ESSAY COMPETITION:Senior 1st Prize
WINNER’S NAME:Priyadarshanee Aubeeluck
SCHOOL:Presidency College Boys
TITLE: Analyse the wisdom behind the Hindu scheme of life in four stages (student, householder, hermit, ascetic) and show how its practice or adaptation can benefit society especially by harnessing the services of our ageing population in the next millennium.
The Hindu view is pictured as a mission towards spiritual unfoldment. Hence we find many ethical practices among which the four ashramas refer to gradual ascent to spiritual wisdom. Life span, according to Hindu religion is one hundred years. Thus, an individual is enjoined to abide by rules and regulations in the "ashrama dharma" in order to attain liberation.
The word "Ashrama" comes from the Sanskrit root "Shrama" which means to "exert oneself" or to make effort. Consequently, it aims at the refinement of the individual’s personality, physically, spiritually and psychologically. It is also considered to be a ladder of four steps which ensures growth and development of the inner as well as the outer aspect of the individual’s life in a very scientific and rational way. The seers have established that in Brahmacharya ashrama the Mantras are studied, Grihastha ashrama the Brahmanas are studied and put into practice. While the vanprastha and sannyãsa, the two final ashramas, they have much to do and gain inspirations from Aranyakas.
Education, morality and values are important for the safe and sane development of an individual and the society and in the Brahmacharya they are premordial. Brahmacharya is made up of two words; "Brahma" which means Vedas, knowledge and "Charya" implies to go and acquire not only secular knowledge but spiritual knowledge as well. The student is invested with the sacred thread and sent to Gurukula staying for about 6-12 years under the tutorship of his Guru and preceptor. He investigates about all forms of education and knowledge. The student learns to exert self control, acquires disciplines over his restless mind and leads a life of restraint with strict adherence to celibacy in thought, word and deed. The Brahmachari should abide to the concept of Dharma, lead a simple life, full of modesty, humility, respect for others, avoiding unnecessary and frivolous speeches. Once this period of study is completed, he is able to face any challenge in the course of his life. All those are the foundation of a very meaningful life towards Dharma.
After education, the individual is allowed to marry and take the responsibilities of life. In Hinduism, marriage is not a social bond but a sacrement where the wife becomes life long partner to propagate the four ends of life. In fact, Kama and Artha are permitted for satisfaction of the basic needs. Artha or wealth is not given a negative dimension because Artha stands for economic values, proper understanding and functioning of family life and satisfaction of needs. Excess money should be used properly for philanthropic or benevolent activities like building of schools, orphanages and also to discharge religious duties and needs. Especially sex which is considered to be a taboo or very negative in approach but in Hinduism kama or enjoyment of sex impulses is given a spiritual dimension. Sex in itself is the raw material but it is turned into love and fresh energies. At human level, kama or sex drive gets refined and transformed in love and for Hinduism is more than biological satisfaction. He has to pay three debts or Rinas which are Guru Rina, for spiritual master imparting knowledge, Pitri Rina-serving parents and Deva Rina to make effort to realise God. And finally he has to perform the Panchamahayajnas which are Brahma, Deva, Pitri, Bhuta and Athiti yajnas.
Vanprastha and Sannyãsa ashramas both deal with the realization of Moksha without passion and sufferings. Vanprashtha is a stage of semi-retirement or forest-dweller. Sannyãsi concentrates his energy to the supreme goal of life. Vanprasthis should give up all materialistic comforts and lead a life of austerities and meditate on the Supreme. He must study the scriptures and lead a simple life. The same is for the sannyãsi who renounces everything, leads a life of utter dedication, piety and remains indifferent when dealing with ups and downs in life. Both should be sympathetic, caring, modest and be able to influence others to awake good qualities in them.
These qualities never allow people to get involved or indulged in all material pursuits but are rather meant to regulate the modes of living. It gives a balance outlook of matter and spirit, conflict between Artha and Kama and the forces of nature. But today negative impulses are rampant in the modern society like juvenile deliquency, divorce, child labour, child prostitution, adultery, neglect of old persons, domestic violence, craving for sensual objects and many other evil acts but we do not have a single hint of such afflictions in the Vedic age.
The teachings and rules prescribed by the ashrama Dharma are eternal like Hinduism and can still help for the reconstruction of modern society although many believe them to be impractical in this age. Its ideas are still valid if we try to understand its lofty principles. There is no more necessity for gurukuls, ascetics, forest dwellers, but the values enumerated in each stage of life have much to inspire mankind.
