Hinduism tells us the aims of life and also shows the practical way how to achieve those aims and to do this, Hinduism divides a person’s life in four stages or Ashrams: and every person should ideally go through each of these four stages:
· The First Ashrama - "Brahmacharya" or the Student Stage
· The Second Ashrama - "Grihastha" or the Householder Stage
· The Third Ashrama - "Vanaprastha" or the Hermit Stage
· The Fourth Ashrama - "Sannyasa" or the Wandering Ascetic Stage
Each stage or ashram has specific duties and expectation which must be attained at an appropriate age. In ancient India, a man was expected to live a hundred or so years and so each stage would be approximately 24-25 years.
1.Brahmacharya - The Celibate Student:
Brahmacharya is the stage of life being a student. In the traditional Indian system of study, a child, once he had become a Brahmachari, would live and learn from his guru all that was essential for him to become a productive and thinking human being.
(Now a days a boy has to also stay away from home for higher studies)
2.Grihastha - The Married Family Man:
In this stage the man has to perform his duties as a member of society and become a positive provider to his family, his community and his society at large. He must be usefully and ethically employed. He must earn wealth and use his service for the larger good.
3.Vanaprastha - The Hermit in Retreat:
This is stage of a man when his duty as a householder comes to an end. The Vanaprastha ashram is semi-retirement. At this age, he should give up all physical, material and sexual pleasures, retire from his social and professional life. Gradually letting go of the ties that bind him being the society elder who is willing to share the knowledge and wealth he has earned for the benefit of others. No wonder, this third ashrama in now a days nearly out of date.
4.Sannyasa - The Wandering Recluse:
The last stage, Sanyas, involves looking inwards and completely liberating oneself from all worldly appetites and desires. In this ashram, a man must prepare himself for the next journey out of his body and thus reject anything that constrains his release and liberation. In this stage, a man is supposed to be totally devoted to God. . He is virtually merged with God, all his worldly ties are broken, and his sole concern becomes attaining moksha, or release from the circle of birth and death. When he dies, the funeral ceremonies (Pretakarma) are performed by his son and heir.
What About Women?:
Traditionally, Woman's role is of a dependent nature, they need the protection of a responsible male at every stage of life. Though these ashramas are principally considered for the male, females too have a vital role to play in each one of them. So women are not actually excluded because they are always supposed to have an active social and religious life at home.
Hinduism is not a religion; it is an attitude towards life and of achievement. Hindu practices show us the way to live a full and productive life as a physical, spiritual and emotional being.