LIVING THE FOUR ASHRAMS OF LIFE
Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
PLANNING LIFE IN FOUR STAGES: In the ancient Indian tradition, one
planned the years of life in four ashrams or stages. A life of 84+
years was sought, with each of the four stages being 21 years. Some
have revised these into four stages of 25 years, seeking a life of
100+ years. The purpose for this life planning is to attain the
direct experience of Self-realization or enlightenment here, in this
world, in this very life. While our lifestyles may have changed since
then, the basic idea of these four stages is as sound today as it was
BRAHMACHARYA/STUDENT (0-25): The celibate student time of youth is
for learning the foundation of lifestyle. The focus is on healthy,
positive training and discipline, learning about spiritual,
community, and family life.
GRAHASTA/HOUSEHOLDER (25-50): The householder phase of life is when
one lives with spouse and children, fulfilling worldly interests and
duties. It is a time of giving, living, learning, and loving in
family and community. Religious or spiritual practices are done in
the context of worldly life and service to others.
VANAPRASTHA/HERMITAGE (50-75): This is a time for shifting focus more
towards more inner spiritual practices of meditation, contemplation,
and prayer. Relationships with grown children and community are more
in the role of a matured mentor. Lifestyle is more simplified, and
the couple may retreat to a quieter place for deeper practices.
SANYASA/RENUNCIATE (75-100+): The elder person now retreats from
active involvement in all worldly goals, seeking only spiritual goals
in this final phase. No longer having political, professional, or
social engagements, there is a further shift towards being an elder
teacher of spiritual knowledge.
THIS APPLIES TO ALL OF US: While we are a diverse world of cultures,
religions, philosophies, and attitudes, this simple framework of life
planning has great value for all of us. Regardless of how we may have
lived the stages of life that are already behind us, being aware of,
and committed to the current and later stages of life can bring great
comfort and clarity as we progress on the path of Self-realization.