The Vanaprastha-asrama and its practical application
1. What is vanaprastha?
The word vanaprastha is composed of the words vana, meaning “forest” and prastha, meaning “to go,” so a vanaprastha is “One has gone to the forest.” Vanaprastha is an asrama in the Vedic varnasrama system. An asrama can be both a physical and mental place and refers to “a place where one cultivates spiritual life, where culture of the spiritual is foremost.”
The vanaprastha order is complete retirement from householder life, a time when one prepares oneself for going back to Godhead. It requires shedding one’s material attachments to become free of the repetition of birth and death (samsara). Every man and woman should be trained for this purpose.
2. Srila Prabhupada wanted to establish varnasrama-dharma, and specifically, daiva varnasrama-dharma, in ISKCON to save human society from gliding down to hellish life.
Vanaprastha is one of four asramas in the varnasrama system. Srila Prabhupada wanted to establish varnasrama-dharma, also known as the Vedic civilization. If established systematically, it will change humankind. He was confident that the varnasrama system would cleanse the hearts of everyone, allowing all to receive and understand spiritual knowledge.
(The grhasthas, vanaprasthas, brahmacaris and sannyasis should endeavor together with their total energy to become Krsna conscious. This type of civilization is called daiva-varnasrama. One of the objectives of the Krsna consciousness movement is to establish this daiva-varnasrama-dharma society. This was the second half of my mission.)
“The Krsna consciousness movement, however, is being propagated all over the world to reestablish the varnasrama-dharma system and thus save human society from gliding down to hellish life.” (SB. 5.19.19, purport)
“Without cleansing the heart, it is very difficult to understand and receive spiritual knowledge. All these reformatory measures—brahmacari, grhastha, vanaprastha—they are simply the cleansing method. And bhakti is also a cleansing method, vidhi-bhakti.” (Lecture on SB. 6.1.34–39, Surat, December 19, 1970)
Daiva-varnasrama is defined as strictly following the principles of the Vedas and, particularly, becoming Krishna conscious:
“The grhasthas, brahmacaris, and sannyasis should endeavor together with their total energy to become Krsna conscious. This type of civilization is called daiva-varnasrama.” (SB. 7.14.10, purport)
“If we want to establish Vedic civilization, then we must follow strictly the principles of Vedas as it is described in the Bhagavad-gita. And if it is practiced, then it is daiva-varnasrama-dharma.” Lecture on BG. 2.2–6, Ahmedabad, December 11, 1972)
Asrama-dharma is a gradual process on the path of self-realization. The main purpose of asrama-dharma is to awaken knowledge and detachment. Varnasrama-dharma trains one to completely retire from worldly life in his or her remaining days of life and prepares one for going back to Godhead.
“The system of varnasrama-dharma prepares a man for going back to Godhead, and thus a householder is ordered to go to the forest as vanaprastha to acquire complete knowledge and then to take sannyasa prior to his inevitable death.” (SB 1.19.4, purport)
“(One should) prepare for the remaining days of one’s life for spiritual culture. That is called vanaprastha. So vanaprastha means retired life and training for completely renouncing this worldly life.” (Lecture on SB. 7.6.6–9, Montreal, June 23, 1968)
“The system of the sanatana-dharma institution is so made that the follower is trained for the better next life without any chance that the human life will be spoiled. The holy places all over the world are meant for the residential purposes of retired persons getting ready for a better next life”. (SB. 2.1.16, purport)
3. According to Vedic civilization one should get out of materialistic life by the age of 51. Doing so is compulsory; as well as the householders’ duty to take vanaprastha.
Pancasordhvam vanam vrajet means one must climb out of the grham andha-kupam (the “blind well of householder life”) and vanam vrajet (go to the forest). Vrajet means “compulsory.”
“The Vedic principle is that you remain in family life for some time, not for all the days. Pancasordhvam vanam vrajet. As soon as you’re fifty years old, you must give up family life. It is compulsory. (Lecture on SB. 3.25.22, Bombay, November 22, 1974)
This is an authoritative statement of the Vedas. (SB. 3.24.35, purport)
“Going to the forest is compulsory for everyone. It is not a mental excursion upon which one person goes and another does not. Everyone should go to the forest at least as a vanaprastha. Forest-going means to take one-hundred-percent shelter of the Supreme Lord, as explained by Prahlada Maharaja in his talks with his father.” (SB. 3.24.41, purport)
Therefore, it becomes all grhasthas’ duty to take Vanaprastha asrama because generally, we are not able to stay fixed in transcendence and tend to fall into maya. The duties in varnasrama, even though temporary, are God-given and serve to assist the conditioned soul to become unconditioned, or centered on the soul, if properly followed. The Vedas are the word of God. All devotees following the rules of varna and asrama should respect God’s words as they are given in the Vedas. In both the srutis and the smrtis, the Lord gives many prescribed duties, in varnasrama system especially for householders.
