Four aims of Being (Dharma, Artha, Kama,Moksha)

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Written by Sir John Woodroffe, Book: Introduction to Tantra Sastra 


THERE is but one thing which all seek—happiness— though it be of differing kinds and sought in different ways. All forms, whether sensual, intellectual, or spiritual, are from the Brahman, who is Itself the Source and Essence of all Bliss, and Bliss itself (rasovai sah). Though issuing from the same source, pleasure differs in its forms in being higher and lower, transitory or durable, or permanent. Those on the path of desire (pravṛ tti mārga) seek it through the enjoyments of this world (bhukti) or in the more durable, though still impermanent delights of heaven (svarga). He who is on the path of return (nivṛ tti-mārga) seeks happiness, not in the created worlds, but in everlasting union with their primal source (mukti); and thus it is said that man can never be truly happy until he seeks shelter with Brahman, which is Itself the great Bliss (rasam hi vayam labdhvā ānandī bhavati).


 The eternal rhythm of the Divine Breath is outwards from spirit to matter and inwards from matter to spirit. Devī as Māyā evolves the world. As Mahāmāyā She recalls it to Herself. The path of outgoing is the way of pravṛ tti; that of return nivṛ tti. Each of these movements is divine. Enjoyment (bhukti) and liberation (mukti) are each Her gifts. And in the third chapter of the work cited it is said that of Viṣ ṇ u and Śiva mukti only can be had, but of Devī both bhukti and mukti and this is so in so far as the Devī is, in a peculiar sense the source whence those material things come from which enjoyment (bhoga) arises. All jīvas on their way to humanity,  and the bulk of humanity itself, are on the forward path, and rightly seek the enjoyment which is appropriate to their stage of evolution.


The thirst for life will continue to manifest itself until the point of return is reached and the outgoing energy is exhausted. Man must, until such time, remain on the path of desire. In the hands of Devī is the noose of desire. Devi hereself is both desire2 and that light of knowledge which in the wise who have known enjoyment lays bare its futilities. But one cannot renounce until one has enjoyed, and so of the world-process itself it is said; that the unborn ones, the Puruṣ as, are both subservient to her (prakṛ ti), and leave Her by reason of viveka.


 Provision is made for the wordly life which is the “outgoing” of the Supreme. And so it is said that the Tāntrika has both enjoyment (bhukti) and liberation tion (mukti).4 But enjoyment itself is not without its law. Desire is not to be let loose without bridle.5 The mental self is, as is commonly said, the charioteer of the body, of which the senses are the horses. Contrary to mistaken notions on the subject, the Tantras take no exception to the ordinary rule that it is necessary not to let them run away. If one would not be swept away and lost in the mighty force which is the descent into matter, thought and action must be controlled by Dharma. Hence the first three of the aims of life (trivarga) on the path of pravṛtti are dharma, artha and kāma.



Dharma means that which is to be held fast or kept —law, usage, custom, religion, piety, right, equity, duty, good works, and morality. It is, in short, the eternal and immutable (sanātanā) principles which hold together the universe in its parts and in its whole whether organic or inorganic matter. “That which supports and holds together the peoples (of the universe) is dharma.” “It was declared for well-being and bringeth well-being. It upholds and preserves. Because it supports and holds together, it is called Dharma. By Dharma are the people upheld.” It is, in short, not an artificial rule, but the principle of right living. The mark of dharma and of the good is ācāra (good conduct), from which dharma is born and fair fame is acquired here and hereafter.1 The sages embraced ācara as the root of all tapas.2 Dharma is not only the principle of right living, but also its application. That course of meritorious action by which man fits himself for this world, heaven, and liberation. Dharma is also the result of good action—that is, the merit acquired thereby. The basis of the sanātanadharma is revelation (śruti) as presented in the various Śāstras—Smṛ ti, Purāṇ a, and Tantra. In the Devī-Bhāgavata it is said that in the Kaliyuga Viṣ ṇ u in the form of Vyāsa divides the one Veda into many parts, with the desire to benefit men, and with the knowledge that they are short-lived and of small intelligence, and hence unable to master the whole. This dharma is the first of the four leading aims (caturvarga) of all being.



Kāma is desire, such as that for wealth, success, family, position, or other forms of happiness for self or others. It also involves the notion of the necessity for the possession of great and noble aims, desires and ambitions, for such possession is the characteristic of greatness of soul. Desire, whether of the higher or lower kinds, must however, be lawful, for man is subject to dharma, which regulates it.



