The Four Major Goals (Four Purusharthas) of Life - by Swami Atmananda
Purusharthas means that for which a person strives for. It implies our goals of life. It is extremely important that our goals of life should be very very clear. Just as before starting a journey we should be very clear about our destination, so also before starting any worldly or spiritual effort, we should very clear as to what we are trying to achieve, what is our goal. The scriptures also before talking about the various sadhana-the means, first tell us about the sadhya-the end. As it is the lack of knowledge of goal which results in absence of enthusiasm to take up any sadhana, so it is very important to know our goals of life, our purusharthas.
Looking within to identify the goal :
To understand our goals of life we should not look outside, as to where the world is going, but should rather look within, as to what do I really aspire & want. For this we should ask ourselves a very fundamental question - What is that attaining which I will be fully satisfied ? Don’t be in a hurry, take your own time and discover the answer to this important question. You will find that most of our so called goals are only means for some other end, they do not really come under the category of goals. We find that very few people have clarity about this fundamental thing. They may say that they are modern educated people and do not blindly follow anyone, but this is what they are doing, blindly following others, for the simple reason that they themselves are not clear as to what do they really want. They join some rat race and in the end realize that they have been on a meaningless trip, by then it is too late. So lets pause and try to know what is it that which I really want, what is that attaining which I will certainly quench my thirst. Lets look within, 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 conduct this inquiry. This is called the inquiry into Purusharthas of life.
Artha - seeking security :
The first & foremost thing which everyone is seeking is security. Every person appears to be basically insecure, and that is not a comfortable feeling. Whatever is understood by each person to even remotely provide us some security becomes our goal. Money is the most important worldly resource to provide us some security, so that's what people want - desperately. The amount of desperation is many a times directly proportional to the extent of insecurity within. We can’t think of life without money. If we were not so insecure then there would not have been any thoughtless desperation. It would be just one important thing for which necessary intelligent efforts are called for. Money is not only a means to some security, but it is also a means for getting enjoyments, comforts of life. Remember discovering security is our main objective and as money plays an important part to play here lets recognize it as our First Purushartha, called Artha. Money plays a very important role in life but is never a complete answer to the problem of providing complete security. Nevertheless, every person must be taught the art of acquiring money and bring about a sense of freedom & independence. The most intelligent way to acquire money is to discover a way by which money runs after you and not vice versa. For this it is extremely necessary to specialize in a particular field which is compatible to your nature & capacities, and make that specialization a means to serve the society. If you really love your work, if you are a specialist in your field, if you have an attitude that through your work you contribute to the society in some positive way, then rest assured money will follow you. In & through this pursuit it is extremely important to remember that people with lots of money do solve some of their initial problems, but discover new avenues of insecurities, and one of them is how to protect this hard earned money itself. Don't become complacent after acquiring some wealth, because the very reason for which you have got all this itself is yet to be really achieved. While striving to get more & more money always ask this question to yourself - Am I fully secure now? Never be overwhelmed by some achievements so as to forget your own real aspiration. Keep striving & inquiring till you become really secure within. However, to begin with do discover ways & means to acquire necessary wealth.
Kama - the art of enjoying pleasures :
Having acquired some money, having got some security the next step for everyone is to use this money for your comforts, enjoyments & fulfilling your 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 second Purusharthas – called Kama. Lets 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 starts giving us the opposite we change our paths. So even though we should & 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.
Dharma – conscientious living :
The third purushartha is called Dharma. Dharma is always mentioned first whenever the scriptures talk about the four purusharthas - Dharma, Artha, Kama & Moksha. This is because of its all-round & far reaching benefits 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 discussion we can say that Dharma implies a conscientious, orderly & holistic living. Man is a social being, he lives amongst his own kind, in 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. It makes us sensitive to others, makes us care for others, 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. They prefer to say it was 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. The train is already moving we unload ourselves and live life fully, without worries. 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. Not only this but acceptance of God prepares us for our real goal of life, called Moksha.
Moksha - freedom from all limitations :
The fourth Purushartha is called Moksha, literally it means liberation. 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. Lets see this also in the context of our discussion. Until now we have seen that every person wants security & happiness, and thus should learn the secrets of Artha & Kama, which are the means to acquire relative security & pleasure here in this life. This journey should be a very conscientious one too, we should be sensitive to others and thereafter live our lives. Now, presuming 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 of Vedic times 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 some crutch show some lack, some weakness within ? Fine, we have various worldly pleasures at our disposal, but doesn't the very necessity to get more & better pleasures show that our cup within is yet to be full? 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 Upanishads are thundering - you are that. Turning our minds from all other preoccupations 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.