The first stage is Brahmacharya. At this stage the child is initiated to acquire spiritual knowledge by which life becomes meaningful. If children learn values such as love, attention, respect, affection, then there is no question for them to neglect love and respect towards the parents. The student is made to understand that the parents were the custodians of culture.
"Pitri Devo Bhava
Matri Devo Bhava
Guru Devo Bhava".
This quotation means father, mother and teacher are considered to be God to you and respect for them is vital in life. Therefore, how can we imagine not to give attention to old people when such teachings are obtained. Shravan Kumar is a vivid example of how a son cared for his blind mother and father. Brahmacharya ashrama gives scope for eradication of evil acts like young generation being victims of sex violence that is child rape and child prostitution. By cultivating essential virtues like non-violence, truthfulness, honesty, and so on, then the old persons would not be beaten or ill-treated by youngsters. They make Dharma their source of life and will like to abide to it till their death. Brahmacharya ashrama prepares one for the journey of life. "The child is the father of man". The aspirant will learn on himself to be responsible, capable citizen on whose shoulders, the welfare of society will rest. Education should be vocational oriented, that is between teacher and students there should be a spirit of mutual understanding, respect, love as in the past and a harmonious relationship should be beautifully exposed.
"May He protect us both; may He be pleased with us both; may we work together with vigour, may our study make us illumined; may there be no dislike between us".
Through respect to teachers as God, mother and father would automatically be respected. An important value to learn is that it is the duty of every son to accomplish the words and wish of their parents. For example, Nachiketa accepted his father’s words as "sacred one" and went to the abode of Death.
In the second stage the student undergoes Vivaha Samskara. It means "support". Preparing couple to support each other and live by Dharma. Two instincts are regulated, two minds are brought together, united to found a home to procreate, educate children and help needy people. As backbone of Hindu society, they stand as support of all beings like Brahmacharis, Sannyãsis and Vanprasthis and also help the world to move for thousands of years. In Vivaha Samskara, Dharma predominates. It indicates that tolerance, sacrifice, self-control and respect are the key to the success of a married life. It is also an institution for the regulation of proper relationships between the different members of society. In marriage, Kama makes both husband and wife one. The concept of "Ardhangini" in itself englobes a very great tradition where husband and wife are half and half. Gandhi speaks of lustless love between husband and wife. Under such condition there cannot be irresponsibility towards society or old persons. "Ardhangini also stresses the role and importance of a woman where she is considered as "Griha Laksmi" when she snares, loves, cares, commands and is affectionate to everyone. If such qualities is born in today’s householders, then the old people would be living in peace. They would be appreciated and be example to the householders. The small children must have respect for grand-parents. But there is a real degeneration in society and values are ignored. The main causes are due to lack of communication, misunderstanding, adultery and an over-zealous ambition which can automatically lead to the neglect of old people. Therefore, the Grihasthi learns to control his envy for possession of Artha. Nowadays new couples prefer to live in a nuclear family instead of a joint family system as envisaged in Hinduism which clearly shows both the young and older generation must co-exist peacefully. If joint family systems are practised, old people would not live in loneliness or feel rejected. The family relationships blossom to a sweet home. For after all, it is said that men build houses and women make homes. Therefore, both have their respective responsibilities. Under such condition peace, love, respect and such other virtues prevail.
All these show that elders can never be neglected as the true Hindu tradition speaks of parents as God. The performance of the five great vows, one of them is Pitri yajna. That is bringing us closer to our relatives and ancestors. We are reminded of duties towards old members of the family. By doing so, the old people are assured of care from younger generations. It indirectly inculcates in our minds the idea of charity and service. The excess Artha in our possession should be distributed among other old people who are not able to work.
The ideal set out in Hinduism through the practice of the ashrama dharma especially Vanprastha and Sannyãsa, is a moral preparation for the aged to lead a peaceful life after retirement. When the householder sees wrinkles on his skin, grey hair, the sons of his son, then he leads a life of austerities and concentrate on the supreme one. It is the same for Sannyãsis who spend their time in the study of scriptures, leading a life of complete self control. Then, there is no time for quarrel against new married couples or time for feeling rejected. They are here to help and care about their grandsons and granddaughters and even to advise the Grihasthi. The Grihasthi should repeatedly accept the kind advice of the old but experienced persons. The young generations are loved by their nanas, nanis, dadas, and dadis. They will be more close to their grand parents if youngsters respect them and accept their valuable advice. The young persons should obey and accomplish their command. So, they will not feel rejected but would feel their man power being respected by their children.
