Karma-yoga: The Art of Spiritual Work
by Çréla Bhaktivedänta Svämé Mahäräja
[NOTE: This page uses Balarama font (available here)
for better transliteration of Sanskrit into English]
The Foolish Materialist
Out of compassion, Çré Kåñëa and His devotee Arjuna instructed the bewildered jévas to perform karma-yoga. If they had not shown this path, these jévas, who have fallen into the cycle of fruitive action, would simply continue to suffer untold miseries. The illusory energy, mäyä, has enslaved these pitiable materialists and stolen away their knowledge. Consequently, they are unable to even recognise that they are undergoing countless calamities. They may think themselves the doers, but mäyä is chastising them continuously. Çré Kåñëa explains this clearly in Bhagavad-gétä (3.27):
guëaiù karmäëi sarvaçaù
kartäham iti manyate
“The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego
thinks himself the doer of activities that are actually carried
out by the three modes of material nature.”
Because the less intelligent materialist has forgotten Kåñëa, he cannot even recognise his own futile attempts to usurp Kåñëa. Thus, Çré Kåñëa’s divine illusory energy has bound him with the three modes of goodness, passion and ignorance and hurled him into a web of diverse material activities, in which he has become deeply entangled. Mäyä manifests the materialist’s various fruitive activities according to his desires for sense gratification, which spring from the three modes. Thus, the materialist, who foolishly thinks himself the doer, confines himself in the prison house of sensual pleasure and suffering.
Sri Kåñëa, the Complete Whole
The Supreme Lord, Çré Kåñëa, has revealed to us that every jéva is a separated part and parcel of the Supreme. The duty of a part is to serve the whole. The hands, legs, eyes, ears, nose and so on are parts
of a whole, namely, the body. The hands and legs work hard to provide the stomach with food without
ever desiring to enjoy separately from it; nor would such enjoyment be possible anyway. In fact, if the
parts of the body were to engage in such senseless behaviour, they would mutilate the body. The hand
and legs, unable to enjoy in any way, would become weak by not having fed the stomach. This has been
nicely illustrated in a fable in Hitopadeça called “Udarendriyäëäm” (“The Story of the Stomach and
Lord Kåñëa is the life-source of the gigantic body of the universe. The Bhagavad-gétä explains repeatedly, and in various ways, that He is the root of the tree of this universe. It specifically states:
mattaù parataraà nänyat
kiïcid asti dhanaïjaya
Published in 1950
O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.
ahaà hi sarvayajïänäà
bhoktä ca prabhur eva ca
I am the only enjoyer and master of all sacrifices. Therefore, those who do not recognise My true transcendental nature fall down.
na mäà duñkåtino müdhäù
Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen
by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto Me.
Thus, Çré Kåñëa alone is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and every living entity is His eternal servant. Where, then, is there any scope for further argument? We have forgotten this simple fact. Instead of engaging our mind and senses in the service of Çré Jagannätha, the Lord of the universe, we believe ourselves to be little “Jagannäthas” and direct our mind and senses in trying to enjoy worldly pleasures. This is called mäyä, illusion. It is sheer madness to serve the universe (jagat) and neglect its Lord (viz. Jagannätha).
A Utopia for Demons
Nowadays, we witness occasional attempts to re-establish the utopian kingdom of Lord Räma, but without Räma. This is but the work of an assembly of Rävaëas trying to denounce Lord Räma and
annihilate Him. It is difficult to see how Räma’s kingdom can ever be established by such misguided efforts.
To establish Räma’s kingdom, one must engage everything in this world in His service. The endeavour to eliminate Lord Räma or His loving pastimes with His consort or energy is in fact an affair of the
kingdom of demons. For this transgression, the community of Rävaëas is uprooted and defeated by the servants of Lord Räma, that is, by the Hanumäns. One should accept the shelter of karmayoga, as instructed by Çré Kåñëa, so that one, too, does not make this mistake.
