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The Yoga for Our Age

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Keep On Working—But with a Higher Desire

Ages ago, yoga (“linking up with the Supreme”) meant giving up all work and all desire.
Now that’s no longer possible—or even preferable.

by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

sri-bhagavan uvaca
anasritah karma-phalam
karyam karma karoti yah
sa sannyasi ca yogi ca
na niragnir na cakriyah

1978-10-02

In a past age, by strictly restraining his mind and senses a yoga saw the Lord in his heart. But we can attain the same result by working with devotion.

“The Blessed Lord said: One who is unattached to the fruits of his work and who works as he is obligated is in the renounced order of life, and he is the true mystic—not he who lights no fire and performs no work.” [Bhagavad-gita 6.1]

In this Sixth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, the Lord explains that the eightfold yoga system is a means to control the mind and the senses. However, this process is very difficult for people in general to perform, especially in this age of Kali [quarrel and hypocrisy]. Although the eightfold yoga system is recommended in this chapter, the Lord emphasizes that the process of karma-yoga, or acting in Krsna consciousness, is better.

In this world everyone acts to maintain his family members and their paraphernalia, but no one is working without some self-interest-some desire for personal gratification-be it concentrated or extended. But this is not the perfection of work. The criterion of perfection is to act in Krsna consciousness, not with a view to enjoy the fruits of work.

To act in Krsna consciousness is the duty of every living entity, because we are constitutionally part and parcel of the Supreme. The parts of the body work for the satisfaction of the whole body. The limbs of the body do not act for self-satisfaction but for the satisfaction of the complete whole. Similarly, the living entity who acts for the satisfaction of the supreme whole and not for personal satisfaction is the perfect sannyasi [renunciant] and the perfect yogi.

In a past age, by strictly restraining his mind and senses a yogi saw the Lord in his heart. But we can attain the same result by working with devotion.

Impersonalistic sannyasis sometimes artificially think that they have become liberated from all material engagements, and therefore they cease to perform agnihotra yajnas (fire sacrifices). But actually, unless one comes to the standard platform of Krsna consciousness, there is no question of liberation. Liberation means to be free of all self-interest. But the impersonalists are self-interested, because their goal is to become one with the supreme, impersonal Brahman. So they have a demand.

But a devotee has no demand. He simply engages himself in the service of Krsna for the satisfaction of Krsna, and he does not want anything in return. That is pure devotion. As Lord Caitanya says, na dhanam na janam na sundarim kavitam va jagad-isa kamaye: “O Lord of the universe, I do not want any wealth, I do not want any number of followers, I do not want a nice wife. Simply let me be engaged in Your service, that’s all.” This is the bhakti-yoga system.

We see another example of this pure devotion when Lord Nrsimhadeva says to Prahlada Maharaja, “My dear boy, you have suffered for Me so much. Whatever you want, you can have.” But Prahlada refuses the offer: “My dear master, I am not doing mercantile business with You, in which I will take some remuneration from You for my service.” This is pure devotion.

So the impersonalistic yogis and jnanis demand that they become one with the Supreme. Why do they want to become one with the Supreme? Because, on account of separation from the Supreme, they have bitter experience of the material pangs. But a devotee has no such suffering. Although separate from the Lord, the devotee is fully enjoying in the service of the Lord.

Of course, the desire to become one with the Supreme is greater than any material desire, but it is not without self-interest. Similarly, the mystic yogi who ceases all material activities and practices the yoga system with half-closed eyes also desires some satisfaction for his personal self. He wants some material power. That is the result of mystic yoga practice. If you are actually practicing the regulative principles of mystic yoga, then you can get eight kinds of perfection. You can become lighter than a cotton swab. You can become heavier than a boulder. You can get anything-whatever you like—immediately. Such powerful yogis exist. Visvamitra Yogi, for example, wanted to get human beings from a palm tree. He thought, “Why should people be born only after living nine months within the womb of a mother? Let them be produced just like fruit.” And he actually did it.

So sometimes yogis are so powerful that they can do wonderful things. But these are all material powers. In time such yogis are also vanquished. How long can one remain living on the strength of material power? But the bhakti-yogi does not want any such powers. A person acting in Krsna consciousness works for the satisfaction of the whole, without self-interest. He has no desire for self-satisfaction. His criterion is the satisfaction of Krsna, and thus he is the perfect sannyasi and the perfect yogi. As quoted before, Lord Caitanya’s prayer shows that He is the highest perfectional symbol of Krsna consciousness:

na dhanam na janam na sundarim
kavitam va jagad-isa kamaye
mama janmani janmanisvare
bhavatad bhaktir ahaituki tvayi

“O Almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor to enjoy beautiful women, nor to have any number of followers. I want only the causeless mercy of Your devotional service in my life, birth after birth.” [Siksastaka 4]

A devotee does not want even salvation. That is why Lord Caitanya says “birth after birth.” The salvationists and the voidists want to stop this material way of life. But Caitanya Mahaprabhu says “birth after birth.” This means He is prepared to undergo all kinds of material pangs, birth after birth. Then what does He want? He simply wants to be engaged in the service of the Lord. That is the perfection of yoga.

