The Purpose of Life in Hinduism
In Hinduism, there is not just one purpose of human life, but four:
- Dharma - fulfilling one's purpose
- Artha - prosperity
- Kama - desire, sexuality, enjoyment
- Moksha - enlightenment
The Sanskrit word dharma means many things, including "law," "teaching" and "religion." In this context, it means one's destiny or purpose. In general, it refers to one's vocation or career, which is often defined by class and family. If a Hindu man's father is a tire maker, his dharma is probably to make tires, too. Traditionally, the dharma of most women has been to be a housewife and a mother.
Another aspect of dharma is paying the five debts. Hindus believe that they are born in debt to the gods and various humans, and they must repay those karmic debts during their lifetime. The debts are:
- Debt to the gods for their blessings; paid by rituals and offerings.
- Debt to parents and teachers; paid by supporting them, having children of one's own and passing along knowledge.
- Debt to guests; repaid by treating them as if they were gods visiting one's home.
- Debt to other human beings; repaid by treating them with respect.
- Debt to all other living beings; repaid by offering good will, food or any other help that is appropriate.
Dharma also means righteousness, or living morally and ethically at all times.
Artha is prosperity or success in worldly pursuits. Although the ultimate goal of Hinduism is enlightenment, the pursuit of wealth and prosperity is regarded as an appropriate pursuit for the householder (the second of four life stages). It also ensures social order, for there would be no society if everyone renunciated worldly life to meditate. But while Hindus are encouraged to make money, it must be within the bounds of dharma.
Kama (Sanskrit, "desire") primarily refers to romantic love and sexual pleasure, though it can refer to desire in general. Like artha, kama is seen as an appropriate pursuit of the householder. The Kama Sutra, a manual for erotic and other human pleasures (like flower-arranging), is attributed to the sage Vatsyayana.
The ultimate end of every Hindu's life is moksha, which can be understood in a variety of ways: liberation from rebirth, enlightenment, Self-realization, or union with God. This is considered to the be the highest purpose of life, although very few can achieve it in a single lifetime and there are a variety of paths to attain it.
- Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism (2002), pp. 213-16.
- "artha." Encyclopędia Britannica Premium Service. 2005.