The 4 Stages of Life (Ashramas)


Gradual Development Through Life’s Four Dynamic Phases

The tragedy of human life is that with the advance of time our peace is declining in the midst of increasing material comforts. We all know that it is the basic nature of desire that it is never fulfilled. If we fulfill one desire, others immediately crop up in our mind. Still our heartfelt desire remains that they must be fulfilled. In modern times, we are living in a Marketing Society, where everything is on sale. But the things we are craving for are love, peace and respect which cannot be bought in the market. Therefore, we have to take recourse to our age-old proven way of life handed down from our spiritual masters (Rishis). Our Rishis have lived and spoken of four dynamic stages of life which are fulfilled from our cradle to grave.

According to Hindu philosophy our life is a composite structure of studentship, householder phase, retiring and renunciation stage i.e. practicing dharma (righteousness), earning artha (wealth), fulfilling kama (pleasure), and attaining moksha (liberation). Applying the wisdom of dharma lends dignity and adds purpose to every stage of life which requires new thinking and discipline. Though ancient wisdom may not be applied word for word, we have to apply it in the modern context with new thinking and interpretation. This note explores deployment of ancient know-how in our current perspective of growing life.

The average human life is regarded as ninety years, consisting of four periods. We all naturally grow from youth to adulthood to senior years and then to old age. Each phase of life has a natural purpose, and each is more rewarding then the last. The goal of each period is fulfillment of life’s duties and ultimately attaining bliss (Supreme). At each stage we tend to reassess and re-balance values and priorities of our life. The movement through the stages is a progression in personal growth. These following stages carry us from childhood to post-retirement.


Life Stages and Career Planning

The movement through the stages is a progression. As we pass from one stage to the next, often with some difficult periods of transition, we learn and mature in the process. If we acknowledge and work through the issues of each successive stage we become better human and spiritual beings. The ages shown for each stage are only rough estimates. People may pass through the stages several years earlier or later than the estimates shown. Individuals vary broadly in their progression through the stages.

Please Note: Indicated with each stage is the traditional estimate for each stage of life and also the current or modern estimate for each stage. For example; youth are remaining in the First Stage for a longer period of time in our current economic, social and educational climate. 


BrahmacharyaThe First Stage – Student or Bramacharya

The supreme value of the student period is incalculable with a focus on intense learning. He/she is a bundle of energy from top to bottom – unreleased, unharnessed energy.  This is the time for the wise molding of one’s life — one’s physical, mental and spiritual being. It is like the laying of the foundation for an important building you wish to construct.

The first stage of human life should be dedicated to acquiring good health, perfect character, self-control, and all that is necessary for one to know in order to live life righteously; one also needs to be financially independent via some trade or profession, to thus attain lasting satisfaction and happiness. Let your preparations be wise, correct, and of such a kind that it will lead to your true welfare, supreme good, and lasting happiness. The energy of the system should be equally distributed physically, vitally and morally (balanced).

Bramacharya also means celibacy. It is believed one should hold off on matters of sexuality until one has a solid understanding of oneself and the world. This is not because of an opposition to sexuality, but one can more deeply enjoy and love another when the core values of kindness, commitment and self-knowledge have been internalized. 

Traditional estimate of age range: 0-24 years of age. It is possible for certain individuals to skip the 4th stage of Sanyasa, bypassing stages two and three.

Current or modern estimate of age range: 0-32 years of age. It is possible for certain individuals to skip the 4th stage of Sanyasa, bypassing stages two and three.


GrihasthaThe Second Stage: House-holder or Grihastha (Marriage and Career)

Having already created a firm and ideal foundation, the student enters into the second stage of life, the householder and career-oriented life. And in a timely manner one enters into a relationship of marriage, raising a family, serving society, earning money, taking care of elders, and being charitable.

It has been proven that delaying the timing of one’s wedding can have a positive impact on the future stages of one’s life. The individual is not merely entering into a physical partnership with another physical creature, or a social relationship, but is entering into a spiritual partnership with another soul. Your spouse should be everything to you – a companion, friend, consoler, helper and partner in this great spiritual adventure. Such is the ideal concept of a relationship.

