In the second chapter of Bhagavad-gītā, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, advises as follows: "Thus far I have explained to you about transcendental knowledge. Now I shall explain to you about work with transcendental results. By this work with transcendental results, you can get rid of the bondage of ordinary work. In this process there is no loss or diminution. Even if very little of this work is done, it can save one from the greatest trouble."
Pure devotional activities are of one variety only. And how these devotional activities can be coordinated with our daily, active life has been explained in Bhagavad-gītā. Coordinating such devotional activities with our daily activities is technically known as karma-yoga. The same devotional activities when mixed with the culture of knowledge are technically called jñāna-yoga. But when such devotional activities transcend the limits of all such work or mental knowledge, this state of affairs is called pure transcendental devotion, or bhakti-yoga.
All the various actions that we perform in this world beget various specific results. When we begin to enjoy the fruits of such performances, these further actions also produce, in their turn, further specific results as a matter of course. Thus, we have a big tree of these actions and reactions with their respective fruits. And as the enjoyers of these fruits, we become bound up in the network of such work and its fruit. Birth after birth, the spirit soul becomes bound up in the process of producing such fruits and enjoying the same.
While passing through various of the 8,400,000 species of life, the spirit soul is overwhelmed by the suffering created by those reactions. We have very little chance of escaping this bondage of action and reaction—work and its fruitive results. Even after abdicating all work and accepting the life of a sannyāsī, or renunciant, one still has to work, if only for his hungry stomach. And thus Śaṅkarācārya, the great monist philosopher and religious reformer, said that simply for the matter of the stomach, one may not adopt the dress of a renunciant. Therefore, there is no way out—no way to avoid doing work, if only for the belly's sake.
As a result, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, advises Marshal Arjuna in the following words: "O Arjuna, you must always do your duty. To do something is far better than to do nothing. You cannot even secure your everyday sustenance without doing any work."
"Work" means the work that is ordered in the scriptures and sacred law books. It means standard, prescribed duties. Such work is far better than laziness under the pretension of being a renunciant or mystic. To earn a living, one can honorably adopt the profession of a street sweeper, but one must not change his dress to the saffron robes of a renunciate simply to fill up his empty stomach. In the present age of quarrel and pretension, one should prefer to do the ordinary, prescribed duties rather than adopt the life of a sannyāsī, a renunciate. Those who are genuinely renounced understand that they must not give up performing their prescribed daily duties in the social order, because otherwise there will be disaster, plain and simple. When we cannot secure our everyday sustenance without doing any work, how is it possible to give up our prescribed duties? And yet one must not forget the difficult position of one's being in the network of action and reaction by which the spirit soul becomes bound up in material existence.
So, to solve this dilemma, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, advises us as follows: "The best policy for doing work is to perform all prescribed duties for the satisfaction of Yajña, the Supreme Being—Viṣṇu, the Absolute Truth. Otherwise, all actions will produce reactions that will cause bondage. If work is done for the sake of Yajña, then one can become free from all bondages."
This method of work, or prescribed duties, that does not cause any bondage is called work with transcendental results, or karma-yoga. By such work with transcendental results, or karma-yoga, not only does one become immune from the bondage of work, but also one develops his transcendental devotion toward the Absolute Personality of Godhead. One must not enjoy the fruits of his work himself, but must dedicate the same for the transcendental loving service of the Personality of Godhead. This is the first step on the ladder of devotional activities. Lord Caitanya taught this process of devotional service, or work with transcendental results, to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī at Daśāśvamedha-ghāṭa in Prayāga. Lord Caitanya said that only one who is fortunate can get the seed of transcendental loving service, by the mercy of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, and that of the spiritual master. Karma-yoga, or work with transcendental results, is the seed of pure devotional activities. This science is taught by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself or by His bona fide, confidential servants. Unless one takes his lessons from such sources, one must inevitably misunderstand the import of karma-yoga, as do the ordinary mundaners who often advertise themselves as karma-yoga experts.