The Vanprastha and Sannyãsa in themselves speak a lot of lofty aims regarding old age. With us, old people are not ignored and the younger generation look up to them. As source of inspiration and motivation, elders can transmit the cultural heritage to the grand children and the great values through stories between old and young people, thus diminishing the problem of generation gap. The elders can also visit places like hospitals to show their concern to sick persons, orphans, and poor children to show their sincere support. To entertain the elders, outing and small gatherings must be organised for them. Dinners should be arranged to show them they are needed by the society and are accepted and respected. If youngsters show great virtues like sympathy, love, kindness to needy people, so how could old people be hated.
The modern society has a lot to learn from precepts of Hinduism namely Purusharthas and Ashramas. Hinduism shows that neglect elders can never exist. There can never be despair, hatredness, selfishness but on the contrary a sense of awareness for love and hope for old people must predominate in the mind of many young people.
ESSAY COMPETITIONS:Senior 2nd Prize
WINNER’S NAME:Shakina Jugoo
SCHOOL:Sharma Jugdambi SSS
TITLE: Analyse the wisdom behind the Hindu scheme of life in four stages (student, householder, hermit, ascetic) and show how its practice or adaptation can benefit society especially by harnessing the services of our ageing population in the next millennium.
The Hindu scheme of life (Ashrama Dharma) has been a unique contribution of the Vedic sages in the social history of the world. It is based upon a four-fold division of the stages of life. These four stages provide man with the facilities to make his life meaningful and successful both at the material and spiritual level and ultimately to lead him to perfection.
The Brahmacharya ashrama (student life) is the first stage and the basic foundation of life. It is a period of regular study and discipline. Brahmacharis, in the vedic age had to go to the Guru (spiritual master) at gurukula ( a boarding school, or educational institution) to acquire knowledge. The brahmachari was imparted religious as well as secular knowledge. So that once his studies are over, the student is ready to face the challenges of life without any problem. He was required to lead a life of rigorous renunciation. Frivolous speeches, bickerings and backbittings were all forbidden and the brahmachari had to avoid luxuries and lead a life of purity, chastity, simplicity and austerity. He also had to cultivate virtues like truthfulness, non-violence, honour to parents and respect to elders and teachers. He had to wake up early in the morning to offer prayers and practise meditation.
Unfortunately these values are fastly disappearing today. For the better quality of the individual’s education, these values ought to be revived. Students should follow the standard set by the saints and elders of their community. They should partake the company of ideal and experienced persons and turn towards the elders (old people) to learn moral values and to have a better understanding of their culture from them.
The students of today are the makers of the destiny of our nation tomorrow. So, society depends highly upon them for its development and progress. Thus, the students are expected to fulfil the obligation that they have towards society. For this purpose, they can apply the knowledge they have acquired from their Guru (spiritual master). Indeed, the acquisition of a balanced education in the Brahmacharya ashrama can here be of great help for the student to perform his duties as a responsible citizen. In addition, he can also cooperate with the elders of the society who can provide him with ample services in his endeavour to mould the destiny of the nation and to guarantee it a promising future.
The Grihastha ashrama (householder life) is the second stage in the Hindu scheme of life. Once his education is over, the individual who does not want to lead the life of a religious celibate, is allowed to get married and shoulder the responsibilities of life. The householder spends twenty five years of his life in the Grihastha ashrama where he is allowed to accumulate wealth, fulfil sexual urges and enjoy legitimate pleasures. Along with his life partner, he also propagates Dharma by fulfilling the duties assigned to him in this ashrama.
The Grihasthi is also required to perform the religious ceremonies (samskaras) the five great sacrifices (panch mahayajnas) which are the Brahma yajna, Deva yajna, Pitri yajna, Atithi yajna, and Bhuta yajna and to pay the three debts or rinas, namely the Pitri rina (debt to parents) Guru rina (debt to the Spiritual master) and Deva rina (debt to God.)
