Aśrama Upaniṣad

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By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Asrama Upanisad, AZrama UpaniSad, Ashrama Upanishad


This is a minor Upaniṣad belonging to the Atharvaveda, which deals with the āśramas or stages of life briefly.

Types of Aśramas

There are four recognized āśramas :

  1. Brahmacarya - Those following this way of life are called as brahmacārins (Vedic students).
  2. Grahasthāśrama - Those following this way of life are called as gṛhasthas (householders).
  3. Vānaprasthāśrama - Those following this way of life are called as vānaprasthins (forest recluses).
  4. Sanyāsāśrama - Those following this way of life are called as sanyāsins (mendicants or monks).

Types of Brahmacārins

The brahmacārins are of four types :

  1. Gāyatra - A ‘gāyatra’ is the novice who has had his upanayana ceremony and has been taught the Gāyatrimantra. He is expected to subsist for three days after the upanayana, on food bereft of jaggery and salt.
  2. Brāhmaṇa - A ‘brāhmaṇa’ is one who lives in his preceptor’s house for 48 years to learn all the four Vedas, the study of each Veda needing about twelve years. Those who spend 24 years of their life with their perceptor are also called as brāhmaṇas.
  3. Prājāpatya - A ‘prājāpatya’ is one who is faithful to his wife. Those who spend 48 years of their life with their perceptor are also called as prājāpatyas.
  4. Bṛhan - The ‘bṛhan’ is one who lives with his preceptor throughout his life. He is also called ‘naiṣṭhika.’

Types of Gṛhasthas

The gṛhasthas are of four kinds :

  1. Vārtākavṛtti - They live on agriculture, dairy-farming, trade and commerce, the vocations considered blameless. They live their full span of life, working and praying to the Supreme Self.
  2. Śālinavṛtti - They perform the Vedic rituals, study the Vedas and give gifts to others. However, they do not undertake to perform Vedic sacrifices for others, nor teach the Vedas to others, nor accept gifts. They maintain the Vedic fires and pray to the Supreme Self.
  3. Yāyāvara - They perform sacrifices for themselves and for others; study and teach the Vedas; give and accept gifts. They also maintain the Vedic fires and pray to the Supreme Self.
  4. Ghora-sanyāsika - They are the most austere and particular in using water brought from wells. They purify the water by straining it. They live upon the grains picked up from the fields (This is called ‘uñchavṛtti’.) daily. These gṛhasthas too perform the prescribed Vedic rites throughout life and pray to the Supreme Self.


Types of Vānaprasthins

The vānaprasthins too are of four varieties :

  1. Vaikhānasa - They maintain the sacred fires with the help of dried wood grown wildly, perform the five daily sacrifices and pray to the Supreme Self.
  2. Udumbara - They also do the same thing as vaikhānasa except that they maintain the sacred fires by the wood of the fig or jujube trees found in the direction in which they wake up in the morning.
  3. Bālakhilya (or vālakhilya) - They wear long hair and coarse dress made of cotton, skin or bark, give up flowers and fruits on certain specified days, follow the earlier professions for maintenance, perform the five daily sacrifices and pray to the Supreme Self.
  4. Phenapa - They behave like insane persons, live by eating cast off leaves and fruits, maintain the Vedic fires wherever they are, perform the five daily sacrifices and pray to the Supreme Self.


Types of Sanyāsins

The sanyāsins pray to the Supreme Self. They also are of four categories :

  1. Kuticara - They beg their food from the houses of their own sons.
  2. Bahudaka - They wear all the insignias of the sanyāsins like wooden sandals, loin cloth, ochre robes and so on, and beg their food from the house of brāhmaṇas of good conduct. They keep the tuft of hair and the sacred thread also.
  3. Haihsa - They wear wooden sandals, loin cloth, ochre robes. They carry a staff and a waterpot. They roam about not halting in any place for more than one to three days and perform severe austerities.
  4. Paramahamsa - They are the highest in this series. They do not carry any of the usual insignia of a sanyāsins, live in deserted and lonely places like abandoned buildings or temples, have transcended all social rules, customs and manners, accept alms from all without distinction and practice supreme equanimity.


References

  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore