This post is inspired by The Four Desires by Rod Stryker. If you like yoga, personal development, or spirituality, I highly recommend Rod’s teaching. He is one of the true yoga masters. His book, The Four Desires, is a great resource for understanding how to live a truly fulfilled life.
The Four Aims of Life is an ancient Hindu concept referring to the four goals or pursuits of human existence. In sanskrit, the word is Puruṣārtha, which literally means “an object of human pursuit.” They present a profound and useful method for personal development and spiritual growth. The Four Aims are Artha, Kama, Dharma, and Moksha. A quick translation, respectively, is livelihood, pleasure, purpose, and liberation. Focus and progression in each of these areas is necessary for an individual to feel whole and live a fulfilled and happy life.
Artha is livelihood. It is the ability to support yourself, provide for your family, and to make a living. It is keeping a roof over your head and food on the table. Artha represents the lower rungs on Maslow's hierarchy, and it is the basis for meaningful growth in the other three desires.
Kama is pleasure. It can be your creative pursuits, the enjoyment of art and music, or having meaningful connections with friends and family. Kama technically means desire, wish, or longing, and it sometimes refers to desire in a sexual context, such as the Kama Sutra. However, it generally applies to any aesthetic and creative enjoyment in life.
Dharma is purpose. It is the alignment with your life's intention, engaging in meaningful work, and being connected to a higher calling. If you are living your dharma, you are playing your role in the cosmic concert. Indian literature emphasizes that dharma is foremost and guides the other desires. If dharma is undervalued, artha and kama run rampant, leading to social chaos.
Moksha is liberation. It is moving to a higher plane of existence, having a more inclusive and expansive worldview, and connecting deeply with the divine nature of reality. From the theological perspective it is emancipation from the wheel of samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth, and from a psychological perspective connotes self-realization and self-knowledge.
These goals and desires of life are fluid and unfolding. They require discipline, take years to unfold, and there is no finish line where development in any area is complete. They are a lens to view one’s actions, and they can help guide our decisions.
The Four Aims & Society
Historically the four desires have been mostly applied in relation to the path of the individual. However, the concept can inform broader societal topics such as business, economics, philanthropy, and politics. Future posts will explore this concept in more depth. One brief example is how the Four Aims can be applied as a lens for organizational culture.
The Four Aims and Organizational Culture
Great culture has been recognized as a key indicator of a company's success and ability to thrive. Amazing culture leads to stronger employee retention, higher job performance, better customer service, and ultimately increased profits. Co-workers that are fulfilled and self-actualized are a great thing for an organization. They are happier, better communicators, and feel that they are aligned with their true calling.
For business leaders, what does it look like to run a company where employee development in the Four Aims is taken into account as applied to organizational culture? Any of the four could be discussed at length, but here are are a few short ideas to start:
Artha - Having the means of life is the aim most associated with having employment. When a person feels supported financially, the other aspects of their life have a more solid foundation and are able to develop. Discussing openly with staff how the organization can best support their means of life, balanced against the available resources of the company, is a great way to build trust and make people feel secure in their lives.
Kama - The workplace is not typically associated with pleasure and delight, but there's no reason that this can't be an integral part of the office. This could come from the design and general aesthetic of the physical space, opportunities for artistic exploration in day-to-day work, or participation in special music and performance events. Providing support and resources for employees to explore their creative passions will enable them to feel expressed and happy.
Dharma - For many people, it is a challenging and even stressful ordeal to define and understand one's purpose. Purpose isn't static, it evolves and changes throughout ones life. Instead of trying to figure it out, start by reflecting on what brings you joy. A persons ultimate purpose is the place in which they feel fully expressed. Spend time with team members in meetings, performance reviews, and other opportunities to explore the topic of dharma in their lives and discuss in what ways their day-to-day work is or is not connecting to their higher purpose. Rod’s book, The Four Desires, is a great resource for understanding purpose. Share it with your teammates.
Moksha- Spiritual development has often been a taboo concept in the workplace. Instead of shying away from the topic, encourage and provide the opportunity for team members to explore their spiritual development in the work environment. You can designate quiet spaces for meditation and reflection, allocate resources for team members to take personal retreats, meditation classes, or yoga, or simply have more communication around the topic of spirituality and personal development at work.
Dharma Is the Guide
Dharma is said to guide the other aims because if purpose in the world is ignored or undervalued, the means (artha) and the pleasures (kama) of life run rampant. Perhaps much of the inequality we see is because of too many people not aligned with their highest calling, living outside of the cosmic order so to speak. What does our world look like when more and more people are living lives that are fully expressed in the Four Aims of Life?
I’d like to see.