Are there any questions?

Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, I’ve read that the spiritual soul is no bigger than one ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair. In the spiritual sky is the spiritual soul still just that big?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is his constitutional position. Whether in the spiritual sky or the material sky, he’s the same. But just as in the material world you develop a material body, so in the spiritual world you can develop a spiritual body. You follow? Your position is that of a small particle, but spirit can expand. In the material world this expansion is being done in contact with matter. And in the spiritual world, that expansion can be done in spirit. Here in the material world I am a spiritual soul, but I am different from my body-because the body is matter and I am living force. And in the spiritual world, everything is living force. There is no dead matter. Therefore, everyone’s body is spiritual.

Entering the spiritual world is just like mixing oil with oil: there is nothing but oil, that’s all. But the material world is like a mixture of oil and water: there is a distinction between the spiritual living entities and the material nature. So I am a spiritual soul, like a drop of oil. Now I am in the “water” of the material energy, and there is a distinction. But if I am put into the “oil” of the spiritual world, then everything’s all right.

The impersonalists do not want to develop a spiritual body. They simply want to remain as spiritual particles. That is their idea. But we Vaisnavas [devotees] want to serve Krsna. Therefore we require hands, legs, a mouth, a tongue-everything. And in the spiritual world we are given a suitable body. Just as you get your present body from the womb of your mother, so you can get a spiritual body in the spiritual world-not from the womb of a mother, but by another process.

Devotee: How does that process work?

Srila Prabhupada: The practice of Krsna consciousness turns your material body into a spiritual body. It is something like putting an iron bar into a fire. The more the iron bar stays in the fire, the more it becomes like fire. When the iron bar is red-hot, it has acquired the qualities of fire. You can touch the iron bar anywhere, and it will act like fire. Another example is electrified metal. A copper wire is not electricity, but when it is electrified you will immediately get an electric shock if you touch it. Similarly, if your body is spiritualized, then material activity is ended.

By “material activity” I mean sense gratification. The more one becomes spiritualized, the more his material demands become nil. Finally, there are no more material activities. So how can you come to that platform? The first example is appropriate: you have to keep the iron bar constantly within the fire. In other words, you have to keep yourself constantly in Krsna consciousness. Then even your material body is spiritualized.

The Sanskrit word svarna-maya means “golden.” Something can be called svarna-maya when it is made of pure gold or when it is made of something else but has a thick coating of gold. Similarly, when one’s material body performs only spiritual activities, it is spiritual, although seemingly still composed of material elements. Therefore, in India saintly persons are not cremated after death. Of course, here in America everyone is put into the grave after passing away. But in India, in accordance with the Vedic system, only the bodies of very high personalities, especially the bodies of great devotees, are not burned. Their bodies are considered spiritual.

How have they become spiritual? When your body is no longer engaged in any material activities but simply in spiritual activities in Krsna consciousness, your body is spiritual. Similarly, if everyone in this world became fully Krsna conscious—if nobody worked for sense gratification but only for the satisfaction of Krsna—this world would immediately become the spiritual world.

This idea requires a little time to understand. The point is that anything used for Krsna-simply for Krsna’s satisfaction-is spiritual. Because we are using this microphone for talking about Krsna, it is spiritual. Similarly, we are preparing food for Krsna and offering it to Him with love, and it is becoming prasada, “the Lord’s mercy.” Now, what is the difference between prasada and ordinary food? When we distribute prasada, people sometimes say, “Why is this prasada? We eat the same fruit—you have simply cut it into pieces, and it has become prasada?” They can say that, but factually it is prasada. If you go on eating prasada, you become spiritualized. Again, the example of the iron rod is appropriate. If I take that hot iron rod and I say, “It is fire,” somebody may say, “Oh, why is it fire? It is iron.” So I say, “Touch it…… You see? These are crude examples, but they give the idea.

So actually, in a higher sense there is no matter. Everything is spiritual—because Krsna, the source of everything, is spiritual. Krsna is the whole spirit, and matter is one of the energies of Krsna. Therefore, matter is also spirit. But because the material energy is being misused—because it is not being used for the purpose of Krsna—we call it “matter.” So our Krsna consciousness movement aims to respiritualize the whole thing-the whole social situation, political situation, and everything else. It is a very nice movement. People should try to understand it. Actually, we are trying to spiritualize the whole world. Of course, that may not be possible, but the ideal is like that. And at least if individually one tries this respiritualization method, his life becomes perfect.

Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says He will provide for His devotees. Then what is the meaning of the saying, “God helps those who help themselves”?

Srila Prabhupada: “Helping yourself” means that you put yourself under Krsna’s direction. That is helping yourself. And if you think, “Oh, I can provide for myself,” then you are not helping yourself.

