By Swami Harshananda
purusārthas (‘ends [to be striven for by] human beings’)
Recognising the basic needs and cravings of a human being, the ancient sages of Hinduism have given a fourfold
ideal to be striven for, by everyone. This is called the puruṣārthas or the ends to be striven for in life.
They are four: dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kāma (desires of the flesh) and moksa (liberation from transmigratory existence).
Ordinary enjoyments of the world are centred round artha and kāma. However, in this world of cut-throat competition, unless some higher norms and standards— the right rules for a good and a fair game —are set up, the big fish will eat up the smaller ones and the jungle-law will prevail.
It is these rules that are indicated by the omnibus term dharma.
Every person is free to pursue the path of artha and kāma, comfort and pleasure, but always within the perimeters of dharma.
However, life teaches everyone, at least the more cultured and refined ones, that neither artha nor kāma can ever be satiated; and, that there must be a much higher goal to be sought after. This is moksa or total liberation from the transmigratory cycle of birth and death, and, being reinstated in one’s original state, the state of eternal bliss.
This can be attained through spiritual evolution under the guidance of expert spiritual masters.
Sometimes, the first three are grouped as one unit called ‘trivarga’ and the last as ‘apavarga’ (‘that which is beyond the three’).
As applied to a king, the four puruṣārthas recommended are: desire for wealth that he does not have; protecting the wealth that he already has; developing
and increasing that wealth; and, using it according to dharma (vide Manusmrti 7.99).
Here, the word ‘artha’ (in ‘puru-śārtha’) is taken only as ‘wealth’.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore