The 4 Pursharthas – ४ पुरुषार्थ

In Vedic philosophy moksha (spiritual liberation), dharma (righteousness), kama (pleasure) and artha (wealth) are considered to be the 4 Purushartha (aims) of human existence.

These are achieved through the practice of good karma (actions).

Purusharthas means that for which a person strives for. It implies our aims or goals of life. It is extremely important that our goals of life should be very very clear. We all are on a journey and we do reach some destination at the end. This happens through a worldly or a spiritual effort. The scriptures talk about the various ‘sadhana’ – the means, the tools and unless we fix up any goal or we lack the knowledge of where we should be; we might result in absence of enthusiasm or motivation to take up any ‘sadhana’, so it is very important to know our Purusharthas.

4 Pursharthas – Artha, Kama, Dharma & Moksha

Looking within to identify the aim or purpose:

To understand our purpose we should never look outside, but rather concentrate within to decide what we really aspire & want. And for this we must ask ourselves a very fundamental question – What is that attaining which will help to be fully satisfied?

There is no hurry and we can take our own time to discover, ascertain, ponder and answer this question to ourselves. You will find that our purpose is normally only a mean for some other end, and it does not really qualify as a purpose at all.

Very few have this clarity of purpose – about such a fundamental think. We are modern, educated and we live in a technological world and we tend to project that we follow no one but lead ourselves. But in actuality we blindly follow anyone, we unintentionally blindly follow others, and this happens as we are not clear as to what we really want and what our purpose of life is.

We join a race and in the end realize that we have been on a meaningless trip. So we need to take a pause, introspect and try to know what is it that which we really want, what is that attaining which will help to quench our thirst, what is our purpose.

Lets look within, deep inside ourselves, dig in, introspect & discover. The knowledge of Self starts with such fundamental questions. The scriptures do not ask us to blindly follow someone but only help us to conduct this inquiry. This is the inquiry into 4 Purusharthas of life.

1) Artha (wealth) – seeking security:

Each one of us seeks security and everyone is intrinsically insecure which is after all not a comfortable feeling. We primarily understand that providing ourselves security is our prime purpose of life. Money is the most important worldly resource to provide us security and that is why people want it so desperately. The intensity of desperation is actually directly proportional to the extent of insecurity within.

We can’t think of life without money which is true. Our insecurity brings thoughtless desperation. Money is not the only means to security, but it is a prime source for getting enjoyments, comforts of life, and luxuries. It is the prime source for survival. It is also supposedly the prime force to acquire fame and power.

So we discovered that money is our main objective and as it plays a major role then let us recognize it as our 1st Purushartha, called Artha. Let us also remember that Money is not the answer to our complete security. Nonetheless. every person must be taught the art of acquiring or earning money and bring about a sense of freedom & independence and provide the security.

Whatever we do to create wealth might be or not be compatible to our nature & capacities, but we can surely specialize what we do with the goal to serve the society. Ideally if we love our work, and if we become specialists in what we do, if we have an attitude that through our work we contribute to the society in some positive way, then rest assured money will follow us.

In & through this pursuit we must not forget that money will not solve all our problems but a few of them. Man is an inventor, and we time and again discover new avenues of insecurities. Preserving money itself is another insecurity which comes up after you acquire money. So insecurities are endless. Never become complacent after acquiring wealth, because the very reason for which you earned this wealth for is yet to be really achieved. While striving to get more & more money keep asking whether I have enough and whether I am fully secure now?

Don’t be overwhelmed by some achievements so as to forget your own real aspiration and your purpose of life. Keep striving & inquiring till you become really secure within. However, to begin with, discover ways & means to acquire the necessary wealth.

2) Kama (pleasure) – the art of enjoying pleasures:

Having acquired some money, and having got some security the next step for everyone is to utilize this money for our comforts, enjoyments & fulfilling our duties, desires & responsibilities. That which we want next is the experience of fulfillment, joy & bliss. As various sensual enjoyments are seen to provide that experience we go for them. So fulfillment of our desires is the 2nd Purusharthas – called Kama.

Let us remember that we do not acquire or enjoy the objects for objects sake but for the sake of a satisfying blissful experience. The moment an object stop giving its results we change our paths. We should & we do realize that various objects are means to some end, and not the very end itself. Still we should learn the finer secrets of making the best of our enjoyments & experiences. Our full availability is the secret of making the best of all our enjoyments. A person whose mind is free from all worries, hankerings and egoistic problems alone is available for experiences. Necessary training is required for bringing about such a mental disposition.

3) Dharma (righteousness) – conscientious living:

The 4th Purushartha is called Dharma. Dharma is always that comes first whenever the scriptures speak about the 4 Purusharthas – Dharma, Artha, Kama & Moksha. This is because of its all-round & far reaching impact to help bring about an ideal disposition which facilitates attainment of all other Purusharthas.

