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    As per our Dharma Shastras there are four stages of life for an individual . A man is a Brahmachari first,Grihastha next,then a vanaprastha and lastly Sanyasi.
    The following discusses the last two stages,viz.,vanaprastha and Sanyasi

    Sure this will be useful and informative.
    Read on...


    VANAPRASTA is the third stage of Elder Advisor usually between 48 and 72 years of age. A stage comes when business, family, secular life like the beauties and hopes of youth have exhausted themselves and need to be left behind. The person retires usually from worldly attachments to lead a life of contemplation and meditation alone or with his wife.

    What life holds beyond middle age depends in the end not on fancy and imagination but on the realities of the values of life we regard as inviolable. Vanaprasta may be termed as the beginning of a person's real 'adult education' to evaluate his performance thus for as Grihasta and reorder his life in such a way as to discover who he is and what life is all about.

    "The time had come for him to probe 'the secret of 'I' with which he has been on such intimate terms all these years yet which remains a stranger, full of inexplicable quirks, baffling surds, irrational impulses."

    It is curious to find that many do not wish to venture into this but would like to remain in Grihastashrama even by remarrying if the first spouse predeceases the man.

    A playboy of 25 may impress but how could one pose perpetually as the 'prince charming' at 50, 60 or 70 years of age? Look at those who try hard to do this. However hard they might try, they not only fail to receive recognition but also incur the derision of people whom they seek to impress.


    SANNYASI is the fourth stage of an Ascetic - Solitaire - usually beyond 72 years of age. This means 'Samyak Nyasa' - 'Total detachment' from worldly pleasures including the bare necessities to subsist. This is the last 'Ashrama'. He does not aspire to be recognized as somebody who matters - The wish of the Sannyasi is just to be a 'persona non grata'- one who exists almost without giving any thought to his being - with no desire for name or fame or recognition.

    "He no more cares whether his body falls or remains than does a cow what becomes a garland that someone has hung around her neck - for the faculties of his mind are now at rest in the holy power, the essence of bliss."

    "Business, family, secular life, the beauties and hopes of youth and the success of maturity have now been left behind, Eternity alone remains. And, so it is to that - and, not to the tasks and worries of their life, already gone which came and passed like a dream - that the mind is turned."

    "The Sannyasi has his spiritual eye on goods that men can't give and cares little for anything that men can take away. . Therefore, he is beyond the possibility of either seduction or threat."

    Sannyasa is of four kinds:

    'Vidvat'- born out of real wisdom and is spontaneous 'Vividisha'- springing from a yearning for self-realization through study of the Scriptures and practicing the rigors prescribed Aatura upon one's deathbed when there is no hope in living further, and Markata - embracing Sannyasa as an escape from great misery, disappointment or misfortune that one is not able to face in worldly activities.

    No one is encouraged to become a 'Sannyasi' unless one has gone through one's natural impulses through the three previous Ashramas. He who runs away from marriage (Grihastashrama) is no better than a coward deserting the battle field.

    The student's attention is directed inward, preparing for life ahead. In Grihasta and Vanaprasta attention is directed outward - Grihasta supporting the entire society, Vanasprasta sharing his experiences for the good of others. The Sannyasi is again inner directed. Having contributed to society and having received from society what he needed, he prepares himself for the final release.

    Sannyasa means renunciation not of life alone but of Kama, Artha and even worldly Dharmas. Sannyasa may be deemed a second phase of Brahmacharya.

    The first was a preparation for life; the second a preparation for death. While Brahmacharya and Grihasta show the 'Pravritti Marga ( towards the world) , Vanaprasta and Sannyasa indicate the 'Nivritti Marga' (away from the world) through introspection and renunciation.

    Thus, while 'Varna' is determined by past 'Karma', Ashrama is determined by the stage of maturity displayed by individuals in viewing the goals of life.

    "Varnas stress human nature ; Ashramas stress human nurture"

    And, Lord Krishna advises "One's own duty, though done imperfectly is preferable to the duty of another even if well performed. Even death in doing one's own duty is blissful; doing another's duty is frightful".

    So, everyone is advised to do his / her 'Dharma' according to one's Varna and Ashrama - and not to venture doing those outside one's own.

    Every person has his Svabhava (natural being) fitting him for his Svadharma (natural function). We cannot change either our natural being or our natural function because nature cannot be forced into a change by our whims and fancies.

    A Sadhu was rescuing a scorpion that had fallen into a pond. Every time he lifted it out of water, it stung him but he would not give up until it was saved. One of his disciples asked why he was persistent in saving the scorpion that stung him. The Sadhu replied: "The `Dharma' or nature of scorpion is to sting; the nature or Dharma of a Sadhu is to rescue a being from distress - and in this case sure death by drowning. So long as the scorpion does not give up its Dharma why should I give up mine and give up saving it?" The `Dharma' of fire is to burn, of water is to be cool, of wind is to blow. So, the Dharma of man is to be humane. This story emphasizes how one should go on doing one's duty even if obstacles, impediments and difficulties intervene in discharging it.

    The Dharma of a student is to study. If the student - neglects his studies he neglects his svadharma; if fire does not burn, it is not fire; When heated by fire (by external influence) water loses its nature (Svadharma) of being cool. When Svadharma is not practiced, there ensues an imbalance in the environment. This understanding and adherence to Svadharma is what distinguishes human beings from other beings.

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  • #2

    Dear Varadarajan Sir,

    Thanks for your article. I have some questions. Can you please answer me.

    Brhamacharya dharma starts by parents leaving the boy to the Guru and advising him to learn.

    Grihastha starts when parents arrange for his marriage.

    Varnasrama starts when he retires from worldly things and start to probe the secret of self

    But sanyasam has to be started by getting it from a sanyasi, I hope. And will any sanyasi give sanyasam to someone who is asking for it without finding him whether he is really suitable for it. And even if one gets sanyasam then how his life should be? What I mean is can he live his remaining part on his own without attaching him to any mutts? If so what should he do for his daily food and for his other sanyasa dharma like pujas etc.

    And can one adapt sanyasam without his wife's approval? In practical will any wife give such permission? If the wife is not willing to give permission what should he do?

    Why I am asking these questions are

    From my childhood, somehow or other I am always thinking of adapting sanyasam. I am 55 years old now and I am thinking to retire from active life very soon (though I have some more moral duties to complete - which I hope I can complete soon). But as I am the only son to my father ( I am adopted son) I don't think I can ever adapt sanyasam in this life?

    Is there any way out here?

    This is a question in my mind for long and I hope I will get a clear answer from you and from this forum member which will allow me to take a final decision.

    I would like to add one more thing here. I don't have issues and have not adopted anyone so far.

    Also Can any one tell how to find whether one has a chance to adapt sanyasam from his horoscope?

    Awaiting for members advice.

    With Best Regards

    S. Sankara Narayanan