India’s Ancient Culture
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: The Fourfold Aim of Existence and How to Achieve It

We bestowed sufficient thought on the foundations of Indian culture, which are the Vedas. By observing also that the Vedas are not merely a scripture of religion in the sense of an aspiration for a god above the world, we had occasion to go into the different aspects of the meaning of the Veda Samhitas. They are inclusive of at least five aspects of life. It is religion, of course, because the mantras of the Vedas are addressed to gods or divinities above the physical world. But the Veda mantras are also connected with this world, not merely with the other world. They are not merely connected with adhidaiva, or divinities in heaven, but are also connected with adhibhuta, the actual physical world in which we live. The mantras of the Vedas are also connected with the soul of the human being. They are adhyatma, and in that sense they are also psychology and spirituality. They are also adhiyajna because they give us information about the method of conducting ourselves in actual performance and action in the world. The way in which we have to conduct ourselves in relation to other people in the world, in relation to the physical world outside us, in relation to the Creator Himself, in relation to our own selves, in relation to everything, for the matter of that, is called dharma or law. This also is laid down in the Vedas Samhitas. So they are also adhidharma.

The meaning of the Vedas is, therefore, so profound and inclusive that the Vedas cannot be studied merely from one point of view, from the linguistic or grammatical point of view, which is generally the way in which modern scholars study them. The meaning of the Veda is fivefold, a hundredfold, a millionfold. That is to say, it is inclusive of every phase of life. Therefore, it is considered as the foundation of the culture of the people of this country. To say, therefore, that the culture of India is only religious is to say very little. Sufficient thought is bestowed by the culture of India on all aspects of life, which is highlighted by the inclusion of these phases adhidaiva, adhyatma, adhibhuta, adhiyajna and adhidharma.

Vast are the Vedas, and difficult is their meaning. In order to make the Vedas a little easier to understand, we noted that the Smritis came up. Smritis are codes of ethics and law. They are eighteen in number, and three of them are considered as very important: Manusmriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti and Parashara Smriti. Manu Smriti is very strict in its ordinances. A little easier regulation is laid down by Yajnavalkya Smriti, and Parashara Smriti is considered as the only one that is suitable for Kali Yuga, this age where the will of people is weak and the mind is not so strong as it was in the earlier ages of Krita, Treta and Dvapara.

We noticed the purpose of the Smritis. What do the Smritis tell us? They lay down the laws of life. What are the laws of life? These laws depend on the laws of existence itself. Our existence is summed up in our longings or aspirations, and our longings or aspirations are summed up in the fourfold aim of existence, which is what we noticed yesterday: artha, kama and dharma. The material values of life sum up our physical requirements or physical needs, and our emotional needs are summed up by kama, the regulation of the way in which we have to fulfil our desires for material comfort and emotional satisfaction is the dharma thereof. It does not mean that we can have everything that we want. Dharma restrains us from having excessive freedom, though it grants us freedom. Our freedom is limited by the necessity for others to also have similar freedom. The existence of another person who also requires freedom limits the freedom of the other person. One hundred percent freedom is not possible for any person because each one has to survive, and everyone has to be granted the minimum needs for survival and reasonable comfort.

It is freedom that we seek, finally: freedom from want of every kind, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from heat and cold, freedom from threat of any kind coming from external sources. This is freedom from the point of view of physical and economic existence. We also want to be free from tension emotionally. The freedom which is, on the one hand, external as connected with material existence, and on the other hand, emotional existence, is what is required by every person. We should be physically comfortable, and also emotionally comfortable. There should be no tension either from outside or inside.

This freedom which is material as well as emotional is regulated by a law, a system of operation which is called dharma. But who lays down this law? Which is the source of this dharma? It should be like this and it should not be like that, says a law-and-order system. You are not supposed to behave in this manner; you are supposed to behave in this manner only; this you can do, but the other thing you cannot do. Who lays down this law? Of course, these laws are written down in the Smritis, but on what grounds do they make these injunctions? Here we have the fourth aim of existence, inclusive of and yet transcendent to artha, kama and dharma. The highest aim of life is not only inclusive of artha, kama and dharma, but it transcends them. That is moksha.

