Buddhism A–Z
Buddhism & Aging

Buddhism is famed for its insights into aging and decay (Sanskrit/Pali: jara). Buddhist practice helps us to cultivate the wisdom and clarity of mind that can help us accept and prepare for these inevitabilities. Indeed, coming to terms with these aspects of our existence is key to Prince Siddhartha Gautama’s evolution into the figure known as the Buddha.

Before his enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama encountered the famed “four signs” that stirred this spiritual search: an elderly person, a sick individual, a funeral procession carrying a deceased body, and a monk meditating beneath a tree. Due to his princely life, he had been sheltered from such sights, but now he would become dedicated to contemplating the inevitabilities of aging, illness, and mortality, ultimately taking up the spiritual path of a monk.

Within the framework of Buddhism’s four noble truths, aging is recognized as an integral component of dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness). This principle extends to all compounded entities, encompassing both sentient beings and inanimate objects. All decay, all age.

See also the Three Marks of Existence, another foundational Buddhist teaching that touches upon aging.

Related Reading

Wabi Sabi & Aging—the Old and the Beautiful

In Japan, wabi sabi is an aesthetic principle that sees beauty in imperfection and age. Can Kem McIntosh Lee see the wabi sabi of her own aging body?

The Wisdom of Aging with Grace

Norman Fischer describes the qualities of aging gracefully and how we can cultivate them.

This Is Getting Old

Old age forces you to let go of one damn thing after another! But as Susan Moon learns from her mother, it can also be a golden opportunity.

The Ecology of Aging

Many people look at the aging population as a problem, but Theodore Roszak thinks it could result in a wiser and more caring society.

Buddhism A–Z

Explore essential Buddhist terms, concepts, and traditions.