Vanaprastha refers to the third of four classically designed ashrams. The stage lasts for twenty-four years from around the age of forty-eight to the age of seventy-two. It is a time for gradual withdrawal from worldly concerns and the sharing of one’s wisdom with others. The other three ashrams of life are brahmacharya (student), grihastha (householder), and sannyas (full renunciation).
During the stage of vanaprastha, one may share the wisdom that one has accumulated in the earlier stages of life. Thus, one serves as a mature counselor. Although the vanaprasthi mostly withdraws from his involvements in the world, he nevertheless remains in the home working for the education of younger people. In the past, vanaprastha referred to a period in which a person prepared for the ultimate renunciation of sannyas by retiring to the forest or a solitary place for meditation.
The stage of vanaprastha, in particular, is ignored in the modern world. Nowadays, the information and technology people learn about as young adults becomes obsolete by the time they reach the age of vanaprastha. Thus, the purpose of sharing one’s life work has lost some of its meaning, and there is a greater anticipation of death.
The system of four ashrams was founded in India during a higher spiritual age, during which the purpose of life was widely understood and manifested into the system of education. Nowadays, the ideal system of life is not widely observed in modern India, but it has many devout follows. Special schools and communities may uphold the system under the direction of a guru.