Artha is the first aim of life. It signifies material prosperity and achieving worldly well-being. The word literally means “thing, object, or substance.” It signifies the whole range of tangible objects that can be possessed, enjoyed, and lost and that we require in our lives for the upkeep of a household, raising of a family, and discharge of religious duties. Wealth and material well-being are not ends in themselves, but the means to an enriched life.
Hinduism recognizes that people have a desire for wealth and, in many cases, fame and power. Here, the satisfactions last longer than they do with kama, for success is a personal, and usually social, achievement that involves the lives of others. For this reason, success here has an importance of which pleasure cannot boast.
Successes in the stage of artha are means to ends, since they help us support a household and discharge our civic duties. But there are limitations even at this stage, since success can be very private: my dollar is not your dollar. So success here is private, not cooperative. There is another problem: Wealth, fame, and power do not survive death and are, therefore, ephemeral.
For Brahmins, the ritual donning of the janeu, or “sacred thread,” is an important ceremony symbolizing their upper-caste standing and also marking the beginning of their stage of life as students. It is usually done between the ages of eight and twelve and is considered a second birth.
What draws many people into Hinduism is the testimony of others who have let the fulfillment of pleasure guide their life and have found that life to be incomplete. There may be no better example than George Harrison, guitarist for The Beatles. By the time he had reached the age of twenty-four, he knew that there must be more to life than the fame and material well-being he had already achieved.