Ashramas – The Four Age Based Life Stages

By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Entire lifespan is broadly divided into four stages based on the ages, called Ashramas.

Stages of Lifespan

Purpose

Intention of explaining the Ashramas
Many of us live without being aware of quality and quantity of our life and lifetime. This is unconscious living. Unconscious life is also an aimless life because one will not be aware about his responsibilities, goals and intention of life.

To understand the importance of living we need to focus upon to fulfill the responsibilities in a given lifespan. The Hindu scriptures have divided a destined lifespan into four stages.
Read – Ayu – Meaning, Explanation, Types Of Lifespan

People with short lifespan

People who live a full length of life fit into the description of ashramas. There are people who have short lifespan and do not live enough to fulfill the goals of four ashramas. This happens due to karma which their individual soul carries when it adorns his or her body in this incarnation. We regularly see premature deaths wherein a newborn child dies after few days or a teenager dies in an accident. We also see that many people die in disasters, wars or being victims of epidemics or life threatening diseases, many others give up their life by suicide. All these people do not get to complete lifespan because they are allotted a short lifespan due to their karma. The concept of ashramas does not apply to these people.

Now let me touch upon each phase of life explained in ashramas. The average full lifespan is taken to be hundred years of living for the purpose of describing the ashramas.

Brahmacharya

1. Brahmacharya – phase of learning, a bachelor student

Brahmacharya is the first stage of life. Brahma means creator. Charya means activities. The certain rules and regulations which we have to follow being a part of the creation, define brahmacharya.

Thus, Brahmacharya means ‘practicing ideal codes and conducts of the creation and living in accordance to the principles lay down by the creator’.
Read – Sufferings And Health Of Spiritual People – Ayurvedic Analysis

Brahmacharya also means

  • practicing chastity
  • maintaining celibacy for the purpose of learning and spiritual liberation

This stage covers the student life wherein the bachelor students live in educational institutions and learn under their teachers.
Age group – Brahmacharya includes individuals who are within 25 years of age.

Brahmacharya is accepted as one of the supporting pillars of the body.
Read – Food – Definition, Importance As Per Ayurveda, Upanishad

Duties included during brahmacharya –

  • getting educated and graduated in an institution
  • focusing on studies
  • not falling for temptations and deviations of life,
  • practicing celibacy and
  • living a righteousness life  

Benefits of Brahmacharya stage of life –
This stage helps in obtaining good knowledge and spiritual learning which would be a foundation for achievements in future life. It helps one gain self control and practice righteousness and to be in balance with self.
Read – Dharma – To Follow The Right Of Life

Grihasta

2. Grihastha – the phase of a householder, family time

Grihastha is the second stage of life.
Griha = home or family, Stha = to stay in or occupy.

Grihastha means being a family member. This stage defines the role and responsibilities of a person as a family person.

In this phase of life, the person indulges in earning livelihood for himself and his family by living a virtuous life. This is the most active phase among all four life stages wherein the householder produces food, wealth and all necessary basic things needed to live a satisfied life, so as to sustain and support all other stages of life.
Read – Money, Ayurveda, Spirituality – How To Strike Perfect Balance?

Age group – Grihastha includes adults who are between 25-50 years of age.

Duties of Grihastha include –

  • getting married
  • raising a family
  • begetting kids, educating his children and planning future for them
  • earning reasonable money, comforts and basic necessities in an ethical way so as to provide a secured life for his dependents
  • taking care of elders

Benefits of Grihasta stage of life – In this stage of life, the householder satisfies the objectives of dharma, artha and kama. Apart from rendering his duties, the person also develops many relations and attachments.
Read – Artha – Pursuit For Ethical Earning, Money, Wealth

Vanaprastha

3. Vanaprastha – the retired person, relaxation time

Vanaprastha is the fourth stage of life.
Vana = forest or isolated place
Prastha = to travel

Vanaprastha = heading towards a place of isolation, wherein one can spend his stress free life being detached from the worldly affairs.
Read – Treatment For Excess Desires – Naishtiki Chikitsa

This stage of life can be compared to the retired stage of an individual. This stage is marked by transfer of responsibilities. The person who has taken retirement from his work and family responsibilities will now transfer all his responsibilities to his grown up children. He will guide them to run the proceedings of the life. Meanwhile he will prepare himself for his spiritual journey in the fourth stage of life i.e. sanyasa.

Age group – Vanaprastha includes individuals who are between 50 and 75 years of age.
Read – Pravritti – Attachment, Meaning, Causes, Effects of Attachment

Duties of person in Vanaprastha stage of life includes –

  • taking retirement from duties
  • transfer of responsibilities to his children
  • guide his successors
  • take care of his physical and mental health
  • to give up all the complexities and attachments of life in a gradual way
  • to live a simple life of a hermit and
  • to prepare himself for abandoning the material world and travel in pursuit of eternal happiness in a spiritual pathway so as to get liberated

Benefits of vanaprastha stage of life – The person fulfills the objectives dharma i.e. righteousness, kama i.e. spiritual desires and prepares for moksha i.e. self liberation.

This stage enables one to transform himself from a family man to society person, apart from his stage related duties. This stage will also prepare the person to adapt for the renunciation stage of life which further paves way for liberation.
Read – 3 Basic Desires Of Life – Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 11

Sanyasa

4. Samnyasa / Sanyasa – the renunciation phase, stage of spiritual pursuits

Sanyasa is the fourth stage of life.
Sam = everything, Nyasa = purification.

Samnyasa is purification of body, mind, senses and soul. It also means a spiritual transformation and purification leading to salvation. Samnyasa also means to reject everything in life and take up to renunciation

This is a phase of renunciation. In this stage, the person rejects all the attachments of the materialistic world and family bondages. He chooses to travel in a spiritual way and try to identify his purpose of life.

Age group – Samnyasa includes individuals 75 years of age until the end of life.
Read – 40 Ways To Attain Salvation As Per Ayurveda – Nivrutti

Duties of person in Samnyasa stage of life includes –

  • detachment from all comforts, materialistic and human attachments
  • to live a simple life
  • to practice penance
  • to read and preach spiritual things
  • to abstain from sex
  • being pure by body, senses and mind
  • to be kind to all creation and all life
  • to give up extreme emotions like hatred, anger etc and
  • to find pathways for obtaining liberation
    Read – Four pursuits of life – Purushartha Chatushtaya

Benefits of Samnyasa stage of life – The people in Samnyasa ashrama obtain peace of mind and greater focus. They get liberated from miseries and will experience awareness of life. They will get a satisfaction of having attained goals of life, realized the importance of self and supreme self. Ultimately they would obtain freedom from extreme emotions and the vicious cycle of life and death.
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