Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 09 Aug 2020


Spirituality From Childhood Or In Old Age?

[Dr. Nikhil asked: In Your message on June 30, 2020 to Shri Yogendra, You have recommended that a person’s education be comprised of only professional education that enables one to earn one’s livelihood. You have recommended leaving spiritual education to the end of a person’s life, as a post-retirement activity. I request Your kind clarification on this point...[Click to read detailed question→]

Swami replied: O Learned and Devoted Servants of God! What you said is perfectly correct, word by word. But My angle of dealing with this topic was based on the trend of the major lot of ordinary people in the present Kali age. The present trend is that the government is not insisting on spiritual education in childhood and certainly today, education is fully in the hands of private managements. Parents are also craving for the settlement of their children in materialistic life alone, without caring about spiritual life. The vigour and speed of the present trend in education is fully towards the professional side, without even a trace of interest in spiritual education.

I remember one incident which occurred in My presence. Some parents came to a private college that provided coaching for the intermediate examination (12th standard). Everybody knows that the total rush of the public is only towards private colleges and not towards government colleges. The parents are crazy about their children performing well in the entrance exams of professional colleges such as in the fields of engineering and medicine. In fact, they are so crazy about these entrance exams that they do not even care about their childrens’ performance in the main science subjects in the intermediate program (11th and 12th standard)! The parents asked the management of the private college, “Do you also coach students for the EAMCET and IIT-JEE entrance exams, apart from teaching the regular subjects of the intermediate program?”. The management replied “We first give coaching for the EAMCET and IIT-JEE entrance exams and only then teach the regular subjects in the intermediate program!” The parents were overwhelmed and admitted their children in the college, on the spot! They did not understand that coaching for the entrance exam of any professional course cannot be provided unless the main syllabus of the intermediate program is completed! I was there sitting as a teacher who taught students for the IIT-JEE entrance exam. This is the blind craze that people have for the professional line! They even neglect the main line of science education, which alone upon application becomes the various technical professional courses. Do you think that in such a dark atmosphere, people will look at spiritual education, even for a moment?

Hence, based on the present trend, I decided that the child will never study spiritual knowledge in childhood. Neither will the youth study it while they are youths. Based on this hard rocky atmosphere, I decided that people will only touch spiritual knowledge in their old age, when all their interest in materialistic education and materialism ceases to a great extent. Therefore, I started advising that spiritual education is meant to be pursued after retirement (vānaprastha āśrama), even though, it is really supposed to be studied in one’s childhood (brahmacarya āśrama). After retirement, during old age, a person’s mind is more attentive to God and spiritual knowledge because death is very near and only the last small bit of time remains. Using this point at least, spiritual knowledge can be introduced, as the last resort. With all due apologies to you, I have fixed professional education to be pursued during brahmacarya āśrama. This first stage of life committed to professional education is to be called dharmacarya āśrama, instead of brahmacarya āśrama since, during this stage, the students will not study about God or Brahman, but they will only study for the sake of their profession and earning their livelihoods. This stage of education for the sake of one’s profession and livelihood is called dharmacarya āśrama. This does not mean that dharmacarya āśrama is moral education or the knowledge of justice and injustice. It is not the learning of the dharma śāstra that deals with dharma and adharma in various issues. It is said to be dharmacarya in the sense that it is a justified activity. It indicates that even though the person has not chosen brahmacarya, which is spiritual education, it does not mean that the person has gone on the wrong track of injustice. Earning one’s livelihood through one’s hard and skilled work is a justified activity. It is essential to sustain oneself and one’s family (Śarīra yātrā’pi ca—Gītā). So, it is dharma. Hence, the stage of education where one learns the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue one’s profession can be called dharmacarya āśrama. Spiritual education (brahmacarya āśrama), which is the knowledge about God will then be postponed and merged with vānaprastha āśrama or retirement. When spiritual knowledge is postponed to vānaprastha, it is important that the retired person learns that knowledge from the Sadguru. This ensures that the spiritual knowledge received is perfectly accurate and complete in all respects. If the spiritual knowledge is received from some other source such as an ordinary Guru, there is a possibility of error. Since the retired person is nearing the end of his or her life, there is no time left to identify the errors and rectify them. So, My dear friend, Dr. Nikhil! Let us follow the powerful current of time of this Kali age and modify the existing norms, thinking that at least some thing done in the person’s old age is better than nothing.

