Have you ever wondered what’s the purpose of human life?
This is one of the most fundamental questions we face as human beings.
Why am I here? How can I find happiness? What makes a good life?
Questions like these are the foundation of a successful life lived with purpose, meaning and fulfillment.
The simple answer to this question is that it’s up to each of us to decide.
If there’s a predefined ‘purpose’ to life, then we would be trapped into a fixed way of living. We wouldn’t be free.
You, I and every human being that ever existed (and to potentially exist) would be measured against the achievement of a single goal with no freedom to choose how we wanted to live.
The simple answer, then, is that human life has no predefined purpose outside of the one we give it.
One of life’s great mysteries solved, right?
Not so fast.
There’s a problem.
Having no purpose is overwhelming.
It’s extremely confusing.
It’s kind of like staring at the blank page of a word document knowing you need to write the story of your lifetime.
What parts should you include in your story? What’s important to focus on and to edit out?
I don’t know about you, but that’s one paper I would probably procrastinate on.
And many people often do. They procrastinate with their lives.
They simply avoid the question and try to move through life without intention, or purpose.
Many default under the overwhelming weight of this question of purpose to whatever they’re told to do by their environment, society or family.
It’s all too common, unfortunately. It’s one of the main causes of depression, frustration, and dissatisfaction with life in the modern world.
If we have no purpose, then how do we know how to answer the fundamental questions that motivate human life?
Knowing that we have no predefined purpose seems to be no better than having one given to us!
Fortunately, the purpose of human life has been pondered since the beginning of time.
Many answers have been given to guide us.
Perhaps, the oldest and most elegant answer was given thousands of years ago in the Vedic age using the concept of the Purusharthas.
Pronoucned Puru-shar-tha, the Sanskrit word Purushartha translates literally to “object of human pursuit”.
The Purusharthas define the four main areas of purpose within human life.
We don’t have just one aim for our lives. Human beings are complex, and our needs and desires are complex as well.
The Four Purusharthas refer to the general areas our actions and aims need to balance in order to a live a life well-lived.
The 4 Purusharthas
THE 4 PURSUITS OF HUMAN LIFE
- Kama: sensuality, the enjoyments of life
- Artha: creativity, the means of life
- Dharma: duty, the responsibilities of life
- Moksha: liberty, the liberation of life
The key to the Purusharthas and finding purpose in your life is balance.
Each of us will have our own needs based on our level of spiritual evolution and the karma we have in this life.
Traditionally, some areas are given more importance than others, however we must skillfully balance each one to live a complete human life.
Let’s briefly explore each one.
The purpose of Kama is to enjoy the pleasurable experiences of life. You’ve probably heard of the Kama Sutra, the famous Sanskrit text on sex, love, and emotional fulfillment. Well, now you know where it gets its’ name.
A warm coffee, a stroll through nature, an exquisite piece of artwork, an intimate moment with a beloved partner… sense experiences stimulate our minds, nourish our hearts and enrich our lives.
Kama must be balanced responsibly. It’s is traditionally considered one of the least important Purusharthras, because it can easily lead us into a life of excess and indulgence.
Creating the life that we dream for ourselves and creating value for others is another essential aim in human life.
Traditionally, Artha is meant to describe the means of life: our career, economic prosperity, and financial security.
If Kama is about fulfilling our sensual desires, then Artha is about fulfilling our aspirations and goals in life. Whether it be creating a family, starting a business, or owning a home.
In a modern interpretation, Artha can relate to the innate ability of humans to create. Directing our creative power is the domain of Artha, and an essential part of human life.
Although essential, Artha is considered one of the lower Purusharthas along with Kama, since it’s mostly concerned with material life.
Dharma is a fundamental concept in Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Hinduism. It’s difficult to translate exactly. Dharma can mean order, duty, virtue or righteousness.
We have certain responsibilities that are essential for our lives and the lives of others.
These include taking care of our bodies, working on our relationships, taking care of the environment, participating in our communities, and acting morally.
Dharma is our compass that guides us towards a righteous life. Its’ aim is to cultivate virtue and a live life aligned with the order of the universe.
Dharma is traditionally considered one of the most essential Purusharthas, since it acts as a fundamental guide for all parts of our lives.
The Sanskrit word Moksha means liberation or release.
The aim of Moksha is to liberate ourselves from suffering and to realize our transcendent, divine nature.
This entails healing our emotional wounds, acquiring self-knowledge, and overcoming the mental conditioning that causes us suffering.
Moksha can be attained by pursuing spiritual practices like meditation and prayer that help to free us from ignorant identification and attachment to our human bodies and minds.
In my opinion, the aim of Moksha also entails helping others attain freedom from suffering in whatever form that may be whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual.
Moksha is the final aim of human life where we let go of our sense of separate human identity to realize our oneness within universal consciousness.
Summary of The Four Purusharthas
I hope this explanation of the Purusharthas gives you clarity of purpose and confidence on your life’s path.
The key to the Purusharthas and living a life of purpose is balancing each one according to our needs.
No one can tell you what’s right for you, you must decide for yourself.
Some of us will need less Kama, some more Artha, others more Moksha, and we’ll all need a healthy dose of Dharma to help guide us.
Our focus will change throughout our lives too.
Usually when we’re younger we chase Kama (sex, enjoyments, travel, etc.), then we move to Artha (getting a good job, creating financial security), then to Dharma (fulfilling our duties and living well), and finally we reach the stage of Moksha where we let go of our human identification altogether.
The truth is we’re traveling through each Purushartha all of the time. We can’t neglect any of them for too long, or dissatisfaction starts creeping in.
It’s a difficult balancing act, but when performed properly we can achieve a supreme life of purpose, meaning and fulfillment.
Are you living a life of purpose? Are you balancing each of these areas in your life? Which area may need more attention and energy?
Want to learn more about the Purusharthas? Check out these articles:
The Purusharthas – The Fourfold Aim of Existence by Swami Krishananda
Purusharthas, Four Aspects of Human Life: Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha by Swami J