Do the EBTs discriminate against the elderly?

Dear forum

The Australian :koala:Human Rights Commission states:

Age discrimination is when a person is treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation, because of their age.

For example, it could be ‘direct age discrimination’ if an older applicant is not considered for a job because it is assumed that they are not as up to date with technology as a younger person.

It is also age discrimination when there is a rule or policy that is the same for everyone but has an unfair effect on people of a particular age. This is called ‘indirect discrimination’.

For example, it may be indirect age discrimination if an employer requires an older person to meet a physical fitness test – which more young people are able to meet – if the fitness standard is not an inherent requirement of the job.

Similar to passages in the EBTs that appear discriminatory towards women, there appear a number of passages in the EBTs that appear discriminatory towards the elderly. For example:

Dhp 155. Those who in youth have not led the holy life… languish like old cranes in the pond without fish.

Dhp 156. Those who in youth have not lead the holy life… lie sighing over the past, like worn out arrows (shot from) a bow.

There are, bhikkhus, these… favorable occasions for striving… Here, a bhikkhu is young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessing of youth, in the prime of life. This is the first favorable occasion for striving. AN 5.54

I recall when I was young, also in the prime of life, I was naive in the ways of the world yet with unshakeable trust in the noble path, listening to Ajahn Buddhadasa make fun of Tibetan Buddhism, saying its extravagant teachings about deities, rituals, offerings & reincarnation was for old grandmothers. I was somewhat stunned at AB’s lack of political correctness. I do know many consider Ajahn Buddhadasa was a heretic. However, Ajahn Buddhadasa also started his dedicated Dhamma practise in his ‘youth’. For example, in his book title ‘No Religion’, he said:

How silly it’s that the older a person gets, the more full of
ego he or she becomes. I beg your pardon for speaking so frankly, but
some facts can’t be ignored. Why do people become more egoistic with
age? Because the older they get, the more accustomed they are to
attachment; “I” and “mine” accumulate and pile up inside us as we age.
Further, people have sons and daughters, so they puff themselves with
ego and determine to lord it over their children. "My son! How could
he do that without my permission!" When they have grandchildren, they
become even more puffed up and superior. Thus, elderly people
are more obsessed with “I” and “mine” than children are.

If we look back at childhood, we will find that children have
very little ego. Immediately after birth, it’s very hard to find much
ego in them, while the child in the womb has hardly any traces of “I” or
“mine” at all. However, as we grow into adulthood and become fathers
and mothers, and later grandfathers and grandmothers, “I” and
“mine” develops in a multitude of forms and personalities. These
become deeply rooted in our minds and stick there with such tenacity
that they are very difficult to remove. Therefore, old folks should
be very careful and alert. They should try to return to being like
children again. To be like children is a kind of Dhamma practice
which leads to non-attachment and voidness. Otherwise, the older
they get, the further away from the Buddha and from Nibbana they will
end up.

This being said, he did look more favourably upon elderly people in his book titled: ‘Heartwood From the Bo Tree’, where he said:

Against unnatural death, dying not wanting to die, dying unexpectedly, the sublime Dhamma can not only provide an infallible protection, but can provide Nibbana right there at the wheels of the car, beneath the collapsing building, at the horns of the bull or in the pile of bodies charred by the atomic blast. There is no violent unnatural death, instead there is Nibbana.

Those who have studied little, know little, right down to grandma and granddad who can’t read, are all capable of understanding this teaching and should keep training in this correct understanding.

Let the great scholars of the land come and test out what it’s like for the mind to meet death with the authentic feeling that nothing anywhere is worth having or being. Death will be a disintegration accompanied by nirodhadhatu. The mind will be transformed into nibbanadhatu through physical death. If a grandma or grand-dad are unlearned and inarticulate but have this single feeling it’s enough.

Do the EBTs discriminate against the elderly? Or are there examples in the EBTs where elderly people entered the supramundane path & reached enlightenment?

Or do the EBTs teach the elderly (who did not practise in their youth) have senescent &/or rigid/habituated mental faculties thus can only hope to realise anatta & sunnata in a future life?

