Ashrama Dharma (आश्रमधर्मः)

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परिचयः ॥ Introduction

The individual is the real foundation of a sound society. The general moral standard and quality of a human society or nation are directly proportional to the number of individuals who are well educated and bear good character. The aim of "Dharma" was to mould the character and personality of individuals to produce more number of such individuals.[1]

Every individual is expected discharge four pious obligations.They are Devaruna (देवऋणम् । towards God), Pitruruna (पितृऋणम् । towards parents), Rishiruna (ऋषिऋणम् । towards teachers) and Manavaruna (मानवऋणम् । towards humanity).[2] These four pious obligations were required to be discharged by an individual throughout his life time. However, all the obligations could not be fully discharged or be given the same importance at all points of time in the life of an individual. Therefore, the life span of an individual was divided into four parts or stages (Ashramas).[1]

Individual Purpose in Each Ashrama

Briefly stated, the period of life of an individual and the purpose pertaining to each of the Ashrama were:

  1. ब्रह्मचर्याश्रमः (Brahmacharyashrama) : Importance to acquisition of knowledge and securing physical and moral fitness ie., strengthening of body, mind and intellect.
  2. गृहस्थाश्रमः (Grhasthashrama) : Importance to honest and purposeful married life and family life, earning legitimate income and through it to serve the family and the society.
  3. वानप्रस्थाश्रमः (Vanaprasthashrama) : Importance to withdrawing from earning activities and devoting oneself more to the service of society.
  4. सन्न्यासाश्रमः (Sannyasashrama) : Importance to worship of God by renunciation of worldly desires.[1]

विषयविस्तारः ॥ Subject Matter

ब्रह्मचर्याश्रमः ॥ Brahmacharyashrama

After the completion of childhood (around eight or nine years), an individual was required to take to higher education and to maintain celibacy to conserve physical, moral and mental energy and to devote himself to the studies for a period of about twelve to fifteen years. During this period the main obligation of an individual was to acquire knowledge and to increase his knowledge by research. This ashrama was not only intended to earn knowledge to earn for a comfortable life, but also to enable the discharge of one of the pious obligations, 'Rishiruna' ( debt due to teachers) namely acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. An individual was also required to cultivate moral character and discipline which would enable him to develop his personality so that he would not only be useful to himself but also to the members of the family and to society as well.[1]

गृहस्थाश्रमः ॥ Grhasthashrama

In this second stage of life after the acquisition of knowledge or completing education, an individual had to get married and commence family life. During this stage, it was the joint responsibility of husband and wife to lead a pure and simple family life, to maintain sexual morality and to discharge the 'Pitruruna' by begetting children, educating them and making them good citizens. To do this effectively, they had to adjust to each other and live together. Further it was necessary for an individual to earn his livelihood by legitimate methods and to spend whatever he had earned not only for his benefit but also for the benefit of the other members of the family, and also to utilize his income/resources and energy for the benefit of society having due regard to his capacity and aptitude and thereby discharge the fourth pious obligation namely 'Manavaruna'. Also it was the duty of every individual to serve the society, of which he was part and parcel. It was the special responsibility of those undertaking the teaching profession or literary pursuits to enrich and disseminate knowledge to the younger generation as part of the discharge of Rishiruna - the debt due to teachers.[1]

वानप्रस्थाश्रमः ॥ Vanaprasthashrama 

The next stage was the Vanaprasthashrama, (retirement to forest) which meant the life after retirement (around the age of sixty) from profession and avocation. During this period, an individual was required to entrust the family responsibility to his grown up sons/ daughters as the case may be, and to devote himself mainly to the service of the society. During this period an individual was required to discharge his obligation to society, i.e., 'Manavaruna' to a greater extent by rendering various types of social services.[1]

सन्न्यासाश्रमः ॥ Sannyasashrama 

The last one was Sanyasashrama, life of a recluse. During this period, the evening of his life an individual was expected to renounce the world completely and turn his mind towards God or Paramatma (परमात्मा). During this period the individual was required to engage himself mainly in the worship of God in whatever manner he pleased and discharge the pious obligation of 'Devaruna'.[1]

Ashrama Dharma - For Human Excellence

The four Ashramas were by and large intended to secure human excellence by requiring an individual to discharge the four pious obligations in an effective manner, and by leading a purposeful life. This arrangement was intended not only to ensure that an individual would not go astray but also that he would follow the path of righteousness throughout his life. These ideals were placed before individuals because even if followed by a few it would be of great benefit to society and would result in the development of the personality of individuals. Even in the present state of the world, the guidance available in the form of the four pious obligations and the four Ashramas helps the development of the personality of individuals and through it, the development of human resources, on which alone the welfare and prosperity of a nation depends.[1]