Four are the aims of existence: dharma, artha, kama, moksha. Actually, moksha is not one item among four items; it is that which surpasses and stands above the other three. It is a logical superiority which is over and above the other empirical needs or relative requirements which are physical, emotional and ethical. On what basis and in what manner are we to conceive this foundational concept of moksha? What is it, actually? What do you mean by moksha, which is inclusive of all the other values of life? You cannot have a hundred percent freedom in this world because your freedom is restricted by the freedom necessitated by the existence of other people in the world. If two people are living together, the freedom that they need should be shared by both of them in the required proportion.

But there is such a thing called absolute freedom. The relativity of the freedom that you can expect in this world is only an indication that there should be something called absolute freedom. In this world it is not possible to have absolute freedom because there is a world outside you which conditions you, and there are people outside which limit you. What then is the Absolute, because things in the world are relative?

A state of being in which there would be nothing outside which can restrain you, that alone can be regarded as the Absolute. If there is nobody except you, if you are the only existence, then you can exercise your freedom entirely. You will be one hundred percent free. In this creation you are not alone. There is a multifarious variety in this world of creation; therefore, relativity rules the freedom that we can expect in this world. But we want absolute freedom. Absolute freedom is possible only when there is nothing external to you. Here we enter into the field of philosophy and metaphysical studies, as they are usually called.

How is it possible for you to exist independently of anything that is outside you? The very concept of outside or externality has to be abrogated completely, and transcended. Is it possible? Normally, you will feel that such a thing is not possible. How is it possible for anyone to be totally alone with nobody else existing on earth? The idea of somebody else and something outside you is the limiting factor in which we are all involved in this world. Physically, socially, or from the point of view of natural life we cannot be absolutely alone. Aloneness is impossible in this world. Wherever you go, whatever you are, there is something outside you. There are people everywhere outside you. There is the natural world of the five elements outside you. Space and time are there wherever you go. They are external to you. That means to say, in this world of space and time and objects and people, absolute freedom is not possible.

But we never want to be limited in any way whatsoever. If possible, unlimitedness will be our aspiration. If we would like to have wealth, we would like to have unlimited wealth. If we want to live, we would like to live unlimitedly for endless years of duration. This is not practicable; we have noticed it. But does it actually exist? If possible, I would like to be the master of the whole sky and all the time process. If possible, I would not like to die at all. Eternally I would like to exist, transcending time, breaking through the process of temporal duration. If possible, I would like to possess the whole sky. These ideas arise in the mind of a human being because there is a potential inside us which speaks in this language. We know that practically this is not a workable procedure, but something that is unworkable normally speaking is telling us that it is workable. This world tells us we cannot be free, but something inside us says we can be free.

There is something in us which does not belong to this world. All that the world is – space, time, objects, and all people – seeks to limit us in every way from all sides and tells us again and again that we are bound, very much bound indeed, the slave of circumstances and conditions, dependent on events of history and the moods of people and the vagaries of nature. We feel like this. We accept it. But still, there is something inside which says that if possible, it would be good to break through all these bondages.

A person who is a hundred percent bound and involved in bondage only as his very nature will not have ideas of this kind – namely, ideas of transcending bondage. The idea of unlimited freedom cannot arise in the mind of a person whose mind is really bound and who is incapable of the fulfilment of the aspiration. We, therefore, seem to be belonging to two worlds. One is the world in which we are now, which is bound to spatial and temporal laws. We live in this world where everything is conditioned in every way. Death itself is the ruler of this world. In addition to all the limitations that harass us from all sides, there is a final limitation which ends our existence itself, which is death. We live in a mortal world. We live in a world of death. But we also seem to be belonging to another realm which is deathless, which is immortal.

