ezHinduism series: Dharmashastras
Dharmashastras and the four goals/stages of life
In April the monthly EZ Hinduism talk covered an introduction to the category of Hindu scriptures called Dharmashastras and the two main topics they discuss. These ancient scriptures written by various sages between 300 to 400 BCE to 400 CE, describe rules of conduct, for man’s material, moral and spiritual development. The subject matter of Dharmashastras is traditionally classified as: Acara: rites such as marriage and rules of good or ethical behaviour and duties (social, domestic and political), Vyavahara: law and dealings and Prayascitta: Acts of making amends and atonement.
At the talk the four aims of human life (Purusharthas) as described in the Dharmashastras were shared. The four aims being: Dharma (moral order), Artha (security and wealth), Kama (desires, emotions and relationships) and Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death). The relevance and benefits in today’s world of pursuing Artha and Kama led by Dharma were explored. The Dharmashastras taught against purely living a human life chasing endless pleasures and warned against the never-ending acquisition of material wealth for its own sake, greed and selfish purposes.
The Dharmashastras also mapped out the four stages or Ashrama Dharma for human life. Human life spanning over a 100 years can be divided into: Brahmacharya (Life as a student); Grihastha (Life as a householder), Vanaprastha (Life as a retiree) and Sannyasa (Life as a renunciate). The Dharmashastras prescribed duties for each stage. The talk addressed the question whether the objects of each stage of life with its aims and duties were relevant in the present day and what challenges we face at each stage of life today.
The purpose of Ashrama Dharma is to help chart a life that builds a social order not only for security but also for the welfare and harmony of society whilst cultivating at each life stage a gradually deepening connection with the Divine. At the conclusion of the talk most participants agreed that the four aims and four stages of human life provided helpful guideposts to plan life, cultivate a balanced and therefore a beneficial outlook in life towards desires and material needs and wants whilst never losing sight of Dharma and building a personal relationship with the Divine.