Originally, when this ideology was formulated there were 4 stages to living that were tuned towards the overall development of a person from Birth to Death. These 4 stages were conditioned to enable comfortable exit from life once a person had led it “to the fullest”. It started with Gurukula, Grihasta, Vanaprasta and Sanyasa as a broad classification that covered a range of years in the person’s lifetime. Along the way, gurukula was a must have for men and a nice to have for women but Grihasta dominated the whole social landscape so much so that Vanaprastha and Sanyasa are unheard of in today’s lifestyle, in fact they may be ridiculed.
Its unfortunate, but the need to live with one's own self has been overshadowed by the need for companionship. Grihasta is integral to the social system for it ensures procreation, immortality in some form by the extension of the genes. It doesn’t focus on the inner development of each individual in the relationship and the outcome on the relationship there after. Following a set of rules for comfortable living isn’t exactly living life to the fullest. Knowing one's own nature, coming to terms with it and attempting to live with one’s own self is far more challenging that just leading a mundane existence by following a set of rules. In fact, it may just get restrictive. Everyone is growing old, a day less towards their exit with every rising sun. Self discovery, self stress, self love, and self preservation do take precedence but it doesn’t appear as if we are getting any wiser with age. Yes, the metamorphosis from youth to old age happens anyway without our consent, and we are left coping with it, trying to appear young and acceptable to the world around us, in an inner desperation for acceptance in the familiar world.
Why is it so difficult to acknowledge old age? Why is it a larger nightmare to face than death itself. I have seen people struggle to be wanted, to be of “use”, escapists from the dignity of isolated living. We eventually are thrown there anyway by the younger less respecting folk in the family. In a changing universe of fewer human principles of good living and larger tilt towards greed, how can we claim to be superior when we are tumbling down into the very marsh of inferior thinking.
Two people meet and decide to join forces to lead a life, procreation ensures a bond and progeny. The deed is done, stability largely has been achieved on the exterior. What about self growth, what about the challenges of dealing with one’s own self, the inner aspirations that haunt us while the outer social rules prove challenging to accept our way of thinking or being. I have seen a lot of people go through stress post 40, when they take on the baton of responsibility, when the older and the younger are dependent on them emotionally or financially. Added to that is the compatibility quotient between the pair. Even if it strikes a full 100% is that called complete living or is it convenient and are people missing a larger point altogether? Any one of the pair will quit sooner than the other, what happens then? Why is the mind so stitched into heavy emotional dependency outside of oneself when the hard truth at the end of the road is - you die alone, you can’t quite take your companion with you!
People change as they grow up, they may not remain the same for too long. As they discover themselves through the call of fate, they realise deeper aspects of living along the way. The same companion may not have done that distance hence that maturity to understand the change is not achieved. What degree of hypocrisy does the relationship face when one can’t share one’s own learning curve with the companion who apparently started out as a soul mate. This puts a lot of question on the permanence of marriage as an ideology. Clearly it was not meant to be a permanent affair as self growth and realisation at some point overshadows procreation which is done and dusted. Is the mundane the only way to lead life? I don’t think so, there is a lot more to discover about oneself beyond stability and procreation which unfortunately will not be achieved if inner contemplation isn’t exercised, given the looming presence of old age.
Vanaprastha has unfortunately taken a turn for the worse. While there are old age homes cropping up everywhere the intent appears extremely negative as discarding of the older folk because of their lack of usefulness and greater irritable presence. Compare that to a decision taken by the elderly to lead a dignified old age in isolation, on their own. Vanaprastha is not as much a physical shift from the family but an emotional and mental shift of disconnection. The larger nightmare of old age sees quite a bit of uncertainty in one’s life. In the ancient times, Vanaprastha was meant to solve this very discord in the mind, but it has been done away with by society for all the wrong reasons. So is society right when things change for the worse and none of us can individually control it. Be it heightened interest in materialism or abysmal interest in goodwill, this society has done nothing right to enable itself to get wiser. So how do we claim to be superior except by feeding our egoistic nature within the same pool of crabs? Are we just not ridiculous as a species?
Sanyasa, a state of non expectation, a state of wisdom with detachment towards the madness around us is the perfect place to reach before death. Unfortunately neither the environment nor the self drive enables us to reach there. With the given landscape a peaceful death will only remain a far fetched dream… leave alone the need for accomplishment. No wonder… there are no Sages in our times….