Four Stages

Lecture delivered by Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj at the 1st Zonal Orissa Divine Life Conference at Khurda Road on 1st December 1974

What has your ancient culture to tell about youth and student life? Your ancient culture has divided man’s life into four stages and given them the name ‘Ashrama’.

Four Ashramas—what is this Ashrama Dharma? In each stage there are certain ideals and principles laid down, and that is the Dharma of that particular Ashrama. The fourth—the last Ashrama is Sannyasa Ashrama. At the end of life, the individual should take Sannyasa. The third Ashrama is Vana prastha Ashrama. After having fulfilled the duties of the second Ashrama, one must retire and turn the attention to higher things.

The second Ashrama is Grihastha Ashrama, the stage of the householder. It means marriage, having a wife, children, doing Udyoga, professional duties, social duties, dom estic duties to his own Parivar—his mother and father and relatives. The second Ashrama is Grihastha Ashrama. What is the first? It is the Ashrama in which you are living. It is called Brahmacharya Ashrama.

What is Brahmacharya? Brahmacharya has got two meanings. The real meaning is that Charya or that conduct of life which ultimately leads you to Brahma Jnana (knowledge of Brahman) or Brahma-Sakshatkar. That is Brahmacharya. The pattern of living or the way of living and acting will bestow upon you Brahma Jnana, Brahma-Sakshatkar. Secondly Brahmancharya means a life of self-control, control of all the senses, all impure desires, control of anger and passion. It means self control. This is Brahmacharya. It means not merely remaining unmarried. That is not the proper definition. It means the first stage of life that is youth.

In those days they regarded human life as being hundred years in span. But who lives for hundred years now-a-days? The life span has become shortened. In these first 25 years one must lead the student’s life. By the time the engineering students, medical students, law students finish their degree, they are 23, 24 and therefore Brahmacharya Ashrama means till age 24. You can regard Grihastha Ashrama from 24 to 45 and Vanaprastha from 45 to 60. After 60 one must take Sannyasa. Now we are not concerned with the second, third and fourth Ashramas, but with Brahmacharya Ashrama, the most important stage, because upon this depend the three other Ashramas. If the Brahmacharya Ashrama is properly lived he will become an ideal Grihasthi, he will become an ideal Vanaprasthi, and he will become an ideal Sannyasi. If in the Brahmacharya Ashrama you don’t live properly, if you have no character, no conduct—then what happens? You cannot become an ideal householder. Your children will be unhealthy. If you have no self-control and your actions are not
based upon virtue, your life will be full of wrong deeds, and in Vanaprastha Ashrama you will become a miserable person, and your whole life will become a failure.

Success or failure in life depend upon how you have lived the first quarter of your life, and in this connection they have laid down three great duties. What are the duties for the youth and the Vidyarthi (student) in the Brahmacharya Ashrama? One important duty is self-evident. The student’s first concern is to attain
knowledge—acquire knowledge. But in your ancient culture knowledge was not merely confined to history, science, mathematics, civics. It also meant knowledge of a profession and knowledge of life; how to live an ideal life. Why have you come here? To know your real nature

It meant Naitika Vidya (moral science), Naitika Shikshana or Dharmic Vidya. It also meant Adhyatma Vidya (Self knowledge). You have to learn Bhautika Vidya (material knowledge) in order to have Udyoga (business) and be indepe ndent, earning income and be able to support your wife and children when you enter the second Ashram, the Grihastha Ashrama. But if you want to live a noble life and get a good name in society, you must know what Dharma is, what Niti (ethics) is. So study Manu Dharmashastra, Yajnavalkya Smriti, the science of right conduct.You must also learn Naitika Shiksha (moraleducation).

Each student must know the Srimad Bhagavad Gita by heart, and you must learn a little Sanskrit. The Gita contains the essence of Adhyatma Vidya (spiritual knowledge). Your whole Sanskriti is based upon knowledge, the knowledge of the Vedas. Your Dharma is called Vedic Dharma, and the real name of your religion is Sanatana Dharma or Vaidic Dharma, which means Dharma based upon Vedas and the wisdom of Vedas contained in the Upanishad. The essence of the Upanishads is given in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita—containing only 700 Slokas. If you learn by heart one Sloka every day, in two years the whole Gita will be at your command. If you are more eager, if you learn by heart one Sloka in the morning and one Sloka in the evening, then in one year you will know the entire eighteen chapters or 700 Slokas by heart. In the Gita is the essence of the Upanishads—the essence of your Adhyatma Vidya—spiritual wisdom. So to attain wisdom, to attain knowledge—secular knowledge, ethical knowledge and spiritual knowledge is one of the primary duties of students in the Brahmacharya Ashrama.

Secondly, if you want to make use of your own Vidya, your secular ethical and your spiritual wisdom—you have to translate it into action. You must live it, and you can effectively practise whatever you have learnt only if your health is good, if you have got a strong, healthy body. Therefore the second important duty of the student is a Dharmarthakama mokshanam arogya mulamuttamam. The basis, the root of Dharma, Artha. Kama, Moksha is a strong and healthy body. There fore you must daily do exercises, Asana, Pranayama, Surya-Namaskar and develop a very strong body. You must cultivate healthy habits. Go to bed early, wake up very early in the morning. Take a cold bath. Do some Surya-Namaskar. Have some Asana practice, do vigorous physical exercise and eat moderately. First you must have a Vajrakaya (strong body) like Maruti. Hanuman should be your ideal. Bhishma should be your ideal. Swami Vivekananda should be your ideal and Bhima or Laksh mana should be your ideal. In this way you should be strong in your body. Then only you will have strength of mind. Because body and mind are interconnected. If the body is weak, the mind cannot be strong. You cannot develop will power. Therefore developing a strong body and establishing sound physical health—Arogya (health) is the second important duty. The body is the instrument of Seva (service) and successful endeavour. Any Purushartha (endeavour), any Parishrama (hard work) is possible only if yourbody is strong

Thirdly, the last most important thing is development of a noble character. Once this age passes, you cannot change your character, because in young age, you are like bricks which have not yet been put inside the kiln. The clay is still soft; you can alter the shape. You can put upon it any Chhap (imprint). You can mould it. You can change it. But once you have put a brick inside the kiln and it becomes hard, then you cannot change it. If you try to alter the shape, it will break. So whatever you want to do, do it in this stage. When a plant is tender, it can be turned in any direction. When it becomes a big tree you cannot bend it. It will break. So in this age, you can mould your character, you can make your behaviour, you can make your Swabhava (nature) in any way you want. But if you wake up too late and then try to change it, you find that you cannot. Your nature has become hard, crystalised. Therefore, now is the time when you can give any shape.

Remember the greatest disease of human society is selfishness. Arrogance and anger is not a sign of strength. Try to learn this. As a sign of self-control always be humble, simple and unselfish. Let your character shine with selflessness. Let it be endowed with simplicity, humility and forgiveness. Study ‘Sure Ways of Success in Life’ by Swami Sivananda and ‘Self-Indulgence vs. Self Restraint’ by Gandhiji. Let self-help, moderate living and character be your motto. Be an ideal student.
May God bless you!

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