Tag Archives: anartha

What is Anartha?

The word artha is derived from the Sanskrit root artha, which means “to desire.” Thus the word artha means a desirable object, purpose, goal, wealth, etc. Anartha means that which is not artha. On the path of bhakti, our goal or artha is prema. To achieve a goal, we also need the means. Then those means also become artha or desirable. Thus artha is of two types—the goal and the means to achieve the goal. Anything that supports these two is acceptable. Everything else is anartha. For example, to achieve prema, one needs to engage in sādhana-bhakti, so sādhana-bhakti is also artha. One needs to keep one’s body fit. For that, good sleep is necessary. Although sleeping is neither the goal nor the means to achieve the goal, it supports sādhana-bhakti and thus is not an anartha. Once we understand the definition of anartha and are clear about our goal, we can apply the definition to test whether something is an anartha.

If we are not clear about our goal, then we are not clear about the distinction between artha and anartha. This is the situation with people in general, who are manipulated by social media. Social media programs the mind, and people follow it blindly. Social media, however, is controlled primarily by the corporate world and politicians. The corporate world wants to sell its products and make a profit, and the politicians want to remain in power. Thus they manipulate the minds of people to these two ends.

Some rare people get out of this rat race and take to spirituality. But if such spiritual enthusiasts are not adequately educated about their goals and the means to achieve them, they are again exploited by men seeking wealth and power in the garb of spiritual leaders. If spiritual leaders are not adequately educated in their field, then knowingly or unknowingly, they repeat the same scenario that occurs in society—the pursuit of wealth and power. The common spiritualist cannot see this due to a lack of education.

Everyone is born with a natural attachment to the physical body. This is nature’s arrangement or an outcome of anādi avidyā. The body has its physical needs, and to satisfy those needs, one requires wealth. Even if one somehow acquires wealth, one must protect it from others. Hence there is a need for power. Thus there is a natural inclination to amass wealth and power. These two are natural arthas. However, if one studies life deeply, they realize that mere wealth and power do not bring fulfillment. They are necessary for survival, but the purpose of life is not simply survival. Everyone wants to be happy. But it is seen that the very wealth and power one needs to survive also result in suffering, which is an anartha. Indeed, everything material, no matter how attractive and necessary, is a source of suffering if one does not have the goal of prema.

Thus, if one has proper knowledge of prema and the process to achieve it, one can understand the true anarthas. Otherwise, even so-called arthas are also anarthas. 

Therefore, Śri Kṛṣṇa advises us to surrender to Him. The idea of surrender is to get rid of this anartha. But to our materially conditioned minds, surrender appears like a poison pill. Because of avidyā, the real artha seems like an anartha, and the anarthas seem like arthas. The purpose of spiritual practice is to get rid of anarthas or anartha-nivṛtti—not to engage in anarthas or anartha-pravṛtti.

Surrender is not something new to us, but we have not deliberated on it. We are all surrendered to our bodies completely. We do everything to please our minds and senses. We climb mountains, engage in dangerous sports like skiing, drink horrible-tasting liquids, and smoke unhealthy fumes—simply for the pleasure of the mind and body. We also work odd hours in unpleasant situations just to earn money. This is because we are naturally surrendered to the body. Surrendering to Kṛṣṇa is not as austere as surrendering to our body and senses. There is no need to eat or drink unpleasant substances. Yet because we do not like surrendering to anyone, we have trouble following spirituality. But if we can utilize our intellect correctly, we can avoid all anarthas. This is the ultimate advice Kṛṣṇa  gives to Uddhava:

eṣā buddhimatāṁ buddhir manīṣā ca manīṣiṇām
yat satyam anṛteneha martyenaāpnoti mām ṛtam 

“This is the intellect of the intelligent and the wisdom of the wise, that by using this temporary, mortal body, they attain Me who is eternal and Truth.” (SB 11.29.22)


The Root Cause of Anartha in Bhakti


Question: What is anartha in the process of bhakti?