For example, as long as my finger is connected to my hand, I will spend thousands of dollars to cure it if there is some trouble. But if my finger is cut off from my body, you can trample it down with your feet and I won’t care about it. Similarly, to help oneself means to put oneself in the proper position, as part and parcel of Krsna. That is really helping yourself. Otherwise, how can you help yourself?

The finger can help itself by keeping itself in the proper position—as, part of the hand-and in that way working for the whole body. That is the finger’s proper position. But if the finger thinks, “I shall remain separated from this body and help myself,” it will die.

So as soon as you think, “I shall independently, without caring for Krsna,” that is your death. And as soon as you engage yourself as part and parcel of Krsna, that is your life. Therefore, helping yourself means to know your position and to work in that way. That is helping yourself. But without knowing what your position is, how can you help yourself? It is not possible.

Guest: Can we also serve Krsna just by not doing anything bad? Wouldn’t that also help Krsna—refraining from sinful acts?

Srila Prabhupada: If you want to serve Krsna, that means you must do something. Serving means doing. What do you mean by the word “serve”? When you actually serve somebody, are you not doing something? So you can serve Krsna by going to teach Krsna consciousness, by cooking for Him, by cleansing His temple—by doing so many things. Helping Krsna means doing something for Him. Helping Krsna does not mean that you sit down tightly, but that you act in Krsna consciousness.

Whatever assets you have, utilize them for Krsna. That is bhakti, or devotional service. Now, what assets do you have? You have your mind. All right—think of Krsna. You have hands—wash the temple or cook for Krsna. You have legs—go to the temple of Krsna. You have a nose—smell the flowers offered to Krsna. In this way you can engage everything in Krsna’s service.

So Krsna consciousness means working, activity. On the Battlefield of Kuruksetra Arjuna was declining to act, and Krsna was enthusing him to act. This is the whole purport of Bhagavad-gita. Krsna consciousness does not mean that you give up work, but that you engage yourself in work-for Krsna.

Of course, in this Sixth Chapter Krsna will say something about meditation, but He never says to Arjuna, “My dear friend Arjuna, don’t fight this way. Just sit down and meditate upon Me.” Have you seen this anywhere in the Bhagavad-gita? No. In the beginning of meditation one may stop all nonsensical work and sit down tightly. But those who are advanced in Krsna consciousness should work for Krsna.

For example, suppose a child is creating some disturbance. The mother says, “My dear child, sit down here.” But if the child can work nicely, the mother says, “Oh, my dear boy, you have to do this, you have to do that, you have to do that.”

So you should sit down tightly and refrain from doing nonsense, but not from doing sensible things. Of course, when one sits down, at least he does not do any nonsense. But that is simply negation of nonsense, that’s all. That is not positive activity. Krsna consciousness means doing positive activities for Krsna.

Negation of activity is not life. Positive activity is life. “Don’t do this” is not life. “Do this” is life. The whole Bhagavad-gita is “do.” “Do fight for Me,” says Krsna. Arjuna pleaded, “Don’t induce me to fight,” but Krsna did not like that. “You are speaking like a non-Aryan. [anarya-justam],” He told Arjuna. Kutas tva kasmalam idam: “How have these impurities come upon you?”

So Krsna consciousness does not mean sitting idly. No. All the pastimes of Krsna are full of activities. When you go to the spiritual world, Krsna is always dancing. Twenty-four hours a day you have to dance there and eat there. Where is the sitting down? There is no question of sitting down. Have you heard anything about the gopis [Krsna’s cowherd girlfriends] meditating? Sitting down? [Laughter.] Have you heard of this? And what were Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s activities? Simply dancing, chanting Hare Krsna. You see?

You are a spiritual soul, so how can you stop yourself from acting and simply remain silent? That is not possible. Arjuna refused to do this. You’ll find in this chapter that when Krsna recommended, “My dear Arjuna, this is how one meditates,” Arjuna immediately refused. “My dear Krsna, it is not possible for me.”

And that was actually the fact. How could it have been possible for him? He was a householder, he wanted a kingdom, he wanted to rule over the country. Where was the time for his meditation? So he flatly refused: “My dear Krsna, it is not possible for me.” He said:

cancalam hi manah krsna
pramathi balavad drdham
tasyaham nigraham manye
vayor iva su-duskaram

“My dear Krsna, You are asking me to control the mind, but it is so powerful and restless that I think controlling the mind is as hard as controlling the wind.” [Bg. 6.34]

If there is a high wind, can you control it? Yet it is a fact that the mind is as difficult to control as a high wind—Arjuna gives this example. But if you engage the mind in thinking of Krsna, then it is controlled.

Otherwise, artificially, you cannot control it. It is impossible. It was impossible for Arjuna—what to speak of others. Who was Arjuna? He was personally talking with Krsna. Do you think he was an ordinary man? No, he was a great man. And even he said that it is impossible to control the mind. So you can control the mind only when you fix the mind on Krsna’s lotus feet. Then no nonsense can come within your mind, but simply Krsna. That is the perfection of meditation.

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