Benefits of the Ashrama Dharma

  1. It cannot be denied that the observance of celibacy and devoting of substantial time and energy to the acquisition of knowledge and keeping away from bad habits during the period of studentship, is highly conducive to the acquisition of knowledge and excellence in education and the development of moral character as there is every possibility of an individual going astray resulting in both moral and material abandonment during this important formative period of life. If such things happen, then an individual instead of becoming an asset to human society, might become a liability. Therefore, Brahmacharyashrama was an excellent method evolved for human resources development, so that youth become a real asset of society.
  2. Family life is important. During this period, an individual undoubtedly has to carry on an avocation, profession, trade, business etc., to earn money necessary to lead a happy family life. But at the same time, it is the duty of every individual to continue his profession or avocation conforming to ethics so that he will be useful not only to himself but also to society. Further, leading a moral life during this period, and observing sexual morality is also essential to ensure proper guidance, education and inspiration to the children. Unless husband and wife lead a harmonious family life with mutual affection, and do not get separated, they will not be able to give proper education, environment and guidance to their children. Therefore, 'Grhasthashrama' was the period during which an individual had to discharge the pious obligations of 'Pitruruna , and 'Manavaruna' at the same time devoting some time to worshipping God, which helps to lead a proper and happy life. Further, the housewife looks after all their needs such as food, health, and the upkeep of the house providing a proper environment. But both together are responsible to educate their children not only from inception but also after school hours, to watch their conduct and behavior all the time and give proper guidance and ingrain good qualities and to prevent them from becoming victims of bad habits. Discharging such obligations alone can help the children to become good individuals and an asset to the family and the nation.
  3. During the Vanaprasthashrama or life after retiring from earning activity, devoting time and energy to any activity useful for the society is essential. It is by this process that a sufficient number of people become available for service in various service organisations.This was regarded essential even for kings and they were required to renounce power and serve the society. There are innumerable examples of kings renouncing power. The desire should be to see that during his life time youngsters take over charge and manage the affairs of the state successfully. In this regard we have the inspiring example of Chanakya who renounced the Prime Ministership of the most powerful Maghada Empire after securing the service of Amatya Rakshasa for that high office and gave Nation his invaluable, Arthashastra.[1]

The Bhagavata Purana mentions that one should look upon Sri Vishnu as if having entered into the fire, the preceptor, himself and the elements (eg. the earth, the fire) together with all creatures sheltered in Him; for He is their inner controller, even though the Supreme being (having already pervaded these from within and without) does not actually enter.[3]

अग्नौ गुरावात्मनि च सर्वभूतेष्वधोक्षजम् । भूतैः स्वधामभिः पश्येदप्रविष्टं प्रविष्टवत् ॥ १५॥

एवं विधो ब्रह्मचारी वानप्रस्थो यतिर्गृही । चरन् विदितविज्ञानः परं ब्रह्माधिगच्छति ॥ १६॥[4]

agnau gurāvātmani ca sarvabhūteṣvadhokṣajam । bhūtaiḥ svadhāmabhiḥ paśyedapraviṣṭaṁ praviṣṭavat ॥ 15॥

evaṁ vidho brahmacārī vānaprastho yatirgr̥hī । caran viditavijñānaḥ paraṁ brahmādhigacchati ॥ 16॥

Ashrama Dharma Today

Grhasthasrama Dharma which means value based family structure which also strengthens the bond between husband and wife and also between individual members of the family and which provides education to children, moulds their character, and also provides social security to non-earning members of the family which reduces the economic burden on the state enormously and which forms the foundation and strength of a nation, should be resurrected with due modifications necessary in the present context. Infact, the observance of all the four Ashramas, with the modifications demanded by the present state of the world, giving importance to the following ideals, is essential to the welfare of humanity.

  1. Education including physical fitness and moral education during the first period - (Studentship)
  2. A harmonious and honest married life, conforming to professional/ vocational ethics, and maintaining persons in the other three Ashramas during the second period - (Family Life).
  3. Social service during the third period by giving up earning activity to the extent possible. (Social Work)
  4. In meditation and worship of God in the evening of life and giving advice and the benefit of one's experience to the younger generation (Devotion to divinity and humanity).

With the necessary modifications suited to the present state of the World, this could therefore, form the blue print for human resources development programmes for all nations.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Justice M.Rama Jois, Dharma - The Global Ethic (Chapter 1.5.5)
  2. Justice M.Rama Jois, Dharma - The Global Ethic (Chapter 1.5)
  3. Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare, The Bhagavata Purana (Part III), Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology (Volume 9), Edited by J.L.Shastri, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,
  4. Bhagavata Purana, Skandha 7, Adhyaya 12.