Each 'Choose-day' we will investigate the process by which we can reassess our activity and interaction with the world of plurality and become more congruent within our personality.
Last Thursday you got your first glimpse of the four stages of life. We shall explore these more now because, in making decisions, the more information we have to hand the better and making decisions about life means understanding where we are 'at' within life.
Perhaps to put the chaturaashrama in perspective it is best to begin with an intro to the concept of सनातन धर्म /Sanaatana Dharma. Eternal Religion, though 'religion' is a very poor English word substitute. This is the art of living rightly. Before Hinduism became called as such, those who practiced according to Vedic teachings were of Sanaatana Dharma. The term 'Hindu' is comparatively late in Indian history. Sanaatana is that which exists; it was always there and will always be there. Dharma is one of those Sanskrit words which is loaded with significance; duty, expectation, principles and values, this is your 'lot'… the latter being about acceptance more than about प्रारब्ध /praarabdha (destiny) itself.
Within Dharma there are strict codes some of which have been challenged as being outmoded, or misinterpretations of the teachings. One very visible example is that of 'caste', which has been sorely used. It is not the purpose or intent of this blog to tackle deep social issues in Indian (or any) culture. It is to assist individuals to rise above the pettiness of such dogmas and mis-usages; in due course we will explore the key text from which the misconception is likely to have arisen. It must be mentioned, though, as this is often a stumbling block for those who are seeking to understand the world more profoundly and it is frequently used as one of the 'stones to hurl' for those who are not actually seeking to learn but, rather, attempting to defend their own territory. It is important to mention it here as, within Dharma and in relation to chaturaashrama, your mental makeup is what affects your decision making. That which has become the 'caste system' was never intended thus, but refers in fact to the mental tendencies and talents of the individual - regardless of their social position. This will be explored further. Let us continue with the aashrama-s.
From the moment we are born to the moment we graduate from gurukula is said to be brahmachaarya; a time of innocence, of learning, of maturing and developing self-control. Our duties are those of honouring our elders, accepting their instruction, adopting values.
Marriage and working life come upon us. We become 'householders'. Learning does not stop. Maturing does not stop. Self-discipline must be daily practiced. Our duties are those of honouring and caring for elders, also our offspring, continually assessing our values and seeking to improve and set example.
That period of time when our children themselves are established grhastha-s and our work is growing less if not stopped. Retirement from the more rigourous duties is now taken up. Vaana means forest. Historically, elders would indeed now move from the hustle and bustle and set up home in the forests - tree change! In modern times this equates to 'down-sizing' activity. In Sanskrit culture, it would be specifically to ensure greater amounts of time could now be spent in devotion and study of scriptures. Our duties in V-p are primarily that and also of guiding the young as required.
Complete withdrawal from transactional life and total devotion to the spiritual. Sanyaasa is not simply a passage of time but a duty also. The key purpose of life is to attain freedom from it. In the sanyaasa stage we have the greatest opportunity to devote ourselves to this.
In the tradition, the periods of time are quite firmly set; brahmachaarya is 2-20 years, grhastha is 20-50 years, V-p is 50-70 years and sanyaasa 70-100 years. (There are occasional variances in these brackets but not by more than a year or two either way.)
Nowadays we might view this as being rather arbitrary but there were sound reasons and purpose behind the grouping - and the lifestyle adopted did enhance length of life. These days, of course, such limitations are constantly over-ridden and the average life expectancy falls a bit short. Also note that until two years, child is forgiven all! Many now seek to avoid grhastha responsibilities or at least delay them… and then also V-p; "50 is the new 40"! There are sub-stages, particularly in the Brahmachaarya and Grhastha periods, but we will not trouble with these here.
Other than upholding dharma (righteousness), three other key activities are required for right living; अर्थ/artha (wealth), काम/kaama (pleasure) and मोक्ष/moksha (liberation). What's that, you ask… pleasure? Yes, in the context of achieving right balance in life, in the procreation necessary for maintaining life, in the drive to improve oneself (wealth is not purely material) and all with the aim of taking one securely along the path towards proper spiritual dialogue.
It can be seen that within these brackets there is much room for movement. What to study? At what to work? When to start a family? When to retire?
Having banisters on a stair does not necessarily mean we have to use it. Perhaps we have such prowess, it is unnecessary. Perhaps we have pride and refuse its comforting assistance. Perhaps we understand that it is there for when we find the climb a bit more difficult and remains ever present, even when we are not making use of it. The social structure and expectation given in chaturaashrama provides a bannister for life. In Western society the structure is there - we simply have not analysed to such an extent! In Indian society, there has been a tendency to put off spiritual study throughout the grhastha stage, in the mistaken belief that it can all be attended during V-p and Sanyaasa… despite the fact that we know it becomes harder to adjust ourselves the older we get!
The choice is ours. Do we delay, or do we lift ourselves and, a little each day, step on the path to release and relief?
Internet troubles at time of scheduling have prevented plugging in the next selection from Chinmaya channel for Navratri chants. This, however, bridges the gap delightfully.