According to the Hindu tradition, there exists four unique stages in a human life with specific duties and characteristics for each phase if one is to attain moksha, or enlightenment. These stages are referred to as ashram dharma and were generally meant only for men from particular castes. If a human being lives on the earth plane for an average of 100 years, each stage lasts for 20 to 30 years, as time spent in each phase varies from person to person. Let’s take a look at each of these four stages to see if they might provide insight into your own journey as an embodied soul on the path to enlightenment.
This is the phase of childhood. People in this phase of their lives have a specific duty – that of study. Brahmacharya means "celibacy," which is one of the main characteristics of this phase. One needs only to study with his/her teacher or guru in this stage of life to develop the mind fully and immerse it in the wisdom of the Vedas.
The student, after finishing his/her education, would then return to his/her hometown to become a householder. In this phase, one gets married, raises a family, and works to provide for the family. Debts are paid, social obligations performed, and care of elders made a priority.
This stage begins when the wrinkles of old age set in – when one becomes a grandparent. It’s at this point when matters of the material world fall away and the spiritual ones take over. One becomes a hermit and leaves his/her family behind, moving to a place of seclusion and focusing solely upon prayer, meditation and other contemplative practices.
In this last stage, devotion to the ultimate liberation of enlightenment is the primary duty. Sannyasa is a time of renunciation, where only spiritual goals remain. One might even become a spiritual teacher.
While these four stages may not apply succinctly to us modern day yogis, they can provide some insight and a framework for our own path as souls seeking liberation.