Yoga As Action
In the sixth and eighth chapters of the Bhagavad-gītā, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, explains that the eightfold yoga system is a means to control the mind and senses. This method, however, is very difficult for people to perform, especially in this age of Kali, an age characterized by ignorance and chaos.
Although this eightfold yoga system is particularly recommended in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, the Lord emphasizes that the process of karma-yoga, action in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, is superior. In this world, everyone acts to maintain his family, and everyone is working with a view to some self-interest, or personal sense gratification, be it concentrated or extended. But to act perfectly is to act in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and this means acting detached from the fruits of labor.
It is our duty to act in Kṛṣṇa consciousness because we are constitutionally parts and parcels of the Supreme. The parts of the body work for the satisfaction of the entire body, not for the individual parts. The goal is the satisfaction of the complete whole. Similarly, the living entity should act for the satisfaction of the supreme whole, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and not for his own personal satisfaction. One who can do this is the perfect sannyāsī and the perfect yogi. In the first verse of the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, the chapter dealing with sāṅkhya-yoga, Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa states,
kāryaṁ karma karoti yaḥ
sa sannyāsī ca yogī ca
na niragnir na cākriyaḥ
“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.”
Sometimes sannyāsīs (renunciants) incorrectly think that they have become liberated from all material engagements and therefore no longer have to perform agni-hotra yajñas, or fire sacrifices. This is a mistake. Certain yajñas (sacrifices) have to be performed by everyone for purification. Since sannyāsīs are not traditionally required to perform yajñas, they sometimes think that they can attain liberation by ceasing to perform the ritualistic yajñas, but actually, unless one comes to the platform of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, there is no question of liberation. Those sannyāsīs who cease to perform yajñas are in fact acting out of self-interest, because their goal is to become one with the impersonal Brahman. That is the ultimate goal of the impersonalists (Māyāvādīs), who have one major goal or demand: to become one with the supreme impersonal Being. The devotees have no such demands. They are simply satisfied in serving Kṛṣṇa for the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa. They do not want anything in return. That is the characteristic of pure devotion.
It was Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu who expressed this devotional attitude so succinctly:
kavitāṁ vā jagad-īśa kāmaye
mama janmani janmanīśvare
bhavatād bhaktir ahaitukī tvayi
“O Almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor to enjoy beautiful women. Nor do I want any number of followers. What I want is only the causeless mercy of Your devotional service in my life, birth after birth.” (Śikṣāṣṭaka 4) In essence, this is the bhakti-yoga system. There are many examples of the pure devotional attitude. Once Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva told Prahlāda Mahārāja, “My dear boy, you have suffered so much for Me. Whatever you want, ask for it.” Being a pure devotee, Prahlāda Mahārāja refused to ask for anything. He said, “My dear Master, I am not carrying out mercantile business with You. I will not accept any remuneration for my service.” This is the pure devotional attitude.
Yogis and jñānīs are demanding to become one with the Supreme because they have such bitter experience suffering the material pangs. They want to become one with the Lord because they are suffering in separation. A pure devotee, however, does not experience this. Although separate from the Lord, he fully enjoys the service of the Lord in separation. The desire to become one with the impersonal Brahman, or to merge with God, is certainly greater than any material desire, but this is not without self-interest. Similarly, the mystic yogi who practices the yoga system with half-open eyes, ceasing all material activities, desires some satisfaction for his personal self. Such yogis are desirous of material power, and that is their conception of the perfection of yoga. Actually, this is not the perfection of yoga, but a materialistic process.
If one practices the regulative principles of yoga, he can attain eight kinds of perfection. He can become lighter than a cotton swab. He can become heavier than a great stone. He can immediately get whatever he likes. Sometimes he can even create a planet. Although rare, such powerful yogis actually exist. Viśvāmitra Yogi wanted to beget a man from a palm tree. He was thinking, “Why should a man have to live so many months within the womb of his mother? Why can’t he be produced just like a fruit?” Thinking like this, Viśvāmitra Yogi produced men like coconuts. Sometimes yogis are so powerful, they can perform such acts, but these are all material powers. Ultimately such yogis are vanquished, because they cannot retain these material powers indefinitely. Bhakti-yogīs are not interested in such powers.
The bhakti-yogī, acting in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, works for the satisfaction of the whole without self-interest. A Kṛṣṇa conscious person does not desire self-satisfaction. Rather, his criterion of success is the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa; therefore he is considered the perfect sannyāsī and the perfect yogi.
A pure devotee does not even want salvation. The salvationists want to be saved from rebirth, and the voidists also want to put an end to all material life. Caitanya Mahāprabhu, however, requested only devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa, birth after birth; in other words, Caitanya Mahāprabhu was prepared to endure material miseries in one body after another. What, then, was Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s desire? He wanted to engage in God’s service, and nothing more, for that is the real perfection of yoga.
