Practice loyalty in the Ashrama of Vanaprastha

The Ashramas or stages of life are four, viz., Brahmacharya, the stage of student life; Grihastha, the stage of householder life; Vanaprastha, the stage of seclusion (forest-living); and Sannyasa, the stage of total renunciation. Each order of life has its own duties. In none of these stages must a man grasp at the special duties of the other three. At the present moment, it is difficult to maintain or observe the exact details of the ancient rules, as the conditions have changed very much. But, if we can have a clear idea of the fundamental duties of each, we shall still be able to shape the life through a regulated course of development and steady growth… He [the householder] must give good education to his sons and daughters and treat his wife well as she is his partner in life and religious performances (Ardhangini). Parents are veritable gods on earth. Therefore he should serve them nicely, and carry out their behests to their entire satisfaction. He should perform Sraddha (annual rites to the departed souls) every year and offer Tarpana to his Pitrus or ancestors. When the householder sees that his sons are able to bear the burden of his duties, when his grandsons are around him, the time has come for his wife and himself to retire from the world and spend their time in study and meditation. - Sri Swami Sivananda

The practice of loyalty is profoundly important to yogic training in the Ashrama of Vanaprastha: though the Dharma can be learned in any of the four Ashramas, it is through loyalty in the Ashrama of Vanaprastha that a person discovers their responsibilities, and comes to understand the Dharma.  A person naturally develops loyalty to their family, their spouse, and even to their society.

FAMILY: Unlike the Ashramas of Brahmacharya, Grihastha, or even Sannyasa, in the Ashrama of Vanaprastha parents are worshiped in the same manner as one might venerate a god; loyalty is the form of this veneration.  Siblings are worthy of devotion.  Ancestors are honored.  Such parental and filial loyalty can be loosely compared to a concept of chivalry.  The child becomes questioner, advisor, defender, and in so many ways a servant not to their family, but becomes a servant to their loyalty itself.  They do what such loyalty demands.

SPOUSE: In the Ashrama of Vanaprastha, a spouse becomes the second half of body, heart and mind; Swami Sivananda teaches that "no training or practice in the Ashrama of Vanaprastha can be valid without the spouse's participation."  Beyond helper, beyond friend or companion, a spouse becomes what in other Ashramas would be understood as "self."  As one can never truly be disloyal to the self, disloyalty to a spouse should be impossible.  It matters little whether the spouse is of the same or different sex; the marriage is not sexual in nature, but a relationship of the purest love, which is the expression of pure loyalty.

CHILDREN: In the Ashrama of Vanaprastha, when a child is born, the two-fold self which manifested in the marriage becomes embodied.  By performing acts of loyalty, the child teaches the parents that they do not exist for procreation only but energizes the practice of the parents toward the Ashrama of Sannyasa, ennobling their parents toward achieving the full human potential.  The child teaches Vanaprastha is only a preparatory step to Sannyasa.  And when the child can assume the responsibilities of their parents, it is time for the parents to let go of their responsibilities.

SOCIETY: The very act of socialization in the Ashrama of Vanaprastha serves to develop purity of mind if undertaken through loyalty: this is not simple patriotism.  When a person serves society to the extent of their ability, temperament, taste and capacity, they develop sufficient politeness and courtesy to civilize themselves.  They begin to see their own face in those faces of their neighbors, and understand the co-dependency and co-origination of all phenomenon; veneration naturally develops into sacred worship. Such loyalty helps a person transfigure themselves from the destiny and caste of their birth into that of the ultimate human potential.  Commercial service leads to industrial productivity, industrial productivity leads to civil prowess, splendour, firmness, dexterity, bravery, generosity, a noble and royal nature. Such ennobling when perfected by loyalty leads to serenity, self-restraint, austerity, purity, forgiveness, uprightness, wisdom, knowledge and profound understanding.