Factually, also, in no country other than India have the great sages endeavored so much for the realization of the spirit self. It is admitted that in the Western countries the people have done their best to advance in the culture of material science, centered on the material body and mind. But it is admitted, also, that notwithstanding all such advancement of material knowledge in the West, the people in general there are suffering the pangs of the poisonous effects of materialism because they have cared very little for the culture of spiritual science. Great thinkers in the Western countries must therefore look to the people of India if the message of Godhead, of genuine spiritualism, is to reach their ears.
Therefore, in Bhagavad-gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, has elaborately discussed karma-yoga, work with transcendental results, to douse the fire of materialism and brighten the future of humankind. There is a great difference between work for material gain and work with transcendental results. In many places throughout Bhagavad-gītā, the Personality of Godhead mentions the word buddhi-yoga, or intelligence with transcendental results. And by this word buddhi-yoga we can also understand transcendental, devotional activities. For the Personality of Godhead says that He always favors His devotees by endowing them with the intelligence to perform devotional activities, so that at the end His devotees may attain to Him. In other places, also, it is said that God is attainable only through devotional activities. We can get rid of the results of our work only by the intelligent process of work with transcendental results.
In the second chapter of Bhagavad-gītā, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, advises as follows: “Thus far I have explained to you about transcendental knowledge. Now I shall explain to you about work with transcendental results. By this work with transcendental results, you can get rid of the bondage of ordinary work. In this process there is no loss or diminution. Even if very little of this work is done, it can save one from the greatest trouble.”
Pure devotional activities are of one variety only. And how these devotional activities can be coordinated with our daily, active life has been explained in Bhagavad-gītā. Coordinating such devotional activities with our daily activities is technically known as karma-yoga. The same devotional activities when mixed with the culture of knowledge are technically called jñāna-yoga. But when such devotional activities transcend the limits of all such work or mental knowledge, this state of affairs is called pure transcendental devotion, or bhakti-yoga.
All the various actions that we perform in this world beget various specific results. When we begin to enjoy the fruits of such performances, these further actions also produce, in their turn, further specific results as a matter of course. Thus, we have a big tree of these actions and reactions with their respective fruits. And as the enjoyers of these fruits, we become bound up in the network of such work and its fruit. Birth after birth, the spirit soul becomes bound up in the process of producing such fruits and enjoying the same.
While passing through various of the 8,400,000 species of life, the spirit soul is overwhelmed by the suffering created by those reactions. We have very little chance of escaping this bondage of action and reaction—work and its fruitive results. Even after abdicating all work and accepting the life of a sannyāsī, or renunciant, one still has to work, if only for his hungry stomach. And thus Śaṅkarācārya, the great monist philosopher and religious reformer, said that simply for the matter of the stomach, one may not adopt the dress of a renunciant. Therefore, there is no way out—no way to avoid doing work, if only for the belly’s sake.
As a result, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, advises Marshal Arjuna in the following words: “O Arjuna, you must always do your duty. To do something is far better than to do nothing. You cannot even secure your everyday sustenance without doing any work.”
“Work” means the work that is ordered in the scriptures and sacred law books. It means standard, prescribed duties. Such work is far better than laziness under the pretension of being a renunciant or mystic. To earn a living, one can honorably adopt the profession of a street sweeper, but one must not change his dress to the saffron robes of a renunciate simply to fill up his empty stomach. In the present age of quarrel and pretension, one should prefer to do the ordinary, prescribed duties rather than adopt the life of a sannyāsī, a renunciate. Those who are genuinely renounced understand that they must not give up performing their prescribed daily duties in the social order, because otherwise there will be disaster, plain and simple. When we cannot secure our everyday sustenance without doing any work, how is it possible to give up our prescribed duties? And yet one must not forget the difficult position of one’s being in the network of action and reaction by which the spirit soul becomes bound up in material existence.
So, to solve this dilemma, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, advises us as follows: “The best policy for doing work is to perform all prescribed duties for the satisfaction of Yajña, the Supreme Being—Viṣṇu, the Absolute Truth. Otherwise, all actions will produce reactions that will cause bondage. If work is done for the sake of Yajña, then one can become free from all bondages.”
This method of work, or prescribed duties, that does not cause any bondage is called work with transcendental results, or karma-yoga. By such work with transcendental results, or karma-yoga, not only does one become immune from the bondage of work, but also one develops his transcendental devotion toward the Absolute Personality of Godhead. One must not enjoy the fruits of his work himself, but must dedicate the same for the transcendental loving service of the Personality of Godhead. This is the first step on the ladder of devotional activities. Lord Caitanya taught this process of devotional service, or work with transcendental results, to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī at Daśāśvamedha-ghāṭa in Prayāga. Lord Caitanya said that only one who is fortunate can get the seed of transcendental loving service, by the mercy of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, and that of the spiritual master. Karma-yoga, or work with transcendental results, is the seed of pure devotional activities. This science is taught by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself or by His bona fide, confidential servants. Unless one takes his lessons from such sources, one must inevitably misunderstand the import of karma-yoga, as do the ordinary mundaners who often advertise themselves as karma-yoga experts.
We have to earn some wealth just in order to push on with our material existence. In exchange for that wealth, we have to secure the necessities of life, and primarily, we have to cook something for our hungry stomach. For if we do not eat, we cannot keep a healthy body, and if we do not keep a healthy body, we cannot earn our livelihood. It is very difficult to ascertain which exigency is the cause of the other, but we can describe this process of reciprocity as the wheel of work. And to travel all over the universe is to circumambulate the wheel of work. There is no estimation of our circumambulation and the concomitant distress resulting from such travel life after life for illusory, material happiness, which is compared to the will o’ the wisp. In the capacity of a false enjoyer, without any obedience to the supremely powerful Lord, the living soul searches for permanent happiness life after life, but he does not know where the real happiness is. Therefore, Prahlāda Mahārāja says that no one knows that his ultimate goal of self-realization is to reach Viṣṇu, the all-powerful Godhead.
Without knowing the goal of our self-realization, we are aimlessly voyaging on the ocean of material existence, life after life. And tossed as we are by the waves of action and reaction, we cannot ascertain the volume of our distresses in undertaking such an ominous journey. Here we must know that the goal of our voyage is to reach the Absolute Truth, Viṣṇu, the all-pervading Godhead. Śrī Kṛṣṇa confirms this goal of life by saying that everything must be performed for the satisfaction of Viṣṇu, or Yajña. In the Ṛg Veda the same truth is described: Viṣṇu is the Supreme Deity, and thus all the subordinate gods, the suris, look to Viṣṇu and His lotus feet. The author of the Vedas is the Personality of Godhead Himself. Consequently, His Bhagavad-gītā is the finest summary of all the teachings in the Vedas (the books of knowledge), and there is no doubt about it. The instruction is, therefore, that we must do everything for the satisfaction of Viṣṇu and Viṣṇu only, if we want to be free of the bondage to the wheel of our work.
Formerly, the people of India (now misnamed as “Hindus”) followed varṇāśrama-dharma or sanātana-dharma, the system that organizes human affairs according to four social orders and four spiritual orders. Those in the three higher social orders—namely, the brāhmaṇas (the instructive order), the kṣatriyas (the administrative order), and the vaiśyas (the productive order)—all used to lead the life of Vaiṣṇavism, or centering every action upon the Supreme Deity, Viṣṇu. In all the four spiritual orders—the student, the householder, the retired, and the renounced—and especially the householder order, Viṣṇu was being worshiped. The brāhmaṇa householders, particularly, used to worship Viṣṇu without fail, and even now the descendants of those brāhmaṇas continue to worship Viṣṇu daily as their family Deity.