Of the four stages in the Hindu scheme of life, the Grihastha ashrama is given a very high place of honour, for besides propagating dharma it also above all, acts as a support for the other three stages – the life of the student, hermit and ascetic. In the modern age, it can be seen that some householders do not fulfil all the duties that formerly used to be fulfilled in the Grihastha ashrama. Some people enjoy excessive sex, accumulate extra wealth and indulge too much in material pleasures for sense gratification. They even forget that there are two more stages to pass through and that the Grihastha ashrama is not the ultimate goal of life. As such, the householder’s life is defeated.
However, this should not be the case. Almost all sections of the society depend on the householder. The government levies taxes on the revenues of the householder. All voluntary associations depend on the householder for his contribution. Thus, as stated by Manu, just as air is essential to all creatures, so is the householder to all living beings in the society. The society enjoys stability, prosperity and peace only if the householder performs his Dharma (duty) porperly and this becomes possible when the scheme of householder life as prescribed by the Hindu social system is adopted. The old people also contribute a lot, through their active roles, in reviving the religious customs of the Grihastha ashrama. They act as guides to the young householders and support them in maintaining the dignity of the ashrama. With the presence of the Grihastha ashrama the society undoubtedly generates and moves forward.
The Vanprastha ashrama (hermit life) is the third stage in the pilgrimage of life. It is the stage of retirement. After the second stage, the householder transfers his responsibilities to his son and as the word Vanprastha suggests, he retires or goes (prasthan) to the forest (vana) leaving his family and personal belongings. He reduces his material needs to a minimum and as a forest dweller he spends most of his time in the study of the holy scriptures, does prayers, practises penance, leads a life of austerity, devotion, piousness and meditates on the Supreme. The Vanprasthi shares his experience in life and is ready for the service of the community.
In this age of science and technology it is not practical to retire to the forest. However, one may live in a suitable and lonely place where the Vanprastha stage can be served. But it is sad to learn that almost all people in the modern society are spending their whole life in the Grihastha ashrama. They are giving too much importance to a synthesis between materialism and spiritualism. They have declared – " Enjoy with a feeling of renunciation.’’ – Ten tyakten bhunjitha.
Old people of nowadays can set an example to the younger generation by having a spirit of renunciation for spiritual progress. After a life of enjoyment renunciation must follow at the age of fifty. As a retired person, the Vanprasthi’s life is predominated by selflessness. He looks after the whole community. Youngsters can thus, benefit from his experience and seek his advice and guidance to solve personal as well as social problems.
The Sannyãsa ashrama (ascetic life) is the last stage in the long journey of life. He renounces everything in order to attain Moksha (liberation). He wears a saffron coloured robe which is indicative of complete detachment. As a homeless wanderer, he seeks help from the Grihasthis by depending on the alms given by them for his sustenance. He possesses nothing and even abandons his personal and family name and bears the name of a Sannyãsi. The Sannyãsi does not belong to one community but to the whole world. As a citizen of the world, he moves to different places to preach universal brotherhood. He dedicates his life to others as well as to his own spiritual development. To attain self-realisation, he renounces all sensual pleasures, practises rigorous penance and observes fasts. He is even-minded and concentrates his energy on the supreme goal of life – moksha. Thus, he is not affected by the ups and downs of life. He shows affection to everybody and helps others to have a better understanding of life.
Furthermore, the Sannyãsi’s personality is such that he influences others to be good and loving and he ensures the society with happiness. He lives for the welfare of the community and his vast knowledge of life is shared to the entire community which derives a lot of inspiration from him. Thus his life can be regarded as an example to the other members of the society.
These four ashramas as we have so far studied are meaningful to all of us. They help man to rationalize his thinking, life and are helpful in playing a positive role in the society.
Although, for some they may seem impractical in this age, their ideals are still valid today if we try to understand their lofty principles. The society of today faces problems like rejection, split in the family, suicide, lack of morality and many other malaise.
There is no doubt that the proper practice of the four ashramas can liberate man from these social ills.
As a matter of fact, the ashrama system is indicative of an integral approach to human life. The four ashramas are intended for the perfection of man by successive stages. This system is so framed that it makes life successful through its social laws which in themselves have spiritual significance to make life complete. In addition, with the innumerable services that our ageing population can provide us in supporting us to adapt to this scheme of life the society can benefit immensely from social welfare, cohesion and spiritual development.
Indeed, the Ashrama Dharma being the most unique system occupies a sublime place in history. Its eternal values, teachings, principles and the ideals set up in can no doubt assure the human race of the next millennium, a life of high standard and glory.
