Almost every one of us mostly live our lives mechanically. Having been born, we go through the mill of studies, higher studies, romance, marriage, kids, money, power, old age, disease and death. People who are in positions of power, rich people, and erudite people are looked up to by the society, regardless of how they achieved their ends or by what values they lead their lives. The paradox is that it appears both the classes of people, the ones who lookup and the ones who are looked up to, are satisfied with this pathetic state of affairs.
For some, the immediate unfolding future becomes the purpose; for some others, money and power becomes the driving force. Only a very few, stop to think about what is real purpose of this life? Why was I born? In a particular family? Into a given status? Endowed with a given intellect? Why did our lives take a certain turn?
Our Śastrās classify the goals of life into fourfold, they being Dharma, Artha, Kāma and Mokṣa. Artha is security (!) in life, such as food, cloth and shelter. Kāma is pleasures and comforts in life which supposedly gives us happiness. Dharma is doing Puṇya Karmas to ensure we are happy in our future lives also. Mokṣa is going beyond the cycle of life and death.
An analysis of our pursuits in life, will show that all our pursuits fall within the 2 categories, viz., Artha and Kāma. To a very few, and that too only a select set of their pursuits will fall under Dharma. Only to those who have used their intellect, to gain discrimination based dispassion, Mokṣa becomes the purpose of life.
आहार निद्रा भय मैतुनं च सामान्यमेतत् पशुभिर्नराणाम्।
बुद्धिर्हि तेषां अधिको विषेषः बुद्ध्याविहीनः पशुभिस्समानः॥ – हितोपदेश…
āhāra nidrā bhaya maitunaṁ ca sāmānyametat paśubhirnarāṇām|
buddhirhi teṣāṁ adhiko viṣeṣaḥ buddhyāvihīnaḥ paśubhissamānaḥ|| – Hitopadeśa…
“As regards food, sleep and reproduction, cows and humans are the same. What makes humans evolved is their discriminative intellect; minus the discriminative intellect, humans are much the same as cow”.
In listing the 4 categories of goals, the Śastrās have put Dharma ahead of both Artha and Kāma though the first goal naturally is Artha, followed by Kāma; the reason is that in allowing the pursuit of Artha and Kāma goals, the Śastrās guide that their pursuit should be within the framework of Dharma; hence Dharma is put first.
Even if one were to pursue Artha and Kāma within the framework of Dharma, or pursue Dharma singly, all these three pursuits have 3 innate defects; they being, Atṛptikaratvam, Bandhakatvam and Duḥkhamiśṛtatvam. Atṛptikaratvam is a state of remaining unsatisfied, whatever be one’s attainments/achievements. I was extremely happy when I got my first bicycle, but then soon I wanted a bike; later my need graduated to a car, then a sedan, a luxury car, then 2 cars… Bandhakatvam is state of becoming dependent, on all the comforts and luxuries that one enjoys in course of life; this is why we see luxuries becoming necessities as one climbs up the ladder of social status in one’s life. I need my car, even if it is only a 5 minute errand that I had to do; and nothing less that my BMW would do, even if it meant going to the market to buy vegetables. Duḥkhamiśṛtatvam is a state of suffering pains, in the process of gaining pleasure. The compromises I had to make, the ignominies I had to suffer, the lies I had to tell, the 2-faced monster I have become, in order to afford the luxuries. After all this, when I did get my luxury car, everyone around me where celebrating my achievement, but deep down inside, I was feeling miserable, wondering it all this trouble was worth it.
Therefore, to the one who has a discriminative intellect, Mokṣa should become the primary, if not the only, pursuit of life. The purpose of this very human life is to gain freedom from the cycle of life and death. This re-orientation, we need to do with a sense of urgency, for Śankarācārya says in Vivekacūḍāmaṇi
लब्ध्वा कथञ्चिन्नरजन्म दुर्लभं तत्रापि पुंस्त्वं श्रुतिपारदर्शनम्।
यस्स्वात्ममुक्त्यै न यतते मूढधीः स ह्यात्महा स्वं विनिहन्त्यसद्ग्रहात्॥
labdhvā kathañcinnarajanma durlabhaṁ tatrāpi puṁstvaṁ śrutipāradarśanam|
yassvātmamuktyai na yatate mūḍhadhīḥ sa hyātmahā svaṁ vinihantyasadgrahāt||
“Having somehow obtained the rare human birth and there too, manly qualities and mastery over Vedas, that man of deluded intellect who would not strive for his freedom is indeed a suicide. By holding on to the unreal, he destroys himself”.