Dharmacarya Āśrama

In the ancient times, the average lifespan of a person was 120 years and so, each of the four āśramas or stages in life would get 30 years. But the present average lifespan can be 80 years at the maximum. Hence, in the first āśrama (dharmacarya), which is up to the age of 20-25 years, a person completes professional education, which is called dharma or justice because it enables one to earn one’s livelihood and maintain oneself and one’s family. Then, the person enters the second āśrama (gṛhastha) in which one earns one’s livelihood (artha) and extends the human race through marriage (kāma). By the age of 40-50 years, the two materialistic āśramas are completed, which cover the three goals (puruṣārthas) of human life namely, dharma, artha and kāma. The third āśrama must start from 40-50 years of age, by which time, materialistic life is well-settled since one has acquired sufficient skill in one’s profession, due to which, one does not have to undergo much mental stress to continue in the profession. This third āśrama is called vānaprastha, in which one is supposed to go to the sages who live in the forest for learning spiritual knowledge from them. This third āśrama is mixed with gṛhastha āśrama also because complete retirement from materialistic life is only possible after 60 years of age. After this age, death can come to a person any day and hence, the third vānaprashta and the fourth saṃnyāsa have no fixed spans of time. One should at least, sincerely dedicate the remaining part of one’s life after 60 years of age to the vānaprastha and saṃnyāsa āśramas. In vānaprastha, one is supposed to learn spiritual knowledge and in saṃnyāsa, one is supposed to propagate the learnt spiritual knowledge. In ancient times, vānaprastha meant going to the forest since the spiritual preachers called the sages only lived in the forest. There is no need for the couple, who have been lifelong partners, to separate during vānaprastha or saṃnyāsa because both can assist each other in learning and propagating spiritual knowledge. Saint Sureśvara was accompanied by his wife Ubhayabhāratī, even in saṃnyāsa āśrama and Śaṅkara had given His consent to this.

In the education system, there are two topmost levels namely the gold medalist and the record-breaker, who even exceeds the gold medalist. In spiritual line also, these two levels exist. Śaṅkara was the record-breaker who completed brahmacarya by the age of 8 years, spent another 8 years in vānaprastha and propagated the spiritual knowledge (saṃnyāsa) in the last 16 years of His short life. Rāma was the gold medallist, who completed brahmacarya by 12 years of age, entered gṛhastha and maintained it up to 38 years of age and then entered vānaprastha and saṃnyāsa after that. Both Śaṅkara and Rāma were Incarnations of God and their life path is not possible for us to adopt. But they can be kept as inspiring goals so that we can achieve at least a little part of it. If we set the highest goal of 100% marks, we will at least be assured of getting passing marks. If we set a low goal of 40% marks, we will certainly fail in the examinations.

Overlapping Āśramas

Pravṛtti or the worldly path consists of dharma, artha and kāma. These three human goals or puruṣārthas are covered in the first two stages of life namely, the dharmacarya (not brahmacarya) and the gṛhastha āśramas. Nivṛtti or the spiritual path consists of the effort to attain mokṣa, which is covered in the brahmacarya, vānaprastha and saṃnyāsa āśramas. In present times, the sequential order of the four āśramas, each having a specific span of time is not possible. While studying dharmacarya (professional education) love affairs, which are actually related to gṛhastha āśrama are also seen. While leading gṛhastha āśrama there are some people who still continue their higher studies and there are other people, who are sincerely interested in the spiritual line. Therefore, it is not possible to arrange these āśramas in a sequence, allotting some specific time to each āśrama. These āśramas overlap with each other and they can be considered to be simultaneously running with each other on parallel tracks.

The spiritual scent or interest acquired by a soul in previous births gets awakened when the soul is exposed to a suitable atmosphere such as when the soul hears the words of a Sadguru (Yatate ca tato bhūyaḥ…—Gīta). This may take place at any age and in any āśrama. Hence, we need not give much importance to the sequence of these āśramas. The final accumulated account of progress made in the spiritual path or nivṛtti at the end of the person’s life alone needs to be considered. It is the overall spiritual achievement of that soul.

