Parenting through the four Purusharthas

Parenting through the four Purusharthas

Shital Ravi

The concept of Purushartha, a word made by joining two words ‘purusha and artha’, delineates the ‘intrinsic purpose or goals of an individual or self’. Let us not confuse ‘purusha’ used here as ‘man’ as we commonly use in our Indian languages. Purusha here denotes the self, and is gender neutral in this context. The concept itself comes from the age-old ancient wisdom based on the tenets of the Sanatana Dharma. However, rather than looking at it from a religious lens, let us understand it more from the view point of being a road map for seeking fulfilment in the human life and how parents could help their children right from a young age to develop all the four Purusharthas paving the path towards a life of deep meaning and fulfillment. 

The four Purusharthas and parenting 

  1. Dharma: Simply stated, Dharma is truth. It is the appropriate way of living, or the ethical code of life that one must follow. It is that which gives purpose to one’s life or that which is the purpose of one’s life. 

To inculcate Dharma in their children, here are some pointers to help parents get started: 

  • Helping children become aware of their own thoughts, speech and behaviours.
  • Helping children develop empathy and sensitivity to the needs of others and to be helpful to others.
  • Helping children develop faith that the divine is within them. 
  • Helping children understand what is appropriate, ethical and lawful. 

Of course, one must understand that Dharma is that which is ‘contextually correct’. One size does not fit all. So is the case with Dharma, one rule cannot be right in every context. Hence, teaching children the holistic way of thinking and look at the larger picture is essential. Helping them learn to think of what is right and what is wrong from situation to situation rather than get into who is right and who is wrong and getting entangled in the web of proving the self, right, will go a long way because Dharma is nuanced and subtle and cannot be boxed or put into formulae. 

  1. Artha: It is the way to fulfill the purpose of life. It is the focus on building material and economic stability, which will help us fulfill all our needs and thus pave the path towards reaching higher goals.

To inculcate Artha in children, here are some pointers to help parents get started: 

  • Helping children understand how to have enough assets without hoarding or being greedy.
  • Make them understand how to become prosperous without becoming overly attached to materialistic pleasures.
  • Help them learn to pursue worldly success, and personal ambitions without forgoing their Dharma, the moral way of living or without moving towards Moksha, my spiritual path.
  • Helping children understand to work by being on the right path and do right actions.
  • Not overindulging children with too much materialistic goods from a tender age. Not giving them a feeling of self-entitlement but help in cultivating responsibility from an early age. 
  1. Kama: Simply stated it means rightful pleasure. The seeking of pleasure drives humans. But this is not only sensual pleasure as is the common misnomer. Kama relates to pleasure not only of sensuality but also pleasure from performing arts such as music, dance, also beauty, friendship, affection, intimacy even kindness. Kama is a fundamental requirement of an individual and if done in the rightful way and in moderation can actually help support Dharma. 

Parents can build the right attitude towards Kama by: 

  • Guiding children in managing their desires and impulses in a balanced way, right from the outset. 
  • Teaching them self-restraint and self-control and prioritising their pleasurable goals and desires to ensure they are in harmony with their dharma and ethical values.
  •  Encouraging them to pursue their passions and interests, but doing it with moderation and full awareness and mindfulness.
  1. Moksha: Moksha is the pursuit towards liberation or spiritual enlightenment. It signifies the pursuit of self-actualisation.

Parents can start the child’s journey towards Moksha by instilling the following from an early age:

  • Introduce children to stories and teachings like the lessons from the Bhagavad Gita, or Ramayana and Mahabharata teachings or from other spiritual texts that resonate with your beliefs. 
  • Encourage them to seek answers, explore, question their beliefs while emphasising the values of kindness, compassion, truth, and self-actualisation.
  • Encourage practices such as yoga, breath work, or mindfulness to foster self-awareness and a deeper connection with their inner selves.
  • Help them develop a sense of inner peace and a feeling of centeredness by inculcating meditative practices early on.

Thus, the concept of Purushartha can indeed be used as a guiding principle for an effective parenting approach. It is important to lead by example, have an open dialogue, set realistic expectations, and ultimately encourage self-discovery of one’s own truth. 

A parting note to parents 

It is essential to keep in mind, that effective parenting involves adapting your approach to your child’s unique needs and personalities. As mentioned earlier, one size does not fit all. While the concept of Purushartha provides a valuable template, it’s important to get that right balance between instilling these values and allowing your children the free space to make their own informed choices and discoveries as they grow and develop.