(Reprinted from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust)

kurvann eveha karmani
jijivisec chatam samah
evam tvayi nanyatheto 'sti
na karma lipyate nare

kurvan--doing continuously; eva--thus; iha--during this span of life; karmani--work; jijiviset--one should desire to live; satam--one hundred; samah--years; evam--so living; tvayi--unto you; na--no; anyatha--alternative; itah--from this path; asti--there is; na--not; karma--work; lipyate--can be bound; nare--unto a man.


One may aspire to live for hundreds of years if he continuously goes on working in that way, for that sort of work will not bind him to the law of karma. There is no alternative to this way for man.


No one wants to die, and everyone wants to live as long as he can drag on. This tendency is not only visible individually but also collectively in the community, society and nation. There is a hard struggle for life by all kinds of living entities, and the Vedas say that this is quite natural. The living being is eternal by nature, but due to his bondage in material existence he has to change his body over and over. This process is called the transmigration of the soul, and this transmigration is due to karma-bandhana, or bondage to one's work. The living entity has to work for his livelihood because that is the law of material nature, and if he does not act according to his prescribed duties, he transgresses the law of nature and binds himself more and more to the cycle of birth and death.

Other life forms are also subject to the cycle of birth and death, but when the living entity attains a human life, he gets a chance to get free from the law of karma. Karma, akarma and vikarma are very clearly described in Bhagavad-gita. Actions which are performed in terms of one's prescribed duties, as mentioned in the revealed scriptures, are called karma. Actions which free one from the cycle of birth and death are called akarma. And actions which are performed by the misuse of one's freedom and which direct one to the lower life forms are called vikarma. Of these three types of action, that which frees one from the bondage to karma is preferred by intelligent men. Ordinary men wish to perform good works in order to be recognized and achieve some higher status of life in this world or in heaven, but more advanced men want to be free altogether from the actions and reactions of work. Intelligent men well know that both good and bad works equally bind one to the material miseries. Consequently they seek that work which will free them from the reactions of both good and bad work.

The instructions of Sri Isopanisad are more elaborately explained in Bhagavad-gita, sometimes called Gitopanisad, the cream of all the Upanisads. In Bhagavad-gita the Personality of Godhead says that one cannot attain the state of naiskarma or akarma without executing the prescribed duties mentioned in Vedic literatures. The Vedas can regulate the working energy of a human being in such a way that one can gradually realize the authority of the Supreme Being. When one realizes the authority of the Personality of Godhead, it is to be understood that he has attained the stage of positive knowledge. On this purified stage the modes of nature -- namely goodness, passion and ignorance -- cannot act, and one is enabled to work on the basis of naiskarma. Such work does not bind one to the cycle of birth and death.

Factually no one has to do anything more than render devotional service to the Lord. However, in the lower stages of life one cannot immediately adopt the activities of devotional service, nor can one completely stop fruitive work. A conditioned soul is accustomed to working for sense gratification, for his own selfish interest, immediate or extended. An ordinary man works for his own sense enjoyment, and when this principle of sense enjoyment is extended to include his society, nation or humanity in general, it assumes various attractive names such as altruism, socialism, communism, nationalism, humanitarianism, etc. These isms are certainly very attractive forms of karma-bandhana ("work which binds"), but the Vedic instruction of Isopanisad is that if one actually wants to live for any of the above isms, he should make them God-centered. There is no harm in becoming a family man, or an altruist, socialist, communist, nationalist, or humanitarian provided that one executes his activities in relation with isavasya, the God-centered conception.

Bhagavad-gita states (2.40) that God-centered activities are so valuable that just a few of them can save a person from the greatest danger. The greatest danger of life is the danger of gliding down again into the evolutionary cycle of birth and death. If some way or another a man misses the spiritual opportunity afforded by his human form of life and falls down again into the evolutionary cycle, he must be considered most unfortunate. Due to his defective senses, a foolish man cannot see that this is happening. Consequently Sri Isopanisad advises us to exert our energy in the spirit of isavasya. Being so engaged in that spirit, we may wish to live for many, many years; otherwise a long life in itself has no value. A tree lives for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, but there is no point in living a long time like trees, or breathing like bellows, or begetting children like hogs and dogs, or eating like a camel. A humble God-centered life is more valuable than a colossal hoax of a life dedicated to godless altruism or socialism.

When altruistic activities are executed in the spirit of Sri Isopanisad, they become a form of karma-yoga. Such activities are recommended in Bhagavad-gita (18.5-9), for they guarantee their executor protection from the dangers of sliding down into the evolutionary process of birth and death. Even though such God-centered activities may be half-finished, they are still good for the executor because they will guarantee him a human form in his next birth. In this way one can have another chance to improve his position on the path of liberation.
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