Artha (wealth) stands for the means by which this life may be maintained—in the lower sense, food, drink, money, house, land and other property; and in the higher sense the means by which effect may be given to the higher desires, such as that of worship, for which artha may be necessary, aid given to others, and so forth. In short, it is all the necessary means by which all right desire, whether of the lower or higher kinds, may be fulfilled. As the desire must be a right desire—for man is subject to dharma, which regulates them—so also must be the means sought, which are equally so governed. The first group is known as the trivarga, which must be cultivated whilst man is upon the pravṛtti mārga. Unless and until there is renunciation on entrance upon the path of return, where inclination ceases (nivṛ tti-marga), man must work for the ultimate goal by meritorious acts (dharma), desires (kāma), and by the lawful means (artha) whereby the lawful desires which give birth to righteous acts are realized. Whilst on the pravṛ tti-mārga “the trivarga should be equally cultivated, for he who is addicted to one only is despicable” (dharmārthakāmāh samameva sevyāh yo hyekasaktah sa jano-jaganyah).



Of the four aims, moksa or mukti is the truly ultimate end, for the other three are ever haunted by the fear of Death, the Ender.


Mukti means “loosening” or liberation. It is advisable to avoid the term “salvation,” as also other Christian terms, which connote different, though in a loose sense, analogous ideas. According to the Christian doctrine (soteriology), faith in Christ’s Gospel and in His Church effects salvation, which is the forgiveness of sins mediated by Christ’s redeeming activity, saving from judgment, and admitting to the Kingdom of God. On the other hand, mukti means loosening from the bonds of the saṃ sara (phenomenal existence), resulting in a union (of various degrees of completeness) of the embodied spirit (jīvātmā) or individual life with the Supreme Spirit (paramātmā). Liberation can be attained by spiritual knowledge (ātmājāna) alone, though it is obvious that such knowledge must be preceded by, and accompanied with, and, indeed, can only be attained in the sense of actual realization, by freedom from sin and right action through adherence to dharma. The idealistic system of Hinduism, which posits the ultimate reality as being in the nature of mind, rightly, in such cases, insists on what, for default of a better term, may be described as the intellectual, as opposed to the ethical, nature. Not that it fails to recognize the importance of the latter, but regards it as subsidiary and powerless of itself to achieve that extinction of the modifications of the energy of consciousness which constitutes the supreme mukti known as Kaivalya. Such extinction cannot be effected by conduct alone, for such conduct, whether good or evil, produces karma, which is the source of the modifications which it is man’s final aim to suppress. Mokṣ a belongs to the nivṛtti mārga, as the trivarga appertain to the pravṛtti-mārga.


There are various degrees of mukti, some more perfect than the others, and it is not, as is generally supposed one state.


There are four future states of Bliss, or pada, being in the nature of abodes—viz., sālokya, sāmīpya, sārūpya, and sāyujya—that is, living in the same loka, or region, with the Deva worshipped; being near the Deva; receiving the same form or possessing the same aiśarya (Divine qualities) as the Deva, and becoming one with the Deva worshipped. The abode to which the jīva attains depends upon the worshipper and the nature of his worship, which may be with, or without images, or of the Deva regarded as distinct from the worshipper and with attributes, and so forth. The four abodes are the result of action, transitory and conditioned. Mahānirvāṇ a, or Kaivalya, the real mokṣa, is the result of spiritual knowledge (jāna), and is unconditioned and permanent. Those who know the Brahman, recognizing that the worlds resulting from action are imperfect, reject them, and attain to that unconditioned Bliss which transcends them all. Kaivalya is the supreme state of oneness without attributes, the state in which, as the Yoga-sūtra says, modification of the energy of consciousness is extinct, and when it is established in its own real nature.


Liberation is attainable while the body is yet living, in which case there exists a state of jīvanmukti celebrated in the Jīvanmukti-gitā of Dattatreya. The soul, it is true, is not really fettered, and any appearance to the contrary is illusory. There is, in fact, freedom, but though mokṣ a is already in possession, still, because of the illusion that it is not yet attained, means must be taken to remove the illusion, and the jīva who succeeds in this is jīvanmukta, though in the body, and is freed from future embodiments. The enlightened Kaula, according to the Nityanita, sees no difference between mud and sandal, friend and foe, a dwelling-house and the cremation-ground. He knows that the Brahman is all, that the Supreme soul (paramātmā) and the individual soul (jīvātmā) are one, and freed from all attachment he is Jīvanmukta, or liberated, whilst yet living. The means whereby mukti is attained is the yoga process (vide ante). 1 That is which gives mokṣ a, other forms being called vijāna. Mokṣ e dhir jānam anayatra. vijānam śilpa-śāstrayoh. 2 See Bhāskararāya’s Commentary on Lalitā Sahasranāma, śloka 125.














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