Dharma, Artha, Kaama, Moksha : Economics, Religion and Philosophy

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Dharma, Artha, Kaama, Moksha : Economics, Religion and Philosophy

 
The greatness of Vedic literature lies in being meticulously analytical about an individual as well as society’s evolution through different stages.
 
--BY JAGDISH PRASAD AGRAWAL
 
According to our shashtras (religious scriptures), Dharma (religion), Artha (wealth), Kaama (bodily desire) and Moksha (nirvana) are the ultimate goals for a Hindu person. So much has been written on the four objectives from the Vedic times to this day, yet itis impossible for an ordinary mortal like me to comprehend them. Are they to be followed in order? Are they interlinked or independent? Do they have any connectivity to age? Are they of same status? How do you acquire them? What are the components of each? Why are they to be acquired at all? More such curiosities present themselves to be solved but they remain intractable as you delve more into them. Are they the prescription of a religion relevant for only a Hindu or are they secular in nature and applicable to the development of any human being?
 
I believe that howsoever complex they may be in content, they are simple truths which every mortal in the universe follows. In this sense, they are not only secular but also absolute. 
 
The greatness of Vedic literature lies in being meticulously analytical about an individual as well as society’s evolution through different stages. It chronicles those evolutions and the lessons learnt from such social journey. These literatures are also witnesses to the responses that society made to the challenges posed by this journey in terms of bringing order to the chaos that the pre-historic society started its journey from. During this long journey, our ancestors encountered many issues of different hues and colors which shaped an individual’s life and in their concern that an individual being the cornerstone of society has to have a holistic exalted personality summed up their experiences in these goals of dharma, artha, kaama and moksha. Our shastras have stressed an individual’s salvation as the first and foremost objective for society to evolve into a cohesive, ever-correcting living being and for this to happen they emphasized on these four goals, purusarthas (the meaning of being a man) as they called them collectively. These goals have become the friend, philosophy and guide for any Hindu. These subjects are so abstruse that I am not competent to throw light on them in depth but as I understand them will be the subject of my discourse here.
 
Rituals, religion and spiritualism are three different concepts. But they have evolved from each other and are interdependent. Religion seems to have evolved from group rituals. Rituals are collective in nature, whereas religion is individualistic. Through rituals religion tends to reach out to the masses. It is an irony that in the long term the core religious precepts have mostly been replaced by rituals in today’s showy world. Rituals unite the people and in their modified version bring gaiety, festivity to the families from time to time in an otherwise arid world of theirs. These are part and parcel of a family but in my opinion are not religion or dharma.
 
 
Dharma consists of principles which advocate a way of life. Every important dharma (religion) of the world - say Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam - they all advocate certain principles which they hold to be the cornerstones for the emancipation of an individual to his fullest being. Likewise, Hinduism also advocates certain principles which, as in other religions, are supposed to lift a human being to an optimum level. The only difference is that these principles unlike in other religions which have a principal holy book are strewn in numerous shastras written during the ages. And, unlike other religions which institutionalized the propagation of these principles through temples, churches, mosques etc, the Hindu principles are a way of life advocated in family practices and continued as legacy from the ancestors to the present generation. Therefore, they are vulnerable to distortions. I believe that dharma to me propounded as one of the four goals of life consists in the twelve precepts collated through different scriptures as presented in the table on this page.
 
These precepts are part and parcel of Hindu scriptures which cumulatively are the essence of any religion. An analysis of the precepts given in the table shows them to be touching upon the mind, body and soul of an individual and his/her relationship with society. It is a holistic approach. By practicing them one can learn to address the mundane issues of day to day life in a positive frame of mind which turns him inward i.e. to spiritualism. It is never a group activity. It can never be learnt. Only felt. It is an urge to live in company of oneself i.e. to live internally. Dharma therefore, is an ongoing process throughout one’s life guiding, shaping, and disciplining other goals such as artha, kaama and mokshya.
 
They are secular, universal and absolute and to me this is dharma. Why should these be goals or the highest aim of human endeavour? Aren’t these attributes inborn in every human being in some measure? The call of the shastras is to focus on their interdependence so as to help develop an individual holistically. The right combination of each and practicing them under the guardianship of preceding and succeeding goals require efforts of the highest order which only a human being can do.
 
 
Chanakya, a legendary Brahmin, wrote a detailed manual around 150 AD called the Arthashastra which dwelled upon, the science of material well-being of an individual, the family and society. He said dharma cannot be practiced without the minimum material well-being of an individual. The body of a human being is the first recipient of this wellness. The concept of a family and society evolved around the notion of compulsory interdependence of the individuals for survival. The power of human creativity to meet them led to a never ending cycle of demand and supply which continues even today. This awareness about human creativity dawned a new era of economics which our shastras called artha. 
 
Artha is the series of activities that one engages to meet his/her material demands. It presupposes that in order to consume, one has to produce. In the older days when society was in a formative stage and the leadership was faced with the problem of chaotic over population and their survival, the exalted endeavour of combining artha with dharma was a way to bring order to society and engage each member in a productive profession. In those days, dharma was a fear of the unknown which manifested itself through the agents. Certain economic activities were necessary to propitiate the fearful deities by offerings of various kinds of material and the leftovers were for the rest of society which later on evolved into division of labour. It was rituals which necessitated human beings to organize themselves into economic activities. The artha played the second fiddle to dharma. 
 
