Dharma – Artha – Kama – Moksha

Dharma – Artha – Kama – Moksha

Wikipedia says, ‘Puruṣārtha (पुरुषार्थ) literally means an “object of human pursuit”. It is a key concept in Hinduism, and refers to the four proper goals or aims of a human life. The four puruṣārthas are Dharma (righteousness, moral values), Artha (prosperity, economic values), Kāma (pleasure, love, psychological values) and Mokṣa (liberation, spiritual values).  All four Purusarthas are important, but in cases of conflict, Dharma is considered more important than Artha or Kama in Hindu philosophy.Moksha is considered the ultimate ideal of human life.’

All the sites I browsed, explain the ‘goals of life’, ‘object of human pursuit’ as is. Bar wikipedia and a few others, none give much significance to the order. Thus, even though I have heard the above 4 terms explained countless number of times, I never really gave much thought to the order in which they come, and if that order had any significance at all.  

I think I mentioned the serial, Upanishad Ganga, many times already. The epiphany moments whilst watching this show are ceaseless. Upanishad Ganga has dedicated 4 episodes trying to elucidate ‘the goal of human life’ and the first Purusharth explained is Dharma. Why Dharma should come first; the significance of the order, how Dharma is interlaced with the following purusharths is beautifully brought to light in these episodes.

The life of King Harishchandra is exemplified to depict Dharma. Harishchandra not only foregoes his kingdom, crown, riches and name; he sells his wife and child to uphold Dharma. The chandala employed Harishchandra as a worker at his cremation ground. He directed Harishchandra to collect fees for everybody cremated there: a part of the fee would go to the chandala, a part would be given to the local king, and the rest would be Harishchandra’s remuneration. Harishchandra started living and working at the cremation ground. One day, his queen stood crying before him; she held the dead body of their son, who had died of a snake bite. The queen readied to cremate the dead body of their son. But, Harishchandra told her that he would not let her do so without paying the fee. He was bound by his Master’s word, fee for everybody cremated. Even though it was his own son, and even though his wife was too poor to pay any fee….“ Thus, was the struggle of Raja Harishchandra to uphold Dharma.

I thought the story was a bit too extreme, I mean, putting oneself to so much trouble, pain and grief to uphold Dharma; was Dharma really that pivotal?

“In Hinduism, dharma signifies behaviours that are considered to be in accord with rta, the order that makes life and universe possible,and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and ‘‘right way of living’’.In Buddhism dharma means “cosmic law and order”,but is also applied to the teachings of the Buddha. In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for “phenomena. Dharma in Jainism refers to the teachings of tirthankara (Jina) and the body of doctrine pertaining to the purification and moral transformation of human beings. For Sikhs, the word dharm means the path of righteousness and proper religious practice.”

The first lesson we learn is Dharma: duty, our duty. Verily, it is bound to come first. It is the foundation stone on which the edifice of our life lies.  The first thing we are taught is ‘know your duty’ and ‘do your duty diligently’. At the tender age of 8 our duty is to study, be a person of moral character and abide by our parents’ words. As we grow older the duty changes, we are duty bound to earn a living, enter the second pursuit of life; Artha. Making a livelihood with legal means within the bounds of our duty, ethically. Profiting off someone else’s loss, earning for the sake of a better life, more than the someone else, in competition with others; these are prominent reasons why we lose our power of discernment and behave contradictory to our true nature. It is Dharma which is the fine line standing between, need and greed. Subtly, it highlighted again that without Dharma, Artha can become a war for power and wealth, sans the foundation of ethics or values.

The gradual progression from Dharma and Artha is Kama, the third Purushaarth. The world is in chaos, misguided probably because of the preference this Purushaarth has been given! The youth today falls in love first, decides all other duties and responsibilities later. People are asked to vote at the age of 18-21, the driving license is issued at the age of 18years, but to fall in love there seems to be no such age bar. What happens when we practice and live life in the reverse order is the plight of the world today. Once again, Dharma helps us ennoble ourselves with love, rather than fall prey to lust. These subtle differences which prepare us for our last Purushaarth, Moksha, have to be followed in the said order. A confusion or transgression of the order keeps us away from our goal. It is by design that only on following Dharma can we be aware of the true goal of life; a life led with Artha and Kama deviod of Dharma are bereft of the last purushaarth.

 “Our discriminative faculty is so much over-shadowed by the hankerings of the mind that we have become quite blind to the real value of things concerned with in life. As a matter of fact, everything in life is for our ultimate good; only we have to learn their proper utilisation so as to turn them to our advantage.” – (Complete works of RamChandra, Vol 2- Ram Chrandra of Shahajahanpur,UP)

Somerset Maugham ends his book, ‘The Razors Edge’ with “The difference between the sublime and the foolish is that of a Razor’s Edge”.  That’s what life is I think, with Dharma in place it can be a life of a sublimity, else of one living in a fool’s paradise. Life may remain successful, infused with joy, wealth and prosperity; yet the goal may elude us, the true goal of life. 

The 4 Purusharth’s are interlaced; Dharma being the foundation on which the edifice of life stands defining the choices we make, and who we become.

 

http://www.ekatvam.org/liberation/dharma-artha-kama-moksha.html

http://swamij.com/purusharthas.html