Our inner consciousness, which is usually known as the Atman inside, is what is responsible for these kinds of aspirations which are very super-physical, dreamlike, and impossible to describe in the language of the mortal tongue. This consciousness, which is what you really are, is something which is required to be studied properly. What are you? Mister so-and-so, this person. You describe yourself as the son of somebody, or you describe yourself in terms of the occupation that you have got. You have some designation as an official or a workman, or you have some other designation as a relative of so-and-so, etc. But this designation, this definition of yours, is in terms of the physical body. This body of yours, which is material, you consider as yourself, and you define yourself in terms of the body only. This body is connected to a language, to a regional culture, to a state, to a nationality, to a species.

But you pass through various stages in your life every day which, if studied properly, will tell you that you are not actually this body – for instance, the state of deep sleep. This state of deep sleep is very intriguing indeed. You do not know what is happening to you when you are fast asleep. You are unconscious, but unconscious of what? Unconscious of this body. This body which you considered as everything and all in all, which was the very dear and near object of your love, which is very important for you from a social, economic and material point of view, this body of yours which is the son of so-and-so, the brother of so-and-so, the sister of so-and-so, this physical body which is sitting on a chair and calling itself an official or a ruler or a worker, etc., this physical body which is so very important, which is all the thing that you have, is not there in the state of deep sleep. Yet you exist in sleep. Do you exist in the state of deep sleep? Yes. Did you exist as this body? No. As what did you exist there? You did exist minus the body, minus also the mind. Not only your consciousness of body was not there, you have not even the thought of the body. Did you exist as something independent of body and mind? It seems to be so.

Please think over this matter deeply. Where was the mind in the state of deep sleep? It was not there. There was no thought of any kind. The body also was not there as the physical body. Did you exist minus the physical body and mind? Yes. What was your condition when you were there existing as independent of the physical body and the mind? “I knew nothing.” This is all that you can say. “I cannot say what I was. I was fast asleep.” Who is saying that you were fast asleep? In the morning when you wake up from sleep you say, “I was fast asleep. I had a very happy sleep.” My question is, who is making the statement? When you say “I had a good sleep yesterday” who is making the statement? Does the physical body make the statement? The physical body was not there. Is the mind saying it? The mind also was not there. Who is making the statement?

It is a statement made by some peculiar thing which has the memory of having slept the previous day. You have a memory that you slept yesterday, and memory it is that makes you say that you had a good sleep yesterday. But what is memory? It is the recollection of an experience that you had earlier. Unless you had some experience, you cannot have a memory of it. Now you have a memory of having slept. That means to say, you had an experience of having slept. Prior to the memory that you have in the waking condition, you had an experience of something which you say now is sleep. Did you have an experience of sleep? You did not have any experience at that time. You were unconscious. If you had no consciousness in the state of deep sleep, as you say, how is it possible that you have memory now that you slept yesterday? Does an unconscious stone have a memory of anything? Do you believe that you are totally unconscious in sleep? There would not be a condition of memory afterwards. Remembrance of anything is not possible if it is totally bereft of awareness. Unconsciousness cannot breed memory. Memory is always of something which was consciously experienced earlier. That is to say, there must have been consciousness in the state of deep sleep that was covered over by something, due to which at that time you did not have any experience of it. The consciousness that was there in the state of deep sleep was covered over by some cloudlike thing, some darkness which prevented the consciousness from being aware of itself. Thus, consciousness was absent, but yet it was there. That is the reason why you are having a memory that you slept.

