There are 4 Stages of Life in Hinduism. These are called “ashramas” and every man should ideally go through each of these stages:
1. Brahmacharya – Bachelor, student phase of life
2. Grihastha – Married life phase and duties of maintaining a Household
3. Vanaprastha – Retirement phase and handing over responsibilities to next generation.
4. Sannyasa – Phasee of giving up material desires and prejudices. Wandering Ascetic Stage
Brahmacharya – Student Phase:
This is a period of taking formal education from guru about art, warfare, science, philosophy, scriptures etc. Previously, the average lifespan was considered as 100 years so this phase is the first quarter or 25 years. At this phase, young young male leaves home to stay in gurukul with a guru and attain both spiritual and practical knowledge. During this period, he is called a Brahmachari and is prepared for his future profession.
Grihastha – The Married Family Man:
This stage is the second quarter of one’s life (25-50 years of age) begins when a man gets married, and undertakes the responsibility for earning a living raising kids and supporting his family. At this stage, Hinduism supports the pursuit of wealth (artha) as a necessity, and indulgence in sexual pleasure (kama), under certain defined social and cosmic norms. At this stage, the children of this man are in Brahmacharya phase.
Vanaprastha – Retirement stage:
This stage of a man begins when his duty as a householder comes to an end. This is a third phase of life (51-75 approximately). In this stage, the person handover the responsibilities to next generation. He has become a grandfather, his children are grown up, and have established lives of their own. At this age, he give up his wealth, security, sexual pleasures. At this time, the previous generation enters Grihasta phase.
He is allowed to take his wife along but is supposed to maintain little contact with the family. This kind of life is indeed very harsh and cruel for an aged person. No wonder, this third ashrama is now nearly obsolete.
Sanyasa – The Wandering Recluse:
At this stage, the man give up every material desires and detaches himself from all the material relationships. He supposed to be totally devoted to God. He is a sanyasi, he has no home, no other attachment; he has renounced all desires, fears, hopes, duties and responsibilities. He is virtually merged with God, all his worldly ties are broken, and his sole concern becomes attaining moksha or release from the circle of birth and death. At this stage, the previous generation is entering Vanaprastha stage where as the generation before them are entering Grihastha stage. And the cycle goes on.
On the occasion of International Yoga day which is on 21 July, we are happy to share some basic faq’s about yoga and the types of yoga. The word ‘yoga’ is taken from the Sanskrit root ‘yug’ which means union. The ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve union between the individual consciousness (atma) and the universal divine (paramatma).
Yoga is an ancient spiritual science that seeks to bring the mind, body and spirit in harmony or balance. You can find a parallels for this in many different philosophies: Buddha’s ‘middle path’ – too much or too little of anything is bad; or the Chinese yin-yang balance where seemingly opposite forces are interconnected and interdependent. Yoga is a science whereby we bring unity to duality.
Yoga is commonly viewed in our everyday encounters as “excercising flexibility”. These two words have a profound meaning although most people that state it are referring to the physical realm. The meaning of these words grow on the practitioner with experience. Yoga is the science of awareness. What are Vedic Texts?
There are several thousand vedic texts, but here below is a quick synopsis of the parent/primary texts.
Rig : Defines the concepts of the 5 element theory
Yajur : Defines the methods to harness the 5 elements
Sama : Defines the frequencies associated with the 5 elements and their harmonics
Atharva : Defines the methods to deploy the 5 elements
A collection of doctrines of grammar, phonetics, etymology and the science of language use to write the Vedas and UpaVedas
Refers to specific subset extentions of the vedas. More of a practitioners manual. Here below are the most important to our discussion.
Refers to a collection of texts that may be viewed as the final chapters of the vedas
Refers to a practitioner’s manual extracted from the Vedas. Identical to the Upavedas. The one of greatest interest to us being
Patanjali Yoga Sutra:
The ultimate doctrine of Yoga
Paths of Yoga:
There are 9 paths of Yoga, or 9 ways that union can be achieved:
Yoga paths refer to the actual method of practice to experience the state of yoga. Here below are the most common paths and their significance.
