DEFINING VEDIC RETIREMENT
Yes, retirement at five-years-old is the recommendation of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. What is this retirement? What is life for if we retire at five? In the modern context, retirement means retirement from professional work. But in the Vedic context, retirement means retirement from sense gratification. The modern retiree, after a lifetime of sense gratification, wants to still enjoy sense gratification in the company of his family members in his old age, after professional retirement. The fundamental principle of sense gratification is not given up till the last moment of death.
Human life is meant to regulate and ultimately stop sense gratification because it is based on a misconceived notion of a bodily concept of life. The soul passes through 8 million species of bodies before entering the human form of life. In all those species, only sense gratification prevails. Therefore, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam advises all humans not to waste our time in the miserable pursuit of sense gratification but to perform austerities and penances in order to purify our existence and thus qualify ourselves to experience the limitless spiritual happiness in devotional service to Kṛṣṇa.
Only in human life do we have the prerogative to advance towards liberation from material entanglement and reinstate ourselves in the spiritual world. But it is a limited offer. Time is running out and we do not know when it will run out. Death can come at any moment and take away this valuable gift of human life.
Therefore, we should not idle around or chase illusory dreams in this human form of life. Śrīpāda Śaṅkarācārya gave a graphical description of how our life passes by without having served the real purpose of achieving liberation. Childhood is lost in frivolous sports, youthhood is lost in attraction to the opposite sex and old age is lost in lamentations of all kinds and before we know it, death knocks at our door and thus the golden opportunity of human life is wasted with no profit at all. This is the life of a krpana, a miser, who does not utilize his valuable treasure. The real profit is engagement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness because even a little endeavor in this path is never lost, even after the loss of the body.
THE BEST INVESTMENT
Real profit is achieved when the return is greater than the investment. So if we invest this temporary human body to achieve eternal shelter at the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, that is the greatest profit. That is the best use of human intelligence.
We have been busy with sense gratification in all our lives prior to the achievement of human life. Now is the time to retire from sense gratification and pursue self-realization. Every moment in human life is extremely valuable. Therefore, the great devotee Prahlāda Mahārāja advises that we should start engaging in Kṛṣṇa consciousness from the tender age of 5 years old, when our consciousness and remembrance begin to solidify.
CURRENT vs VEDIC CIVILIZATION
The current civilization is exactly opposite to the Vedic civilization of the past. Today, at five years old, or even before that, the child is admitted into a school that equips him with the skills required to earn his livelihood and engage in sense gratification under various headings. In this way, one grows up to maintain a family life which is full of anxieties. Then, in the name of retirement, such a person, being blind to the transcendental significance of the human body, tries to further engage in sense gratification but is frustrated because of an invalid body and eventually suffers a miserable death, not to speak of the dark consequences in his afterlife.
On the other hand, the Vedic way of life starts at the age of 5 where the boy is trained up to be a brahmacārī under the care of the guru. Once he is sufficiently trained, he may accept household life for a brief period of about 25 years, that is, from 25 years old to 50 years old. Then one must retire from such family life and prepare himself for complete detachment. Once he is sufficiently ready, he should take sannyāsa (the renounced order) and completely cut off family attachment in order to dedicate his life to the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa without reservation. This system guarantees one’s success in the human mission of life.
THE VIABLE ALTERNATIVE
This ideal social-spiritual fabric structure of varṇāśrama-dharma is practically nonexistent in today’s civilization of kali-yuga and is very difficult to introduce. Therefore Lord Caitanya did not stress very much on the varṇāśrama system albeit it being ideal. He rather stressed on the importance of lending aural reception to the transcendental topics of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s teachings and pastimes as revealed in the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam respectively and as vibrated by the pure devotees of Kṛṣṇa.
This process of congregational hearing and chanting of the holy names and topics of Kṛṣṇa in the association of devotees is called saṅkīrtana. It is so potent that it offers the most sublime benediction of love of God and at the same time, can be executed by even a small child. We have experience that even small children come together in our temple and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and dance and partake of prasādam, apart from hearing the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Even though this kali-yuga is full of faults, this one activity of congregational hearing and chanting adjusts all that and makes everything auspicious.
Therefore every one is advised to start this process of bhāgavata-dharma at the age of five and retire from material activities which we have been performing since time immemorial to our own detriment. If we have not started at the age of five, we can at least start now. Better late than never. [End]