Hindus divided the life into four stages also called ashramas. Life in this body is estimated as 100 years. Isa Upanishad says, Jijivet shatam shama. - one can have a strong and healthy life for hundred years.
First stage, brahmacharya, first twenty-five years is spent for study, with discipline and self-control. In modern times, study is a life long process with continuing education, board certifications etc.
In the stage of gruhastha, the second twenty-five years one enters the world to work, have family life and to bring excellence to the family and society. Gruhastashrama is considered the foundation of the society, as it is responsible for the other three stages with children going through brahmacharya, parents entering vanaprastha and the sannyasis who have given up the world to teach humanity. With late marriages, divorces and remarriages, there is now a blurred period of gruhastha.
The third twenty-five years as vanaprastha were spent in service to humanity – the children are now grown up and you have less responsibility and you can do more social and charitable work. When does this period really start and end? It is not practical as in ancient times for the seniors to go away into forests and lead the life of vanaprastha. It is in fact a continuum of service to the humanity when you are able and willing. There are youngsters who volunteer to serve in the hospitals, elder homes, and community centers when they are still in school. There are many with families, who spend a lot of time in the service of the community. We see many renunciates, leading the life of a sanyasa, yet serving the community with their spiritual teachings.
However, the people in the vanaprastha period are the most suitable to act as a strong support to the young, the married and to the renunciates. They have the experience and knowledge of the world and the wisdom. They can provide the physical and emotional support to the youngsters. Their needs, generally by this stage should have been reduced and they are self-contented. Any work would be done in the name of God without expectations of name and fame. This is their time to pay back to the society.
The remaining twenty-five years should be spent as sanyasa in contemplation and meditation so that the final exit will be peaceful and loving.
Let us take a moment to evaluate what stage we are in. Are we doing our share?