Is achievement of artha and kama possible in spiritual life?
Prosperity (artha), desire (kama), virtue (dharma) and liberation (moksha) are the four legs of the table of life. The table must have balance, so all four legs must be equally strong and stable. This means that the whole of life should be divided into four ashramas, or periods. The first twenty-five years of life, brahmacharya, are for education and experience. The next twenty-five years,grihastha, are for hard work, living with one's wife and children, relatives, friends and society, toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing, maturing. The third quarter is vanaprastha, when you have to retire and think about your spiritual self. Who am I? How am I related to the universe? What is God? How am I related to him? What is this nature, who created it? When did he create it? What is dharma, what is adharma? Finally, the fourth period of life, sannyasa, is for moksha, realization, merging the self with God.
Those who go via this route should dedicate one part of their assets and earnings for others. They should share their brain, their talents, capacities and material achievements with the have-nots of society. In the Vedas, Puranas and Smritis we are advised that householders should perform yajna. According to the Bhagavad Gita, yajna does not just mean a ritual where pooja items are consigned to the flames and thereby dedicated to God. The word yajna consists of three syllables, ya, ja and na, which refer to the three processes of every act we perform, viz. utpadan, uparjan and vitarana, that is, production (ya), earning (ja) and distribution (na).
In the life of a householder, sharing one's wealth with others is of the greatest value. It is the first duty of each householder. The produce from your farm, the profit from your business, the salary you earn from your job must be shared with other members of society who are less fortunate than you. Do not forget that you owe a share of your wealth to the needy members of society. Remember that you do not have an exclusive right over the wealth you call your own. Grihastha ashrama is a system of distribution. You cannot lay an exclusive claim to your earnings because you have acquired them by depriving others of their due share. Whether you are a businessman or a taxi driver, you make your profits by cheating others. Nobody in society can earn wealth independently, in isolation.
You can earn only because of the social network of interdependence. Everybody depends upon everybody else. Spiritual life in relation to artha and kama is possible only when you share your wealth with others, when you distribute your wealth equitably. If you earn and spend only on yourself or save and deposit your earnings in the bank in your own name, then dharma and moksha cannot be attained, and spiritual life cannot be lived without them. This kind of self-indulgence is only deception. It is leading an undisciplined life. Grihastha ashrama does not only mean reproducing and earning wealth, it definitely includes proper distribution of wealth in society. You must give back to society whatever it has given to you in the form of personal wealth and prosperity.
If you fulfil your social obligations, only then can you expect progress in your spiritual life. A householder must fulfil his social obligations, whether he is a farmer, businessman, teacher or industrialist. Whatever his income, accomplishments and achievements, society must be a compulsory shareholder in it. You must spend a large part of your income in public and social services. Social services are what society needs - hospitals, orphanages, food distribution centres in famine-ridden areas - so contribute your share. You should not spend or utilize all your income or achievements only on yourself. If you do this, then you are a miser, a selfish person. Don't be selfish.
It is true that a householder can reach God. A man with a wife and children can have God's grace and darshan, but saying this is not enough. It is very pleasant to hear, "Oh, a householder also can have darshan of the Lord." So then you think, "I don't have to take sannyasa, I don't have to become a monk." However, you are just deluding yourselves! Yes, a householder with a wife and children, with all the problems, tragedies, comedies and idiosyncrasies, can attain God's grace, but he will have to renounce selfishness and completely destroy mean-mindedness.
He should set aside a part of his achievement, whether grain or money, power or name, for a social purpose which the people in that country need. Every country has different problems at different times - anarchy, crime, AIDS, drug addiction. The problems are everywhere. So, you have to give a part of your earnings and assets to alleviate them and fulfil your social obligations. That is your social debt because you cannot develop, earn or prosper without a stable society.
So, artha means prosperity and kama means desire. What is that desire? The desire to have wealth, to have a good wife or husband and to have children. These are the three main desires. Most people want a good partner, a comfortable house or flat and, if possible, a car, and then a child. These three desires are not an impediment in spiritual life, rather they are an expression of your nature. Just because you want to have a child or attain prosperity does not mean you are worldly. This is very clearly explained in the Gita. Arjuna asked Krishna the same question, and Krishna said, "No. You must follow the dharma which nature has designed for you."
If you are a householder, then you should be a householder, and in the world, everybody is a householder. Most people have a wife or husband, and a child. So how can you think that God will not be pleased with you if you also have them? God will be pleased with you, but please remember that your child is not the only child. There is some other child also who needs your love.
Sita Kalyanam, November 1997