In this six part series our non-religious Interact Blogger Sam Toller delves deeper into the major world religions and discusses specific aspects within each of these faiths that he personally admires. This week: Hinduism.
Growing up with two Hindu grandparents, I already had a superficial appreciation of Hinduism. I have fond memories of a beautiful painting, depicting a goddess with many arms (whom I now know to be Durga, the destroyer of evil), and always enjoyed the colourful sights, fresh smells and soothing sounds of the various ceremonies. Since then, I have also become a strong believer in the just but slightly idealistic law of karma, although this religious theory is also apparent in Buddhism and Sikhism. Whilst doing some research to fill out my acute appreciation of Hinduism, I stumbled upon Purusartha; the four goals of human existence. Whilst half of them were centered around the conventional religious ideals, I was pleasantly surprised by the other two.
The first aim is Dharma, ’the law of being’, which when observed allows human happiness. It is the moral code that upholds the universe and the people within it. In a more human context, Dharma means living a moral, ethical and virtuous life, in correspondence with the divine laws of the universe. However, due to it upholding all creation, it is the first and foremost objective. It is also argued that the fulfillment of other objectives becomes tainted if done against the ethics of Dharma. Manu, an ancient spiritual teacher, wrote that ‘Non violence, truth, non-coveting, purity of body and mind, and control of senses are the essence of dharma’. Dharma, coincidentally enough, has a close relationship to Karma; living your life by the laws of Dharma rewards you with good Karma, affecting your reincarnation after death.
The second Purusartha is Artha, meaning wealth. Whilst most religions pioneer charity, and ward against the evils of money, I was refreshingly surprised by the Hindu perspective on wealth. Material goods improve happiness, but are also seen as a facilitator for fulfilling the first objective of Dharma. Lord Vishnu, the Hindu avatar (an incarnation of The Supreme Being), lives a rich life, yet he
gives to the poor and protects the weak, thus improving his Dharma, which is still the ultimate goal; Artha means nothing if it’s achieved immorally and against Dharma. The example of Vishnu also presents an interesting argument; the more we earn ourselves, the more we have to give away and improve the lives of the less fortunate.
The third objective of human life is Kama, which means sexual desire. The phrase ‘Kama Sutra’, which refers to an ancient Hindu scripture about sexual intercourse, used to evoke in me an immature giggle, but its role in Purusarthas and the reasons for it’s inclusion are by no means inappropriate. As with Artha, the fulfillment of Kama must not intrude on Dharma, therefore it should only
be fulfilled within a marriage. Although Hindu scriptures say that sex is for procreation, it should also be a pleasurable experience. Some Hindus believe that sex is an appreciation of God’s blissful nature, and that sexual energy transforms into divine spiritual energy.
The last aim is Moksha, meaning clarity and lack of delusion. Hindu’s believe that at the end of our lives, we are reincarnated. A bad life, and bad karma, results in reincarnation as a lesser being such as an animal, whilst leading a good life moves us closer to Moksha, which is salvation from the world, as we know it. Once reached, it brings an end to suffering for the achiever, who is extracted from the cycle of reincarnation.
Personally, although this objective is reassuring in the short term, it has always posed the question of ‘What happens then?’ My deepest fear is ‘eternity’, which for me, makes Moksha difficult to appreciate. Dharma is of course a noble aim, but Hinduism’s perspective on wealth and pleasure is very refreshing; my prejudiced view of religion telling people what not to do has been readjusted. In my opinion, pursuing the good things in life whilst doing so morally and ethically, is the greatest message a religion can give.