The recommendation by the ancient sages of India to live life in four stages, called Ashramas, namely, Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa, bears glorious testimony to the depth and profoundness of their wisdom.


            The first period extending to say the twenty-fifth year should be devoted to learning and acquirement of knowledge for which diligence and concentration are required. For the purpose of concentration some rules and disciplines are prescribed, like living away from worldly attractions, aloofness from distracting association and environment, food which is good for the intellect and for mental concentration, celebacy, piety, regularity in work and duties, etc. Surely observance of these rules is helpful to acquirement of knowledgement.


            After Brahmacharya begins Grihastha Ashrama or family life, in the course of which experience of the world and of human relationships is gained and natural urges, feelings and emotions are satisfied. But desires more and more come and attachments to possessions grow more and more. These bring disappointments, discontent, worries, anxieties, regrets, uneasiness and dissatisfaction and make one look for a change which may dispel them and free him from friction, embroilments, disagreements, unpleasantness, etc., which increasingly come in family relations and in his field of worldly business and activity. But for fuller experience and steadier desire for a change of life one should continue in Grihastha Ashrama for about twenty-five to thirty years and thereafter take to Vanaprastha Ashrama, when as a pilgrim he should move about from place to place. As he moves about and sees the world more he understands the impermanence of things which had attracted him and had raised hopes and desires which gave no peace, no rest, no contentment. He sees through the illusion of their charms and moves on reflecting and meditating on life, its purpose and significance. His small little world wherein were confined his attachments and where his possessions were stored melts away in the perspective of the wide world which he visualises as he moves through new places and meets new persons and new circumstances. He sees and learns more and gains more knowledge and wisdom. Unattached to things and persons he passes by life to him becomes more stimu­lating, inspiring and enjoyable, than when his thoughts and interests were confined within the walls of my own, the jurisdiction of my rights and the limits of his mine. His fear, anxiety, want, worry, drop off little by little and lighter his steps become. His interests, love, feelings and sentiments as they open out and spread beyond those limits bring satisfaction which they had not brought before. With increasing knowledge and understanding of the causes of fear and worry, discontent and dissatisfaction his old attachments weaken and he thinks of more freedom and emancipation from the bonds of old and goes ahead beyond this stage to the stage of steady Vairagya, the stage of Sannyasa Ashrama. The period of Vanaprastha must depend on the reactions of the individual to the life he has lived and on his sensitivity and mental development and aptitude analysing, discriminating and judging the experiences he has come through.


            In the Sannyasa Ashrama he frees himself steadily from desires and attachments and as he looks back on the past indifferently and philosophically he finds more meaning, more purpose in life than he had found before. Happiness and contentment which he had sought through satisfaction of desires and impulses, he now understands, come otherwise than from seeking them; they come themselves when they are not sought and longed for. He now appreciates the true meaning of freedom which comes when one obtains mastery over himself, over the excitements of his body and mind, his feelings and emotions. Indeed, only such freedom, can bring fearlessness and peace of mind, but such freedom comes stage by stage with the gaining of wisdom and with the change of outlook on life caused by the experiences which he comes through.


            If life is lived thus in four stages as recommended the experi­ences coming through the years will not go waste but will be fruitful and will take him put of the pains, sorrows, fear, and unhappiness which make life a trial in suffering, regret and misery. But human folly, human weakness, human inability to pull out of the physical and mental desires, cravings and attachments prevent most of the men from coming out under the open sky of freedom where peace reigns. In spite of growing friction and unpleasantness and crack of ties of love and attachment they want to hold on to a niche in the family house where others have come and established them­selves and where he has become less desirable and acceptable than before. Sticking on there is bound to interfere with the growing needs and scope for development of the new-comers and to bring to the stickers-in displeasure, disappointment and perception of being ignored and neglected. In the days when they believed in the virtue of Vanaprastha parents left the grown-ups to themselves and withdraw to live separately on their own. Such withdrawal made the domestic ties loose to be gradually broken by the wise parents in order to be emancipated from their sorrow-creating hold. Indeed most of the troubles and woes are due to their not withdrawing but sticking on and claiming regard and attention, service and care from relations who are disinclined and disinterested to give them.


            Outside the family also, in their field of work and activity, those who cling to their old posts, old work, old profession, old office chair, old ambitions, old outlook, create friction, misunder­standing and unhappiness between themselves and those who wait to take their places. Both sides are unhappy though they can be happy if those who had their innings declare and leave the other side in play.


