by Jayaram V
Purusha means either God or a human being. Artha means an object or objective.
"Purusharthas" means objectives of
a human being.
Purusha does not mean male in the physical sense, but any soul in its
differentiated aspect. So the purusharthas
are applicable to both men and women equally.
The purusharthas serve as pointers in the life of a human being. They
are based on the vision of God which is evident in the creation He
manifested and which can be followed by man to be part of that vision
and in harmony with His aims. His worlds are established on the
principles of dharma. They are filled with the abundance of material and
spiritual beings and energies, who seek fulfillment by achieving their
desires and liberation. Since man is God in his microcosmic aspect, he
too should emulate God and manifest the same reality in his own little
world. He should pursue the same aims, experience life in its fullness
and be an instrument of God by serving the purpose for which he has been created. The four chief aims or purusharthas
1. Dharma (righteousness),
2. Artha (wealth),
3. Kama (desire) and
4. Moksha (salvation or liberation).
The rationale behind these purusharthas becomes clear when we
basic tenets of Hinduism. Man is an aspect of God. He
is God's objective reality in creation. He exists in relationship with
God like a reflection in the mirror
that is somewhat different yet inseparable and somewhat similar. Veiled in him is
the true self by the influence and involvement of Prakriti or primordial
nature. The purpose of his life upon earth is to follow the law (dharma)
of God and achieve salvation (moksha) or freedom from his false self
by leading a balanced life in which both material comforts and human
passions have their own place and legitimacy.
Man cannot simply take birth on earth and start working for his salvation right
away by means of just dharma alone. If that is so man would never
realize why he would have to seek liberation in the first place. As he
passes through the rigors of life and experiences the problem of human
suffering, he learns to appreciate the value of liberation. He becomes
sincere in his quest for salvation. So we have the four goals, instead
of just one, whose pursuit
provides us with an opportunity to learn important lessons and move
forward on the spiritual path. What the purusharthas characterize is not a life of self-negation, but of balance,
complexity, richness, opportunities and
moderation in a
cosmic drama of immense proportions in which man ultimately envisions and
experiences his true grandeur and fulfills the very purpose of his creation.
Every individual in Hindu society is expected to achieve these four objectives
with detachment, without any expectation and as a sacrificial offering
to God in the ritual of human life. They have to be pursued selflessly
for a higher and greater cause. Depending upon the attitude and the manner in which
we pursue them, they either set us free or entangle us deeper with the
allurements of human life.
The first of the goals is dharma, a word which is difficult to
translate in English. Since the same word is used in many eastern religions, it
means many things to many people and eludes a true definition. It has been
variously translated as duty, faith, religion, righteousness, sacred law, justice,
ethics, morality and so on. According to one school of Hinduism, dharma is
an obligatory duty as prescribed by the Vedas to be performed by an
individual in accordance with the rules prescribed for the caste to which
he or she belongs.
God is an upholder of dharma because he performs His duties
even though they are not obligatory and He is without desire or preference.
There is no word in Latin or English
that can truly explain the complex meaning of dharma. Its first
letter "dha" is also the first letter of dharitri, the earth, which is
suggestive of its connection with the earth or earthly life. In a wider sense, dharma is the secret glue, the
binding force, which upholds and regulates this entire creation just as
the gravitational force controls and holds the entire material universe as
one piece. It is the divine constitution that defines our roles and
responsibilities, our social and moral order, our purpose and goals and the
rewards and punishments that are appropriate for our actions. It is the law of God that is sacred,
inviolable and pervasive. It is responsible for order, regularity, harmony, control,
predictability and accountability. According to
Manusmriti, dharma is four footed in the Krita age and loses one leg in
each successive age. Thus in the fourth and last age of Kali, it becomes crippled and rests upon just
Dharma exists in all planes, in all aspects and at all levels of creation. In the context of human life, dharma consists of all that an individual undertakes in harmony with
divine injunctions and his own sense of morality and justice. However to
comprehend the true nature of dharma is not an easy task. The world is
enveloped in illusion as our human minds are. What we see in the world and
learn from it may not be true and reliable. What we consider as right and
wrong or dharma and adharma may not stand the test of truth. Hence
to practice dharma we are advised to rely upon the scriptures and follow
the injunctions contained there in.
