Ashrams in Hindu (Indian) philosophy are four stages of life and this thought was prevalent in the ancient as well as medieval times, though it still has acceptability with the orthodox families. These stages are known as Brahamcharya (ब्रहाम्चार्य), Grihastha (गृहस्थ ), Vanprastha (वन्प्रस्था) and Sanyasa (संन्यास). Each stage of life was approximately of 25 years thus making the life span of a human as one hundred years. Each life stage had distinct character and responsibilities which are summarized as under:
Brahamcharya. (ब्रहाम्चार्य) This life stage was from birth up to 25 years and consisted of a child growing up to a youth and was dedicated to learning/studies. A person was required to follow celibacy and concentrate on his academic development through ancient learning schools called Gurukuls (गुरुकुल). He learnt Sanskaras (संसकार…character values) and respected his teacher.
Grihastha.(गृहस्थ) (25 -50 years). This Ashram of life was dedicated to getting married, producing children, being a family man and earning one’s livelihood through just means and being a useful member of the society.
Vanprastha. (वन्प्रस्था) (50-75 years) At the end of 50 years a person went on a pilgrimage to either forests or temples in search of truth and in this stage of life he tried to achieve self actualization through meditation and meeting holy-men. He got retired from his employment or work.
Sanyasa. (संन्यास) (75-100 years or till the death of a person). At the age of 75 years , the person who had gained enough spiritual knowledge renounced his family/ worldly ties and became a Master (teacher) to show light to the younger generation; the phase ended with a person’s death (merging into the divine light).
With the passage of time and under the influence of western civilization coupled with modern studies these stages of life have been modified vastly and the ground reality is entirely different now. The very definition of the life stages has undergone a sea change and what we have now is a strange mix of Indian as well as other cultures besides various colors of modernity. Thus we have the following funny mix;
a. Modern Brahamcharya. (From 0 upto 16 years for celibacy and up to 35 years for education ). The teens today start indulging in sex at a very early age and thus it is not possible to lay down a definitive cut off limit for this Ashram. Some of the students go on to study till more than 35 years of age and therefore the learning period has extended considerably from a maximum of 25 years. Value based learning has vanished with students having least respect for the teacher. Era of enjoying life, indulging in rave parties, drugs and excessive sex is in. There is hardly any celibacy among majority of the students and remaining celibate is considered a sign of backwardness.
b. Modern Grihstha Ashram. (Anytime from 18 – 80 years) With live in relationships in vogue the concept of conventional Grihstha (Married life) has lost its value. In today’s Grihstha, marriages, live in relationships, pre-marital, post marital connections all have got mixed up. Some persons marry very late, we have heard of marriages even at a late age of 80 or even more). To acquire children one need not be a married couple as there are plenty of cases of single mothers. Divorces are on the rise and it is quite fashionable for married persons to have relationship outside their marriage; the entire issue thus is very confused. Very old couples also carry on with their romantic worldly activities and very proud to boast of their feats.
c. Modern Vanprastha. (There is no definable age for this activity). With knowledge flowing digitally everywhere, the need for going to forests and pilgrimage is not felt. One can learn from the confines of one’s home using net based devices. Even meditation and yoga lessons are available in the audio-video mode and one need not be leaving his family to realize the truth. I do not find many people leaving their household and moving out in quest of true knowledge. Also there is no concept of retiring from work as some persons go on working right till 75-80 years of age or till their health allows.
d. Modern Sanyasa. (Again no age can be defined for this activity). Present day Masters/Teachers vary from a very tender to old age. I fact we have Bal-Yogis (Young masters), Young Yogis and Yogins, and old Yogis in the form of self proclaimed God Men/Women having a field day. These need not have passed from the earlier stages of life like Brahmcharya, Grihsth, Vanprastha and can prop up at any age and carry on till they thrive. In fact these Masters can have be experiencing multi phases of life simultaneously like Sanyasa with fun and worldly pleasures.
It is high time that rules of the Society are revisited and rewritten, at the moment there appears to be chaos. Even animals have a more structured way of living. Human, the most intelligent creature of God appears to have freaked out.