Srila Prabhupada gave all his disciples brahmana diksa. He wanted all brahmana men and women to accept vanaprastha, and then for the men to take sannyasa.
“I will suggest now in your old age (when your sons are grown up and well situated), why not join this movement and retire from family life? According to our Vedic principle, a person, especially a brahmana, should leave home after the 50th year and accept the order of vanaprastha” (Letter to Dinanatha, Honolulu, June 14, 1975)
“The brahmana, one who is qualified as a brahmana, he has to observe the four asramas, a brahmana: the brahmacari-asrama, the grhastha-asrama, the vanaprastha-asrama, and sannyasa-asrama.” (Lecture on SB. 1.8.41, Mayapur, October 21, 1974)
“For a brahmana, the four asramas are compulsory. He must become a brahmacari. Then from brahmacari he becomes grhastha. Then from grhastha he must become vanaprastha. Then he must become a sannyasi. (Lecture on SB 3.25.22, Bombay, November 22, 1974)
Srila Prabhupada compares taking vanaprastha to “civil suicide.”
My guru maharaja used to say, ‘Commit civil suicide.’… If you commit suicide it is criminal. It is also suicide – no more connection with family. This is also suicide, but it is civil. There is no criminal action against … But it is also voluntarily committing suicide – no more connection with anyone.” (Lecture on SB. 1.8.41, Mayapur, October 21, 1974)
4. According to Srila Prabhupada, the main goal of vanaprastha is to develop detachment from the material world.
Actually, the practice of detachment should begin even while one is still situated in family life. Controlling the senses is a preparation for sannyasa.
“The development of detachment should begin whilst living at home, without sex, and slowly moving to a more detached situation by association, study, traveling, preaching, etc.” (SB. 4.29.54, purport)
“Household life is for one who is attached, and the vanaprastha and sannyasa orders of life are for those who are detached from material life. The brahmacari-asrama is especially meant for training both the attached and detached.” (SB. 1.9.26, purport)
(It is a very good suggestion to open the vanaprastha institute. The elderly people can live there according to the Vaisnava principles and worship the Deity and take prasada.)
5. Attachment in householder life, and the position of an attached householder.
Srila Prabhupada condemned attachment in householder life and strongly recommended to get out of household life.
“One should not simply remain at home until the time of death, but should separate from family life at a timely moment and prepare himself to go back to Godhead.” (SB. 4.23.1–3, purport)
“Prahlada Maharaja has advised that one give up this blind well of home life as soon as possible and go to the forest to take shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But people are so attached to their homes that even up to the point of death they do not like to retire from home life.” (SB. 4.13.46, purport)
Lord Kapila (SB. 3.30.9–18) gives graphic descriptions of an attached householder, and Srila Prabhupada comments on those verses:
“An attached family man maintains his family members very diligently, but when he becomes old and is unable to earn, he is treated like a dog by the same family members. Before meeting death one is sure to become a diseased invalid and he is put into so many miserable conditions. The Vedic literatures therefore enjoin that before the arrival of such miserable conditions one should leave home and die without the knowledge of his family members. If a man leaves home and dies without his family’s knowing, that is considered to be a glorious death.”
6. Srila Prabhupada’s recommendations and encouragement to devotees in ISKCON as well as non-devotees. Everyone can benefit from this Vedic system of vanaprastha.
“In our Krishna consciousness movement, we therefore invite all the elderly persons of the world to come to Vrndavana and stay there in retired life, making advancement in spiritual consciousness, Krsna consciousness.” (SB. 7.5.5, purport)
“We do not have a center in Hardwar, but Vrndavana and Sridhama Mayapur are better for devotees than any other places. The Caitanya Candrodaya temple offers one a good opportunity to associate with devotees. Let us all take advantage of this opportunity.” (SB. 6.2.39, purport)
In the following letters to Dr. Y. G. Naik and Sri Srinivasan, Srila Prabhupada suggests that one take vanaprastha and to go to ISKCON centers in either Vrndavana, Mayapur, or Bombay to perform devotional service.
“I would suggest humbly that since you are already retired from service and your sons are well situated, that you may retire from your family life and live in Vrindaban in the vanaprastha order … I hope you will try to understand my point of view and join this movement to make it more appreciable by the people in general all over the world.” (Letter to Dr. Y. G. Naik, Toronto, August 7, 1975)
“Therefore, according to Varnasrama Dharma you should spend the rest of your life simply engaged in the devotional service of the Lord. The best thing is for you to either go to our Vrndavana center or our Mayapur center or our Bombay center and live there for the rest of your life, chanting Hare Krsna, feeling the bliss of being fully engaged
in the service of Sri Krsna … Then when it comes time to leave your body at the end of life you will go to Krsna.” (Letter to Sri Srinivasan, December 23, 1974)
7. Consequences of sense gratification.
Srila Prabhupada mentions many times that one should try to reduce sense gratification, which creates envy, destroys our spirit of devotional desire, and causes us to minimize our awareness of the need to preach Krsna consciousness. By indulging in material sense gratification, we become miserable and our remembrance of Krsna is covered over.
