(37) Four Stages of Life
In previous articles we have learnt about sanskars and also about the result of good and bad deeds. These things do not come all of a sudden. A child grows, becomes old and dies. Thus, there are stages in an individual’s life. These stages are called ashrams in Sanskrit. They are so arranged that one leads to the next. It is so not only in India but anywhere in the civilized world. And every individual in any country studies, marries, seeks a job or earns money in some other way.
For instance our first duty is to study. For this we have to join a school and learn under a guru. This stage is called the brahmacharya ashram. A brahmachari is one who keeps his senses under control. He is disciplined. In ancient India schools were called gurukuls. A guru was the teacher. The brahmachari would stay with his guru’s family, serve him and learn.
Once the learning was over, the brahmachari would give dakshina (gift) to his teacher. This was according to his means. There were no monthly fees in those days.
Then the student would return to his own family. He would get married and raise a family. This was the grahasth ashram. This is the practice even now. This is the second stage, that of the householder. Those who want to give up worldly affairs skip this stage and become sadhus.
The life of a householder is very important. It is the duty of a couple to bring up their children with good sanskars. They have to fulfil other duties like looking after parents, guests and praying to God. They have to set up a household and preserve dharma; good conduct is the first indicator of dharma. Each householder has an obligation to his wife, children, parents and society at large. The entire family should offer devotion to God. This indicator of dharma is as true now, as it was in the olden days.
Having earned money through right means, the householder enters the vanaprasth ashram. In other words he retires from active life.
Finally, there is the sanyas ashram. Previously people used to leave home and retire to the forest. This is the final cutting off from all worldly ties. But nowadays only a few people follow this.
The four ashrams are meant to regulate life.