The Four Stages of Life

 

Hinduism recognizes four main stages of life which are called Ashramas. Each stage has a Dharma, a set of rules or expectations that you should live by when you are in that stage. The first three basically believe that ‘life is good’ and that it should be lived and enjoyed well by following a series of rules. The fourth and final stage believes that ‘life is bad’ and that a good Hindu should end their life by trying to distance themselves from the temptations of the world. Hindus are helped to move on from one stage to another by a ritual called a Samskara. The four stages are:

  1. Brahmachari Ashrama:   the student                    (12 – 24 years)
  2. Grihasta Ashrama:         the householder             (24 – 48 years)
  3. Vanaprasta Ashrama:     the retired person           (48 – 72 years)
  4. Sannyasi Ashrama:        the renouncement          (72+ years)

 

Brahmachari Ashrama: the Student

In this stage a boy is traditionally expected to live and study with a teacher for several years. A boy enters into student-hood at adolescence (ages 8-12), and spends most of the years from twelve to twenty-four studying. Different castes would study subjects appropriate to their caste level but everyone learns how to maintain their own household and worship.

 

Grihasta Ashrama : the Householder

After student-hood, the next stage of life is that of householder, usually entered into through an elaborate, many-day marriage ceremony. It is during this stage that a man has children (with his wife), forms a family, establishes himself in a career or job, and strives to be an active member of his community. He will establish his own household, with its own worship. Indeed, with his wife, the householder is now responsible for ensuring that the rituals of domestic life are carried out at their proper times and in the proper manner. This stage is important because it carries the responsibilities of looking after and supporting people at all other stages, both male and female.

 

Vanaprasta Ashrama: Retirement

The third stage of life is that of retirement. When a man reaches old age and his son has a family and is ready to take over the leadership of the household, he and his wife will retire. Because their household duties have been taken over by other people, they become free to contemplate the things they have done in their life and the meaning of their coming death and rebirth. They may choose to worship more frequently or withdraw from society and become a hermit. In a way this is another stage of education, only now the Hindu at this stage is not learning how to maintain a household but to go on to the next stage of his development.

 

Sannyasi Ashrama: Rejecting Life

The fourth stage of life involves a sharp break from the other three. In this stage the Hindu is expected to reject life and all that it means in exchange for a search to attain a release from the cycle of reincarnation and become at one with God and the Universe. A person may enter into this stage of life at any time. The sannyasins become wandering hermits, living life without any shelter or possessions. They eat when they can acquire food, but never enter into any work to acquire it; it must be given or found. They become holy men, seeking spiritual enlightenment and power, striving to achieve the true wisdom of the cosmos. This time, instead of preparing for life as they do in the first stage, Hindus are now preparing for death.