ESSAY COMPETITIONS:Junior 1st Prize
WINNER’S NAME:Bhooneshwari Gungadin
TITLE: Which of the two ashramas, vanprastha or sannyäsa, do you consider more useful to society? Give your reasons.
Hinduism is a universal religion. A follower of Hinduism is known as a Hindu or noble person. It is the most ancient living religion in the world and no one knows when it has started. Being a Hindu and to be a follower of the path of Hinduism is a sense of pleasure. So, it is our duty to accomplish our "Karma" and "Dharma", before leaving this physical body to attain moksha, salvation or liberation.
"Ashrama" is one of the valuable suggestion and piece of advice given by our sages and great philosophers. It is the unique word which is not purely used in English language. We call it a resting place and it has been originated from the sanskrit root "shrama" which means to take a rest in the journey of life. It is also a stage of the ability to grow and to develop. There are four ashramas and they are the standards in life to survive in the distance between two or more stopping places in a move of quick light steps.
Literally we have four "ashramas" the Brahmacharya, the student life also called the life of celibacy; the Grihastha, householder life; the Vanprastha, retirement life to the forest and finally the last one is Sannyãsa, life of renunciation. According to our intelligent, sagacious, sensible, sapient, shrewd, wise, well judged pundits and rishis, it has been fully explained that all the four ashramas lead an individual towards the path of perfection. So, by undergoing these ashramas, a person fulfills his goal of life and he also disciplines his way of living properly.
All the four ashramas have their equal right in the life of an individual. We can distinguish the life of a man, which is divided into four parts, same like our body which has come from the "Viraat Purush" and has been differentiated into four categories from head to feet. Similarly Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanprastha and Sannyãsa are all vital and essential stages in our daily life.
Vanprastha ashrama is the third stage of life. It starts from the age of fifty to seventy five. It is only after the accomplishment of the Grihastha ashrama. It is also one of the essential parts of life compared to the others. It is the stage of retirement. When a Vanprasthi sees wrinkles in his body, the sons of his son; the blissful, auspicious and prosperous life of his son or daughter and the neutral colour between black and white in his hair, he retires to the forest. He has to lead a life of a forest dweller and a very simple and ordinary life, in peace and harmony. He should always focus on the existence of God. In this stage an individual prepares himself to attain the final goal of life.
Nowadays in Mauritius, people or Vanprasthis normally do not go in the forest. They stay attached with their family and detachment from the materialistic life seemed to be impossible for them. But indeed, they do not forget their identity and about their right duty. They perform yajnas at their residence and take part in the social and religious activities organised by the Grihasthis. They also advise youngsters to take the national participation in the social activities and festivals. Such a practice or custom has intensively increased in the socio-religious profession of communities by one another. It has now become the legitimate duty of the present generation to transmit this prized legacy to the future events.
An individual attaining Vanprastha ashrama is considered to be a wise, intelligent and advisable person to the new generation. Before performing any type of activity the youth ask for beneficial advice with them. So, they devote most of their time at home, in temples, district communities and in group of people of their age always discussing some important topics or just chattering.
Generally they depend on pensions as they are retired and they have renounced the materialistic world because of lots of sufferings. An individual releases himself from the load of works and put it on the shoulder of his children. In this way, he gets rid of stress, strain, mental faculty; dilemma and all sorts of problems affecting himself mentally and physically. He just concentrates in meditation, prayers and on performing yajnas. He reads holy books, scriptures like "Vedas", "Upanishads" and recites mantras which are very pleasant to hear. Thus, he also relates the story of gods and goddesses to his grandsons and grand-daughters. Basically, it is very practical that a Vanprasthi liberates himself from the material life because of tension, which is pervading the whole world. Sons are not benevolent towards their elders. They do not like to lead a life upon the pressure or command of their parents. So, they ask for their freedom and request for their undue familiarity.
The moment that they reach the age of adulthood and enter in their halting place of Grihasthi, they feel disgusting to work according to the recommendation, suggestion and advice given by their parents. And they want to stand on their own feet and prove themselves to be someone in the society. Thus, he requests to have a formal separation and to lead a happy life with his wife and children. In this way it is an opportunity for him to know the reality of life, both sufferings and happiness. This is the moment when they learn by committing mistakes and realise how to uphold or to look after their own responsibility and that of their family.
By passing through this stage an individual does not have any regret or fear of death because he is prepared in advance to liberate his soul which is tormenting inside his weak, powerless and useless body. Even if he does not accomplish the last stage, the "Sannyãsa ashrama" he is sure and satisfied to attain moksha with the performance of the good karmas in the "Vanprastha ashrama", the third stage of life.
