Every human goal within the ambit of the universal transactions can be classified into three categories – artha, kama and dharma. (There is a fourth purushartha which we will talk about later)
Anything that provides security – food, clothing and shelter; and wealth which we use to buy a variety of these three item groups – can be classified under artha. I want a house for my security from the elements, from animals and from other humans. Then I get multiple sturdy locks for the front door and then an alarm system. Then, for the security of the alarm system, I buy an AMC, Annual Maintenance Contract. For the security of the AMC, I buy the services of a lawyer to draft or vet the contract. And so on. All of them — security for myself today and for tomorrow, security for the security of the security of the security …… — are artha.
Once artha is secured, then what? Anything I look for that is not required for my basic security will come under the purushartha, kama. I want the luxury of a bungalow with a swimming pool, I want to travel the world, I want to collect art, I want designer clothes, I want to party. I want…, I want…, I want… I want friends to enjoy my swimming pool or my tennis courts. I want everyone to admire my garden, I want to win awards for it … All these I can do without for my security or survival. These then are luxuries, born of kama, not necessities for my survival.
Dharma, also called adrushta or punya, is also a purushartha that humans seek. Adrushta means unseen – unseen results. Like the other two, one can make an effort to gain this too. The first part of the Veda, called purva bhaga, gives us the means to earn this. Prayers, helping others in need, charitable work called daanam are some examples. Such actions earn punya, which could result in a sense of well-being in the form of artha or kama fulfilment; it could help in attaining a level of even-mindedness, shanti, in the face of any pain. It could also help in the after-life, in terms of the possibility of going to other loka such as svarga loka. Or, it could help in the next life on earth, by being born in the right family to the right parents.
Generally, kama follows artha, but dharma does not need either artha or kama to be fulfilled first. One can work towards dharma even when he/she has unfulfilled needs and desires.
Animals also look for food and shelter for their security and survival. However, they do not have dharma as purushartha. Humans alone can do punya karma and papa karma and experience their effects, punya-phala and papa-phala. We are self-conscious, self-judgemental and, always carry a feeling of inadequacy.
The human faculty of thinking, reasoning, visualising, planning etc., drives us to work on the above three purusharthas, competing with other humans to get more and more of the same. Till one day, the unique capability of humans to question “Is this all there is to life? What is the real purpose of my being?” comes to the fore. There is growing restlessness. A feeling arises that none of what I am doing is getting me close to what I really want, even if I am not sure what it is that I want. There MUST be a bigger purushartha.
Think about it.