“We are all intended to attain peace and happiness, but whatever peace and happiness we find in this material world is limited. If we but purify our existence and attain spiritual existence, we will experience unlimited peace and happiness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Ch 1)
When you’re younger, if you have a good parent, they will tell you to work hard in school:
“You have to do your homework. No sitting around the house all day. I don’t care if you’ve finished all your assignments. You’re not going to play video games from morning until night. If you’re caught up, you should read ahead then. You should find some new topic and then study it. Go to the library and find a good book to read. You have to work hard now so that you’ll get ahead in the future.”
In adulthood, the same instruction likely comes from within:
“I need to keep learning new things to stay ahead in my field. I need to work hard so that I can earn a good salary. If I save up enough money, I can retire in peace. Then enjoyment will occupy all my time. I won’t have pressure anymore.”
Interestingly enough, the Vedas, the ancient scriptural texts emanating from the area today known as India, give a different purpose to work. Work is recommended; it is not to be renounced haphazardly. Yet there is an ideal purpose that has nothing to do with a temporary condition. The purpose to work is to purify one’s existence. This is a novel concept that really makes sense the more you think about it.
An object is in its best state when it is pure. The studio recording of a song is intended to be the best version of the song. In the recording process impurities can be removed. Outside noise is virtually eliminated in a recording studio. If you don’t play a certain section right, you can play it again. You can also add as many tracks as you want, creating a feel that is impossible to replicate in a live performance. The recording process is a type of purification, and so the resulting song is meant to be without flaws.
Think of your favorite food dish. Now imagine it has all sorts of other ingredients added in. The purity is diluted, is it not? The more impure it becomes, the less appealing it is to the senses. The same holds true with pretty much anything. These objects of which we speak are inanimate. They are nothing more than collections of matter manipulated by the living force. That force is much more powerful, so it would stand to reason that its purification would be the most beneficial.
How is our existence impure and how can we recognize that impurity?
The inability to recognize the impurity is itself an indication of the impurity’s presence. If confused by wording that seems to be based on circular logic, you can think of the person with the drinking problem to see how this works. They are made dumber through their intoxication, and in that ignorance they are unable to tell that they are a drunkard, a person who is attached to their alcohol. In the same way, the living entity who is covered by the material elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether cannot judge what is right and wrong without proper guidance. Authority figures show us the way when we don’t know, and so they can tell us when we are impure.
In an impure existence, I identify with my body. This is a flawed identification, because my body is always changing. If I work hard just to maintain my body or to find it satisfaction, my work isn’t put to the best possible use. I may work hard for thirty years so that I can retire, but what should I do afterwards? Do I sit in front of the television all day? Do I sit in an empty room and do nothing? I still have to work. In fact, if I don’t find something to do, I will go stir-crazy. Therefore all that hard work to reach retirement didn’t really solve my problem.
On the other side, if I purify my existence, I can put my potential for action to the best possible use. Case in point Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. He already had a pure existence through the association of His cousin Krishna, but on one occasion Arjuna fell prey to ignorance for a brief moment. He started to identify with his own body. He based the identities of others off their bodies as well. He was hesitant to commence hostilities in a grand war because the opposing party consisted of friends and family members.
Arjuna had the good sense to approach the same well-wisher Krishna for advice. Krishna told him to purify his existence through works in yoga. Work in yoga is similar to other work, except the mindset is different. One does not stay attached to the results. They are neither attached to nor repulsed by the work they perform. The whole time they think of their role in society and how they are getting closer to purification through their work. Through explicit work, Arjuna continuously purified his existence. He fought ahead as a matter of duty, and also because Krishna advised Him to.
“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.50)
That same Krishna advises all of us on how to purify our existence. The same wisdom that was given to Arjuna was also offered by Krishna at the beginning of the creation. He is therefore the original person, the detail behind the vague picture of a Supreme Lord. One evidence of His divinity is the ability of His recommended actions to purify an existence. In that purification, I no longer see myself as a temporary body. I identify as an eternal spiritual force, capable of action in yoga.
In the modern age, the best means of practicing yoga is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This work is not done to secure a nice house or a hefty salary. Chanting is not performed to stay healthy in the body or to avoid diseases. It is done to purify one’s existence, to shed the flawed mentalities of “I” and “Mine.” In the right mentality, the individual is confident of the fact that he is a spirit soul, part and parcel of Krishna.
The part works when it is connected to the controlling object. The arm is useless when separated from the body, but when it is connected it can do so much good. Similarly, the living entity connected to Krishna in a pure existence has endless pious work that can be done. That work is blissful, so there is never a desire for it to complete. Working towards that supreme consciousness is the real purpose to our action, and from Krishna’s instructions in the Bhagavad-gita given to Arjuna we can decipher just how to reach that state.
Taxes and death to arrive for sure,
Better than to work to find state pure.
Mind of Arjuna in illusion’s direction,
Dispelled through yoga of Krishna’s instruction.
Chant holy names for that yoga to employ,
Apply work to find transcendental joy.
At time of death all other fruits erased,
Only in vain after them we chased.