The Phases of Life (Third and fourth) – Religion 100Q: Hinduism Project (2023)

Benedict Wong
Dr. Gowler
Religion 100Q – 01J
24 November 2015

The Phases of Life (Third and fourth)

Hinduism has been shown to have a progressive tension between sacrificial religion to obtain a fortunate rebirth, and renunciation to secure liberation from rebirth. The ideals of renunciation to secure liberation from rebirth has been growing in popularity. This is a result of the Brahmin orthodoxy, which can be seen in the pursuit of the four goals of life.

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The four goals of life that are deemed worthy of pursuit are (1) Dharma, (2) artha, (3) Kama, (4) moksha. The four stages of life, mainly for the men of the household are (1) sisya, or brahmacarya, (2) Grihastha, (3) vanaprastha, and (4) samnyasa. These categories complement each other, and link with the samskara system, giving a framework for the lives of an orthodox Hindu.

Very briefly, the first phase of life is the Brahmacharya, or the celibate student. This is the phase of formal education, and it lasts until a man’s mid-twenties. During this period, the student is supposed to prepare for his future profession, family, and other social and religious obligations. The second phase of life is the Grihastha, or the married family man. This phase is when the man is supposed to get married and earn a living supporting his family. At this stage of life, Hinduism supports the pursuit of wealth (artha), and the indulgence in sexual pleasures (kama). The second phase of life is supposed to last until the male is about fifty years old, or, according to the Laws of Manu, when a ma’s skin wrinkles and his hair turns gray. At that point, the man should move to the third phase of life. However, many men have trouble moving on past the second phase as they do not want to change their lifestyle to one of asceticism.

Vanaprastha is the third phase of life and is known as the retired life phase, or as the forest hermit phase. This phase of life occurs around the retirement age of 48 to 72 years old. Another way to determine when the householder has entered the third phase of life is when his children have children of their own, as tradition recommends the man to enter into his period of retirement. The man is “expected to retire from family and social life, give up his work, wealth and possessions, and retreat to the forest as a forest hermit to live a more spiritual life.

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This phase of life is also known as the forest hermit because vanaprastha splits into residence (prastha) in the forest (vana). It is at this point of the man’s life that he is encouraged to relinquish his possessions and wealth to his wife and children. He has to bequeath his possessions to them because they have greater material needs as they are going through their first and second phases of life. The man is entering the third phase of life then moves out and proceeds to live in a hut in the forest. In the forest, the man is supposed to read scriptural texts and learn from sagely renouncers.

Granted the man’s wife may follow the husband into the third phase of life and follow him into his hermit life. The life of the hermit is supposed to be a celibate one. However, the wife could engage in some social and conjugal relationships with her husband. The physical relationship with the wife would only be transitional as the male in the hermit phase is supposed to “down one’s preoccupations with kama and artha, in the ultimate pursuit of moksha. The third phase is a transitional phase in the householder’s life – the transition from materialistic pursuits to spiritual liberation. If the man’s wife were to follow him into his hermit life, she would ultimately be limited to menial daily tasks such as preparing meals. Also, though the man is supposed to be completely cut off from this family, he can still seek advice from family members if it is necessary.

It is not common for the modern Hindu to enter this stage of life. Most elderly Hindus will continue to live in their family homes with their children. There are, however, quite a few who retire to the hermitage (asrama) of a well-regarded religious teacher, or to relocate to a town with some religious renown. Banaras, a place once known as the Forest of Bliss, is still a popular retirement site, although it is mostly urban now. Further, the modern retired Hindu men and women may go on occasional pilgrimages to different religious sites. They may visit these different religious sites, taking up abode in asramas in places such as Tiruvannamalai, or Pondicheri, or Haridvar or Rishikesh, for weeks at a time.

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The fourth phase of life is Sannyasin. This phase is also known as the wandering ascetic or renouncer phase. This phase is traditionally seen as the last part of a man or woman’s life. However, to the modern practicing Hindus, a young person can choose to skip the householder and retirement stage to renounce straight away worldly and materialistic desires. That young person can then dedicate the rest of their lives to spiritual pursuits, particularly moksha. The fourth phase of life is not one that is regularly practiced anymore.

Traditionally, the Samnyasins are expected to leave their family and loved ones and perform their death rites. They are supposed to burn their sacred threads, abandon the household fire, and wander the world in search for the final and highest goal: Liberation or moksha. A renouncer must ignore his consciousness and impulses of “I” and “my,” and must cut himself loose from the limitations of individuality.