These spiritually cultured people used to do everything for the sake of Viṣṇu. They used to earn wealth according to their capacity for the service of Viṣṇu. With their earnings they used to acquire eatables, and the eatables were cooked for the worship of Viṣṇu. Then the meal offered to satisfy Viṣu became prasādam—”the Lord’s mercy,” the remnants of His meal—and could be accepted by them. What was possible in days gone by and is still being done here and there even today can again be made possible in all spheres of life, by a little adjustment suitable to time, place, and people. In this way, everyone can get free of the binding network of actions and reactions.
The learned sages say that to approach the lotus feet of Viṣṇu is to get liberation. We can satisfy our ordinary desires by satisfying the transcendental senses of Viṣṇu, which is the ultimate goal of karma-yoga, or work with transcendental results. If we do not perform our duties in this manner, for the satisfaction of Viṣṇu, then certainly all and any work done by us will produce nothing but poisonous material results, and ultimately there will be disaster in the world. By doing everything for the satisfaction of Viṣṇu and taking the remnants of the offerings made to Viṣṇu, we can get rid of the vices and sinful reactions that accumulate in the course of our performing our prescribed duties.
Although we may take so many precautions against these vices and sinful reactions, even in the course of ordinary business exchanges and ventures we have to commit so many sins. For instance, we find it necessary and unavoidable in business dealings to speak lies—not to mention the volumes of lies that are spoken by members of the legal profession. Lawyers have to resort to all sorts of trickery to get around a law in which they have become professionally entangled. And of course, those who are in the service of other professions have to do the same kind of thing without fail. Intentionally or unintentionally, one has to commit such sins—and incur the sinful reactions—without any doubt.
Even if we take all precautions to protect ourselves against committing any sins—for the Vaiṣṇavas, the devotees of Viṣṇu, naturally do take all such precautions—still, unconsciously we kill many ants and other insects while discharging even the most ordinary duties, such as walking from one place to another. Even in simply drinking water, we kill many tiny aquatic creatures. We kill many such living entities merely by cleaning our homes or when eating and sleeping. In sum, we cannot avoid all the sins we incur, even unconsciously, in the ordinary course of life.
According to the laws of man, a person may be hanged when he commits homicide, but he is not hanged when he kills lower animals. But according to the laws of God, one commits the same sin by killing a lower animal as he does by killing a man. We are punished by the laws of God for either action. Those who do not believe in the laws of God or in His existence may go on committing such sins, and they may not come to their senses despite the countless sufferings they are put into for committing such sins, but that does not affect the existence of God or His eternal laws.
The law books known as the smṛtis mention five kinds of sin which everyone inevitably commits, no matter how unwillingly. They are as follows: (1) Sins committed by itching, (2) sins committed by rubbing, (3) sins committed by starting a fire, (4) sins committed by pouring water from a pot, and (5) sins committed by cleaning the house. Even if we do not commit any intentional sins, we have to commit the above five kinds of sin, without a shadow of doubt. Thus, it is our duty to accept the remnants of offerings made to Viṣṇu, to escape the reactions of all sinful actions committed unconsciously and unavoidably. Unfortunately, those who cook food not for offering to Viṣṇu, but only for satisfying their senses, have to undergo punishments for all the sins they have committed consciously or unconsciously, while discharging prescribed duties. For this reason, the worship of Viṣṇu still goes on in the households of the followers of sanātana-dharma, and especially in the households of the brāhmaṇas.
Therefore, those who are leaders of their respective countries and communities should first be sure to satisfy Viṣṇu, for their own benefit and for the benefit of those whom they profess to lead. All leaders should ponder how they can discharge their duties by satisfying the transcendental senses of Viṣṇu, for what the leaders do will be imitated by their followers. Therefore, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, advises Arjuna as follows: “What is done by the leader is followed by the ordinary man. Whatever the leader establishes as truth, the followers take to it unhesitatingly.”
But alas, the time has already come when the leaders, whom ordinary men regard as beacons, are themselves mostly atheists at the bottom of their hearts and are against the principles laid down by Godhead. As such, what can they do for the satisfaction of the transcendental senses of Viṣṇu? And if they do not do everything for the satisfaction of the transcendental senses of Godhead, how can they expect to drag themselves or their followers from the mire of sins committed in the course of discharging prescribed duties? If the leaders do not recognize the existence of the all-powerful Viṣṇu, who is simultaneously both the supreme transcendental personality and the impersonal spirit existing everywhere, then what will ordinary men understand about Him? He is the supreme enjoyer of everything that be, and thus none of us, however great we may be, can be the enjoyer of the universe and its paraphernalia. Since our position is subordinate to that of the almighty Viṣṇu, the Supreme Godhead (Īśvara, the supreme controller), we can enjoy only what comes from Him as a token of His kindness. We must not enjoy anything that is not offered by Him. We should not make any extra effort to obtain anything which belongs to Him or others. That is the spirit of Vaiṣṇavism.
In the Īśopaniṣad this same spirit is described as follows: “Whatever we see existing throughout the universe is intrinsically the property of the supreme enjoyer, and one may enjoy a thing that is kindly given by Him, but one must never touch the property of others.”
Therefore, civic and other popular leaders should center their activities upon Viṣṇu, and by this act of transcendental work, they will themselves be benefited and shall be able to do good for their respective followers. If these leaders, including preachers and heads of state, do not perform this act of Vaiṣṇavism—and instead place themselves artificially in the exalted position of Viṣṇu, the supreme enjoyer—then they may indeed enjoy temporary gain, adoration, and mundane fame, and may delude their unfortunate followers from the right path by a false display of renunciation. But such materialistic, godless leaders will never be able to do any good for the ignorant souls who follow them like a flock of sheep to the slaughterhouse. By such leadership the leader himself is temporarily benefited, but the followers are put into the worst position. The leaders incite them toward false, illusory gain and thus engage them in various acts of sin. In temporarily benefiting themselves, such leaders sacrifice the real interest of their followers and destroy the followers.
Such leaders do not know that their temporary gains will vanish along with the destruction of their temporary body. But the acts of commission and omission made by them during their lifetime of leadership will remain in the psychic encagement of mind, intelligence, and false egoism in a very subtle form, and the subtle psychic life will develop again in another suitable body, by the process of transmigration of the spirit soul, and thus put them in ordeals of different wheels of action and reaction by obliging them to transmigrate from one body to another for many, many years.
The people in general will follow what the leaders, without any transcendental knowledge, ask them to do. The leaders, therefore, must be aware of this fact for the benefit of all concerned. The leaders must know first of all how they can do good for their followers, by understanding the real method of karma-yoga, or work with transcendental results. If the physician is himself a diseased fellow, how can he endeavor to heal others? The physician must heal himself first, before treating the disease of the general public. To gratify the senses of the diseased fellow is not the business of a real physician. A good, qualified physician cannot indulge the patient by merely satisfying him, but must prescribe the real medicine, whether it satisfy the senses of the patient or not.
