To begin with, let us understand the Sanskrit word “shram,” (श्रम), which is the root of “ashrama.” It means “ to work, to strive.” An ashram is a temporary dwelling place, far from the maddening crowd, where people go with the aim of learning or achieving some spiritual goal. There is an amount of hard work associated with ashram, there is also a touch of reverence. The life also comes into the body with the aim of learning and a specific spiritual goal. Thus the body is considered as an ashram for the Atma.
The entire human life is divided into four ashrams. We all pass through these stages and stay there as temporary dwellers. We do hard work in each ashram to achieve the goal of that ashram. The sutras give those goals.
What one needs to do in each ashram, what are the tasks and duties of each stage of life are mentioned in the sutras of Sadhna Panchkam which will form the basis of this first series of posts.
The four ashrams are:
Bāla āshrama ( बाल आश्रम)
Grihastha āshrama ( गृहस्थ आश्रम)
Vānprastha āshrama ( वानप्रस्थ आश्रम)
Sanyāsa āshrama ( सन्यास आश्रम)
Each is of 25 years of age. The bala ashram is for learning. The grihastha is for setting up family and business. The vanaprastha is for initiating the handing over process and sanyasa is for giving up everything, sharing the learning and practicing the spiritual goal.
We all are aware of the first two. The vanaprastha is when the children start coming back from their Gurukul after completing their balaashram. Now is the time to hand over the knowledge of business to them. Now is the time to shift responsibility on their shoulders. Now is the time to start withdrawing from the tactical theatre and maintain hold only on the strategy. For 25 years from 50 to 75 every year start giving one more responsibility to your next. Gradually start sharing power with them. Empower them to grow. Let them set their family and take over the reins of business.
At 75, give up everything and move to the forests. Your grandchildren are now in their Gurukuls (गुरुकुल) you join them as their Acharya. ( आचार्य).
This social progression can be adopted even today. After 50, start empowering your children. Involve them in your decision making. Empower them with limited financial independence. Then become the teacher of your grandchildren. Roam the world, and teach your grandchildren. These two tasks should occupy your maximum time after 75. what more we need to do in each ashram of life, it is explained in the sutras which we will enter shortly.