Photographer's Note

The Fourth Stage of Life

The fourth stage is the sanny‚sa, or the stage of the wandering ascetic, the sanny‚si (or s‚dhu). If a man desires, he may continue on to this stage, but his wife will need to return home; traditionally she cannot stay alone as a forest dweller or wander the highways as an ascetic. The sanny‚sin has renounced the world completely, is regarded as dead by his family (the funeral is held), and is finally beyond all dharma and caste. When a sanny‚sin enters a Hindu temple, he is not a worshiper but one of the objects of worship. Not even the gods are sanny‚sins (they are householders), and so this is where in Hinduism, as in Jainism and Buddhism, it is possible for human beings to be spiritually superior to the gods. It has long been a matter of dispute in Hinduism whether one need really fulfill the requirements of the Laws of Manu (gray hair, etc.) to renounce the world. The Mah‚bh‚rata says that Brahmins may go directly to Renunciation, but it also says that the three debts must be paid -- and the debt to the ancestors could only be paid with husbands and wives living together either as householders or, if renunciates, as forest dwellers (indeed, the P‚n.d.avas are all born in that way). There are definitely no such requirements in Jainism or Buddhism. The Buddha left his family right after his wife had a baby, which would put him in the middle of his dharma as a householder. Buddhism and Jainism thus developed monastic institutions, with monks and nuns, but these did not really develop as such in Hinduism: While wandering ascetics are rather like mendicant monks, we lack monasteries and nuns, and the ascetics are, traditionally, supposed to have already lived something like a normal, lay life.

more on The Caste System and the Stages of Life in Hinduism here

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Additional Photos by Panos E Kazanelis (kazan) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 113 W: 59 N: 90] (779)
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