“The perfection of one's occupational duty, whether in the sphere of duty to oneself, one's community or one's nation, is judged by the degree to which the Lord is satisfied.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.32 Purport)
How do we know if the work we’re doing is producing the desired result? How do we know if we’re doing something the right way? As there is service in all activity, even those which aim to please our own senses, we can tell if the work is done correctly based on the satisfaction of the object being served. As occupational duty at the individual level is an obligation to work, that obligation must come from somewhere. Not surprisingly, that origin is also the determinant of whether that duty is performed perfectly or not.
If there is service in all activity, it means that everyone is a servant. How does that work?
The student serves the teacher. Though they are looking to get an education, and thus become more knowledgeable, within the realm of the class their objective is to please the teacher. The teacher offers the instruction, and the student obliges by absorbing that which is heard and then applying it as it should be applied. The long hours spent on assignments and on studying are in service to the teacher. The teacher’s pleasure is shown through the grade they give the student. A passing grade means the teacher has been satisfactorily served, and a failing grade means their favor has not been earned.
The employee in a company serves the higher ups. The highest up, the proverbial owner of the establishment, is also a servant. They serve the customer. The restaurant owner hopes to sell products that customers will gladly pay money for. The CEO of a publicly traded company hopes to satisfy the shareholders, the actual owners of the business. The head of state, who is in apparently the most superior position, also is a servant. They are a servant of the public. The less they serve the public and the more they try to accept service, the worse off the people are. Indeed, in governments where the state is deemed to be the most powerful entity, and not the Supreme Lord, the greatest disservice is done to the citizens, who find themselves in ruin afterwards.
In the Vedas, the occupational duties of the human being are put into four general categories. There are the duties for the priestly class, who can be likened to an intelligentsia. They are the ones who have the deep-meaning discussions on the reason for an existence and why man acts the way he does. Then there are the administrators, the people in charge of government. They have to use force to protect against criminals, and in that application they must be both objective and skilled. They are not expected to be supremely wise, since they will have to administer justice without being softened by knowledge of human tendencies.
There are the ordinary laborers and also the merchants/businessmen. It was the behavior of members of this latter group during one famous incident that shows how the perfection of occupational duties can be achieved. You can say that the intelligentsia is materially superior to the ordinary laborers, but in the grand scheme such comparisons are not necessary. Every person has to work. This is a fact. The more you don’t work, the worse off you’ll be. People who work for a living usually don’t sleep into the afternoon and spend the rest of the day in front of the television. They also typically don’t expect to live off the work of others. Work is central to an existence. Even the most renounced yogis of the past, such as King Janaka of Mithila, also worked, though they didn’t have to.
“Even kings like Janaka and others attained the perfectional stage by performance of prescribed duties. Therefore, just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.20)
The work performed by this specific group of citizens was perfect because the highest authority was pleased. By occupation they were merchants and farmers. Their duties involved cow protection, farming and the general conducting of business. That being said, we would think the perfection of their work would be a community where cows were protected, food was produced in abundance, and lots of profits rolled in from business transactions. These conditions were certainly met, but they alone did not earn the favor of the creator of the system of occupational duty assigned to members of the various classes, which are determined by inherent qualities and not just by birth. His favor was earned because they did their work to please Him.
So if two groups do the same work, with one doing it to please God and the other just to please themselves, the former group is superior? Why should the intent of the work matter?
The intent matters because the real purpose to work is to purify consciousness. In the Vedas you will not find mottos such as: “Work hard to achieve your goals; Make the most out of life by setting goals and then working hard towards achieving them; You can be and do anything in this life; you just need the will to strive for success.” The reason for the omission is simple: this world is temporary. Nothing is permanent and thus nothing is guaranteed. You can work your whole life towards something and still not get it. You can be entirely sincere as well. Just talk to the scorned lover for evidence of this harsh reality of life. Despite their best efforts to get the love of their life to reciprocate in amorous feelings, they were not able. If such failure is possible, why would any book of real knowledge recommend this path?
The human being can purify his existence through work. That is the first purpose to the system of occupational duty. To start, we’re given occupational duties, which immediately eliminates the guesswork. It is much better to know what you’re doing on a job than not. If you show up to work on the first day and they don’t have anything for you to do, is that good? It’s much better if there are assigned tasks that need completion. The beauty of the system of varna and ashrama, or occupational duty based on quality and spiritual institution, is that the tasks provided will guarantee purification of the conditioned spirit if performed properly.
These residents performed a worship for the first time. It was dedicated to a neighboring hill known as Govardhana. Now, any person can go up to a hill and worship it, but this inaugural worship was done at the urging of Shri Krishna, who was living in Vrindavana. He is the Supreme Lord, the detail behind the abstract. He is not the only Personality of Godhead, but He is the original. He has other forms that are personal expansions. These are the same as Him in potency. Then He has separated expansions. We’re included in this latter list, and so we’re not as potent as God Himself. Nothing can be completely separated from Him, as God is all-encompassing.
These residents worshiped Govardhana Hill by offering the results of their hard-earned work. The worship was entirely authorized, as it was arranged and conducted under Shri Krishna’s supervision. And yet there was a leap of faith involved, as this was the first time this specific hill was worshiped. Through their efforts in this sacrifice, Shri Krishna was pleased, which meant that their occupational duty was perfectly carried out.
In the case where work is done in the absence of consciousness of God, perfection is lacking. Even the animal works to satisfy themselves. They don’t know of a God. The beaver builds a dam to satisfy itself. The tiger goes out and hunts its prey in order to eat. The birds fly south for the winter and the monkeys have sexual relations with pretty much anyone who is around. There is no chance for a purification of existence because the requisite consciousness is lacking.
The human being has the ability to recognize that they are eternally a servant of Krishna, or God. More than just faith that is extended without inquisitiveness or critical thought, real religiosity involves service that scientifically makes sense. If in all other kinds of work someone else must be satisfied for the work to be done properly, why shouldn’t the same conditions exist in spiritual life? And since God is the origin of all matter and spirit, how can His satisfaction ever be considered anything but the primary objective?
If the boss is satisfied, the customers still might not be. Thus the business could go out of business. The same holds true if your boss is the leader of the country and the citizens toss him aside. But satisfying God has no defects. The work conducted isn’t always the same by everyone. Shri Hanuman leaped across an ocean and infiltrated an enemy territory to please God. This was his assigned occupational duty. The same Krishna, in His manifestation as Shri Rama, was so satisfied with Hanuman that Hanuman today is famously known as the greatest servant of Rama. There is no better opulence than this. This is the perfection of an existence. And from that post Hanuman only feels further compelled to serve and please Rama.
His primary method of service can bring the perfection of our occupational duties as well. Hanuman always chants the names of Rama and His wife Sita, who are both also represented in the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Whether we are a businessman, a police officer, a student or an ordinary worker, following the lead of the bona fide spiritual master we can recite these holy names and keep God’s pleasure in mind. From His satisfaction, which is guaranteed for those who are pure of heart, we can know for sure that our work is being done properly.
Can please boss by doing what you’re told,
But still the business can quickly fold.
The head of state even can try to satisfy,
But from pain and misery cannot indemnify.
Only the Supreme Lord is the controller of all,
His devotee never from grace to fall.
Like Hanuman work for His satisfaction,
Chant holy names for endless glorification.