from the book: The 4 Aims of Life -The Tradition of Ancient India
The Four "Aims Of Life" (Purusharthas)
The life of a man (purusha) has four aims or meanings (artha) and is not complete until all four have been accomplished. If anyone of the four is ignored, accomplishment is not possible. The four aims are these:
Dharma - duty, virtue, man's striving to perfect what he is: self-realization on the moral level (courage, honesty, tolerance, charity)
Artha - wealth, success, family, the acquisition of material goods: self-realization on the social or active level
Kama - pleasure, sexuality, enjoyment in all its forms: self-realization on the sensual level
Moksha - final and total liberation from the chains of existence: self-realization on the spiritual level
Man must keep these four aims in mind in all his actions and at all moments of his life. If he neglects one he is certain to fail in the others. The first three aims of life determine the value of the human being:
"As honey is the essence of the flower, pleasure is the accomplishment of desire. Virtue, wealth, and pleasure must all be sought together. He who only seeks one of the three is unworthy; he who seeks but two is mediocre. The best is he who seeks all three."
A man who ignores the duties of rank, caste, and profession, which according to the Hindus' integrated concept of life are aspects of his nature, and who does not fulfill his inner and outer self, destroys the material conditions that allow him to attain spiritual fulfillment and to pay his debts to the gods, his ancestors, and the sages. In the Bhagavad Gita, when the prince-soldier Arjuna wishes to abjure a fratricidal war and refuses to take part in the massacre of his brothers-in-law, cousins, and uncles and speaks of withdrawing to a contemplative life in order to devote himself to the quest of the divine, the god Krishna, who guides his chariot, harshly reminds him of his duties and warrior virtues and warns him against a renunciation that would only be failure, the neglect of his duty as a soldier, and the overlooking of his own nature.
Those who are indifferent to work, to a profession, to riches and power and who do not seek to acquire them are incapable of fulfilling their destiny because the other three aims of life require material tranquility and standing in society, since man has a collective as well as an individual nature. The vagabond or the poor man cannot accomplish his social duty, is deprived of sensual pleasures, and does not possess the inner calm and physical balance that would allow him to devote himself to his own interior progress once he has discharged his material and moral debts.
Our body is the instrument of our destiny. Our intellectual mechanism and spiritual being are not independent of the body that shelters and nourishes them. If we wish for success in anything whatever, we must take care of our body: cherish, satisfy, and content it. Yogis condemn abstinence, just as they condemn excess, since both cause imbalance in the physical and intellectual being. A healthy, vigorous, satisfied body, one that is pleasant to inhabit, is the best vehicle and instrument for human and spiritual accomplishment. Eroticism and pleasure in all its forms are vital for man's intellectual and physical balance. Life is transmitted through the sexual act, and the giving of life is a duty, a debt to be discharged by whoever has received it. Besides its practical utility, however, physical pleasure plays an essential role in our inner development. It is the image of divine bliss and prepares us and aids us to attain it. A man who strives to be chaste and who fears, condemns, and thwarts physical love can never free himself from the prison of the senses. He weaves around himself a web of obscure frustrations, which will hinder him from realizing his transcendental destiny.
On the other hand, the man who has tasted all kinds of sensual pleasure can gradually turn aside from them, finding greater sensual pleasure in union with the divine. This is no longer renunciation, but liberation. In discovering the divine, the realized man gradually loses interest in earthly things, virtue, honor, vice, and pleasure. He does not fear the sight of virtue or the spectacle of the sensual pleasures of others. He considers the human act of love in the same way that he breathes the perfume of flowers or listens to the song of the birds, conscious of the harmony of the divine illusion that is the world, to which only the reality of the divine can be preferred, perceived in the silence of nonthinking and nonacting.
The remark of the saint who said, "I have never renounced any vice: it is they that have left me," summarizes the Hindu attitude to pleasure.
To cooperate in others' pleasures is also a duty. "Never repulse a woman who offers herself," says the Chandogya Upanishad.
Only after fulfillment of the other aims of life can the final goal be attained - total detachment leading man to liberation (moksha), the fourth and veritable meaning of human life.
Because they forget that spiritual realization is the real and final aim of life, men chain themselves to ambitions that do not accord with their true nature, thus creating social disorder. A good shoemaker is essential to society and in practicing his art can fulfill the four aims of life. This does not mean, however, that he necessarily possesses the aptitudes and moral virtues needed to make him a political leader, a head of state, a philosopher, or a prostitute.
External accomplishment reflects the inner being. There is a fundamental relationship between external and inner fulfillment, the two forms of expression of the same being. This is why the possession of material goods is connected with the sense of duty, with the virtues of order and conformity that correspond to the cohesive, constructive, and cumulative tendency (sattva), whereas the search for physical pleasure is connected with the search for divine bliss, since both issue from the dissolving or destructive tendency (tamas). Wealth is a reflection of virtue, whereas the union of two bodies reflects union with the divine. The aims of life are thus always envisaged in pairs, according to a given order: Dharma and Artha in the center and Kama and Moksha on either side - duties and material goods on one side, and pleasure and liberation on the other. Being furthest from liberation, duty and virtue are the greatest obstacles to its accomplishment. It is the renunciation of virtues, not vices, which are unimportant, that the Bhagavad Gita recommends to the seeker after God. The three tendencies and the four aims of life are related thus:
Moksha = Tamas (dispersion)
Dharma = Sattva (cohesion)
Artha = Sattva (cohesion)
Kama = Tamas (dispersion)
Our actions playa fundamental role in the realization of our human and spiritual destiny. Until we attain the state of constant contemplation in nonaction, and as long as the greater part of our life consists of actions, the value of the latter affects our nature and gradually transforms us.
According to the theory of action, or karma, our being is the result of our past actions. During our life, a certain number of positive actions make us different from the person we were when we were born, thus determining a better or worse destiny in our future lives until final liberation is reached. At this moment, the incarnate being, made perfect by his actions, liberates himself and, renouncing all virtues and all vices, plunges into the ocean of nonaction, submerging into the absolute being, or nonbeing, according to how the ultimate substratum of the cosmic universe is regarded.
Each species of being is governed by a natural law, an ethical nature that determines the value of every action. Every individual must fulfill his role in the harmony of creation, which involves conforming to his moral nature, the dharmas of his species, race, caste, and person, and can be considered the negative side of ethics. Only then, once his obligations have been fulfilled, may man by his behavior improve his nature through positive action and approach liberation, or fusion with the impersonal, the Cosmic Being. He will thus cease to exist as a simple link in the chain of his species by bringing to fruition the efforts made by his ancestors for reintegration with the divine being.
As a man acts, as he behaves, so he becomes.
He who performs good actions, becomes good.
He who commits crime becomes a criminal.
By virtuous actions, a man becomes virtuous.
By evil actions, evil.
It is said that man becomes what he desires.
His will follows his desire, as his actions his will.
He becomes conform to his actions.
He that desires what he desires with all
his heart is reborn with what he desires in the very place he desired it.
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.4.5)