The sources of dharma are the Vedas, the
Vedangas, the Sutra
literature of which the most important are the Dharmashastras, and
scriptures such as the Bhagavadgita. In ancient India dharmashastras (law books) played an important role
in guiding people on the path of dharma. It is however difficult to say
how far they are relevant in the present age. One should also remember
that dharma should not be viewed as end in itself but the
means to a still higher end, liberation.
Artha means wealth. Hinduism recognizes the importance of material wealth for the overall happiness and well being of an individual. A house holder requires wealth, because he has to perform many duties to uphold dharma and
take care of the needs of his family and society. A person should not
seek wealth for wealth sake but to uphold dharma and help the members of
his family and society achieve their goals. Hinduism therefore rightly places material wealth as the second most important objective in human life.
While dharma and moksha are meant for oneself, wealth and sex are to be
pursued for the sake of others. Lord Vishnu is the best role model
for any householder.
He leads a luxurious life, served by the goddess of wealth herself, but
is very dutiful, helpful, responsive
and righteous. So was Lord Krishna while he was in human form. He lived
a very luxurious life, but was righteous, detached and balanced.
Hinduism advocates austerity, simplicity and detachment, but does not glorify poverty.
Wealth is not an impediment to self-realization, but attachment to wealth is.
Desire for wealth is different from greed for wealth. Selfless desire
for wealth is preferable to selfish desire for wealth. Money and wealth
are a form of divine energy. God is abundance. He is endowed with eight
kinds of wealth. But as Sri Aurobindo pointed out we have negative
attitude mostly about wealth because hostile and negative forces want us
believe so and thereby prevent its use for righteous reasons.
through human actions is not discouraged in Hinduism. The vedic hymns are mostly invocations addressed to gods and goddesses
by men desiring wealth
and prosperity. However they also emphasize the need for
right intention, right means and moderation in the pursuit of wealth.
Aiming for wealth is a
virtue, but greed is not. Amassing wealth for the family and for the
welfare of oneself is not sinful, but taking what does not belong to one is.
Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism benefited greatly in the past by the
individual contribution of rich merchants, their wives and children.
Poverty has become a grotesque reality in present day Hindu society
and erroneously considered by many as a virtue. This is a Christian
influence. Hindus have become so poverty conscious that if a saint or a sage leads a comfortable life, they scoff at him, saying that he is not a true yogi. They have to remind themselves of the simple fact that none of the Hindu gods and goddesses are really
poor. While they always help the poor and the needy,
none of them glorify poverty as a virtue. According to Hinduism all
experiences are self created and provide an opportunity to learn. So is
poverty and so is wealth. Renunciation does not mean to
leave aside wealth or denounce the wealthy. It means detachment from wealth. To become
indifferent to the comforts and discomforts of life caused by
Hinduism advocates moderation and balance in the pursuit of material
and spiritual goals. Some Hindus think otherwise, ignoring the fact that
what is applicable to an ascetic does not apply to a householder. Swami Vivekananda rightly said that religion
was not for the empty stomachs. When a person is beset with survival
problems, he would hardly find any solace in religion. Soothing words
would not comfort a hungry soul as much as a morsel of food.
Kama in a broader sense means desire and in a narrow sense sexual
desire. Both Hinduism and Buddhism consider desire as the root cause of
human suffering. According to the Bhagavadgita, desire leads delusion
and bondage to the cycle of births and deaths. The way out of suffering
is to become detached from the sense objects through such practices as
yoga and meditation and perform desireless actions as a sacrificial
offerings to God with a sense of duty, accepting God as the doer and
without hankering after the fruit of one's actions. According to
Manusmriti man performs sacrifices because of the desire for rewards,
with the expectation that his actions will bear fruit. Not a single act
of him here on earth appears ever to be done by a man free from desire.
So he who performs his prescribed duties out of desire in the right
manner will obtain the fulfillment of all the desires and reach the
deathless state or even beyhond1. As we can see the right way to fulfill
one's desire is by performing one's obligatory duties in the right
manner but not by neglecting them so that the way of the dharma also
becomes the way of fulfillment of desires.
