The four purusharthas are yoga’s four aims or desires of life. The purusharthas include dharma (purpose), artha (prosperity), kama (happiness and pleasure) and moksha (liberation or freedom). Rod Stryker explains the purushartha to mean “for the purpose of the soul.” He shares an excellent description about them in his YouTube video about “The Four Desires.”
I like to think of these as signposts pointing me to a successful, balanced existence in the world. I am constantly asking myself, ‘Which of these areas am I emphasizing too much? Am I having a good time but not being as ethical as I could be? Does what I do bring me happiness and joy or do I feel it is an obligation? Am I a great yogi but haven’t yet figured out how to make a living?’ Once I learned about these four desires of life, I have been able to contemplate the questions related to each one and reflect how well balanced they are in my life.
Dharma – It is a big word! It’s translated to mean “duty,” “work,” and “responsibility.” The meaning of the word is synonymous with your very purpose in life – with having the strength to get up each day and do what needs to be done. Dharma refers to the actions that you are engaged in. Some examples are, “As a parent, my dharma is to raise my children. As an American, part of my dharma is to pay my taxes. As a yoga teacher, my dharma is to show up to teach class and be present for the students.” Whatever you are doing, your dharma is to do it well, to serve yourself and your life in the present moment, to keep moving forward toward a sense of personal fulfillment.
Artha – This word is defined as “material prosperity,” “wealth,” and “success.” Artha is the material comfort you need to live in the world with ease. It’s the stuff you need to get your dharma done and support your life’s mission. Artha asks us to learn to live in a world of material objects that exist for our benefit. We can ask ourselves, “What do I see as valuable?”
Kama – According to Rod Stryker, kama is what makes the world go ’round. Kama can be sensuality, but it’s also art, beauty, intimacy, fellowship and kindness. It is what brings a sense of delight to our lives. Excessive kama can lead to overindulgence, addiction, sloth, greed, and other deadly sins. But in the context of dharma, we find pleasure along the path from family, friends, art, love and harmony in the world around us. Our passion toward something can lead us toward our dharma.
Moksha – This is widely considered to be the pinnacle of the purusharthas. It means getting off of the wheel of samsara (the cycle of suffering caused by birth, death and rebirth.) Moksha is in the here and now. When we realize the freedom within each of us, we can experience moksha in everything we do.