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Monday, November 23, 2020

The Doctrine of Purusarthas

In Hindu philosophy, the doctrine of purusartha defines the ultimate objectives of life. The four purusarthas are: Dharma (virtue, moral values), Artha (prosperity, economic values), Kama (pleasure, love, psychological values) and Moksha (liberation, spiritual values). Most modern scholars insist that Dharma is the primary purusartha, or the purusartha which brings meaning and significance to the three other purusarthas, but the truth is that the primacy of any purusartha has not been established in the ancient texts. In the Mahabharata (Santiparva, Adhyaya 161), Yudhishtira asks his brothers to name the purusartha which they believe is the highest. Arjuna says that Artha is the highest; Bhima favors Kama, which he insists contains the essence of both Dharma and Kama; Nakula and Sahadeva are supportive of Arjuna’s position that Artha is the highest, though they add some modifications of their own. Vidura, the uncle of the Pandavas (and the Kauravas), gives a short speech to explain the tenets of Dharma. Finally Yudhishtira speaks—he dwells on the transcendence of Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha, but, perhaps since he never lies, he admits that he does not know which purusartha is the highest or if there is any hierarchy among the purusarthas. This discussion between the Pandava brothers happens after the great Kurukshetra war.

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