Four Stage of life

 (Chatur Ashram)

Hinduism is a holistic, balanced religion.  It does not push a person towards materialism or asceticism. 

Hindu philosophy recognises that people have different needs at different times of their lives.   People have to have a feeling of completeness and having achieved a measure of success.  To this end, our scriptures have organised four main phases in a person’s life and four main goals that they should try to attain in each of these phases.


The first phase is that of a student’s life. 
Goal is to attain knowledge.

Not bookish information that is geared to passing exams only, but real knowledge.  Knowledge that will help “free” your mind and our creativity. 

The current “education system” churns out more literate people than ever before, but many are miserable ! Why ? 
Because they do not have what they studied so hard for – "suitable job" !!! 

When the aim of the system is to produce a desk clerk, how can that knowledge make you “happy” ?  Such a system will only produce office workers and no more.  Knowledge is not limited to getting a job. 

According to our scriptures, knowledge should set you free – Sa Vidya ya Vimuchyate ! 


The second phase is devoted to raising a family.
Goal is to satisfy your urge to make a difference !

Having attained knowledge, a person naturally wants to apply it. 
What is the use of something, anything, if you can’t use it ?!? 

The house-holder’s life requires a person to apply what they have learned and start something they can call their own.  Business, farming, job – a young person needs to do this to feel he is earning his keep and is making a difference to the world around him. 

Young people, all over the world, since time began, feel they know more than their parents and they can do it better than them !  They are full of idealistic zeal and have a lot of energy to devote to this task.  Instead of curbing this zeal, Hinduism advocates tapping into it and allowing the young to do what they need to achieve their goals.  The parents are suppose to guide and semi-retire at this stage and let the young take over.  Having achieved some succeed in his chosen work field, the young man can genuinely feel he can start a family of his own.  What is the point of starting a family you cannot support ?  The young couple need to feel that they are pulling their own weight.  It’s a natural urge and should be encouraged.

The family unit is key to any society.  Without a “family”, the society cannot continue.  If everyone decided to become selfish and have no family / children, the society would soon die off from want of new members.  Equally, if everyone decided to renounced life and become monks, the society would have no one to support it financially and materially and the monks would soon have to forage in the forest !  Once again, there would be no one to add to the sum total of the society and it would soon die off.

The householder is the key supporter of people in the other three phases of life.  The money and materials they generate, help feed, clothe and house the others.  For this reason, this second phase of the life is considered a must for everyone.

Key desire for all life forms is to reproduce.  How else can the species continue ?
This natural desire is recognised and accepted in Hinduism and as a result, marriage is considered to be a sacred sacrement.  Men and women are expected to get married at an appropiate age and have lot of children to propagate the race.



The third stage is of semi retired parents.
Goal is to contribute to the society and family.

Having achieved success in business, job, career, a person wants to advance by leaving behind a mark.   Desire to be famous is an inborn thing amongst humans.  Some want to be famous for running, rowing, swimming, acting, accumulating wealth, intelligence, looks, cooking, clothes, creativity….. even misery !  Timur Lane, descendant of Gengis Khan and ancestor to the Mughals, wanted to be remembered for how much he made the world cry !  Strange are the desires of the human mind ! 

Once your children are able to stand on their own financial feet, parents can “afford” to take it easy.  They can than devote their time to social service, helping others, contributing to the community by sharing their expertise and experience.  Their role in home life is to help guide the children (career, home, relationships etc) and help instill a measure of good ethics, morals and values in the grandchildren.  Far from “relaxing”, this is the time when people actively make huge contributions to society / community in more ways than one. 



In the fourth stage of life, the elderly couple voluntarily withdraw from the society and live a life of spiritual contemplation.
The goal is to achieve the spiritual ultimate – nirvana !

Having achieved set goals in the intellectual, financial and social spheres, it is time to achieve the ultimate goal of spiritual peace. 

Having enjoyed material success in life, its time to savour spiritual success.  Hindus believed that the old people will themselves leave the family and not sit around to constantly nag their children and grandchildren.  In old age, when you are unable to contribute physically, and are mentally tired too, its best to let the young take care of the world and enjoy the memories of your own youth.  It is important too, to plan for the here-after. 

Hinduism teaches us that you have to take care of your own spiritual well being, no one can do that for you.  You have to travel the road to nirvana, no one else can do it for you.  Gurus can guide, but, the path has to be taken by you – and you alone.  In the thick of the MahaBharat battle, Lord Krushna tells Arjun point blank, “I can guide you, but, you have to fight.  I can tell you where to aim your arrows, but, you have to string the Gandiv and you have to set the arrows – not me.” 

Spiritual development must happen throughout your life.  Studying scriptures, meditation, visiting sacred places, giving charity etc must happen on a regular basis.  After retirement, this must accelerate.  Reflecting on their karmic balance, the elderly must try to lighten the load for the soul's journey to their next life.

The very idea that in Sanyas, the elderly leave the family home all together and travel to some secluded spot for contemplation, is a uniquely refreshing idea amongst world cultures.  It is far more “modern” in its approach than any other !

Than, as now, ashrams in sacred places catered for the elderly who wished to retire from active life. 
Having left the family behind, sadhus, monks, nuns and priests took care of the elderly, gave sermons, taught meditation and looked them till their death.


Bhagwat    [email protected]



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