The Four Phases of Life

When time allows, I love to attend as a guest student lessons and seminars at the Philosophical University in Munich. I feel particularly attracted by the history of philosophy in various cultures, because this creates a sound basis for the understanding of people in different countries. 

In 2013, 2014 and 2015 I attended the seminars of Professor Renate Syed on the history of philosophy in India, an autochthonous culture without disruption for a period of 3500 years. Since ancient and medieval eras Indian texts discussed four age-based life stages, Ashramas (

  • Brahmacharya (student life): 0-24 years
  • Grihasta (household life): 24-48 years
  • Vanaprastha (retired life): 48-72 years
  • Sannyasa (renounced life): 72+ years

I recall our discussions in the seminar on how to translate this old wisdom into modern life with a significantly higher life expectancy. Based on our discussions I subsequently observed my environment and my own life. Most people seem to go through the following four consecutive phases in their lives:

  • Phase I (childhood and youth): In this phase we have the highest ability of learning, and this is also the phase when we are conditioned for the rest of our life; experiences in later life are compared with norms we have adopted in phase I.
  • Phase II (trial and error): As in old India this is the phase with the strongest physical, sexual, emotional, occupational, social and material attachments; however, due to our increased life expectancy we can experiment and try to go new ways, because we still have phase III to correct errors and adjust the direction of our lives.
  • Phase III (consolidation): We can enjoy the opportunity to use the experiences, reputation and financial basis we gained in phase II to achieve self-defined targets; but this phase is not fault-tolerant, because we will not have the chance for major corrections in phase IV.
  • Phase IV (retirement): When the retirement age of 65 years had been decided in Germany in the year 1916, the life expectancy of newborn boys was 55 years and that of newborn girls 61 years, nowadays it is approaching 90. We retire with a plethora of experiences, most people quite healthy, and some full of ideas and energy.

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