“Ashrama: The Sanskrit name for the four stages of life in Hinduism: (1) brahmacharin, the austere life of a student of sacred lore; (2) grhasthya, the life of a householder with wife and family; 93) vanaprastha, the life of a hermit, involving increasing separation from worldly affairs after birth of grandchildren; (4) sannyasin, the life of homeless wanderer, with all earthly ties broken. Combined with varna (‘caste’) and dharma, ashrama is integral to the basic Hindu doctrine of varnashramadharma, or sacred duty appropriate to one’s rank and stage of life.”
Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.