Furthermore, being a Vanprasthi, the individual helps his sons in some extent in his usual works. When the Grihasthi has gone to work, the latter looks after his house and children. He also accompanies his grand son or grand daughter to school. He is the one who takes good care of the child in the absence of his parents. In leisure time he takes the lad to the temple or even to the nearest district garden for the purpose of entertainment. He explains the child about the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and relates stories of gods, goddesses and even demons. In this way he opens the mind of the small child and guides him towards the path of truth. In Mauritius, we can easily find that most of the small children beyond the age of ten like their grand father and grandmother more than their own parents. They are much attached towards them and show lots of interest in listening anything concerning God and His existence. In a way it is an advantage when the Vanprasthi teaches his grandsons. He is considered as the real Guru who existed in the past and he even creates a small Gurukula in his house. Moreover, instead of looking and regarding his own affairs, he looks after the whole society without any differentiation of caste or class. He looks after them in equal standard, as if all of them are his children.
A Vanprasthi is much efficient in the progress of society especially, in the modern age that we are living. Where unemployment is very common and nowadays it is very difficult to obtain a job without any experience or any recommendation. So, when an old person leaves the job, the youth takes the place or has a position in the job left by the Vanprasthi. In this way the load of unemployment is decreased to a certain extent in the society. Thus the Grihasthi goes to work and gets a suitable salary which is quite enough to have a well established family and he tries to satisfy all the needs and wants of his children and wife. Thus, he tries to walk on his own and follows the example of his parents.
Furthermore, Sannyãsa ashrama is the final and last stage of life. It is also very important in our daily life. It starts from the age of seventy-five to the end of life, that is hundred. Long ago people reaching this stage, lived on alms and they were always found in the form of a Sadhu. Thus the Sannyãsi wore saffron coloured robe indicating complete detachment. They were devoting their time in prayers, performing yajnas and repeating the verses of the Bhagavad Gita so as to get moksha. They were strong enough to do penance and meditation and could have a better life, depending on ordinary foods and fruits provided by nature.
But, bad luck today, destiny is playing a cruel role against our destination. Life has become miserable. Cruelties and sins are increasing day by day. Everyone is moving towards the path of evil and desolation. We are in the age of destruction that is "Kaliyuga". Only few people are surviving till the age of hundred. The probability of people reaching above eighty is very few. Before, sages, rishis and munis lived till the age of hundred and they were able to attain this final stage properly without facing any difficulty. But today most of the Sannyãsis are only reaching the stage of Vanprastha. Less are surviving due to the bad condition of the environment and because of pollution which is very common throughout the world.
If we carry out a survey in Mauritius, we can easily find that most of the time men are not attaining the age required, they are dying at an early age. But still there are few women reaching the age of hundred and they are undergoing this "Sannyãsa ashrama" at home. Most people do not like to live till hundred because they do not like to bear lost or pain. They are not useless physically or mentally but are not capable of doing right and prescribed duties that a Sannyãsi should originally do, while undergoing this period of life. A person who is in the bed, could not easily move and how can he sit for meditation for one or two hours? So, they are unhealthy and weak.
So, the Vanprastha ashrama is very useful in the modern society that we are living now. At the age of fifty to seventy five, an individual can do much more difficult job both mentally and physically. He can easily take good care of the society. While the Sannyãsi who is himself weak takes rest at home. They are rarely found wandering or attending any yajnas. They cannot take part in the social and religious festivals organised by the new generation. In Mauritius, in very rare circumstances we can find that old people attaining the stage of Sannyãsa ashrama are doing some heavy or difficult work. They are here to give good and right advice. But the Vanprasthi can do both actions easily, giving good advice as well as helping, for the improvement in the society and to bring a better life to the youngsters.
ESSAY COMPETITIONS:Junior 2nd Prize
WINNER’S NAME:Sharmila Canhaye
TITLE: Which of the two ashramas, vanprastha or sannyãsa? Do you consider more useful to society? Give your reasons.
