LEWIS RICHMOND (Buddhist teacher and author, Aging as a Spiritual Practice): Buddhist wisdom begins with a very simple principle — everything changes.

(to audience): Aging is really about time, and our experience of time...

The things that we love and cherish will change, will get old, including us, and pass away. A big challenge for us is to see aging as it really is. Not as we imagine it, not as the society or advertisements say it is, not as our friends say it is, but what is it really for us?

(to audience): This book is a user’s guide to aging well. It is about aging from a spiritual perspective.

All of Buddhist spiritual practice is a kind of great re-framing. Seeing all of human life differently, much more positively, and deeply. So Buddhist mindfulness practices, as it relates to aging, is attention, pay close attention, to what’s really going on in your body, in your emotions, in your fears.

(to audience): It’s about the courage to just be there, you know, to be there in whatever your life is bringing you.

Illness does come more as we get older. We also worry about money and is there going to be someone there to take care of us when we need it? Lots of worries and I’m very candid that, yes, this is the way it is. I’m not pretending to erase all of that with some magic potion. What I’m offering is something different, is find a different approach, a different way of seeing it, a different level of meaning, a different context that’s bigger than just those things.


(to audience): This is a gratitude practice. I want you to close your eyes. When you hear the words, ‘thank you,’ I want you to notice the first thing that comes to mind.

One woman said, “I never knew that I was thankful for my eyes, my eyes, that I could see,” and she started to cry.

I think that gratitude is right under the surface of everyone as they age. Let’s face it, aging is partly about eventually this life is going to end. What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen when I die? When people ask me that, as a Buddhist teacher, I say, “Well, you’ll return to your divine nature, which is who you fundamentally are anyway, all the time.”

(to audience): As we age, may we be filled with loving kindness. As we age, each of us, may we be free from suffering, to the extent possible. And, as we age, may we be happy and at peace.

I had a Buddhist teacher who once said, “Every breath, new chances.” This is a great teaching for older people, because part of aging is “there are no more new chances for me, I’m stuck with what I’ve got.” Well, that’s not really true. Every breath, every day, every morning, every person you meet, is a kind of new chance.

Buddhist Teachings on Aging

Watch Buddhist teacher and author Lewis Richmond explain a Buddhist approach to old age and read an excerpt from his book “Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser.”


“Ahimsa and Aging”


Every religion has its form of contemplative practice. Though Buddhism has many meditation practices, it is first and foremost an ethical teaching and a way of life. I have heard anecdotally that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen teacher, was once asked to summarize all of Buddhist teaching in one word. He said “Ahimsa,” which means “non-harm” or “nonviolence.” This is the first ethical precept of Buddhism. The term is thousands of years old and goes back at least to the Vedic Hinduism of ancient India. Mohandas Gandhi made ahimsa the centerpiece of his doctrine of nonviolence.

When the Dalai Lama says, “My religion is kindness,” he is saying much the same thing. More fundamental even than meditation for Buddhists is the sense that all life is sacred, and all life in one. That is the doctrine that underlies nonviolence. If all life is related, then we avoid harming others as much as we avoid harming ourselves. Thich Naht Hanh calls this connection “interbeing.” Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said, “When you feel the oneness of everything, you naturally don’t want to harm anything.”

This is the Golden Rule spoken as a Buddhist. To practice ahimsa is to follow Buddhist values, whether you call yourself a Buddhist or not. Meditation grows out of the ahimsa spirit and is a central expression of it. The application of Buddhist meditation to aging is another application of the ahimsa spirit. Our increasingly fragile and infirm bodies and minds are sacred, and worthy of the greatest kindness and care. To respect our aging at every stage is the greatest kindness we can offer to ourselves and those we love.

From “Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser” by Lewis Richmond (Gotham Books, 2012)

  • oyesalways

    Fantastic article. As a Baha’i, I can say in my heart I am also a Buddhist; I revere the teachings of this beautiful faith and `Abdu’l-Bahá described the Buddha as “the cause of the illumination of the world of humanity.” As someone who is now 60 years old, I so appreciate the Buddhist teachings about ageing and kindness!

    “A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding….”
    - Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

  • cipher

    “What’s going to happen when I die?”

    “You’ll return to your divine nature.”

    Great, except that isn’t what Buddhism teaches. Of the three main forms widely available to Westerners, Zen has jettisoned most of the doctrine and Vipassana (which is derived from the Buddhism of Southeast Asia) has jettisoned pretty much all of it, but Tibetan Buddhism, upon which Richmond also draws, retains the dogmatism of its past. Buddhism has for centuries been in the business of threatening its followers with “lower rebirth” and describing such states in graphic detail that would make a Christian or Islamic fundamentalist faint dead away.

    Meditation is an extremely useful tool and can be enormously beneficial, but Richmond is another cafeteria Buddhist attempting to make the tradition say what he wants it to. If he believes pre-modern Buddhism to have been in error, then let him say so, publicly – but I’m tired of teachers who try to whitewash it and avoid criticizing it in order to retain their credibility as “authentic” Buddhist teachers.

  • Lama Surya Das

    “Kindness is one of the gifts older people can bring to a society, because they have seen what happens when kindness disappears from the world. It’s not pretty.”

    Lama Surya Das

  • Jeanne

    Thank you, Lewis Richmond. Our world needs the great treasure of long lineage teachings made accessible and available to our time, place and circumstance. And it needs a generation of empowered elders contributing their strengths, gifts and talents for the benefit of all. You may be interested to know that the Balanced View 60+ Community at offers a practice, teaching, teachers and global community for aging with ease and benefit.