The leaders therefore must know that the real disease of the people in general is their aversion to serve the almighty Godhead, Viṣṇu. So if, instead of treating the people’s inherent disease—atheism—the leaders simply show a superficial sympathy for the disease’s symptoms, certainly there will be no benefit whatsoever for suffering humanity. The real remedy for this disease lies in partaking of the remnants of offerings made to Godhead; this is the ideal diet for the spiritual patient. And the medicines include hearing and chanting and remembering the glories of Godhead, worshiping the transcendental form of Godhead, offering Him transcendental service, accepting Him as one’s supreme friend and, lastly, surrendering unto Him in all circumstances. The leaders should therefore arrange for this diet and these medicines—if they really want to dissipate the sufferings of humanity.
At the same time, it is pleasing to see that the veteran leader Mahatma Gandhi is trying his best to invent a method for bringing in a godly atmosphere all over the world. He is preaching restraint, toleration, moral principles, and so on. But it is not possible to reach the unlimited by any novel, invented method, which is always limited. The Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, has therefore said in the Bhagavad-gītā that after many births, learned sages eventually surrender unto Him, and that such a mahātmā who is able to connect everything that be to Vāsudeva (the plenary manifestation of Viṣṇu) is rarely to be seen. The purport is that mahātmās are everywhere, but the mahātmā who knows the real relationship between Godhead and the manifested world is very rare.
Such a mahātmā never tries to approach Godhead by any invented method, any inductive, ascending process. Rather, he accepts the standard, deductive, descending process—that is, the method that comes down directly from the Supreme Lord or through His bona fide representatives. By the ascending process, no one can reach the Lord, even by a long-term endeavor of many, many years. What is obtained by this ascending process, however, is imperfect, partial, impersonal knowledge, liable to be deviant from the Absolute Truth.
We can see such signs in the method of preaching espoused by Gandhijī. Although he chants the name of Rāma, he is not aware of the transcendental science of the name. He is a worshiper of the impersonal Godhead. That is to say, his Godhead or Viṣṇu is devoid of transcendental activities. His Godhead cannot eat, cannot see, and cannot hear; for impersonality means being without any of these sensory activities. When the empiric philosopher tries to approach the Absolute Truth, he can reach only as far as the impersonal feature of Godhead, without knowing anything about the Lord’s transcendental pastimes. When the Absolute Truth is not credited with having any transcendental senses or sensory activities, certainly He is supposed impotent. An impotent Godhead, of course, cannot hear the prayers of His devotees, nor can He ameliorate the distress of the universe.
By the empiric process of philosophical research, one can possibly distinguish the metaphysical subjects from the physical objects; but unless such seekers of truth can reach the personal feature of the Absolute Truth, they gain only dry, impersonal knowledge of Him, without any actual transcendental profit. It is therefore necessary that leaders like Gandhi establish themselves on the transcendental footing of the personal feature of the Absolute Truth, known as Viṣṇu or the all-pervading Godhead, and arrange for His transcendental service by karma-yoga, so that they can do good for the people in general.
The people in general are extremely busy in the affairs of the material body and mind. Those who are in the lowest stage of such mundane activities very rarely can understand the activities of the spiritual plane. These people are generally baffled because their various acts of sin and virtue are directed merely toward ameliorating the distress and enhancing the happiness of the temporary body and mind by behavior like eating, sleeping, defending, and gratifying the senses. The material scientists—the modern quasi priests who invoke such material activities—invent many objects to gratify the material senses such as the eye, ear, nose, and tongue and ultimately the mind, and there results a field of unnecessary competition for enhancement of such material happiness, which leads the whole world into the whirlpool of uncalled—for clashes. The net result is scarcity all over the world, so much so that even the bare necessities of life, namely food and clothing, become objects of contention and control. And so arise all sorts of obstacles to the traditional, God-given life of plain living and high thinking.
Persons who are a little above such gross materialists believe firmly in life after death and thus try to rise a little above the plane of gross sensory enjoyment of this one life. They try to accumulate something for the next life by acts of virtue, just as a man banks some money for future happiness. But these people do not understand that neither any sinful nor any virtuous act can bring freedom from the bondage of work, as we have explained above. On the contrary, both sinful and virtuous acts will bind the worker up in the wheel of action and reaction.
Neither the sinful nor the pious materialist can understand the essence of karma-yoga as the means to attain liberation from the always uncongenial bondage of work. The expert karma-yogī therefore behaves just like an attached materialist to teach the people in general about the way one can get rid of the tangle of action and reaction in ordinary work. By such acts, the karma-yogī himself and the world at large are simultaneously benefited. The Personality of Godhead therefore says as follows: “O descendant of Bharata, better you continue to perform work like an attached materialist who is not conversant with transcendental knowledge, so that you can recruit men to the path of karma-yoga, or work with transcendental results.”
So those who are aware of transcendental knowledge, and who thus are actually learned, perform all acts needed for maintaining the body and mind, but with a view to satisfying the transcendental senses of the Supreme Godhead, Viṣṇu. Ordinary men regard these learned transcendentalists as common workers, but in fact, the transcendentalists are not workers for mundane benefit—they are karma-yogīs, or workers for transcendental results. And in such transcendental work, the material results are gained automatically, without any separate endeavor.
In the present age we are witnessing an enormous expansion of material activities, an endlessly variegated multiplicity of material engagements. Mills and factories, as well as hospitals and other institutions, are now in vogue. In ancient times, there was not so great an expansion of material activities. In those days the mode of living was simple, and yet the thoughts were sublime. So now there is a very good field of activities for the karma-yogīs, who can engage all the various modern institutions in the transcendental service of Viṣṇu, for the satisfaction of His transcendental senses.
It is incumbent, therefore, to install a temple of Viṣṇu in all the aforementioned institutions, and in individual homes, for the same purpose—worshiping the Absolute Godhead in the same spirit of work with transcendental results as was maintained by the sages of ancient times. Although the all-pervading Personality of Godhead manifests Himself in His various transcendental, eternal forms as incarnations or plenary portions or various partial portions, the sages recommended the worship of the eternal dual forms of Śrī Śrī Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa, Śrī Śrī Sītā-Rāma, and Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, it is desired most earnestly that the proprietors and managers of big mills, factories, hospitals, universities, hotels, and various other institutions install a temple for worshiping any of these transcendental forms of Viṣṇu. This will transform all the workers in these institutions into karma-yogīs.
It is generally experienced that workers in big mills and factories are addicted to many abominable habits, and thus they gradually glide down to the lowest status to which a human being can descend. But if they are graciously offered the advantage of partaking of the remnants of foodstuffs offered to Viṣṇu, gradually they will develop a transcendental sense of spirituality and rise to the same status as that of spiritually advanced personalities. However, these people cannot rise to that exalted position of “Harijans” simply by being rubber-stamped as such. If they are influenced by a desire other than the transcendental service of Viṣṇu, every effort to raise them up from their degraded position will result in disaster and disturbance of the peace and tranquillity of the social order. Leaders who incite such downtrodden laborers uselessly—simply for the sake of temporary gain—can never do the laborers any good. Nor can the leaders themselves benefit by such ill-conceived actions. On the contrary, through such material activities both the laborers and the capitalists inevitably fall into unwholesome quarreling and so bring on great disturbance of the social order. The problem can be solved only by a determined program of karma-yoga. If karma-yoga, or work with transcendental results, is systematically performed, we shall transcend and more than fulfill all fragmented endeavors—whether by the socialists toward equality, by the Bolsheviks toward a grand social order of fraternity, or by the laborites toward a mundane heaven wherein laborers surpass capitalists in the acquisition of wealth.
