“Householder, Renunciate, and the Good Life” by Chris Framarin (University of Calgary)

In brāhmaṇical Hindu traditions, the householder and renunciate seem like opposites. The classical formulation of the āśrama (modes of life) system might seem to reconcile these competing ideals. By relegating renunciation to old age, the system allows a person to pursue worldly life and liberation from the world within a single lifetime. This solution might seem more like an uneasy compromise, however, than a genuine reconciliation. Some of the earliest source material on the āśrama system (the dharmasūtras of Gautama, Āpastamba, Baudhāyana, and Vasiṣṭha), however, suggests basic consistencies between the householder and the renunciate that have generally been ignored or underappreciated. First, the debate over the relative rank of the householder and renunciate in these texts amounts to a debate over which mode of life is best for the person who lives it. The intense disagreement over how best to secure optimal welfare is superficial in relation to the more fundamental agreement about the importance of securing optimal welfare. Second, descriptions of those optimal states of welfare that the householder and renunciate pursue are remarkably consistent in these texts. Third, while conceptions of these optimal states of welfare diverge more dramatically in later texts, the tensions are easier to reconcile in the context of the shared assumption about the importance of attaining personal prosperity.