Purusharthas: Giving life a meaning

Exclusive to Vedic Management Center by U. Mahesh Prabhu

Ahaara (food), Nidra (sleep), Bhaya (fear) and Maithuna (sex) are the four significant cravings of Mana – mind – which transcend species, space and time. To sustain one’s body a living being needs food, to heal and rejuvenate one’s body and mind sleep is essential, in survival fear plays a dominant role and for procreation as well as recreation – sex appears to play a crucial part. It is in pursuit of achieving these natural urges of the senses that there happen umpteen conflicts in the wild. Animals at times kill their kind for the sake of food, sleep, fear, and sex. It’s also the root of Chaos. To ensure that humans don’t live like beasts they created families, societies and, even, civilizations.

Purushartha as an ethical code of conduct created by Vedic seers to survive, assess, pursue and achieve their desires without conflicts. It was to over-ride the “natural order of things” where the “strong crush the weak” in exchange for “peaceful co-existence.”

Civilization of humans meant that they intended to challenge the “natural law of nature” and find ways to find sustenance and happiness with less, if not “no”, conflicts with each other. We live in an era where greed of one or the other kind revered. The system of education – that which was supposed to make our children better than animals – is often producing candidates who believe in the law that is closer to the law of jungle.

The idea of education today is not to learn ways of peaceful co-existence but to create complex competition among each other – often resulting in chaos and conflicts, within and without. The bedrock of modern education is comparison – not compassion. Its yardstick is competition. The result is evident – fear, uncertain, stress, strain, poor health, conflicts, war, and even depression.

Although humans want to believe that we are “cut above the rest” of the species – what drives us is almost the same, fundamentally, which encourage the animals; read Aahaara, Nidra, Bhaya, and Maithuna. The idea all these four are crucial to our existence we tend to do almost anything and everything in our purview to achieve them resulting in friction and, even, conflicts.

Therefore, says Kautilya “A person without knowledge and wisdom is little more than a beast…” It’s the knowledge which distinguishes from our need and greed. It’s the only absolute thing with the power to deliver us from fear unto calmness. Most people do most despicable things owing to fear.

Liar, robber and criminal isn’t really a fearless man as great many would like to believe. Liar lies because he fears the truth. Robber robs because he fears sincerity and hard work. Criminal commits crime for he fears he won’t be able to achieve that which he desires by just ways. It’s a different matter altogether that these feared creatures hurt others by playing with fears of their prey. Fear is therefore absolutely a thing to be ridden off. For life is definitely possible without fear. But how?

The answer lies in Dharma Shastras – books of lawful and just conduct. They prescribe the path of Dharma (righteous behavior), Artha (working for wealth), Kama (Desires) and Moksha (Liberation). These four constitute Purushartha. Purusha in this regard means person and Artha denote meaning. Since Aahara, Nidra, Bhaya, and Maithuna are common to all living beings including humans and animals – it’s essential to have something meaningful to differentiate practically. And so, the word Purushartha.

When we plunder and butcher for our fundamental needs of food, sleep, fear, and sex we create a society of unrest. Order breaks, people are deprived – leading to arson and riots. Therefore, anything that creates turmoil in a person, family, community or world is called Adharma – that which is against Dharma or lawful conduct. When people consider it as their right to exploit the weak and use the socially established norms and laws for their gains it leads to chaos. Ultimately the very chaos people create for others leads to their doom. 

What creates such animalistic tendencies are our very own Indriyas (senses) and Manas (mind). The sense intends to inform our mind of its needs. For example, it’s our sense which signals our brain for food or sex. But it’s the responsibility of mind to ensure that those desires are satisfied without severe consequences. Not all that glitters are gold – not all that is natural are healthy. Understanding our senses and mind are the roots of good knowledge, conduct, and life. Vedic rishis professed that our good often likes in the greater good for no man is an island.

Unfortunately, today we have an academic system which claims to “better” our generations by providing them with knowledge. This system built on the premise of comparison and competition. It is as if the whole world is for a set type of people and those who fail to mold themselves into those types will have no future for the world. The objective of this education is to distinguish others and never our true self. We are supposed to understand ourselves by comparing and competing.

Purushartha disagrees – they present a niche which is worthy and accomplishable with persistent efforts. Identifying that niche was the foundation of the Gurukul system of Vedic education. It is that niche which our modern education system needs to understand. “Understanding is the key in this world, to understand the world you must first understand your mind, followed by your true self. He who fails suffers misery in every step of the way,” said Vashistha to Rama, the then Prince of Ayodhya.

Dharma stands for right conduct, Artha stands for meaningful wealth, Kama represents desires and Moksha represents liberation. Before we seek, we must first deserve. Only efforts with right conduct – Dharma – assures that. Through right efforts we learn as well as earn. Learning and earning both constitutes the fundamentals of wealth – Artha. It is with this Artha that we can seek to accomplish what we desire. Also, desires can lead to destruction when they stagnate or are undeserving. Knowing when to give up, therefore, is crucial. Therefore, the idea of Moksha – liberation. Unless we let go of the shores we cannot adventure into the seas, unless we let go of the past we cannot realize the future. When life is lived by this code – we attain peace. When the code of Purushartha is let gone for the sake of Aahara, Nidra, Bhaya and Maithuna – we are destined to suffer every moment of our lives. Peace then, is a mirage.

4 responses on "Purusharthas: Giving life a meaning"

  1. I will assume that Mahesh Prabhu is referring to an education system in industrial nationals. There is a Darwinian approach in a U.S. K-12 system. Growing up as a low-income minority with a learning disability I have experienced many instances during my public education of natural selection and ending up at the bottom rung. While I understand that school districts, with limited resources, have to make hard choices and to get as many possible students to graduate from high school. I was passed along grade level after grade level to graduate. My only gripe was that I was not diagnostic with the learning disability until I entered community college and taught skills how to overcome it. I wish I could have been aware much sooner and avoid many painful, emotional experiences. While it is easy to point out flaws in the education system and consequence of those flaws, (there are numerous research documents on the web on that subject), but it is altogether different to bring improves that Prabhu suggested and resources to enable them. Is there any school system that follows mindfulness approach to education that can be an example?

    • Namaste George,

      I agree that it’s easy to criticize. But criticism isn’t my point. My point is to point the flaw. The idea of education is to find a way to survive and thrive – costs and consequences are not taught. Do re-read it once more may be you’ll understand my point well. Thanks for commenting.

      Mahesh Prabhu

  2. There is several schools doing that now: knowmads in Amsterdam, schumacker college in U.K. And embercumb in U.K. Are just a few

  3. It is apt time to start a debate on PURUSHA SUKTAM , the most enchanting rhyme in Rig-Veda ( 8:4:90 )

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