The Ashramas or stages of life are four, viz., Brahmacharya, the stage of student life; Grihastha, the stage of householder life; Vanaprastha, the stage of seclusion (forest-living); and Sannyasa, the stage of total renunciation. Each order of life has its own duties. In none of these stages must a man grasp at the special duties of the other three. At the present moment, it is difficult to maintain or observe the exact details of the ancient rules, as the conditions have changed very much. But, if we can have a clear idea of the fundamental duties of each, we shall still be able to shape the life through a regulated course of development and steady growth.
The student, after finishing his studies, enters the order of Grihastha, when he is ready to take up the duties and responsibilities of household life. Of all Ashramas, that of the householder is the highest as he verily supports the other three. As all the streams and rivers flow to rest in the ocean, even so all the Ashramas flow to rest in the householder. This household life is the field for developing various virtues such as mercy, love, generosity, patience, tolerance, purity, prudence, right judgment, etc. It is highly lamentable to note that the grandeur, solemnity and dignity of this stage of life is not fully realised these days.
A householder has duties to do towards the society, his neighbours, country, friends, relations, wife, children and parents. He must serve religious or social institutions for some hours daily in a disinterested manner with the spirit of Karma Yoga. This will purify his heart and prepare the Antahkarana for the descent of divine light.
He must treat his neighbours as his own self. He should share what he has,–material, mental and spiritual–with others.
He must give good education to his sons and daughters and treat his wife well as she is his partner in life and religious performances (Ardhangini). Parents are veritable gods on earth. Therefore he should serve them nicely, and carry out their behests to their entire satisfaction. He should perform Sraddha (annual rites to the departed souls) every year and offer Tarpana to his Pitrus or ancestors.
Every householder should perform the following Yajnas. The fire place, the water pot, the cutting, grinding and sweeping apparatuses are the five places where injury to life is committed, daily. The sins committed here are said to be washed away by the five Maha Yajnas which every Dwija (householder) ought to perform and which are intended to satisfy the Bhutas, the Rishis, the men, the gods and the Pitrus. The five great Yajnas (Pancha Maha Yajnas) are: (1) Deva Yajna: This consists of offering oblations unto Devatas or gods with recitation of Vedic Mantras; (2) Rishi Yajna: This consists of study of Vedas and teaching of Vedas to students and offering of oblations to Rishis; (3) Pitru Yajna: It consists of Tarpana or oblations to departed souls and Sraddha or annual religious rites performed for departed souls; (4) Bhuta Yajna: This is distribution of food to cows, crows and animals. This develops cosmic love and an Advaitic feeling of oneness; and (5) Atithi Yajna: This consists of giving food to guests and honouring them.
The Pitrus are forefathers who dwell in Pitru-loka. They possess clairvoyance and clairaudience. Recitation of Mantras exercises tremendous influence through their vibration. The Pitrus hear the sounds through the power of clairaudience and they are pleased. They bless those who offer the oblation. In Sraddha, the essence of food offerings is taken up by sun’s rays to Suryaloka and the departed souls are pleased with the offerings. Even in the West many persons perform Tarpana and Sraddha. They have scientifically investigated into the beneficial effects of such oblations. It is the imperative duty of all householders to perform Sraddha and Tarpana to please the Rishis and the Pitrus. It is only the deluded souls with perverted intellects who misconstrue things and neglect to perform the sacred ceremonies and consequently suffer.
The worldly duties are not ties. The world is the best teacher. You are not required to renounce the world and take shelter in the Himalayan caves to claim back your lost divinity. The world cannot stand in the way of your God-realisation. Live in the world but allow not the world to live in you. He who living in the midst of temptations of the world attains perfection is the true hero.
A householder should earn money by honest means and distribute it in the proper manner. He should spend one-tenth of his income in charity. He should enjoy sensual pleasures within the limits of the moral law.
Householders have got a very responsible duty in training their children. If they want to shirk this responsibility, they ought to have checked their itching sensation caused by lust, and should have stopped procreation by becoming Naishthika Brahmacharis. Serious punishment is awaiting them in the other world if they leave their children untrained in this world. They themselves should lead an ideal life. Then alone their children can copy them. If they have wrong evil habits, their children will also try to imitate them. Children have got the power of imitation.