(1) Bhakta Yoga: Yoga via devotion
(2) Karma Yoga: Yoga via service
(3) Hatha Yoga: Yoga via balance of Sun and Moon energies
(4) Kundalini Yoga: Yoga via harnessing the power of creative latent energy in all of us
(5) Raja Yoga: Yoga via breathing
(6) Tantra Yoga: Yoga via balancing the male/female polarities
(7) Gyana Yoga: Yoga via intellect
(8) Nad Yoga: Yoga via vibration
(9) Laya Yoga: Yoga via music
The sage Patanjali defines yoga as “Chitta vritti nirodha” or cessasation of mental fluctuation (simply put – control over the wandering mind). In the Yoga Sutra, he divided Raja Yoga into Ashta Anga or Eight Limbs. The 8 limbs of yoga are:
These are ‘ethical rules’ which should be observed to live a good and pure life. The yamas focus on our behavior and conduct. They bring out our true underlying nature of compassion, integrity and kindness. Consist of 5 ‘abstinences’:
(a) Ahimsa (Non-violence and non-injury) :
This includes being considerate in all actions, and not thinking ill of others or wishing them harm. Do not cause pain to any living creature in thought, deed or action.
(b) Satya (Truthfulness or non-lying) :
Speak the truth, but with consideration and love. Also, be truthful to yourself about your thoughts and motivations.
(c) Brahmacharya (Celibacy or control over sexuality) :
Though some schools interpret this as celibacy or total abstinence from sexual activity, it actually refers to restraint and responsible sexual behavior including faithfulness to your spouse.
(d) Asteya (Non-stealing, non-covetousness) : This includes not taking anything that has not been freely given, including someone’s time or energy.
(e) Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness) : Do not hoard or collect material goods. Take only that which you have earned.
These are ‘laws’ which we need to follow to ‘cleanse’ ourselves internally. The 5 observances are:
(a) Suacha (Cleanliness) :
This refers to both external cleanliness (baths) and internal cleanliness (achieved through shatkarma, pranayama and asanas). It also includes cleansing the mind of negative emotions such as anger, hatred, lust, greed etc.
(b) Santosha (Contentment) :
Be content and fulfilled with what you have instead of constantly comparing yourself to others or wishing for more.
(c) Tapas (Heat or fire) :
This means the fire of determination to do the right thing. It helps us ‘burn up’ desire and negative energies in the heat of effort and austerity.
(d) Svadhyaya (Self study) :
Examine yourself – your thoughts, your actions, your deeds. Truly understand your own motivations, and do everything with complete self-awareness and mindfulness. This includes accepting our limitations and working on our shortcomings.
(e) Isvar Pranidhana (Surrender to God) :
Recognize that the divine is omnipresent and dedicate all your actions to this divine force. Do not try to control everything – have faith in a greater force and simply accept what is.
Postures. These are typically drawn from nature and animals (e.g. Downward Dog, Eagle, Fish Pose etc). Asanas have 2 characteristics:Sukham (comfort) and Stirtha (steadiness). Practicing yoga postures (asanas): increases flexibility and strength, massages the internal organs, improves posture, calms the mind and detoxifies the body. It is necessary to make the body limber, strong and disease-free through regular practice of asanas in order to free the mind for the ultimate goal of meditation. It is believed that there are 84 lakh asanas, of which about 200 are used in regular practice today.
Prana (vital energy or life force) is intrinsically linked to the breath. Pranayama aims to regulate the breath in order to control the mind so the practitioner can attain a higher state of psychic energy. By controlling the breath, one can gain mastery over the 5 senses and, eventually, over the mind.
The 4 stages of pranayama are: inhalation (pooraka), exhalation (rechaka), internal retention (antar kumbhaka) and external retention (bahar kumbhaka).
Withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects. Most of our problems – emotional, physical, health-related – are a result of our own mind. It is only by gaining control over desire that one can gain inner peace.
Stilling the mind by dedicated concentration on a single point. A good point of concentration is the symbol Aum or Om.
Meditation. Focussing on concentrating on the divine. By meditating on divinity, the practitioner hopes to imbibe the pure qualities of the divine force into him/herself.
Bliss. This is truly ‘yoga’ or the ultimate union with the divine.
Happy Yoga day to all!
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An Ashrama in Hinduism is one of four age-based life stages discussed in ancient and medieval era Indian texts. The four ashramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciation).
The Ashramas system is one facet of the Dharma concept in Hinduism. It is also a component of the ethical theories in Indian philosophy, where it is combined with four proper goals of human life (Purusartha), for fulfillment, happiness and spiritual liberation.
Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य) literally means “going after Brahman (Supreme Reality, Self, God)”. In Indian religions, it is also a concept with various context-driven meanings.
In one context, Brahmacharya is the first of four Ashrama (age-based stages) of a human life, with Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (forest dweller) and Sannyasa (renunciation) being the other three Asramas. Brahmacharya (bachelor student) stage of one’s life, up to about 20 years of age, was focused on education and included the practice of celibacy. In Indian traditions, it connotes chastity during student stage of life for the purposes of learning from a guru (teacher), and during later stages of life for the purposes of attaining spiritual liberation (moksha).