Hinduism differs from other religions in its interpretation and
approach to the subject of sex. Sex can be either a means to liberation
and happiness in life or a great hindrance and cause of suffering
depending upon how we approach it. In any case ultimately one has to
overcome it to achieve salvation. It can be done either by abstaining from it or by indulging in it.
The former is the way of the Vedanta and the latter the way of the
Tantras. One is the way of suppression and
the other the way of expression through detachment and understanding in
which sexual energy is sublimated and transformed into a higher form of
energy. It is just the way you learn to handle fire. In both cases the difficulties are way too
many and so are the risks. Sexual desire is the ultimate of all desires and
unless it is overcome one is not free from the taints of maya.
In Hinduism there is permission for sexual activity up to a limit, so long as it is not in conflict with the
principles of dharma and used for the purposes of procreation, perpetuation of
family and social order, within the
boundaries established by tradition, social norms and scriptures. Sexual
activity is part of obligatory duty and not to be misused for enjoyment
as it would lead to attachment, delusion and one's downfall. Sexual relationship outside marriage is not permitted except in special
circumstances as laid down in the
Dharmashastras. Marriage is a sacred institution in which both the
husband and wife join their energies and destinies to promote each other's liberation
by performing their respective obligatory duties, which
only married couple can perform. Through the bonds of marriage they also
bind their respective karmas.
While the law books draw a clear demarcation between legitimate and
illegitimate sex, sex by itself is not considered unclean or sinful.
Sexual desire is an important and legitimate aspect of manava dharma
(human obligations) and
is created by nature to perpetuate life in the material plane. Creation itself
is a continuation of the union between Purusha and Prakriti, the male
and female aspects of the manifest universe, which is symbolically represented in the
form of Sivalinga. Creation ends when this union ends. Sexual desire is also the last stronghold of Prakriti
and the final refuge of our attachment with samsara. It is the most
difficult spiritual obstacle to be overcome. In most people
it perpetuates the delusion of the mind and serves as an important
force of Prakriti by which she maintains her stranglehold upon them and
keeps them bound to the cycle of births and deaths.
The ambivalent attitude of Hinduism on the subject of sex is rooted
in its historical growth during which it assimilated divergent
traditions and practices of which some were derived from ancient
fertility cults. It becomes evident as we go through the scriptures and
find in them various stories related to the libidinous activities of
various gods and goddesses. While on the one hand we have an established
school of opinion that considers celibacy as a great virtue and a necessary condition
for liberation, on the other we have stories from the Hindu Puranas
which depict the
sexual exploits of gods and goddesses and the odd situations that
develop out of them.
Some of the stories give us an impression
that the gods are oversexed beings who cannot control themselves from
temptation in the company of beautiful women. Besides sensuous gods, there are celestial nymphs of indescribable beauty who add passion and drama
to Hindu mythology through their activities. At times they descend to earth to disturb and distract the minds of
ascetic people who are absorbed in deep meditation. Even Siva, Vishnu and Krishna are
not above reproach. Many divinities and legendary heroes, including
Bharata the founder of the Indian race are born out of illegitimate
sexual conduct. Scholars
however tend to consider these stories of sexual union to be symbolic in
nature and not to be taken literally.
Whatever may be the truth, sex constituted an important aspect of Hindu
society from ancient times. The Dharmashastras prescribed a definite code of conduct
to safeguard the social and moral order. Married women were not
allowed to meet men in private when they were not accompanied by their
husbands or, in their absence, any other male member of their families.
Women whose husbands died were allowed to beget children through their
18.4). A marriageable maiden who was not given in marriage had the
freedom to choose her sexual partners after giving up the ornaments she received from her family and parents (Gautama
18.20). To avoid misuse of this provision, the scriptures recommended that
girls should be married before they reached puberty. Adultery was a
punishable offence while killing an unchaste woman or a prostitute was
22.26&27). Mental attitude, the state of mind and the dominant
quality of Prakriti at the time of sexual union were considered
important because they impacted the children who were born out of such
unions. Polygamy was an accepted social norm. It bred intrigue and
jealousy among women who shared a common husband. Women were sold and
brought in the market place. While sex with unmarried maidens
was a lesser taboo, adultery was a punishable offence. More so if it
happened between a lower caste male and higher caste female.
