The Four Aims of Existence

Purushartha—The Proper Aims of Life

Purushartha refers to human ends or objectives worthy of pursuit. The purushartha is a key concept in Hinduism, referring to the four proper aims of human existence.

The Purushartha Are:

1. Dharma—Divine Order

Dharma means rightfulness, universal virtue, or spiritual law and represents the natural laws of the Universe. Such laws are inherent in the structure of reality and at the same time suggest our natural duty.

When following dharma, we see ourselves as “sui generis” instruments in the “orchestra” of the Universe. With this comes acceptance, humbleness, and letting go. It is an attitude that says: “I can’t do what Einstein did, but I am not at all sorry about that. I am fulfilled, and my heart radiates joy because in this very acceptance, humbleness, and love I integrate myself in the most harmonious way within the Universe.”

Following dharma does not mean transcending karma. It means acting more harmoniously, following the aspirations of our soul. However, by practicing yoga and meditation, even our aspirations will change. When fewer and fewer veils block the light of the Self, more refinement and clarity appear. Because of the karma we have (at the level of personality), we are as we are, displaying unique attributes. Nevertheless, the capacity to witness will help us acknowledge how to flow from this level—from the egoic consciousness—towards a place of harmony. Following dharma is using all of our potential to express ourselves in that harmony.

Sometimes, the term dharma is understood as virtuous deeds, a harmonious life, or inherent qualities.

2. Artha—Purpose and Prosperity

Artha refers to meaning, sense, or purpose. For an individual, artha includes seeking economic prosperity, security, good health, and meaning. When pursued with trust in the Divine and without violating dharma or obstructing the journey to moksha, artha allows us to thrive and experience a joyous and purposeful life.

3. Kama—Desire

Kama means desire, lust, pleasure, or sensuality. Kama is about pursuing that which brings joy and richness to life—sensuality, love, beauty, art, affection, and community as well as (and most importantly) the longing for the Divine.

4.  Moksha—Spiritual Liberation

Moksha means spiritual liberation and freedom from illusion. It represents spiritual emancipation from existential bondage. In dualistic philosophy, the term is generally used to mean the salvation of a purified soul in the presence of God. In non-duality, moksha is used in its complete and ultimate sense of liberation from all ignorance and duality through the continuous realization of atman (the Supreme Self) as one with Brahman.

Learn more about yogic philosophy in the Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 1 Intensive.