Swami Swaroopananda Q&A | sivanandabahamas.org

The Goal of a Human Being

Question: What is the goal of a human being?

Answer: This is a good and valid question. According to the yogic tradition a human being has four legitimate goals in life. We call them the four purusharthas, the four goals of the life, and they are called the artha, kama, dharma, and moksha.


Artha means livelihood. It means that a human being should be able to support himself and the life of his fellow beings materially — not only materially, but in order to make a livelihood, to gain wealth in a righteous way. Notice that wealth is to be gained not just for oneself but also for others. As a result, there will be abundance and prosperity for everyone. Swami Vishnudevananda would say, “A hungry person cannot meditate.” Nor a person who suffers from cold and does not have shelter … not everyone is a sadhu — you know? Sadhus, they choose to be poor, it is a choice. There are sadhus who have been millionaires and gave up everything to live the life of poverty. But spirituality, it is not good if a person does not have food to eat, has no shelter, and so on. Therefore, the first goal of human life is called artha. Artha is basically wealth that we gain in order to support ourselves and in order to support our fellow beings. It is very important to have this abundance.


Then, there is kama. Human beings have desires. Some desires are worldly, some desires are spiritual. Even among the worldly desires, there are desires which the rishis call legitimate human desires. What do we mean by legitimate? Legitimate desires, if fulfilled, will not harm the human being. They will help the human being to progress gradually toward the higher spiritual goal of living a spiritual life.


Then there is the third goal, which is called dharma. Dharma means to live a righteous life and to be aware of the universal laws of existence. For example, nowadays we all speak about ecology. What is ecology? Ecology simply means being aware of nature and to live in harmony with nature — and it is not always easy. On the other hand there is also personal ecology. There is mental ecology.

Dharma means righteousness, to become aware of the natural laws of existence, to live in harmony with them and also to help others to live in harmony with them. In this way we can live a happy, fruitful and honest life. We can live a life where we can all fulfill our aspirations and our human goals, which are our birthright. This is called dharma. The rishis were teaching dharma. There is a dharma for everything. The word dharma means whatever supports existence. Whatever supports the existence of something — that is its dharma.

For example, look at the plants; the plants have their own dharma. They need sun, they need water, they need soil — but each plant needs a different measure of light, different type of soil, different measure of water. As a result, each plant has a different dharma. Each animal has a different dharma. Human beings have their own dharma. There are other kingdoms within creation that have their own dharma. Then, we have a dharma as a group. We have to learn to live together, not just human beings with themselves but also with other kingdoms. It goes on, and on, and on.

The most basic and highest dharma is ahimsa, non-violence. Non-violence means do no harm. Do not cause suffering to others. Ahimsa also means to have the intention to do good to others and not just do no harm. Very wise people, masters, have said that if you are not capable of doing good, at least do no harm. Ahimsa, doing no harm, is considered to be the superior dharma.


And then we come to the fourth goal of the human life which is called moksha. Moksha is spiritual liberation. Spiritual liberation frees us from our bondage to a state of existence of perpetual suffering due to ignorance. Because of ignorance, which we say is primordial, we are in a cycle. We are in a perpetual cycle of suffering, ever growing suffering. It is a cycle. It is a state of existence of suffering — more suffering and more suffering. This is what we call samsara. Spiritual liberation is being liberated from that state of ignorance and suffering, then helping others to do the same. This is called moksha, liberation from ignorance, and liberation from the suffering of samsara, which is due to ignorance.

The Supreme Goal

The thing is these four goals are goals of humanity. As you may notice,

Moksha is common to all. In other words, according to yogic teaching, it does not matter to what way of life you belong, moksha is a goal. It means spiritual liberation is the goal for every human being at every stage of his or her life. As a result, we say the supreme goal of human life, the ultimate goal of human life, of every human being, is spiritual liberation. And yoga consists of methods that were developed to help human beings attain this supreme goal of spiritual liberation.

Nevertheless, in order to attain the goal of spiritual liberation, human beings in different stages of their evolution should also fulfill the other three goals. It means yogis also need to eat, so there should be some support that is based on artha. Yogis need to live in a society which is reasonably prosperous and harmonious, in order to receive the necessary support to fulfill their practices. And such a society will not be prosperous, fulfilled and harmonious if their legitimate desires of human life are not fulfilled. Yogis definitely need to live in a dharmic society. And it is the duty of yogis to teach their fellow beings about dharma, because dharma is the foundation of everything. If we know what supports the existence of everything then we are going to live in a very happy state of existence. And although it is within samsara, within the realm of ignorance, nevertheless, with the help of dharma, we are going to reach the plateau where moksha becomes possible. This plateau is where spiritual realization becomes possible.

Therefore, according to the yogis, there are four goals of human life: artha, which is wealth; kama, which is fulfillment of legitimate desire; dharma, which is developing righteousness; and moksha, which is attainment of spiritual liberation.

One thought on “The Goal of a Human Being

  1. sharon schiller


  2. sharon schiller

    Dear Swami
    Thank you for sending me this topic, “Goals of a human being”. I specifically needed to see this today to know of others in the same pursuits as I. To know you are guided thru this life journey with these formal and informal thoughts and goals is highly inspirational. Meanwhile, I will continue to work on these goals of being human and also of keeping my body and mind fit and clean. I am trying to make my way back over there.

    I have not been to visit the ashram on paradise island for about forty years but do hope to return there one day soon.

    Thank you again for reaching out and for all the good you are doing. God Bless and Be Well.

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