Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 12: Axiology – The Aims of Existence

What are the needs of people? One may say that they are social, economic and political security. But, this would be to look at things only from the peripheral level. Ancient Indian thought, recorded in the scriptural texts, such as the Smritis, Epics and Puranas, which have gone into great detail in this field of investigation, has classified the basic requirement in terms of what are known as Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Here is a standing example of the great intuition of the early seers into the essentials of human life.

The four aims stated exhaust the entire area of human aspiration and performance. The term, Moksha, describes the final aim of all things. The resistless asking, characterising all living beings in a variety of ways, has to end somewhere, sometime. There cannot be only asking without the chance of fulfilling it. An endless asking for wider dimensions which can be seen working vigorously in every living being, and most perspicaciously in human nature, has to have its origin nowhere except in the very consciousness and the very life principle of all beings. This is a suggestion that the endless fulfilment, comprehending infinitude, has its incipient roots in the consciousness of the life principle from which arises this perennial impulse to overstep all boundaries and achieve a limitless state of existence. Do we not see Nature working actively through the process of evolution to provide higher and more adequate forms of life, aiming evidently at superhuman possibilities which can end only in the state of absolute unrelatedness? This is the eternal state of being whose attainment is the principal preoccupation of all activity through universal history. Universal freedom is Moksha. This is the summum bonum of life and the meaning of all existence. This is the highest Purushartha, the pinnacle of all possible aspiration.

Man lives, finally, to strive towards the attainment of Moksha. Nevertheless, the aspiring human individual involved in the shackle of body and mind has to pay some attention to what exactly is to be done while actually involved in this manner. The physical body has its material needs and the mind has its emotional calls. The working for Moksha is also to take into account these lesser psychophysical requirements. The physical needs come under the realm of Artha, including material possessions necessary for the survival of the physical body. Food, clothing and shelter are the barest minimum necessary for the continuance of life. Everyone has the right to live, even as everyone has a duty to achieve ultimate freedom. Further, a phenomenon presented as a content of experience should be considered as real enough to call for concerted attention. That the body is not the soul does not preclude the necessity to pay due attention to the demands of the body, for even a phenomenon not finally real assumes a reality to the extent it is received and accepted into the constitution of consciousness. The laws regulating properties and rights are complicated enough and one cannot decide offhand what are exactly the physical needs of a person, since such things as security and health also come within the purview of physical needs. The system of social organisation and the policy of governmental administration have direct relevance to not only the quantum of material facility required by an individual but also the means of acquiring it without being detrimental to the similar needs of other individuals and the welfare of the State.

The emotional needs of people coming under what is known as Kama are equally important. This is a field of psychic activity that is concerned with the perception of beauty and the aesthetic excitement that such a perception evokes in the individual. Even if every kind of material comfort is assured to a person, the peculiar inner longing for a satisfaction appearing to be even superior to the pleasures of physical ease cannot be ruled out of consideration. People can die for the sake of imagined joys even sacrificing all wealth and position in society. The workings of the mind have their arms reaching regions deeper than the physical body and its needs. The stimulation generated by the experience of even the height of physical security and concomitant appurtenances can be overshadowed by the stimulus generated by artistic and aesthetic enjoyment. The faculty of feeling is not in any way weaker, perhaps it is very much stronger, than the preoccupations of intellect and volition. This is an area of desire in its subtler aspects apart from the grosser asking for food and the like, which includes the power exerted on the mind especially by the higher forms of fine art and the romantic pressures working incessantly in the individual, including all forms of the impulse to reproduce replica of one's species.

The rule of life which is a methodology of the soul's ascent to the Absolute accepts the pull of Artha and Kama in human life, and the proportion in which they are allowed to participate in the onward progression of the individual, though the aspect of greed lying in ambush as a sting behind the normally permissible physical comforts and the excess of a passionate form which may be assumed by the healthy providing of emotional needs, may vitiate into a harmful opposite of the otherwise positive growth of the human personality by means of the contributory assistance accorded by Artha and Kama, which psychoanalysts would dub as food and sex, but which, however, is suggestive of a profounder need stressing the call for a proper adjustment of parts to the whole.

Dharma is the law that grants freedom and also restrains freedom at the same time. While it is necessary to give freedom to everyone, it is also necessary to limit everyone's freedom to the extent to which everyone else also needs freedom equally. Society has to cohere into a harmonious blending of all its parts in the requisite proportion of emphasis on each particular part. Since unity appears to be the law of all things, there has to be some principle of action that insists on its introduction, in the manner necessary, amidst the diversity of isolated things and human beings apparently divided among themselves. Physical gravitation, chemical coherence, physiological health, mental sanity, emotional balance, and logical consistency, are various forms of the working of the unity of all life. This principle, this rule of the cohesion of divided parts into the pattern of perfection, is Dharma, which inexorably works everywhere, and, at all times. Dharma, in fact, is God in action, the Absolute revealing itself in and through its manifestations by degrees of concrescence and division. Nothing worth the while, political solidarity, social peace or personal happiness, can be achieved without the sanction of Dharma, which is an impersonal law of equity and justice, not to be confused with any form of cult, creed, faith or religion.