The ancient Indians scripted the Vedas. The Vedas were poetic expositions on spirituality and life. And quite obviously therefore, the vedas are pretty vast and exhaustive. Nobody really is an author to the Vedas. We believe that it is just a documentation of how the Ancient Indian Civilization lived their life.
This post is inspired by a very simple and basic dictate of the Vedic way of Life.
They said that an average human life has 4 stages in it. Most people go through these 4 stages inadvertently and unconsciously. But when we can consciously follow these stages, there is a wonderful possibility that one might feel a sense of peace and ease as they ride through life.
The 4 stages according to the Ancient Indians are :
1. Brahmacharya : The celibate. The Seeker of Knowledge.
2. Gruhasta : The House-holder. The Materialistic one.
3. Vana-Prastha : The Forest-Dweller. The Retired one.
4. Sanyasa : The Renunciant.
1. Brahmacharya – celibate ; seeker of knowledge
If we imagine a life-span of about 80 years, the first 20 years were prescribed for Education and an elaborate process of understanding the working of the human mind and human psyche. There was also a lot of emphasis on learning skill-sets that would help the person live the rest of his/her life – people skills, communication skills, the art of self-enquiry & meditation, spirituality and philosophy, the art of hunting & war (relevant for those times) and other skills to live a complete life.
Hallmark of this Stage : The student was trained to ‘Focus Inwards’ into their selves and understand and master themselves fully. Therefore, they were strictly forbidden from engaging in any kind of romantic /sexual relationship or even owning/possessing any kind of wealth or luxury in this phase.
End of the Stage : This stage ended when the Guru (Teacher) deemed the student fit and capable of living a good and meaningful life. The student was then allowed to move to the second stage of life.
2. Gruhasta – householder ; materialistic
Once the formal phase of Self-Mastery and Education was over, the individual moved to the next phase which was starkly different from the first. The individual was now encouraged to engage in the world and pursue living a happy and fulfilled life. People now pursued careers, relationships, family, children, possessions & wealth.
Hallmark of this Stage : Indulgence was the key factor during this stage. They believed that the senses could be satiated only by allowing it to indulge in all its desires and getting done with it. Therefore when we study the lives of the kings of those times, they prided themselves with the amount of wealth they had attained, the amount of land they had conquered and the number of women they had won over.
End of the Stage : They said that when the mind was allowed to indulge in EVERY desire that it harboured without any restraint whatsoever, there would come a time when the mind would no longer be driven by desire. Contentment would be a natural outcome. If this started at the age of 20, it would end approximately at the age of 40.
3. Vana-Prastha – forest dweller ; retired one
The third stage was prescribed from the age of about 40 till the age of about 60. Usually by this stage, the individual has children who are reaching the age of 20 and ready to step out of the first stage of life. As soon as the children were ready for the second stage of life, the individual chose to hand over all his wealth, property and possessions to the children and retire into the forest. In those times, the forest was seen as the place to live in minimalism. The retired parents would choose a quiet place, away from the hustle of the world, and retire.
Hallmark of this Stage : Retirement, Reflection and Introspection were the hallmark of this stage. If they have spent the 2nd stage (between 20 years to 40 years old) indulging and allowing a free-reign to their senses, this stage was to ponder over their actions and observe their mind and body. They would consult wise men in the forests to help them with the process of self-inquiry.
End of the Stage : The Ancients said that as a natural progress to reflection and introspection, there would come a time when the mind would naturally want to go into solitude and renunciation. This would mark the end of the Vana-Prastha stage
4. Sanyasa – renunciant ; ascetic
The last stage of life. Typically beyond the age of 60. The individual was advised to actively give up all kinds of material needs and pursuits. True Sanyasa, according to them, was the renunciation of all physical and mental needs. While giving up the physical needs was considerably the easier task, giving up the mental and emotional needs required a lot of discipline and practice.
Hallmark of this Stage : Meditation and Yoga were prescribed as the way to embrace renunciation. The individual led the life of an ascetic and focused on the higher pursuits of the soul, such as surrender, faith, liberation of the soul and experiencing freedom at the level of the soul.
End of this Stage : Physically, of course, death would mark the end. But the true end of this stage was considered to be a complete mastery over the Process of Life and Death. They called it Nirvana and Moksha.
Observations on the 4 Stages :
- When a particular stage of life was not complete for any reason, they observed that the mind of the individual tries to complete the unfinished needs of the previous stage in the subsequent stage. This is quite natural, but not necessarily healthy.
Example : If the father has not fully completed his desire to achieve and gratify himself in the Gruhasta stage, he would not be willing to go into the Vana-Prastha fully. Instead the mind would push the son to fulfill his unfinished desires and sabotage the son’s pursuit of his own needs.
- The Stages were based on a natural progression of the mind and were linked to a State of Mind, rather than being linked to the age of the person. They believed that every soul had an innate knowing of their timeline from deep within. And if they followed their inner guidance closely, it would be perfectly aligned with death.
- Stage 2 and 3 (Gruhasta and Vana-Prastha) were optional. Every individual at the end of the 1st stage was offered a choice to directly pursue Sanyasa or to go into Gruhasta. Of course, no choice was considered superior or inferior.
I believe these stages might still be relevant to our lives if we look closely at life.