Hindu Scriptures and Practical Living – four goals of life

The Swasti (svaasti in Sanskrit) was mis-appropirated by the Third Reich, turned on an angle, and the energy contained in a 6,000 year old sacred symbol eventually turned against Hitler and the Third Reich. It is the cause of their downfall. It will turn against anyone else who misappropriates it.

The swasti is an ancient symbol of well-being. Hindus and Buddhists have used this symbol for thousands of years. It has been taken to many nations in the unfolding history of Buddhism and Hinduism in other lands.

In this article, we refer to the four arms of the swasti representing the four goals of life, what are called purusharthas in Hinduism.

Hindu philosophy often focuses on Moksha (liberation or salvation). This is often combined with the idea of renunciation or giving up one’s desires. Technically, Hinduism does not advocate renunciation in the sense of giving up. When one is forced to give up things, the pent-up desires do not go away. In fact, such actions can make one unhappy which is the complete opposite of Moksha.

Hindu scriptures adopt a much more practical approach. This is described using the four goals of life (Purusharthas) which characterise the purpose of human living. These four factors help one set proper goals. The four goals of life are Artha (acquisition of wealth), Kama (desires and pleasure), Dharma (moral code of conduct) and Moksha (freedom from the cycle of birth-death-and-birth-again).

All the four goals of life are important, but it is accepted that wealth and deisres (artha and kama), underpinned by right conduct (dharma), need to satisfied before one works towards liberation (moksha). Of course, anyone who aims to satisfy his wealth needs without considering the moral code of conduct) will be greedy and resort to nefarious means of acquiring wealth. Similarly, satisfying one’s desires without considering right conduct (dharma) can lead to gluttony, lust. Such people can use their means of wealth to satisfy desires without the modicum of self-control. We need to be following – and practising – right conduct in our acquisition of wealth and enjoyment.

The four arms of the Swasti (meaning well-being) is said to represent the four goals of life(purusharthas). Hence the Swasti also emphasises the need for well being in all these aspects of life. Otherwise, in general, people’s lives will not have fulfilment, nor any general satisfaction. Any attempt to jump directly to liberation (moksha) without balancing wealth and desire will only lead to false renunciation.

The concept of liberation was not present in the initial Hindu scriptures. So the goals of life (purusharthas) were initially called Trivargas (or three categories for righteous living). When liberation (moksha) became part of the scriptures (eg., the Upanishads), the Trivargas became Chaturvargas (or four categories for righteous living).

In modern psychology, one often refers to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which consists of physiological needs, safety, sense of belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation. If self-realisation is mapped to liberatoin, the other aspects of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be mapped to wealth and desire. Desire and wealth are perfectly necessary to maintain one’s station in life. Too much of wealth, too much of desire, can skew the path through life, and burst the tyre. We need all four tyres filled with the right amount of air to get our car, our vehicle we call the body, through to the ultimate goal of life. Burst tyres put us in the gutter of life.

To summarise, the path of right conduct (dharma) that Hinduism teaches through life does not glorify poverty but permits ethical means to acquire wealth. Similarly, Hindu right conduct (dharma) is not puritanical and does not say that pleasure is wrong or unnecessary. On the contrary, many desires are natural and it is necessary to satisfy them as per the principles of right conduct (dharma). As the Kathopanishad states, it is important to move from having a pleasant life to awareness of the bliss our soul is constantly bathed in. But one has to keep in mind that this is often a gradual process, there is no instant “push-button” to achieve liberation (freedom from the cycle of birth-death-and-birth-again).


Hindu scriptures adopt a much more practical approach. This is described using the four goals of life (Purusharthas) which characterise the purpose of human living.



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