The life of a Hindu is divided into four ashramas or stages of life. Just like an individual’s life is divided into four parts, so does society. Society is divided into four Varnas so that it can function properly without much concentration of power.
The goals of one’s life are also considered 4 in a Hindu’s life. These are known as the four Purusharthas. Each ashrama or stage of one’s life has a dedicated goal out of the four Purusharthas viz Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha.
From these groups of four comes the Swastika symbol which is considered a symbol of auspiciousness nowadays.
The Varna system is a classification based on a person’s occupation but later came to be determined by birth. The four classes are Brahmins: priests and scholars, Kshatriyas: rulers and warriors, Vaishyas: farmers, merchants, and artisans, and Shudras: servants and laborers.
Brahmin (/ˈbrɑːmɪn/; Sanskrit: ब्राह्मण) is varna (class) in Hinduism specializing as priests, teachers, and protectors of sacred learning across generations.
Brahmins trace their traditional occupation to the time of the Vedas. Historically, they were in charge of all religious ceremonies and their role as priests and teachers made them highly respected in society.
The Kshatriya varna is one of the four Hindu varnas or social classes. Kshatriyas are the ones whose occupation is related to the security of the society. So rulers, warriors, landowners, etc. falls under this category. They have a strong sense of duty and are expected to serve and protect their community. Kshatriyas are often very skilled in warfare and are known for their courage and strength.
The Vaishya Varna is one of the four varnas in Hinduism. Vaishyas are known as “business-oriented” or “trade-oriented” people. The Vaishya varna includes farmers, herders, and merchants.
The Vaishya varna is traditionally considered to be the second-highest varna, after the Brahmin varna. However, in practice, the Vaishya varna has often been lower in status than the Kshatriya varna (warriors and aristocracy).
The Shudra Varna is one of the four varnas, or social classes, of Hinduism. The Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita make several references to the Shudras. The Bhagavad Gita contains a famous passage in which Krishna tells Arjuna that all human beings are equal, regardless of their varna.
The life of a Hindu is thought to be divided into four ashramas roughly divided into 4 equal parts. But more often than not, it depends more on one’s situation. These can loosely translate to four stages of life in ashramas.
Brahmacharya Ashrama ब्रह्मचर्य आश्रम
Brahmacharya ashram is the foundation of a person’s life. While living with limited means, a brahmachari learns from the life of his acharya. This is the ashram in which a person gains knowledge while living with the acharya in his gurukul.
If you want to know more about the life of a brahmachari in Gurukul. Read our post on the Gurukul education system
Brahmacharya ashrama is the first of the four ashrams, or stages of life, outlined in the Hindu scriptures and discussed in our post on Varnashrama Dharma. The others are grihastha (householder), vanaprastha (retirement), and sannyasa (renunciation). In the Brahmacharya ashrama or stage, a person is celibate and focuses on learning. This is the period of a person’s life when they are a student.
The word is made up of Brahma + Charya. Brahma(ब्रह्म) means the supreme consciousness and Charya(चर्य) means following a particular path, from this Charya also arises the word, Acharya. This is the first stage in an individual’s life according to the Vedic ashrama system. Others are Vanaprastha, Grihastha, and Sannyasa. This ashrama is the student life of a Hindu as described according to the Vedic ashrama system.
What is Brahmacharya ashrama?
Brahmacharya ashrama is the first stage or ashrama of an individual’s life according to the Vedic ashrama system. In this stage of life, a person attains knowledge while living in the Gurukul. He is called brahmachari and focuses all his energies on achieving the ultimate’s knowledge.
The Brahmacharya ashram is a time for learning and growth. It is a time to develop self-control and to learn about the world and one’s place in it. This is the time to develop relationships with others and to learn how to be a good human being.
Brahmacharya Vs Brahmacharya Ashrama
Brahmacharya ashrama includes brahmacharya in its entirety. Let’s first understand each separately:
Brahmacharya means celibacy in wider sense. This doesn’t just mean abstinence from sex. It includes but is not limited to the virginity of 8 types of maithuna (sexual pleasure). Controlling your senses to channel your energy in a particular direction would be an appropriate translation.
Brahmacharya is the principle of moderation in all things. It is the principle of controlling the senses and the mind and redirecting their energy into positive, creative pursuits. It is the principle of living a balanced, harmonious life in which all of our actions are in alignment with our highest values and aspirations.
The practice of brahmacharya requires that we become aware of the subtle promptings of the mind and the body, and learn to respond to them in ways that are in keeping with our goals and our deepest desires. It asks that we become conscious of the impact our choices have on our lives and that we make choices that will lead us to the life we truly want to live.
Benefits of Brahmacharya
The benefits of practicing brahmacharya include increased clarity of mind, more excellent physical and emotional health, and a deeper sense of well-being. When we can control our senses and our mind, we are better able to focus on our goals and achieve them. We are also better able to enjoy the present moment and find true peace and contentment in our lives.
Brahmacharya Ashrama is the stage in an individual’s life in which he attains knowledge and follows the path of tapas or austerity. Brahmacharya ashram is the foundation of the life of a Hindu. A Hindu’s life starts with Brahmacharya Ashram in which he learns about the world around him as well as prepares for the challenges of the future.
