Saturday, June 11, 2011

Four Ashrams of Life

Living the Four Ashrams of Life
by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

Planning life in four stages: In the ancient Indian tradition, one planned the years of life in four ashrams or stages, with the style of Yoga practiced in each stage chosen to match the circumstances of that stage. 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, Yoga 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 then.

Age:Ashram or Stage:

Brahmacharya/Student: 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: 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: 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: 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 ofSelf-realization.

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