Site Map




Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Hinduism: The Four Stages of Life

Abstract: Life is a developmental path upward through four stages (ashramas) for some Hindus.

I.  The Four Stages of Life--as has been noted before, if there is one abiding perspective on Hinduism, it is that people are different.  How should you live?  If you are a male in an upper three varna, then it depends upon what stage of life you are living.  (Not all persons go through all stages).

    A. The Student Stage--(twelve year rite of initiation 8,12 to 18,24 years old for male, high caste Hindus).

      1. Student lives in the home of his teacher and study the Vedas.

       2. Student serves the teacher, shows respect, and learns the texts. The rite is a kind of apprenticeship where habits, skill, and practical knowledge are emphasized.

    B. The Householder Stage--(begins with marriage as the completion of the formal studies).

      1. The rules for marriage are set forth in the Laws of Manu. Attention is turned toward the world: family, career, and community.

      2. Note the relation to the game of life, the path of desire, where success is a means to self-esteem.

      3. If physical activity is the only importance in life, all experience after youth is wasted, and what would lie ahead would be unfortunate. However, obviously, there is more to life than dharma.

    C. The Forest Retirement Stage--(begins after the arrival of the first grandchild; the grandfather can withdraw from social obligations).

      1. Compare the different import to the question, "What do you want to be?" when the question is addressed to a 16 year-old and to a 50 year-old person.

      2. This stage involves coming to terms with who we are. There is time to read, think, and consider the significance of life without the interruption of duty.

    D. The Forest Dweller or Ascetic Stage--(begins by leaving home and carrying out a spiritual existence in the country).

      1. The man and his wife together (if she wants to go) move to the forest to begin in earnest the path of self-discovery.

      2. Most men defer the Forest Dweller Stage to another future life.

       3. The forest dweller works out a philosophy of sannyasin--one who neither hates nor loves anything. A sannyasin is completely independent and is beyond dharma (the structure of moral and social obligations) and so in a sense is "beyond good and evil."

        a.  There are no social pretensions--things simply are what they are (cf., Vasudeva in Hesse's Siddhartha).

        b.  Once detachment, mental and economic independence, is achieved, the sannyasin can return to the town or city.

        c.  This stage of life is a necessary condition for the attainment of salvation; once achieved that soul will never individually return to this world.


CGI and Java scripts programmed by
Send corrections or suggestions to
Read the disclaimer concerning this page.

  Introduction |  Siddhartha  |  Hinduism  |  Confucianism  |  Buddhism  |  Zen  |  Taoism