Fraternity in human society develops gradually—from love for self to love for family; from love for family to love for community; from love for community to love for nation; and from love for nation to love for the international community. And in this gradual process, there is always a center of attraction that helps our love progress and develop from one stage to another. We do not know, however, that in that constant struggle for fraternal development, the center of attraction is neither the family nor the community nor the nation, nor even the international community, but the all-pervading Godhead, Viṣṇu. This ignorance is due to the material curtain, the illusory energy of the Absolute Truth. The great devotee Prahlāda Mahārāja confirms that people in general do not know that their ultimate center of attraction is Viṣṇu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And in the Viṣṇu category, Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the supreme attraction.
In fact, the word Kṛṣṇa is derived from the root kṛṣ, meaning “that which attracts.” Thus, there cannot be any other name of the Absolute Truth than Kṛṣṇa—”the all-attractive.” Learned sages have made extensive research in this connection, and they have firmly concluded that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Godhead. The sages of Naimiṣāraṇya (at present, Nimsar, in Sitapur District, U.P.), who assembled under the presidency of Sūta Gosvāmī, discussed in detail all the various incarnations of the Absolute Truth. They came to the conclusion that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and that all other incarnations are either His plenary portions or else portions of plenary portions. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is Śrī Kṛṣṇa; that is the verdict of the Bhāgavata school, or the transcendentalists. Also, the Brahma-saṁhitā—which is described to be compiled by Brahmā, the creator of this universe—confirms, “Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, with an eternal, all-blissful, transcendental form. He is the original person, known as Govinda. He is without any cause, and He is the cause of all other causes.” Therefore, if and only if we can establish our relationships with one another upon the central attraction of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the prime cause of all causes, will we really turn the concepts of fraternity and equality into workable means of lasting peace.
To understand a little better the principles involved, we can look at the mundane relationships around us. For example, the husband of our sister, who may have been unknown to us before he married her, nonetheless becomes our brother-in-law—simply by virtue of the shared central relationship with her. And thanks to that shared central relationship, this previously unknown man’s sons and daughters become our nephews and nieces. Again, all these loving relationships center upon our sister. In this case, our sister has become the center of attraction.
If, for example, we make our country the center of attraction, we designate ourselves with some limiting and divisive national label, such as “Bengali,” “Punjabi,” or “English.” Or when we profess a particular faith or religion and make this the center of attraction, again we designate ourselves with some sectarian label, such as “Hindu,” “Muslim,” or “Christian.” Thus we have chosen a center of attraction that many others cannot share with us—because for them, our center of attraction is not all-attractive.
Our relationships with one another can be perfected only when we make our center of attraction Kṛṣṇa, the all-attractive Personality of Godhead. Constitutionally, we are all eternally related to Kṛṣṇa, who is the original living being and thus the center of all attraction. So what we need to do is to revive this relationship which has merged into oblivion because the covering and detaching process of the illusory energy, called māyā, has fostered temporary forgetfulness. And to proceed in this direction of rehabilitation of our eternal relationship is to adopt karma-yoga, the first step to such transcendental realization. It is stated in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta that the living entity, the spirit soul, is encaged by māyā, or the illusory energy, in a process of forgetfulness of his eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa.
The karma-yogī can help revive this transcendental relationship of the living spirit with Kṛṣṇa as His eternal servitor. And the karma-yogī renders this immense benefit to the ordinary living entities-who are entirely addicted to mundane activities—without disturbing them in their ordinary engagements. In fact, the Bhagavad-gītā advises that in the interest of the mundane workers, they should not be restrained from their ordinary engagements; on the contrary, they may be encouraged to stay engaged in that way, within the process of karma-yoga, or work with transcendental results.
Ordinarily, these mundaners cannot easily understand their eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa. Instead, they themselves have posed as Kṛṣṇa, under the false inducement of the illusory energy. This false position of supreme enjoyer gives them much trouble as they search for lordship over the powers of nature, but still these mundaners cannot give up the spirit of lording it over. And when they pretend to give up the enjoying spirit, under the pressure of disappointment and frustration, they usually take shelter of pseudo renunciation, with an even greater spirit of enjoyment. The mundane workers, who are always desirous of enjoying the fruits of their mundane activities, suffer greatly under the pressing disadvantages of such activities, just like poor oxen tightly tethered to the grinding mill. But under a false pretense of “enjoyer” dictated by the illusory energy, they think themselves to be really enjoying. Therefore, the learned karma-yogīs tactfully engage such foolish mundaners in the respective works for which they have special attachments—but in relation with Kṛṣṇa—without disturbing them in their general activities. For this purpose only, the learned and liberated souls who are eternal servitors of Kṛṣṇa sometimes remain in the midst of ordinary activities, just to attract the foolish mundaners to the process of karma-yoga.
The foolish mundaners would have been left perpetually in the darkness of foolish activities if Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, or His eternal associates, such as Marshal Arjuna, had not kindly taken the trouble of initiating the process of karma-yoga by the direct method of personal example. The foolish mundaners are unable to come to an awareness of the immeasurable difficulties that confront them in pursuance of their foolish mundane activities. However much they may bewilder themselves by the conception of lordship over their various actions, they are always being driven under the direction of the modes of nature—that is the considered verdict of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, in the Bhagavad-gītā. He says that the foolish mundaner considers himself the author or doer of all his activities by a sense dictated by his false egoism, without knowing that it is the modes of nature that lead him to do everything in all his engagements. The foolish mundaner cannot understand that he is under the spell of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s illusory energy, Maya-devi, who has made the mundaner bound to do as she desires. Consequently, the foolish mundaner enjoys only the temporary results of his activities—fleeting mundane happiness or distress—and undergoes a severe penalty of servitude dictated by the modes of nature.
In Bhagavad-gītā Lord Kṛṣṇa affirms that each and every living entity that be is His part and parcel, and as such, each and every living entity is His eternal, transcendental servitor. The natural position of one who is part and parcel is to render service to the complete whole. In Hitopadeśa, a Vedic book of ancient fables, there is a lucid analogy entitled Uddeśa Indriyāṇām which explains the relationship of the parts of the body to the whole. The hands, legs, eyes, nose, and so forth are all parts of the complete whole that is the body. Now if the hands, legs, eyes, nose and so on do not endeavor to provide food for the stomach, but themselves try to enjoy the eatables collected by them, then there will be a maladjustment of the whole body. The bodily parts would be working against the interest of the body as a whole. By such foolish activities, the hands, legs, and so on could never improve their respective positions, but on the contrary, for want of sufficient nourishment of the whole body through the medium of the stomach, the whole system of bodily structure and function would become weakened, deteriorated, and diseased.
The Personality of Godhead is the original cause of all causes, and He is the life of the whole creation. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, is the root of the tree of the whole creation. That is the statement of Bhagavad-gītā. It is also said in Bhagavad-gītā that there is no person superior to Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself. He is the supreme enjoyer of all sacrifices and activities. But still, those who are utterly sinful do not surrender unto Him, even though He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and all other living beings are His transcendental, eternal servitors, part and parcel of Him.
Forgetfulness of this transcendental relationship between the living entity and the Personality of Godhead has created a false sense of everyone’s being a miniature Kṛṣṇa, who tries to enjoy the world to his best capacity, while overlooking the transcendental service of the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, the complete whole and the origin of all. This kind of work is done under the spell of the modes of material nature, called māyā, or the illusory energy. Actually, the living entity has no capacity to lord it over the forces of nature. The living entity becomes subjugated by the modes of nature as soon as he tries to put himself into the position of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the supreme enjoyer—under a false egoistic sense, since he is constitutionally unable to do so, any more than the hands, legs, eyes, and so on can individually function as a complete, whole body. The living entity therefore undergoes many difficulties under the pretense of being an enjoyer. So to get rid of all these troubles and difficulties that we suffer due to our work, we have to adopt the process of karma-yoga.