True Knowledge of the Self
Materialists are foolish and ignorant, while those who are well versed in the truth make up the learned
community. Such learned persons know that the modes of nature and the activities of this world
associated with them are controlled by material nature and are wholly unrelated to the soul’s true nature. Therefore, unlike the ignorant, they do not engage themselves in material activities, which are governed by the modes. Their activities are a sacrifice, or yajïa, performed solely for the satisfaction of Viñëu. They remain forever free from identifying themselves with this material body, and endeavour simply to develop the constitutional occupation of the soul, ätmadharma.
Such learned persons understand that the jéva has, by some circumstance, come into contact with material nature. Therefore, they remain aloof from material activities even while their material senses – such as their eyes, ears and nose – are in contact with matter. In this regard, Çré Kåñëa states:
tattva-vit tu mahä-bäho
iti matvä na sajjate
One who is in knowledge of the Absolute Truth, O mighty-armed,
does not engage himself in the senses and sense gratification,
knowing well the differences between work in devotion and
work for fruitive results.
Beyond Material Designations
Lord Kåñëa further instructs us on how to achieve such a liberated state:
mayi sarväëi karmäëi
niräçér nirmamo bhütvä
ye me matam idaà nityam
ucyante te ’pi karmabhiù
Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with full
Knowledge of Me, without desiresfor profit, with no claims to proprietorship,
and free from lethargy, fight.
Those persons who, without envy, execute their duties according to
My injunctions and who follow this teaching faithfully become
free from the bondage of fruitive actions.
Conceptions such as “I am the mind”, “This body is me”, “I am a material entity” and “Everything associated with my body is mine”, display ignorance of the Absolute Reality. Such ideas check us from knowing the truth. Therefore Çré Kåñëa has instructed us to fully imbibe knowledge of the self and to be situated in the self. Only by doing so will we be able to understand that we are not these material bodies or minds but eternal entities emanating from the Lord’s superior spiritual energy.
When we realise the serenity of this transcendental reality, we automatically become detached from
material nature and find relief from the happiness and distress that result from the senses contacting their sense objects. The false ego is then automatically subdued. At that time we become liberated from all material designations, and we thereby also become free of a material conception of the Supreme Entity. Thus purified, we find relief from the blazing fire of material existence.
The Foolish and the Faithful
Çré Kåñëa alone is the Supreme Entity, as evidenced by all the scriptures. Even scriptures from countries
other than India, such as the Bible and Koran, indicate boldly that Çré Kåñëa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. What then to speak of the Bhagavad-gétä, in which the Supreme Lord Himself declares (7.7):
mattaù parataraà nänyat
kiïcid asti dhanaïjaya
O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to
Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung
on a thread.
Thus, as soon as we come in contact with Kåñëa, we come face to face with the transcendental sun. When the sun rises, everything is properly illuminated by its rays. As the transcendental sun of Çré Kåñëa rises in the sky of the jéva’s pure existence, the darkness of nescience is immediately dissipated. Then, endeavours to serve Çré Kåñëa become free from the contamination of jïäna, knowledge aimed at impersonal realisation, and of karma, reward-seeking activity.
To foolish, sinful persons, this subject appears simply to be exaggerated praise. But it is not a tall tale told for the pleasure of children; it is the factual truth. Only those who have taken shelter of Çré Kåñëa or His devotees can realise the reality of these subjects. Irrational people with a distorted mentality pretend to be Kåñëa, being envious of Him. But all such disobedient people who do not agree with the facts presented herein are extremely foolish. Kåñëa Himself declares:
avajänanti mäà müòha
mänuñià tanum äçritam
Fools deride Me when I descend in human form.
They do not know My transcendental nature as the
Supreme Lord of all that be.
These people deride Kåñëa, and therefore knowledge of Kåñëa does not easily enter their perverted minds, which are deranged by mäyäväda thought.
