Last Updated: September 10, 2020

Definition - What does Purushartha mean?

Purushartha is a key concept in Hinduism, referring to the four ultimate goals of human life. The term is derived from two Sanskrit roots; purusha, meaning "human being," and artha, meaning "purpose" or "objective." As such, purushartha can be translated as the “object of human pursuit” or “purpose of human beings.”

Arranged in order of priority from lowest to highest, the four purushartha are: artha (prosperity and economic values), kama (sensual pleasures), dharma (righteousness and morality), and moksha (liberation from the cycle of reincarnation).

Whilst all four of these goals are considered to be important, Hindu philosophy gives precedence to dharma over artha and kama, and moksha is viewed above all as the ultimate aim of all human life.

Purushartha may also sometimes be referred to as caturvarga.

Yogapedia explains Purushartha

The four goals of purushartha are believed to be necessary for a happy and fulfilling life. Each of the following may be sought either for its own sake, or as a means of accomplishing the next goal:

  1. Artha - incorporating wealth, career, prosperity and financial security, artha refers to having the means and material comfort to live with ease.

  2. Kama - signifies desire for pleasure, enjoyment, love, intimacy, affection and even music or art. Whilst excessive kama can lead to overindulgence, the right kind of kama can help individuals to fulfill their dharma with passion.

  3. Dharma - includes duties, conduct and virtues. Dharma means truth or right way of living, and can be thought of as one’s true purpose in life.

  4. Moksha - the ultimate goal of human life; self-realization and liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. Moksha is believed to occur when an individual has successfully achieved artha, kama and dharma.

In simple terms, artha is equated with money, kama with pleasure, dharma with duty and moksha with death. Artha and kama refer to the goals that humans are naturally inclined to seek, whereas dharma and moksha are considered to be of greatest importance to spiritual growth.

The concepts of artha, kama and dharma appear in the most ancient Hindu scripture known as the Vedas, referred to collectively as trivarga or "the three ends of human endeavor". It was not until the later Upanishads that the concept of moksha appeared, after which texts such as the Dharmasastras and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata integrated the four as purushartha.

Scholars have since debated the inherent tension between the active pursuit of wealth and sensual pleasure outlined by artha and kama, and the renunciation of both of these required for the spiritual liberation of moksha. The concept of Nishkam Karma (selfless action), central to the Bhagavad Gita, was proposed as a solution to this tension, through which artha and kama can be carried out without desire or expectation of the results.

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