Answer: The word anartha is a negation of artha. It is a compound word made from nañ and artha, called nañ samāsa. Literally it means “something which is not an artha.” Generally, a negation can mean six things—similar, absence, different, a little, bad, and opposite. Thus, the word anartha can mean something that is similar to, the absence of, different from, a little of, bad, or the opposite of an artha. Therefore, to understand anartha, first we have to understand the meaning of artha. The literal meaning of artha is “that which one desires to acquire.” It means a goal or purpose of one’s action. In the context of bhakti, it is prema or uttama-bhakti. Artha is also called prayojana. It is that which we do not yet have but want to achieve. To achieve it, we need to perform some favorable action and to avoid unfavorable action. Anything that is unfavorable to our goal, artha, is called anartha. 

What we don’t have is bhakti. We have to be clear that we don’t have it, because if we think that we already have it, then that is also an anartha. If we already have it, then we are most fortunate and the question about anartha does not arise. Since the question about anartha is raised, then it naturally implies that we are devoid of bhakti or prema. The essential characteristic of bhakti, svarūpa-lakṣaṇa, is defined by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī as ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śīlanam—to act with one’s body, mind and speech for the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa and objects or persons related to Kṛṣṇa. That is artha. Everything else is anartha. Anything that does not support artha is anartha. For example, if we only work for the maintenance of body and things related to it, then that is anartha. We are working for something that does not even belong to us. Moreover, at every moment, it is moving away from us, and one day it will be separated from us even if we don’t do anything.

We are making a journey in space and time, even when we are not acting. We are moving in circles because we are riding on earth. This is called saṁsāra, cycle of birth and death. So not acting is also anartha (an-earth-a). It is called akarmaṇi karma (Gītā 4.18) or getting implicated in karma by being inactive. Our natural tendency is to work for the satisfaction of the body, a piece of earth, and things or people related it. This is the root anartha. We are born with it. It is anādi avidyā. However, if we engage the body in devotional activities, then maintaining the body is not an anartha. Śrī Kṛṣṇa calls it the supreme wisdom (S.B. 11.29.22)

On the path of bhakti, the anartha is uprooted by taking shelter of a qualified guru, guru-pādāśraya. According to Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, this is the first step in bhakti. The whole idea of surrendering to guru is to get rid of this anartha, which has been our companion since our very birth. But surrender is no piece of cake. It is extremely difficult because we are not used to surrender. Our mind and intelligence rebel against the very thought of surrender. They want to remain free so that they can engage in anartha, their birth companion, which they mistake for artha. If we don’t make a conscious effort, we don’t even know whether we are moving away from the anartha or towards it. So, that much awareness we must have. If we can surrender, then there is no more anartha. It means that instead of following my wish, I follow the wish of guru and Kṛṣṇa. Anarthas are related to the body, and if that identification is gone, then there is no more anartha. But that is difficult. It is a direct attack on our existence and identity, and we have to do it ourselves. It is like committing suicide or burning our house happily. Burning our identity means changing it. Instead of thinking that we are an independent enjoyer, we think that we are servants of Kṛṣṇaand that is not a superimposition; that is our identity. It means coming to the light (tamaso mā jyotir gamaya). 

We have lived in untruth for so long that we don’t want to change. Untruth has become familiar to us. Our mind feels comfortable with the known and fears the unknown. Therefore, it clings to the untruth. As a result, we don’t like to surrender. Surrender is for the brave in heart. People think that surrendering is weakness. That may be true in material dealings but not on the path of bhakti. Arjuna was not a weak person. He was heroic. He surrendered and said, “I shall do your bidding” (Gītā 18.73). This did not make him weak. He was feeling weak and despondent before he surrendered. 

Although all suffering comes from the body, we still love it and are surrendered to it, no matter how much pain it gives us. This is natural surrender. It is not based on any injunction, vidhi. This is raga-bhakti for the body. We have to get out of this attachment for the body. It is not possible to love the body and simultaneously to have love for Kṛṣṇa. If we can spend a fraction of the time that we spend on the body in service to Kṛṣṇa, then our life is successful. So, attachment to the body is the foundational anartha. At present our body, which includes the mind, is our guru. Kṛṣṇa is asking us to change our guru. If we can change our object of surrender, then anartha is gone. This is uttamā-bhakti.