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The Four Aims of Life

By Yogi Baba Prem Yogacharya, Veda Visharada


Within the Vedic tradition there are four aims or goals within life that each of us as members of humanity share.  These four aims are notable in their universality, crossing all ethnic, cultural and socio-economic boundaries.  In Sanskrit, the language of Yoga and Hinduism, these four aims are more commonly referred to as the Purusharthas, with each having a distinctive name and function.


The four aims are commonly referred to as:


1. Dharma


2. Artha

3. Kama


4. Moksha


Each aim is significantly important within each individual’s life.  Not only are they important as an individual quality or need, but their greatest power is in their combined application. Examining and cultivating an understanding of each of the Purusharthas allows one to live a healthier and more fulfilled life, as well as grow spiritually. 

Dharma is complex term with a multitude of meanings. In this case, it is associated with career.  It is important to note that most individuals spend more time with coworkers than with their family.  Therefore, most people seek or long for a satisfying career with people they enjoy being around. Often when one's dharma is not satisfied in the sense of the four aims, an individual will often turn to a different meaning of dharma—justice, seeking justice for the perceived injustices experienced within the work environment.


Artha is associated with recognition.  In the realm of career, one wants to be recognized for their contributions. Likewise, most people wish to be recognized for the activities they do for others or for organizations including volunteer work. This can include even the little things that one does. I personally believe that this can be expanded to recognition in a variety of different aspects of one’s life. For example, most people want to be recognized for their contributions in relationships such as a marriage. A great deal of bitterness exists when there is a lack of recognition within relationships.


Kama literally means desire.  Humanity is a species filled with desire.  We live in an age where a large portion of the world is heavily focused on desire. Some desires are for the uplifting of humanity, some are for justice, yet others desire for a particular person to love them.  Some are consumed with sexual desire. Yet, others desire communion with Divinity.  There are a plethora of desires within humanity. It is said in the Vedas that creation as 'desire first arose' within Divinity.  While desire is largely vilified within the realm of spirituality and religion, it is a powerful motivator and tool when used properly, and can be a catalyst for great change within humanity. 


Moksha is liberation.  Moksha is the realization of the highest truth.  It is the destruction of all karmas, and freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth. Ironically, moksha is the most important of the Purusharthas, yet moksha receives the least amount of focus in modern spirituality. While the world is consumed with the previous three and a special emphasis on Kama, it is important to remember that the goal is the fourth aim--moksha.  Likewise, in modern society it is possible to turn moksha into an unhealthy obsession as well.


From the Vedic perspective, the first three aims should be geared toward achieving the fourth aim (moksha).  Often people confuse this teaching, as they mistakenly believe they must do spiritual work as their dharma. This has resulted in much suffering as many simply cannot make a living doing spiritual work in the modern age.  In reality, they would be better served to bring spirituality to whatever their dharma or career happens to be.  The real purpose of their dharma is to provide the financial resources to be able to study, purchase books, meditate, etc. to aid in acquiring knowledge and skill to achieve moksha. This is not to imply that moksha can be purchased or found in a book, but proper study and guidance can aid in spiritual growth.


It is within the realm of Kama or desire that the greatest conflict arises.  While desire for communion with Divinity or soul is less important, a segment of society becomes obsessed with desire ranging from extreme materialism to rather base levels within humanity.  These extremes of desire do not support the journey toward moksha; rather they actually become obstacles to realization.


More surprising is the simple fact that the majority of humanity is not seeking moksha or liberation.  This is likely the greatest obstacle for achieving moksha. While a significant portion of the world believes in the concept of reincarnation, most are simply content to return over and over to the cycle of death and rebirth.   Meanwhile, another portion of the world is seeking salvation, which is quite different from liberation.  The concept of salvation leads one to a loka, another world where one spends time only to return to the earthly incarnation, and the cycle of death and rebirth.  It is only through liberation that one achieves freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth, continuing the journey on a more cosmic level or incarnating by choice for the benefit of humanity.


The path of joy, bliss and realization is best when the first three aims support and aid one in understanding and working for the achievement of the fourth aim--moksha.  It is through this process that we achieve the higher meaning of dharma in the Vedic tradition which is the support of Rtam, cosmic truth.  By learning and working with the four aims properly, one can take powerful steps in achieving one’s destiny and personal transformation.

 

Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved. 

 

Yogi Baba Prem

  • Yogi Baba Prem has two books published in India, and has written numerous other books published by Universal Yoga. 
  • His articles have appeared in several traditional magazines and a variety of e-magazines.