Now-a-days people are so tied down to family life that they have no wish to be freed from it. They find it very painful to leave the family life. People spend their entire life in this state. Seers have regarded ‘ashram’ as a camp or a halting place. They regarded life as a journey which they divided into four stages, the first being ‘Brahmacharya’. The second stage is married life or family life. The third stage is one where the couple left the family after retiring, to stay in huts built in the forest. Most people today have overlooked the four stages of life. As a result they are tied down to family life and have no intention of moving out of it. They are so attached to it as if to say that they will live for ever. They completely forget that they have to leave family life and move on to the next stage. In any event it is a known fact that one has to leave family life one day or another. However, family life is such a maze that like Abhimanyu, a person is able to get into it but does not know how to get out of it. People continue to worry about the worldly affairs until their last breath.
Seers have said that at the age of 50, i.e., when grandchildren are born, married people should hand over the family duties to their sons and move on to the next stage of their life’s journey. However, these days people do not follow this path. One of the rules of a inn or place of temporary residence is that one cannot stay therein for more than 5-7 days. If some one overstays, then the inn keeper firstly tries to inform the person of this by sign language. However if after receiving the right signal the person does not move out, then the inn keeper tells the person directly to move out. If after this the person still does not move out, then the person’s articles / possessions are thrown out.
Those who have reached the stage of leaving family life and moving on to the next stage, should see within themselves if the attitude towards them in the house is like that of the lodge keeper. Some daughters-in-law curse them saying the old fellow neither lives nor dies and has turned the whole house into an unbearable place to live in. Why do the mother in law and the daughter in law fight? It is because the mother in law wants to live in the house as if she herself is the daughter in law. In old age the father also seems to be a burden on the sons because he wants to control the sons till his last breath.
In most families there is quarrelling. Quarrels between the father and son and mother in law and daughter in law are very common. The seers had solved this problem by establishing Vanprasth Ashram. They had said, that since in the end we have to leave this world any way, it is better to leave it on your own free will rather than being pushed out.
There is accumulation of materials as well as its sacrifice in this world. Both of these are appropriate in their respective time periods . However, after satisfying one’s needs from the worldly materials, one must think of leaving them as well. It is necessary for the society of today to have the spirit of Vanprasth Ashram. Instead of being attached to worldly materials, it is necessary to have the urge to sacrifice.
Today we are deeply attached to minor things. We know that we are on the path of untruth, yet we do not change our attitude. Later on this attitude becomes a matter of pride for us. When we are appointed to “position”, we get so attached to it that we do not want to leave it. Many feel that the “position” has become a part of their body and find it hard to leave it.
There is only one way out of this problem and that is to awaken the spirit of Vanprasth Ashram in the people. Vanprasth does not only mean going away into the forest; Vanprasth also means sacrifice and giving up the urge to accumulate wealth. The word ‘parigrah’ means to accumulate materials from all sides and ‘aparigrah’ means to leave all these materials at the right time. Does not the fruit on ripening leave the tree by itself? Similarly a person should retire from family attachments at the appropriate time and move on to Vanprasth Ashram.
What is the purpose of Vanprasth ashram, knowing well that one has to leave this world one day?. When we have to leave this world anyway, then where is the sense in moving after being pushed out by someone’ rather than taking your own initiative to move on. Vanprasth Ashram is not meant for leaving the worldly things, in a state of helplessness, but rather leaving them on one’s free will. It is not meant for running away from this world in fear, but rather moving forward on own free will in the journey of life.
We have to prepare to leave one resting house and move onto another. If something has to happen anyway, then why should it not happen with our own will? If it happens with our own wishes, then there is happiness in it. If it were possible to persevere and live for ever, then it would be sensible to remain attached to the world. But this is impossible, so why not take care of things yourself that will happen anyway? In other words during the stage of celibacy one gathers worldly needs and uses it in the family life. Once the desires of the family is accomplished, then one must free oneself from worldly attachments. To accomplice this one has to enter into the stage of Vanprasth Ashram. Everyone lives and experiences married life, but in Vedic philosophy there are two other necessary stages for everyone, namely Brahmacharya and Vanprasth. Before married life, Brahmacharya is important, and after married life Vanprasth Ashram is essential. Sannyas Ashram was not essential for everyone nor should it be – until there is complete desire from within to devote the rest of life in God realisation.
In the olden days, when married people entered Vanprasth stage, they went and lived outside their village in huts that they constructed in the nearby forests. Outside every village or town there used to be rows of huts for Vanprasthis. Children and youths used to live in the villages or towns and the elderly Vanprasthis lived in the forest. They had undergone all types of experience in this world and knew all types of work. The youths, having gone in to the married stage of life, were undergoing new types of problems in life, hence they needed the assistance of the Vanprasthis . From time to time the youths used to visit the Vanprasthis and listen to their advice and then continue with their work. When some major problems confronted them, then also they used to consult the Vanprasthis who resolved the problems for them. Whenever the married people faced worldly worries, then also they went to the Vanprasthis who gave them spiritual advice and hence peace of mind.
In our country Fiji, there is no such provision in the forests for the Vanprasthis . In such a situation this stage of life can be fulfilled by living in the family environment.