8. Srila Prabhupada was concerned for his young householder disciples.
Srila Prabhupada always thought of the spiritual welfare of his young married disciples who were sincerely engaged in the Supreme Lord’s service. He specifically instructed them to eventually disconnect from family life and take vanaprastha.
“It is not that a grhastha should live at home until he dies. Vanaprastha is preliminary to sannyasa. In the Krsna consciousness movement there are many young couples engaged in the Lord’s service. Eventually they are supposed to take vanaprastha, and after the vanaprastha stage the husband may take sannyasa in order to preach. The wife may then remain alone and serve the Deity or engage in other activities within the Krsna consciousness movement.” (Cc. Madhya 24.259, purport)
Srila Prabhupada propagated the idea that systematically planned separation is better than forced separation. He argued that if one will be separated from his or her family in one way or another, why not separate willingly?
“Being disgusted with family life, one separates from the family by divorce or some other means. If one has to separate, why not separate willingly? Systematic separation is better than forced separation.” (SB 5.13.8, purport)
9. The traditional vanprastha system and its present-day challenges.
The traditional vanaprastha system is described in SB. 7.12.17–22, and the traditional behavior of a vanprastha is described in SB. 11.17.33 and 11.18.1–12, 25, and 42, as well as in several other places in Srimad-Bhagavatam.
However, it is not feasible to follow these injunctions exactly as they are laid out today. Rather, we should follow Srila Prabhupada’s advice, which are given according to time, place, and circumstance.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura states that those who are not transcendental to the three modes, including those who are in the vanaprastha-asrama, must go through all the asramas.
10. The goal of moving through the grhastha-asrama is to develop gradual detachment from householder life and to later adopt the detached asrama of vanaprastha.
Srila Prabhupada was very much concerned for the welfare of his Society and often appealed to his followers to gradually become detached from family life. He said there is no misery greater than material attachment and no happiness as fine as detachment.
“One should be very much ashamed of remaining a householder and not promoting oneself to the two higher stages, namely vanaprastha and sannyasa.” (SB. 9.19.2, purport)
“One should not, however, become self-complacent simply by leaving home or by creating another home at the holy place, either lawfully or unlawfully.” (SB 2.1.6, purport)
His Holiness Jayadvaita Swami was interested in making vanaprastha-asrama visible with official ceremony. During the ceremony of Vanapravesh for me and my wife he made the comments:
“In any case, one should wind down material life until nothing is left so that one will have to totally depend on the Supreme Lord’s mercy. Life is the preparation and death is the final examination.” (Talk given during an official ceremony for Vanapravesh, March 7, 2016, old gurukula grounds in Mayapur)
11. Srila Prabhupada himself took vanaprastha.
“I myself passed my life as a householder until 1950, when I retired from family life as a vanaprastha. I was preaching and writing for eight or nine years as vanaprastha. “Letter to Mahatma, Bombay, May 1, 1974)
12. The grhastha’s duty is to maintain the other three classes of people who strive only for advancement in spiritual life and to perform austerity.
According to Srila Prabhupada, all devotees should strive for spiritual advancement and stop sense gratification. Devotees in asramas other than the grhastha should not make money but should depend on householders. It is the householders’ duty to maintain brahmacaris, vanaprasthas, and sannyasis.
“The brahmacaris, vanaprasthas, and sannyasis – they don’t have to do anything but strive for spiritual advancement in spiritual life. This means that three-fourths of the entire population should stop sense gratification.”
“Only the grhasthas are allowed to earn money. But the brahmacari and the vanaprastha and sannyasis live at the cost of the grhasthas. That means it is the duty of the grhasthas, or the householders, to maintain the other three sections of the people. (Lecture on SB. 7.6.6–9, Montreal, June 23, 1968)
(In spiritual life, whether one is a grhastha, vanaprastha, sannyasi or brahmacari, everyone is under the control of the spiritual master.)
(The charity will be accepted by the brahmacari and sannyasa. Not the vanaprastha.)
In the vanaprastha stage of life tapasya, or austerity, is strongly recommended. Without it no human being can achieve liberation.
The duty of those in the vanaprastha-asrama is to undergo austerity:
(Austerity, study of Vedic literature, and philosophical research are meant for the vanaprasthas, or retired persons.)
