Four Ways The System Of Ashramas Is Progressive

[Krishna's lotus feet]“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

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चातुर्-वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं
तस्य कर्तारम् अपि मां
विद्ध्य् अकर्तारम् अव्ययम्

cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam

A wise person does not want effort to go to waste. They want to make sure that everything they do builds upon past successes. They would rather not have to repeat a task, fix an easily preventable mistake, or revisit a known problem scope.

In fact, this is one way to understand the glories of Shri Hanuman, who is known as the greatest devotee of Shri Rama. After his famous crossing of the ocean to reach Lanka, Hanuman asked himself a series of questions, which highlight his attention to past effort and the need for progress in service.

न विनश्येत्कथं कार्यं वैक्लब्यं न कथं भवेत् |
लङ्घनं च समुद्रस्य कथं नु न वृथा भवेत् ||

na vinaśyetkathaṃ kāryaṃ vaiklabyaṃ na kathaṃ bhavet |
laṅghanaṃ ca samudrasya kathaṃ nu na vṛthā bhavet ||

“How can I ensure that the purpose of my task does not get destroyed? How shall I avoid mental disparity, and how do I ensure that my crossing of the ocean does not go for naught?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.41)

[Shri Hanuman]With respect to the entire life experience, there is a way to steadily make progress. Effort does not have to go to waste, even with the known outcome of guaranteed death. Shri Krishna is kind enough to provide a system of spiritual institutions, known as ashramas, which sequentially build upon one another, until the final stage.

1. Learn about the difference between matter and spirit

This is known as brahmacharya. When we hear that someone is following the vow of brahmacharya, this usually refers to celibacy. Abstaining from sex life is a central component to this spiritual institution, which can also be translated as student life.

Real education involves the knowledge of spirit. A student should learn about the difference between matter and spirit and their identity as Brahman. The theoretical knowledge is one thing, but there should also be a way to follow regulation to gradually lead to a practical understanding of the same principles.

2. Keep the family line going and support society

This is known as grihastha. While this is an optional stage, it is vital at the same time. The person who progresses from student life gets married and starts a family. They follow an occupation, varna, to match their qualities, guna.

The occupation is to support the family. The fruits from labor are also distributed in charity. In this way, the grihastha-ashrama can be considered the backbone of society. There must be production if there is to be consumption. Someone must be willing to produce.

3. Retire from work responsibilities

This is known as vanaprastha. There is the reference to the forest, vana. In a cultured society, this is the traditional way to retire. Leave home and go live in the forest. Sort of like a camping trip, but settling into that lifestyle on a long-term basis.

The previous two institutions progress into this one. There is knowledge of the impending and inevitable end that is death. There is accountability to others. There is control over the senses. There is detachment throughout, while work still takes place.

4. Complete renunciation

This is known as sannyasa. Complete renunciation. No attachment to others for enjoyment. No standing in society, as there are no possessions. Sort of like becoming a homeless beggar, but intentionally and not out of lack of ability or from having fallen on hard times.

This complete renunciation is a way to prepare for death. It is progressive, while downgrading in the visual sense. This is because the mind, which has been trained to think of transcendence since the time of student life, can now completely focus on the other realm.

If someone can flow through the ashramas, no work goes to waste. Nothing is lost in the process. Every milestone builds upon previous achievements. There is no need to worry about the passage of time. There is no need to long for a return to youth, as the more the consciousness is linked to transcendence, the less debilitating time becomes.

We are living in the age of quarrel and hypocrisy, however. Who is actually following the system of ashramas? Who has actually made transcendence their goal of life, in earnest? Who is not desperate to find even a few moments of peace in the otherwise hectic and stressful day?

बिगरी जनम अनेक की सुधरै अबहीं आजु |
होहि राम को नाम जपु तुलसी तजि कुसमाजु ||

bigarī janama aneka kī sudharai abahīṃ āju |
hohi rāma ko nāma japu tulasī taji kusamāju ||

“The many past births you spoiled can be rectified right now, today, if you start chanting Shri Rama’s holy name and renounce bad association, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 22)

[Krishna's lotus feet]The Supreme Lord is so kind that a person can turn their life around right now. Today. No need to wait until tomorrow. The past mistakes, from this life and previous ones, can be corrected through good association and always staying close to the Supreme Lord, through the medium of sound: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Through the medium of sound,
Transcendence found.

That even if many past to spoil,
In repeat births to toil.

Or while in this one spent,
And wastefully it went.

From a single turn in direction,
Through Krishna proper correction.

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