In contrast with the ordinary living entity, those who are transcendentalists are really learned. Such transcendentalists do not perform any work in the manner of the common mundaner. They know that mundane activities done under the modes of nature are completely different from activities of transcendental service. The transcendentalist, knowing himself to be different from the material body and mind, always tries to cultivate transcendental activities. He knows that although temporarily within mundane existence, he is an eternal spirit, part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit. As such, he remains always separate from the mundaners, even though his material senses such as the hands, legs, eyes, and so on are engaged in temporary material activities. When engaged in the transcendental service of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, however, such activities make the doer free from the bondage of work. The Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, says to Arjuna, “O Arjuna! Therefore give up the spirit of enjoying all your worldly work, and through this consciousness become a transcendentalist. You may adopt your circumstantial occupation of warfare, which is a duty for you. And whoever performs his every activity with transcendental consciousness—according to My direction, without any grudge toward Me—he also becomes free from the bondage of work.”
The process of bodily self-consciousness—the misunderstanding that I am this material body and mind and, for that matter, that I am part and parcel of this material world and that everything in this material world is thus an object for my enjoyment—does not allow me to become a transcendentalist or a really learned fellow. Up to this point, we have already discussed this transcendental knowledge somewhat. And on the basis of this preliminary discussion, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, advises us to become spiritually inclined, to become transcendentalists. Then only can we understand that we are nothing whatsoever of this material world, that we are eternal, spiritual living entities. By such spiritual realization, disintegration of our material affinity naturally begins, and the more we become spiritually developed, the less we are affected by the happiness or distress that arise out of sense perception in contact with material association. The false ego created by material contact is then gradually vanquished, and this dismantling of false egoism causes liberation from all material designations and renewed awareness of our relationship with the Absolute Truth. This is called liberation in life.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, is the Absolute Truth. This is corroborated in all authentic scriptures. Our spiritual life begins to develop as soon as our relationship with Śrī Kṛṣṇa is reawakened. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is compared to the sun. The darkness of nescience disappears as soon as our relationship with Śrī Kṛṣṇa is established. With the appearance of Śrī Kṛṣṇa within our heart, we become cleansed of the impurities of material contact, much as the morning appears new and fresh with the appearance of the sun. This is not a concoction of childish imagination but a factual experience of spiritual realization. One who has sincerely followed the footsteps of Śrī Kṛṣṇa or His bona fide servants has also realized this simple truth.
But one who envies Śrī Kṛṣṇa and poses himself as a competitor of Śrī Kṛṣṇa—one with such a foolhardy and perverted mentality does not accept this statement of fact. Thus, without understanding the primacy of karma-yoga, the foolish mundaners indulge in unrestricted material activities resulting in bondage; their very work keeps them in the material existence of births and deaths perpetually. Such foolish mundaners actually envy Śrī Kṛṣṇa and deride Him as one who is like other mundaners. The truth about Śrī Kṛṣṇa does not easily enter into the perverted brain of such mundaners infected with the empiric approach to philosophy. But a devoted person faithfully understands just what is actually stated in the pages of Bhagavad-gītā and does not resort to imagination, or the empiric philosophical approach, generally called “spiritual interpretation.” Only such a devoted person can accept the logic of fully surrendering unto Kṛṣṇa and can thus adopt the process of karma-yoga to escape the dangerous bondage of work.
There is nothing in the codes of Śrī Kṛṣṇa to stipulate that these devoted persons will make their appearance within the boundaries of a particular caste, creed, color, or country. These devoted persons can and do appear everywhere, without any restriction of caste, creed, color, or country. So everyone, whatever and whoever he may be, is eligible to be a devotee of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. To confirm this fact, in Bhagavad-gītā the Personality of Godhead says the following words: “O son of Pṛthā, even those who are faithless and are of lower birth—including fallen women or professional prostitutes, ignorant manual laborers, and the merchant class—all shall attain perfection and reach the Kingdom of God, if they actually take shelter of the devotional service of the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa.” In other words, the unscrupulous caste system now dominant in the society of the asuras or the faithless cannot be any barrier to approaching Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Absolute Personality of Godhead.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself has enumerated the basic principles of a caste system that is real and universal. The four social orders (intellectual, administrative, mercantile, and laborer) are set by Him according to the qualities these persons have acquired through their actions under the modes of nature. So although in one sense He is the maker of this caste system all over the world, still, in another sense, He is to be understood as not its maker. That is, He is not the maker of a tyrannical and unnatural caste system in which the faithless dictate one’s position according to one’s birth. Rather, He is the maker of a caste system that is applicable universally, is voluntary and natural, and is based on one’s qualities and abilities.
The four social orders—generally known as the “caste system” and consisting of the brāhmaṇas (priests and intellectuals), the kṣatriyas (administrators and soldiers), the vaiśyas (merchants and farmers), and the śūdras (laborers)—were never meant for a caste system by birthright. This system is universally applicable in terms of one’s mundane, practical qualifications and personality traits. The classification of brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya or śūdra is never made with reference to one’s accidental birth—any more than someone could become a medical practitioner by some mere birthright, simply because he happened to be the son of a noted doctor. The real qualification of a medical practitioner can be obtained only through strenuous study of medical science for a considerably long period, and only upon completion of his studies can he take up the medical profession. Naturally, when a patient goes to a medical practitioner, he does not look at the birthright of the physician, but at his real, professional qualifications.
Just as physicians are always present in all countries and at all times, so also brāhmaṇas or kṣatriyas are always present in every part of the earth, by dint of personal and practical qualifications. The present caste system—which we have localized within a particular part of the world and then within a particular sectarian faith—is undoubtedly wrong and a perversion of the natural, universal caste system. If somebody passes himself off as a medical practitioner for the reason that he is the son of a medical practitioner—without having any knowledge of medical science or without having attended medical college—and if this medical practitioner is accepted as such by a section of the public, then both this medical practitioner and his blind followers are to be considered members of a society who cheat one another and are cheated by one another. Theirs is a society of the cheaters and the cheated. So the caste system created by the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and referred to in the Bhagavad-gītā is not the same as the caste system of the society of the cheaters and the cheated. The caste system created by the Personality of Godhead and referred to in the Bhagavad-gītā is universally true at all times and in all parts of the world, and actually, the universe.
The qualifications of the various orders of the caste system are enumerated in Bhagavad-gītā, and here we shall touch on them briefly. The brāhmaṇas are the highest social order, and they imbibe the modes of goodness and are engaged in the activities of equality, restraint, and forgiveness. The kṣatriyas are the second-highest social order, and they imbibe the qualities of creative passion and are engaged in the activities of public leadership as executive heads of different political and social bodies. The vaiśyas are the third social order. They imbibe mixed qualities, namely creative passion as well as the darkness of ignorance, and generally they are engaged as farmers and merchants. The śūdras are the lowest social order, inasmuch as they imbibe the modes of darkness, or ignorance, and generally take up the service of the other three social orders. As a class, the śūdras are servitors of the whole mundane social body. In the present age of darkness, which is known as the Kali-yuga, the age of quarrel, hypocrisy, and ignorance, virtually everyone is born a śūdra.
