Explanations drawn from the teachings of
Swami Nikhilananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math
A person's duties, in the Hindu tradition, are determined by the stage of life (Ashrama) to which he belongs. Life, which is regarded by Hinduism as a journey to the shrine of truth, is marked by four stages (Ashramas) each of which has its responsibilities and obligations. These four stages of life are:
1. Brahmacharya Ashram (first 25 years)
Student life -observing celibacy
2. Grihastha Ashrama (25 to 50 years)
Householder (married life)
3. Vanprastha Ashrama (50 to 75 years),
Scriptural studies and meditation on God
4. Sanyasa Ashrama (75 to100 years)
Cultivation of God-consciousness- Monastic way of life
Brahmacharya Ashram (first 25 years)
The first stage of life covers the period of study, when a student cultivates his mind and prepares himself for future service to society. He lives with his teacher and regards his teacher as his spiritual father. He leads an austere life and conserves his energy, spurning the defilement of the body and mind through evil words, thoughts and deeds. He shows respect to his elders and teachers, and becomes acquainted with the cultural achievements of the race. Students, rich and poor, live under the same roof and receive the same attention from the teacher and his wife. When the studies are completed, the teacher gives the pupil the following instructions, as described in the Taittiriya Upanishad:
Speak the truth. Practice Dharma. Do not neglect the study (of the Vedas). Having brought to the teacher the gift desired by him; enter the householder's life and see that the line of progeny is not cut off. Do not swerve from the truth. Do not swerve from Dharma (path of Virtue). Do not neglect personal welfare. Do not neglect prosperity. Do not neglect the study and teaching of the Vedas. Do not neglect your duties to the Gods and the Manes. Treat (revere) your mother as Goddess. Treat your father as God. Treat your teacher as God. Treat your guest as God.
Whatever deeds are faultless, these are to be performed - not others. Whatever good works have been performed by us, those should be performed by you- not others. ...
Grihastha Ashrama (25 to 50 years)
With marriage, a person enters the second stage of life. A normal person requires a mate; his biological and emotional urges in this respect are legitimate. Debarred from marriage are those who have a dangerous ailment that may be transmitted to children, or those rare souls who, as students, forsake the world at the call of the spirit.
Children endow marriage with social responsibilities.
Hinduism does not regard romance as the whole of the married life. Husband and wife are co-partners in their spiritual progress, and the family provides a training ground for the practice of unselfishness. A healthy householder is the foundation of a good society, discharging his duties (may be )as a teacher, a soldier, a statesman, a merchant, a scientist, or a manual worker. He should be ambitious to acquire wealth and enjoy pleasures, but not by deviating from the path of righteousness(dharma)
The following are the five great duties of a householder:
1. The study and teaching of the Vedas
2. Daily worship of the gods through appropriate rituals
3. Gratification of the departed ancestors by offering their
spirits food and drink according to the scriptural injunctions
4. Kindness to domestic animals
5. Hospitality to guests, the homeless and the destitute.
[ For more information on the Five Great Duties, visit our
page 'Mantras - Sacred Fire'- topic 'Sacrifice' ]
Vanprastha Ashrama(50 to 75 years)
When the skin wrinkles, the hairs turn grey, or a grandchild is born, one is ready for the third stage of life (by retiring from the householder's responsibilities). At this stage, the pleasures and excitements of youth appear stale and physical needs are reduced to a minimum. The third period of life is devoted to scriptural study and meditation on God.
Sanyasa Ashrama(75 to100 years)
During the fourth stage, a man renounces the world and embraces the monastic way of life. He is no longer bound by social laws. The call of the Infinite becomes irresistible to him; even charity and social service appear inadequate. He rises above worldly attachments, finite obligations, and restricted loyalties; he is a friend of his fellow human beings, of the gods, and of the animals. No longer tempted by riches, honour or power, a monk preserves equanimity of spirit under all conditions. He turns away from the vanities of the world, devoting himself to the cultivation of God-consciousness.
Through the disciplines of the four stages of life, a Hindu learns progressive non-attachment to the transitory world. The movement of life has been aptly compared to that of the sun. At dawn the sun rises from below the horizon, and as the morning progresses it goes on radiating heat and light till it reaches the zenith at midday. During the afternoon it goes down, gradually withdrawing its heat and light, and at dusk it sinks below the horizon, a mass of radiance, to illumine other regions.
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