“Brahmacari should offer yajna, grhastha should give in charity, and sannyasi, vanaprastha should undergo tapasya. Yajna-dana-tapah-karma. We should not give up this, these things.” (Lecture on SB. 5.6.2, Vrndavana, November 24, 1976)
“Human life is meant for tapasya, austerity, and penance. By tapasya, one can get out of the material clutches. Tapasya means voluntarily accepting some inconveniences.” (SB 5.5.1, purport)
13. Qualifications for entering vanaprastha.
The main qualifications for entering vanaprastha for men are:
One must be sufficiently mature physically, mentally, and spiritually. Detachment from material life and dependence on Krsna are required.
Vanaprastha is not a change of dress or title but a change of mentality.
One’s senses should be sufficiently under control.
There should be a willingness and ability to cut attachment to family and home.
One should be determined not to engage in loose association, womanizing, idle talk, and any form of unnecessary sense gratification.
Association with one’s wife, if done at all, should be restricted and in order to gain her help in serving the Lord.
“One who is not married – a sannyasi, brahmacari, or vanaprastha – should rigidly avoid anything related to sex and of course should never see any living entity, whether bird, insect, or human, engaging in the various phases of sexual intercourse.” (SB. 11.17.33, purport)
Vanaprasthas should have good sadhana and a favorable devotional attitude. They have a responsibility as society’s elders to help care for their juniors.
14. Our recommendation and humble request to Srila Prabhupada’s followers is that they take his instructions regarding vanaprastha seriously.
As mentioned above, Srila Prabhupada was very much concerned for his disciples. Many of the devotee couples who were young during Srila Prabhupada’s time have been steadily practicing Krsna consciousness in the grhastha-asrama for years. Now, those devotees are in their fifties and sixties. It’s time for them to come forward and take Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on vanaprastha to heart. This will set an example for their younger counterparts and set a mood for future generations. And they could preach and help ISKCON’s members develop deeper roots, attract new people, share their wisdom and become mentors.
The prime benefit for those devotees who adopt Vanaprastha will be, because of their life experiences, they would be very good teachers, mentors or guide plus either alone or together they would be excellent gurus to help furthering our Gaudiya Vaishnava ‘parampara’.
Those who have accepted the responsibility of serving as spiritual masters for the generation of devotees after Srila Prabhupada’s departure have the duty of making sure their disciples adopt the vanaprastha which will help them in their journey to go back home back to Godhead. The spiritual master’s duty is to engage his disciples according to what is favorable for their spiritual advancement.
B. Visual presence of the vanaprastha-asrama in our society.
In the past, and except for the writings of Janananda Maharaja, there has been little written about the vanaprastha-asrama. Janananda Maharaja published a book on the subject in February 2007.
Currently, devotees are giving seminars and courses on and preaching about the vanaprastha-asrama in ISKCON. For example, Her Grace Devaki Devi Dasi has established the Institute for Spiritual Culture, where courses on varnasrama-dharma and the vanaprastha-asrama are taught. His Holiness Romapada Swami also recently conducted a seminar at Gita-nagari entitled “Exploring Varnasrama.”
Consequently, some devotees have developed a theoretical knowledge of vanaprastha. Others may even be quietly practicing vanaprastha in our Society. Unfortunately, because there are few visible examples of devotees practicing vanaprastha, the vanaprastha-asrama is not an officially established and visible asrama.
C. Benefits of the Vanaprastha-asrama.
Aspiring to the vanaprastha-asrama helps develop the mood of a gosvami, or controller of the senses. The preface to The Nectar of Instruction states: “First, one must become a perfect gosvami and then a pure devotee of the Lord.”
The natural progression of the winding down of family affairs prepares one for uninterrupted meditation on the purpose of life: to develop Krishna consciousness free from life’s material demands.
Vanaprastha is not recommended as a way to boost for one’s the ego but to facilitate one’s focus on self-realization, particularly on the exclusive service of the Supreme Lord. To gain that focus involves leaving the service of one’s grown family in the hands of those still engaged by age and inclination in family affairs.
Going through an official public ceremony is one method to confirm entrance into vanaprastha-asrama and would ease the transition both for the individual entering the asrama and those he or she is leaving behind.
One should accept vanaprastha naturally and without duplicity. It is not simply a formality but an internal state of detachment matched with appropriate external behavior. It is not an artificial social imposition.
D. Feasibility and mentality behind adopting the vanaprastha-asrama.
The sannyasa-asrama may be out of reach for many devotees – all women and most men – but adopting the vanaprastha-asrama is much more possible for anyone serious about their spiritual life, especially those who have practiced Krsna consciousness for years. His Holiness Janananda Maharaja writes:
“Those who have been steadily practicing Krsna consciousness in the grhastha-asrama for many years should have an irreplaceable depth of experience, conviction, and realization which is essential for the onward progress through the asramas and then back to Godhead. No amount of theoretical knowledge and sentiment can compare to that.”
E. Considerations for Practical Application.
Taking vanaprastha at age 51 may not be feasible in this day and age but at the latest, by 65.
