Although I am a priest I still follow the four stages of our Hindu society, known as Ashramas. These four stages are Brahmachari, Grihasta, Vanaprasta, and Sannyasi. They are similar to those of most cultures just have a few different implications.
The first, Brahmachari, essential is the student phase. It falls between the ages of 12 and 24, and upon initiation by Upanayan rites, I became a Dvija, or a twice born. I was then brought to a Guru and began to learn the mantras. During this time I studied the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Sastras thoroughly. I was also taught several other traditions of Hinduism including the recitation of Gayatri, Ablutions, and Sandhya Vandanam. As I studied I was kept very discipline, as is the probation like quality of this period. Although I did not know the implications of these studies, when I came to the Grihasta stage they began to make sense.
The Grihasta period typically takes place between the ages of 24 and 48, and it represents the householder stage. This is when you take a wife and together perform our duties. This stage is said to be the most significant of the Ashramas, being a life long commitment that effects all the others. With this stage comes duties, including the performance of Panchmahayagna, or five great sacrifices. These are foud in the Manu Dharma Sastra. The first being Deva Yagna, or deity worship, which is a daily practice practice of worship and puja, visiting temple is also required in this. Brahama Yagna, or seer worship, is basically community service, this includes guru worship and studying the Vedic rituals. The fourth sacrifice is Pitru Yagna, or ancestor worship. This includes respecting ancestors and parents by getting their blessings by visiting with them and learning from them. The last of the Panchmahayagna is Bhuta Yagna, which the worship of living beings. This is done by offering food to animals and insects, and loving and watering plants.
The third stage called Vanaprasta Ahrama usually falls between the ages of 48 and 72. This stage is when, youth, business, and family have faded and should be left behind. At this time the person usually leaves behind material possessions to follow a life of meditation and spirituality in solitude or with his wife. This is thought to be a persons adult education. This is a time of self reflection and pondering on the ways of the world.
The fourth and final stage, Sannyasa Ashrama is the period of life usually at 72+. At this point in time one is supposed to have gone beyond worldly things, he is considered a persona non grata, one who exists almost without giving any thought to his being. He has no desire for recognition or social status. There are three types of Sannyasi, or people of this stage. The Vidvat, coming from real wisdom in the manner of an epiphany, the Vividisha, a person entering from a strong desire for self-realization via the study of Scriptures and religious practice. The third is the Markata, which is someone who has come to this phase as an escape from great misery, disappointment, or misfortune. This is the final stage of life and one day I hope to attain this stage in life and wisdom.