The Path of Perfection
The Path of Perfection
In February of 1969, Srila Prabhupada gave a series of lectures in Los Angeles on the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, which deals with the yoga system. Path of Perfection is a collection of these historic talks.
"No one really wants to sit down and meditate. Why should we? We're meant for positive activity, for recreation, for pleasure."
A perfect life, in which the goal of yoga is reached, Srila Prabhupada explains, is dynamic and full of activity. Our nature is spiritual, and spirit is the essence of everything that lives. Real yoga means to connect our activities with the Supreme Spirit—in straightforward, practical ways. If perfection is possible, why settle for anything less?
"Perhaps you have seen pictures of Krishna, and if so, you have noticed that Krishna is always jolly. If you join His society, you will also become jolly. Have you ever seen pictures of Krishna working with a machine? Have you ever seen pictures of Krishna smoking? No, He is by nature full of pleasure, and if you unfold yourself in that way, you will also find pleasure."
In these absorbing talks, Srila Prabhupada deeply explores the philosophy of yoga as explained in the Sixth and Eighth Chapters of the Gita, showing clearly how these timeless teachings apply today. Srila Prabhupada's talks probe questions concerning the nature of consciousness, techniques of meditation, karma, death, reincarnation, and even spiritual ecstasy.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Yoga as Action
Chapter 2: Mastering the Mind and Senses
Chapter 3: Learning How to See God
Chapter 4: Moderation in Yoga
Chapter 5 Determination and Steadiness in Yoga
Chapter 6: Perception of the Supersoul
Chapter 7: Yoga for the Modern Age
Chapter 8: Failure and Success in Yoga
Chapter 9: Destination After Death
Chapter 10: The Path of Perfection
What is ISKCON
Unless we go to the spiritual sky, there is no escaping this process of birth and death, creation and annihilation.…
This flux is the nature of the material world.
bhuta-gramah sa evayam
bhutva bhutva praliyate
ratry-agame 'vashah partha
“Again and again the day comes, and this host of beings is active; and again the night falls, O Partha, and they are helplessly dissolved.” (Bg. 8.19) Although we do not want devastation, devastation is inevitable. At night, everything is flooded, and when day appears, gradually the waters disappear. For instance, on this one planet, the surface is three-fourths covered with water. Gradually, land is emerging, and the day will come when there will no longer be water but simply land. That is nature’s process.
paras tasmat tu bhavo 'nyo
'vyakto 'vyaktat sanatanah
yah sa sarveshu bhuteshu
nashyatsu na vinashyati
“Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and nonmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.” (Bg. 8.20)
We cannot calculate the length and breadth of this universe. There are millions and millions of universes like this within this material world, and above this material world is the spiritual sky, where the planets are all eternal. Life on those planets is also eternal. This material manifestation comprises only one fourth of the entire creation. Ekamshena sthito jagat [Bg. 10.42]. Ekamshena means “one fourth.” Three fourths of the creation is beyond this material sky, which is covered like a ball. This covering extends millions and millions of miles, and only after penetrating that covering can one enter the spiritual sky. That is open sky, eternal sky.
In this verse it is stated, paras tasmat tu bhavo ’nyah: [Bg. 8.20] “Yet there is another nature.” The word bhava means another “nature.” We have experience only with this material nature, but from Bhagavad-gita we understand that there is a spiritual nature that is transcendental and eternal. We actually belong to that spiritual nature, because we are spirit, but presently we are covered by this material body, and therefore we are a combination of the material and spiritual. Just as we can understand that we are a combination of both natures, we should understand also that there is a spiritual world beyond this material universe. Spiritual nature is called superior, and material nature is called inferior, because without spirit, matter cannot move.
This cannot be understood by experimental knowledge. We may look at millions and millions of stars through telescopes, but we cannot approach what we are seeing. Similarly, our senses are so insufficient that we cannot approach an understanding of the spiritual nature. Being incapable, we should not try to understand God and His kingdom by experimental knowledge. Rather, we have to understand by hearing Bhagavad-gita. There is no other way. If we want to know who our father is, we simply have to believe our mother. We have no other way of knowing except by her. Similarly, in order to understand who God is and what His nature is, we have to accept the information given in Bhagavad-gita. There is no question of experimenting. Once we become advanced in Krishna consciousness, we will realize God and His nature. We can come to understand, “Yes, there is God and a spiritual kingdom, and I have to go there. Indeed, I must prepare myself to go there.”
