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Continuing the explanation of the second chapter of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with verse thirteen:
ataḥ pumbhir dvija-śreṣṭhā
“O best among the twice-born, it is therefore concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve by discharging the duties prescribed for one’s own occupation according to caste divisions and orders of life is to please the Personality of Godhead.”
Śrī Sūta summarizes in this verse his argument that the perfection of a dutiful life is achieving devotion for the Supreme Lord, not economic success, sensual pleasure, or anything else. The final goal of life is realized when one satisfies the Lord, and one does this by serving Him with exclusive devotion. But most people in the world are material workers. The tiny minority of jñānīs and yogīs may consider themselves outsiders exempt from the constraints of organized human culture, and some of them may take to the isolation of forests and mountains, but in fact most people live and work in a social context. In modern times many have degraded way below the standards of Vedic civilization, yet every productive person functions as either an intellectual, a politician, a businessman, or a paid worker, or, as is often found in this age of confusion, as a mixture of two or more of these basic roles. These roles persist even in socialism and other systems that try to abolish class distinctions.
The purpose for which the varṇas and āśramas of Vedic society were originally created is God consciousness. God Himself states in the Bhagavad-gītā that He organized this framework for society to engage people correctly according to their character and behavior. The varṇāśrama system is for cooperation and spiritual advancement, not exploitation.
As expressed in the previous verse, devotion to the Supreme Lord is not an easy thing to achieve. One should be very thoughtful, study scriptures with a spiritual master, and have strong faith. One should focus his mind intensely, worshiping the Supreme by meditation. What hope, then, do people have who cannot be so adept and disciplined? In this verse Śrī Sūta provides assurance that one can satisfy Lord Hari more easily by simply carrying out one’s ordinary duties for His pleasure and glory. Anyone can redirect the fruits of duty done properly; rather than exchanging these karmic credits for rebirth in heaven or other material gains, one can use the facilities earned – intelligence, wealth, and so on – to serve the Lord and His devotees. To be successful at this, it is not even necessary to be properly situated in the orders of varṇa and āśrama. Even fallen souls can take shelter of the merciful Vaiṣṇavas, especially when the unique mercy of Caitanya Mahāprabhu is available.
The duties of varṇāśrama and of ritual sacrifice are complex and laborious, and in their own ways the practices of Vedic jñāna and meditational yoga also demand strenuous effort. Only pure devotional service is easy, and even before its practice is perfected it gives the heart deep satisfaction. Be that as it may, someone may question, if one spares himself the trouble of practicing jñāna and yoga there should be no great loss, but what about duties on the level of karma? Failing to do obligatory ritual duties will doubtlessly cause bad reactions, likely entailing a bad destination in the next life. No, we can reply on the strength of this verse. If by devotional service one can satisfy Lord Hari, then all one’s duties are completely fulfilled. There is no need to do anything else. Even when ritual karma is carried out with great effort in all its details, any accidental mistake may ruin the result. Devotees of the Supreme Lord, however, can dare to neglect ritual duties and still enjoy all success. The Lord, satisfied, overlooks their neglect.
But then, it may again be asked, if devotional service generates all the benefits of dharma, aren’t devotees thus burdened with karmic entanglement? Don’t they lose themselves in enjoyment? No, only service mixed with selfish motives can result in such entanglement; pure devotion without ulterior desire breaks the chain of karma. As Kṛṣṇa told Uddhava, “One has to continue his karmic duties only until he loses his attraction to them, or in other words, only until he develops faith in hearing and chanting about Me.”
We may hear of ancient devotees who despite having no attachment to anything but their Lord engaged themselves somewhat in material work to satisfy their family and associates. But that work was actually no work at all, because it was done without faith in the process. As Kṛṣṇa says in the Gītā, “What oblations, charity, austerities, and work are done without faith are considered invalid, O Pārtha, and give no result in this world or the next.”