Purushartha and Hindu Philosophies

Symbols of Hinduism and India

In the article, “Morality and Moral Development: Traditional Hindu Concepts.”, authors C. Srivastava, Dhingra, Bhardwaj, and A. Srivastava address the issue of moral development and a perceived moral decline that could be remedied by adherence to principles advanced in Vedanta, or, core teachings in ancient Hindu philosophical literature.[1]

The authors compare concepts of morality found in Vedantic texts to modern moral development theories to establish equivalency and relevance in the field of Psychology. They claim that morality is a social construct and conclude that the world would benefit by understanding the principles contained within traditional Hindu scriptures.

Srivastava et al. (2013) summarize various theories of human motivation and make a direct comparison between Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the four purusharthas, or human goals, as set forth in several key Vedic texts. The purusharthas are Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. The authors claim that Moksha, translated by them to mean the identification of one’s self with the consciousness that is the basis of creation, is the only need not considered by Maslow. Presumably, however, they might argue that this is a primary reason to advance the study of Vedanta.

A similar comparison of Maslow to the four purusharthas is made by Rajasakran et al (2014) in the field of Anthropology in consideration of marketing and product design. However, they claim the concept of Moksha is defined as liberation from all earthly desires and that this is the highest goal. They argue that controlling desires is necessary, in part, for environmentally safe product development and suggest that by meditation one can attain Moksha, insofar as the term may mean the control of excessive desires.[2]

Rajasakran, like Srivastava, argues for the necessity and relevance of traditional Hindu philosophical concepts as an answer to modern global ethical dilemmas. Interestingly, however, Hindu spiritual literature spans thousands of years and there are six distinct schools of thought with sometimes contradictory interpretations of the principles. Since it is unclear that either article is committed to any particular school of thought in Hindu philosophy, an analysis of terms used differently in reference to the same scriptures is necessary.

Both articles considered in this essay seem to have similar interpretations of the concepts of the goals/motivations of Artha (wealth), and Kama (pleasure), however, Moksha, defined as the knowledge of the nature of existence and oneness of creation, is a much different goal than simply harnessing one’s desires. It could be argued that the definition of Moksha also significantly changes the import of the other purusharthas. Most importantly, at least for the sake of persuading the world of the value of Vedanta for its merit as a guide in the development of ethical societies, the concept of Dharma is also interpreted differently for both. Srivastava equates the term with ‘morality’ while Rajasakran uses the term ‘social virtue’. Still, others translate the word as ‘duty.’ 

Finally, Srivastava also considers the term Dharma as it appears in the Bhagavad Gita and offers an interpretation of Arjuna’s moral dilemma which I will analyze in a separate post. It is enough for this essay to show that there are fundamental differences of opinion among proponents of Hindu philosophies and that applications of these concepts to particular ethical issues can be problematic especially without also advancing a particular school of Hindu philosophy with regard to the nature of reality.

Although I agree that Vedanta has merit worthy of our time and attention especially with regard to ethical matters, being overly simplistic in comparisons between Hindu philosophy with modern theories of moral development is problematic and unlikely to be persuasive.

References:

  1. Srivastava, Chhitij, et al. “Morality and Moral Development: Traditional Hindu Concepts.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Jan. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705697/.
  2. Rajasakran, Thanaseelen, et al. “Purushartha: Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Revisited.” KRE Kamla – Raj Enterprises, KRE Publishers, 2014, http://krepublishers.com/02-Journals/T-Anth/Anth-18-0-000-14-Web/Anth-18-1-000-14-Abst-PDF/T-ANTH-18-1-199-14-975-Rajasakran-T/T-ANTH-18-1-199-14-975-Rajasakran-T-Tx[20].pdf .

Bibliography:

Maslow, A.H. “Classics in the History of Psychology — A. H. Maslow (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation.” Classics in the History of Psychology, Christopher D. Green, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Aug. 2000, psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm.

Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1899, Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies, Cologne University, http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/2020/web/webtc2/index.php.

Rajasakran, Thanaseelen, et al. “Purushartha: Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Revisited.” KRE Kamla – Raj Enterprises, KRE Publishers, 2014, http://krepublishers.com/02-Journals/T-Anth/Anth-18-0-000-14-Web/Anth-18-1-000-14-Abst-PDF/T-ANTH-18-1-199-14-975-Rajasakran-T/T-ANTH-18-1-199-14-975-Rajasakran-T-Tx[20].pdf .

Ranganathan, Shyam. “Hindu Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/hindu-ph/.

“श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता – ShrImadbhagavadgItA : Sanskrit Documents Collection.” Sanskrit Documents – Bhagavad Gita, https://Sanskritdocuments.org/, sanskritdocuments.org/doc_giitaa/bhagvadnew.html?lang=sa.

Srivastava, Chhitij, et al. “Morality and Moral Development: Traditional Hindu Concepts.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Jan. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705697/.

The Bhagavad Gita. Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Trust, 2012.

“Timeline of Hindu Texts.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Hindu_texts.