The purusharthas are Artha, Dharma, Karma, and Moksa. These are the four pillars of Vedic life. In other words, the useful objects of our aims in life. As Deepak Chopra suggests, they offer a kind of blueprint for human fulfilment.
To explain them further, we always begin with dharma, considered the first of the purusharthas. Nothing can be done without ascertaining one’s fundamental role and duty in life. That is how the individual’s life aligns with the universal laws of the cosmos.
The Bhagavad Gita says, ‘better to do your dharma badly than someone else’s well. Doing someone else’s dharma is perilous’. So, understanding one’s own dharma is of fundamental importance. Once we’re clear on this foundation, we can build the other pillars upon this. We also need to satisfy the different aspects of life to be contented with it. It’s no good knowing our purpose if it simply makes us miserable. A fundamental point to consider here is how material needs interrelate, complement and support our spiritual needs. The spiritual and material go together. In life then, both material and spiritual are necessary.
Along these lines, Artha material prosperity, is also a valid and essential aim of life and not to be neglected on the spiritual path. This is not to say we have to be rich or greedy. Yet, without being able to take care of our basic human needs, we really can do little else; all our energy is taken up on this task alone. It also means we are required to work with people (at least potentially) in a mutually beneficial way that preserves our integrity and dignity while not compromising others. That is if we are to live artha in line most effectively in the kind of way whereby our inner abundance can manifest itself in the outer world. Pleasure is an integral part of life.
Kama is the next pillar of life; pleasure. To be human is to feel pleasure and pain. Indeed, this is the fundamental motivating factor of our everyday lives. Therefore, we need to ensure our motivations for happiness in life align with our *dharma*. On the other hand, many people’s pleasure motivations are pretty separate from their purpose. Indeed, the pursuit of pleasure can often get in the way of our purpose. Or, we pursue most temporary and superficial pleasures to escape the obligations of a role, dharma, that doesn’t truly align with us. Along these lines, how we relate to Kama is a good indication of how sound is our fundamental dharma foundation.
It always comes back to transcendence.
Moksha, liberation, is the last of the four pillars. Well, in fact, it was actually a later interpolation. Originally there were only three pillars, but, later, as Vedic thought developed to include the possibility of liberation as reasonable aim, moksha was added. Indeed, in our pursuit of the spiritual it is fairly clear that, we are also, at least intermittently, looking for a break from material life, for an experience of the transcendent.
This may mean different things and be achieved in different ways for each individual. Yet, the experience of losing oneself periodically to merge with something greater also appears like a necessary requirement of our being.
The point is the marriage between material and spiritual
These purusharthas all need to be fulfilled in order for us to satisfy the biological or metaphysical requirements into which we have been born. In an increasingly unbalanced reality it’s certainly worth reflecting upon how the material allows for the spiritual and the spiritual shapes the material in such a way (so as that it doesn’t get in the way of the spiritual).
To repeat, both are necessary where we often are found creating a hard separation between our obligations and our pleasures, our higher aspirations and our need for material, bodily, satisfaction that we are still hardwired for.