In another context, Brahmacharya is a virtue, where it means celibacy when unmarried, and fidelity when married. It represents a virtuous lifestyle that also includes simple living, meditation and other behaviors.
Brahamacharya ashrama occupied the first 20–25 years of life roughly corresponding to adolescence.Upon the child’s Upanayanam, the young person would begin a life of study in the Gurukula (the household of the Guru) dedicated to learning all aspects of dharma that is the “principles of righteous living”. Dharma comprised personal responsibilities towards himself, family, society, humanity and God which included the environment, earth and nature. This educational period started when the child was five to eight years old and lasted until the age of 14 to 20 years. During this stage of life, the traditional vedic sciences and various sastras were studied along with the religious texts contained within the Vedas and Upanishads. This stage of life was characterized by the practice of celibacy.
Naradaparivrajaka Upanishad suggests that Brahmacharya (student) stage of life should extend from the age a child is ready to receive teachings from a guru, and continue for a period of twelve years.
The graduation from Brahmacharya stage of life was marked by the Samavartanam ceremony. Grihastha ashrama:
Grihastha (गृहस्थ) literally means “being in and occupied with home, family” or “householder”.It refers to the second phase of an individual’s life. It follows Brahmacharya (bachelor student) life stage, and embodies a married life, with the duties of maintaining a home, raising a family, educating one’s children, and leading a family-centred and a dharmic social life.
Ancient and medieval era texts of Hinduism consider Grihastha stage as the most important of all stages in sociological context, as human beings in this stage not only pursue a virtuous life, they produce food and wealth that sustains people in other stages of life, as well as the offsprings that continues mankind. The householder stage is also considered in Indian philosophy as one where the most intense physical, sexual, emotional, occupational, social and material attachments exist in a human being’s life.
Vanaprastha (Sanskrit: वनप्रस्थ) literally means “retiring into a forest”.It is also a concept in Hindu traditions, representing the third of four ashrama (stages) of human life.Vanaprastha is part of the Vedic ashram system, which starts when a person hands over household responsibilities to the next generation, takes an advisory role, and gradually withdraws from the world. Vanaprastha stage is considered as a transition phase from a householder’s life with greater emphasis on Artha and Kama (wealth, security, pleasure and sexual pursuits) to one with greater emphasis on Moksha (spiritual liberation). Vanaprastha represented the third stage and typically marked with birth of grand children, gradual transition of householder responsibilities to the next generation, increasingly hermit-like lifestyle, and greater emphasis on community services and spiritual pursuit.
Vanaprastha, according to Vedic ashram system, lasted between the ages of 50 and 74.
It encouraged gradual transition of social responsibility, economic roles, personal focus towards spirituality, from being center of the action to a more advisory peripheral role, without actually requiring someone to actually moving into a forest with or without one’s partner. While some literally gave up their property and possessions to move into distant lands, most stayed with their families and communities but assumed a transitioning role and gracefully accept an evolving role with age. Dhavamony identifies Vanaprastha stage as one of “detachment and increasing seclusion” but usually serving as a counselor, peace-maker, judge, teacher to young and advisor to the middle aged.
Sanyasa (संन्यास) is the life stage of renunciation within the Hindu philosophy of four age-based life stages. Sannyasa is a form of asceticism, is marked by renunciation of material desires and prejudices, represented by a state of disinterest and detachment from material life, and has the purpose of spending one’s life in peaceful, love-inspired, simple spiritual life. An individual in Sanyasa is known as a Sannyasi (male) or Sannyasini (female) in Hinduism.
Hinduism has no formal demands nor requirements on the lifestyle or spiritual discipline, method or deity a Sanyasin or Sanyasini must pursue – it is left to the choice and preferences of the individual.This freedom has led to diversity and significant differences in the lifestyle and goals of those who adopt Sannyasa. There are, however, some common themes. A person in Sannyasa lives a simple life, typically detached, itinerant, drifting from place to place, with no material possessions or emotional attachments. They may have a walking stick, a book, a container or vessel for food and drink, often wearing yellow, saffron, orange, ochre or soil colored clothes. They may have long hairs and appear disheveled, and are usually vegetarians.Some minor Upanishads as well as monastic orders consider women, child, students, fallen men (criminal record) and others as not qualified for Sannyasa; while other texts place no restrictions.
Those who enter Sannyasa may choose whether they join a group (mendicant order). Some are anchorites, homeless mendicants preferring solitude and seclusion in remote parts, without affiliation. Others are cenobites, living and traveling with kindred fellow-Sannyasi in the pursuit of their spiritual journey, sometimes in Ashramas or Matha/Sangha (hermitages, monastic order).