If we examine human affairs in the light of the caste system as created by the Personality of Godhead, surely we can visualize the four social orders functioning in every part of the world. In every part of the globe, wherever there is human habitation, there are some persons who have the qualifications of brāhmaṇas, and there are others who have the qualifications of kṣatriyas, vaiśyas, and śūdras. The various modes of nature are persistent in every corner of the universe, and since brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, and so forth are simply products of the modes of nature, how can one say that the four castes do not exist in a particular part of the world? This is absurd. In every country and at all times there have been, there are, and there will be the four social orders, according to the modes of nature.
Those who persist in the theory that the four social orders called the caste system exist only in India are totally mistaken. In all other countries, also, there are the same orders of life, under some name or other. And thus everywhere in the world, even those who are far below the qualifications of an ordinary śūdra, the fourth social order, are eligible for the transcendental service of the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The spiritual perfection which a qualified brāhmaṇa attains by the transcendental service of Śrī Kṛṣṇa can also be attained by anyone, even in a lower status than that of śūdra, by the same process of transcendental service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. For this reason, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the all-attractive Personality of Godhead, is the Absolute Truth in all creation, and Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā is the supreme scripture within the universe. According to other scriptures such as the Purāṇas, even a caṇḍāla, or a person of the fifth social order (lower than a śūdra), becomes more than a person of the first order (a brāhmaṇa) by dint of his transcendental devotional service. The confidential teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā are therefore meant for nothing but attaining the highest perfection of human life—the transcendental service of Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
So, regardless of caste, creed, or color, everyone must adopt the process of karma-yoga, or work with transcendental results. And by so doing, everyone shall help to spiritualize all the activities of the world. By such activities, both the performer and the work performed become surcharged with spirituality and transcend the modes of nature. And as his activities become spiritualized, the performer automatically attains the qualifications of the highest social order, the brāhmaṇas. In fact, one who becomes fully spiritualized is transcendental to the modes of nature, and thus he is more than a brāhmaṇa. After all, although of the highest mundane order, the qualifications of a brāhmaṇa are not transcendental. How one can attain to the supreme transcendental knowledge simply by the performance of transcendental service to the Personality of Godhead is explained in the twenty-fourth verse of the fourth chapter of Bhagavad-gītā. It is explained there that through performance of work with transcendental results, everything becomes spiritualized. Ācārya Śaṅkara’s philosophy of “pantheism,” which has spread a perverted interpretation of the Vedānta maxim that the Supreme Spirit is omnipresent, nonetheless has a practical bearing on the above verse.
There are various kinds of sacrifices that will be examined later on, but we should understand that the ultimate goal of all sacrifices is to please the Supreme Godhead, Viṣṇu. During our material existence, we have to deal with material objects, if only to keep body and soul together. But in all such material activities we can evoke the spiritual atmosphere, in terms of the Vedantic truth that the Supreme Spirit is omnipresent. This truth is imperfectly explained by the proponents of pantheism, the misconception that everything is the Supreme Spirit simply because the Supreme Spirit is everywhere. Once this misconception is cleared up and if we remember that the Supreme Spirit is indeed omnipresent, we can create a spiritual atmosphere by performing all our activities in relation to the Supreme Spirit, with everything directed by one who is a self-realized soul. Then the whole thing is transformed into spirit.
An example may be given here to illuminate the above process of spiritualization. When the iron is put into the fire and becomes red hot, the iron then develops the qualities of fire and stops functioning as iron. In the same way, when all our activities are done in terms of our relationship with Kṛṣṇa, then everything is surcharged with spiritualization. Because pleasing Kṛṣṇa has become our ultimate goal, all our activities have become spiritual activities. In a sacrifice there are five primary elements—namely, (1) the process of offering, (2) the offering itself, (3) the fire, (4) the sacrifice, and (5) the result of the sacrifice. When all of these elements become related with the Supreme Spirit, all of them become spiritualized; and at that time the whole thing becomes really a sacrifice. So when offered to the transcendental service of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, all the above-mentioned five elements become interrelated with Him, and thus they become totally spiritualized.
Therefore, learned men perform all their activities for transcendental results and thus direct all their activities toward the transcendental service of the Personality of Godhead. These genuinely purified souls actually control all their sensory activities and also master their true, spiritual self. Such spiritualized persons alone can show actual sympathy to the fallen in terms of the individual, the place, and the time. And in spite of performing apparently material activities, such spiritualized persons are free from the bondage of work. This process is explained in the seventh verse of the fifth chapter of Bhagavad-gītā: “Householders who perform their work with a view to transcendental results, out of sympathy for all others, are really eligible to become public leaders. All others who claim to be public leaders are mistaken.”
The enemies of the karma-yogīs—who generally perform all works for self-satisfaction or sense gratification, and who are not in touch with the Supreme Spirit by the transcendental relationship of service—sometimes pose themselves as working according to the desire of the supreme will. As a matter of fact, they are pantheist pretenders, trying to cover their extravagancy by falsely labeling it transcendental service to Godhead. But those who are pure in heart—that is, those who have surrendered everything unto the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead—remain aloof and separate from such easygoing pseudo transcendentalists, while giving them all respects that they may demand.
Such pure-in-heart transcendentalists know that although the living entity is very insignificant, he is part and parcel of the Absolute Truth and so has a proportionate measure of independence. And although the Personality of Godhead is all-powerful, He never interferes with this little freedom that the living entity enjoys. Thus the living entity sometimes becomes conditioned by the modes of nature, simply by abusing his small measure of independence that he is entitled to enjoy. When he becomes conditioned by nature’s modes of goodness, passion, or ignorance, he develops those respective qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance. As long as the living entity remains conditioned by material nature, he has to act according to his particular mode of nature. If these modes were not acting, then we would not have observed in the phenomenal world different varieties of activities. These different varieties of activities are conditioned by the different modes of nature.
Therefore, without knowing the subtle laws of nature, if we tried to justify all our deeds as influenced by the will of the Personality of Godhead, we would be attempting to bring partiality, inebriety, and gracelessness into the acts of the all-good Personality of Godhead. It should never be imagined that various mundane discrepancies arise by the will of the Personality of Godhead—that some are happy by His will, while others are unhappy by His will. Such differences in the material world are due to the proper or improper use of free will enjoyed by the individual living entity. Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, enjoins everyone to give up all such conditional engagements dictated by the various modes of nature. Such varieties of engagements of the living entity arise out of ignorance perpetuated by the modes of nature. Therefore, the Lord says in Bhagavad-gītā (5.13) that He is not the cause of anyone’s particular work, nor the authority, nor the result of such work—but that all these come out of the various modes of nature. Thus, all acts performed by the living entity—except those with transcendental results—are self—created engagements arising from an abuse of the free will, and therefore such acts or engagements are never to be considered as if the works and the results were somehow ordained by the almighty Godhead. Such works are all material and are therefore conditioned and directed by the modes of nature. The Personality of Godhead has nothing to do with such works.
Similarly, the karma-yogī exists always in a transcendental position, far away from the conditions of the modes of nature, for all his works attain to the platform of the Absolute. When one is in a state of freedom from the modes of nature, the phenomenal world manifests its noumenal feature—its spiritual aspect. With the world thus spiritually manifest, its modes of nature, such as goodness, passion, and ignorance, cannot present any obstacle to one’s spiritual advancement. When such obstacles are surpassed, one attains to the absolute vision.
