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Puruṣārtha

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 Puruṣārtha (pronunciation: /pʊrʊʃɑːrθ/, Sanskrit पुरुषार्थ) literally means an "object of human pursuit". It is a key concept in Hinduism, and refers to the four proper goals or aims of a human life. The four puruṣārthas are Dharma (righteousness, moral values), Artha(prosperity, economic values), Kāma (pleasure, love, psychological values) and Mokṣa (liberation, spiritual values).

All four Purusarthas are important, but in cases of conflict, Dharma is considered more important than Artha or Kama in Hindu philosophy. Moksha is considered the ultimate ideal of human life.

Historical Indian scholars recognized and debated the inherent tension between active pursuit of wealth (Artha purusartha) and pleasure (Kama), and renunciation of all wealth and pleasure for the sake of spiritual liberation (Moksha). They proposed "action with renunciation" or "craving-free, dharma-driven action", also called Nishkam Karma as a possible solution to the tension.

With the known exception of Kamasutra, most texts make no recommendation on the relative preference on Artha or Kama, that an individual must emphasize in what stage of life. The Kamasutra states,

The life span of a man is one hundred years. Dividing that time, he should attend to three aims of life in such a way that they support, rather than hinder each other. In his youth he should attend to profitable aims (artha) such as learning, in his prime to pleasure (kama), and in his old age to dharma and moksha.

— Kamasutra 1.2.1–1.2.4, Translated by Patrick Olivelle 

 

Etymology

Puruṣartha (पुरुषार्थ) is a composite Sanskrit word from Purusha (पुरुष) and Artha (अर्थ). Purusha mean "human being", "soul" as well as "universal principle and soul of the universe". Artha in one context means "purpose", "object of desire" and "meaning".Together, Purusartha literally means "purpose of human being" or "object of human pursuit".

Alf Hiltebeitel translates Purusartha as "Goals of Man".Prasad clarifies that "Man" includes both man and woman in ancient and medieval Indian texts.Olivelle translates it as the "aims of human life".

Purusartha is also referred to as Caturvarga.

Discussion

Main articles: Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha

Purusartha is a key concept in Hinduism, which holds that every human being has four proper goals that are necessary and sufficient for a fulfilling and happy life,

  • Dharma – signifies behaviors that are considered to be in accord with rta, the order that makes life and universe possible, and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and ‘‘right way of living’’. Hindu dharma includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviors that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous. Dharma, according to Van Buitenen, is that which all existing beings must accept and respect to sustain harmony and order in the world. It is, states Van Buitenen, the pursuit and execution of one’s nature and true calling, thus playing one’s role in cosmic concert.
  • Artha – signifies the “means of life”, activities and resources that enables one to be in a state one wants to be in. Artha incorporates wealth, career, activity to make a living, financial security and economic prosperity. The proper pursuit of artha is considered an important aim of human life in Hinduism.
  • Kama – signifies desire, wish, passion, emotions, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love, with or without sexual connotations. Gavin Floodexplains kāma as “love” without violating dharma (moral responsibility), artha (material prosperity) and one’s journey towards moksha (spiritual liberation).
  • Moksha – signifies emancipation, liberation or release. In some schools of Hinduism, moksha connotes freedom from saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth, in other schools moksha connotes freedom, self-knowledge, self-realization and liberation in this life.

 

Each of these four canonical puruṣārthas was subjected to a process of study and extensive literary development in Indian history. This produced numerous treatises, with a diversity of views, in each category. Some purusartha-focused literature include,

  • On Dharma
These texts discuss dharma from various religious, social, duties, morals and personal ethics perspective. Each of six major schools of Hinduism has its own literature on dharma. Examples include Dharma-sutras (particularly by Gautama, Apastamba, Baudhayana and Vāsiṣṭha) and Dharma-sastras (particularly Manusmṛti, Yājñavalkya Smṛti,Nāradasmṛti and Viṣṇusmṛti). At personal dharma level, this includes many chapters of Yogasutras.
  • On Artha
Artha-related texts discuss artha from individual, social and as a compendium of economic policies, politics and laws. For example, the Arthashastra of Kauṭilya, the Kamandakiya Nitisara, Brihaspati Sutra, and Sukra Niti. Olivelle states that most Artha-related treatises from ancient India have been lost.
  • On Kama
These discuss arts, emotions, love, erotics, relationships and other sciences in the pursuit of pleasure. The Kamasutra of Vātsyāyana is most well known. Others texts includeRatirahasya, Jayamangala, Smaradipika, Ratimanjari, Ratiratnapradipika, Ananga Ranga among others.
  • On Moksha
These develop and debate the nature and process of liberation, freedom and spiritual release. Major treatises on the pursuit of moksa include the Upanishads,Vivekachudamani, Bhagavad Gita, and the sastras on Yoga.

 


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