Saturday, March 13, 2010

The purushartas: living yoga practice

There are two major schools of yoga philosophy- vedic and tantric. The two are not entirely mutually exclusive. The vedic school dates back several thousand years and is more aimed at ascetic renunciates, or sannyasins. The tantric school started on this side of the Common Era, and included practices aimed at householders, folks like you & I, as opposed to monastics.

It is the Tantric tradition that sprouted the concept of Purushartas, the four aims of life. When the Purushartas are in balance, we are whole & in harmony, productive, loving, content and at peace. We are serving the world by being ourselves at our best.

The four aims are duty (dharma), material needs (artha), pleasure (kama), and spirituality (moksha).

Dharma is our duty in life, finding our niche. It is what we feel we are put here on this earth to do, share & be. Dharma also encompasses our duty to care for our family, chores, household, community country & planet. Dharma is duty but not slavery. It is doing what is right and good because it is right and good, & thus makes us feel right and good. This includes things like paying taxes, conserving resources, shopping consciously and caring for elders.

Artha is material accumulation, the goods we need to live a healthy, balanced life & to fufill our dharma. Healthy artha does not imply riches, possesions to the point of clutter nor does it imply keeping up with the Jonses. It instead means finding just the right level of material objects including money, to provide for basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and enough other stuff to feel whole & content. No more is really necessary, that would be superfluous.

Kama is always associated with the Kama Sutra, which is the same word, meaning pleasure. But healthy kama isn't hedonistic, its wholesome. Wholesome doesn't mean censored & boring either. Balanced kama includes healthy recreation alone, with family or with friends. It can include any non-destructive hobby, or talking (but not gossiping) with friends. It is our fun time. As long as its truly non-harmful fun, it is kama. All work and no play makes us ill, but remember so does all play and no work.

Moksha, spiritual liberation, is the fourth aim. Taking care of our moksha, our path to enlightenment, which is point at which we are said to be free from the cycle of birth and death, is the least acknowledged in mainstream modern life. Going to church just to please others & going through the motions with no feeling is not healthy moksha. Finding a spiritual practice, religion and/or church or temple that resonates deeply with your heart is the way to moksha. It is different for all people but it should inspire very deep gratitude, love, respect and help you to strive to be better everyday, but in a non-punishing non-demeaning way. Yoga practice, meditation, organized religion or any action that helps you to reaffirm your values is contributing to your moksha. If you have an ecclectic spiritual practice and no group or church to practice with, your yoga practice, a group of like-minded friends, or going to a special place for you will help you to retouch the essence of your beliefs regualrly to keep them strong and present in your life.

Through studying how the four aims work in your life you can understand how to achieve balance & fulfillment. Remember that nothing in life is stagnant, balance is dynamic & needs to be maintained in regular practice.

The purushartas will be discussed more over time, as they are a central theme on the householder's path to yoga.

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