Thank you :dizzy:

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It would seem that time, not Buddhadharma, is cruel to the old and to:[quote=“Dhp 155, post:1, topic:5787”]
Those who in youth have not led the holy life
[/quote]Did the EBTs or the Dharma contained therein “cause” them to “languish like old cranes in the pond without fish” or “lie sighing over the past, like worn out arrows (shot from) a bow?”

These aren’t particularly flattering descriptions of age, but what would be better, lying about age to make it seem cozy and always comfortable?


It’s not as stark or as categorical as that, but there are several suttas in the AN’s Book of the Fives that speak of the difficulties that can be anticipated when a man goes forth in old age.


“Here, a bhikkhu reflects thus: ‘I am now young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessing of youth, in the prime of life. But there will come a time when old age assails this body. Now when one is old, overcome by old age, it is not easy to attend to the Buddhas’ teaching; it is not easy to resort to remote lodgings in forests and jungle groves. Before that unwished for, undesirable, disagreeable condition comes upon me, let me in advance arouse energy for the attainment of the as-yet-unattained, for the achievement of the as-yet-unachieved, for the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. Thus when I am in that condition, I will dwell at ease even though I am old.’”


“Bhikkhus, there are these five unfavorable occasions for striving. What five?
(1) “Here, a bhikkhu is old, overcome by old age. This is the first unfavorable occasion for striving.


“Bhikkhus, it is rare to find one gone forth in old age who possesses five qualities. What five? It is rare to find one gone forth in old age (1) who is astute; (2) who has the proper manner; (3) who is learned; (4) who can speak on the Dhamma; and (5) who is an expert on the discipline. It is rare to find one gone forth in old age who possesses these five qualities.”


“Bhikkhus, it is rare to find one gone forth in old age who possesses five qualities. What five? It is rare to find one gone forth in old age (1) who is easy to correct; (2) who firmly retains in mind what he has learned; (3) who accepts instruction respectfully; (4) who can speak on the Dhamma; and (5) who is an expert on the discipline. It is rare to find one gone forth in old age who possesses these five qualities.”

However, since the Buddha (unlike, say, Wat Pa Nanachat) didn’t establish any upper age-limit for men or women going forth, I don’t think it can be said that he discriminated against those long in the tooth.


I think this is the crux of the matter.
Buddha acknowledged the practical difficulties of going forth in old age.
However he did not restrict any person who want to go ahead with his/her wishes.


Political correctness in the words used and glossing over aren’t conducive to seeing drawbacks (adinava) and truths. In another sutta (Mahaparinibbana sutta?) the Buddha stated that his body was old but his mind was still sharp. This suggests that the result of mental cultivation is carried forward. This sentiment is again reflected in SN22.1

So you should train yourself: ‘Even though I may be afflicted in body, my mind will be unafflicted.’ That is how you should train yourself."

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Nakulapita’s wife was a stream-enterer, who was scolding her husband in AN 6.16 about his worries about death.

However, do the EBTs report Nakulapita in SN 22.1 eventually attained stream-entry?

In AN 6.16 & SN 22.1, it appears Nakulapita did not penetrate stream-entry?


Nakulapitā’s sekha status is stated at AN6.120-139, which is the peyyāla repetition series of AN6.119. So, replacing “Tapussa” with “Nakulapitā” we get:

“Bhikkhus, possessing six qualities, the householder Nakulapitā has reached certainty about the Tathāgata and become a seer of the deathless, one who lives having realized the deathless. What six? Unwavering confidence in the Buddha, unwavering confidence in the Dhamma, unwavering confidence in the Saṅgha, noble virtuous behavior, noble knowledge, and noble liberation. Possessing these six qualities, the householder Tapussa has reached certainty about the Tathāgata and become a seer of the deathless, one who lives having realized the deathless.”


Wonderful. :lotus:

In AN4.55 the Buddha states for a couple to live in tune (samajivina) they must both have certain faculties present in them.

“If both husband & wife want to see one another not only in the present life but also in the life to come, they should be in tune in conviction, in tune in virtue, in tune in generosity, and in tune in discernment. Then they will see one another not only in the present life but also in the life to come.”

Now Nakula pita and Nakula mata have been held up as the perfect householder couple in the Buddha’s dhamma because they were in tune with each other. They faculties they both shared were those of a stream entrant. The wisdom faculty in particular here is often defined as the knowledge of arising and passing away (udayabbaya nana), which is another way of saying Sotapatti Magga. If they weren’t both stream entrants they would have pulled in different directions.

