Chapter 22 — Denunciation of Old Age

Rama speaking:—

Boyhood has scarcely lost its boyishness when it is overtaken by youth, which is soon followed by a ruthless old age that devours the other two. Old age withers the body like frost freezing a lake of lilies. It drives away the beauty of the body like a storm does autumn clouds. It pulls down the body like a current carries away a tree from the bank.

An old man with his limbs slackened and worn out by age, his body weakened by infirmity, is treated by women as a useless beast. Old age drives away a man’s good sense, just like a step mother drives away a good wife. A man in tottering old age is ridiculed as a imbecile by his own sons and servants, and even by his wife, friends and relations.

When their appearance grows uncouth and their bodies become helpless and devoid of all manly qualities and powers, then insatiable greed alights on the heads of the aged like a greedy vulture. Appetite, the constant companion of my youth, is thriving along with my age, accompanied with her evils of indigence, and heart-burning cares and restlessness.

Ah me! What must I do to remove my present and future pains? This fear increases with old age and finds no remedy. What am I that I am brought to this extremity of senselessness? What can I do in this state? I must remain dumb and silent. Given these reflections, there is an increased sense of helplessness in old age.

10 How and when and what shall I eat, and what is sweet to taste? These are the thoughts that trouble the mind when old age comes. 11 There is an insatiable desire for enjoyments, but the powers to enjoy them are lacking. It is lack of strength which afflicts the heart in old age. 12 Hoary old age sits and shrieks like a heron on the top of the tree of this body which is infested within by the serpents of sickness.

13 As the grave owl, the bird of night, appears unexpectedly to our sight as the evening shades cover the landscape, so the solemn appearance of death overtakes us in the eve of our life. 14 As darkness prevails over the world in the evening, so death overtakes the body at the eve of the life. 15 Death overtakes a man in his hoary old age, just like a monkey alights on a tree covered with pearly flowers.

16 Even a deserted city, a leafless tree and parched up land may present a fair aspect, but never does the body look well that is pulled down by hoary age. 17 Old age with its hooping cough lays hold of a man, just as a vulture seizes its prey with loud shrieks in order to devour it. 18 As a girl eagerly lays hold of a lotus flower whenever she sees one, then plucks it from its stalk and tears it to pieces, so does old age overtake a person’s body and breaks it down at last. 19 As the chill blast of winter shakes a tree and covers its leaves with dust, so does old age seize the body with a tremor and fill all its limbs with the rust of diseases.

20 The body overtaken by old age becomes as pale and battered as a lotus flower beaten by frost becomes withered and shattered. 21 As moonbeams contribute to the growth of kumuda flowers on the top of mountains, so does old age produce grey hairs resembling casia flowers on the heads of men (with inward phlegm and gout). 22 Death, the lord of all beings, views the grey head of a man as a ripe pumpkin seasoned with the salt of old age, and devours it with zest.

23 As the Ganges upsets a neighboring tree by its rapid course, so old age destroys the body as the current of our life runs fast to decay. 24 Old age preys on the flesh of the human body and takes as much delight in devouring its youthful bloom as a cat does feeding on a mouse. 25 Decrepitude raises its ominous hoarse sound of hiccough in the body, like a jackal sending forth her hideous cry in the forest. 26 Old age is an inner flame that consumes the living body like a wet log of wood, which thereupon emits its hissing sounds of hiccough and hard breathing, and sends up the gloomy fumes of sorrow and sighs.

27 The body like a flowering vine, bends down under the pressure of age, turns to grey like the fading leaves of a plant, and becomes as lean and thin as a plant after its flowering time is over. 28 Like an infuriated elephant that can uproot a white plantain tree in a moment, so does old age destroy the body that becomes as white as camphor all over.

29 Senility, O sage, is as the standard bearer of the king of death, flapping his fly-whisks of grey hairs before him and bringing an army of diseases and troubles in his train. 30 The monster of old age will even overcome those who were never defeated in wars by their enemies, and those who hide themselves in the inaccessible caverns of mountains.

31 As infants cannot play in a room that has become cold with snow, so the senses can have no play in a body stricken with age. 32 Old age, like a juggling girl, struts on three legs at the sound of coughing and whiffing, beating like a kettledrum on both sides. 33 The tuft of grey hairs on the head of an aged body represents a fly-whisk fastened to the top of a handle of white sandalwood that serves to welcome the despot of death.

34 As hoary age makes his advance like moonlight over the body, he calls forth hidden death to come out of it, as moonlight makes water lilies unfold their buds. 35 Again as the whitewash of old age whitens the outer body, so debility, diseases and dangers become its inmates in the inner apartment. 36 The extinction of being is preceded by old age. Therefore I as a man of little understanding can have no reliance in old age (though extolled by some.) 37 What then is the good of this miserable life, which lives subject to old age? Senility is irresistible in this world, and it defies all efforts to avoid or overcome it.