“People travel to see the heights of the mountains and the waves of the sea, the wide rivers and the expanse of the ocean, but they pass by the greatest wonder, themselves.” St. Augustine.
The spiritual journey
Since time immemorial, yoga philosophy and practice have guided spiritual seekers towards Enlightenment. Yoga has become part of all cultures, and today people all over the world adopt the practice to keep themselves physically and spiritually strong. The practice of yoga deepens self-awareness and broadens one’s perspective on reality, leading to increased sensitivity, introspection, convergence, mindfulness, kindness and compassion towards others.
Analogically the spiritual journey can be seen as an ascent of a pyramid. The sages of ancient India knew that man can ascend this pyramid through merits of kindness to others and can fall through undeservedness, causing suffering. The pyramid has a base, we rise gradually, step by step, until we reach the highest point. In the Vedic view, this pyramid structure of human life is made up of four aspects called dharmas. These eternal relationships gave rise to the concept called purushartha. Literally purushartha means objective. The four dharmas or purushastras are the ultimate goals of life that we bring together in a single focus of attention. Yoga is the power through which we realise them.
Sometimes the dharma is called Sanathana Dharma, the eternal dharma that will never perish because its source is in the depths of Eternity.
Pure truth can only be experienced and is therefore difficult to understand. Therefore, we have been urged to view it as a four-faceted object, viz:
Dharma – living according to our highest human potential and inner Divine purpose;
Artha – setting goals and benchmarks that propel and secure the inner purpose;
Kama – fulfilling the desires of the heart and finding happiness in actions based on personal dharma;
Moksha – attaining liberation of consciousness or Infinite Eternal Divine Bliss.
In the light of dharma, the purpose of human existence is unique and indivisible, to realise Cosmic Consciousness. However, this purpose appears to be manifold because of the limitations of the human personality. Therefore, in order to minimise the difficulty of understanding the Truth and merging with it in yogic life, we undergo a disciplinary system called tapas (spiritual practice).
All these (dharma, artha, kama and moksha) are the foundations that we must pursue simultaneously in the aspiration towards spiritual perfection, so that, from the very beginning, we can experience a gradual ascent of perception to the realization of the Ultimate Totality, the Absolute.
More often than not, spiritual seekers emphasize moksha (attainment of liberation of consciousness), seeming to forget the other three aspects (dharma, artha and kama) through which we can transform ourselves completely. Unfortunately, today’s society puts material attainment and pleasure, which are aspects of artha and kama, before dharma and simultaneously ignores moksha, spiritual liberation.
On the path of yoga, we call beneficial actions dharmic actions and opposite actions adharmic. If our actions are not rooted in dharma, the adharmic pursuit of any goal of life cannot bring us happiness.
Although purusharthas are called the four dharmas, they are also known as Artha Dharma, Kama Dharma and Moksha Dharma. So the sanskrit word dharma has a deeper understanding and should be interpreted according to the context in which it is encountered.