So from the fact of memory subsequent to the experience of sleep, you conclude that consciousness must have been there in the state of deep sleep; otherwise, memory would not be possible. You existed in the state of deep sleep as consciousness, not as body, not as mind, not as any psychic function. Pure consciousness was your state, independent of any kind of relation to body and the mind. No social relation, no physical contact, nothing of the kind was there. You were not there as a person, as an individual. You were there as consciousness; but where was this consciousness? Was it inside or outside? The question of inside or outside does not arise for consciousness because the idea of inside arises only because of the fact that you associate consciousness with the physical body. “The Atman is inside, consciousness is inside,” etc., are statements you make in terms of the physical body. Now we are defining and trying to understand consciousness independent of the relation with the physical body because we cannot say the Atman is inside the body, that consciousness is within, inasmuch as in the state of deep sleep there was no consciousness of the physical body. So consciousness in the state of deep sleep was not inside. You cannot, therefore, call it outside also. That which is not inside is also not outside. That which is not inside, not outside, yet exists, has to be everywhere. This is a logical deduction that we are making from the fact of our consciousness in the state of deep sleep being neither inside something, nor outside something. A universality of consciousness must have been there which was shrouded in ignorance of certain types, ignorance caused by various factors. You did exist as consciousness. Because of the fact that consciousness has to be everywhere, limitation of consciousness cannot be conceived. It is absolute in every sense of the term.

Your essential nature is consciousness, which is not inside or outside, or in any particular place. It has no particular location because location is a concept that arises because of physical existence, but physical existence is obliterated completely in the state of deep sleep. There was not even mental existence. It is super-mental and super-physical existence, pure consciousness which is everywhere. Because it is everywhere, it is absolute. There is nothing to condition it or limit it at that time. That is why your happiness in sleep is greater than the happiness of even a king or an emperor of the earth. Do you know how happy you must be when you are fast asleep? Not the best of delicious dishes, not the best appurtenances of comforts in life, not even kingship will be equal to the happiness of deep sleep. You get up rejuvenated. Even a sick person feels better after getting a good sleep. You have not eaten any good food in sleep, you did not possess any property, there was nothing worth the while, and you woke up with a joy of having got charged with some force which makes you feel healthier than you were earlier. How this is possible? Because you were yourself in the state of deep sleep. In the waking condition when you are physically conscious, you are other than what you are. You have changed your position, location, in the state of waking into what you are not. This consciousness which is therefore everywhere, which is yourself, is absolute freedom. The attainment of this experience is moksha.

You want to know what is moksha. It is the delving into the state of this universality of consciousness, which is the nature of everyone. Inasmuch as universal consciousness can be only one, there cannot be many universal consciousnesses in the case of different people. It does not mean that when you are fast asleep you enter into the universal consciousness different from the universal consciousness into which another person is entering into in the state of deep sleep. We are all bathed in the ocean and sinking into a single sleep. The ocean is one only for all the waves. Millions of people may be fast asleep, but it does not mean that they are all entering into different kinds of universality. All the waves sink into the same sea of this universal existence.

We are not aware of it. We are bound by the physical body and conditioned by the mental vrittis or operations, totally unaware of there being such a thing inside us or outside us or everywhere, which is the absolute universality in us. If that state of universality can be directly experienced, you will be omnipresent. Universality means existing everywhere at the same time. Now you are in Rishikesh. A person who is in Rishikesh cannot be in Delhi at the same time. There is limitation by location and limitation by duration of time caused by the existence of space and time. All this limitation is overcome in the state of pure awareness, which is consciousness. Attainment of it, or experience of it, is called moksha.

Now, all this description about the nature of moksha became necessary in order to understand what the law and order is, which regulates your artha and kama requirements. Law and order in life, dharma, as it is called, is the way in which universal existence operates in all particulars. There are many particulars in the world. Many individuals are there which are of various types. All these individuals are conditioned by one law, namely, the universality to which they belong, of which they are a part, and from which they are inseparable. So whenever you conduct yourself in life, behave in some way, you have to see that it is in consonance with the universality which is the aspiration of all people. You cannot contend with others. There cannot be exploitation, there cannot be competition, there cannot be hatred, there cannot be ill will. Nothing negative is possible here in this state where universal existence is the common aspiration of all people. This is to mention to you briefly what moksha is.

