Hindu philosophy states that man has four objectives (ashrams)
in life: Wealth and knowledge (Artha), social order (Dharma),
sensory pleasure (Kama) and spiritual liberation (Moksha).
Hinduism makes the important distinction that each individual
is different. To accommodate the myriad of human differences,
different stages of life exist, allowing the individual to express
himself. There is no moral sin in Hinduism. Each person is free
to experience as much sensory pleasure (kama) or accumulate as much
wealth (artha) as he or she desires, just as long as no one gets
hurt in the process. Only by completely satiating the desires can
the individual finally realize the inadequacies in their material
For example, by indulging in sensual pleasures repeatedly and
to excess, the pleasure begins to wane and soon transforms itself
into the opposite of pleasure, pain. Even if the pleasures do not
become painful, the individual will, at times, be without his
pleasures, therefore causing him pain and discomfort from want of
satisfaction. Just as a drug addict undergoes withdrawal symptoms,
the individual obsessed with sensory pleasures will also become
agitated and uncomfortable if his sensual needs are not met. The
experience of sensory overload through excessive kama is not the
key in itself to overcoming desire. Along with the overload
experience must come the realization of the impermanence and
superficial nature of the individuals past experiences. A true
spiritual turning point can only be accomplished through the
combination of overload and realization.
One method that will not work in passing through the first
three stages is the turning away from wants and desires. Most
Western religions preach that abstinence and self control are the
key to overcoming most sensual desires. This is the exact opposite
for the Hindu. To the Hindu, abstinence from desire is not normal
for the individual with strong wants. By not experiencing the pain
and impermanence (Dukkha) of his wants, the individual merely lives
a static life without advancing toward the painful, yet much needed
Immersing themselves in the three wants of man, most people in
every society never recognize the impermanence of their desires.
At least, they don't recognize them in one lifetime. This is
alright. Each individual has had an infinite number of lives to
realize what has been realized to date, and if an individual
doesn't realize the impermanence and suffering involved in all his
worldly desires in his present life, he will have many more lives
of suffering to attain understanding. However, it is important not
to use this argument as an excuse for avoiding spiritual practice.
For just as an individual can fritter away his present life, so can
he also fritter away countless lives without any spiritual
advancement. The time for realization is in the present lifetime.
The many lives that follow merely exist for the perfection of an
individuals enlightened way of being.
As each stage of wants comes to a natural end, the individual
is encouraged to move with it, just like any other natural event
that occurs in life. When all the wants of the individual are
truly satisfied, the dukkha inherent in existence become apparent.
At this level the searcher is confronted with more fundamental
questions of existence, like: Who is this that is searching? By
asking questions such as this, the individual begins to focus on
the fourth stage of life, Moksha, or liberation.
By accepting reality and trying to understand ones place in
it, the Hindu seeker makes a radical shift from his previous
viewpoint in which reality was being forced to fit him. The
giving up of the "me" mentality, is the most important and critical
aspect of spiritual development. Without the giving up of the ego
and everything that makes up the superficial character of the
individual, he cannot open himself up to the realization of the
"infinite". To use a Buddhist example, most people see the world
by looking through a pipe, blinded by their own narrow viewpoint of
themselves and reality. Liberation involves doing away with the
pipe to perceive reality as it truly is. With desires and wants
far behind him, the spiritual seeker is free to realize the nature
of the universe and his part in it.
THE FOUR WANTS OF MAN
Gary L. Ray
Religious Studies 506
Religions of India
San Diego State University