A Brahmachari lives with Acharya and gives his services to the Acharya in exchange for the knowledge he imparts. The Acharya teaches Brahmachari everything he knows as well as Hindu Shastras.
But the education is not limited to the ritualistic nature of the Vedic system. The Brahmachari while living with other Brahmacharis and gains knowledge of all the subjects the Acharya knows of.
The meaning Acharya is the one who leads by example. The one who lives his life and teaches by example. The Brahmachari also learns while performing all the daily chores like cooking, cleaning, etc. This makes the Brahmachari independent in his approach to life.
In addition, he will be learning other subjects like Geography, History, Mathematics, Science, and much more.
5 Qualities of a Brahmachari (student)
काक चेष्टा, बको ध्यानं, स्वान निद्रा तथैव च
स्वल्पहारी, गृहत्यागी विद्यार्थी पंच लक्षणं।
Grihastha Ashrama गृहस्थ आश्रम
A Brahmachari after completing his studies enters the grihastha ashram where he tries to fulfill his duties by making a living and helping sustain the other three ashramas. This is the only ashram that is indulged in artha to sustain the other three ashrams. So daana(donation) is considered very important for Grihastha.
Vanaprastha Ashrama वानप्रस्थ आश्रम
After completing all the grihastha ashram responsibilities, one enters into vanaprastha ashram in which he renounces his home and moves to the forest while learning and sharing what he has learned. Most vanaprastha help in running and teach in gurukuls.
This word is made up of Vana + Prastha. Vana(वन) means forest and Prastha(प्रस्थ) means way to the forest. This is the third stage of an individual’s life in Vedic ashrama system. Others being Brahmacharya, Grihastha and Sannyasa. The vanaprastha ashrama is the third stage of life in Hinduism, when one withdraws from society and goes into isolation.
Vanaprastha is the third stage of life, characterized by withdrawal from material life and engagement in spiritual pursuits. It is traditionally thought of as a time of retirement, when one’s children are grown and one is free to pursue spiritual goals. In this stage of life, a person may engage in such activities as study, contemplation, and meditation. The Vanaprastha Ashrama is a time of preparation for the final stage of life, known as sannyasa.
The vanaprastha ashrama is traditionally seen as a time of transition, when one is preparing for the final stage of life, known as the sannyasa ashrama. In many ways, the vanaprastha ashrama can be seen as a preparation for death, as it is a time when one is detach from the material world and focuses on the spiritual.
गृहस्थस्तु यथा पश्येद् वलीपलितमात्मनः ।
अपत्यस्यैव चापत्यं तदाऽरण्यं समाश्रयेत् ॥ २ ॥Manusmriti, 6.2
Meaning: When the householder notices his wrinkles and white hair on his head, and sees his child’s child, then he should retire to the forest.
स्वाध्याये नित्ययुक्तः स्याद् दान्तो मैत्रः समाहितः ।
दाता नित्यमनादाता सर्वभूतानुकम्पकः ॥ ८ ॥Manusmriti, 6.8
Meaning: He should be always engaged in Vedic study, meek, conciliatory, quiet, ever liberal, not accepting any gifts, and compassionate towards all living beings.
What is the Vanaprastha ashrama(stage)?
The Vanaprastha Ashrama is said to be a time of contemplation and spiritual study. Householders in this ashrama are expected to live a simple life, focused on their relationship with God. They are also expected to perform acts of service, such as helping the needy and teaching the Dharma to others.
Vānaprastha asrama is part of the Vedic ashrama system, which comes after Grihastha ashrama. To enter this ashrama(stage) a person hands over the Grihastha(household) responsibilities to their children. His day to day involvement stops and takes up as an advisory role. This stage is the transition phase to Sannyasa ashrama.
Difference between Vanaprastha and Sannyasa?
Vanaprastha and Sannyasa both ashramas(stages of life) focuses on the knowledge sharing. In both the stages, a person have a lot of knowledge and experience which he shares with others.
Does Vanaprastha ashrama start at the age of?
There is no age described in the scriptures. But it is usually sometime around 50 years of one’s age. It is determined by one’s responsibilities in the household.
If an individual has taken care of his responsibilities, he may prepare for the Vanaprastha earlier or later depending on the situation.
How to prepare for vanaprastha?
The first step is to mentally prepare for the change. This means understanding that Vanaprastha is not retirement, but rather a time to focus on spirituality and service to society. It is also important to physically prepare for the transition by ensuring that one’s health is in good enough shape to withstand the rigors of a more ascetic lifestyle. Finally, it is useful to have a financial plan in place to support oneself during this period.
Vanaprastha Ashram is the time of transition of a Grihastha to Sannyas. This Ashram prepares the person for the responsibilities which he has to take care of in Sannyas Ashram which is considered the goal of any Hindu life.
The main purusharth that one has to undertake is Moksha. Moksha doesn’t mean you are only concerned with the well-being of your own or your family, but you will be concerned with society at large.
So the Vanaprastha Ashram is the preparatory stage for Sannyas Ashrama. It doesn’t have to be 25 years or so long. The vanaprastha can enter into Sannyas at any time he feels he is ready to take the next step i.e. he can take care of the responsibilities that come with Sannyas ashrama.
This is the final stage where one is removed from all obligations except sharing the knowledge that he has attained. The spreading of Vedic knowledge and their life experiences is the main focus of this ashrama.