The first writings about the main stages of life in Hinduism appeared thousands of years ago, and they are closely connected with the Vedic tradition. The opportunity to follow four life stages is significantly based on the caste system, and it is associated with people’s completing definite duties or responsibilities which are determined for each stage. In spite of the fact the fourth stage of life can be discussed as optional, the necessity to live according to the rules and obligations developed for stages is based on the idea of a man’s way to spirituality.
These life stages are traditionally discussed with references to men, but women can also follow the life stages without shifting to the forth one (Basharat, “The Contemporary Hindu Women of India: An Overview”, 246). The fact that the tradition is actively followed by Hindus even in the contemporary society depends on such an aspect that four life stages and the obligations typical for them form the man’s way to spirituality with the help of gathering the necessary wisdom at each stage.
The full spiritual development of a Hindu is possible when he pays much attention to each stage which are ashramas and complete all the required duties. The first stage known as Brahmacharya can be discussed as a stage of a ‘student’ when a Hindu is obliged to study the Vedas under the control of his teacher and to serve his teacher. It is a period when a Hindu is a boy, and all his actions are directed toward the development and improvement of his skills and knowledge. He is reasonable for following the pure contemplation and listening to his teacher carefully.
The second stage is known as Grihastha, and it starts with the man’s beginning the life in marriage. It is the period when a man becomes a ‘householder’, and his duties and responsibilities are focused on his family. Thus, a householder is responsible for the life and happiness of his spouse, his parents, and children.
Now, the man’s main roles are husband and father. Moreover, a householder should be attentive to the guests and their needs because he invites them to his house. It is the period when Hindus also complete their social obligations. Hindus in Grihastha lead the ethical life with orientation to their family and society (Firth, “End-of-Life: A Hindu View”, 683).
The next stage is Vanaprastha when having completed family and social obligations, Hindus can concentrate on their inner world and religious practices. These Hindus are ‘forest dwellers’ who spent much time meditating and concentrating on their intensive spiritual study.
The focus on the inner development in order to achieve the real spirituality is Hindus’ duty at this stage. The fourth stage is ascetic or Sannyasa. When Hindus are ready, and they completed the third stage they can become independent from all the possessions and features of the social life, becoming ascetic persons. This stage can be followed only by men, but not all Hindus choose to lead the ascetic life (Basharat, “The Contemporary Hindu Women of India: An Overview”, 246).
Fourth stage (optional)
To make the necessary shift from one stage to another one, Hindus are obliged to follow the definite ritual known as samskara in order to have the opportunity to continue their spiritual growth with learning a lot of important knowledge and improving all the acquired habits and skills.
Basharat, Tahira. “The Contemporary Hindu Women of India: An Overview”. A Research Journal of South Asian Studies 24.2 (2009): 242-249. Print.
Firth, Shirley. “End-of-Life: A Hindu View”. Lancet 366.1 (2005): 682–686. Print.