The Householder And The Renunciation Of Ideals
Hinduism is one of the major South Asian religions surrounded by controversy about social and religious limits of a person. More importantly there is a divisive tension between the householder ideal and the renunciate ideal in Hinduism. Whereas the householder ideal emphasizes on leading normal social life and undertaking all that it appertains, renunciate ideal on the other hand is more concerned about leading an isolated religious life. This difference constitutes the major source of tension (Kitagawa 13).
There is the polarization of the people in terms of severity and sensuality. This difference assumes the form of tension between the ambitions to emancipation and, on the other hand, the heartfelt craving to go through the due stages of social life performing all earthly life. This tension is manifested in Hindu social life in the form of the tension sandwiched between the different goals of an individual and stages of life (ashrama). The comparative importance of an active social life in the householder ideal characterized by the performance of commendable works ( pravrtti ) compared to the abandonment of all earthly interests and activity ( nivrtti ) brews up great debates in Hinduism (Flood 64).
There are those minor single sided religions which lay much emphasize on renunciation. However, dharma texts propose that the householder ideal is the way forward. According to Eliade (345), the householder maintains his consecrated fire, procreates brood, and faithfully performs his customary duties perfectly and subsequently earns spiritual worth. The four stages of life (ashramas) contained in Hindu religious texts are a deliberate attempt to harmonize the existing tension in Hinduism. That Hindus ought to go through the various stages which involve part of social and religious undertakings points at the harmonization attempts (Flood 65).
According to the doctrine of four stages, an ideal Hindu should become a chaste student, then proceed and become a matrimonial householder. This is the point where he discharges his duties to the long gone ancestors through siring sons. To the gods a person is expected to offer sacrifices at this stage. The next stage of life is retirement, where one withdraws to the forests for devotion to religious contemplation (Thursby and Mittal 392).
There are four main stages of life (ashrama) in the life of a Hindu. The first stage is marked by one’s state of being a student. This stage (Brahmacharya) is spent in celibacy and absolute isolation. Hindus in this stage are in controlled contemplation through spiritual guidance (Flood 64). The obligatory restrictions in this stage do not allow those in the stage to sample renunciation. The householder’s stage involves marriage and the satisfaction of karma (responsibilities) in the social and professional undertakings. At this stage a Hindu is supposed to support their parents, siblings and religious figures. These responsibilities cannot allow a Hindu to consider renunciation. At the retirement phase, vanaprastha, Hindus gradually detach from the material world Thursby and Mittal 391).
Although this stage involves retirements from many social responsibilities Hindus at the stage are too aged to engage in renunciation. Nevertheless this is the most probable stage during which a person can indulge in religious matters. The last stage known as sannyasa involves complete renunciation of worldly responsibilities and is associated with religious devotion (Flood 64).
According to the Bhagavad-Gita the apparent tension between renunciation and the duties of social life is inconsequential. Though the householder ideal is among the social duties a Hindu is expected to undergo, renunciation, done at the right stage in life will not contradict this. An individual is supposed to go through the four stages of life to the latter and this will enable them to go through the two ideal peacefully (Thursby and Mittal 395).
Bhagavad-Gita disregards the apparent emphasize and extolling associated with the householder ideal and the associated social responsibilities. There are also those authorities according much importance to the chaste studentship phase of life. The studentship stage though pivotal in the other phases of life of a Hindu is a mere preparations stage. Studentship stage is as important as the other stages in the life of a Hindu (Kitagawa 20).
Accomplishing the various responsibilities of a person is a move towards their spiritual well being. Child bearing for instance is a call towards living according to the requirements of the ancestors. This means that for a Hindu to participate in the duties performed by the householder is in itself a move towards satisfying the renunciation ideal. Other responsibilities are directly associated with moving the individual towards the requirements of the religious ideal. These include sacrifices and the observation of rituals which is done at the householder stage (Eliade 347).
It is clear that the apparent differences between the householder ideal and the r renunciate ideal creates some form of tension in Hinduism. The householder ideal follows the social responsibilities of a person while the renunciate ideal is for strict adherence to spiritual matters, away from social lives. Though the householder ideal and the renunciate ideal are apparently divergent, they are all means geared towards the same direction. Through the observation of the doctrine of the four stages of life in Hinduism the tension between the two ideals wanes. Understanding both the householder and renunciate ideals is important in understanding the requirements of Hinduism.
Eliade, Mircea. The Encyclopedia of religion, London, UK: Macmillan, 1987
Flood, Gavin. An introduction to Hinduism, London, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996
Kitagawa, Joseph. Religious traditions of Asia, the: religion, history and culture, London, UK: Routledge
Thursby, George and Mittal, Sushil. The Hindu world, London, UK: Routledge, 2004