[Advaita-l] Advaita-l Digest, Vol 59, Issue 8
svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Sun Jun 21 04:27:08 CDT 2009
> I remember having read that the practice of "vaanaprasthham" might
> have started as a means of marginalising, without much cruelty,
> unproductive old people who were unable to work in the agricultural
> field. It was said that the old people were taken to the forest and
> left there with a certain stock of foodgrains, clothes etc., in a hut
What a dreadfully heartless and dialectically materialistic interpretation
of old social practices! To describe it as not being too cruel is itself a
most cruel joke. Abandoning old people to their own devices just because
they are "unproductive" is just not part of approved behavior in Indian
culture and history. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen nor that it
never happened, just that it is not
As has already been pointed out, the vAnaprastha stage has always been
a little ill-defined. In the smRti texts, it is always only a recommendation.
It is basically a voluntary retirement. If one is looking for textual support
in Sruti, the only quotation one can find is the jAbAlopanishat, which
provides for both a sequential progression (brahmacaryA to gRhastha to
vAnaprastha to saMnyAsa) and a jumping to saMnyAsa from any of the
preceding stages (brahmacaryASramAd va, gRhAd vA, vanAd vA).
The older conception was explicitly that a man advancing in his years
should retire from the city/village/pastoral settlement and go live in the
forest along with his wife, after settling his children and other affairs in
order. The couple renounces ownership rights to most of their property
and settles the property among their heirs. Only the minimal needed to
sustain life is supposed to be kept. The later conception in texts like
the nirNayasindhu allow that a couple in the vAnaprastha stage can
stay away from but close to their chilren, not necessarily in a forest.
Throughout the centuries, the idea has always been that this stage is
to be given to tapasyA, to contemplation and preparing for a complete
renunciation of all worldly attachments. A person has to choose to go
away to the vAnaprastha stage, and learn to gradually wean away from
life as he or she knew it.
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