Dharma dictated the conduct of economic activities of an individual or the state. Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, believed that the state or government has a crucial role to plan in maintaining the material well-being of the nation and its people, therefore, an important part of the Arthashastra is the science of economics including the setting up of productive enterprises, taxation, revenue collection, budget and the accounts. This very science of economics which has its origin in a hoary past has taken on many new dimensions of public welfare, income distribution etc in recent times. The sorry part is that in the past the science of economics was under the guardianship of dharma whereas in the modern milieu, it is lording over all other sciences. There is competition, ambition, no control or any discipline and hence as a consequence it has degenerated into a rat-race of desire, demands and insatiable consumerism. I think Artha as the wherewithal, a tool and capability to engage in many of the precepts of dharma enumerated above but is double-edged and addictive. If not kept under surveillance, it starts killing oneself silently.
 
Kaama in today’s context denotes sexual desire. But in the olden days when the package of four purusarthas was recommended for a being to endeavour to achieve a fuller life, kaama meant a longing to live a vivacious, colourful, playful life full of festivities. It meant “Jiwema Sharad Shatam” in Sanskrit which translates to “live for 100 years.”Kaama was not merely procreation but enjoying the company of others, of which females were an integral part. Singing, dancing, poetry, paintings, colors all are the manifestation of this longing for a joyful living. Kaama has always been perceived to be the motivating factor for undertaking the arduous task of earning livelihoods and also doing duty to oneself as enjoined by dharma. It is like a restful night which renews tired energies for next day’s work. Lord Krishna embodied this perspective as we find in his character a right combination of duty, action and play. While other religions viewed kaama negatively our scriptures advocated it as one of the highest aims to endeavour. It has never been a taboo in the Hindu culture. It is a fact that in our journey to the modern times, there have been phases in which the kaama has fallen into disrepute of sex, and sex only. Aggression, wars, chaos that the world has witnessed for the last three centuries has degenerated the concept of kaama into sex abuse, harassment, rape and women related crimes. This continues even today. If this is so, how can kaama be one of the highest goals of life? Kaama in my opinion is the energy to do good things. It is a desire to be ambitious, to be competitive, to be innovative, creative and to be willing to contribute to one’s social responsibility. In today’s world when one tends to be self-centered, it is a wake-up call to desire to empathize with others. It is a desire to be inclusive, to give up prejudices and privilege and participate in other’s joys. Why should not this form of desire or kaama in every individual be the highest goal? Kaama in an undiluted form is the universal energy of compassion, charity and forgiveness which motivate an individual to engage in Artha and Dharma playfully without any sense of burden.
 
Of these four purusarthas, moksha is deemed to be the highest ideal to which a human being aspires. It is not easy to define moksha. Shastras state moksha as “basically a self-realization through liberation -liberation from earthly bondages and realising the divine in the human being. The above statement is only partially legible to a mortal soul. In folk lore, moksha is renunciation which in our scriptures is prescribed for those who are entering into vanprastha ashram (going to the forest) i.e. past the age of youth. It is paradoxical that along with the optimism for life as embodied in artha and kaama, we become pessimistic in terms of renunciation, mortality and fate at a later stage. Death, distress, sorrows, pain that one encounters in one’s journey has led us to believe that the body is the culprit for all these evils. Hence renunciation has always been worshiped at the same level or even more even as we enjoy our celebrations.
 
 
In this backdrop, to me, moksha is detachment from all that we do in dharma, artha and kaama. There is likelihood that while performing one’s daily chores one may get attached to any one of them so tenaciously or get so obsessed with one or all of them that he/she loses balance. In his/her obsession, the individual brings lower qualities to his/her activities. Moksha is the salvation and liberation from such obsession. It is a disciplining force applicable to all including Dharma. Moksha is the release, a detachment from oneself and looks at what one is doing from a distance. It is what they say “knowing thyself”. Moksha, to me, is complimentary to dharma, artha and kaama. These four purusarthas are holistic in nature. One cannot be separated from the other, neither are they age-related. It is a precise prescription for a holistic development of a human being contextual and secular for any age past, present and future. Whereas, artha and kaama navigate us through this materialistic world, dharma and moksha keep us on the right course, warn us against excesses and temptations and discipline us to adhere to social rules and norms so that we remain inclusive. These purusarthas are not automatically available; one has to acquire them and practice and sharpen them constantly.
 
It is not that a human being can be only obsessive about dharma, aartha and kaama; he or she can be derelict casual and negligent also. According to Geeta, an individual can be afflicted with tamas (darkness) disposition as not to be diligent about one’s duty to oneself, family or the society. Moksha is a reminder to balance his engagement with all. Moksha is releasing from any bonds whether of obsession, dereliction, lethargy or complacency. It is a release from traditions and blind faith. While practicing dharma, aartha and kaama, moksha enjoins not to be attached to any of them but to be rational, independent, inquisitive and decide for oneself.
 
Dharma is the end of  the  journey, aartha and kaama are the means and motivating factors to undertake it but moksha is the disciplining guidance to keep to the right side of the path. However, whether these exalted purusartha concept will hold good in the futuristic mechanical relationships is yet to be seen.
 
The writer is the Chairman of Nimbus Group.
 

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