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A Handbook of Hindu Religion: Puruṣārthas


Every animal pursues an end but man alone is conscious of the end. Man has reason or hetuka and he is also morally free and a kartā. His consciousness of the end or purpose is called puruṣārtha; it is his aim of life or goal. Man's physical needs are food, water, fire, air and clothing, i.e., they are for the preservation of his body. He seeks pleasures and their continuance and avoids pains. Hinduism has analysed all the chief ends of life and classified them into four broad kinds. They are called dharma, artha, Kāma and mokṣa. They may be rendered in English as the ethical, the economic, the hedonistic or pleasure-seeking and the religious ends of life. They are not, however, exclusive. They all lead to the super-end of life, namely, mokṣa.

Dharma or righteousness is the ethical end of life. Hinduism gives the practice of dharma the first place among the purusārthas as no man can take a moral holiday. Right conduct is the whole of life and the other ends of life should also be righteous. Buddhism and Jainism also insist on the need for the practice of dharma. But they do not recognise and realise that goodness has its final meaning only in godliness. God is good by nature and the highest good is godliness, to be attained through the Śāstra. So morality or dharma has its full meaning in religion or Śāstra which prescribes the duties that ought to be done. They are called nidhis. They are righteousness in practised acts. Dharma is righteousness in action and is the essence of duty and it consists in reverence to parents, teachers and sages; truthfulness, charity, courage and kindliness to all creatures. It includes the performance of the five yajñās or sacrifices to the devās and pitṛs above, to men and lower animals. It brings out the solidarity of the universe and the need for mutual helpfulness. The violation of these duties is adharma and entails sin or pāpa. Adharma includes evil and sin; it is evil in the moral sense and sin in the religious sense as it is the violation of a Divine Law. By doing the acts of dharma, the general attitude of dharma or righteousness is attained. A man then becomes a dharmavan like Dharmaputra and is like Rāma, the very incarnation of righteousness on earth. Śrī Rāma practised truthfulness (satya) devotion to vows, kindliness to all creatures and self-control. He subordinated artha and Kāmato the discipline of dharma. Dharma is thus the very essence of duty for duty's sake.

Artha is an end of life which is both desired and desirable. A student who finishes his studies or academic life should enter on the life of a householder or gṛhastha. He ekes out his livelihood by doing hard and honest work for the maintenance of his family and others. Wealth is not an end in itself and the miser who hoards his wealth for the sake of wealth is rightly condemned as an adharmavan and anti-social. The householder should be hospitable, helpful to the needy and do his duty to the devas and pitṛs as the whole world is one. There is really no difference between individual and secular or laukika duties and special or spiritual or vaidika duties as every duty is finally an offering to the Deity. Karmas are of three kinds, viz., nitya karmas or daily duties like sandhya, naimittika karmas or occasioned duties like ceremonies to pitṛs and kāmya karmas or optional works. While the first two are obligatory, the third is optional.

Kāma is the attainment of the pleasures of life and is the third purusārtha. When a man desires children, health or wealth, he does certain karmas or yajñas to please the devas and gets the desired boons. People pray to God for boons and He grants their prayers. Kāmya karmas are on the whole for enjoying the pleasures of life here and in Svarga. But they are trivial and transcient. Therefore a wise man should renounce these pleasures and seek eternal happiness which is only in mokṣa.

Kaiṅkarya or social and spiritual service to all Jīvas is work raised to the level of worship of God. The great devotees of God like the Ālvārs and the Ācāryas sought God in all beings and all beings in God and raised the idea of service to the level of kaiṅkarya. Self-surrender to God is the highest purusārtha or supreme end of conduct. God is the fulfilment of all the purusārthas, as He is sarvakāma or all-desire and sarvaśarṇya the refuge of all.

The mumukṣu who seeks mukti by following sādhanas or yogas at last attains it. The term mokṣa means freedom from samsara or the ills of life due to avidya and karma. It is freedom from the cycle of births and deaths to which the embodied Jīva, or baddha as he is called, is subject. The word mukti is negative as it means that there is no return to this world of Saṁsāra. But it has also a positive meaning as it refers to the ascent of the freed Jīva to the world of Brahman beyond space and time. Mokṣa is the attainment of Brahman by knowing whom everything is known. According to Rāmānuja, following the Upaniṣads, the Sūtras and the Gitā, the mukta, freed from the body, ascends gloriously by the arcirādi path or devayāna, led by a Divine guide to Vaikuṇtha beyond this world and the world of the devas. When the body dies, the mumukṣu has a glimpse of the Brāhmanādi. This nādi throws light on the path and he soars gloriously to Vaikuṇtha, through the shining regions of Indra, Śurya and other Devas, crosses the river Virajā and goes beyond. He is freed from avidya and karma and the subtle body by bathing in the purifying waters of Virajā. Then he reaches Vaikuṇtha, sees Brahman face to face, attains union with Him and enjoys eternal bliss. Though the language used by the Upaniṣad in this ascent and attainment is the earthly language of space, time and sensibility, it is really beyond human description. Vaikuṇtha is beyond space and time, mind and body and Brahman has a formless form, is eternal, ever self-shining and blissful. The mukta becomes one with Him and is immortal and ever blissful. He no longer returns to this world of karma and is no longer bound by prakṛti or kāla. In the state of bliss he is one with Brahman though he exists as a distinct entity. The muktas are spiritually united and as they are free, their desires are at once fulfilled. They may serve the Lord without any taint of egoity and serve each other and fulfil the redeeming purpose of the Lord who longs to make the other bound Jīvas muktas. On the whole it is impossible to describe the bliss of Vaikuṇtha. He who experiences it alone can explain it. The followers of Madhva separate good from evil and assert that the good jīva or devotee of Viṣṇu goes to Vaikuṇtha and serves Him there for ever and that the wicked is hurled into , everlasting Hell. The Śaivite has faith in Śiva as the supreme good and by following the saint's path, he attains, after death, the world of Śiva or Kailāsa, The Advaitin says that mukti is possible even in this life and it is Jīvanmukti or identity of jīva and Īśvara. He, however, admits gradual release by ascending to the world of Viṣṇu.

All Hindus have faith in the four yogas and freedom from saṁsāra with the grace of God.