Whether in the spiritual sky or the material sky, the individual spirit soul is constitutionally the same. It is said that he is one ten-thousandth the part of the tip of a hair. This means that our position is that of a small particle. But spirit can expand. Just as we develop a material body in the material world, we develop a spiritual body in the spiritual world. In the material world, expansion takes place in contact with matter. In the spiritual world, this expansion is spiritual.
Actually, the first lesson of the Bhagavad-gītā is, “I am spirit soul. I am different from this body.” I am a living force, but this material body is not a living force. It is dull matter, and it is activated only because spiritual force is present. In the spiritual world, everything is living force; there is no dead matter. There, the body is totally spiritual. One may compare the spirit soul with oil and the body with water. When oil is in water, there is a distinction, and that distinction always remains. In the spiritual sky, there is no question of oil being placed in water. There, everything is spirit.
The impersonalists do not want to develop a body. They simply want to remain spiritual particles, and that is their idea of happiness. But we bhakti-yogīs (Vaiṣṇavas) want to serve Kṛṣṇa, and therefore we require hands, legs, and all the other bodily parts. Indeed, we are given these bodies in order to serve Kṛṣṇa. Just as we develop a material body in our mother’s womb, we can similarly develop a spiritual body in the spiritual world.
The spiritual body is developed through the practice of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This material body is spiritualized by this bhakti-yoga process. If you place an iron within fire, the iron becomes so hot that it also becomes fiery. When the iron is red hot, it acquires all the qualities of fire. If you touch something with that iron, that iron will act as fire. Similarly, although this body is material, it can become spiritualized through Kṛṣṇa consciousness and act as spirit. Although copper is just a metal, as soon as it comes in contact with electricity, it becomes electrified, and if you touch it, you will receive an electric shock.
As soon as your body is spiritualized, material activity ceases. Material activity means acting for sense gratification. As you become spiritualized, material demands dwindle until they become nil. How is this possible? In order for an iron to act as fire, it must remain constantly in contact with fire. In order for the material body to become spiritualized, one must remain constantly in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. When this material body is fully engaged in spiritual activities, it becomes spiritual.
According to the Vedic system, the body of a high personality, a sannyāsī, is not burned but buried, because a sannyāsī’s body is considered spiritual, having ceased to engage in material activities. If everyone in this world engages fully in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and ceases to work for sense gratification, this entire world will immediately become spiritual. Therefore it is necessary to learn how to work for the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa. This requires a little time to understand. If something is used for Kṛṣṇa’s satisfaction, it is spiritual. Since we are using microphones, typewriters, etc., in order to talk and write about Kṛṣṇa, they become spiritualized. What is the difference between prasāda and ordinary food? Some people may say, “What is this prasāda? We are eating the same food. Why do you call it prasāda?” It is prasāda because it has been offered for Kṛṣṇa’s satisfaction and has thus become spiritualized.
In a higher sense, there is no matter at all. Everything is spiritual. Because Kṛṣṇa is spiritual and matter is one of the energies of Kṛṣṇa, matter is also spiritual. Kṛṣṇa is totally spiritual, and spirit comes from spirit. However, because the living entities are misusing this energy – that is, using it for something other than Kṛṣṇa’s purposes – it becomes materialized, and so we call it matter. The purpose of this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is to respiritualize this energy. It is our purpose to respiritualize the whole world, socially and politically. Of course, this may not be possible, but it is our ideal. At least if we individually take up this respiritualization process, our lives become perfect.
In the Bhagavad-gītā (9.22) Kṛṣṇa says He provides for His devotees by giving them what they lack and preserving what they have. People are very fond of saying that God helps those who help themselves, but they do not understand that helping yourself means putting yourself under Kṛṣṇa’s protection. If one thinks, “Oh, I can help myself. I can protect myself,” one is thinking foolishly. As long as my finger is attached to my body, it is useful, and I may spend thousands of dollars to preserve it. But if this finger is cut off, it is useless and is thrown away. Similarly, we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, and helping ourselves means putting ourselves in our proper position as His parts and parcels. Otherwise we are only fit to be cast away. The finger can help itself only when situated properly on the hand and working on behalf of the entire body. If the finger thinks, “I will separate myself from this body and simply help myself,” that finger will be cast away and will die. As soon as we think, “I shall live independently of Kṛṣṇa,” that is our spiritual death, and as soon as we engage in Kṛṣṇa’s service, as His part and parcel, that is our spiritual life. Therefore, helping oneself means knowing one’s actual position and working accordingly. It is not possible to help oneself without knowing one’s position.