As such, most souls possess impure nivṛtti or impure devotion and this tendency is also induced by elders to a soul from childhood. Impure nivṛtti means devotion to God with an aspiration for materialistic benefits from God. This is basically business devotion. Pure nivṛtti is the devotion to God without aspiring for anything in return from God. This point of pure and impure nivṛtti is very very important in calculating the final spiritual achievement of the soul, at the end of its human life. Only pure nivṛtti is to be considered under nivṛtti. The impure nivṛtti in a person should change into pure nivṛtti at least as the person gets older.

Learning spiritual knowledge from the Sadguru can be done either in childhood, which is called brahmacarya āśrama or it can be done in one’s old age, which is called vānaprastha āśrama. If one’s childhood is dedicated to professional education, it is called dharmacarya āśrama. In it, one learns the knowledge and skills which will later be used to earn one’s livelihood, which is a justified activity (Śarīra yātrā’pi ca te…—Gīta). Hence it is called justice (dharma). But even if parents choose to dedicate their child’s childhood only to professional education (dharmacarya), at least an introduction to spiritual knowledge must be given. If the person is not even introduced to spiritual knowledge in childhood, then later on in life, when the person faces miseries due to his own wrong deeds, he might ask why he was not given any spiritual education. He might say that if he had been given some spiritual education in childhood, he would not have committed wrong and sinful deeds and he would not have had to suffer in life. To avoid that blame, some basic spiritual knowledge can be introduced even in dharmacarya as a subject. Also, parents and the family can introduce some spiritual knowledge to their children. But it is important to introduce correct spiritual concepts learned from the Sadguru and not the impure nivṛtti mentioned earlier. At the same time, it should be understood that forcing a child or person to study spiritual knowledge is of no use. In fact, some people may begin to hate spirituality if they are forced to study it. So, considering the person’s interest in spirituality is important.

For those who are interested, both spiritual and professional education can be acquired simultaneously in childhood, which can be called brahma-dharmacarya āśrama or dharma-brahmacarya āśrama, depending on the relative importance given to God or one’s profession. A soul may be associated with all the āśramas at different times, even on a single day. So, the sequence of these āśramas formulated with approximate spans of age and duration need not be strictly followed, if it poses any inconvenience. It is better to add dharmacarya āśrama to the original four āśramas, depending on the nature of the activity. Of course, dharmacarya is not an additional stage of life or an additional āśrama. Professional and spiritual education have merely been separated to suit modern requirements. Professional education (dharmacarya) has to be the first essential stage. Spiritual education (brahmacarya) can be taken during dharmacarya, gṛhastha or at least during vānaprastha as per one’s interest and convenience. God is very much pleased with the final saṃnyāsa āśrama, but it should be clearly understood that saṃnyāsa does not mean leaving the family and wearing a saffron cloth. These are only outward formalities and not the essence. The essence of saṃnyāsa is propagating the true spiritual knowledge attained from the Sadguru to the world, so that the world runs on peaceful lines. When the world runs peacefully, God, the creator of this world, is extremely pleased. Even in the saṃnyāsa āśrama, one need not leave his or her life partner. Both partners must help each other in the spiritual line and remember that there is no gender for the soul.

Sadguru or the Human Incarnation of God is not bound by any āśrama and, hence, He is called Atyāśramī, which means beyond all these āśramas. Āśrama means the continuous hard work or effort made to achieve something, either in materialistic life, which supports spiritual life or to achieve something in spiritual life (Āsamantāt sādhanarūpaḥ-śramaḥ āśramaḥ). The Sadguru comes down in human form to guide devotees in the proper pravṛtti and nivṛtti, which are the materialistic and spiritual lines, respectively. He is not bound by any effort since He is already in the final position of the ultimate goal. Only a soul is in the continuous effort to climb up to the highest goal, as said in the Gīta (Ārurukṣormuneryogam…).


| Shri Datta Swami | Spirituality From Childhood Or In Old Age? | Paraavidya Vaanaprastha aashrama Kaama Raama Rama Samnyaasa Yatate cha tato bhuuyah Shariira yaatrapi cha Gita Aasamantaat saadhanaruupah shramah aashramah Atyaashramii aarurukshormuneryogam pravrutti nivrutti Dharmacharya Gruhasta Shastra