Most religions have some sort of goal or end in mind for their adherents. Christians are concerned with the salvation of the soul and the resurrection of the dead when Jesus Christ returns to earth. Muslims want to enter Paradise on Judgment Day. Buddhists want to escape samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The variety of traditions that together are called Hinduism has a final goal for adherents as well. Unlike some other religions, however, Hinduism lays out four distinct goals for faithful Hindus to reach during their lives. These four goals are called the purusartha or purusharthas. Purushartha is a concept that appears in the ancient Vedic texts. The Vedas are a collection of Sanskrit texts that were passed down for centuries as a perfectly preserved oral tradition. The correct pronunciation of the holy words was considered to be vital to the continuation of the universe. As such, modern scholars and Hindus know exactly what ancient Sanskrit sounded like even though the language itself has not been used in daily life for generations.
As the term purushartha originates in the Vedas, it is a Sanskrit word, and thus, unfortunately, does not have an easy English translation. Purushartha is most commonly translated as the “goal of human existence” or “the soul’s purpose.” The idea and term purushartha also appears in the ancient Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
Purushartha is not just a word out of ancient times. The concept of these four goals still rules the lives of faithful practitioners of Hinduism today. So, what are the purusharthas, the four essential goals of Hindu life?