Kama, Artha, Dharma, Moksha

Raja_Ravi_Varma,_Sree_Rama_Crossing_Sarayu_riverHinduism outlines the hierarchy of values pretty clearly. All of these human urges, for pleasure, for wealth, for justice and for liberation are condoned, but like Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, the higher urges cannot come into being without the lower more basic urges being satisfied.

We talked in one of our sessions about the constant conflict between material wants and desires and the desire for liberation. But I argue that these are not conflicting desires at all. Kama is desire, it can be for the  mundane as well as for the sublime. Desire is shaped by our experience and our progress along the spiritual path.

Kama-  I start out craving a car, a house, a family.

Artha- I achieve those things through hard work and determination.

Dharma- I sit back with all my accomplishments and possessions and if I have progressed, I begin to crave social justice, to give back to others, to help those in need. I feel a sense of social responsibility to my family, my community, my planet.

Moksha- Eventually, as I gain that sense of peace engendered by helping others, I crave liberation from earthly pleasures and pains altogether. I wish to escape the cycle and just be one with the Universal Spirit.

Surely it isn’t fair to expect a young person full of desire and ambition, eager to make their mark on the world, to renounce those ambitions and meditate on the oneness of Being.

Nor is it surprising that for someone who has achieved fame and fortune, charity and service become more significant than scrambling for success.

And it is only natural that after years of giving back, one realizes that in the vast scope of things, whatever one has done is very insignificant and that we are not as important as we like to believe. Our contributions, however sincere and helpful they may be, are neither crucial nor necessary for the world to go on. And when one contemplates the decades that have been spent in pleasure and in pain, in failure and success, ambition and service, there is a desire for liberation from this cyclical process, an exhaustion with the ups and downs, the vulnerability of human life, and a wish to be still.

I think the problem happens when as human beings we fail to progress along this natural path, stopping instead at the constant accumulation of things, people, position, wealth. Or if we go a little further and in our bid to do good, begin to believe that we are indispensable, that we need to save the world at any cost, Plunging into service at the cost of family, health, peace of mind, and engaging in rivalry to outdo each other, or attacking those with different outlooks, is  a sure path to disaster.

The desire for Moksha has its pitfalls as well.  We have to be careful not to lose the joy of living, in our bid to  attain immortality. Those who begin to believe that their family, their friends, their community are nothing more than a burden and an obstacle in their quest, who find no peace or pleasure in the sunshine or the laughter of a child, who are so bent on becoming one with God that they fail to see the signs of divinity all around them, are just as rabid in their desires as are the young men whose lust overpowers them, or the lawyer who neglects her children to win that crucial case that will help her make partner.

It seems to me after our discussion that desire in and of itself is not as bad as it is often made out to be. It is more likely the tempering of one’s desire at every stage of life with compassion, humanity and love, that paves our way to completing the cycle successfully.

Image: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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