Four Stages of Life in Hinduism
In Hinduism, it has been described that man has to go through four stages of life known as the Brahmachari (or a bachelor or you can say a student life). The second is Grihasta meaning a householder. The third is the Vanaprasta or the one who dwells in the forest in a semi-retired state. The fourth is the Sannyasi known as the renounced or a person who has left the material world.
Each of the stages comes with different Dharma. All the four stages of life are important for every human being and one needs to go through these stages to attain Moksha or salvation. The four stages of life represent training, creation, service and retirement. These four stages of life known as Ashramas, gain your fulfillment.
The four stages of life in Hinduism
This stage of life begins from 12 years of age and carries on till one complete 24 years of age. It is called the Brahmacharya. This stage is the stage of learning or a student life. Performing Upanayan rites make him a Brahmacharya. He is taken away from his home and brought near a teacher to learn the mantras and the various other worldly things that he would need to lead his life.
In this stage he is only supposed to do what his Guru or the teacher tells him to do. He leads a disciplined life, performs his duties and learns what the Guru teaches him. The Guru teaches his students the Vedas, Upanishads, and Sastras that will be beneficial in real life. This is training period and a period that is the foundation of the person he would be in the later Ashramas. This is a period of formal education. It lasts until the age of 24, during which, the young male leaves home to stay with the Guru and attain both spiritual and practical knowledge.
On initiation into Brahmacharya by means of the Upanayana rites, he becomes a ‘Dvija’ (a twice born). ‘Upanayana’ means ‘bringing near.’ The disciple is brought near the Guru for receiving the initiation of mantras. For the Brahmachari, celibacy is his forte, discipline is his norm, devotion to his Guru is his duty and concentration in studies is his vocation.
This stage of life begins when a person has completed 24 years of his life as a student. Now he is a Grihasta or a householder. A Grihastaashrama usually is from 24 years to 48 years of age. He will now get married and lead a life that will lead him to perform the duties of the world.
The life of a Grihasta is therefore, considered a ‘Jivayagna’—a lifelong saga of self sacrifice for the benefit of others in society.
All Shastras proclaim the importance of the Grihastasrama as the fulcrum of all other Ashramas. It is said that his stage is very important and will decide the future of the person and lead him to his Karma. He has to work to make a living, to bear children, carry out social duties and maintain a place in the society as well. He also looks after those members who are in the other three Ashramas.
This stage is considered very complex as it requires one to sacrifice, to struggle, to co-operate and to guide the other members of the family. Marriage is the most important part in this stage and is carried out to bear children so that the family tradition moves on to the next generation.
This is the third stage of life that can be experienced at the age of 48 and goes on till the age of 72. This is the stage of life, where you have to leave behind the business, the secular life, the duties and the responsibilities on the shoulders of the younger generation and lead a simple and settled life.
It is expected of him to leave the worldly attachment and lead a life of meditation along with his wife. It is a real life as he is given time to contemplate on the actions that he has gone through and discover who he is.
What life holds beyond middle age depends in the end not on fancy and imagination but on the realities of the values of life we regard as inviolable. Vanaprasta may be termed as the beginning of a person’s real ‘adult education’ to evaluate his performance thus far as Grihasta and reorder his life in such a way as to discover who he is and what life is all about.
This is the fourth stage of that of an ascetic that is experienced after the age of 72 years and is a world of their own that does not have any worldly pleasures. It is a stage where a man does not wish to be anybody and gives his self and lives in a world of his own. It is a renunciation of Dharma, Kama and Artha. One can attain Sannyasa Ashrama only if he wishes to and only if he has gone through all the three Ashramas.
The Sannyasi has his spiritual eye on goods that men can’t give and cares little for anything that men can take away.Therefore, he is beyond the possibility of either seduction or threat.
The wish of the Sannyasi is just to exist almost without giving any thought to his being—with no desire for name or fame or recognition. Sanyasa is like a wider phase of Brahmacharya. It expects one to renunciate Kama, Artha and also worldly Dharmas.
Conclusion – Four Stages of Life in Hinduism
The first half was a preparation for life; the second a preparation for death. While Brahmacharya and Grihasta show the ‘Pravritti Marga (towards the world), Vanaprasta and Sannyasa indicate the ‘Nivritti Marga’ (away from the world) through introspection and renunciation.
Thus, while ‘Varna’ is determined by past ‘Karma,’ Ashrama is determined by the stage of maturity displayed by individuals in viewing the goals of life.