2. Economic security
As far as vanaprasthas living dependent on householders, the main concern is economic security. Our ISKCON Society is not in a position to maintain a vanaprastha-asrama. As an alternative, we suggest that wherever there is facility near a temple, the temple should provide housing for retired devotees (similar to retirement or assisted-living facilities) so that devotees accepting vanaprastha can perform devotional service at the temple. If a temple cannot provide accommodations, then vanaprasthas can move to a nearby farm community and perform service there.
3. Association with the opposite sex.
Those who are not married should avoid associating with the opposite sex by glancing, touching, conversing, joking, or sporting while living in community or serving at a temple.
4. Detachment from wife and family.
According to Vedic principles, when retiring from family life one can take his wife with him, for the husband and wife are considered to be a unit and so can perform austerities for liberation together. One should not simply remain at home until time of death, but should separate from family life at timely moment and prepare himself to go back to Godhead. Vanaprastha means husband and wife give up sex. The wife is expected to give up any luxuries, remain austere, and only accept the bare necessities of life and the husband is expected to give up all the luxuries the wife provides.
1. The wife’s duty.
When both husband and wife follow the regulative principles of austerity, they remain silent – that is, they do not speak prajalpa – and are not agitated by sex desire. Then both husband and wife will receive spiritual benefit.
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: One who desires to adopt the third order of life, vanaprastha, should enter the forest with a peaceful mind, leaving his wife with his mature sons, or else taking her along with him.” (SB 11.18.1)
“Nonetheless, the wife is expected to give up all luxurious habits. In this way both husband and wife can advance in spiritual consciousness. This advanced stage is called the paramahamsa stage, and once it is obtained, both husband and wife can be actually liberated from bodily consciousness.” (S.B. 4.28.44, purport)
If the husband takes sannyasa, the wife would return to the protection of her eldest son (or her children).
“When the husband takes the renounced order of life, namely sannyasa, the wife is to return home and become a saintly woman, setting an example for her children and daughters-in-law and showing them how to live a life of austerity.” (SB 4.23.20, purport)
One can take ksetra-sannyasa, if it is feasible.
“When one takes ksetra-sannyasa, he leaves his household life and goes to a place of pilgrimage devoted to Lord Visnu. Such places include Purusottama (Jagannatha Puri), Navadvipa-dhama, and Mathura-dhama. The ksetra-sannyasi lives in these places alone or with his family. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura considers ksetra-sannyasa to be the preferable vanaprastha situation in this Age of Kali.” (Cc., Madhya 16.130, purport)
F. Overall Theme
“At the last stage of one’s life, one should be bold enough not to be afraid of death. But one must cut off all attachment to the material body and everything pertaining to it and all desires thereof.” (SB. 2.1.15)
G. Formal methods for transitioning into the Vanaprastha-asrama.
Currently, there is no vanaprastha ceremony to mark this transition, but there are two good reasons to create such a ceremony:
a. It will help devotees transitioning into the vanaprastha-asrama consider the importance of their commitment. Also, doing so allows and invites the blessings of the community so that devotees will be successful in their endeavor.
b. A ceremony would make the idea of vanaprastha visible to all members of society.
The ceremony can consist of a fire sacrifice similar to what we perform for brahmana initiation. There are many fire sacrifices performed in our Society to mark samskaras, including entrance into the grhastha-asrama and entrance into the sannyasa-asrama. There could be a similar ceremony for initiation into the vanaprastha-asrama.
2. Suggestion for adopting vanaprastha-asrama as an intermediate, preparatory step before sannyasa.
Currently, sannyasa candidates have a waiting period of several years, during which the Sannyasa Ministry observes the sadhana and service activities of the candidate and allows him to engage in the types of preaching activities he would perform as a sannyasi. During that waiting period a grhastha applying for sannyasa candidacy may accept vanaprastha as an intermediate preparatory state and make himself visible.
(Taking of sannyasa order is in one sense only a formality. After couple of years as Vanaprastha, sannyasa can be considered if one’s behavior is ideal.)
3. Receiving a title.
According to Gaudiya sampradaya tradition Vanaprasthas are known as Vanacaris or GauraVanacari, just as grhasthas are called Adhikari and sannyasis Swami or Goswami.
Vanaprastha devotees could receive their title depending on the location of initiation – those accepting entrance into the asrama in Vrndavana can be called Vanacari and those in Mayapur GauraVanacari. Outside these locations, grhastha the title can be left up to the initiating spiritual master.
(Gauravana is Lord Gauranga’s forest of Navadvipa and is described as the “shining golden tilaka covered with the white garments of Ganga’s waters, splendid with blossoming champaka flowers, filled with various rasas, and saturated with the sweetest nectar of krsna-prema, which is forever relished by the beloved son of Sri Jagannatha Misra. It is filled with the unlimited nectar of the sweet name of Radha.)