The Hindu scheme of life is unique in the world and seeks for the proper allocation and judicious utilisation of one’s resources. The ancient rishis postulated the practice of the ashramas for the welfare of the individual and society. Since life expectancy is one hundred years, one has to exert oneself so that one can go smoothly through four different stages of life, where roughly twenty-five years are spent in each ashrama. If the Brahmacharya ashrama is a stage of initiation which starts right from a tender age, the Grihastha ashrama is the second stage of life where those not willing to remain a religious celibate shoulder household responsibilities, while the Vanprastha ashrama is a stage of semi-retirement and the Sannyãsa ashrama a stage of complete renunciation. Thus, each ashrama has its own utility and the preparation which starts in the Brahmacharya ashrama culminates in the Sannyãsa ashrama.
Though the Sannyãsa ashrama is a fundamental stage in the life of an individual, yet the Vanprastha ashrama is a stage of preparation before going to the last stage. It is in extreme cases like that of Swami Dayanand and Shankara that one can move directly to the Sannyãsa ashrama after one’s studies completed. The fact that we need to go through the Vanprastha and Sannyãsa ashrama shows that it is completely wrong to believe that elders, who are physically weak, are of no use to the society. But to the contrary, the conduct of a sannyãsi and his role in the society are geared towards social welfare, cohesion, economic stability, peaceful co-existence, mutual understanding, unity, cultural and spiritual enfoldment. But it is rather a pity that great number of our elders are ill-treated, neglected, frustrated, sent to homes or forced to beg. If elders of the modern civilisation put themselves into the flesh of true Sannyãsis and are provided with adequate set-up, they will no longer be considered as a burden. Ageing population will not be regarded as a curse to that extent.
The Sannyãsis are extremely talented and versatile individuals. They have a vast knowledge and high sense of maturity. They are the real embodiment of traditional, cultural and spiritual values. Virtues like simplicity, humility, kindness, modesty and generosity are part and parcel of their ornated character. Such resourceful and helpful people should in no way be neglected. We believe that those above seventy-five years can still contribute in setting the framework of a sane and healthy society. They can share their vast experiences of life and convey the basic ethical and moral values through social gatherings like hospitals, houses or community centres. Their caress, tenderness, grace and compassion can be of immense help in the field of education, especially at pre-primary, primary and secondary levels so that character of the child is formed. Thus, if elders are given the opportunity of moulding the personality of an individual right from a tender age, problems like generation gap, juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, alcoholism, truancy, unwanted pregnancy, violence or suicide will cease to exist.
Although a sannyãsi is generally pre-occupied with meditation and yoga, he is keenly aware of his duty to be of selfless and meaningful service to mankind. He has no bond of relationship with any person. The saying that applies to him is "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam", that is all mankind is his family. In other words, the Sannyãsis have a lot to contribute in terms of universal love, brotherhood, tolerance, peace and happiness. Today the whole world is disturbed one way or the other with violence, terrorism, racial discrimination or genocide. Had all the elders in the world played their role as expected in the Sannyãsa ashrama, disgusting and horrible events marking the history of Algeria, Rwanda, Congo and Mauritius would have never taken place for such things were inexistent in ancient India. The purpose of the Sannyãsi is to contribute to the peace and happiness of mankind by dispelling ignorance and enabling the individual to awaken the divinity that lies within him. The Sannyãsi through the splendour of his character should influence others towards right conduct, pure words and positive thoughts.
The Sannyãsa ashrama shows to us that those above seventy-five years should be prepared to accept death and realise God. A Sannyãsi lives in this world, yet he remains beyond worldly attachments. Today so much attempts are made to keep the body young, healthy and fresh. But Hindu philosophers realised that old age and sufferings are inevitable. We are made to understand that happiness gained from material or sensual objects are not eternal. Instead of bringing the soul to the sense organ for sexual happiness with the use of chemicals like the Viagra, our elders are taught to prepare themselves to enjoy the state of Sat-Chit-Ananda. The Sannyãsa Ashrama shows to us the real purpose of our existence. The Sannyãsi should prepare himself to rise beyond sufferings, overcome samsara and realise God. Moksha is obtained when one has completely renounced material pursuits, bondages and attachments. When this state is achieved, one is free and there is no mental modification.
The Sannyãsa ashrama shows that the teachings of Hinduism are true at all times. We are about to come across the next millennium, yet the Sannyãsa ashrama can help us a lot in the understanding of our roles and objectives in the society. Many of our modern malaise can be eradicated under the guidance, nurture, care, love and inspiration of our elders. Elders deserve our respect and should enjoy a honorable place in our society. That is why Hinduism stresses on the concept of "Pitri Devo Bhavah" to show us the place elders should have in our heart.