In my last blog post I wrote about the meaning of ‘Dharma’. In Indian philosophy, for thousands of years, people have believed the whole dynamic life cycle of any human being might be aptly described by four significant concepts represented by four words pregnant with layers of meanings. These are Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Much latter in the development of Indian philosophy, Buddhist philosophy leaned heavily on this basic framework which it laid out in a more elaborate fashion in the form of 8 fold path. However, these four concepts are deeply interrelated and flow from one other to make a meaningful whole. It puts forward a ‘wholistic’ view of life that not only offers us deep understanding, meaning and purpose of human living but also provides us a path to live it or a way to live it successfully.
I would now dwell on the meaning and significance of the second concept, i.e. Artha as I understand the concept in its different levels of reality.
The most ordinary meaning of it is ‘money’. It is obvious that we all need some money to survive, live life with dignity and do some useful work for self and for the society.
But there is something deeper than that. Artha means ‘resources’ or a set of well defined ‘resources’ that help us to consistently and constantly engage with the perils and hazards in life. What are these? Well, there are five important resources we could possibly ask for in life, which are the following:
1. Knowledge — of physical phenomena that go around us along with the methods of expressions and teaching others — in modern day context we can say this as knowledge in arts, science, technology, communication etc…
2. Courage — a kind of courage that comes from the heart, which is courage to act from the heart. More often than not we are blocked in life for this lack of this specific resource to act from our heart thereby also missing the psyche energy that comes along with it.
3. Wealth — money and property in the usual sense of the word. But there is also a special significance which I would highlight little later.
4. Wisdom — note that this is the link to the earlier concept of Dharma, which was nothing but the development of empathy and wisdom. So wisdom provides the basic link between Dharma and Artha indicating that without Dharma there can’t be any Artha or the Artha gained and utilized is meaningless.
5. Network — the strength provided by our group of good friends, well wishers, coaches, teacher and others in society. The strength of the network is also important for purposeful living.Without a reasonable and meaningful social network we are as good as dead. We stop learning and we stop growing.
Further explanation of wealth: — The consistent symbol of wealth in India is the cow. Hence it is not killed though earliest Vedic literature does mention killing of cows. Hence it is obviously a later day development, say around 4000 BC. Whatever it might be the symbol of ‘cow’ as understood in context to Artha represents Nature. So it means that Nature can’t be killed under any circumstances, whatever it might be. That to my mind was a tremendous leap in human understanding and thinking especially if we consider people thinking of ecology and sustainability 4000 years back. Therefore, it wasn’t unusual in India to measure the wealth of a person in terms of cows. That was crafty thought indeed. More the number of cows that would be available more open spaces must be ensured for cows to graze on. Grazing meadows and cows are inseparable. One can’t be without the other. In this way both Nature and ecology was preserved. It is no wonder that India still has the highest cow population in the world and along with it enough open spaces for them to feed upon. A beautiful balance has been maintained for over 4000 years without launching a single campaign or educating the public on Sustainability and Ecology and Global Warming etc. … This is a brilliant stroke of wisdom to my mind.
At the third level, the concept of ‘Artha’ is meaning. There are two parts to it. While the first focuses on the means by which wealth is earned, the second focuses on the way it is meaningfully spent. There exists till this day a sort of social or peer pressure on these two critical points. Ilegal means of earning wealth is looked down upon in society. Too much wealth, more than what is needed, is also despised. And people are always bothered about the way wealth is spent.
Therefore, it no longer remains a mystery to me as to why the business of ‘credit cards‘ miserably failed in India. People simply refused to spend money without having earned it in the first place. Or in other words don’t spend beyond your means. It has done India good. The way the country waded out of crisis during the Asian Crisis and the more recent recession bears testimony to this fact. Self respect or self esteem comes before earning money in illegal ways and spending it wantonly. Perhaps for the same reason the recent campaign in India championed by none other than Bill Gates, his wife Milenda and his fast friend Warren on philanthropy failed since most Indians believe that family wealth is a thing to be passed down generation by generation. No wonder, India retains its top slot as the gold hording nation in the world for the past 2000 years of its history. Every family, according to its capability, converts money into solid gold. I see even very poor families (even under poverty line) engaged in converting their wealth into gold and storing them for hard or harsher times.
So ‘Artha‘ has different layers of meanings which are really significant. At the basic level it means money. At the next higher level it means ‘resources‘ made up of five different elements. And at the third level it is all about meaning.The way to earn Artha is through Dharma that springs from ‘empathy‘ and ‘wisdom‘. So, it is not very surprising to hear Mahatma Gandhi saying, ‘The customer is the most important visitor to your premises…..” This is simply a modification of the age old saying ‘Guest is God’.
All empathy and wisdom spring from this intention.
No doubt Artha gained through Dharma is well worth its weight in gold — both symbolic and factual.
And it does provides the means to lead a meaningful life. It would be foolish indeed to turn away from it.
In the next post I would deal with the generally controversial issue of Kama, the third concept in this series — the superficial meaning of which is ‘sex‘.