1. Dress code:
At the time of a formal ceremony, along with the required blessings of the spiritual master, appropriate clothing can also be presented. Men can wear yellow dhoti grhastha style, which symbolizes that one is undergoing a vow, and women can wear a simple sari. A married woman can wear plain white saris with a colored border when she is with her husband or family.
In all cases, simplicity and detached mentality would be the order.
“The dress code will create effective impressions on grhasthas’ minds that grhastha life is not everything and will not remain enjoyable forever, because as time goes by the body will have biological affects and become invalid in old age. Therefore, it is advisable to adopt vanaprastha, which is a winding down of the business of family life, and [coming to think], “I am not this perishable body – antavanta ime deha. This material body will die at any time, so I should develop vairagya vidya – spiritual knowledge in Krsna consciousness.” (Jayadvaita Swami, during an official ceremony for vanapravesh, March 7, 2016, on old gurukula grounds in Mayapur)
G. Specific Vanaprastha Behaviors and Practices
1. Specific behaviors and practices are found in the following scriptures:
“Tapas, or austerity, is especially meant for the retired life. A man retired from household life must practice austerities of the body, mind and tongue.” (BG. 16.1–3, purport)
“Similarly, austerity, study of Vedic literature, and philosophical research are meant for the vanaprasthas, or retired persons.” (SB. 3.32.34–36, purport)
“It is the practice of the yogi, brahmacari, vanaprastha,
and sannyasi to bathe at least three times daily – early in the morning, during noontime, and in the evening.” (SB 3.33.14, purport)
“The grhastha-asrama is a sort of concession combining sense gratification with a regulative life. Those in the renounced order of life (the vanaprasthas and sannyasis) must practice penance and austerities. These are the procedures by which everyone can be elevated to the spiritual platform.” (SB. 4.14.9, purport)
“Tapasya is meant for the renounced order of life; those who are retired from worldly activities should perform tapasya, penances and austerities.” (SB. 4.12.10, purport)
“When both husband and wife follow the regulative principles of austerity, they remain silent and are not agitated by sex impulses. At such a time both husband and wife are benefited spiritually. One can attain this stage of life by completely giving up a luxurious mode of life.” (SB. 4.28.44, purport)
Based on the above quotes and elsewhere in Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, specific ideal standard behaviors/the specific practices for vanaprastha can be summarized as:
1. Performing austerities related to the tongue, body, and mind.
2. Bathing three times a day or at least twice a day.
3. Cultivating brahminical qualities such as truthfulness, mildness, sincerity, tolerance, forgiveness, self-control, friendship, benevolence, and nonviolence.
4. Avoiding food from unclean places, eating more than required, and eating at night.
5. Honoring prasadam prepared by devotees who chant at least sixteen rounds a day, whenever possible.
6. Increasing austerities for self-purification.
7. Living simply and without wasting time, while fixing the mind on devotional service to Krsna.
8. Studying scripture, conducting philosophical research, and preaching. Vanaprasthas are usually teachers or mentors or guide. One advantage a vanaprastha has over someone in the sannyasa-asrama is that he or she can guide grhasthas through their difficulties with the wisdom of having lived through the asrama themselves. Because of their life experience Vanaprasthas either alone or together would make excellent gurus and help furthering our Gaudiya Vaishnava ‘parampara’.
9. Being simple and straightforward and not duplicitous when dealing with oneself and others
10. Avoiding managerial positions, because profit (labha), prestige (pratistha), and adoration (puja) are natural by-products of position. Best not to seek such positions out. Pratistha is called sukarera vistha (pig stool). If one must take management responsibilities, be attached only to serving and not to the position.
11. Avoiding association with the opposite sex whether by glancing, touching, conversing, joking, or sporting.
12. Sleeping separate from one’s spouse and, if possible, on the floor or in a simple bed.
13. Avoiding engagement in material, social, or family affairs.
14. Controlling the tongue (no more gramya-katha) and senses (vaco vegam). Don’t criticize anything or anyone.
15. As far as possible, try to live apart from the family, and practice remaining alone.
16. Sleep only six hours a day and rise during the brahma-muhurta.
17. Spending as much time as possible performing quality japa.
18. Reducing bodily needs. Simplify everything. Renunciation is the wealth of the brahmanas.
19. Serve, and whenever possible, travel with advanced Vaisnavas.
20. At the time of vanaprastha pravesh, following the example of Rupa Gosvami, divide your money: 50 percent distributed to qualified and pure devotees of the Lord or for the propagation of the Krsna consciousness movement; 25 percent given to family members; 25 percent kept for personal use in case of emergency. Don’t store provisions or have a large bank balance.
21. Dedicate as much as possible one’s time and efforts in preaching such as the distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s books, harinama, prasadam distribution, and home programs.
The purpose of this paper is to seriously consider taking up the practices of the vanaprastha-asrama.
