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After the previous post from Pujya Swamiji on Introduction to Spiritual Practice we continue the series with His next post INDEPENDENCE. Question that immediately comes to mind is “Independence from what?” which Pujya Swamiji in his own beautiful dialogue style explains now :

Sarvaṃ paravaśaṃ duḥkhaṃ sarvaṃ ātmavaśaṃ sukham

When one is dependent on something (or someone), then that object becomes a cause of sorrow; when one is dependent on oneself, he is free of sorrow.

When you are dependent on someone, expectation sets in and once the expectation is not met, there is disappointment, which in turn becomes the cause of sorrow. For example, if you depend on someone to take you to work and one day he does not show up, it causes you grief. If you minimize your expectations, you increase the probability of being happy. We live in a society where we interact with the other beings every moment of our lives. It is impossible to be totally independent of everyone and everything. However, by managing the dependence intelligently, one can lead a very happy life. For this, we must understand the fundamental causes for dependence. Śāstras introduce the term Puruṣārtha to explain these underlying causes.

Puruṣārtha means human goal – puruṣa means man or human and artha in this context means goal. These are the goals deliberately pursued by all human beings. The fact that the human beings are able to deliberately pursue these goals makes them superior to the animals and plants. The faculty that makes this possible is human intellect:

Humans are equal to animals in eating, sleeping, fear and procreation. Intellect makes them (humans) superior; without intellect, they are equal to animals.

Animals have goals, but they are limited to the present and immediate needs. They are governed by instincts. Because of his intellect, a human can project into the future. A human is also self-conscious, self-judgmental and self-critical because of his intellect. This feeling of insufficiency causes him to plan to improve in the future. By choice, the human sets many goals. These can be broadly classified into four categories – artha, kāma, dharma and mokṣa, and these are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Artha Puruṣārtha
In this context, artha means security. Any item procured and secured for the sake of security falls under this category. These are necessities in life. Every living being has an innate urge to survive. It strives to remove its sense of insecurity related to food, shelter and in the case of human being, clothing and health. All living beings focus on security in the present, but the humans plan for future security as well. Not only does a human procure an object for his security, but also provides for the security of that object as well. For example, one may buy a house to provide shelter, but also will buy home insurance to protect the house. The other objects such as money, job, status etc. belong in this category. The possessor of these objects is dependent on these objects; any threat to these is a cause of immense anxiety.

Kāma Puruṣārtha
All forms of comfort, that are not essential for security (or strictly a necessity), but pursued for luxury, fall under this category. Any object of entertainment, such as TV, movies, golf etc. belong to luxury. When it is sunny, an animal may seek shade for comfort, but the human intellect allows him the various choices of luxury depending on the circumstances. Over a period of time, an item of luxury may become an item of necessity; a person may feel insecure without that item (e.g. cell phone). Over-dependence on items of luxury may cause anxiety and sorrow. A teenager without the internet may feel anxious.

Dharma Puruṣārtha
These are invisible form of wealth that generally contributes to one’s benefit. Since this is invisible, it is called adṛṣṭa which also generally translate as good luck or good fortune. Dharma acquired through the appropriate means is called punya or merits. Since dharma or punya can be acquired, it is also an artha. Punya contributes to our well-being in this birth as well as the future ones. Availability of punya is especially important in the early stages of our life when we have little control. For example, one may have a comfortable and secure childhood because of punya and develop good physical, mental and intellectual health. This may become a major factor in determining the nature of the adulthood. When one dies, worldly things do not accompany him. There is an appropriate saying in Manu Smṛti [IV.24]

Mṛtaṃ śarīraṃ utsṛjya kāṣṭaloṣṭasamaṃ kṣitau
vimukhāḥ bāndhavāḥ yānti dharmastaṃ anugacchati

Once a person is dead, the body is just dropped on the ground, like a log of wood or clod of earth. Relatives turn away their faces and return (after cremation); Only Dharma accompanies you.

After one dies, only his dharma or punya will help him to get a good next life (paraloka gati). In addition to his own merits, one may go great lengths to get a male child so that his path to the life after death is ensured by the rituals performed by the son (śrāddha, karma etc.). When one is overly dependent on his own punya, one is anxious whether it is sufficient for a good next birth. His actions are always governed by the desire and anxiety to earn punya. When one is dependent on his son’s rituals, he is anxious whether such rituals will be properly performed or performed at all. So, the anxiety caused by dependence in this case also leads to sorrow.

The above-mentioned three goals have many things in common. Collectively, dharma-arthakāma puruṣārtha is called preyas or bhoga. The benefits achieved by pursuing these goals are important in this worldly life, but they have three defects:

  • They are mixed with pain and sorrow; they are not pure pleasures. There is a saying:There is pain when acquiring wealth; there is pain in protecting it after acquiring. When the wealth gets destroyed or when it gets spent, there is pain. Why this state of pain?
  • There is always dissatisfaction. The more one makes, the more one needs. A person who has a hundred dollars strives for a hundred more. A person who has a million strives for a million more. Then he wants to be Indra. Indra wants to be Brahma and Brahma wants to be Vishnu etc. There is no limit to desire.
  • They are binding. One gets used to the comforts and becomes a slave to it instead of the materials achieved being the slave to him. Luxury becomes a necessity over continued use and dependence. The same applies to attachment to people for emotional gratification.

Elimination of pleasures acquired by pursuing these goals may not be possible, but one should know when it stops giving fulfillment. One must understand that they are required for living, but they do not give complete satisfaction or pūrṇatvatṛpti.

