Living beings are constantly active – Animals, plants, humans et al. The material atmosphere induces struggle. A delicate balance sustains the various spheres of existence. It brooks no excess. Either of the body or the mind, happiness is a fragile harmony of vulnerable factors. Living beings seeking fulfilment in the material realm strive hard without assurance of success. Uncertainty brings anxiety and success little satisfaction. This is the saga of the soul wishing to express his inborn, joyful freedom in a severely constricting environment.
The stringent laws of Karma that govern every action impose reactions, which unfold with the inexorable passage of time. The wily material energy keeps the soul riveted to material conceptions imbued with captivating dualities. This is the dance of gunas, kala, and karma – nature, time and karma.
An Alternative Life Path
Within this atmosphere is a systematic way of action that Lord Krishna delineates in the Bhagavad-Gita. Laying down principles and paradigms, Lord Krishna guides the human being to a path that leads to liberation from material bondage. This is the path of Yoga.
The soul is naturally without anxieties. Death, disease hunger and thirst are foreign to his nature. In the pure state, his actions are not impelled by illusion and have no karmic reactions. In his spiritual home, he lives in a mood of pure loving devotion to the Supreme Lord. It is an eternal life full of knowledge and bliss. But, by his own nature he has the propensity to fall into illusion and consequently into suffering.
The Bhagavad-Gita is meant for the fallen soul to restore himself to his original position. The purpose of the Gita is nothing mundane. It is not meant to fulfil material aspirations but to completely transcend them in such a way as to leave the ephemeral experience far behind.
Yoga: A Way of Life
Yoga is not a system of physical exercise as is falsely understood in the modern age. Yoga is a way of life that leads to self and God realisation. In the sixth chapter verse 17 Lord Krishna states,
yogo bhavati duḥkha-hā
“He who is temperate in his habits of eating, sleeping, working and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.” BG 6.17
Lord Krishna advises regulation in the matter of eating, sleeping, recreation and work. He clearly states that such a lifestyle of yoga can “mitigate all material pains.” Thus the yogic lifestyle makes for dissipation of suffering while in the material world.
Krishna further teaches yoga as disciplining the mind,
yadā viniyataṁ cittam
yukta ity ucyate tadā
“When the yogī, by practice of yoga, disciplines his mental activities and becomes situated in Transcendence-devoid of all material desires-he is said to have attained yoga.” BG 6.18
The worldly experience triggers thoughts in the material duality. It is important for the yogi intent on self-realisation to rise above such thoughts and fix his mind on the transcendent self. An introspective practitioner guided by mature spiritual understanding can achieve this mental self-discipline. Cultivation of transcendental knowledge is hence vital for the yogi.
Working in Yoga
With regards to work, the Gita guides the yogi thus,
yoga-sthaḥ kuru karmāṇi
saṅgaṁ tyaktvā dhanañjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoḥ samo bhūtvā
samatvaṁ yoga ucyate
“Be steadfast in yoga, O Arjuna. Perform your duty and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga.” BG 2.48
The yogi should perform work with the goal of pleasing the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. While his endeavours are sincere, the results are accepted as the Lord’s will. Success and failure do not agitate the mind of the true yogi.
tasmād yogāya yujyasva
yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam
“A man engaged in devotional service rids himself of both good and bad actions even in this life. Therefore strive for yoga, O Arjuna, which is the art of all work.” BG 2.50
By acting in Krishna consciousness, one can overcome the results of both good and bad karmic reactions. This is because in Krishna consciousness one acts in consonance with one’s original spiritual nature and not with a bodily concept. Krishna consciousness is thus the perfect art of work.
Srila Prabhupada teaches that Krishna Consciousness is the topmost yoga system. Thoughts pertaining to one’s service to the Lord are paramount in the practitioner’s mind. With understanding and humility, the practitioner carefully roots out thoughts of personal sense-gratification, which he sees as poisonous to his pure devotional consciousness. Gradually he begins to enjoy his activities in devotional service to the Lord. After the stage of practice he achieves spontaneity in love for Krishna. That is the success of yoga.