Bhagavad-gītā (5.17) further elucidates that when a learned man attains to absolute vision, he can observe every living being—whether a learned and gentle brahmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog, or a dog-eater—with equanimity. A learned and gentle brahmaṇa is the embodiment of nature’s mode of goodness. Among the beasts, the cow is the embodiment of this same mode of goodness. The elephant and the lion are embodiments of the passionate mode of nature, while the dog and the caṇḍāla (dog-eater) are the embodiments of nature’s mode of darkness, or ignorance. However, instead of focusing on the various external tabernacles of these living entities (their embodiments under various modes of nature), with his absolute vision the karma-yogī penetrates to the spirit which is embodied therein. And because this infinitesimal spirit emanates from the infinite Supreme Spirit, the karma-yogī in the highest state can observe everyone and everything with equanimity. Such a karma-yogī views everything in relation to the Absolute, and therefore he engages everything in the transcendental service of the Absolute. He observes all living entities as so many transcendental servitors of the absolute Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. His perfect spiritual vision cannot but penetrate the encagement of every material body, just as a red-hot iron cannot but burn everything that it contacts. Thus, the karma-yogī sets an example of transcendental character, by engaging everyone and everything in the transcendental service of the Personality of Godhead.
The karma-yogī knows very well that Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, is the enjoyer of everything, and that He is the Lord of all living entities. He sees very little value in the false prestige by which all living entities in this material world put themselves in the position of either an enjoyer or a renouncer. The learned sages feel disgust with this sort of false prestige as the quintessential disease of material existence. All good work, culture of knowledge, meditation, austerity, and so forth—whatever is performed—all of these activities are meant to ameliorate this material disease. Therefore, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, says in Bhagavad-gītā (5.28) that one can attain the supreme peace by knowing that He is the enjoyer of all sacrifices and austerities, the Lord of all the universes, and also the supreme friend of all living entities.
We have already discussed the necessity of performing work for sacrifice only, or to please the transcendental senses of Viṣṇu. And in the above statement of Bhagavad-gītā, it is clear that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality, who alone is capable of enjoying the result of all sacrificial performances. The sacrifices of the ordinary workers and the meditation and austerities of the empiric philosophers are all ordained and maintained by the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. In turn, the Supersoul—the localized aspect of Viṣṇu, which is the object of meditation for the mystics—is a plenary portion of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead.
We may be able to further discuss all these workers and their work later. But one may know at present that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the friend of everyone, whether he be an ordinary worker, an empiric philosopher, or even a mystic—and what to speak of the transcendentalists who are cent-percent servitors of the Personality of Godhead. The Personality of Godhead always does good for one and all, by empowering His devotees to preach and propagate the transcendental process of devotional service to Godhead everywhere in accord with the specific time, place, and audience. The Lord is therefore called “Govinda,” or the prime cause of all causes and the reservoir of all blessings. And the people in general can attain to perfect peace and tranquillity when they come to know Him by the gradual process of work with transcendental results.
Those who do everything for the transcendental service of the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, have no need to perform any sacrifice, penance, or meditation that is unrelated to the service of Godhead. We have already discussed hereinbefore that the mundane qualities of goodness that are the signs of the brahmaṇa are included and coexisting within the qualities of the transcendentalist. In the same manner, the dexterity and sacrifice of the devoted worker, the knowledge of the sannyāsī (renunciant), the stillness and profound love for Godhead of the mystic—all these qualities are included and coexisting within the qualities of the transcendental worker, the karma-yogī. Therefore, in Bhagavad-gītā (6.1), the Personality of Godhead says, “One who performs his duty for duty’s sake, without seeking the fruitive results of such work, is the true renunciant and mystic—not he who has discarded all his duties and relieved himself of his responsibilities.”
The fact is that Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself becomes the enjoyer of the fruits of the work performed by the transcendentalist. Thus, the transcendentalist has no responsibility for the results of his work, may those results be good or bad in the estimation of worldly people. The transcendentalist acts under the impetus of his obligation to do everything for the sake of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He never views any activity as an object of enjoyment or renunciation on his own account. In contrast, the sannyāsī or renouncer relieves himself of all worldly responsibilities in order to free himself for acquiring knowledge relating to the all-pervasive Spirit. The mystic takes similar measures so that he can enhance his meditation and better visualize within himself the localized aspect of the same Supreme Spirit. But the transcendentalist who acts only for the satisfaction of the Supreme Person, without being impelled by a motive of self-satisfaction, is actually free from all worldly duties—without the separate effort made by the sannyāsīs and the mystics. The spiritual knowledge acquired by the sannyāsīs and the eightfold perfections achieved by the mystics are all within easy reach of the transcendentalist. Therefore, the transcendentalist does not desire to achieve any profit, adoration, or distinction. He desires no gain whatever, except to be engaged in the transcendental service of Godhead—because simply by such service, he gains all. Once one achieves the supreme gain, which encompasses all other gains, what is there still to be achieved?
The mystic, who virtually ceases his various bodily functions according to Patañjali’s system of mysticism, tries to attain trance by these systematic modes of meditation and so forth. Thus, the mystic tolerates all sorts of tribulations in order to visualize the localized aspect of the Supreme Spirit. In other words, he does not care about what it may take, even if it means meeting with death, to realize his ideal, which has no equal in the universe. To underscore the validity of such mystics or devotees, the Personality of Godhead says in Bhagavad-gītā (6.22) that He does not consider anything more valuable than the attainment of that transcendental state: “It is the greatest gain. To be in that state means not to be perturbed by any distress, however heavy and intolerable it may be.”
According to Patañjali’s system, mysticism means perfect control of the mental plane with its various fickle inclinations. According to Patañjali, the transcendental state is to become free from sensuous activities and to attain the stage of perfection perceptible purely by the spirit soul. In such a state, the attention of the mystic never deviates from that spiritual achievement. The eightfold material perfections—such as aṇimā, laghimā, prāpti, īśitā, vaśitā, prākāmya, and so on—are concomitant in the attainment of perfection in mysticism, and are but indirect by-products of that process.
After attainment of one or two of the above perfections, many mystics fall into the trap of mental oscillation. In such a state, the mystic fails to attain to the highest perfection, namely, pure devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But the transcendental worker, or karma-yogī, has no such fear of falling down, for his attention is already fixed in the transcendental service of the Personality of Godhead. Thus, he does not need to enter separately into trance. For the karma-yogī, the mystic perfections manifest automatically due to the ever-increasing freshness of their object of attention, the Personality of Godhead. A mundaner is surely unable to realize how there can be so much transcendental happiness in the service of the Personality of Godhead.
Further, there can be no loss for either the mystic or the karma-yogī in his attempt to perfect such transcendental activities. And the gain is always assured, even if the process is only partially completed. Anything that is material or mundane—be it acquisition of knowledge or of wealth—is vanquished along with the annihilation of the material body. But the transcendental work of the karma-yogī surpasses the mundane limits of the material body and mind, because it is performed in relation with the transcendental spirit soul. Being thus spiritualized, these transcendental activities transcend the limits of material annihilation. Just as the soul is not annihilated, even after annihilation of the material body, so also these spiritualized activities are not annihilated, even after the annihilation of the body or mind.