Service means activity, for when we serve someone, we are acting. When we serve Kṛṣṇa, we are preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness, or cooking, or cleansing the temple, or distributing books about Kṛṣṇa, or writing about Him, or shopping for foodstuff to offer Him. There are so many ways to serve. Helping Kṛṣṇa means acting for Him, not sitting down in one place and artificially meditating. Kṛṣṇa consciousness means activity. Whatever assets we have should be utilized for Kṛṣṇa. That is the process of bhakti-yoga. Kṛṣṇa has given us a mind, and we must utilize this mind to think of Kṛṣṇa. We have been given these hands, and we must use them to wash the temple or cook for Kṛṣṇa. We have been given these legs, and we should use them to go to the temple of Kṛṣṇa. We have been given a nose, and we should use it to smell the flowers that have been offered to Kṛṣṇa. Through the process of bhakti-yoga, we engage all these senses in the service of Kṛṣṇa, and in this way the senses are spiritualized.
In the Bhagavad-gītā, Arjuna was refusing to act, and Kṛṣṇa was inspiring him to engage in activity. The entire Bhagavad-gītā is an inspiration to work, to engage in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, to act on Kṛṣṇa’s behalf. Kṛṣṇa never tells Arjuna, “My dear friend Arjuna, don’t concern yourself with this war. Just sit down and meditate upon Me.” This is not the message of the Bhagavad-gītā. We are not to refrain from all activity, but only from those activities that impede our consciousness of Kṛṣṇa. Meditation means stopping all nonsensical activity. Those who are advanced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness are constantly working for Kṛṣṇa.
A mother tells only her bad child to sit down and do nothing. If a child can do nothing but disturb his mother, the mother says, “My dear child, just sit down here and keep quiet.” But if the child can work nicely, the mother says, “My dear child, will you please help me do this? Will you go over there and do that?” Sitting still in one place is just for those who do not know how to work sensibly. As long as the child sits in one place, he does not raise havoc. Sitting still means negating nonsense; it is not positive activity. In negation, there is no life. Positive activities constitute life, and positive activity is the message of the Bhagavad-gītā. Spiritual life is not “Don’t do this.” Spiritual life is “Do this!” In order to act properly, there are certain things one must know not to do; therefore certain activities are forbidden. The whole Bhagavad-gītā, however, is “do.” Kṛṣṇa says, “Fight for Me.” At the beginning of the Bhagavad-gītā (2.2), when Arjuna told Kṛṣṇa, “I will not fight,” Śrī Kṛṣṇa said,
anārya juṣṭam asvargyaṁ
“My dear Arjuna, how have these impurities come upon you? They are not at all befitting a man who knows the progressive values of life. They lead not to higher planets, but to infamy.” Kṛṣṇa directly tells Arjuna that he is speaking like a non-Āryan – that is, like one who does not know the spiritual values of life. So Kṛṣṇa consciousness does not mean sitting down idly.
Kṛṣṇa Himself does not sit down idly. All His pastimes are filled with activity. When we go to the spiritual world, we will see that Kṛṣṇa is always engaged in dancing, eating, and enjoying. He does not sit down to meditate. Is there any account of the gopīs meditating? Did Caitanya Mahāprabhu sit down to meditate? No, He was always dancing and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. The spirit soul is naturally active. How can we sit down silently and do nothing? It is not possible. Therefore, after Śrī Kṛṣṇa outlined the sāṅkhya-yoga system in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, Arjuna frankly said,
etasyāhaṁ na paśyāmi
cañcalatvāt sthitiṁ sthirām
“O Madhusūdana [Kṛṣṇa], the system of yoga You have summarized appears impractical and unendurable to me, for the mind is restless and unsteady.” (Bhagavad-gītā 6.33) Although Arjuna was highly elevated and was Kṛṣṇa’s intimate friend, he immediately refused to take up this sāṅkhya-yoga system. In essence, he said, “It is not possible for me.” How could it have been possible? Arjuna was a warrior, a householder, and he wanted a kingdom. What time did he have for meditation? He flatly refused to practice this type of meditational yoga, saying that the mind is as difficult to control as the wind (Bhagavad-gītā 6.34). That is a fact. It is not possible to control the mind artificially; therefore we must engage the mind in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Then it is controlled. If Arjuna found this process more difficult than controlling the wind, then what of us? After all, Arjuna was not an ordinary man. He was personally talking with the Supreme Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and he proclaimed the mind to be like a great wind. How can we control the wind? We can control the mind only by fixing it on Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet. That is the perfection of meditation.
