“The work of a man who is unattached to the modes of material nature and who is fully situated in transcendental knowledge merges entirely into transcendence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.23)
Question: How can I continue to work in the material world and remain unattached? I don’t know how my knowledge of God will increase if I have to continue to work for a living. How am I supposed to find transcendence if I have all of this other stuff to do?
Developing Krishna consciousness, which is the original consciousness, is not easy for one who is conditioned. By definition, one who takes birth in the material world is considered conditioned. They operate under the rules imposed by the higher nature. There are hurricanes, earthquakes, diseases, military conflicts, and depression to contend with. The spirit soul is by nature free, so these things aren’t natural for it. When they are present, the same pure spirit soul is considered conditioned. To break out of the conditioned state and reach a liberated one is not impossible, though it may take some time.
Consider the following hypothetical scenario:
“My left eye is so blurry. It seems to be okay during the day, when I have my contact lenses on, but at night when I take them off it’s almost impossible to see. This is even with my eyeglasses on. I basically have to watch television with one eye. In the morning it seems to be okay, but if I use the computer for a little while, suddenly the eye gets blurry very quickly. When I’m wearing contact lenses, I can see okay.
“But lately even with the contact lenses on it’s been difficult to see. It feels like the lenses are losing their moisture very quickly. Something is definitely wrong. I tried going a few days without contacts, and the blurriness remained. Finally, I went to see an eye doctor. Right away they gave their diagnosis. I have ‘dry eye.’ Through so many years of contact lens wear and having spent so many hours in front of the computer, my eye has developed a problem. It is not getting enough moisture. The doctor has told me to stop wearing contact lenses immediately and to take these prescription eye drops twice a day. Then he’ll monitor the situation again after some time has passed.”
Fast forward a month…
“The problem still isn’t getting better. I have good days and bad, but I still have trouble seeing out of my left eye. Do you know how annoying it is to have only one functioning eye? I’ve been taking the drops, but there are no discernible results. The eye doctor says that my vision is improving and that I should give it a little more time. What other choice do I have?”
Fast forward another month…
“Wow, I can finally see again. I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was a gradual change, though it seemed like a long period of no progress followed by a sudden cure. My left eye is very clear now. I don’t even need to wear my glasses most of the time now. I can see just fine. I guess I just needed to allow the prescription drops to work their magic. I am so happy right now.”
For one who follows the path of transcendental knowledge, when remaining steady eventually the work merges into transcendence. This is what Shri Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita. Krishna is God, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is Bhagavan, which is the complete realization of God. The invisible man in the sky who may or may not look old and punish the sinners is a vague concept. The spiritual energy that pervades the manifest world is also an incomplete realization. The localized spirit soul that is superior to the individual spirit soul within each body is also an incomplete realization. These features are subordinate to Bhagavan, who is the complete whole.
Transcendence is the opposite of conditioned life. When your work merges into transcendence, it means that you are no longer materially affected by what you do. If I repeatedly sing a certain song all day long there are material consequences. My mind could eventually get sick of the song. I might neglect my other duties. I could develop an attachment to the words. Therefore the content of the song suddenly becomes important. If it’s about chasing women at all costs, I will be more driven towards something that is the opposite of transcendence.
On the other hand, if I always chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” I’m doing the same kind of work but getting an entirely different result. The name of Krishna is the same as Krishna. The name Rama addresses the same Krishna, but describes Him in a slightly different way. The name “Hare” also refers to Krishna but more specifically to His devoted energy potency, who though remaining a separate personality is still considered the same as Krishna because of the shared interest.
Chanting the aforementioned mantra is part of work in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti-yoga is itself transcendence, but in the beginning one may still be attached to the material modes of nature. These are the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. In ignorance I do stupid things without thinking and don’t get any benefit as a result. Think of the tennis player who smashes their racket in frustration. This is a stupid act because the racket is an inanimate object that is not culpable in the poor performance of the player. In passion I work hard to get a temporary result that doesn’t give me lasting satisfaction. Think of the team that wins the championship and then gets asked about the next season during the trophy presentation. They spent all this time working to reach the pinnacle of success for the season, and in an instant all of that is forgotten. They are right back where they started. Thus a neutral position is reached.
In goodness, I follow mundane principles of piety and religion in order to find a more comfortable position in life. I do things because they are considered “good for me,” though I don’t really know why. I worship God, or some kind of heavenly figure. I follow the rules and regulations of spiritual life. I understand that I am a spirit soul, part of the non-differentiated energy known as Brahman. Still, in my comfortable life in piety I am quite attached. I like where I am and where I am going.
“O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode develop knowledge, but they become conditioned by the concept of happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.6)
One who is unattached to these three modes is attached to Krishna. They could be in a hellish place and still worship the Supreme Lord. They could be engaged in fruitive activity, where it looks like they are working for a temporary result, but still thinking of their beloved Krishna all the time. They could be studying the Vedas, the original books of knowledge, and becoming familiar with the principles of jnana and vairagya, knowledge and renunciation, and still be thinking of Krishna the whole time.
In the beginning stages of practicing bhakti-yoga, one likely isn’t situated in transcendental knowledge. This knowledge is difficult to absorb because it’s so different from anything else that is taught. And still, through enough dedication, knowledge will come. And when there is no attachment to the three modes accompanying this realization of transcendental knowledge, the work performed merges entirely into transcendence.
In the beginning stages it didn’t seem like this, but just as the eye took some time to heal, the formula of chanting and hearing the holy names and following bhakti-yoga in general eventually yields the best result. To merge into transcendence means to transcend the dualities of the material nature, which makes us think that one person is our friend and another our enemy. It makes us think that one kind of job is better than another and that birth in a particular situation is superior to birth in another. In transcendence, the Supreme Lord’s unmistakable presence is seen everywhere, and since He is all-attractive, seeing Him all the time brings the most pleasure to the individual spirit soul.
No progress in treatment to feel,
Still blurry, my eye not to heal.
Finally can see, no longer afraid.
Because on treatment path I stayed.
Transcendence to work the same way,
Work merges when holy names to say.
Effects of material nature no more,
Mind only charm of Krishna to adore.