According to Hinduism, sex in an important aspect of human
life, but lust is not. Lust is one of the chief enemies of man. It is a
demonic quality, just as greed and pride are, and one
of the biggest hurdles on the spiritual path. All lustful activity would result
in sin with unhappy consequences for all those involved in it
directly or indirectly.
Even gods are not spared from the consequences of lustful sex. However, prostitutes and pleasure girls added
color and zest to ancient Hindu society. Some of them were highly
skilled in the art and science of
sex. They were patronized and frequented by men of repute. They employed various tricks to attract men and keep them under their charm. Prostitution
is still a rampant problem in India and one of the chief concerns of
women activists and welfare organizations.l
One of the notable developments within Hinduism during the post
Mauryan period was the rise of tantrism which upheld sexual
activity and considered it to be an expression of the divine. The Tantrics
indulged in various kinds of esoteric sexual rites to experience the blissful nature of God. They believed
in the possibility of sublimating sexual energy through austerities and
penances to transcend
one's lower nature and achieve
higher states of consciousness. They practiced various breathing and
yoga techniques to prolong their sexual prowess so that they could experiences higher states of blissful
consciousness during sexual union practiced with detachment. These sects
continue to remain on the
fringes of society attracting ridicule and criticism and largely unknown
and misunderstood by the general public. For the vast majority of Hindus, sex is a taboo unless it is in tune
with the social, moral and religious laws.
The pursuit of dharma regulates the life of a human being
and keeps him on the righteous path. The pursuit of artha and kama
enrich his experience and impart to him valuable lesson. The pursuit of moksha
or salvation liberates him and lead him to the world Brahman. The pursuit of dharma
usually begins in the early age when one is initiated into religious
pursuit of artha and kama begins in most cases after one becomes a
householder. The pursuit of moksha however is the most important of all
aims and can begin at any time. The other aims are preparatory for this
final aim. However, in most cases, though not correctly, moksha becomes
an important pursuit in the old age during vanaprastha or the age of
retirement. Moksha is both
a purushartha and a paramartha (transcendental aim), which is important
not only for men but alsi for the divine beings.
Moksha actually means absence of moha or delusion. Delusion is caused by the inter play of the triple
gunas, the activity of the senses, attachment with and desire for sense
objects. A person achieves liberation when he increases the
quality of sattva, suppressing rajas and tamas and overcomes his desire
for sense objects by detachment, self control, surrender to god and offering
of one's actions to God. There are many paths to salvation and all of
them lead to God. The main paths are the path of knowledge,
of action, of devotion and of renunciation. Each path has its own
advantages and disadvantages. whatever may be the path, the
help and guidance of a guru is indispensable to one's spiritual journey. A guru is God in human
form whose his chief purpose is to remove the darkness hidden in the hearts
and minds of his disciples and help them find their true selves.
The purpose of purusharthas is to ensure that people would not
neglect their obligatory duties in their deluded state by becoming
obsessed with particular desires that may lead to moral and social
decadence and destruction of family values. The four Purusharthas are
responsible for balance in human life. They make life a rewarding and
enriching experience. They cater to the spiritual and material
aspirations of human beings and lead them in the right direction on the
path of liberation. The exemplify the very functioning of God who,
without any particular aim or desire, detached, seeks to establish these
four aims in the entire manifest creation through his trinity of Brahma,
Vishnu and Mahesha and Himself as the highest and supreme aim of all.
Thus by worshipping Brahma we can gain the knowledge of dharma and
perform our obligatory duties with precision and perfection. By
worshipping Vishnu we can gain material and spiritual wealth and work
for the welfare of our families and society. By worshipping Siva we can
seek the fulfillment of our desires and overcome our delusion and
finally by pursuing Brahman, or any of these gods as Brahman, we can
achieve liberation by becoming Brahman Himself.
1. (Manusmriti Ch 2: 3,4& 5)