It is said that a human birth is not easy to achieve. And once you have this human body, you are no longer in the hands of nature. You now have the rare capacity, called free will, to initiate a further process of evolution. An animal, on the other hand, is fulfilled once it survives a few years and produces an offspring.
A human being also has to become an adult physically. You need only survive by appeasing your hunger and thirst and avoiding fatal accidents and diseases. The process is a natural one, made possible by the survival instinct common to all living beings.
Unlike physical maturity, emotional growth is in your own hands. Inner maturity is a process that you have to initiate because you are a human being enjoying a faculty of choice. Although each individual seeks something peculiar, these are four ends that everyone seeks. The universal ends most commonly sought after are security and pleasure – artha and kama. The remaining two purusharthas – dharma and moksha — can also be accomplished by a human being.
That which gives you any kind of security – emotional, economical, or social — is called artha in Sanskrit. Artha may be in the form of cash or liquid assets, stocks, real estate, relationships, a home, a good name, a title recognition, influence, or power of any kind. And although each person seeks various forms of security at a given time, seeking security is common to all.
Seeking pleasure is another purushartha, called kama in Sanskrit. It, too, takes many forms. For instance, sensory pleasures may be anything from seafood or ice cream onwards. Examples of intellectual pleasures are those derived from playing certain games, solving puzzles or riddles, and studying certain bodies of knowledge. Thus, we have a variety of pleasures.
Anything that satisfies your senses, that pleases your mind, that touches your heart and evokes in you a certain appreciation, is kama. There is another form of pleasure derived from seeing the stars on a beautiful night, enjoying the sunrise, a flower, a playing child, or a beautiful painting, for example. Because this pleasure is neither sensory nor intellectual, I will call it aesthetic pleasure. Even though such pleasures go beyond one’s senses and intellect, they are still kama.
There is a third purushartha, dharma, that is neither artha nor kama. It is pleasure born of harmony, derived from friendship, sharing, helping another person, and so on. For example when you are able to relieve someone’s suffering; you experience a joy that is not kama.
If you enjoy what you do, life is simple. If you do not enjoy what you do, then you have to do something to enjoy, which can be costly. On the other hand, any pleasure that comes out of one’s maturing process is a different type of joy. Not hurting someone, or doing the right thing at the right time, for instance, gives you joy – if not immediately, later. As you grow in your understanding, your dharma also grows.
Because of the importance we give to dharma, the order can now be reversed – dharma, artha and kama. Dharma accounts for your maturity. The more mature you are, the more dharmika you are. In order to be mature, an understanding of dharma and conformity to it become most important in one’s life. Thus, dharma occupies the first place among these three human ends. Without violating dharma, doing what is to be done, you pursue artha and kama, security and pleasure. I
~Swami Dayananda Saraswati