In chapter eight of The Hindus, Doniger discusses the “complex hierarchical relationship among the three aims of pleasure, wealth and dharma…” (199). She highlights that this information is not necessarily connected to a particular time or social group, but that it is central to understanding the practice of Hinduism and how it developed through time.
First, Doniger explains how new taxonomies created in the Upanishads began to link key concepts in threes alongside the dualisms that have been discussed before. She then goes on to describe various triads that are found in a variety of texts (200). From here she presents the three aims of life: dharma, artha and kama, otherwise known as the Trio. Dharma represents duty, religion, social and ritual obligations, the law and justice. Artha focuses more on money political power and success and kama represents pleasure and desire. Every human has a right to these aims in order for them to have a full life.
Next, three Sanskrit texts that are devoted to the three aims of life are presented. They are Manu’s Dharma-shastra, Artha-shastra and the Kama-sutra. Doniger points out that Manu and the Artha-shastra quote each other and are clearly sharing one body of ideas. While there are similarities between the texts, there are still significant differences in the ways that the texts approach the concept of religion. Manu discusses vedic rituals in detail while not mentioning temples, while the others discuss temples and festivals but not the vedic rituals. (203) Doniger comes to the conclusion that “different texts apparently catered to people who engaged in different religious practices.” (203)
Then, Doniger discusses the addition of moksha to the three aims and comes up with five solutions to this fourth addition. The solutions were listed in order as follows: the goals were to be followed one at a time in sequence, argument from plenitude, compromise, identification and mutual hierarchy. Ultimately, Doniger concludes that we are trapped within a basic social paradox with karma and the Trio plus one, leaving us with no easy answers.
This chapter had a lot of moving parts and although it was one of the shorter chapters looked at so far, it was not lacking in information. Because the concepts that are in this chapter are so complex, Doniger seems to have tried to start out small and expand these ideas as they are used in Hinduism. This however, was very difficult to do because of the complex nature of the subject of the aims of life. One complicated and somewhat confusing area came when she was describing the relationship between moksha and dharma (201). This pulled in ideas that have been present so far in her description of Hinduism, where things are created out of each other, which she describes as another “chicken-and-egg process” (201). This same situation was described in earlier chapters during the creation of Brahma and Vishnu. By explaining this concept right off the bat, it we can see that this “chicken-and-egg process is common through out ideas of Hinduism. Doniger does a good job of reminding us of this concept in order to help readers grasp these complex ideas.
Because the three (or four) aims of life are so intertwined within the stages of life and each other, this chapter was extremely confusing for me, and took a few readings in order to begin to understand the concepts the Dongier is trying to explain. She seems to be trying to bring in connections from the other chapters of the book while blowing through the aims of life and all the text that goes along with it in a mere 13 pages. There were a lot of new ideas thrown into this chapter alongside the aims of life including: karma, renunciation and rebirth, and ideas surrounding violence with the 5 solutions to the addition of moksha.
Overall, The confusion I was feeling while looking into this chapter may actually help to explain the concepts that Doniger is describing. In the aims of life and Hinduism more broadly, many individuals and concepts are, in Donigers words, in a sort of “…rock-paper-scissors arrangement, in which one is constantly trumping the others in an eternal merry-go round.” (204). Everything seems to have a sort of connection to concepts around it and are more important at different times depending on what the practitioner is looking for. We may not have an exact solution to the fourth addition of the three aims and we may be trapped within a basic social paradox when it comes to dharma, there really are no easy answers or explanations after all.
- How do you feel about the way this chapter was put together? Was the explanation easy for you to understand and follow or was there too much information in a short period? Why?
- Which solution to the fourth addition of the three aims was most interesting/convincing to you? Why?
- How did the discussion of Karma at the end of the chapter, change how you think about Hinduism? Did it fit with the definitions of karma that you had in mind before reading this?