(Kadamba Kanana Swami, 04 June 2012, Leicester, England, Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya-Lila 7.21)
I remember the very first social development conference in ISKCON, which was very interesting because all the ashrams got to speak about their lives. I remember there was a gṛhasta who said, “I’m tired of being considered a second class citizen. Everyone is looking upon me like I’m fallen.” This was in the days when there were more brahmacaris than gṛhastas.
Then his wife spoke and she said, “Do you know what it’s like to chant outside the temple room? We always have to go out with the kids when the Swamis come.”
Then the brahmacari came and he said, “I feel unprotected since every time I say that I want to be a brahmacari then someone will say that the statistics are against me.”
It was a very entertaining morning then finally we got a vanaprashta and he said, “You know what, I have an identity crisis. Yes, I have an identity crisis, I don’t exist!”
Sometimes hearing about vanaprashta sounds intense because it sounds like an attack on your life! Like, at age fifty, they are going to pull out the rug from under your feet. But scripture recommends vanaprashta so our question is how does one do it?
Gṛhasta means that we work for this life. You are young and just married. Life is serious. No more time to play around, you got to build up something. So it goes on and you move into a bigger house and have two kids and you are so happy and you have a big garden… So this is the middle of life – the gṛhasta life, hard work!
Then you make a plan to get out of work by age fifty. So that is the first step – a plan to get out of entanglement early; a plan to get out of the rat race; a plan to get out of wanting and expanding. It is about simplifying because that is what retirement is about. So that is the principle – SIMPLIFY AND MAKE TIME FOR SPIRITUAL THINGS. It does not sound like the end of the world!?
The hot potato question is – should husband and wife separate? And the answer is that there is no injunction that at age fifty the husband and wife should separate. However, in some cases, they cannot wait until they are fifty! I know some cases where it is the wife who wants to take vanaprashta! But it is not necessary that husband and wife separate!
So organise life in a way where one can take up devotional service and vanaprashta is actually something good. Now the question is what do you do with your life?
Vanaprashta is not something you think about when you are fifty, it is something you think about when you are twenty-five. So, let us think about what we can do to spiritualise our life in future. Vanaprashta is an internal adjustment; it is a change of heart which has to take place on how to increase spirituality in our lives. Whatever detachment we have to practice in life will help us to prepare for the ultimate detachment. Some preparation is needed to deal with the ultimate detachment which is needed at the end of life.