I am presenting the ideal and standard behavior of a vanaprastha. The asrama is not meant as an imposition but a help. Since example is better than precept, I am trying to practice the points in this paper. His Grace Mahatma Prabhu writes in article “What you Live You give”: “We have not yet become what we believe.
It has become obvious to us that what our movement needs more than scholars are exemplars of our philosophy.
What we live is what we give. As we live bhakti, we give bhakti. Let us become what we believe.” This is my ambition.
I hope and pray that this presentation has awakened awareness in the minds of the readers of what’s possible for them, and will be helpful to eligible vanaprastha candidates on their spiritual journey. I am very fallen, and so I beg forgiveness for any offenses and ask everyone to please give me their mercy and blessings.
Jaya Gaurasundara dasa Gauravanacari.
H. Our progress in Spiritual life leading to Vanprastha:
We took first initiation from HDG Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami Maharaja in 1982 in Baltimore temple a first time ever fire sacrifice for initiation was done in the small temple room. Right after first initiation I asked my Gurumaharaj “What do you want me to do now?” His answer was “Nothing special but be an ideal Grhastha”. Then we received second (Brahmana) initiation in 1983 in Gita Nagari on the auspicious day of Nrsimha Caturdasi.
In the year 2014 we went to see our Guru Maharaja on Radha Astami. During our conversation, he said he had heard that in August of previous year, we had celebrated our 50th Marriage anniversary. I replied that “It was last year gurumaharaja. Now it is 51st. year of our married life.” That magic number 51 somehow made me inquire from him about Vanprastha initiation in ISKCON. His answer was NO. There is no such procedure. Later that year (July, 2014) I heard that, HH Jayadvait Swami Maharaja was looking for volunteers who would take Vanprastha asrama to provide more visibility to that asrama. So, at the Harrisburg RathaYatra festival of 2015, when I met HH Jayadvait Swami Maharaja I volunteered to officially take Vanprastha. In order to know more about Vanprasth asrama, I gathered information from “Vanipedia” about what Srila Prabhupada had to say about Vanprasth asrama. From the gathered information, Srila Prabhupada’s following quotes made me think seriously about taking Vanaprasth. — “One should be very much ashamed of remaining a householder. It is not that a grhastha should live at home until he dies.” “Tapa, or austerity, is especially meant for the retired life. One should not remain a householder throughout his whole life with grandchildren.”
So, I was ready to go through the official process now with firm determination. Officially, mine and my wife’s life as Vanaprastha began on March 7, 2016 at noon on Old Gurukula Ground in Sri Dham Mayapur. I received a title GauraVanacari and accepted yellow dress just to distinguish from Grhatha and Brahmacari or Sannyasi.
In response to HH Jayadvaita Maharaja’s request our Gurumaharaj wrote following letter to be read during our Vanaprastha initiation:
Subject: Re: Vanaprastha initiation
Date: Fri, 4 Mar 2016 12:03 -0500
From: Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami (ACBSP)
Dear Jayadvaita Maharaja, Jaya Gaurasundara and Kaumodaki,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I want to congratulate you all and praise you for taking part in the first ISKCON *vanaprastha* ceremony. It is very auspicious, and the participants are all well-qualified. Jayadvaita Maharaja is very committed to giving *vanaprastha* initiations and has deep realizations on the subject in accordance with Prabhupada’s teachings and the revealed scriptures. Jaya Gaurasundara and his wife have always been ideal devotees and preachers.
They have welcomed me at their house on many occasions, and we have a long history of good association. I praise them, and I am proud of them. As they have been ideal *grhasthas, * I am certain they will be ideal* vanaprasthas.
*I wish them all success in their new lifestyle of detachment, simplicity and increased Krishna consciousness. You are all setting an ideal example for the entire ISKCON. I would like to have been present for the ceremony, but I am not able. I am with you in loving spirit. I offer you my humble obeisances.
Hoping this meets you all in good spirits.
Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
‘To study scripture and conduct philosophical research’ being one of the specific practices of Vanaprasthi, I am writing this paper entitled: “The Vanaprastha Asrama and Its Practical Application”
• Perform austerity.
• Study Vedic literature.
• Perform philosophical research.
• Cultivate brāhmiṇical qualities like truth, mildness, sincerity, tolerance, forgiveness, self-control, friendship, benevolence, and nonviolence.
• Follow a simplified lifestyle.
B. Specific practices:
A man retired from household life must practice austerities of the body, mind and tongue for self-purification.
Study scripture, conduct philosophical research and preach. Generally, the vānaprasthas would be teachers, mentors, guides. If asked, one can give brāhmiṇical advice to the management or devotees in general. One advantage vānaprastha has that he or she can guide gṛhasthas in their difficult time.
One should take bath three times a day.
