Four stages of life
Hinduism not only tells you the aims of life but it also shows the practical way to how to achieve those aims. To do this, Hinduism divides a person’s life in four stages or Asramas:
In the old times, people used to live for about 100 years or more. Therefore, a person’s life span is assumed to be about hundred years and each stage is expected to last for about 20 to 25 years. The second asrama is expected to last longer compared to others. Remember, this is a guideline and not a compulsion to anybody, even for the Brahmins (priests) but it was an ideal way to live a well-planned life.
Brahmacharya means celibacy. This is the student phase of life. In this Asrama, one is supposed to acquire knowledge from his teacher and to remain celibate. The stage generally starts from 8 years of age. The student is introduced to his Guru through a ceremony called “Upanayana.”
Notably, this stage is only for boys and not for girls and the student needs to stay with his teacher until he finishes his studies. This stage ends at the age 20 to 25 or less depending upon the situation.
Grihasthashrama means the stage of life when the person is married and has to fulfill all his duties towards his wife, children, father, and mother. This stage starts when Brahmacharya Asrama ends. So, this is the second stage of life. During this stage, he has to earn his livelihood by using his skills he learnt from his teacher during Brahmacharya Asrama. This is the most important stage of life and tends to last longer than other stages. During this stage, he is authorized to enjoy “Kama” as well as he has to work hard to secure “Artha.” This stage is expected to end at 50 years of age.
Vanaprastha means “going to the forest.” This is the third stage of life. This is the stage when the person is to retire, give up sexual life, give up all the possessions to children, and enter the forest. He could leave his wife to the care of his sons or allow her to accompany him. He will live as a hermit, surviving on alms.
Notably, a person cannot enter Vanaprasthashrama unless and until his daughters are married and his sons are able to earn their own livelihood. This ensures that the person completes all his duties towards his families.
Sannyasa means complete renunciation. This is the last stage of life and may start at 75 years of age but there is no such restriction of age. He is to dedicate himself entirely to spirituality. He is to live on fruits and roots found in the jungle. He is not allowed to eat cooked food or beg for alms. He needs to avoid unnecessary contacts with anybody. He does not need to care about his body. He is to practise austerities and thus be prepared for salvation. If he follow this stage properly, he would be released from the cycle of birth and rebirth and would attain Moksha (salvation).
In this article, we will discuss Hinduism facts about the four purusharthas i.e. four aims of life.
If you are new to Hinduism, you might have a question in your mind that how to live an ideal life as a Hindu. Is it always necessary to denounce the normal life and become an ascetic to acquire salvation? What are the aims of a Hindu’s life?
According to Vedas, there are four aims of a Hindu’s life:
We will discuss all these four aims in detail in this article.
1. Dharma: Dharma literally means religion or law but here it actually means righteousness i.e. duty towards the society, duty towards the family, duty towards the humanity. So, one has to observe Dharma while living in society by respecting the laws of society and doing the right things.
2. Artha: Artha means wealth or the things related to earning money. This does not at all mean that Hinduism advocates acquisition of health only but Hinduism understands the importance of money in a person’s life. To live life happily as a common person, you need money but this money should be acquired by honest methods only. If there is a clash between Dharma and Artha, Dharma should be given more priority than Artha.
3. Kama: Kama means pleasure, especially “sexual pleasure.” The word Kama here also means the pleasure we derive from cultural pursuits, sports, and other creative activities which help us enjoy the life.
People know Hinduism for spirituality but Hinduism is also a very practical religion. Hinduism honestly appreciates that sexual pleasure is one of the highest and purest pleasures that God had given to human. Sex is, no doubt, an important part of a human’s life and we should accept it wholeheartedly. It is the basic instinct through which procreate ourselves and preserve the human race.
4. Moksha: The Moksha means salvation i.e. liberation of the soul from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Hinduism believes in reincarnation. What we are today is the result of our past life Karma and what we would be in the next life would be the result of what we do in the present life. Our soul thus gets trapped in the cycle of birth and rebirth. Therefore, Moksha is necessary to liberate the soul from this cycle. Moksha is the ultimate aim of a Hindu’s life.
Hinduism not only tells the aims of life but also tells how to achieve them. A Hindu’s life is therefore divided in four stages or Asramas to achieve these aims.