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Hinduism: The Four Stages of Life

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  • 0:01 Introduction to Stages
  • 0:56 The Student
  • 1:37 The Householder
  • 2:21 The Hermit
  • 3:15 The Sannyasin
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will define and explore the four stages of Hindu life. In doing so, it will highlight the stages of the Student, the Householder, the Hermit, and the Sannyasin.

Introduction to Stages

When speaking of stages in life, most of us think of things like puberty, young adulthood, or middle age. However, if we lived in a predominantly Hindu culture, our stages would be termed the Student, the Householder, the Hermit, and the Sannyasin. Today, we'll be discussing these four Hindu stages of life, known as Ashramas, and what they mean to the devout of the Hindu faith.

Before we get to the individual stages, there are a few things we have to get down. First, Hindus believe they move through these stages not only in their present life, but also as they are reincarnated into their next life. In Hinduism, this reincarnation is known as samsara. Second, these stages traditionally only apply to Hindu men since women are seen as completely dependent on their husbands or male family members for their movement through life. Now, on to our stages.

The Student

The Student is our first stage in Hindu life. Aptly named and easy to remember, this is the stage in which a young Hindu man leaves his family home and goes to live with a guru, or teacher. In Western terms, this usually begins around adolescence.

Also fitting the name 'student,' the young Hindu in this stage spends most of his time studying the sacred Hindu texts, known as the Vedas. Along with his studies, the student learns how to practice and preserve his own personal household worship. In other words, he'll learn how to practice Hinduism throughout all his coming stages.

The Householder

The next stage is that of the Householder. Again, easy to remember, this is the stage in which a man marries and sets up a household and family. As a householder, a man is expected to contribute to the good of society by holding a job and being active in the community. Along with his wife, a householder is expected to foster the Hindu faith in his children and family.

Adding to his workload, he is expected to support the members of his family who are in the stages before and after him. To give it a Western twist, the householder can be very loosely compared to our adults and middle-agers who find themselves caring for both their children and their aging parents.

The Hermit

This brings us to the next stage of life, the Hermit. In this stage, a man releases himself from the burden of caring for a household and passes the responsibility of maintaining material wealth down to the next generation. Sort of like our idea of retirement, and even sometimes referred to by religious scholars as retirement, the hermit passes the family baton on to his son and is freed from the need to hold a job.

However, unlike Western retirement, the life of a hermit is not to be spent golfing all day or moving to a condo in Florida. On the contrary, a hermit is expected to spend his new 'free time' delving deeper into a life of spiritual maturity and pursuit. Once a hermit becomes completely spiritual and pure, he can move on to our last stage of life, known as the Sannyasin.

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