Best of Hitopadesha (Part 2): The Four Goals of Life
Articles by Satyanarayana Dasa Philosophy

Best of Hitopadesha (Part 2): The Four Goals of Life


elow is an extract taken from the first chapter of Hitopadesha. I have selected the twenty-sixth couplet from this chapter. This is the second write-up of a series of total three articles that will be published in future.

“If one does not attain any of the goals of religion, economic development, regulated sense-gratification, and liberation, one’s life is useless, like the milk-less nipples hanging from a goat’s neck.”

The Four Goals of Life
Boat on the GangaAccording to ancient Indian scriptures such as the Vedas, the purpose of human life is to strive for the following four goals—pursuing one’s religion, attaining economic development, accomplishing regulated sense-gratification, and attaining liberation. Accordingly, the Supreme Lord offers human beings four types of pathways in the form of shastras (scriptures) to guide us towards the fulfilment of these goals.

The first among these is Dharma Shastra (theology and liturgy) that explains and lays down a person’s religious duties according to his or her age and nature of work. Second comes Artha Shastra (economics) that elucidates on the use of ethics by people while acquiring wealth by fair means. It also advises rulers on better public administration and offers instructions on proper conduct. The third guiding light is Kama Shastra (treatise on sex) that describes the process of gratifying one’s sexual desires without transgressing religious principles. Moksha Shastra is the fourth Dharma Shastra that describes how to attain liberation from the cycle of death and re-birth.

According to the Vedas, man’s average lifespan can be divided into four equal Ashramas (segments)—Brahmacharya (celibacy), Grihastha (family life), Vanaprastha (hermitage and mendicancy), and Sannyasa (renunciation). The first segment (Brahmacharya) constitutes the student life during which one learns the importance of all the four goals in life. During the course of Brahmacharya, students are expected to live a celibate life inside a gurukula under the tutelage of a guru (master). Throughout the rest of the Ashramas, one should practise religion, earn money and indulge in activities that gratify one’s senses in such a way that the three neither become come in the way of nor become independent of each another.

The Goal that Demands Self-Restraint
Here, I would like to throw light on the Kama Shashtra which is often mistaken for a means to encourage promiscuity. A case in point is Kama Sutra, a treatise on sex authored by Vatsyayana. Vatsyayana does not prescribe unrestricted sensual pleasure, nor is he opposed to it. A person who indulges excessively in the enjoyment of the senses cannot expect a happy and a long life. He therefore prescribes self-restraint and celibacy during the student life so as to channel one’s energy solely into acquiring knowledge. He also explains the importance of dharma, artha, and kama and concludes that artha is superior to kama, and that dharma is superior to artha.

The Hitopadesha
The Hitopadesha

Amazingly enough, Vatsyayana himself was a lifelong Brahmachari (celibate) and he wrote the book to encourage self-control, not sexual pleasure. He declares this in the concluding verses: “This Kama Sutra has been compiled by me, while observing celibacy and trance to teach proper human conduct, not attachment to sex. One who knows the essence of Kama Sutra and who protects dharma, artha, and kama by his dealings in society, will certainly become jitendriya—a master of his senses.”

The Ultimate Goal
Observing the above discussion, Narayana Pandit says in Hitopadesha that an intelligent human being must pursue one or more of these four goals according to his or her respective shastra. Otherwise, his or her life will be compared to the useless udder-like appendages hanging from a goat’s neck from where kids cannot expect milk. The pursuit of artha and kama while ignoring the scriptures will not lead one to the ultimate goal of life because although the living entities are naturally attracted to sensual gratification, the real goal is to become free from it.

Hence, the ultimate purpose of the sanctioned sense-pleasure is Nivritti (renunciation). When artha and kama are pursued according to the shastras, they can be counted as the Supreme Goals as they ultimately lead to the detachment of the body from its by-products. This is in addition to the fact that ultimately there is only one Supreme Goal—the attainment of moksha. The other three goals enable one to realise the fourth by dovetailing one’s natural human propensities.

The Fifth Goal
Here, I think it is worthwhile to mention Shri Chaitanya, a devotee of Lord Shri Krishna. He, however, is of the opinion that beyond these four goals there is a fifth one too, which is the highest goal of human life—prema (love of God). Prema brings peace in this life and the next, while the other goals simply lead to temporal happiness because in the next life we must start all over again.

Today, everyone is searching for the perfect person to love and be loved by, but, by forgetting the Almighty, the source of love, we have created so many false objects of affection. Without a loving relationship with someone as perfect and worthy as God Himself, we cannot be one with Him and be happy. This propensity to love is gained by chanting the Lord’s names without offence under the guidance of a bonafide guru.

by Satya Narayana Dasa

Get your copy of Hitopadesha here!