What is the essence of life – Artha (money), Kama (sex) or Dharma (virtue)?
What is the most sought after topic to discuss between a group of people? Most of the time men tend to talk about money and politics and women are more inclined to talk about relations. When the talk becomes twosome or threesome it becomes centred to theme of sex and infidelity in a manner similar to the saying that – all roads lead to Rome.
The Sanskrit word Artha has become synonyms to money but in reality it was more close to prosperity and wealth. Kama means fulfilment of sexual desire. Dharma was totally different from today’s meaning – religion, it was meant to be truth, righteousness, virtues and upright conduct sanctioned by Vedas.
Which is the most important thing in life is always debated because Artha or money is no more used for the benefit of others. It is only used for sense gratification and living a life with a motto that you have to live once only so work hard and party harder. Kama or sex is the most occupied thing in a human mind even in dreams and men is always said to bent knees for sex. Dharma or something which was most sacrosanct in ancient days has become a slave of religious bodies and cumbersome rituals which lesser mortals thinks that a Hindu would get salvation only in temples, a Buddhist in a monastery, a Christian in a church, a Muslim in a mosque, a Jew in a synagogue or for a Sikh in a Gurudwara. But dear friends I am not discussing here the misnomer ‘religion’ word but the word Dharma which is completely different from religion.
So, one day Pandava brothers were discussing this topic with Vidura. The conversation begins with Yudhishthira asking:
धर्मे चार्थे च कामे च लोकवृतिः समाहिता ।
तेषां गरियान् कतमो मध्यमः को लघुश्च कः ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.२ ।।
कस्मिंश्चात्मा निधातव्यस्त्रिवर्गविजयाय वै ।
संहृष्टा नैष्ठिकं वाक्यं यथावद् वक्तुमर्हथ ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.३ ।।
People are generally motivated by dharma, by the desire for material prosperity, artha, and the desire for sexual fulfilment, kama: of these three which one is of the highest value, which is of the middling value, and which is the lowest?
Examine this question, and say only what you truly believe.
This ‘say only what you truly believe’ pervades the whole of the Mahabharata. Nothing is asked, and nothing answered, from a passing curiosity only.
Vidura, the detached observer in the Mahabharata, advocates in a few quick steps the primacy of dharma.
बाहुश्रुत्यं तपस्त्यागः श्रद्धा यज्ञक्रिया क्षमा ।
भावशुद्धिर्दया सत्यं संयमश्चात्मसंपदः ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७. ५ ।।
एतदेवाभिपद्धस्व मा तेभूच्चलितं मनः ।
एतन्मूलौ हि धार्मार्थवेतदेकपदं हि मे ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.६ ।।
It is in dharma that all beings are established.
Study and reflection, devotion, sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion, truth and self-control: these constitute the real wealth of the self. They are the roots both of the right ordering of relationships, dharma, and material prosperity, artha. Thus, material prosperity is always assumed in dharma.
धर्मो राजन् गुणः श्रेष्ठो मध्यमो ह्यर्थ उच्यते ।
कामो यवीयानिति च प्रवदन्ति मनीषिणः ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.७ ।।
Those who are wise say that dharma is the highest; material prosperity and wealth middling; and the fulfilment of sexual desire inferior in comparison to these two.
तस्माद् धर्मप्रधानेन भवितव्यं यतात्मना ।
तथा च सर्वभूतेषु वर्तितव्यं यथात्मानि ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.९ ।।
So, the right ordering of relationship should be one’s highest aim, behaving towards all beings in the same way as one would towards oneself.
Arjuna settles for the incontestable supremacy of material prosperity and wealth in human affairs. His main argument is:
This world is the field of action, and all things are done here as a means of livelihood. Without economic prosperity and wealth, neither can dharma be had, nor kama. Indeed, they are the subsidiary attributes of wealth itself, and cannot survive independent of it.
अप्रज्ञानं तमोभूतं प्रज्ञानं तु प्रकाशिता ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.१९ ।।
Not to know the primacy of wealth is the darkness of ignorance; to know the importance of wealth is to have the light of knowledge.
