A dear friend of mine is going away from whatsapp groups in pursuit of self-development which I want to term as Nirvana! As per thinking in Hinduism there are four Ashrams; Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanprastha, Sanyasa. I am just trying to relate this in today’s times of superb communications. As per historians Ashrams are ideals to be followed in an Utopian world. First two Brahmacharya, Grihastha have been crossed long back by me and my friends. In olden days how many really reached Vanprastha, Sanyasa stage, I am really not sure, because average life expectancy for a male in India in the year 1900 was about 24 years. (Only men supposedly took path of ashrams, women even in those days followed “whatevermalesallowed” ashram) Realistically these ashrams look to me more hypothetical.
In olden days say 2000 years back, life as we expect today did not exist. Ashrams were supposedly defined in that period. There was almost nothing from today’s world. Simple things like having fire to cook, clean water, basic travel were a big struggle. Every basic thing was a big, tough and difficult task. It started with gathering basic food on a daily as there was no organized farming. I can’t imagine how people must have handled basic illness like cough, cold and loose motions. With such difficult times and people dying so early (I am sure a few survived and maybe reached the age of 80/90- they were called rishis and were of indeterminate age as they had seen more than 3 generations so nobody really knew their age- some rishis were said to be 2000 years old!) ashrams were really the imagination of writers. But these writers were correct between say 1950 to 2000 when the dawn of current century started with Internet. With proliferation of internet ashram theories are getting tossed out of window. Let me explain.
In my father’s time or before, you had Grihastha ashram, retired from service and if you did not die early you could think of Vanprastha because there was nothing else to do. Most of the people of your generation were either dead or sick or too old. They were practically surviving on day to day basis. They were never a part of social circles and would spend time doing Pooja, singing Bhajans and so on. Now when people born in 40’s started retiring e mails and better communication had just started. People had started communicating easily and better. With this, locating old friends had become easier. Add to this life expectancy improvement. They could now meet old friends; switch to 2016. Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter wow! Looking for old friends, and for that matter flames if you may, and classmates is just like looking into phone directories (who looks into phone directories now!)
With these tools you are pulled into so many groups on various tools. Then you have weekly tea meetings, monthly breakfast meetings, half yearly dinner and yearly jamboree! You are really in touch with a large number of people and inadvertently get into a lot of discussions, arguments and so on. Vanprastha ashram goes for a toss in such situations. But my argument is that true Vanprastha can be achieved only today when you have so many things open for you, as so many things are available at your fingertips. Life expectancy has reasonably improved, average health is also better. Going away from at least some of the things for some time or permanently is Vanprastha ashram. One has to be a bit careful here. Do you really want to go away from your friends? Do you really not want to travel and see the world? Do you really not want to taste different delicacies and wines? If you are able to achieve Vanprastha in moderation you are really achieving something! It is not necessary that old theory of giving up “Everything” was correct! When there was nothing to give up what did you give up? Yes but today I am sure you can really give up something and try to achieve Nirvana!
I wish all the best my dear friend and salute you!