The word vyakta means “manifest.” This material universe that we are seeing (or partially seeing) before us is manifest. At least at night we can see that stars are twinkling and that there are innumerable planets. But beyond this vyakta is another nature, called avyakta, which is unmanifest. That is the spiritual nature, which is sanatana, eternal. This material nature has a beginning and an end, but that spiritual nature has neither beginning nor end. This material sky is within the covering of the mahat-tattva, matter. This matter is like a cloud. When there is a storm, it appears that the entire sky is covered with clouds, but actually only an insignificant part of the sky is covered. Because we are very minute, if just a few hundred miles are covered, it appears that the entire sky is covered. As soon as a wind comes and blows the clouds away, we can see the sky once again. Like the clouds, this mahat-tattva covering has a beginning and an end. Similarly, the material body, being a part of material nature, has a beginning and an end. The body is born, grows, stays for some time, leaves some by-products, dwindles, and then vanishes. Whatever material manifestation we see undergoes these six basic transformations. Whatever exists within material nature will ultimately be vanquished. But herein Krishna is telling us that beyond this vanishing, cloudlike material nature, there is a superior nature, which is sanatana, eternal. Yah sa sarveshu bhuteshu nashyatsu na vinashyati. When this material manifestation is annihilated, that spiritual sky remains. This is called avyakto ’vyaktat.
In the Second Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, we find a description of the spiritual sky and the people who live there. Its nature and features are also discussed. From this Second Canto we understand that there are spiritual airplanes in the spiritual sky, and that the living entities there—who are all liberated—travel like lightning on those planes throughout the spiritual sky. This material world is simply an imitation; whatever we see here is simply a shadow of what exists there. The material world is like a cinema, wherein we see but an imitation or a shadow of the real thing that is existing. This material world is only a shadow. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.1.1), yatra tri-sargo ’mrisha: “This illusory material world is a combination of matter.” In store windows we often see mannequins, but no sane man thinks that these mannequins are real. He can see that they are imitations. Similarly, whatever we see here may be beautiful, just as a mannequin may be beautiful, but it is simply an imitation of the real beauty found in the spiritual world. As Sridhara Svami says, yat satyataya mithya-sargo ’pi satyavat pratiyate: the spiritual world is real, and this unreal material manifestation only appears to be real. We must understand that reality will never be vanquished and that in essence reality means eternality. Therefore material pleasure, which is temporary, is not actual; real pleasure exists in Krishna. Consequently, those who are after the reality don’t participate in this shadow pleasure.
Thus when everything in the material world is annihilated, that spiritual nature remains eternally, and it is the purpose of human life to reach that spiritual sky. Unfortunately, people are not aware of the reality of the spiritual sky. According to Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.5.31), na te viduh svartha-gatim hi vishnum: people do not know their self-interest. They do not know that human life is meant for understanding spiritual reality and preparing oneself to be transferred to that reality. No one can remain here in this material world. All Vedic literatures instruct us in this way. Tamasi ma jyotir gama: “Don’t remain in this darkness. Go to the light.”
When we see a book with a title like The Path of Perfection, we may react with a bit of common skepticism: “Oh, another book claiming to give all the answers. One more do-it-yourself enlightenment scheme.” And certainly it seems that such skepticism is justified nowadays. Our natural desire for ultimate meaning, happiness, enlightenment, liberation, and salvation has become the most exploited commodity of the twentieth century, creating what one contemporary theologian termed a disastrous “seduction of the spirit.” This seduction is, indeed, the most tragic kind of exploitation. And the unfortunate consequence of this exploitation is a kind of deadening cynicism that discourages our search for self-fulfillment and a means to attain it.
The contemporary, thoughtful reader, weary of the many speculative, simplistic books cluttering the bookstore shelves, offering instant formulas for psychological or spiritual salvation, will find The Path of Perfection a welcome relief. Herein one will find a clear, intriguing explanation of the philosophy and practice of mankind’s oldest system of spiritual development—yoga.
