In ancient times, the life was divided into four stages, the first two being for everyone, and the last two being primarily for the seekers. People then lived a healthy and long life, an average of about one hundred years, and each stage of life was given a period of approximate twenty five years. But knowing the uncertainty of life it was an individual choice how much time one wanted to spend in each stage.
The reasoning behind each stage was very meaningful, and it still applies today.
The First Stage : Brahamacharya
The first 25 years of one’s life should be dedicated to receiving education, and developing skills etc. The Brahamacharya in this context means not to indulge in sensual pleasures in the first stage of life as they can be a big distraction to one’s education.
During this stage, the practice of Hatha yoga, which includes asanas, pranayamas, and very limited amount of meditation is recommended. The main purpose of the yoga practice is to keep the body and mind healthy.
The Bhakti yoga is practiced by means of praying, singing Divine songs, and cultivating faith in God.
Those who are spiritually mature and inclined toward the spirituality from a very early age may follow the other paths of yoga as well, including Jnana yoga ( path of knowledge).
The Second Stage: Grihastha Ashram
The second stage is the family life. In a broader sense it means a worldly life. This is the stage for having a family , fulfilling career ambitions, earning money, and enjoying worldly pleasures etc.
The recommended spiritual practices in this stage are the same as in the fist stage, with the addition of the karma yoga. It is highly encouraged and emphasized to serve, and to be helpful in the community.
In the above two stages of life, the Jnana yoga and meditations are kept to a minimum as they can interfere with one’s education, and worldly life. Receiving too much of higher knowledge at an early age can lead one into wrong knowledge. It can withdraw one’s mind inward partially, temporarily and prematurely . It may not happen to all, but it happen to many. They lose interest in their education, career, and family and social lives, only to regret later. To understand the knowledge, one needs a certain amount of worldly experience, and maturity. The first two stages of life, in addition to learning, earning, and enjoying, are also a tapas, necessary for training the mind and bringing some maturity to it.
Many parents often ask me what is the right age for introducing spiritualty to their children? I always tell them not to be in a rush and not to give too much spirituality to their children at a young age.
The best way to give spirituality to your children is to cultivate a loving and a values-rich environment in the house. The spiritualty begins at home. That’s why the second stage is called an ashram. Give your children the good values at home, and inspire and encourage them to be ambitious and successful in life. Too much spirituality at an early age can limit their growth. I know many parents who forced their children into too much spiritualty at an early age, and I also know many young boys and girls who themselves shunned the world with a hope to find a better world, now regret their decisions. Many of them are confused and conflicted, unsure of what they really want to do with their lives. For this reason, the second stage of life is very necessary to explore the world, fulfill some desires, become a better person, and to prepare the mind for the next two stages.
After spending about 25 years in the second stage, people who are happy in their worldly life , they may continue living the rest of their lives the same way. There is nothing wrong with it, but it is important to continue focusing on becoming a better person and doing more karma yoga. .
But for those wanting to pursue spirituality, the third and the fourth stages are highly recommended. I will talk about them in the next post.