula of all formulas: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
You can chant this mantra when you are too young to even attend school. You can repeat the sound like a parrot who doesn’t know any better. The sound has potency; it is pleasing to the ear. Something that is pleasing will be repeated for as long as it continues to bring pleasure. Krishna is all-attractive, Rama gives the pleasure, and Hare provides the energy, the impetus and instruction necessary to continue in the chanting without end. You need all three components; otherwise you will fall back into material life, which is dull, lifeless and the cause of so much pain. You need the attraction of the Lord to bring you in. You need the pleasure to make the entry worthwhile, and you need the instruction and energy to help maintain your focus in the midst of so many distractions.
You can continue the chanting when you reach adolescence. You can keep on chanting while you’re an adult. If you’re at the office earning your living, you can chant in your mind. And then you can chant out loud when you get home. You might retire from work, but you’ll never want to give up connecting with the Supreme Lord, especially if you are practicing bhakti-yoga properly. Bhakti-yoga is another equivalent term for sanatana-dharma. It is just another way to describe the same truth, namely that the soul’s occupational duty is to remain connected with God. As this is the inherent duty assigned by an all-perfect being, it is without flaws. Problems only arise when bhakti-yoga is not accepted, which happens through either ignorance, misfortune, or willful defiance.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
There are so many historical examples which show how bhakti-yoga is timeless. It does not have a retirement age because there is no desire to give it up. The body may be renounced, but this does not mean that the consciousness has to change. Whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, that state they will attain in the next life, without fail. The next life is as guaranteed as the next day, as the life as we define it is merely a marking of elapsed time spent in a particular area. The notches on a ruler help us to make measurements, but they have no bearing on the existence of anything. Measurement perceives; it does not create. The consideration of a lifetime is merely a way to measure something; it does not determine whether something lives or dies. There is always life for the soul, who is eternal in its constitution. And for one who is devoted to Shri Krishna and always chanting His names, there is always a vibrant life, irrespective of the age of the temporary body.
After so many years in office chair to sit,
Can’t wait for retirement, from work to quit.
But then with my time what will I do,
I need some action in retirement too.
When to reach transcendental stage,
Blissful life through work at any age.
Material matters hampered by body growing old,
In bhakti spiritual consciousness into next life rolled.