I was listening to the lecture series titled “Introduction to Vedanta” by Swami Paramarthananda. It is a very good series of audio lectures. They are available for free download on the internet at http://www.vedantavidyarthisangha.org/
The first lecture in the series gives the 4 Aims of Life as per Vedanta. The definition he gives for them is very interesting and convincing.
1. Artha – Security. Everyone wants to be secure. Security of self, family, etc. This includes house, food, clothes, insurance, children, etc
2. Kama – Luxury. Any enjoyment that we aspire for beyond security is Kama. This includes arts, literature, movies, icecreams, travel, novels, etc.
3. Dharma – Sustenance. Dharma are rules and regulations which make Artha and Kama sustainable by self and by others. My security or enjoyment should not interfere with other’s security or enjoyment, or my own future security or enjoyment in this birth or later births. Dharma defines regulations for these. For example, telling a lie is wrong. This is because if everyone tells lies, this world will become a place impossible to live in peace. Dharma defines the regulations to give maximum security and enjoyment to maximum number of people for the longest period of time possible.
4. Moksha – Liberation. Realising peace and fulfilment that is totally independant of the first three is Moksha. This comes by unidentification with the body, mind and ego, and identification with pure Consciousness, which is our real nature. This is the ultimate aim of life. The first three aims are only means to this real aim.