The man that just renounced all of his possessions is expect to wear rag robes, “traditionally dyed in a saffron hue to conceal stains.” There are no formal requirements for the lifestyle or spiritual discipline on the methods of the renouncer. The lack of requirement has led to a wide variety of practices for those that do go through the last stage of life. However, there are some common themes. The only possessions that the renouncer is allowed to carry is a staff for support of their old age, and a bowl into which they have different householders donate food and give offerings. Also, renouncers are expected to be constantly on the move. They are nomadic ascetics because they need to avoid remaining too long in one site so as to not develop any attachments to particular places or to take the generosity or companionship of particular persons. For some, the path of renunciation is a form of severe asceticism

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The behavioral state of a person attempting the fourth phase of life can be found in the Bhagavad Gita. For example, in hymn 5.3, “One who neither hates nor desires the fruits of his activities is known to be always renounced. Such a person, free from all dualities, easily overcomes material bondage and is completely liberated, O mighty-armed Arjuna.” The hymn is discussing the ultimate goal of liberation

Other characteristics of the person renouncing include non-violence, disarmament, chastity, non-desirous behaviors, poverty, self-restraint, truthfulness, kindness to all living beings, non-stealing, non-acceptance of gifts, non-possessiveness, and purity of speech and mind. These characteristics, however, are not exclusive to the fourth phase of life. They should be sought after throughout an individual’s entire lifetime.

The ultimate goal of the renouncer is to attain moksha or liberation. The definition of liberation, however, differs from traditions. For Yoga traditions, for example, liberation is experiencing the highest Samadhi, or deep awareness in this life. Being a renouncer is ultimately a means to decrease and ending ties of all kind. Granted some people see renouncers as people who abandon society and live a reclusive life. However, renouncers are rejecting the ritual mores of the social world and one’s attachment to materialistic desires. If the renouncer succeeds, the end is a liberated, free, and blissful existence.

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Transitioning from the second phase of life to the third is an extremely challenging task. It is difficult to renounce all of one’s possessions and simply become a recluse, especially for the modern Hindus, after spending half a lifetime building one’s wealth. Further, leaving a family behind to pursue religious ambitions can be close to impossible if one is not fully committed to the religion. However, if one can successfully transition into the third phase of life, the transition into the fourth and final phase of life would be must smoother.

Further, transitioning from the third phase of life to the fourth is even more difficult. However, if the recluse is successful in that he can separate himself from all worldly possessions, he may find it easier coping with life as an ascetic. Also, if the renouncer can attain moksha or liberation, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs of living an ascetic life. After all, the final goal of having a liberated, free, and blissful existence is the reason people follow the religion in the first place.

Works cited:

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  • Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. 6th ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  • Fowler, Jeaneane D. Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic, 1997. Print.
  • Stevenson, Sinclair. The Rites of the Twice-born. New Delhi: Oriental Reprint; Exclusively Distributed by Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1971. Print.
  • Rodrigues, Hillary. Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. Print.
  • Morgan, Kenneth W. The Religion of the Hindus. New York: Ronald, 1953. Print.
  • “Bhagavad Gita 5.3.” The Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja Madhva Shankara and Others Bhagavad Gita 53 Comments. N.p., 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.


What are the 4 stages of life in Hinduism? ›

The four stages of life, mainly for the men of the household are (1) sisya, or brahmacarya, (2) Grihastha, (3) vanaprastha, and (4) samnyasa. These categories complement each other, and link with the samskara system, giving a framework for the lives of an orthodox Hindu.

What are the 4 ends of life in Hinduism? ›

There are four Purusharthas — artha (wealth), kama (desire), dharma (righteousness) and moksha (liberation). These may be said to be the four goals of all mankind.

What is the fourth stage of a Hindu man's life? ›

The fourth stage is Sannyasa, renunciation. There are two traditional entry points into this stage of life.

How many stages of life are there in the life of a Hindu person? ›

ashrama, also spelled asrama, Sanskrit āśrama, in Hinduism, any of the four stages of life through which a Hindu ideally will pass.

What are the 4 phases of life? ›

The Four Stages of Life

Life consists of infancy, youth, the middle years and old age. Each stage is an important and beautiful time of growth, learning, caring and sharing in a special and unique way.

