Purushartha literally means the object of human pursuit, or the goals of human life. It can also mean the “soul’s purpose”. We see reference to this concept in the Vedas and the Epics Ramayana and Mahabharat. What are these four Purusharthas? They are Dharma (moral values, righteousness), Artha (economic prosperity), Kama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation), the last one being the ultimate purpose of one’s existence. When we work towards each of these dimensions, we lead a balanced and satisfied life full of meaning. The Four Purusharthas compel us to ask the most fundamental question as to what is the goal of one’s life, what will truly satisfy the self (or soul)? Let us delve into each of these in detail.
1. Dharma – Dharma means living rightfully and truthfully. It forms the moral and ethical bases on which one lives. It is living consciously through our words and deeds and being sensitive to the needs of others. Each person lives with one’s own Dharma – called Sva-dharma. Finding one’s Dharma is a journey of self-discovery. On a cosmic scale the universe functions according to its own Dharma. The Sun rises and sets, the tides and the rivers all function according to their own Dharma and so do all living beings. Living according to Dharma brings stability and order in one’s life. By associating with evolved people and reading sacred texts, one is able to discover one’s true inner calling and work towards fulfilling it. It is the first pursuit of life without which Artha and Kama will have no grounding and direction.
2. Artha – Artha is the striving for economic progress and material comforts, which enables one to live in this world with ease. It provides the basic human dignity to provide and care for one’s family but without hoarding or living in excess. The pursuit of wealth or money is not considered wrong as long as it complies with one’s dharma and doesn’t become an impediment in one’s ultimate spiritual realisation. In fact without a good standing of Artha, both Dharma and Kama (pursuit of pleasure) become difficult. One also must be satisfied with what one has attained materially in life and not hanker for or hoard more than what is necessary. This would save one from entanglement.
3. Kama – Our basic impulses are driven by a need for pleasure and enjoyment. This is not considered wrong but an important part of one’s existence. Without pleasure and enjoyment, one’s life would be hollow. Kaam is the desire for love, intimacy and affection. Arts and music also fall under this category. The pursuit of Kama brings fulfillment in life, however one must be wary of over-indulgence which would deviate one from the goal of one’s life (Dharma). Kama is good when it supports Dharma and adds richness to one’s life. Excessive indulgence however can lead to lust and greed, which is catastrophic.
“Know and seek which pleasures are saturated with Divine Consciousness and are drenched in the ecstasies of the soul. Ultimately, the highest Kama is the longing for Oneness with the Divine.” – Deepak Chopra
4. Moksha – Moksha means self-realisation or liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. It is the final human pursuit. When one lives a life of Dharma supported with Artha and Kama, Moksha is attained effortlessly. Moksha means realising the self and the supreme consciousness, the full blossoming of the human potential. In the words of Lao Tzu – “Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment.” Moksha is attained when one lives a pure and simple life which is disciplined and guided by knowledge and wisdom.