Now, the word yoga may conjure up an image of some skinny fakir contorted like a human pretzel, or perhaps a room full of corpulent matrons in black leotards struggling to stand on their heads in hope of improving their health, losing weight, or increasing their sexual powers. This is not what we mean by yoga. Here we are referring to an ancient philosophy and meditational system that has been practiced by millions throughout the ages. What has, in modern times, been reduced to a commercially exploited technique of bodily agility and pseudomeditation was once a comprehensive and easily applied form of self-realization.
The path of perfection consists of a historic series of talks—elaborations on a previously published commentary—by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada [1896–1977] on India’s greatest spiritual classic, the Bhagavad-gita. In these absorbing talks, Srila Prabhupada explores deeply the philosophy of yoga as explained in the Sixth and Eighth Chapters of the Gita, showing clearly how these timeless teachings apply to twentieth century mankind. Srila Prabhupada’s talks probe questions concerning the nature of consciousness, techniques of meditation, karma, death, reincarnation, and even spiritual ecstasy.
The Bhagavad-gita, described by one contemporary psychologist as “a remarkable psychotherapeutic session,” appears to us in the form of an extraordinary dialogue between Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His warrior disciple Arjuna. Perplexed and confused about his identity and purpose, Arjuna turns to Krishna, who reveals “the path of perfection” to His able student. The essence of Lord Krishna’s teachings is that one must become a yogi, that is, one whose life is centered on the practice of yoga. And what is yoga? The Sanskrit word yoga literally means “union,” and refers to the union, in love, between the individual consciousness and the Supreme Consciousness, the self and the Superself, the soul and God. Yoga is, indeed, “the path of perfection,” because it aims toward this most exalted human attainment.
In the Bhagavad-gita, we discover four basic varieties of yoga described. Karma-yoga refers to the process whereby one performs his work for God, without the selfish desire for personal gain. Jnana-yoga is the process of elevation to spiritual consciousness through the cultivation of philosophical knowledge. The ashtanga-yoga system, of which the modern “hatha-yoga” is a watered-down version, is a mechanical, meditative practice meant to control the mind and senses and focus one’s concentration on the Supreme. These three yoga systems culminate in bhakti-yoga, the yoga of selfless, ecstatic, devotional love of God, Krishna. Lord Krishna Himself states in the last verse of Chapter Six, “Of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.”
In The Path of Perfection, Srila Prabhupada offers a brilliant summary of the methods of bhakti-yoga, revealing the universal applicability of this simple but all-inclusive form of yoga. He shows how even those who are entangled in the complexity and chaos of modern materialistic life can begin an uncomplicated practice which purifies the mind and puts one in touch with the Supreme Consciousness.
This, perhaps, was Srila Prabhupada’s greatest contribution to our age. Srila Prabhupada was an acknowledged master scholar of India’s ancient spiritual culture and of its linguistic foundation, the Sanskrit language. But he was not merely a textual scholar or a philosopher or theologian engaged in the manufacture of interesting philosophical or theological notions. He was a true spiritual genius who succeeded in bringing to life the essence of India’s universal spiritual wisdom in a form which is easy for twentieth century man to understand and practice. This was the unique genius which inspired the late prime minister of India, Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri, to declare openly that the writings of Srila Prabhupada “are a significant contribution to the salvation of mankind.” The transforming quality of Srila Prabhupada’s writings was also appreciated by sociologist Elwin H. Powell, who commented on Srila Prabhupada’s best-selling edition of the Bhagavad-gita: “This transcendental mysticism from the East is now taking root in the ’countercultures’ of the West and providing for many a way out of the wilderness of a disintegrating civilization.… If truth is what works, there must be a kind of truth in the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, since those who follow its teachings display a joyous serenity usually missing in the bleak and strident lives of contemporary people.”
The Path of Perfection, by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, explains the highest standard for human beings, the practice of the science of self-realization, bhakti-yoga.
A chronicle of an historic series of talks by Srila Prabhupada, who has been acclaimed by scholars as the greatest exponent of the Indian spiritual tradition, this book deeply probes the nature of consciousness, meditation, karma, death, and reincarnation. He prescribes a simple process to purify the mind and elevate the consciousness—a process that assures readers not only inner peace but the power to change the chaotic trend of modern society.