By Devakinanda Pasupuleti
Ashtottaram 41) OṀ ĀŚHRAMADHARMABHŨMYAI NAMAH:
ॐ आश्रमधर्मभूम्यै नम:
(Āśhramam: The dwelling place of religious devotees, each of the four periods of Vedic religious life, place of resting; Dharma: duty, righteousness)
Traditionally, an ashram (Sanskrit: ashrama or ashramam) is a spiritual hermitage or a monastery in Indian religions. Also, any one of the four stages of the Brahmanic scheme of life through which a Hindu ideally will pass —- brahmacharya, grihastha, sannyasi, and vanaprastha.
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Every person has the responsibility of performing his prescribed duties to himself, family, society, country, and the world. It also includes the duties to be done that are age-appropriate. In the modern world, no one performs his duties but expects a lot from family, society, country, and even the world. There is an old saying, ‘before you demand something from your country, you have to ask yourself what you did for your country. Nowadays, nobody cares about that anymore.
According to the value-system propounded by Hinduism, mokṣha or spiritual emancipation is the ultimate goal of life. However, emotional infirmities like attachment and aversion or lust, greed, and anger always raise their ugly heads to thwart a person’s spiritual progress. With uncanny insight into human psychology, the ancient sages of India have prescribed a way of life that affords scope and opportunity for the fulfillment of all legitimate desires, while keeping them under a healthy check.
The concept of the four purushārthās, when looked at from this angle, is a unique contribution. The philosophy behind this concept aims at the gradual sublimation of the human instincts by first allowing them to find a healthy expression. The method of achieving this is the āśhrama-system.
According to this Vedic system, the life of the individual is divided into four āśhramās or stages of life: 1) brahmacharya (studenthood), 2) grihasthya (married state), 3) vānaprastha (the state of the forest recluse, contemplation) and 4) sanyāsa (monkhood, renuncee). Though these four āśhramās were intended to be adopted successively, exceptions were allowed in special cases, so that persons could take to sanyāsam even from the first or the second stage.
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The word- āśhrama, in a non-technical sense, means a place of rest, or a hermitage for sages. Such āśhramās are generally are built in places of natural beauty and quietness, like a forest, banks of rivers, foot or top of a hill, and so on. They were earmarked for simple living and high thinking; for austerities, contemplation, and spiritual studies. By practicing these stages of life, our ancient Hindus brought our nation to great spiritual heights in the history of mankind.
The people of the land that practiced the four stages of life according to the Vedic system are none other than our ‘Āśhramadharma Bhūmi’.