Mokṣa Puruṣārtha
Mokṣa is freedom from intense dependence or slavery caused by the material benefits (preyas) described in the previous paragraphs. This is also called Śreyas. An object can cause burden to a person in two ways :

  • By its absence – if one feels the vacuum or emptiness or worthlessness in the absence of the object, it becomes a burden
  • By its very presence – it binds one by its presence. The need to protect one’s possessions create undue strain and burden

Some items such as money cause burden both by their presence and absence. Freedom from slavery comes from self-mastery so that one is not burdened either by the presence or the absence of an object. An ill-fitting shoe is a burden, but one does not even notice the presence of a perfectly fitting shoe. Similarly, through self-mastery, a person does not feel the presence or absence of dharma-artha-kāma puruṣārtha; it is no longer a burden. This is Mokṣa or freedom.

Self-mastery is the ability to find security, enjoyment and merits within oneself. The one who has acquired this mastery called a jīvanmuktaḥ – the one who is liberated while living. So dependence on oneself is the path to happiness – sarvaṃ ātmavaśaṃ sukham.

Krishna describes such a person in the following slokas in the Gita:

In verse 18 of Chapter 3, Krishna declares that a liberated person does not depend upon anyone for anything:

For him there is no interest whatever in what is done; nor does he depend on any being for any object.

In verse 55 of Chapter 2, Krishna states that a liberated person depends upon himself for entertainment or fulfillment of desires:

When a man completely casts off, O Partha, all the desires of the mind and is satisfied in the Self by the Self, then he is said to be one of steady wisdom (II.55).

In verse 66 of Chapter 18, he notes the attitude of the liberated person towards dharma and after life (paraloka gati). By this, a jivanmuktah is liberated even when living:

Abandoning all Dharmas (of the body, mind and intellect), take refuge in Me alone; I will liberate thee from all sins; grieve not

Independence or freedom alone is the source of lasting joy – this is what all the scriptures talk about. This independence is mokṣa or mukti. It is the supreme puruṣārtha or Paramapuruśārtha. All scriptures in the Vedas – śruti, smṛtis, purāṇas and itihāsas – deal with the same topic of puruṣārtha and teach us how to find these in ourselves.

While freedom is joy and dependence is sorrow, no one can attain independence overnight. We need to resort to dependence initially, intelligently utilize the object of dependence and then become independent. A child uses the walker to learn walking and then eventually learns to walk without it. The fetus needs the nurturing of the mother’s womb for nine months, but after this period, it has to come out of this dependence. The raw fruit requires a tree while ripening; when ripe, it automatically falls off. A student in school is dependent on the teacher, but has to eventually graduate.

If you use dependence wisely to gain independence, it is a healthy dependence. But the dependence that keeps someone permanently hooked or attached is addiction – this addition may be to family, wife, child, money etc. A teacher who makes a student permanently dependent on him is not a worthy teacher. As a parent, one should raise the child to be independent:

The son shall be treated as a prince when he reaches five years of age, as a servant at ten and as a friend when he reaches sixteen.

To help the individual achieve these goals, the Vedas have prescribed Āśrama Vyavasthā or the individual scheme where the life is divided into four stages. In all of these stages, the prescribed actions are geared towards attaining the spiritual goal of attaining the ultimate freedom. The material goals are not discouraged, but they are subservient to the spiritual goals. These are discussed briefly in the following sections.

The first two stages are called Veda pūrva, where one learns to depend and grow. He depends intelligently on family, community and religion for physical, intellectual and spiritual growth.

Brahmacāri Āśrama
A person at this stage goes through education to help him fit and function in the society harmoniously. In the present education systems, the emphasis is primarily on providing the skills to acquire material wealth; little effort is spent on developing ethics and spirituality. The Vedas prescribe ethical and spiritual education in addition to the skills geared towards acquiring material wealth. Only through ethical and spiritual training can one become a refined citizen. An unrefined citizen will cause disharmony in the society. This refinement alone converts an animalistic man strictly governed by instincts to a Man man who is governed by proper ways of living. Swami Chinmayananda beautifully puts it: the animal man should be reborn as a Man man. Only then a Man man can be converted into a God man. Three important things are taught in this stage:

  • Understanding of the goal – spiritual and material goals and their relative importance
  • Knowledge of the rituals – physical, verbal and mental
  • Values of life – ethics or dharma

Gṛhastha Āśrama
In this stage, the life of a householder presents the most challenges when practicing what he has learned in the previous stage to balance the material and spiritual life. As a householder, he shoulders the maximum responsibility in the society; he is responsible for the welfare of his wife and children, his parents and the society as a whole. The performance of action is at its peak during this stage. As actions present themselves, so do the choices. One learns to exercise his discrimination over the choices of actions so that the material wealth is not gained at the expense of ethical and spiritual values. There is constant pressure to perform duties – both pleasant and unpleasant while still conforming to the spiritual and ethical values. The skillful method of performing these duties is called Karma Yoga. Through Karma Yoga, a person gets refined in actions and becomes eligible and ready to pursue Self-knowledge.

The next two stages are called Veda anta, where he gradually withdraws from the world and develops mental independence, if not physical.

Vānaprastha Āśrama
In this stage, the training for gradual withdrawal takes place. The physical body peak into activity during the householder stage. As we age, the physical body declines and there is substantial reduction in physical activities. The mind also should learn to withdraw correspondingly. If the mind is highly active and the physical body is unable implement activities, we will develop an imbalance. This is when one should begin to wind down on worldly activities and turn towards the pursuit of Self-knowledge. It should be noted that the pursuit of Self-knowledge is fully possible only after gaining the eligibility in the householder stage.

Saṃnyāsa Āśrama
Saṃnyāsa literally means giving up everything. It is the renunciation of everything, primarily the renunciation of one’s ignorance and ego by which one is mentally prepared to lose anything in life. Only through this can one attain Self-knowledge.