Hinduism as a whole, including its extensive literature, complex rituals, and rich culture, allows its followers to have whatever they want. Of course, this is not as simple as it seems, as many people do not actually understand what they really want. Thus, India has examined this question for centuries, finally listing the four main things that people want.
For starters, people want pleasure. Human beings have a natural tendency to seek pleasure, and are biologically created with pleasure-pain reactors. For this reason, Hinduism does not ask its followers to give up pleasure, as there is a natural impulse to seek it. Still, this does not mean that India allows its people to seek pleasure above all else. "To the person who wants pleasure, India says in effect: Go after it -- there is nothing wrong with it; it is one of the four legitimate ends of life (p. 14)."
However, it is important to realize that, like everything else, hedonism requires good sense, meaning that not every impulse can be followed with impunity. "Small immediate goals must be sacrificed for long-range gains, and impulses that would injure others must be curbed to avoid antagonisms and remorse (p. 14)." Basically, this means that as long as one does not harm others or oneself, by engaging in acts like stealing, lying and succumbing to addictions, one is free to seek pleasure intelligently, according to Hinduism.
With this basic need satisfied, India simply sits and waits for its people to realize that they want more than pleasure. "The reason everyone eventually comes to this discovery is not because pleasure is wicked, but because it is too trivial to satisfy one's total nature (p. 14)." Eventually people are bound to seek more.
At this point, people's interests usually shift to worldly success, with its three prongs of wealth, fame and power. India recognizes this as a worldly goal but does not discourage it. In fact, it is promoted as an important goal, as its satisfactions are longer lasting than pleasure, because it is a social achievement and usually involves the lives of others. "India acknowledges that drives for power, position and possessions run deep (p. 15)." Worldly achievements provide many benefits to those who achieve them, including the ability to support a household, contribute to society and achieve self-respect and dignity.
With worldly success, there are many limitations, so people cannot be entirely satisfied by it. For example, the desire for worldly success is insatiable, as it is not something that people really want, so they will never be able to get enough of it. Also, because it centers on the self, it is not enough to satisfy people. Finally, worldly success is not something that can be taken with you when you die, so it is not viewed as something that is wholly satisfying.
According to Hinduism, life allows two greater desires, including renunciation. The word "renunciation" has gained somewhat of a negative reputation, as it is associated with being a life-denying spoilsport. However, while it can stem from disillusionment and despair, it is can also promise that life holds more than what it is now experiencing. Many people that realize this aspect of renunciation find that renouncing affluence to gain freedom from social constraints. "If renunciation always entails the sacrifice of a trivial now for a more promising yet-to-be, religious renunciation is like that of athletes who resist indulgence that could deflect them from their all-consuming goal (p. 17)."
Typically, people who are satisfied by following their impulses may never even think of renunciation, as they are satisfied by worldly pleasures. Some people may only seek renunciation after experiencing defeat. However, those who stride the Path of Desire successfully and are still left wanting more are the ones who actively seek renunciation. Usually, these people become devoted to their religion and/or community. "It produces the religion of duty, after pleasure and success the third great aim of life in the Hindu outlook (p. 19)."
There comes a time when nearly everyone asks himself, "Is this all?" While the world has a lot to offer, most people eventually realize that "there is no true good here below, that everything that appears to be good in this world is finite, limited, wears out, and once worn out, leaves necessity exposed in all its nakedness (p. 20)." This is the moment that Hinduism is based upon, as it holds the answer. According to Hinduism, life holds many other possibilities.
While pleasure, success and duty are all things to desire, what we really want exists at a deeper level. First, we desire being. Everyone wants to live rather than die. Second, we want to know. The knowledge we seek is extensive, and includes current events, gossip, scientific understanding and religious questions. The third thing that we seek is joy, which is a feeling that is the opposite of frustration, futility and boredom. These are all the things that people want. "To gather the wants into a single word, what people really want is liberation (moksha) -- release from the fruitude that restricts us from the limitless being, consciousness, and bliss our hearts desire (p. 21)."
According to Hinduism, infinite being, infinite bliss, and infinite awareness all exist within human beings. To understand this, it is important to examine what a human being is. In addition to a body, a human being is a personality that includes mind, memories, and propensities that have derived from a unique series of life experiences. "Underlying the human self and animating it is a reservoir of being that never dies, is never exhausted, and is unrestricted in consciousness and bliss. This infinite center of every life, this hidden self or Atman, is no less than the Brahman, the Godhead. Body, personality and Atman-Brahman -- a human self is not accounted for until all three are noted (p. 21)." Human beings are physically limited. In addition, we are limited by ignorance. However, Hinduism encourages its followers to go beyond this.
There are four paths to the ultimate goal of Hinduism. Everyone holds life's creative power within himself, including supreme strength, the fullness of wisdom, and unquenchable joy. However, it is hidden deep, so many people do not even realize that they possess it. Therefore, Hinduism seeks religious truth as a means of guiding them into higher states of being. "Hinduism's specific directions for actualizing the human potential come under the heading of yoga (p. 26)." Basically, this word means to unite and to place under disciplined training. Hinduism seeks precision and control, and ideally complete control over the body's every function.
What is distinctive about Hinduism is the amount of attention it has devoted to identifying basic spiritual personality types and the disciplines that are most likely to work for each. The result is recognition, pervading the entire religion, that there are multiple paths to God, each calling for its distinctive mode of travel (p. 28)." According to Hinduism, there are four basic spiritual types -- reflective, emotional, active and experimental. While each of these elements can be found in everyone, there is usually a dominant force.
All four paths begin with moral preliminaries, which aim to cleanse the soul of impurities. For example, selfish actions may thicken the finite being rather than dissolve it. Therefore, it is the goal of yoga to cultivate such habits as non-injury, truthfulness, honesty, self-control, and cleanliness, to reach the ultimate goal. The four paths to achieve the goal are through knowledge, through love, through work, and through psychophysical exercises.
Hinduism recognizes that everyone is different. "Not only do individuals differ from one another; each individual moves through different stages, each of which calls for its own appropriate conduct (p. 51)." Therefore, how one should live depends upon the person and how they pass through each of four stages. The first stage is that of the student and begins after the rite of initiation, between the ages of eight and twelve. During its 12-year span, this stage is set aside for learning and being receptive to teachings. A student's habits are cultivated and character is acquired.
The second stage begins with marriage and is that of a householder. "Here during life's noonday, with physical powers at their zenith, interests and energies naturally turn outward (p. 51)." They usually seek satisfaction on three fronts -- family, vocation and community. Typically, one's attention is divided amongst the three. "This is the time for satisfying the first three human wants: pleasure, through marriage and family primarily; success, through vocation and duty; and through civic participation (p. 51)."
Hinduism encourages its followers to fulfill these wants but does not try to prime them when they begin to fade. It is expected that the attachment to these desirables will eventually subside, as it is unnatural for life to end when action and desire are at their zenith. When these desire for pleasure, success and duty fad, it is time for the third stage of life.