(“It is the practice of the yogi, brahmacārī, vānaprastha and sannyāsi to bathe at least three times daily–early in the morning, during noontime and in the evening. One also has to perform his sandhyādi-vandana — that is, one has to chant his Gāyatrī mantra three times daily — morning, noon and evening.” CC M 331, Purport)
Live very simply, not waste time and fix the mind on devotional services to Krishna.
Avoid duplicity in dealing with others.
Avoid taking managerial position as far as possible because with any position, three things profit (lābha), prestige (pratisthā), or adoration (pujā) appears in a person. Therefore, one should not be after those things. If one has to take or has taken the responsibility in management, then one should be attached with his or her service only, not with the position. Develop and maintain humility.
Control the tongue (reframe from idle talk– grāmya-kathā), and control the senses—Vāco vegam… or criticism of anything or anyone.
Avoid taking food from unclean places and maintain high standard of cleanliness. Develop habit of moderate eating and avoid eating at night time. Do not eat while standing with shoes on.
Try to take only prasādam. Food prepared by a devotee who chants 16 rounds regularly.
Sleep separate from the wife and sleep on floor if possible.
Sleep only 6 hours and rise early in brahama-muhurt hour.
As far as possible try to live separate from family and practice staying isolated and do not engage in material, social or family affairs.
Never associate with women by glancing, touching, conversing, joking, or sporting.
Spend more time in quality japa. Study Srila Prabhupada’s books and preach whenever get chance.
Reduce bodily needs and simplify everything. Renunciation is the wealth of the brāhmaṇas.
Serve advanced Vaishnavas and whenever possible, travel with them.
Female devotees “The wife especially should remain austere, not desiring luxurious dresses and living standards. She should accept only the bare necessities of life and minimize her eating and sleeping.”
At the time of vānaprastha pravesh, one needs to follow the example of Rupa Goswāmi, and divide his money. Fifty percent of one’s money should be distributed to qualified and pure devotees of the Lord or for propagation of Krishna consciousness movement. Twenty-five percent may be given to family members, and twenty-five percent may be kept for personal use in case of emergency. One should not store provisions or large bank balance.
It has become obvious to us that what our movement needs more than scholars are exemplars of our philosophy. Since I have taken vānaprastha I intent to abide by above conduct and practices and I must rigidly observe following practices for my Personal improvement:
Try to live separate from family as much as possible. Practice staying isolated. Live in a secluded, peaceful place.
Disown those who have no genuine attachment for the Lord, for His devotees, or for His devotional service. Try to remain completely aloof from material sense-gratification.
Take only prasādam. Food prepared by a devotee who chants 16 rounds regularly. (It is definitely a great sin even to accept food grains prepared by non-devotional, materialistic sense-gratifiers.)
Avoid night time eating.. Eat only on regular times. Not to eat while standing with shoes on.
Sleep only 6 hours and rise early during brahama-muhurt.
Take showers 3X a day (cold showers if possible, health permitting.)
Be simple, and don’t take more than you really needed. Reduce bodily needs. Simplify everything and try to keep simplicity and purity prominent in all of practical arrangements.
No idle talk (prajalpa) or criticism of anything or anyone.
Spend more time in quality japa. Study SP’s books attentively, aided by cleanliness and celibacy. Preach whenever the opportunity arises.
Time to time seeks advice from Diksā and Siksā Gurus and serve advanced Vaishnavas and if possible travel with them.
Try to be truthful, and don’t cheat.
Try to control anger. Be silent.
Offer all respect unto others, regardless of who they are.
Try to be very respectful towards those who understand spirituality and practice great humility in dealings with everyone.
Extend genuine compassion for all living entities and act accordingly not harming anyone.
Maintain extreme tolerance in all types of favorable or unfavorable circumstances.
Keep strong loving affection for Sri Guru, Sri Gauranga, pure devotional service, for holy places like Sridham Mayapur, Sri Vrindavan; holy name, eternal associates of the Lord, Holy Scriptures, and observing Kartika Vrata and sacred days of celebration throughout the year such as Sri Ekādasi, Sri Janmāstami, Sri Rādhāstami, and the appearance/disappearance days of the great Vaisnava ācaryas.
I will try my best to faithfully follow above mentioned self-imposed vows every day. Hopefully, someday I will attain the mercy of all the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord and get the strength to follow the above self-imposed vows.
May their causeless mercy and softhearted compassion become my everlasting guide for all the time so that I can transcend this world of māyā and go back home back to Godhead.
Note: Some of above rules (yama/injunctions) and regulations (niyama/prohibitions) are adopted from Lord Śrī Kapila Deva’s instructions (SB 3.28.2~5). And from Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s last writing, entitled “12 Verses of My Own Self-imposed Regulative Principles” –“Sva-Niyama Dvadastakam”
Begging everyone for their mercy and blessings again,
Jaya Gaurasundara dasa Gauravanacari.