The characterising feature of human beings, that distinguishes them from other species of animals, is the presence of a comparatively much more developed intelligence and the capability to think beyond the very basic activities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending, which can be found in all the species of animals on the earth, in the water and in the sky. All individuals, regardless of their circumstances, are sure to set some goal for their life. The Vedic literatures and the previous sages have mentioned three goals that humans can strive for, and the respective paths that can be adopted to attain those goals have also been elaborately described in the Vedas. The Goal, known as ‘Sadhya’ in Sanskrit, and means to achieve it, or ‘Sadhana’, are very important and one should ascertain the Sadhya of their life and the Sadhan, performing which shall lead them to the attainment of the Sadhya.
The first of the three Sadhyas mentioned in the Vedas is Bhukti, or material enjoyment, and the means to attain it is given in the Karma Khanda section of the Vedas. These generally include performing sacrifices, giving charity, performing social service, building wells and hospitals, serving guests, and leading a pious lifestyle among other such activities. These activities result in the person enjoying a comfortable life and being promoted to some higher planet after death, where he may be able to enjoy better quality of material enjoyment. This Sadhya is recommended for those who are not yet eligible for striving for a better Sadhya. However, since the result, Bhukti, of these pious activities is not eternal and one falls down from his position of better sense enjoyment in the higher planets after his pious merits have been exhausted, it cannot be considered to be the highest Sadhya. By following this path one does not attain freedom from the cycle of repeated birth and death in this material world full of miseries. It is therefore considered to be the lowest of all the Sadhyas. However, one who is eligible to follow this path and does so sincerely, following the injunctions of the Sahstras and leads a pious life, may, due to some great good fortune, come into contact with a great personality and, due to their association, develop eligibility for a higher Sadhya.
The second Sadhya mentioned is Mukti, or liberation from material bondage, and the Sadhana, or path to be followed for attaining it, is mentioned in the Jnan Khanda section of the Vedas. The Sadhana for attaining Mukti includes Pranayam, Ashtanga Yoga and other Yoga practises for restraining the senses from their objects and endeavouring to merge one’s identity into that of the Brahma Jyoti or impersonal Brahman. The Panchopasana system also falls into this category of Sadhana. The resultant Sadhya attained by following this path, which, according to the Supreme Lord Krishna as stated by Him in the Bhagawat Gita, is wrought with troubles, is merging of the soul into Brahman. This is, however, also not the highest Sadhya as it is also not eternal. Attainment of Mukti, or liberation, is something which happens once and is not an eternal and ongoing truth. Although praised in the Jnan Khanda section of the Vedas, the bhaktas of Bhagawan condemn this idea of merging into the impersonal feature of the Lord as it is almost the same as spiritual suicide, for they give up their individuality and seize to exist. Only by some great good fortune, when a Jnani comes into the association of a bhakta of bhagawan, can they come to the platform of striving to attain the ultimate Sadhya.
The third and the only Sadhya that does not lead to a higher stage of understanding, as it is itself the highest, is Bhakti, or devotional service rendered to the Lord. The Sadhana or means of attaining Bhakti have been mentioned in the Vedas delineating the path of Bhakti, and Srimad Bhagwatam is the best amongst all these Vedic literatures describing the process of Bhakti yoga. The practices performed on this path include Shravanam, Kirtanam, Vishnu smaranam, pada sevanam and so on. The resultant Bhakti transports one to the eternal abode of the Lord, where the devotee renders transcendental loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, thus enjoying eternal life, full knowledge and unlimited bliss. The lesser goal of Mukti is automatically attained by the Bhaktas as they are always transcendental to the material nature, being situated in the transcendental abode, far away from the external energy of the Lord. The followers of this most glorious path worship the Personalised feature of the Lord, who is complete with all transcendental qualities and the abode of wonderful loving pastimes.
One should, therefore, very carefully analyse the various Sadhyas, ascertaining their goal of life, and follow the respective Sadhana. It is only by great good fortune that one takes to the path of Bhakti and strives to achieve the best of all Sadhyas. One who does so is the only person who has understood his true position and the real purpose of life. Having ascertained Bhakti to be one’s Sadhya, the sadhaka, or the practitioner should associate with the advanced devotees of the Lord and endeavour to make rapid progress on the path back home, back to Godhead.