Nakula and Sahdeva, the twins, support Arjuna, but with a significant shift. ‘There is no question that wealth is as rare as it is most desired; there is no doubt whatever, that on obtaining wealth a person can fulfil all his desires, and this is proved by direct experience.’ But they point also to the unity between the two, dharma and artha, and do not grade one over the other. They say:
अनर्थस्य न कामोस्ति तथार्थोधर्मिणः कुतः ।
तस्मादुद्विजते लोको धर्मार्थाद् यो बहिष्कृतः ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.२५ ।।
A person who is poor has not means of fulfilling his desires; and nor can a person who is bereft of dharma be prosperous; and he who has not the wealth combined with dharma, is treated as an outcast.
तस्माद् धर्मप्रधानेन साध्योर्थः संयतात्मना ।
विश्वस्तेषु हि भूतेषु कल्पते सर्वमेव हि ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.२६ ।।
Therefore what one should aim at is to earn wealth combined with the right ordering of relationships, and have the right ordering of relationships combined with wealth.
धर्मं समाचरेत् पूर्वं ततोर्थं धर्मसंयुतम् ।
ततः कामं चरेत् पश्चात् सिद्धार्थः स हि तत्परम् ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.२७ ।।
Exercising self-control, and keeping dharma foremost in the mind, let one earn wealth that is combined with dharma; and maintaining the harmony between the two, fulfil one’s erotic impulse.
Bhimasena upholds what he says is the demonstrable primacy of kama in life, which means, in the first place, the primacy of desire as the motivating force. There can be no arguing about it. It is evident, he says that: ‘Every act begins with a desire for something. In the absence of desire, there would neither be any effort at earning wealth, nor any interest in the ordering of relationships; nor would there be even any impulse towards sexual pleasure. Then he quickly lists very many human activities, from the highest form of spiritual effort to the most ordinary acts of commerce and agriculture, each one of them motivated evidently by the desire for one thing or another.
समुद्रं वा विशन्त्यन्ये नरः कामेन संयुताः ।
कामो हि विविधाकारः सर्वं कामेन संततम् ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.३३ ।।
And of desire, there are many different forms, and every act is suffused with desire.
नास्ति नासीन्नाभविष्यद् भूतं कामत्म्कात् परम् ।
एतत् सारं महाराज धर्मार्थावत्र संस्थितौ ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.३४ ।।
There is not one human being, nor there ever was, nor will there be in the future, who is without desire. Therefore, kama is the essence of life, and dharma and artha have only that as their foundation. Indeed, they are only the other expressions of kama, which should be regarded as the substance of life.
He even advises his elder brother Yudhishthira, light heartedly of course,
सुचारु वेषाभिरलंकृताभि –
र्मददोत्कटाभिः प्रियदर्शनाभिः ।
रमस्व योषाभिरुपेत्य कामं
कामो हि राजन् परमो भवेन्नः ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.३८ ।।
Seek the company of women who are beautiful, are dressed elegantly, and are intoxicated with their beauty, and make merry with them. Kama alone is the highest.
But, after saying that he has thought on this question, he concludes that the most important of all is:
धर्मार्थकामः सममेव सेव्या
यो ह्येकभक्तः स नरो जघन्यः ।
तयोस्तु दाक्ष्यं प्रवदन्ति मध्यं
स उत्तमो यो भिरतस्त्रिवर्गे ।। शान्तिपर्व १६७.४० ।।
One should enjoy all the three, dharma, artha, and kama, together. He who worships only one of them is the most pitiable; he who is an adept in enjoying two is of the middle class; but he who enjoys all the three in a harmonious way is the best.
Disclaimer: Except first three paragraphs, all text is reproduced from Chaturvedi Badrinath’s Sahitya Akademi award winning book – The Mahabharata An inquiry in the Human Condition. No copyright violation is intended and the text is used only for fair use and for the purpose of spreading education and enlightening lesser mortals for much lesser explored treasure of Mahabharata. All glories to Ved Vyasa and Chaturvedi Badrinath. All faults are mine.
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