In India, the four ashramas, stages of life, make all the members of the family realise the importance of harmonious living, writes BALAGANAPATHI DEVARAKONDA
The Indian family system has its roots and prop roots in Vedic and Upanishadic traditions. It is a strong and unique system that the whole world looks at in astonishment, wondering how it works so meticulously. The present face of the family system is rapidly changing with technical advancement and western influences. With the advent of nuclear families, single parent families and live in-relationships, we should look at what the Indian family system was and what it is presently. My analysis is bereft of the theories of feminism and patriarchy, and would focus on what kept the family system alive and ticking for so many centuries
The Indian family system has been embedded in vasudhaiva kutumbakam millenniums ago while ‘global village’ is a very recent one.
The Indian tradition stresses on the importance of family as the ground for psychological, moral, social and religious training of a human being, which would make the individual learn to lead a happy and peaceful life.
Being happy and being peaceful seem to be contradictory in contemporary times, where being happy is equated to running after unlimited desires and being peaceful is mistaken to be renouncing desires. In fact, the traditional Indian concept of family trains individuals to be happy and peaceful by providing the required psychological and moral training so that the individual’s behaviour in society contributes to promoting a happy and peaceful life.
Any training, to be effective, requires a space where the interactions have to be intensive and frequent. Only such a space makes individuals realise the importance of other as well as the system or institutions. Family provides such a space where every member realises the importance of not only the other, but also the significance of family as a facilitator of individual development
Family makes all members realise the importance of harmonious living; if there is no harmony among members of the family, then there would be disturbance which would destroy the unity. This harmony doesn’t come into existence from nowhere; it has to be created by each member with his responsible actions.
Harmony is to be nurtured, it cannot be constructed or suddenly invented. Nurturing is a conscious process of development by responsible contributions from all members. How can an individual realise his responsibility to nurture harmony in the family? What is it that connects harmony of family with responsibility of individual actions? It is the interdependency. Every member in the family is interdependent in the sense of equally dependent on the other(s). It is not that non-earning members are dependent on earning members or infants and old are dependent on young and active ones; each one is equally dependent on the other within the interdependent composition of family. The fact of interdependency is not enough for one to be responsible.
What is required is the awareness. In fact, conscious awareness of interdependency is what makes member of the family responsible for harmony. Unless one is aware that he is dependent on others and others are dependent on him, his actions will not be responsible in a way that they contribute to the harmony of the family. This harmony contributes to the nurturing of emotionally interconnecting and bonding virtues — care and share. In this way, the family through virtues of care and share develops the bonding of interdependent awareness, which helps in nurturing harmony that makes every member lead a life of happiness and peace.
A relook into the traditional Indian four-fold division of life would provide us interesting insights as to how one has to make a family. In the fourfold division in terms of Brahmacharya, student; Grihastha, householder; Vanaprastha, retiring to forest, and Sanyasa, renunciate — only grihastha, in general, is understood to be concerned about the family. However, this is far removed from truth. These four stages of life show how integrally human life is interwoven. Before one enters brahmacharya, the child gets familiarised with the family system in which he is born, where it is all-receiving from others — from parents and elders. The child perceives and understands relations in his parent’s family. Then he moves on to a teacher to study, staying with his family. Thus, in brahmacharya the child is exposed to other than his parent’s family, that is, teacher’s family, to understand how relations work in various families.
Only after being exposed to at least two different families — that of parent’s and teacher’s, and being made to understand the intricacies of relations in different families, one is expected to make his own family, that is, enter grihastha.
As a grihastha, he has duties and attachments not only to his kith and kin but also towards his students and community that includes the sanyasins/renunciates. While forging a family, the grihastha gets entangled with different attachments that bind him to worldly matters. In order to get him away from these attachments and look for self-fulfilment, one is asked to leave the family and move to a life in the forest which is vanaprastha.
This vanaprastha provides him a chance to introspect on his own family life in a detached way, so as to realise what actually is the goal of human life — which is self-fulfilment. This leads to the renunciation of all attachments in the form of sanyasa. A sanyasi is not one who renounces everything in life, rather he is the one — who owns the whole world to be one family, vasudhaiva kutumbakam. After passing through stages of observing the family of his parents and teacher; making his own family and further leaving his family to enter forest life — the renunciate is in a strong position to help people of other stages in the best possible way. That is why we have a number of instances in our narrative tradition, where the householder’s dilemmas are often resolved with an interaction with the renunciate. Thus, the four-fold division of human life is conceived to protect the family as an institution in Indian tradition.
It may not be possible to bring back the four-fold division in contemporary times, but the insight that family as an institution is well protected within the fold, should make us realise the significance of family. Living with one’s family is as important as living with other’s family for a certain period of life; both of which provide deeper insights regarding making one’s own family. Extending one’s family to the universal level is possible only when one realises Self as a renunciate.
With busy schedules getting in the way of family time, many are opting to go on vacation with their children as well as their parents at the same time. According to The Sun, the trend of busy families pooling their resources to spend quality time together away from the rigours of everyday life emerged in a study carried out among 1,000 parents and 1,000 grandparents. While the situation is a win-win for everyone involved, grandparents benefit the most.
A Pew Research Center’s study says that Millennials are starting families later than their counterparts in prior generations. Just under half (46%) of Millennials ages 25 to 37 are married, a steep drop from the 83% of Silents who were married in 1968. But it’s not all about delayed marriage. The share of adults who have never married is increasing with each successive generation. Millennial women are also waiting longer to become parents than prior generations did.
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