“The body is only a dead vehicle to be worked by the spirit soul, which is always active and cannot stop even for a moment. As such, the spirit soul has to be engaged in the good work of Krishna consciousness, otherwise it will be engaged in occupations dictated by illusory energy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 3.5 Purport)
“If only I could sleep in; wake up on the weekend. I work so hard during the week. There are endless responsibilities. I have to get up in time for work. I have to make breakfast, eat it on time, get out the door at a certain hour, all just so I can arrive at the office. And then life at the office isn’t a picnic, either. I’m constantly bombarded with requests. It’s like a never-ending soap opera. At the end of each day, we complete one task, only to have a new one that needs to get resolved. When I get home at night, I just want to relax and do absolutely nothing. I long for the days when time is of no concern, when I have no idea where the day is going, nor do I care.”
These laments are certainly understandable given a hectic lifestyle for the busy adult worker. But on the other hand, think of the day where you don’t have to do anything. You can get up out of bed whenever you want. In fact, you can stay in bed the whole day. Wake up, reach over for the remote control, flip on the television, and just lie there. Watch show after show. Maybe get up once to use the restroom, but then quickly jump back into bed.
After a few hours of this, will you feel good? Will you feel happy? Is the summit of an existence the absence of activity? Actually, you probably feel better on the days when you have responsibilities. Not that you crave tension and pressure, but at least during those times you are actively engaged. Rest is nice when it comes after hard work, but rest as a fulltime occupation is not very fulfilling.
The ancient art of bhakti-yoga, devotional service, is the topmost system of activity because it directly deals with the core properties of the individual. To know those properties one must know the individual. What represents me? Is it my hand? My leg? What about my body as a whole? In the Vedic definition, the individual is identified by the atma, or soul. There are different kinds of atmas, and the individual soul is more technically known as the jivatma.
The jivatma is not dormant. To “be” means to be alive, and since the spirit soul always exists, it is always active. Evidence of this can be seen even during sleep. Sleep is the absence of activity for the tired worker, but just because we’re not working doesn’t mean that the mind ceases to function. In fact, in order to fall asleep the mind has to start racing from one thought to another, more quickly than it does during periods of alertness. Thus the mind is “always on”, if you will, which is a symptom of the soul’s active propensity.
The properties of the soul are known to the Vedic seers, who first heard them from the Supreme Soul, who never heard it from anyone because no one existed before Him. In fact, He has always existed; He is sanatana. Our mind has no way of conceiving of infinite time or infinite space, so we are inferior to the sanatana Supreme Soul. The jivatma is also sanatana, but because of its inferior nature it can be placed into bodies that mask pure consciousness.
Knowledge of the soul is kindly passed on by the original person to sincere disciples, and that chain of information transfer has continued to this day. It is through consultation with this link of spiritual knowledge that we’re able to know that the spirit soul is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge. Eternal means never inactive. Blissful means not unhappy, and full of knowledge means not ignorant.
Compare this to the state of inactivity, where we’re just sitting around all day. The soul is still active during this period, but the consciousness is in a less active state. In addition, bliss is absent as well; otherwise everyone would immediately choose to do nothing all the time. Also, you cannot be knowledgeable when you are in a state of laziness. Laziness equates to ignorance. Combining these conditions together, we see that bodily inactivity does not square with the constitutional position of the spirit soul.
To regain the real happiness of the soul one needs to find an engagement suited for the soul and its properties. Bhakti-yoga is that engagement. Any other activity that brings some sort of satisfaction is but a derivative of bhakti-yoga, sort of like a watered down version. As you can dilute a compound in decreasing percentages of purity, you can water down bhakti-yoga to the point that you’re offering service to just your personal senses. Bhakti-yoga can translate to mean the connection of the individual soul to the Supreme Soul in a mood of love. Love manifests in service, and so any kind of service gives a glimpse of the original occupation that is bhakti-yoga.
There is service to the parents, the community, the paramour, the children, the nation, the employer, the employee, the customer, and so on. Only service to the personal form of God qualifies as bhakti. The personal forms are described in the Vedic texts. Not to be confused with the concocted idea of many gods popularly attributed to Hinduism, there is only one God. He kindly expands into other non-different forms to fit the preferred method of worship of the devotee, but this does not mean that everything or everyone is God.
The original Personality of Godhead is described as all-attractive, and so He is addressed as Krishna. He is also the source of transcendental pleasure, and so He is also addressed as Rama. His energy is always tied to Him, and we are part of that energy. The aspects of that energy that follow bhakti-yoga are as worshipable as God, and so the chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is a great way to practice bhakti-yoga.
Better than worshiping by yourself is worshiping with others, and better than this is expounding on the glories of God to others. The need for this kind of preaching should make sense. If there weren’t active spiritual preachers around, how would we ever find out about God? How would we know the alphabet if nobody taught it to us? How would we know mathematics unless someone took the time to give instruction? Similarly, how are we going to learn about the properties of the soul and its ideal engagement if no one is kind enough to give us the information?
In ancient times the spiritual teachers were very selective in sharing information. We don’t allow just anyone to take over the airplane and fly it. We don’t put children behind the wheel to drive a car. You must be qualified to do these things. Knowledge of the soul and the fundamentals of bhakti-yoga represent very powerful information, and so only the worthy recipient should be blessed with it.
In more recent times, finding qualified recipients is much more difficult, as the watered down versions of bhakti, which are based in illusion rather than knowledge, are more prominent. For this reason, saints like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu actively preach about bhakti-yoga through the method of congregational chanting of the holy names. Let everyone hear the names of God, and if there is an interest from there, then one can further expound on the glories of the Supreme Lord and His personal features. Even if no one is around to listen, the devotee is advised to still carry on with their preaching, for through describing God they will gain a better understanding of Him for themselves.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a spiritual teacher following in Mahaprabhu’s line of instruction, would say that his spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, used to say that one who has life can preach. In other words, someone who is actively engaged in spiritual life will take to glorifying God out in the open and discussing those glories with others. This preaching life is actually a wonderful gift handed down to the sincere spiritualist. This is a gift that continues to give infinitely into the future. You can never run out of good things to say about God. There is limitless information found in Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and Ramayana. Personal experiences bring new points of reference which can be used in explaining the properties of the soul and how its constitutional engagement is devotional service.
Plugging into these new outlets of worship beats sitting around doing nothing. We are happiest when we are active, and in real spiritual life the individual is never sedentary. And in that always active state, bhakti-yoga’s supremacy, along with the authority of the personalities who teach it to us, is validated.
One who has got life can preach,
Of devotion to God they can teach.
Why all day just sit around,
And behave like rocks on the ground?
With work initiative take,
And fulfilling your day make.
Describe God every single day,
And happily never run out of things to say.