To some extent, we have already discussed this endurance of the results of transcendental work in the section on transcendental knowledge. The Personality of Godhead confirms this reality in the Bhagavad-gītā (6.40), and Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda explains it in the following manner: “After all, the human race is divided into two sections. The one is legitimate and the other is illegitimate. Those who do not care about any laws of life, but simply work on the principle of sense gratification—they are all illegitimate. They may be civilized or uncivilized, they may be learned or illiterate, they may be powerful or weak, but such illegitimate persons, generally known as outlaws, always act like the lower animals. There is no good in them, in spite of all appearances. But those who are legitimate or law-abiding persons may be divided into three transcendental divisions: namely, the lawful workers, the empiric philosophers, and the transcendental devotees. The lawful workers are again divided into two sections: namely, the workers with a desire to enjoy the fruits of their work; and the transcendental workers, without any such desire. The worker with a desire to enjoy the fruits of his work is hankering after transient material happiness, and such a worker is rewarded with worldly or heavenly happiness within the material worlds. But it must be known that all these forms of happiness are temporary. Thus, the worker cannot attain to real happiness, which is permanent and transcendental. This real and transcendental happiness is attained only after liberation from the bondage of material existence. Any action which does not aim at such transcendental happiness is always temporary and baffling.”
When ordinary work aims at such a transcendental objective, this work is called karma-yoga. By this process of karma-yoga, one gradually attains self-purification, then transcendental knowledge, next perfect meditation, and ultimately transcendental service to the Personality of Godhead. Sometimes a mundane worker is misunderstood to be a tapasvī (renunciant) or a mahātmā (great soul) because of the many austerities he performs to attain his mundane goals. But these austerities accepted by such rigid mundaners are, after all, aimed merely at material sense gratification, and therefore these austerities are useless in the transcendental sense. Some of the asuras, or demons, such as Rāvaṇa and Hiraṇyakaśipu, also underwent a severe process of austerity and penance, but they obtained nothing except some temporary objects of sensory pleasure. Therefore, only when one has transcended the limits of sensory pleasure can he be classified as a karma-yogī, or a worker for transcendental results. Real goodness lies in the activities of karma-yoga, even if one is only in the preliminary stages. Further, a karma-yogī makes progressive headway life after life, and this is confirmed as follows in the Bhagavad-gītā (6.43): “Even after successive births, the karma-yogī revives the transcendental sense of service, and by his natural attachment, he tries again to give further perfection to the progress of his transcendental activities.”
Even if such transcendentalists slip away from the path of progress in some way or other, they are again given chances for making progress. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (6.41), they are allowed to take their next birth either in the family of a bona fide brahmaṇa or in the family of a rich merchant who is devoted to the service of Godhead.
But among the transcendental mystics, variously classified as karma-yogīs, dhyāna-yogīs, jñāna-yogīs, haṭha-yogīs, and bhakti-yogīs, the last-named bhakti-yogīs are the greatest of all-because as again confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (6.47), they are always absorbed in the thoughts and actions of transcendental loving service to Godhead.
Obviously, attainment of transcendental loving service to the Personality of Godhead is the ultimate goal of all mysticism. That is the purport of the above-mentioned verse. It is also worth mentioning the statement that Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda makes in this connection: “The mystic who is engaged in the performance of the principle of loving service of Godhead is the highest of all mystics.” One who renders loving service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, with devotion and austerity, is the greatest of all mystics. Men who undertake austerities motivated by a desire for material results cannot be called yogīs or mystics. Those who are not motivated by material results include the empiric philosopher, the mystic pursuing the eightfold mystic perfections, and finally the mystic engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Personality of Godhead.
Factually, the mystic path is uniform and one. It is something like a series of stepping-stones to the highest goal. By accepting this path of mysticism, one becomes a pilgrim toward spiritual perfection. Work with transcendental results is the first stepping-stone on this transcendental path. When empiric philosophical deductions and a desire for renunciation are added, progress is made to the second stepping-stone. When one adds a definite conception of the supreme ruling principle, the Supreme Lord, one progresses to the third stepping-stone. And finally, when a process of transcendental loving service to the Supreme Personality is added, progress is made perfectly to the ultimate goal. The mystic path is therefore a transcendental evolution in which all the above stages are part of the gradual process of spiritual development. It is necessary to mention all the above stages to understand the final stage. Therefore, one who desires to attain to the supreme goal may adopt the systematic mystic path.
But one should not stop simply upon stepping on the first, second, or third stone, but must make his progress complete by going all the way to the final step, the perfect stage of transcendental loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who reaches an intermediate stage but does not make any substantial progress beyond it, merely remaining satisfied with that particular stage of his development, may be called by that particular name, as, for instance, “karma-yogī,” “jñāna-yogī,” “haṭha-yogī,” and so on. For this reason alone are the mystics of different stages named differently. So the conclusion is that although the path of mystic yoga is one, the transcendental devotee is the greatest of all mystics, because he alone follows the path to its ultimate goal.
At this point, it should be noted that progressive development along the transcendental mystic path is not totally identical with ordinary material progress. In the material world one has to pass through a certain stage of development before one can be admitted to the next stage, and there is no alternative to this process of progress. It may be cited, for example, that if somebody wants to pass the M.A. examination, he has to pass through the preliminary examinations, and there is no alternative to this. No one can expect to be admitted into the M.A. level without having passed the other, preliminary examinations. Yet in the transcendental world—although there are approved regulations to bring one from the lower stages to the highest goal by a gradual process of development—one can, by the mercy of Godhead, pass the transcendental M.A. examination without even having passed the preliminary examinations. But this extraordinary mercy of Godhead is possible only by a confidential relationship with the Personality of Godhead. And this confidential relationship with the Personality of Godhead is possible only by the transcendental association of the devotees of the Personality of Godhead.
Each and every soul has a potent, confidential, eternal relationship with the Personality of Godhead. But due to long association with the illusory material energy, every one of us has forgotten that relationship from time immemorial. We are as if roaming in the street like street beggars, although we are all the transcendental sons of the richest personality, the Personality of Godhead. With a cool head, we could very well understand this fact. But unmindful of our supremely rich father and our relationship with Him, we go on endeavoring in many ways to solve our street-beggar problems of poverty and hunger, but with practically no appreciable results. On the streets we meet many friends who are similarly poverty-stricken. Sometimes those who are a little better off than we are direct us toward some progressive stage of life, but actually we do not derive any happiness from such directions. These people show us the paths of work, knowledge, meditation, mysticism, and various other ways also, but unfortunately none of them is able to give us that happiness for which we are ever hankering. For this very reason, Lord Caitanya advised Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī at Daśāśvamedha-ghāṭa, on the bank of the Ganges at Prayāga, that only the most fortunate souls can obtain the seed of devotional service, by the mercy of the Personality of Godhead and His bona fide representative.
Thus, we can get this seed of transcendental devotional service from Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead Himself, in His transcendental message of Bhagavad-gītā. If we are at all able to grasp this genuine message of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the teacher of Bhagavad-gītā, then and only then can we perfectly appreciate the teachings of Bhagavad-gītā. Otherwise, we can go on reading Bhagavad-gītā life after life, and we may write a thousand and one commentaries on it, but all such attempts will prove futile.
What the Personality of Godhead is, He Himself has explained in Bhagavad-gītā. How many common men have written their autobiographies, and how enthusiastically we have read and accepted them. But when the Personality of Godhead Himself tells about Himself, we cannot take it as it is. This is nothing but our misfortune. On the other hand, we try to drag concocted meanings out of the simple passages of Bhagavad-gītā to establish some man-made idea which is never supported by Bhagavad-gītā. By such artificial dragging, one cannot ultimately establish his rubbish theory, but at the end, one confirms the whole thesis by putting a monkey in place of God. In Bhagavad-gītā it is definitively established that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is established, also, that our only duty is to render transcendental loving service unto Him. Thus, once we really understand these two facts from the pages of Bhagavad-gītā, then we can enter into the primary classes of spiritual education.
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