The Veda presents four goals of life. The first is kāma – “pleasure.” This is the root of every goal, for everyone – from insects to gods.
More evolved people, however, don’t just focus on immediate pleasure, they try to insure that they can also enjoy tomorrow. This is the second goal, artha – “wealth.” The purpose of which is to make pleasure sustainable.
Still more evolved people don’t just try to earn wealth, they try to protect it. Eventually they realize that the most effective way to do that is to create a cooperative society where people respect one another’s property and rights. This is the third goal of life, dharma – “morality.”
Very evolved people who pursue pleasure through moral wealth eventually come to realize a few things: (1) the rules of morality are often impositions, they want more freedom, (2) they get tired making money, they need a break, (3) their concept of pleasure seems flawed. Thus, people eventually evolve to desire the fourth goal of life, mokṣa – “liberation.”
The Veda lauds mokṣa as the highest goal of life because liberation is the most refined pleasure, mokṣa is the most refined kāma. It is so because it frees pleasure from being dependent on external objects and situations, and by so doing, frees us from all sources of pain and suffering. Without pain and suffering, we can experience an existence that is carefree, peaceful and tranquil, unbounded, and effortless to maintain.
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s school, however, brings out a fifth goal from the Veda – one which Vyāsa makes particularly clear in his book dedicated to it: Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. This goal points out that pleasure is not merely freedom from suffering. Within the purely conscious self accessed by a liberated soul, one can discover the Superself; the root of oneself, and the root of everything – Krishna. Discovering this all-important and all-attractive entity, one falls in love!
It is not the love of an external object. It is love for the root of one’s own being! Since the object of love is not extrinsic to one’s own conscious being, it does not have the flaws of external kāma, flaws which demand money (artha) and laws (dharma). It is love built on the freedom and enlightenment of liberation (mokṣa) – but without mokṣa’s shortcoming of merely being tranquil, and not being passionate and thrilling. Love is superior to freedom, because the thrilling pleasure of love vastly outclasses the peaceful pleasure of freedom!
Thus prema truly is the supreme goal of life, the “fifth goal” of the Veda.