No one really wants to sit down and meditate. Why should we? We’re meant for positive activity, for recreation, for pleasure. In Kṛṣṇa consciousness, our recreation is dancing and chanting, and when we get tired, we take prasāda. Is dancing difficult? Is chanting difficult? We don’t charge anything to dance in the temple. If you go to a ballroom, you have to pay to enter, but we do not charge. It is natural to enjoy music and dancing and palatable foods. These are our recreations, and this is our method of meditation. So this yoga system is not at all laborious. It is simply recreation, susukham. It is stated in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā (9.2) that this yoga is susukham – very happy. “It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” It is natural, automatic, and spontaneous. It is our real life in the spiritual world.
In Vaikuṇṭha, the spiritual world, there is no anxiety. Vaikuṇṭha means “freedom from anxiety,” and in Vaikuṇṭha the liberated souls are always dancing, chanting, and taking prasāda. There are no factories, hard work, or technical institutions. There is no need for these artificial things. In the Vedānta-sūtra it is stated, ānandamayo ’bhyāsāt: God is ānandamaya, full of bliss and pleasure. Since we are part and parcel of God, we also possess these same qualities. So the goal of our yoga process is to join with the supreme ānandamaya, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, to join His dance party. Then we will actually be happy.
On this earth we are trying to be happy artificially and are therefore frustrated. Once we are situated in Kṛṣṇa consciousness we will revive our original position and become simply joyful. Since our actual nature is ānandamaya, blissful, we are always searching for happiness. In the cities we are inundated with advertisements. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and dance halls are always announcing, “Come on, here is ānanda. Here is pleasure.” That is because everyone is searching for ānanda, pleasure. Our society for Kṛṣṇa consciousness is also announcing, “Here is ānanda,” but our standard of pleasure is very different. In any case, the goal – pleasure – is the same.
Most people are hunting for pleasure on the gross material platform. The more advanced search for pleasure in speculation, philosophy, poetry, or art. The bhakti-yogī, however, searches for pleasure on the transcendental platform, and that is his only business. Why are people working so hard all day? They are thinking, “Tonight I shall enjoy. Tonight I will associate with this girl or with my wife.” Thus people are going to so much trouble to acquire a little pleasure. Pleasure is the ultimate goal, but unfortunately, under illusion, people do not know where real pleasure is to be found. Real pleasure exists eternally in the transcendental form of Kṛṣṇa.
Perhaps you have seen pictures of Kṛṣṇa, and if so, you have noticed that Kṛṣṇa is always jolly. If you join His society, you will also become jolly. Have you ever seen pictures of Kṛṣṇa working with a machine? Have you ever seen pictures of Kṛṣṇa smoking? No, He is by nature full of pleasure, and if you unfold yourself in that way, if you wholeheartedly take up the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, you will also find pleasure. Pleasure cannot be found artificially.
tābhir ya eva nija-rūpatayā kalābhiḥ
goloka eva nivasaty akhilātma-bhūto
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, residing in His own realm, Goloka, with Rādhā, resembling His own spiritual figure, the embodiment of the ecstatic potency possessed of the sixty-four artistic activities, in the company of Her confidantes (sakhīs), embodiments of the extensions of Her bodily form, permeated and vitalized by His ever-blissful spiritual rasa.” (Brahma-saṁhitā 5.37)
The word rasa means “taste,” or “mellow.” We enjoy sweets or candy because of their taste. Everyone is trying to enjoy some taste, and we want to enjoy sex because there is some taste there. That is called ādi taste. Material tastes are different because they are tasted and quickly finished. Material tastes last only a few minutes. You may take a piece of candy, taste it, and say, “Oh, that is very nice,” but you have to taste another in order to continue the enjoyment. Material taste is not unlimited, but real taste is without end. Spiritual taste cannot be forgotten; it goes on increasing. Ānandāmbudhi-vardhanam. Caitanya Mahāprabhu says, “This taste is always increasing.” Spiritual taste is like the ocean in the sense that it is very great. The Pacific Ocean is always tossing, but it is not increasing. By God’s order, the ocean does not extend beyond its limit, and if it extends, there is havoc. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu says that there is another ocean, an ocean of transcendental bliss, an ocean that is always increasing. Ānandāmbudhi-vardhanaṁ prati-padaṁ pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanaṁ/ sarvātma-snapanaṁ paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam. By chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, our pleasure potency increases more and more.
One who has realized Śrī Kṛṣṇa is always living in Vṛndāvana, Vaikuṇṭha. Although a devotee may seem to be living in some place far from Vṛndāvana, he is always living in Vṛndāvana, because he knows that Kṛṣṇa is present everywhere, even within the atom. The Supreme Lord is bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest. Once we are fully realized and established in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we never lose sight of Kṛṣṇa, and our bliss is always increasing. This is the true yoga system, bhakti-yoga, as expounded by Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself in the Bhagavad-gītā.