What are the 4 stages of life called? ›

The four asramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Gṛhastha (householder), Vanaprastha (forest walker/forest dweller), and Sannyasa (renunciate). The Asrama system is one facet of the Dharma concept in Hinduism.

What are the 4 aims of life? ›

Purushartha: The 4 Aims of Human Life. The Purusharthas are the inherent values of the Universe: Artha (economic values), Kama (pleasure), Dharma (righteousness), and Moksha (liberation).

What are the 4 types of Dharma? ›

Varnashrama dharma

The four main classes are Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. This social class system appears in an ancient Hindu book of law called the Manusmriti.

What are the 3 paths to God in Hinduism? ›

They are: Karma Yoga or the Path of Action (Karma-mārga) Bhakti Yoga or the Path of Devotion (Bhakti-mārga) to Ishvar (God) Jnana Yoga or the Path of Knowledge (Jñāna-mārga)

What is the fourth and final goal in life according to the Hindu doctrine? ›

Moksha is the ultimate spiritual goal of Hinduism.

What are the four stages of life in later Vedic period? ›

Ashrams or four stages of life were not well established in Vedic times. In the post-Vedic texts, we hear of four Ashrams- Brahmachari (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (partial retirement), and Sanyasa (complete retirement from the world).

How was human life divided into four phases explain? ›

Answer: Ashrama in Hinduism is one of four age-based life stages discussed in Indian texts of the ancient and medieval eras. The four ashramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciate). The Ashrama system is one facet of the Dharma concept in Hinduism.

What is the Hindu life cycle? ›

In Hinduism, all life goes through birth, life, death, and rebirth and this is known as the cycle of samsara . According to this belief, all living things have an atman , which is a piece of Brahman, or a spirit or soul. It is the atman that moves on into a new body after death.

What are the phases of life? ›

When we talk about the concept of life stages, three distinct phases come to mind: childhood, adulthood, and old age. However, there is a greater degree of nuance to the life cycle of a human. We are all unique individuals that feel, think, and experience different things as we grow in years of age.

How many phases of life are there? ›

Charting the LifeCourse frames life in six life stages that intersect with six life domains. Here, understand the life stages. Life stages are the ages and stages we go through as we learn and grow, from infancy to adulthood.

What is the main purpose of Hinduism? ›

The aim of Hinduism is to provide the individual with a moral compass to guide virtue and piety. Karma from good deeds in this life will permit the transmigration of the soul to a better existence in the next life, perhaps to a higher caste or, ultimately, the soul's release as a higher spiritual being.

What is the aim of life in Hinduism? ›

Moksha is the ultimate aim in life for Hindus. It means to be saved (salvation). When a Hindu achieves moksha, they break free from the cycle of samsara. Hindus aim to end the cycle of samsara through gaining good karma, which means doing good actions and deeds.

What is the first aim in life Hinduism? ›

According to Hinduism, the meaning (purpose) of life is four-fold: to achieve Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. The first, dharma, means to act virtuously and righteously. That is, it means to act morally and ethically throughout one's life.

How many types of religion are there? ›

There are an estimated 10,000 distinct religions worldwide. About 84% of the world's population is affiliated with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or some form of folk religion.

What are the 3 sources of dharma? ›

The sources of dharma according to Gautama Dharmasutra are three: the Vedas, the Smriti (tradition), acāra (the practice) of those who know the Veda. These three sources are also found in later Dharmashastra literature.

What is the 3 symbol in Hinduism? ›

The number 3 is a symbolic depiction of Ohm (Aum) in Hinduism.

What are the 3 basic practices of Hinduism? ›

Karma, samsara, and moksha. Hindus generally accept the doctrine of transmigration and rebirth and the complementary belief in karma.

What are the 4 Yogas of Hinduism? ›

Yoga manifests itself as four major paths, namely Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Rāja Yoga and Jñāna Yoga. These four paths are like the branches of a tree or tributaries of a river.

What type of religion is Hinduism? ›

Most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic, which means they worship a single deity, known as “Brahman,” but still recognize other gods and goddesses. Followers believe there are multiple paths to reaching their god.

Why did Hinduism religion give importance to this four yogas and how does it help them to achieved moksha? ›

Importance of different types of yoga

This means that yoga should be part of Hindus' faith and daily practice. Yoga helps Hindus to show loving service to God. It also unites Hindus in their pursuit of moksha, in which the atman becomes one with Brahman.

