Teaching of the Month: ARTHA

Last month in this section we introduced the concept of the Purushthas; the Four Aims of Life.

  1. Dharma (duty, ethics)
  2. Artha (prosperity, wealth)
  3. Kama (pleasure, sensual gratification)
  4. Moksha (the pursuit of liberation)

We went on to explain a little about the first aim or ‘pillar’ - Dharma. Ones Dharma is our life-path/purpose. The purpose being one of knowing or seeking to know what our purpose is here on this earth while striving to be the BEST person that we can be – in every aspect. To read our articles on Dharma and Artha – the first of the Purushthas, please email us for the newsletters from February and April.

Now, let us keep in mind that as we read these teachings, It is clear, that the Four Main Stages of Life were originally designed for males and did not include women. Traditional Hinduism, in order to better understand the second aim or ‘pillar’ of the Purushthas, the concept of Artha, it is necessary to back up a little and to fill in a some background information about the Hindu concept of the Four Stages of Life. Many religions place women in a dependent role. In a traditiona view, women always need the protection of a responsible male, whether father, husband or adult son. This does not mean that women have no religious life. On the contrary, women are actively involved in worship, both in support of their family and on their own. On the one hand, a married woman is responsible for carrying out many of the domestic rites along with her husband.

Many rituals cannot be performed with her involvement or in some instances leadership. On the other hand, women are often active practitioners of forms of Bakhti Yoga, that is, the worship of the gods and goddesses.

In the modern period, this subordination has begun to change and women have gained more active roles in public life. Indira Ghandi, for instance, was a Prime Minister of India for many years (women have yet to gain a corresponding position as in North America). As women achieve more and more prominence, the teachings of Hinduism are altering to become more inclusive of women. We can certainly see as we read on that the Four Stages of Life apply equally to women as to men!

So, briefly, The Four Stages of Life are:

  1. Student – period of time in which one acquires knowledge
  2. Householder - period of time where one sets up a household with a partner and establishes him/herself in a career. Caretaker of family and community.
  3. Retiring Person. Release of career duties. No longer
    responsible for maintaining family leadership. Beginning to contemplate end of life. The elderly are held in esteem and are honoured members of the family.
  4. Ascetic. Rejection of life. Acceptance of death.

Stage 1 is thought to be that of the Student. In this stage of life, traditionally a boy between the ages of 8 and 12 would be expected to go and live and study with a teacher or guru for several years. He would learn the sacred texts of Hinduism and various rituals. Girls, of course, would be kept at home and would help with the household tasks.

The 2nd Stage of life is that of the Householder. This stage would infer that the person is no longer dependent on his/her parents but is setting up his own home, getting married, raising a family, and starting a career. It is thought that this stage corresponds to the time of life when the physical powers are at their peak. If you view the Four stages of Life as paralleling a day, then the student stage is the morning and the householder stage is noon, the peak, the apex of one’s energies. During this stage interests and energies turn outwards in three directions:
family, vocation, and the community. A person’s “attention will be divided between the three. This is the time for satisfying the first three human wants: pleasure, primarily through marriage and family; success, through vocation (Artha); and duty, through civic participation.”

Hinduism says that it is perfectly appropriate to satisfy these needs at this stage of one’s life. It does not advocate denial and asceticism. It basically says that it is natural to want pleasure and success, and as long as one also fulfils one’s duties, seeking these things is not frowned upon.

With this background information then, the second of the Purushthas is Artha. Artha is defined as wealth and material possession. Artha is the duty of a person in the second stage of life, the householder stage, the Householder Stage. During this stage a person strives to accumulate as much success and wealth as possible, without being greedy, to help, and to support, his family. To ensure a comfortable and secure lifestyle for his family so that they, in turn, may move forward to seek their life’s purpose. We can easily see where not striving to ensure family stability – where shirking one’s responsibility to family would have the descendants end up living in poverty with few opportunities to pursue Dharma. So, this is Artha. Please note the words in italics – without being greedy. How backwards we seem to have it in our society where MORE is seen to be the main goal of living! The teachings of Yoga would have it that yes, we do need to accumulate enough to support ourselves and our family, with hopefully some left over to support the community. But....when is enough enough?

It is important to remember that Yoga also teaches us to divide our energies equally between vocation/family/pleasure. ………….. Something to meditate upon.

In next month’s teaching, we will write about the third pillar of
the Purushthas....Kama – pleasure.

What is it that YOU need to do today to balance your life energies?

by Maureen Rae, RN, E-RYT