Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

A Guideline for a Spiritual Life
Sundararajan Mohan

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Part I of III

Sundararajan Mohan

For more information about Sundararajan Mohan and his work, visit his blog, Advaitananda.


Modern life has become full of tensions and conflicts and it is quite natural for a person to find him or herself overwhelmed by the strain of 'living'. One wonders what is the purpose of it all. It is at such moments that the eternal message of VedAnta comes in handy and helps delineate not only the major strategic objectives of life but also indicates with clarity the means and methodology that can help achieve the strategic objective.

A strategy for living - puruShArtha

This approach to life is the beautiful guideline given in our scriptures called puruShArtha. It outlines a broad approach to human life. The most important segment of human society is the gRRihastha (householder). Students, retired folks and ascetics form a relatively small segment of society. They are all sustained and society itself survives on the basis of the efforts and contributions of the gRRihastha. As an interesting analogy, in modern times in free societies such as India, the UK and the USA, the so-called 'middle classes' have become the engine for economic survival and social well-being.

The concept of the puruShArtha is said to have originated from the Vedas. The term comprises two words - 'puruSha' and 'artha'. The word 'puruSha' means not only the Divine Principle or Brahman, but also the human spirit. The word 'artha' means not only wealth or value, but also purpose or objective.

Thus the concept of puruShArtha can be said to indicate 'the purpose of human life'. From a spiritual perspective, it can be said to mean 'the purpose of Divinity'. Human life can thus be conceived as the ultimate expression of Divine Purpose.

PuruShArtha is defined as dharmArtha kAma mokSha. This aphorism or concise statement includes the four components of puruShArtha; that is, dharma, artha, kAma and mokSha.

'Dharma' is often loosely defined as 'duty'. This is a reasonable definition although the concept of duty from a spiritual angle could encompass something more than 'plain duty'. It embraces the concept of what can be called 'righteousness' or 'right action'. One could possibly coin a phrase 'righteous duty'.

The fulcrum of the puruShArtha concept is dharma. All life revolves, as it were, around this fulcrum.

'Three' and not 'two' aspects of life

Life is commonly explained to have two aspects - the 'external' and the 'internal'. But in actual fact, one finds that there are three aspects to one�s life and not two:

  • life in the world (career)
  • life in the family (duty)
  • life within oneself (self)

Life itself seems to be a kind of circle; one starts with the self as a child, moves into family, enters into a career and finally tries to re-discover one's self.

On analysis, the life in the career is an adjunct to life in the family. Career provides the 'means' to sustain, nourish and serve the family. Career and family are thus intertwined and mutually supportive. Career provides the funds, social position and community support, to help look after the family. In the normal course, career provides an outlet for one's physical and mental capabilities; family provides an outlet for one's emotional propensities.

Thus both family and career form the basis for what is called duty or dharma. This duty is a sine qua non, a necessity, for fulfilling the important objectives of this life. Effective performance of this duty ensures that one's duty in life is fulfilled. Through a reasonably successful career, one contributes to the happiness of family. This is the greatest 'social service' for a householder or gRRihastha.

As a student and a single person, that person has a particular view of life. But the moment s/he marries, one�s whole view of life changes.

What we have been talking of when we refer to 'duty to career' and 'duty to family' is actually a strategy for human life.

Career and family together are what Sri Krishna, in my humble opinion, calls 'para dharma' in His famous declaration in the Bhavagad Gita (iii. 35).

Part II of III

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012