[Advaita-l] Advaita-l Digest, Vol 59, Issue 8

Vidyasankar Sundaresan 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.





Insert movie times and more without leaving HotmailĀ®.

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list