worship, charity, and renunciation.
Placed, as he is, in an environment ordinarily unfavourable to spiritual
growth, the grihastha’s struggle is taken to be the hardest. But the duties of
these two stages, of the student and the householder, if conscientiously
discharged, would lead him to the ultimate goal, and save him from all
chances of rebirth, as stated by the Chandogya Upanishad.
The householder, when he sees signs of old age coming upon him should
be ready to renounce the comforts of settled life at home, to retire from the
world, to give up all ‘desire for children, desire for possessions, and desire
for the world,’ as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad puts it. He leaves the
crowded habitation of men, becomes a vanaprastha, a resident of the forest,
where he castigates the body to purify the soul, and lives upon such wild
berries and herbs as the forest may offer him.
In the last quarter of his span of life a man enters into the fourth stage,
which offers him a final and certain means of reaching the supreme goal, of
acquiring a knowledge of the self, and of emancipation from the bondage of
life and death. He devotes himself, more intensively and exclusively than
ever before, to the supreme quest of life.
The last stage of the yati, or sannyasin, is meant, says the Vaikhanasa
Dharmasutra, only for a Brahmin, who is required to pass through a more
rigorous course of self-denial and discipline than the others. Three stages
ending with that of the forest-recluse are ordained for the Kshatriya, who, by
the nature of his duties and station in life, has a greater taste of worldly
comforts and power; the last stage of severe mortification was found, for the
majority of them perhaps, too strenuous. The Vaishya, whose outlook on life
was mainly economical, governed by the acquisition of wealth, found it too
much of a hardship to renounce the comforts of life in advanced years; hence
the first two asramas alone are prescribed for him; he ends his life as a
householder. The Sudra, having not to study the Vedas, knows only the
householder’s stage of life and none other.
In the Rig Veda, the asrama-stages are not mentioned as such, but the
institutions of the student, householder and ascetic are already there. In the