            If people after about say twenty-five years of Grihastha Ashrama adopt the third stage, the stage of Vanaprastha, they will find life fuller and more enjoyable than they had imagined when they were confined within the walls of their family and the boundary of the area of their business and profession. But Vanaprastha does not necessarily mean a ‘pilgrim’s wandering life. It is rather a stage meant for loosening one’s attachments which can be done by moving about and also by taking to hobbies other than of course the hobby of making money, money which creates attachments, entanglements, meanness, selfishness and many of the causes which bring unhappiness. Reading can be very helpful in keeping the mind turned from the thoughts of the past and can make life peacefully enjoyable. Physical movement is not always possible and it brings fatigue and weariness, but reading can take the mind over much wider field and to places where the legs cannot take, and it brings freshness instead of weariness. Travelling no doubt does good both to the body and the mind and brings direct knowledge, and practical experience, but reading also brings to the reader the knowledge, thoughts and experiences of many thinkers. When reading astronomy one travels to the stars and the galaxies; travel books bring before us scenes of distant countries, of lofty mountain peaks, deep seas, polar ice-fields and of so many places which physically we cannot visit. Books give us the thoughts of great men, great thinkers, scientists and philosophers, great saints and sages. What else can bring calm peacefulness free from the trouble-creating distractions of old than books? What else can better break prejudice, misunderstanding and selfishness which grow in narrow environment and what else can broaden the mind and the outlook than books? What else can bring good company, expansive thoughts, wise wisdom and enjoyable occupation than books? And what else indeed can better and more smoothly and agreeably lead to the stage of Sannyasa when steadiness for undisturbed deep meditation on life, its use and significance, comes than books?


            Those who drag on their old activities, desires and attachments beyond the period of closed Grihastha Ashrama and keep their thoughts, interests and vision confined to them drag fear, sorrow, disappointment, regret and bitterness on with them. And those who twist their necks back to look for charms where there are no charms, and do not look forward over the horizon for peace and tranquillity miss the meaning of human life and the bliss and enlightenment_which it can give.


            It is surprising that this simple truth does not strike people in spite of the experiences of their life and that the easy way of escape from all that they complain of in later life does not come in their view. And it is more surprising that while they live differently and take different food, different dress, etc., in different seasons they think not of changing their living, occupation, thoughts and interests with the changing seasons and periods of their life. When they make and have been making contacts with different men for business and for expansion of business they think not of contacting others, the, great thinkers and writers, who can give better business, the business of living life happily, wisely and contentedly. If they devote themselves to the study and acquirement of knowledge they will be happy themselves and with their knowledge and wisdom and their disinterested good thoughts for others they will become saints in the Sannyasa Ashrama and will show the way to others to be happy. If there was need to think of money once there is need also to think of money as means and not the end of life. If there has been ambition to gain power, position and leadership there should be ambition also to give up the power, position, advantages and leadership which had been held for years to others and to leave           to them the field of their own former activities.


            Those who hold on to their jobs, positions, professions or business till the end and compete and fight and do all that they can to retain them cannot be fully developed men. In developing fully a man develops more than one interest and his vision spreads beyond a particular thing or spot, but the above veterans who keep themselves fixed in their places and think of little else besides money and position have not developed that way. Business and profession, politics and some political isms hold their mind, attention, idea and imagination. When they should come out of the old occupation in the freedom of Vanaprastha how they keep their body and mind; their vision and thoughts, confined therein, how they toil and struggle to bitterest end to stay in there is hard to appreciate and yet that is what most people do. When the never-retiring politicians talk of their country’s freedom I wonder if they who have, remained slaves to their one concern of being in political power know what freedom is. And so also those who do not feel the urge to come out of the hole, of the Grihastha life after having been there for twenty-five years or more. The call of the outer world they have not heard; the stimulating charm of the free air of Vanaprastha they have not seen, the fearlessness and carefreeness which come from the loosening of the ties and bonds of attachment in the Grihastha life they are unable to imagine. They read holy books, perform religious ceremonies and worship deities, but they remain far from comprehend­ing the essence of religion and religious philosophy. They are indeed not fully developed men. In giving their all, time, energy, thoughts, perseverance to one concern, to one effort they neglect to develop their other faculties, their responsiveness to fresh inspiration, their imagina­tion, their power of conception and the other perceptivities which          make man a full man.    ­


            The four stages of life if well lived help the fuller develop­ment of man and lead him to the state where fear, pain, sorrow, grief, worry, nothing disturbs his peace and blissful contentment. But the experiences which generate wisdom and urge him to go ahead come stage by stage through the four Ashramas and not by short cuts through them. Grihastha Ashrama is of particular importance because it is through the satisfaction of the various natural physical and mental urges and desires and through the attractions and attachments formed during the period that one understands their nature and understands also that they do not limit but extend the purpose of life and do not close but open the way to life where joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments, griefs and miseries, regrets and anxieties are not inevitable but are impossible. Even from a distance some sages have visualised this state and have described it as the state of Ananda, which does not mean just joy which creates longing for more and more of it, but that sense which is full in itself, which has nothing to seek, nothing to look for and desire for. It is that sense which brings the sense of oneness with the All-Pervading One.


            Those who in impatience or in fear of the trial of life try to jump to the stage of Sannyasa hardly succeed, because they have to struggle with the natural calls of life and to keep themselves ever on guard against their pulls, charms and attractions. Charms pursue one who flees in fear; they should be faced and broken through to be free from them. To break them the experiences of coming during the years of the Grihastha life should be gone through and the lessons of falls, failures, disappointments, sorrows, griefs and all the other experiences be learnt patiently and steadily.



“I am endeavouring to see God through service of humanity, for I know that God is neither in heaven, nor down below but in every one.”