“Everyone is by nature inclined to some sort of work, and when that work leads one to religious life and religious life leads one to renunciation and renunciation leads one to devotional service, one attains the perfection of work.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.23.56 Purport)
Work outside of genuine religious life leads to further attachment. From that attachment, it is more difficult to get renunciation, and without renunciation the consciousness stays clouded. In the thick haze of hankering and lamenting, at the time of death the mind is unable to concentrate on the source of the spiritual energy. As such, rebirth is guaranteed. When one takes to the proper path, however, their attachment becomes transcendental. That attachment automatically brings the proper renunciation, leading to pure devotional service, the pinnacle of the evolution of consciousness.
“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)
For one who takes birth, death is certain. We know this based on our own experiences. Though at the time of reading this, we have not yet died, we know that we will eventually. This is because of what we witness with everyone else. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna reveals the other side, that birth is guaranteed for one who dies. This explains the timeless question of where we came from. We died before, so that’s how we took birth.
The circumstances of that birth are determined by consciousness. What were we thinking of the last time we died? More importantly, what should we think of when our next death comes? If you think of someone who is timeless, who is beyond birth and death, naturally you will have good circumstances in the next birth. You will become timeless yourself, regaining a body that is identical to your soul.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)
I should think of God at the time of death, but that is difficult when I’m so busy working right now. In that work I become more entangled. One day I decide that I want to play sports. I will join various recreational leagues that meet at night during the week. I think that this will be fun, but I end up finding the opposite. Now that I have a new obligation, I have more pressure. I have to worry about more than just school and work. When things don’t go my way during the games, I lament over my failures. Then I constantly think of how to correct the situation. Previously I wasn’t worrying over such things, but now I am. This means that by my work I’ve become more entangled.
The same applies to all aspects of material life. I look forward to the day of my marriage, but afterwards I’m left worrying all the time. Does my wife like me? Does my husband still find me attractive? Will our children be healthy? Will our family remain together? Will I be able to earn enough money to support everyone?
Work in genuine religious life should lead to renunciation. This makes sense if we think about it. Religious life is spiritual life. Spirit transcends matter. If I focus on spirit, I won’t be as concerned with matter. With less concern, I will have renunciation. With renunciation, I have a better chance of accepting devotional service, which is the only way to have the right consciousness at the time of death.
In pure devotion, I think only of God. In fact, I have a strong attachment to Him. Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is so potent that one can start with attachment to God. They don’t have to wade through religious life focused on the impersonal followed by renunciation. Things will properly fall into place through enough devotion. Bhakti-yoga is non-different from the Supreme Lord. Therefore in practicing bhakti-yoga, one directly associates with God. He automatically clears nescience, leading to spiritual enlightenment. In that enlightenment, one realizes that whatever is favorable for devotion should be accepted and whatever is unfavorable should be rejected.
Bhakti-yoga likely begins as karma-yoga, which is work in the pursuit to unite the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. As His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says, everyone is naturally inclined towards some kind of work. If you’re going to work, why not make it fruitful? Why not work in a way that you’ll have less attachments afterwards? Why not work in a way that you’ll be really happy, instead of getting entangled in something new?
Karma-yoga is the beginning to this work, and in the process gradually the karma turns into bhakti. No longer is it a chore to chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. No longer is it difficult to make the long journey to the local house of worship. No longer do you need to have your arm twisted to hear about the glorious pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In pure devotion, the attachment to Krishna increases, which automatically brings renunciation. Rather than becoming more and more entangled in miserable material affairs, the devotee becomes more convinced that they are on the right path. With that conviction, they lose fear. They no longer have to worry about having the right consciousness at the time of death, as it is impossible for them to not think of Krishna. Thus they attain liberation even before the time of death, achieving the perfection of work.
To meet desire have to work for,
But find that only entangled more.
Should not work set you free,
So that more happy you’ll be?
If bhakti to try at the start,
Soon your attachments to depart.
Renunciation wonderful first step,
Key that devotion to Krishna eventually get.