The word Dharma has wide implications, and no English word does full justice to it, yet in the context of our understanding we can say that Dharma implies a conscientious, orderly & holistic living. Man is a social being, and he lives amongst his own kind, in a group, and every person has to attain his or her Purusharthas of Artha & Kama. This being the case it is necessary to frame some ground rules in the spirit of live & let live. That’s the spirit behind Dharma.

Dharma makes us sensitive to others, makes us care for others, sympathy, compassion, it brings necessary magnanimity to look at others as part of one whole. It helps us to expand our family, brings about a holistic vision. The moment we see the whole world as one great whole, we also become sensitive to a supreme intelligence, who has not only created this beautiful world & cosmos, but is also running the show. As no effect is possible without a cause, we infer the existence of a creator when we see this beautiful creation. If creation is so beautiful, how will the creator be. Dharma thus wakes us up to the existence of God. Dharma does not make us afraid of God, but rather shows that he is someone who deserves our greatest love & reverence. We are his creation, act as per his dictates, will live as long as he likes and will leave when he so wishes. We cannot influence his wishes but should know his ways & means and live accordingly, in a spirit of surrender & love.

The basic spirit of science is to conquer nature while dharma motivates us to respect it and live in tune with it. Science, even though says that there can be no effect without a cause yet does not accept any intelligent cause of the creation. Was it all an accident, a big bang that started this whole process?

Dharma on the other hand says that the creation is so orderly, beautiful & purposeful that we cannot in our wildest dreams think that this is all a product of an accident. We are simple minded people, who on seeing a creation believe in the presence of a creator, and plan out our lives accordingly by keeping him into account, always.

We look upon the whole creation as a great, grand orchestra which is already presenting a beautiful music, we have just joined the orchestra and should be sensitive to the harmony and tune ourselves to it. Just as only that person can enjoy the music who becomes sensitive to it, so also only that person can enjoy the holistic living who sees a basic harmony & order around.

The benefits of turning our attention on God, being sensitive to his ways & means, the order & harmony etc. are so great that even if God was not there we would have loved to invent him. But as he is very much there so the question also does not arise. When we accept the existence of someone who is an embodiment of knowledge, power, love, compassion & holistic vision, then anyone who loves & reveres such a being will not only be free from various self imposed problems, but will also start being an embodiment of all what God represents.

Acceptance of God is the essence of Dharma. This not only helps us become a better person here but also helps us to attain our Artha & Kama in a better way too. Acceptance of God prepares us for our real goal of life, called Moksha.

4) Moksha (spiritual liberation) – freedom from all limitations:

The 4th Purushartha is called Moksha, it means liberation and freedom from all limitations. Liberation is not some posthumous state to be attained later after death, but is a state to be attained right here in this very life.

Now where does Moksha relate to our discussion? We have seen that every person wants security & happiness, and thus should learn the secrets of Artha (wealth) & Kama (pleasure), which are the means to acquire relative security & pleasure here in this life. This journey should be a very conscientious one, and we should be sensitive to others and thereafter live our lives.

Now, we assume that there is a person who has learned the art of acquiring wealth, enjoys the various pleasures nicely, and also cares for his brethren around, what more does one want? He appears to be an ideal person, what bondage does that person have? What is that from which he needs to be liberated from?

Well, the great thinkers, philosophers want us to see this more deeply? Has a person who wanted security and acquired enough wealth become really secure? As long as we have to depend on anything whatsoever reveal a state wherein there is no insecurity whatsoever? Doesn’t the very necessity to hang on to crutches show great dependency, some lack, some weakness within?

We do have various worldly pleasures at our disposal, but doesn’t the very necessity to get more & better pleasures show that our cup or plate within is yet to be full? We have everything but still we are incomplete!

Real security within will be revealed only when the very desire to get security becomes redundant. So also the dawn of real happiness will be inferred only when there are no self-centered desires any more. Not that such a person will be averse to prosperity or comforts, but is not averse to absence of these too. Motivations at such levels disappear, such a person is at home every where. Such a state of existence alone is real freedom, that’s liberation.

Liberation is freedom from a sense of lack, a sense of insecurity & fear. This is possible when a person discovers that he or she is free from all limitations of time & space, that one is really the transcendental reality itself. The taking of ourselves as a limited being is an erroneous conclusion of our mind. This is not true. If there is one basic reality in the world then that reality should be the basic essence of all. That is what the scriptures are thundering – you are that.

Turning our minds from all other preoccupation’s and starting a process of deep introspection to realize our basic essence is what Moksha is all about. It is not turning away from life all together, but till you discover your true Self. Having known your true being live like a a truly healthy man, this is how all avatars and saints lived. A life that leaves your footprints even on the sand of time.

With grace and peace,

Vickram Aadityaa


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