Explore the Purusharthas — Can We Really Have it All?

Life's Balance

A good career, enough money, great health, a good time and spiritual fulfilment – too much to ask? Surely you can’t have it all?

Well, actually, yes you can. Desire is what makes us human, and by understanding what the heart truly wants, we can uncover our soul’s deepest desires to live a well balanced and happy life. We hear so often in yoga circles that attachment to desire is bad, that wanting things is not very “yogic”, and that we’re supposed to be living a life of unattached bliss. What if I was to tell you that all your desires — a good job, wealth and health, pleasure and spiritual fulfilment — were part of your spiritual journey? Rather than ignoring or dismissing them, what if we can connect to our deepest desires to find a way to live the best life possible? Who wouldn’t want that, right? In yoga philosophy these desires are called purushartas, also known as, the desires of the soul.

Finding Purpose (or Dharma)

What do you want to do when you grow up? It’s one of the most common questions we ask children, and many of us continue to ask it of ourselves as we grow into our 20s, 30, 40s and beyond. Having a good job and fulfilling career is wonderful, but the question we’re rarely asked is “Who do you want to be?” This question can be trickier. It requires delving deep into our own heart, and really reflecting on how we want to live, what we feel our purpose in life is, and how we wish to behave.

In yoga terms, this is called our dharma, or being who you were born to be. Our dharma is more than doing our job: it’s about doing our duty. This might involve getting up at 4am to start your shift as a dustbin man, or working long hours as a doctor or teacher, or being a stay-at-home mum looking after your children. It’s about connecting with the way you can serve the universe, serve others, and then doing this to the best of your ability.

To find out what your dharma is, start to journal. Really get behind your motivations. If you want to be a yoga teacher, why?  What do you have to offer that might be of benefit to the world? If you want inspiration, Swami Satyananada Saraswati said his dharma was “to serve, to love and to give.” Start to dig deep. Whether you have a passion for helping others find health, or advocating the benefits of a daily meditation, start to ask, why?

See Also: Dharma Mittra: The Karma Yogi 

Accepting Prosperity (or Artha)

This can be one of the trickiest desires to master when you’re really into yoga. It can feel as though there is a massive conflict between spirituality and wanting to be materially secure. There is no law against having both, although particularly in the UK, when we tend to take a dislike to those who do well (just look at any celebrity magazine), we can feel really uncomfortable with the idea of wanting abundance and claiming to be spiritual at the same time.

Prosperity could be the subject of several articles on this website, but I will say this: wanting more doesn’t negate any spiritual goals. You need a certain amount of material comfort in order to be able to pursue a spiritual journey. Stress and anxiety about paying rent does not create a good scene for meditation, am I right? The key is knowing how much you need, and understanding your purpose so you are able to get it.

Try taking a mindful approach to how you view money; this is a topic where our feelings can get very complex. Try treating all of your money with respect and gratitude, from the small change you use to pay the parking meter to the flight tickets you just whacked on the credit card. When we are grateful, the universe sends us more. What do you have to lose by trying?

Feeling Pleasure (or Kama)

Feeling good is not a sin! And feeling good comes in many different forms, from enjoying art and cinema, to practicing hatha yoga, to having sex. Yes, I mentioned sex twice already. If you read older yoga texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, they will mention techniques which involve withdrawing from sexual experiences, but in the Tantric tradition, sensual experiences are welcomed not ignored.

Make time for fun! Make sure it’s your idea of fun, not someone else’s, so if you’d rather sit in a hot bath with a good book (I hear ya) than go to the pub, then do it. If you’d rather go to the pub, do that. Don’t judge yourself for wanting fun — start to treat as an important aspect of your life that needs attention and time.

Spiritual Fulfilment (or Moksha)

The desire for spiritual fulfilment, in other words freedom, is the common goal so many spiritual paths share. It ultimately leads to freedom from the other three desires, but we can only reach that freedom when we’ve got the other three desires in balance. Without a clear purpose, or the money to support that purpose (and pay for us to have fun), it becomes difficult to attain spiritual freedom.

It’s not as unobtainable as it sounds. When we experience true peace at the end of savasana, this can be a glimpse of moksha, and so many of us drawn to yoga often find ourselves sometimes unwittingly on the spiritual path! Often coming to yoga to sort out our backache or prevent injury, we experience an insight into another world, and find ourselves getting drawn more and more in. When this happens, we meet resistance on the way, mainly because we don’t have a clear purpose (dharma again!), or perhaps our finances and health aren’t as good as we’d like them to be.

The path to spiritual fulfilment usually involves change: changes to our diet, to our lifestyle, to our attitude and to our relationships. We need to make these changes and get our life in order before we can give up our attachment to them. Without being connected to the heart itself, however, we cannot effectively start to make these changes. We get lost, confused, fed up and sometimes want to give it all up. This is why having a good teacher can be crucial, as can access to good books, a like-minded community and whatever else you need to keep you going.

More About the Purusharthas?

To begin your journey through the four desires (the four purushartas) you need to connect more deeply with your own heart. If you’re ready to do some serious work here, I highly recommend Rod Stryker’s book, The Four Desires, but to get started, start easy.

Begin to write, draw, practice more yoga, sit and meditate, or connect with nature. Observe when your heart is full with love and joy, and when you feel heavy and alone. Start slowly, making small changes, day by day, to connect more deeply with when you feel good, and when you feel bad. You can only progress if you are truly on the right path, and no one can tell you what that path is better than your own heart.

See Also: Anahata: The Heart Chakra

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