So what are the aims of existence? Dharma, artha, kama, moksha. Inasmuch as moksha is universally inclusive, it is not just one of the four aims; it is the aim which includes the other three automatically, and subsumes the other three. The goal of life is Self-realisation, God-realisation, the realisation of this absolutely universal Consciousness. This is to say something about the fourfold aim of existence: artha, kama, dharma, moksha.

How are we going to work for it? Now comes the practical question. We have understood that these are the aims of life. How is it possible to achieve it? This methodology of the actual attainment of this great purpose of life is laid down by the regulations of a different type altogether, namely, ashrama dharma, the dharma or the law of the order of life, the stages of life. You have to grow vertically into the expanded state of the dimension of consciousness by overcoming the limitations to which you are subject through a process of education, which is the ashrama dharma. Brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa are supposed to be the stages through which everyone has to pass. When a person is born as a little child and grows into an adolescent, that person is put under the restriction of a law and order of education, and a discipline which conserves energy. This frees the mind from distractions which, if they are allowed to work with a free hand, may deplete the energy of the system, and the self within may feel weakened by its concentration on things other than its own self. We call this consciousness as Atman, and that which is outside the consciousness is anatman, also known as the subject and the object.

Pure consciousness cannot be an object. It is the knower of all things, the seer of all things; therefore, it cannot be something that is known by somebody else. But we in our physical condition of embodiment in this body see something outside – the world in front of us, filled with things, people, etc. – and our mind moves in terms of these external things. This movement of the mind in terms of external things is what we call the Atman moving in terms of the anatman. You are moving in terms of that which you are not. You know you are something and the things that you see in front of you are not you, so whenever you think something outside you, or the sense organs pull you in the outward direction, you are concentrating your mind on that which you are not. This is the reason why you become weak physically and mentally. When you are not yourself and you have become somebody else, naturally all your energy is sucked by that which is not you, the object, and you have poured yourself, as it were, on that thing which you are not, and you have become weak. A person who is sensorily indulgent, mentally contemplating objects of sense outside, weakens the system physiologically as well as psychologically.

This is prevented by the rules and regulations of brahmacharya wherein, at least for the period of 20 to 25 years, it becomes incumbent on the student to conserve energy. A system of this conservation of energy has evolved by which the brahmacharin, or the student, is not allowed to indulge in anything that is sensory, and is also not permitted to brood over objects of sense mentally. So for 20 or 25 years – nowadays it is less in number, but originally for the first 25 years, at least, one should live a life of intense self-conserving discipline.

Whatever you have been in your young age will tell upon you when you are old. This is something you must remember. What did you do when you were young? Did you live a dissipated life, an indulgent life, a distracted life, an uncontrolled life? Its effect you will feel when you are old. When you are young, you may not know what you are doing. Everything looks like milk and honey. Little boys do not know the harm that they are bringing upon themselves by living a dissipated life of distraction and mental indulgence in objects. If you want to live a long life and have a strong-bodied existence even in old age, not be drooping and coughing and suffering, your young age should be lived in a disciplined manner. Therefore, the first period of one’s life is brahmacharya, the period of discipline, wherein the energy is conserved for the other performances which are required to be undergone subsequently through the stages of grihastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa.

Grihastha dharma is what is known as family life, generally speaking. It is also a very difficult life. It does not mean that the disciplined brahmacharin suddenly becomes indulgent when he becomes a householder. That is not so. It is another kind of discipline altogether. All the four stages are stages of discipline only, but they are different kinds of discipline. It does not mean that in the grihastha stage you have got a long rope, whereas in brahmacharya you are all controlled. Nothing of the kind. Many a time you will feel that the life of a grihastha is more difficult, disciplined and controlled than even the brahmacharins because you are actually in contact with things in the world in front of you while living a life of conservation and discipline. The brahmacharin has lesser difficulties; the grihastha has greater difficulties. Therefore, the discipline that the grihastha has to undergo in terms of the encumberments in which he is involved is much greater.

