In the West, the concept of “mental age” has evolved. It will be good to understand it in relation to Nachiketa’s story. Binet, a French scientist, developed the concept of mental age for the first time. He said that there is one age, that of the body and another age, that of the mind. There is no connection between the age of the body and the age of the mind. You can be seventy years old and it may be that your mental age is only seven years. And it can be just the reverse: that your mental age is seventy and your physical age is only seven. After the Second World War, the United States wanted to find out the mental age of their soldiers. The results were very surprising: the average mental age of a soldier was thirteen years! Their minds had stopped growing at the age of thirteen.
Usually the mental age of the majority of people never goes beyond thirteen or fourteen years. As soon as a man becomes sexually mature, his mental growth stops. The mental age of women stops even earlier than that of men. Because women become sexually mature one or two years before men, their mental growth stops there. The age of the body goes on increasing but the mind stops growing.
Binet discovered the mental age, but the Eastern mystics have talked about three dimensions of human age: the age of the body, the age of the mind and the age of the soul. The age of the soul is beyond all limits. The soul of a one day-old child is as old as the soul of an old man. As far as the age of the soul is concerned we are all of equal age.
So Nachiketa’s questions belong to his ancient soul. His mental age must also be very high because the questions he is raising show that they are coming out of deep experiences.
Observe old people and observe children. In children sometimes you can see an old man and in old people you will often find just children. With aging, differences come, but these differences are only superficial. Small children are arranging marriage celebrations with their dolls and grown-ups are playing Ramaleela, enacting the story of Rama, one of the Hindu incarnations. Somebody is acting as Rama and somebody else is acting as Sita, Rama’s bride; the marriage is happening as a procession moves along – but the mental age has not changed, it is still stuck at thirteen. Now the dolls have become life-size and the names of the dolls have become Rama and Sita, but the game of marriage, the joy of playing with the dolls, is the same. A procession and a pageant are arranged….
Right now, it is happening all over India. These are the games of the old children: they are enjoying the marriage rituals, they are enjoying arranging marriages and they are all participating in the marriage processions. Of course when old people do something childish they rationalize it, they create logic around it; otherwise they will feel ashamed, they will feel uneasy. Small children fight over trivia but the old people don’t seem to be fighting over something very great either. Their fights are also about petty things, but because of their age they glorify their petty actions.
Just a few days ago I was passing by Chowpatti, a sea-beach in Bombay, and I saw that some prominent politicians and many schoolchildren were gathered there. They were all singing: “May our national flag always fly high!” This is so childish! What is a flag, after all? – just a piece of cloth tied to a stick with an ideology attached to it. But people can sacrifice their lives for it. If somebody lowers your national flag then a massacre can take place. You think that your flag should remain higher and other flags should not be higher than yours.