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Combined Convention 1991 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita

... gratefully with its advantages and its disadvantages.
There are disadvantages, we know. But not regret lost youth and past opportunities and not be sorry
any more that you can't stay up all night dancing and all that sort of thing.

__________: It follows on because it's like if that's a natural process not to as you're getting older
trying to (unclear) and think you should do the things that you could do. Looking at that the other
way when we were younger we'd got our physical energy, we'd got the capacity and we should
actually make full use of that rather than ......... maybe our reflection is a different quality. We
reflect. In a way we've got more energy too so we can (unclear due to outside noises).......

S: It's not that a young person shouldn't ever reflect obviously, but yes, when you are young you

need to make adequate provision for your youthful energies. Otherwise they'll sort of turn sour on
you. Whether in the form of physical exercise or whatever it may be.

__________: I was thinking of the way in the West the trend is to try to look young, especially for
women. Things like dying hair and clothes and...... I know it's superficial but it's a way of a woman
looking at the principle of impermanence. If you don't actually practise on that sort of level and it
would affect how we actually......

S: Well you could say - well let me coin a little sort of apothecum - when you are young, in the case
of a woman make-up is unnecessary. When you are old, it's useless! [Loud Laughter] So just be your
natural selves. Nowadays there are cosmetics for men. They are trying to make cosmetics for men
more popular. Why? Because someone, somewhere has a financial interest in it. That's all. And
while I'm on the subject everybody knows that the cheap cosmetics are very bad for the complexion
anyway. [Laughter] The best thing is just water, not even soap and water, just water, rainwater if you
like, but that's all you really need! [Laughter] A good brush [Laughter] Why all this paint and
powder and making billions of dollars, or pounds as the case may be, for someone who's really just
exploiting you.

Any further point about this? I was going to say we all have to face it one day - I mean old age - but
some of us of course are facing it already.

__________: I'm not sure if this is too simplistic a way of looking at it but I was just thinking in
terms of, well as we get older we're not so affected perhaps by impressions, but that could be quite an
aid to our practice, that you're not so swayed by things happening unless they're actually quite
meaningful, and so perhaps if something, an experience of insight perhaps occurred, you'd be more
able to experience it.

S: Yes because you'd have a more stable personality. You'd be emotionally more stable. One does
know that as one gets older one is affected much less than one would have been when one was
young. Supposing you suddenly lose your house or you have to move unexpectedly, well when you
are young this can quite throw you, but as you get older well you accept these things. You accept
painful experiences more easily because you see well it's going to pass. You've gone through it
before perhaps, and you know it'll pass, so you sit looser to it. It still may be a quite painful
experience but it doesn't throw you very often in quite the same way. So I think if your development
has been proper human development, leaving aside even the spiritual question, an older person is
more stable, has more equilibrium, has more poise. It is quite unfortunate that in our own society
very often that isn't the case because the person's whole previous course of development hasn't been
very healthy. But if we've got the reinforcement, as it were, of the Dharma, then there's no reason
why we shouldn't have very happy and worthwhile and productive old ages.

__________: Bhante, before old age we should try and develop (a good memory?)

S: I don't really know. I'm not sure if you can develop a good memory. I think normally people do
have good memories. I think also, you remember what you're interested in. Well you all know this
from your experience at school. If you weren't interested in something, you didn't learn it, you didn't
remember. So I don't really think it's a question of developing memory but developing interest. If
you can't develop interest I don't think you will be able to remember anything very easily. When you
are quite young, if you've got a strong interest in something you learn very quickly and can

remember. You can even remember whole pages of poetry without much effort. So just cultivate
interest or develop interest and I think memory will follow. Though there are of course various tricks
of association that you can learn just to help you remember. I don't know if anyone has any sort of
experience of those kind of things, any of the educationists? Techniques of.........

__________: I think that's something which people start doing from the age of twenty-two. That's
when the memory starts to drop off. From measurements that have been done, so we all of us
develop strategies throughout our lives I think for remembering things, and as we get older we need
more strategies.

S: [Laughs] Well look how quickly a small child, a baby learns a language. We couldn't learn a
language as quickly as that.

__________: If you did used to be able to remember something like where a particular quote came
from and you find you can't on a particular occasion, should you make a note to try and look it up, to
refresh your memory? I think you do that.

S: Yes, I personally do that. I sometimes ask people who are with me 'what was the name of that?'
or 'when did that happen?' and since they're much younger than me they usually remember straight
away. Yes one can do that, or sometimes what I do is I just go over in my mind all the associated
circumstances until I get back to that name or that passage in a book and usually, nine cases out of
ten, if I spend enough time on it, I can in the end remember. You try to remember all the associated
circumstances, all that kind of thing. Supposing I'm trying to remember the title of a book, I think
well how long ago was it, where did I see that book, did I buy it, did someone give it to me, what
colour cover did it have?; and you remember all these things and then suddenly the title flashes back
into your mind. This is something you can do if you're a bit sleepless at night [Laughter]. Something
to help pass the time. But yes you can do this. You can dig back into one's memory. There are now
these little tricks of association, sometimes just by a play upon words - I can't think of any examples
at the moment, but usually if you try and associate what you want to remember with something
striking. Some writers suggest even something horrible, which will have a more powerful hold on
your attention which you are less likely to forget.

For instance supposing you want to remember someone's name. Supposing for instance their name
is Holyfield. I had a friend called Holyfield once [Laughter]. So field, field, country. I associate this
person with country. So you can remember but then you're thinking what was his name, what was
his name, something to do with country, yes meadow, grass, field - yes Holyfield. You can get at it in
that way. There's a book by Frances Yeates isn't there, the 'Theatre of Memory', which deals with all
these sort of techniques as they were developed, especially during the Renaissance period. I think
it's called the 'Theatre of Memory' [Laughter] or is it the 'Art of Memory', no it's the 'Art of Memory',
but there is a 'Theatre of Memory' but I think the title of the book is the 'Art of Memory', but anyway
it's by Frances Yeates who is a very well known writer on Renaissance topics generally.

Yes it did occur to me when I was thinking about this question that I don't think I've talked about old
age before, have I? Perhaps because I wasn't really qualified [Laughter]. I think it's very difficult for
young people to know or to understand what it's like to be old. I think if you're very old you
shouldn't expect young people to understand. Sometimes they may not be able to understand why
you can't walk faster than you do. They get quite impatient and even irritated, and even if you say
well look I'm so much older than you, I can't walk as fast as you, they'll admit the point but five

seconds later they're just racing away ahead of you. They've forgotten. They can't really always put
themselves in your shoes. And I think you shouldn't expect them to. Just make provision
accordingly. Of course similarly old people have know what it's like to be young but they do forget!
[Laughter] So you have to make allowances of that too and not ...

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