The grihastha is a person who holds the house. That is the meaning of grihastha: one who resides in the house, and the other ashramas are supposed to be dependent on him. The brahmacharin, the vanaprastha, the sannyasin are taken care of by the grihastha. In one of the sutras or aphorisms of the Brahmasutra, the grihastha dharma is considered as an integrated existence. Grishasta is the word used there because all-round discipline is necessary in the grihastha dharma, whereas a unilateral type of discipline is required in other stages of life. The physical, psychological and social disciplines required of the householder are more difficult to practice than the ones that are before the brahmacharin, the vanaprastha or the sannyasin.

The daily routine of the grihastha is more variegated and complicated than the duties of a brahmacharin, vanaprastha or sannyasin. The pancha mahayajnas, as they are called, the five great sacrifices which a householder has to perform every day, are very important to make note of. He has to offer his daily worship to the gods who are not only superintending over our sense organs and controlling them, but are taking care of us. The higher divinities in heaven are the superintending powers which are lodged in our various sense organs, and if these divinities are not to operate, we would not see, we would not hear, we would not think, we would not have any consciousness of our existence. Surya, Aditya, the sun god, is the superintending power over our eyes. The Ashwinis as celestials are the determining factors of our organ of smelling. Varuna is the deity superintending over taste in the tongue. The quarters of the skies, called Dig devatas, are the deities which regulate our hearing organ, and Vayu devata, the wind God, is the power superintending over the sense of touch. The moon determines the mind, Brahma determines the intellect, Vishnu determines the subconscious or the memory, and Rudra decides the fate of our egoism. These are some of the gods who are daily worshipped by the grihastha in a particular ritual called deva yajnayajna, offering made to the gods.

You have also to pay your gratitude to the rishis who handed over through a succession of Gurus and disciples the knowledge which you have gained. The study of the Veda, the study of the Upanishads or any scripture has been made possible to us because of the hierarchy of the knowledge that has come down to us through a lineage of Guru and disciple from rishis who are the originators of these scriptures. Therefore, the study of the scriptures is a daily ritual of the grihastha, by which he discharges the debt to the rishis. It is called brahma yajna.

The ancestors who are no more here, who have gone to the other world, also expect a recompense from us for all the good they have done to us. The libation shraddha and other ceremonies connected to this ritual is also one of the five great sacrifices, called pitri yajna.

There is the serving of the guests; at least one guest must be served or fed every day. The rule is that when your worship and your rituals of the day are over, and you are sitting for your midday meal, you have to open the front door and see if anybody is standing in front. If anybody is standing there, he must be fed first. The uninvited person that is standing there is called atithi. Atithi is considered as God Himself. A person who suddenly presents himself without your having invited him is God coming. This is what our tradition believes. That person has to be fed first, and you take your meal afterwards. So open your door and see if anyone is standing in front without food. Give him the food, and then take your meal. Every day this has to be done. This is manushya yajna – feeding, entertaining the guests. Then you have to feed the animals; there are so many dogs, birds, crows, etc., wandering about. Give them their due. That is bhuta yajna. So deva yajna, brahma yajna, rudra yajna, manusha yajna and bhuta yajna are the sacrifices which a householder has to perform every day.

To do this, he has to earn his livelihood. That is again a very difficult thing, which the brahmacharin has not to do. So all these make you feel that grihastha dharma is more difficult. It is a tremendous discipline through which one has to pass in order that one may gradually free oneself from the clutches of the laws of nature, the laws of society, and the laws of the physical world. Freedom from the laws of nature or any kind of law is possible only by obeying that law. You cannot bypass a law. When a law is obeyed, it also frees you at the same time; but if you violate the law, it catches hold of you.

So through these stages, the ashrama dharmas, you obey the law of nature, society, and your physical body also. By discharging the obligation and the debt that you have to pay to them, you free yourself from them gradually. After the maturity that you gained by the living of a disciplined life of a householder, you are now given the permit to free yourself from all the obligations of a householder. You can become a free man to a large extent – a recluse, a vanaprastha.