The Four Purusharthas

A friend asked today: “I had a philosophical question for you:- On one hand, there is a school of thought that says that you should visualize what you want very clearly (to the point of obsession), and only then it would materialize; – On the other hand, there is another school of thought which states that there should be no obsession at all (doesn’t matter whether the underlying thing is good or bad)How does one reconcile the two?”


I replied as follows:


This goes to the question of whether any desire is good or bad. It is only in the state of ignorance that one desires anything because only when one is ignorant one sees duality where there are other things and persons separate from oneself. But, in the state of self-realization where one sees only the One Self (Nonduality), what is there left to desire because everything and every person is one’s own manifestation.


But, the spiritual aspirant is generally advised to be less attached or desirous of many things because by being attached to things and being materially inclined one becomes reluctant or disinterested in the path of spiritual sadhana.

That said, Hindu philosophy recognizes the four aims of life (purusharthas) – Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. So, unless one becomes satiated with or sees through the futility of pursuing Artha and Kama through Dharmic means, one generally does not seek Moksha. So, as a gradual step one is allowed to pursue the first three purusharthas (Dharma, Artha, and Kama) by becoming a Householder, and after fulfilling the Grihasthashram duties, obligations, and pursuits, one is expected to become mature enough to go on to the stages of Vanaprasthashram and Sanayasa Ashram (where one renounces all desires and material pursuits). But, a mature spiritual aspirant can skip Grihasthashram or a life of action and go straight to Sanyasa Ashram by say becoming a monk in his/her youth.


But, Ramana Maharshi has stated, the married life or grihasthashram or a life of action is no barrier to spiritual pursuits provided one meditates for an hour or two every day to make spiritual progress. Nevertheless, such spiritually inclined persons are expected to practice mental renunciation.

But, remember the life of a householder is not to be frowned upon, that is the pursuit of artha and kama by adhering to dharma is legit, because it is upon the actions and earnings and output of the Householders that the other three ashrams of Brahmacharya, Vanaprastha, and Sanyasa depend for their sustenance and practice of their respective Dharmas.

So, yes, you are allowed to pursue Artha and Kama (“visualize what you want very clearly”) as long as it is within the bounds of Dharma if you are not yet spiritually inclined and are a householder.

But, if you are spiritually inclined and interested in moksha and even if you are you are a grihastha or householder pursuing a life of action, then you are supposed to follow the principles of karma yoga, that is, (1) Try to excel in work, (2) Dedicate the work and fruit of action to God, (3) Act without an eye on the fruit of action and accept wholeheartedly whatever be the fruit of action, and (4) Do action without the sense of doership, which are the four rungs on the ladder of Karma Yoga in ascending order, so in such persons “there should be no obsession at all”.

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