What are the 5 main beliefs of Hinduism? ›

5 Principles
  • God Exists. According to the Hindu religion, there is only one Absolute Divine, a singular force that joins all facets of existence together known as the Absolute OM (sometimes spelled AUM). ...
  • All Human Beings Are Divine. ...
  • Unity of Existence. ...
  • Religious Harmony. ...
  • Knowledge of 3 Gs.
13 May 2019

What were the four stages in the social life of a Vedic Aryan? ›

Brahmacharya (student life), grihastha (householder), and vanaprastha (her- mitage) stages are mentioned in the texts. Later, sanyasa, the fourth stage also came to be added. Together with varna, it came to be known as varna-ashrama dharma.

What is the third period of life in which a Hindu man retires? ›

3. Vanaprastha-Asrama: Vanaprastha means “going to the forest.” This is the third stage of life. This is the stage when the person is to retire, give up sexual life, give up all the possessions to children, and enter the forest.

What are the 7 phases of life? ›

The seven stages of life as stated by Shakespeare include Infancy,Schoolboy, Teenager, Young Man, Middle age, Old age, and Death.

What are the 7 phases of human life? ›

The human body constantly develops and changes throughout the human life cycle, and food provides the fuel for those changes. The major stages of the human lifecycle include pregnancy, infancy, the toddler years, childhood, puberty, older adolescence, adulthood, middle age, and the senior years.

What are the 6 phases of life? ›

What are the six stages of the human life cycle? The six stages of human development include the foetus, infancy, toddler years, childhood, puberty, adolescence, adulthood, middle age and senior years.

What is the best phase of life? ›

It is said that childhood is the best phase of our life, yet not for everyone. But throughout time, we learn how to live with every emptiness in life.

Who is the God Hinduism? ›

According to Hinduism, three Gods rule the world. Brahma: the creator; Vishnu: the preserver and Shiva: the destroyer. Lord Vishnu did his job of preserving the world by incarnating himself in different forms at times of crisis.

How old is the Hindu religion? ›

Hinduism, the world's oldest religion, is more than 4000 years old. However, during the 5th-6th centuries B.C.E., it started to embrace complex rituals, which alienated the religion from the common masses. Q. How old is Hinduism?

What are the four stages of life in Hinduism quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (4)
  • student (Brahmacharya) Originally included boys learning from priests. ...
  • householder (Grihasta) After finishing studies, a person may marry, and marriage is important to Hindus. ...
  • retirement (Vanaprastha) ...
  • renunciation (Yogis and Sadhus)

What is the life cycle in Hinduism? ›

In Hinduism, all life goes through birth, life, death, and rebirth and this is known as the cycle of samsara . According to this belief, all living things have an atman , which is a piece of Brahman, or a spirit or soul.

What are the 4 Varnas? ›

The varnas have been known since a hymn in the Rigveda (the oldest surviving Indian text) that portrays the Brahman (priest), the Kshatriya (noble), the Vaishya (commoner), and the Shudra (servant) issued forth at creation from the mouth, arms, thighs, and feet of the primeval person (purusha).

Do all life cycles have 4 stages? ›

A: No. Some insects go through three stages of development (egg–nymph– adult), and others go through four stages (egg–larva–pupa–adult).

What are the 5 cycles of life? ›

You can do this by realizing the potential of five interconnected stages: the Dreamer, Explorer, Builder, Mentor and Giver. I call it the “Principle of 18,” because each stage lasts for 18 years.

What are the three cycle of life? ›

There are three types of life cycles: Haplontic life cycle, Diplontic life cycle and Haplodiplontic life cycle.

What are the 5 castes? ›

These four castes are the Brahmins (priests, teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers, warriors), Vaishyas (landowners, merchants) and Sudras (servants), and the 5th group is the group of the untouchables, called Dalits.

Who created varna? ›

According to this theory, the varna originated with the arrival of Aryans in India around 1500 BC. According to this theory, the Aryan invasion led to clashes between them and the original inhabitants of the subcontinent who were called the Dashuds.

Who is the founder of Hinduism? ›

Unlike other religions, Hinduism has no one founder but is instead a fusion of various beliefs. Around 1500 B.C., the Indo-Aryan people migrated to the Indus Valley, and their language and culture blended with that of the indigenous people living in the region.


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