“Prahlada Maharaja said, agunena ca kankshitena: if one is engaged in the transcendental loving service of the lotus feet of the Lord, he does not need anything in terms of dharma, artha, kama or moksha.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.6.25 Purport)
Friend1: One of the repeating patterns in Vedic literature is the reference to the four rewards.
Friend2: Please explain what those are.
Friend1: Dharma, artha, kama and moksha.
Friend2: Those are the Sanskrit. What is the English equivalent?
Friend1: Dharma is religiosity. Adherence to some higher principles. Guardrails. The root is belief in a higher authority. Artha is interest or profit. Work that will yield a benefit. Behavior that aids in reaching a positive outcome.
Friend2: What about kama and moksha?
Friend1: Kama is material desire or sense gratification. It is nature’s way. Right from the start we are after kama. The animal community knows only kama. Moksha is release. The end to the cycle of birth and death.
Friend2: There is a cycle?
Friend1: Yes. The soul lives on.
Friend2: What is the soul?
Friend1: My identity.
Friend2: Just yours?
Friend1: Yes; for the individual soul, jivatma. The soul is also your identity, but your soul is not the same as mine. Therefore, we are distinct individuals.
Friend2: Are souls limited to the human population?
Friend1: No. From the highest to the lowest. As far up as Lord Brahma, the demigod-creator, and to the lowest depths of the organisms which survive nuclear war.
Friend2: There is soul inside?
Friend1: There has to be. Soul is what provides the animating spark. The four rewards are exclusive to the human birth. There is no such thing as dharma for the animals or plants.
Friend2: Are you sure about that?
Friend1: There is dharma in the sense that the essential characteristic will always remain, as soul can never be separated from its properties. Dharma in the sense of voluntary alignment with higher principles is only possible through a rational choice, and that rational thinking ability is exclusive to the humans.
Friend2: I see.
Friend1: The reason I bring this up today is because in a verse of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Prahlada Maharaja mentions how for devotees the four rewards are not that important. Since they are connected in a mood of devotional love to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they do not require anything.
Friend2: Neither do they seek those rewards.
Friend1: Okay, but if the four are important enough to receive mention in many places in sacred texts, why does someone exalted like Prahlada downplay them?
Friend2: There is this concept of aguna.
Friend1: Is that a negation of the word guna?
Friend2: Yes. Lacking material qualities. Devotional service has this feature. The four rewards are part of guna life.
Friend1: I.e. material life.
Friend2: They are a kind of enjoyment, though reserved for civilized people. In other words, even striving for those four rewards represents significant advancement. Just consider how rampant atheism has become today.
Friend1: It is rare for people to want to become gentlemen, to treat others fairly and with compassion. The focus is entirely on advancing the personal economic condition and then enjoying the senses.
Friend2: The four rewards are something like restricted enjoyment, for a higher purpose. But they still belong to the material category. Prahlada is saying that in devotional service everything is already available. There is no need to strive for anything material. The Supreme Lord has transcendental qualities, gunas. In staying with those gunas, in glorifying them, the outcome will always be auspicious. There is no need for an extra endeavor in a risky business that is limited by time, intelligence and proper association.
In that game limited by time,
Where proper association to find.
And intelligence needed,
Else failure proceeded.
As human of rewards aware,
But in devotion higher is there.
Since spiritual included already,
When in bhakti steady.