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What is Anartha?
Articles by Satyanarayana Dasa

What is Anartha?

Dollar, wealth, fist

The word artha is derived from the Sanskrit root artha, which means “to desire.” Thus the word artha means a desirable object, purpose, goal, wealth, etc. Anartha means that which is not artha. On the path of bhakti, our goal or artha is prema. To achieve a goal, we also need the means. Then those means also become artha or desirable. Thus artha is of two types—the goal and the means to achieve the goal. Anything that supports these two is acceptable. Everything else is anartha. For example, to achieve prema, one needs to engage in sādhana-bhakti, so sādhana-bhakti is also artha. One needs to keep one’s body fit. For that, good sleep is necessary. Although sleeping is neither the goal nor the means to achieve the goal, it supports sādhana-bhakti and thus is not an anartha. Once we understand the definition of anartha and are clear about our goal, we can apply the definition to test whether something is an anartha.

If we are not clear about our goal, then we are not clear about the distinction between artha and anartha. This is the situation with people in general, who are manipulated by social media. Social media programs the mind, and people follow it blindly. Social media, however, is controlled primarily by the corporate world and politicians. The corporate world wants to sell its products and make a profit, and the politicians want to remain in power. Thus they manipulate the minds of people to these two ends.

Some rare people get out of this rat race and take to spirituality. But if such spiritual enthusiasts are not adequately educated about their goals and the means to achieve them, they are again exploited by men seeking wealth and power in the garb of spiritual leaders. If spiritual leaders are not adequately educated in their field, then knowingly or unknowingly, they repeat the same scenario that occurs in society—the pursuit of wealth and power. The common spiritualist cannot see this due to a lack of education.

Everyone is born with a natural attachment to the physical body. This is nature’s arrangement or an outcome of anādi avidyā. The body has its physical needs, and to satisfy those needs, one requires wealth. Even if one somehow acquires wealth, one must protect it from others. Hence there is a need for power. Thus there is a natural inclination to amass wealth and power. These two are natural arthas. However, if one studies life deeply, they realize that mere wealth and power do not bring fulfillment. They are necessary for survival, but the purpose of life is not simply survival. Everyone wants to be happy. But it is seen that the very wealth and power one needs to survive also result in suffering, which is an anartha. Indeed, everything material, no matter how attractive and necessary, is a source of suffering if one does not have the goal of prema.

Thus, if one has proper knowledge of prema and the process to achieve it, one can understand the true anarthas. Otherwise, even so-called arthas are also anarthas. 

Therefore, Śri Kṛṣṇa advises us to surrender to Him. The idea of surrender is to get rid of this anartha. But to our materially conditioned minds, surrender appears like a poison pill. Because of avidyā, the real artha seems like an anartha, and the anarthas seem like arthas. The purpose of spiritual practice is to get rid of anarthas or anartha-nivṛtti—not to engage in anarthas or anartha-pravṛtti.

Surrender is not something new to us, but we have not deliberated on it. We are all surrendered to our bodies completely. We do everything to please our minds and senses. We climb mountains, engage in dangerous sports like skiing, drink horrible-tasting liquids, and smoke unhealthy fumes—simply for the pleasure of the mind and body. We also work odd hours in unpleasant situations just to earn money. This is because we are naturally surrendered to the body. Surrendering to Kṛṣṇa is not as austere as surrendering to our body and senses. There is no need to eat or drink unpleasant substances. Yet because we do not like surrendering to anyone, we have trouble following spirituality. But if we can utilize our intellect correctly, we can avoid all anarthas. This is the ultimate advice Kṛṣṇa  gives to Uddhava:

eṣā buddhimatāṁ buddhir manīṣā ca manīṣiṇām
yat satyam anṛteneha martyenaāpnoti mām ṛtam 

“This is the intellect of the intelligent and the wisdom of the wise, that by using this temporary, mortal body, they attain Me who is eternal and Truth.” (SB 11.29.22)



  • Isha December 17, 2023

    It is a very clear explanation with modern, relevant examples. I am certainly grateful to partake of this knowledge. Please take my pranama Maharaja.

  • Gustavo R. Vega Carante December 19, 2023

    Can the devotion to Īśvara cultivated in other spiritual traditions (for example, in Sufism and esoteric Christianity) also be considered artha in a broad sense? Thank you so much.

    • Babaji December 20, 2023

      Yes, it is artha on their respective paths.

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