The faithful Vaiñëavas who possess sukåti, spiritual merits, and who are simple and sincere, completely accept what has been written in Bhagavad-gétä. This simple subject matter described therein is selfluminous like the sun. It cannot be covered by the darkness of mäyäväda. The Vaiñëavas will not
tolerate the mischief of presenting secondary and inferior explanations of the Gétä and labelling them
“spiritual”. Those who are Çré Kåñëa’s servants fully embrace the concept of karma-yoga as defined by
Çré Kåñëa Himself (Bhagavad-gétä 3.30): “mayi sarväëi karmaëi sannyasya – fully surrender all your works unto Me.” Thus, by practising karmayoga, the Vaiñëavas are impervious to the great fear of becoming entangled in fruitive activities.
Such faithful people are not bound by the limits of any country, caste or society. The devotees of Çré Kåñëa can take birth anywhere, without concern for caste, religion, society or country. Bhagavän is not
bound by man-made limitations. As a result, the entire humankind can benefit from the instructions
of Bhagavad-gétä. In the Gétä, Çré Kåñëa states unequivocally:
mäà hi pärtha vyapäçritya
’pi syuù päpayonayaù
striyo vaiçyas thathä çudräs
te ‘pi yänti paräà gatim
O son of Påthä, the abominable and outcaste dogeaters
(cänòälas), women as fallen as prostitutes,and people born
in the lower classes of society likethe merchants (vaiçyas)
and labourers (çüdras) can immediately attain the
destination specifically by taking shelter of exclusive
devotional service to Me.
The Divine System of Varëäçrama
The heinous activities that go on in society in the name of caste and creed and which are influenced by selfish and demoniac motives, cannot hinder one’s relationship with Kåñëa. Bhagavän Çré Kåñëa has said
the following regarding the proper classification of society based on scriptural injunctions:
cätur-varëyaà mayä såñöaà
tasya kartäram api mäà
viddhy akartäram avyayam
According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable. A doctor’s qualifications are earned by his natural
qualities and activities, not his birth. Similarly, the four divisions of society – namely, brähmaëa, kñatriya, vaiçya and çüdra – are governed by a person’s natural propensities and activities, not his parentage. This material world is influenced by the three modes of material nature, and the classification of human society based upon these modes and the work associated with them has existed since time immemorial. Society has always been divided into four classes in this way – never by parentage.
There will always be doctors in every country of the world. Similarly, the four divisions of brähmaëa,
kñatriya, vaiçya and çüdra are also present everywhere at all times. One does not qualify to become a
doctor simply by being the son of a doctor, and one also does not qualify as a brähmaëa merely by being the son of a brähmaëa. The qualities of each division have been delineated clearly in the scriptures. Therefore, our vision of a brähmaëa, kñatriya, vaiçya or çüdra as belonging to a particular place or birth is clearly faulty.
Indian culture has become restricted by the hereditary caste system, like a frog trapped in a well. If
the teachings of the saints of India were preached throughout the world in the true and magnanimous
brahminical spirit, there would be no scarcity of peace and happiness. The world can experience bliss and harmony only by the propagation of brahminical culture. However, by subjecting people to the hereditary caste system – thus mistakenly calling a doctor’s son a doctor, though he may lack all the qualities of a doctor – the Vedic brahminical culture has been gravely damaged in India, with very negative repercussions for the rest of the world.
Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu has propagated this brahminical culture as jaiva-dharma, the eternal function of the soul, thereby opening the way to boundless peace and happiness for the world. Those who are fortunate can perfect their lives by practicing this divine varëäçrama culture.
The demoniac varëäçrama-dharma is not the same as the divine one. The division of society based on scripture is the same for all places and times. If anyone scrutinises this system in the light of scriptural injunctions, it will become evident that these four classes of society in fact exist everywhere. People with the qualities and work of a brähmaëa can be found in all countries, whether in large or small numbers. Similarly, people in all parts of the world can also be categorised as kñatriyas, vaiçyas or
çüdras, based on the modes of material nature and the work associated with those modes. Thus, the
division of society into four classes based on qualification and occupation is universal and eternal: it existed in the past, prevails now and shall continue to exist in the future.
Srila Prabhupada Page