All knowledge is composed of theory and practice. In the spiritual traditions of India, the ancient Vedic science presents the theory and the systems of Yoga are the practice. Veda itself means knowledge, spiritual knowledge, and Yoga is the practical application of that knowledge. As practitioners of Yoga it is important not to overlook the wisdom of the Vedic science of consciousness. First, it gives us the knowledge to gain the true goal of life which is self-realization and spiritual liberation. Second, it provides the means to harmonize our lives with that spiritual purpose and this means how to take care of our physical body and our society including medicine, astrology, psychology, the arts, etc… Vedic society was an agrarian society in contact with the elements and the cycles of nature and the seers or mystics encompassed in their teachings all forms, levels and stages of life.
At a time when modern science is breaking through more subtle realms of mind and matter all the time we can begin to see the value of a spiritual science, outer and inner, a science of the eternal and the infinite, a sacred science.
According to the Vedas human life was seen as not different from the seasons in nature. What grows in Spring will not grow in the Autumn. The action which is appropriate in the Summer is out of place in the Winter. The span of a normal human life was regarded to be eighty-four years, not so far off from our present life expectancy. It consisted of four stages. The first twenty-one years is the Brahmacharya period, a time for the youth to learn which requires a certain discipline, guidance and purity for its full flowering.
Then comes the next twenty-one years, till forty-two. The householder phase, a time for raising children, working and fulfilling our role in society.
The third period, till sixty-three, is the hermitage or retirement stage, a time to return to contemplation, guiding of society in the distance and starting to simplify and relinquish ambitions.
The fourth and last stage is the Sannyasa or renunciation period. As an elder the goals of life are inwardly renounced. Ideally, his experience and spiritual knowledge allows him to be a source of counsel and teaching but he no longer partakes in social or political concerns. More advanced beings may go directly to this stage as swamis or monks, regardless of their age. Less advanced beings may not even qualify for the first stage and they may never develop the innocence, purity and humility of the Brahmachari.
We see that in this vision of life only twenty-one years are dedicated to the outer duties of life and that three quarters are devoted primarily to spiritual pursuits. Unfortunately, our present society is based mainly on adolescent values. Even the elderly are expected to act and dress like the young pursuing sex, sports and money. Such a society is one-sided and out of balance and denies the older person his natural movement towards detachment, meditation and spiritual development. As the elderly begin losing interest in the outer goals of life we tell them that they are old or sick and encourage them to remain active and worldly seeking not allowing them to grow in wisdom and become true teachers. We do not respect them and they feel we have abandoned them and as we live longer this problem becomes more acute.
David Frowley, Vedic scholar and yogi,* believes that a society that does not recognize the stages of life cannot flourish for long , “just as a farmer cannot be successful if he only knows the plants that flourish in one season. Nor can any individual be happy if he only follows the needs of a stage of life which is no longer appropriate for him.”
It is true that if we lack the dimension of spiritual growth we can have a distorted perspective on our existence but Vedic values can aid us restore the inner dimension of society and that of our individual existence. It is that power of aspiration which gives true meaning to our human life and allows us to appreciate the different stages of development regardless of our age.
* David Frowley, From the River of Heaven