With such an understanding, the home becomes not only a place for living a normal worldly existence, but a place of worship and devotion. Daily worship, helping those in need, career enrichment, righteous earning and honouring one’s guests, serving elders, and raising moral and ethical children become primary duties of the householder. This is the busiest time of life, of engagement in the world while advancing one’s life and profession.

A healthy, happy and progressive co-existence cannot be achieved without sacrificing one’s egotistic and selfish attitude. Marriage today is mostly viewed as some sort of a ‘contract’ for mutual comfort and security, or as a socially approved license for satisfying uncontrollable concupiscence and other desires. The expression of love between the wife and the husband has, for the majority of people today, practically become synonymous with sexual indulgence and pleasure.

It is the householder’s duty to ensure the exisitence of reciprocity in a relationship – the ideal behaviour is one of mutual love for and the honouring of the other’s individual freedom. Such an atmosphere becomes the ideal ground for nurturing the next generation while caring for the older generation. There should be a beautiful relationship of harmony, love, mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance. This creates an ideal atmosphere for the rearing of children. Home is, therefore, the nursery of the nation and the world. This earth would be like heaven if all adults practice what they teach children.

Married couples should live a life of a joined, co-operative, harmonious quest after God. Being married and living with a spouse and children does not merely constitute grihastha ashrama as most people think. The grahastha ashrama is that phase of life in which one is supposed to enjoy married life, look after the family and children’s development and also contribute to the materialistic growth of the society. This phase of married life is like a laboratory for practical training and the experience of cooperative coexistence. It is co-development along with the collective sharing of love, success, responsibility, sorrow, and the range of other sentimental expressions and activities of human life.

Traditional estimate of age range: 24- 48 years of age.

Current or modern estimate of age range: 32-65 years of age.


VanaprasthaThird Stage: Retirement or Vanaprastha – Period of Retreat meant to loosen ones’s social bonds (Detachment)

Having fulfilled the duties of raising children, ensuring they are adults capable of standing on their own two feet, a new stage of life comes into being. Up till this point one has been preoccupied with the family and one’s profession, providing support for parents, one’s spouse, children and other dependents. To a certain extent, it has been a self-centered life, although one has practiced selflessness for the sake of the children and family.

However, after the birth of grandchildren one must give way to the next generation and slowly move towards detachment. This is done by using one’s skills, knowledge and resources for the betterment of society. One becomes a true selfless servant of society, becoming more altruistic and humanitarian. At this stage one can inspire excellence in both students and families. This is also the time for the husband and the wife, together, to enter into a more inward life. A time to study, meditate, pray, or go on pilgrimages. We must realize that a time will come when we have to say “Good-bye”. We need to prepare for that last journey.

Traditional estimate of age range: 48-72 years of age.

Current or modern estimate of age range: 65-80 years of age.


SannyasaThe Fourth Stage: Renunciation or Sannyasa. A Peaceful & Relaxed Life (Contemplation on one’s reason for existence? And awaiting Freedom)

At this time of life the only duty is to gather together one’s mind and place it upon the Supreme Being. During this period, a man with his wife together (if she is willing) move towards an existence which involves more solitude, to begin in earnest the path of self-discovery. Your worldly relationships and connections are now coming to an end.

At this time, your entire mind should be fixed upon the Eternal. You have fulfilled all your duties, and now you have to depart. The river is reaching the Ocean, and a time will come when it has to merge into the Ocean. Here one’s mind becomes calm, steady and pure. One’s heart is desireless and free from all cravings. One is established in perfect self-restraint and virtue. This ideal state is the fruit of right living in previous stages. Here, one automatically becomes absorbed in the contemplation of the Supreme and moves toward God-experience. He or she reaps the harvest of a rich inner spiritual life, experiencing supreme peace and bliss, and obtaining that ultimate objective for which one has taken birth.

Traditional estimate of age range: 72 +, or at anytime.

Current or modern estimate of age range: 80-90+ years of age, or at anytime.

Ashramas Image