Most of us are familiar with the concept of Product Lifecycle. But today let’s talk about Human Lifecycle.
Traditional Ancient View
As per the ancient Indian scriptures, human life was divided into 4 equal phases of 25 years each, assuming a 100 year life span. They were:
- Bramhacharya: This is the first stage (from child to adult). It is the preparatory stage for the future life – mainly devoted to education and learning.
- Grihastha: This is the stage of establishing a house and a family. Marriage, children, earning a livelihood, enjoying life are all part of this phase.
- Vanprastha: The third stage is when you gradually start withdrawing from active worldly life and increase your involvement in religious and social activities. By now children would be married and settled and hence the reins of running the household can be passed on to them.
- Sanyas: This is the stage when you leave your home, move to the forest, and live the life of an ascetic. You get detached from all worldly activities and duties.
While this is the classical view of Human Life Cycle, I remember a story, which I had heard from my mother, in my childhood, giving a new twist to this concept. I did not fully understand it then, but now, having completed 73 years of life, can appreciate it well.
When God created this earth and different creatures, he gave each creature an equal life span of 40 years. Man, who has always been greedy, went back to God and said, “O God, 40 years is too little a time for me to enjoy this life. Please increase it to 100 years.” To this, God replied, “I am sorry, I cannot increase your life span. But if some other creature wants a shorter life, it can donate its extra years to you.”
Man waited and gradually, other creatures appeared in front of God. Each one wanted its life to be reduced by 10 – 20 years as they considered 40 years to be too long to live in the forest. One by one, a Donkey, Monkey, Crow, Dog and Owl (in that order) donated a few years of theirs to Man, making his life a total of 100 years. Man was happy but he soon realized that the donated years retained the characteristics of that particular animal. Which meant his lifecycle was thus:
(Caveat: The word man in this story denotes both man and woman. Age for each stage is approximate only and may apply differently for each person. In many cases, these stages may also overlap.)
- Stage I: First 40 years: This is the original life span given by God. During this period man lives and enjoys life to the fullest as a human being. This stage consists of exciting events of School, College, New Job, Courtship, Marriage, Early years of young children. All these give him an immensely satisfying and happy life, and his health is also at its peak.
- Stage II: 40 to 65 years: This is the age of Donkey. Man has to work hard to pull the cart of life. He must earn enough to bear heavy expenses on items like higher education for children, need to build a house and buy a car, expenses on marriages of children etc. Worries about fast approaching retired life and deterioration of health add their own pressures.
- Stage III: 65 to 75 years: This is the age of Monkey. Like the monkey jumping from one tree to another, Man also keeps moving from one child’s house to another in this stage of life. He helps his children in their household work. Keeps grandchildren entertained by making faces like a monkey.
- Stage IV: 75 to 85 years: This is the age of Crow. Now Man is too weak to jump from one branch to another. He, now, stays in one place. His main activity is to catch hold of a willing (or even unwilling) listener and keep telling him about “In our times…….”. Just like the caw, caw of a Crow, he keeps talking of good old days, laments the value system of the present generation, narrates (actual or imaginary) successes achieved by him during his active years.
- Stage V: 85 to 90 years: This is the age of Dog. Man is now mostly homebound, sitting or lying down in one place. His main pastime is to watch the door (like a watchdog) – who came in, who went out, and meet any new arrival with excitement or a bark of disapproval.
- Stage VI: 90 years ++: This is the age of Owl. The feeble person sits and dozes the whole day in one corner of the house but is unable to sleep at night (without a sleeping pill).
My Experiences in Life
I have realized that in each of these stages, relationships (not money, or professional success) are the most important tools for navigating this journey joyously and harmoniously.
- Spouse: The maximum time you will spend in this life will be with your life partner, making it one of the most important relationships. Like a true partnership, love, warmth, care, respect and honesty are very important in maintaining a strong and loving relationship.
- Parents, siblings: In the earlier phases of life, relations with your parents and siblings are also important. These relationships often go through phases of ups and downs. Conflicts with parents may arise due to generation gap. With siblings, sometimes conflicts of interest in shared legacy could cause bad blood. But I always maintain that all the conflicts must be brought to a closure within the lifetime of both parties. An interview of the caretakers of “Mukti Bhavan” in Varanasi (where people go to spend their last days due to the belief that death in Varanasi brings you assured salvation), who had seen a few thousand deaths closely, showed that the biggest unfinished agenda on the conscience of dying people was to bring closure to family conflicts.
- Friends: In every stage of life, especially in the latter half, the importance of having good friends, with whom there is no agenda, but pure friendship, cannot be over emphasized. Their company, even on the phone, can always bring a smile to your face even in the worst of times.
- Children: I want to delve at some length on our relationship with our children. When the children are young, parents often try to mold their thinking towards a particular direction. They may also pressurize them for good academic performance, or excellence at other activities. In my thinking, both these are counterproductive. We need to guide them gently but should allow them to make their own choices. We cannot pass the burden of our desires and unfinished agenda to them. In my life, I have always tried to follow the principles, most beautifully enunciated by Kahlil Gibran in the following poem:
- My last point is about living with your children in their home. In my opinion, when you live with your children, the best policy is to follow the “Three Monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi”. You must wrap a cloth strip on your eyes (no see); a lock on your lips (no speak) and some cotton in your ears (no hear). We must understand that it is THEIR home; they have every right to decide how they want to live their life; how much they earn or spend, how they raise their children. We may be tempted to give advice, interfere in their way of life (in honest belief that we are correcting their mistakes), but it will lead to nothing but conflict. I may think that slapping your child for a mistake is a fit punishment (as I had experienced in my childhood) but, in our children’s thinking, it might be wrong. I may think that splurging on buying the latest gadgets is a waste of money but for them, it might be the ‘done’ thing. Therefore, you should be happy with their love and respect, but you should never try to impose your thinking on them. To me, this is The Golden Mantra for happiness.
Given the evolving life cycle (empty nests, increased longevity, earlier retirement), the above principles and relationships will always stand in good stead and help make the years of Donkey, Monkey, Crow, Dog and Owl, more Human.