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Monday, January 24, 2011

Importance of the system of stages of life in attaining the four pursuits

Importance of the system of 'stages of life' in attaining the four pursuits

Table of Contents

1. Origin and meaning of ashrams

2. Objectives and type
3. Importance

1. Origin and meaning of ashrams

The word 'ashram' (आश्रम) has been derived from the root 'shram' (श्रम्) which means to make efforts. The meaning of the derived word 'ashram' is, a state in which one makes efforts on one's own.
2. Objectives and type

Righteousness (dharma), wealth (artha), desire (kama) and the Final Liberation (moksha) [धर्मार्थकाममोक्ष] are the four pursuits (purushaartha) of human life according to Bhaartiya (Indian) culture. The system of 'stages of life' (ashrams) explained in the Vedic religion is the principal means of attaining them. When explaining the duties to be performed in the various stages of life, the lifespan of man has been considered as 100 years and has been divided into four parts. Each part is called a stage (ashram).
The four stages are:

Celibate (Brahmacharya): In the stage of celibacy one has to live in the Guru's hermitage, study the scriptures and undertake vowed religious observances (vrat).

Householder (Gruhastha): In the stage of a householder; through procreation, performing fire sacrifices and study of scriptures one repays the three debts towards society, ancestors and God respectively.

Retired householder (Vanaprastha) and Renunciant (Sannyaas): As one ages one has to retire to the forest to complete the third stage of retired householder. This is beneficial in gradually detaching oneself from desire and attachment for wealth. Lastly, towards the end of life one should renounce the world and attain the Final Liberation (moksha) through Self-realisation and thus accomplish the very purpose of life according to this philosophy.

Restricting the natural and unrestricted tendency of man and guiding it onto the right path by defining limits is necessary to accomplish any of the four pursuits (purushaartha) of human life. Realising that this objective would be fulfilled only if human life was regulated by the four stages of life, the sages laid down this system.
The absolute means to accomplish the ultimate objective of human life, which is the Final Liberation or eternal benefaction, is the stage of the renunciant and to accomplish the spiritual practice of that stage the first three stages are essential. Thus the four stages are inter-related. In short, the system of 'stages of life,' teaches a materialist what spiritual practice he should undertake to gradually adopt the path of Spirituality (nivruttimaarg) as his age advances.
3. Importance

The 'stages of life' are absolutely essential to decrease attachment for the Great Illusion (Maya), to reduce awareness of the body (dehabuddhi), to consider others as a part of one's family and to assuage the ego.

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