Question 5: What is Purushartha

canyon and cloudRamji asks ‘What is purushartha?”. Vasishtha replies that purushartha is the wealth obtained from personal self discipline and practice. Purushartha refers to the great goals of life. One of which is realisation of the Atma (soul) within. This is explored in commentary on these questions.

Question 5: Sir, what exactly is purushartha and how does one benefit by it ?

Answer: Ramji, the endeavour in pursuance of the precepts obtained from sages and scriptures — the repository of spiritual knowledge — is called purushartha. Only Atma is realised by the endeavours or purushartha of this kind. On realising this, a jiva desires nothing else, and enjoys the bliss of the supreme state. Then he lives in peace and bliss with what he gets in the normal course. The supreme state is attained by a jiva with his purushartha only. Sages and scriptures suggest direction only; it is for a seeker to practise and follow the discipline. He who does not act even after obtaining the precept will draw a blank. Association with such a jiva is baneful.

Question 6: Sir, what should be the purushartha for a jiva at the initial stage?

Answer: Ramji, at the initial stages, a jiva should adhere to the following disciplines:

  • (i) to do all good things required according to his family norms and to follow his religion,
  • (ii) to abjure undesirable actions,
  • (iii) to be in association with sages and reflect on what is said in scriptures, and
  • (iv) to introspect in silence on his positive and negative qualities.

A jiva must abandon vices and promote virtues. When this is done, the attribute of being a witness develops in him, subtlety is promoted and qualities such as peacefulness, sobriety, renunciation and vichar (contemplation) develop in him. Thus the jiva gradually progresses towards the Atmic state and is liberated from all worldly bonds and restrictions. This is purushartha. Without purushartha, a jiva gains nothing. He, who is lazy and who depending upon daiva (destiny) for what he wants to attain does not undertake purushartha, is grossly mistaken.

In present day discourse, purushartha is understood to mean the four great goals of life:

  • dharma – the pursuit and practice of right conduct in everyday living;
  • artha – the acquisition of wealth to support family and necessary expenses;
  • kama – (normally translated as desires) – the fulfilment of needs necessary to one’s station in life.
  • moksha – the supreme goal, release from the cycle of birth-death-and-birth-again.

Sage Vasishtha is correcting this interpretation and putting the true wealth (artha) back to what one does by way of self-management vis-a-vis true humanness – realisation that we are the purusha, the fullness of all that is. The Atma is everywhere, within, without:

The children of Bharath (the children of immortality, the spiritual children of India, all those who follow the perennial philosophy in earnest) believe that they are, each one, the Atma. They are aware that the Atma cannot be cut in twain by the sword, that fire cannot burn it, that water cannot wet it, and that the wind cannot dry it. The Atma has no bounds. Its centre is in the body, but its circumference is nowhere. Death means the Atma has shifted from one body to another. This is the belief that every child of India has firmly in mind. (Sathya Sai Vahini, passim)

The realisation of this veil that separates one from all that exists is maya, the veil of illusion. This veil is the most difficult to penetrate and to realise the Truth – Oneness with all that is – is something that may take multiple births. It is very easy for an aspirant to be misled by his or her ego. On birth we cry Koham! (Who am I?) and the ego replies Deham! (I am the body!) and we need to know, experience and utter Soham, I am I!

Every person knows that he feels he is the body. Can anyone announce how this feeling arose and persisted? No one can offer to answer this question. For to say, as some do, that it is the will of God, is no answer at all. The plain statement, “I do not know” conveys the same meaning, as the statement, “It is the will of God”. One is no wiser at the latter statement than after hearing the first. What remains is this: “The Atma in the Individual, the Jivatma, is Eternal, Immortal, Full: There is no Death. What appears so is the shifting of its centre”. (Sathya Sai Vahini, passim)

The Ascension movement is currently teaching (among other things)

  • To practice Oneness with the Creator
  • To practice Oneness with All
  • The Soul has multiple existences
  • and that we need to monitor our thoughts.

The shifting of the Centre of the soul refers to return to the Source, reunion with the Oversoul that each and every one of us are, and recognition of the multiple existences we have. Everything is happening now; there is no past, present nor future. The last teaching given by the Ascension movement is about monitoring of thoughts, for thought creates reality. We think our world, we think our weather, and while we are born into a certain time and place and destiny, we create an attitude and surround ourselves with the fruits of our attitudes. There is really nothing outside ourselves that is not within us.

There is no need to seek Truth anywhere else. Seek it in man himself: he is the miracle of miracles. Whatever is not in man cannot be anywhere outside him. What is visible outside him is but a rough reflection of what really is in him! The ancient belief was that Easwara (God) ruled over the World, with Himself being outside it. This, the Indian seekers put to test through spiritual effort and revealed that God was and is in the world and of it. This is the first contribution of Indians to the spiritual world—that God is not external to man, but his very inner core. They declared that it is impossible to remove him from the heart where He has installed Himself. He is the very Atma of our Atma, the soul of our soul. He is the Inner Reality of each. (Sathya Sai Vahini, passim)


purushartha – the (four) legitimate goals of man: dharma, artha, kāma and moksha. ‘Acquire wealth (artha) by righteous means and use it for righteous ends (dharma); develop desire (kāma) for liberation (moksha).’ Vaishnava devotees consider bhakti to be the fifth and highest purushārtha

purusha – the dweller in the citadel of the body’, ‘he who fills the body of man’ – man, the self, the individual person. By implication, purusha is used as a name for God within, the eternal witness – Consciousness, the Self, the ātman (V. 14, 406). ‘You are all limbs of that one body, the purusha, who is far more expansive than this universe, which is but a fraction of his physical manifestation.’ The whole of creation is the cosmic body of God, the supreme Person, who is expressed through the medium of each created object, thus having uncountable (‘thousands’) of heads, eyes and limbs. Purusha is also the masculine principle; in one sense, God alone is purusha and all of creation is female (prakriti); ‘manhood comes with the rejection of the dual’.

Atma the Self, the soul, the life principle, the divine core of personality, man’s individual indwelling reality (jīvātmā), the wave in the ocean of the universal Self (paramātmā or brahman), the inner controller which rules and regulates the senses, the mind and the intellect, and animates the body by means of prāna: ‘I am the life-force in every heart’, ‘in the body but not of it’. ‘The ātmā is the unseen basis, the substance of all the objective world, the reality behind the appearance, universal and immanent in every being.


Closer to the goal