Purushartha or Caturvarga forms a key aspect of Hinduism. Purushartha has Sanskrit roots, Purush, which means human, and artha, which means purpose or meaning. Attaining Purushartha means attaining the objective of human life. As per Purushartha, our aims and goals should be crystal clear. One can maintain order in their life and control themselves by practicing Purushartha. In Hinduism, the four Purusharthas are Dharma (morality/righteousness), Artha (prosperity), Kama (sensual pleasure), and Moksha (liberation). Purushartha is crucial to living a fulfilled and content life.
What is Purushartha and its significance?
A significant part of the Mahabharata and many other Hindu religious scriptures talk about the Purusharthas and their importance. A deep connection exists between the Purusharthas and yogic philosophy. The importance of each Purushartha can be determined by studying various scriptures (the Kama Sutra, Dharma Shastras, and Artha Shastras, among others). It is mentioned in Mahabharat that the ultimate goal of life is moksha, achieved through following the path of Dharma. Traditional Indian beliefs about man and society are centered around the concepts of varṇa, ashrama, and puruṣhartha.
There is deep significance between the three in terms of the interconnections between them. However, Purushartha defines the ultimate goals of human existence and is perhaps more fundamental.
In Kautilya’s Arthashastra, he specifically emphasizes how Artha is the cornerstone of the other two. According to him, it is difficult to lead a sensual and moral life without adequate economic resources and social security. A society focused on virtues and love thrives in prosperity, according to Kautilya. As Kautilya said, all three are interconnected, and one should build a happy balance between them. According to Sanatani beliefs, salvation or Moksha is the param-purushartha or the ultimate goal of human existence.
The four steps of Purushartha
- Dharma- In order to attain Purushartha, this is the first step. The word Dharma derives from the Sanskrit word ‘Dhri’, which means to hold together or to save. Dharma encompasses both one’s religious duties and moral rights, as well as appropriate social behavior and right conduct. The concept of dharma plays an instrumental role in Indian philosophy and Sanatan Dharma. In classical Hindu texts, Dharma is cited as imperative for maintaining societal stability. All are protected by Dharma, and it is designed for humanity’s welfare. Thus, according to Sanatan Dharma, Dharma is the power that protects man from all kinds of dangers. It is the Vedas, Vedangas, and the sutra literature, particularly the Dharmashastras, and the Bhagavadgita, that are the guiding light for Dharma. Due to the mechanical way of living in modern times, people don’t think about dharma holistically, which is the root cause of all the problems they are facing today. The Dharma is more than an old-fashioned religious tradition or a blind belief. It is the guiding light for all of humanity.
- Artha-: Indian philosophy regards it as the second goal of human existence. Artha refers to the material and economic aspects of life. The importance of Artha is the same for an individual as it is for a government. Wealth, career, financial security, and economic prosperity are all examples of artha, depending on the context of an individual. For an individual to be truly happy and fulfilled, material wealth is crucial. Attaching oneself to wealth is an impediment to self-realization, not wealth itself. Artha’s role is to advance our psychological and inner security beyond the level of material safety and health. Until one is truly secure within oneself, it is critical to keep inquiring into oneself constantly.
- Kama- The third goal of Purushartha is Kama, which means pleasure. Kama is the fulfillment of worldly desires. As a broader definition, kama means desire, and in“ a narrower definition, it means sexual desire. Enjoying pleasure is what kama is all about. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, suffering is attributed solely to desire. It is mentioned in the Bhagavadgita that desire leads to delusion and bondage, leading to a perpetual cycle of birth and death. As humans, we can have many desires, including wealth, power, sexual needs, recognition, and service. Kama Purushartha contends that one must fulfill one’s wishes in this lifetime, but in a state of awareness and without harming anyone. To reach Moksha, any being must cross the threshold of desires in order to evolve spiritually. In order to accomplish this, you can either fulfill your desires or transcend them.
- Moksha- Moksha, which means liberation, is the fourth and final pursuit of Purushartha. It is the ultimate goal of human birth to achieve moksha, the knowledge of one’s true self. In Hinduism, true liberation is only possible when a person recognizes their connection with Brahman, the source of all absolute existence. In its penultimate stage, moksha signifies the inner realization that one is the same as the supreme self. Upon achieving Moksha, one experiences ultimate peace, knowledge, and enlightenment. According to Hinduism, self-realization is essential to achieve Moksha. Moksha is both- Purushartha and Paramartha, which is significant for men as well as for the divine. Moksha means the absence of moha or delusion. Liberation occurs when one suppresses rajas and tamas gunas and transcends sensory desire. In order to achieve this, one must practice self-control, experience detachment from each other, and surrender to God unconditionally. Many Hindus today don’t understand the value of Moksha as a goal of human life, nor are they taught or encouraged to attain it. Materialistic pleasures lead people to focus on Artha and Kama. Sadly, this has put the emphasis on worldly needs rather than spiritual salvation.
Importance of Purushartha in today’s times
It is imperative for every human to know and understand these Purusharthas, especially in these uncertain times. Peace and tranquility should be the ultimate goal of everyone in these times of constant confusion and irritability. Every step of purushartha has been distorted and molded to suit one’s convenience. Having diverged from the actual aim and goals of human life, people have become disoriented and disconnected from humanity. Observing the rise of inhumane and immoral practices indicates a sense of departure that comes from failing to follow dharma’s rules. It impacts not only the individual, but also society. Hindus of today have forgotten their roots, hence their growing lethargy, especially when the Abrahamic forces are gaining strength. Those who have a true understanding of dharma and moksha will be freed from their inertia and will not be manipulated by others. Therefore, Purushartha needs to be pursued holistically by everyone if we are to have a productive, progressive, equitable, and just society. We must impart these lessons to future generations as well so that they understand and appreciate living in a holistically healthy manner.