With metta

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Just to add to the pile for consideration:

(many apologies if it is duplication, I’ve only very briefly scanned)


I’ve come across buddhist monasteries that have upper age limits for ordination. They simply don’t want old people ordaining, I’m guessing the rational is practical rather than ideological. But, in some cases, the upper age limit is as low as 50 for women.

Nice quotations from the Dhammapada.

And the attitude of Ajahn Buddhadasa, as in your quotations, resembles the teachings of a Taoist priest with whom I studied classical Chinese medicine (who is also quite familiar with Buddhism, as it’s closely mixed in with Taoism in much Chinese tradition). Namely that a lot of what gets associated with old age is a matter of expectation and conditioning – so it was with my grandparents, parents, and so it should be also for me. He countered with the possibility that, with proper cultivation (along lines developed in some ancient traditions), child-like qualities – like wonder, openness, ability to experiment – can be preserved, even strengthened throughout life, especially in the sphere of mental-spiritual experience.

And there’s the quotation from Stephen Levine somewhere, which may reflect his more Mahayana side, that the Buddha said it matters less how long you wait than that you do finally wake-up. (Or is that, in some form, to be found somewhere in the EBT?)


I hope so. Buddhadasa was Chinese on his father’s side. About not getting old & cranky, he said:

In truth, as we grow older we should grow closer to the
Buddha. In other words, the more we age the younger we should be.
The older we get, the more youthful we should become. As we get older
we should become more light-hearted, cheerful, bright, and fresh. We
shouldn’t end up dry and lifeless, so that we gradually wither away.
Everybody should become increasingly fresh, bright, and light-hearted
as they grow older. As we age, we should get closer to the Buddha,
the Dhamma, and the Sangha, which means we understand Dhamma more and
more. The more successful we are in making the inner flames recede,
the cooler we become. As we get cooler, we feel increasingly more
refreshed and hearty, we look brighter and more lively. When we
have cooled down absolutely, we will absolutely sparkle with
brightness and cheer. Therefore, the more ancient we get, the more
youthful we should become, and the more cheerful and fresh we should
look and feel.

No Religion

With metta :slightly_smiling_face:


I am sure he was talking about the mind, not the body.

I feel this is un-Buddhist. Unless there is a specific reason.
I am not saying that we should convert our temples to age care centers.
I also understand the practical issues related to old people (health, overcrowding etc).
Monks are very good at launching large projects such as building Buddha’s statute and temples etc.
I still believe that we can find a solution to the problem what Buddha talking about.

We should not forget we all get old, get sick and die one day.
I there is a will there is a way.

It’s like people dropping off cats and dogs at temples. When it becomes too hard to look after grandparents just get them ordained so it becomes someone else’s problem. This becomes a problem when people enter the monkhood looking for gain.

With metta

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I agree, Matt.
But have you experience this in Sri Lanka. (I assume you are a Sri Lankan)
Which I am not familiar with.
But even if it that is the case there is a problem to be solved as Buddhists.
I believe Christians handle these problems better than Buddhists.

From DN 31:

In five ways should a mother and father as the eastern direction be respected by a child: ‘I will support (care for) them who supported (cared for) me.’ DN 31


$300,000 per year per per$on nur$ing home indu$try. :snowman:

1 Timothy 5

Widows & Elders

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives (Dhp21). Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

With that sort of money, we can look after 3000 elderly persons.
If US government can give .01% (ie US30.00 per annum) of that money as a donation we can look after one elderly in Sri Lanka.

This was probably an exaggeration.

In Australia, government provided nursing home aged care for government funded pensioners costs (such as my mother) AUD$18,500 or US$14,000 per year (at link), although I am unsure about the availability. Maximum cost for care is AUD$26,380 per year. In addition, there is a cost for accommodation payable for pensioners with assets (such as a home), that appears to be around AUS$35,000 or US$26,000 per year for the average nursing home. So, for my mother, we would pay at least AUD$50,000 per year, in total.

For non-pensioners, some aged care corporations are charging an average of US$75,000 per year per person. For example, in this company had around 5,245 residents and made AUD$263M in revenue for 1/2 a year, which equals AUD$100,286 or US$75,000 per year per person.