This chapter particularly describes the brahmacari and the person in the vanaprastha stage, and it also gives a general description of the four asramas—brahmacarya, grhastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa. In the previous chapter, the great saint Narada Muni has described the varna institution of society, and now, in this chapter, he will describe the stages of spiritual advancement in the four asramas, which are known as brahmacarya, grhastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa.
The brahmacari should live under the care of the true spiritual master, giving him sincere respect and obeisances, acting as his menial servant, and always carrying out his order. The brahmacari should engage himself in spiritual activities and study the Vedic literature under the direction of the spiritual master. According to the brahmacarya system, he should dress with a belt, deerskin, and matted hair and should bear a danda, waterpot and sacred thread. He should collect alms daily in the morning, and in the evening whatever alms he has collected he should offer to the spiritual master. A brahmacari should accept prasada upon the order of the spiritual master, and if the spiritual master sometimes forgets to order the disciple to eat, the disciple should not take prasada on his own initiative; rather, he should fast. The brahmacari should be trained to be satisfied with eating what is absolutely necessary, he should be very expert in executing responsibilities, he should be faithful, and he should control his senses and try to avoid the association of women as far as possible. A brahmacari should very strictly abstain from living with women and should not meet with grhasthas and those too addicted to women. Nor should a brahmacari speak in a lonely place with a woman.
After completing one’s education as a brahmacari in this way, one should give daksina, an offering of gratitude, to one’s guru, and then one may leave for home and accept the next asrama—the grhastha-asrama—or else one may continue in the brahmacarya-asrama without adulteration. The duties for the grhastha-asrama and brahmacarya-asrama, as well as the duties for sannyasis, are prescribed in the sastras. A grhastha is not meant to enjoy sex life without restriction. Indeed, the whole purpose of Vedic life is to become free from sexual indulgence. All the asramas are recognized for spiritual progress, and therefore although the grhastha-asrama gives a kind of license for sex life for a certain time, it does not allow unrestricted sex life. Therefore, in grhastha life also, there is no illicit sex. A grhastha should not accept a woman for sexual enjoyment. Wasting semen is also illicit sex.
After the grhastha-asrama is another asrama, known as vanaprastha, which is midway between grhastha and sannyasa. A person in the vanaprastha order is restricted in eating food grains and forbidden to eat fruits that have not ripened on the tree. Nor should he cook food with fire, although he is allowed to eat caru, grains that have been offered in a sacrificial fire. He may also eat fruits and grains that have grown naturally. Living in a thatched cottage, the vanaprastha should endure all kinds of heat and cold. He should not cut his nails or hair, and he should give up cleaning his body and teeth. He should wear tree bark, accept a danda, and practice life in the forest, taking a vow to live there for twelve years, eight years, four years, two years or at least one year. At last, when because of old age he can no longer perform the activities of a vanaprastha, he should gradually stop everything and in this way give up his body.
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