Parents should watch the habits and ways of their children, and take care not to allow them to join evil company. If they speak lies, they should be punished. They should not be allowed to utter any slang or obscene words. They should not be allowed to smoke and chew betels. They should not be allowed to go to cinemas and read novels.
Parents should give them Sanskrit education. The study of Sanskrit is very essential. Even girls should be made to study Sanskrit. They should be able to understand the Gita.
Father and mother are only responsible for the character of their children. If the parents are irreligious, their children also become irreligious. It is the onerous duty of the parents to give their children religious training in their boyhood. They should themselves lead the divine life. When religious Samskaras are lodged in boyhood, they will strike deep root, blossom and bear fruit when they attain manhood.
The present-day parents, who are slaves of fashion, teach their children to put on collar and open-coat and to treat with contempt those who wear simple clothing. They teach their children fashion instead of sublime mottos such as ‘plain living and high thinking’.
When the householder sees that his sons are able to bear the burden of his duties, when his grandsons are around him, the time has come for his wife and himself to retire from the world and spend their time in study and meditation.
Great Rishis of yore were married, but they did not lead the life of passion and lust. Their life of Grihasthasrama was a life of Dharma only. If it is not possible for you to emulate them to the very letter, you will have to keep their lives before you as landmarks, as the ideal for emulating, and you must tread the path of Truth. Grihasthasrama is not a life of lust and loose living. It is a strict life of selfless service, of Dharma pure and simple, of charity, goodness, kindness, self-help, and all that is good and all that is helpful to humanity. If you can live such a life, the life of a Grihastha is as good as the life of a Sannyasin.
Married life, if lived in a perfect ideal manner, is no bar to the attainment of Mukti. A good woman is to man what banks are to the river. She is the rhythm which leads him to Truth. Her love is God’s grace.
At night, all the members of the house should sit in a circle and do Kirtan for an hour before the picture of their respective Deities. The servants of the house also should be included. In the evening, some four people can join together and read the Bhagavata, the Ramayana, etc. This will give peace of mind and strengthen the spiritual Samskaras. This will fill the mind with purity and divine thoughts.
That house is really Vaikuntha where the husband and wife lead an ideal divine life, singing the Lord’s Name, repeating His Mantra, studying the Ramayana, Bhagavata, controlling the Indriyas and serving Bhaktas and Sannyasins. Householders should daily read in the early morning hours, after a cold bath, some chapters in the Gita, Ramayana, Bhagavata, Upanishads and Yoga Vasishtha, Vishnu Sahasranama, Lalita Sahasranama, Aditya Hridayam, etc.
Constant repetition of the Names of the Lord (Japa, Smaran) is an easy means of crossing the ocean of mortal Samsara or earthly existence. This is more suitable for the householders.
It is quite possible for a man to practise celibacy while remaining in the world, albeit there are various sorts of temptations and distractions. Many have achieved this in times of yore. There are many even at the present moment also. A well-disciplined life, study of religious scriptures, Satsanga, Japa, Dhyana, Pranayama, Sattvic and moderate food, daily introspection and enquiry, self-analysis and self-correction, Sadachara, practice of Yama, Niyama, physical, verbal and mental Tapas in accordance with the teachings of the Gita will go a long way in the attainment of this end.
Nectar’s sons! Shake off all weaknesses. Stand up. Gird up the loins. Do your Svadharma satisfactorily in accordance with your caste or stage of life. Evolve quickly in spirituality. Eternal Bliss, Supreme Peace, Infinite Knowledge can be had only in God. Practice of Svadharma will surely lead to the attainment of God-consciousness. There is no happiness in finite objects. The Infinite alone is Bliss. Understand the truth through the practice of Svadharma. This world is unreal. It is like a mirage. Senses and mind are deceiving every moment. Wake up. Open your eyes. Learn to discriminate. Do not trust your Indriyas. They are your enemies. It is very difficult to get a human birth. Life is short. Time is fleeting. Those who cling to unreal things of this world are verily committing suicide. Struggle hard to practise your Svadharma. Keep the ideal before your eyes always. Have a programme of life. Attempt to realise the ideal. Stick to your daily spiritual practices with leech-like tenacity. Practise it and realise Sat-chit-ananda state right now in this very birth.