dharmārtha-kāma iti yo ’bhihitas tri-varga
īkṣā trayī naya-damau vividhā ca vārtā
manye tad etad akhilaṁ nigamasya satyaṁ
svātmārpaṇaṁ sva-suhṛdaḥ paramasya puṁsaḥ
dharma—religion; artha—economic development; kāmaḥ—regulated sense gratification; iti—thus; yaḥ—which; abhihitaḥ—prescribed; tri-vargaḥ—the group of three; īkṣā—self-realization; trayī—the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies; naya—logic; damau—and the science of law and order; vividhā—varieties of; ca—also; vārtā—occupational duties, or one’s livelihood; manye—I consider; tat—them; etat—these; akhilam—all; nigamasya—of the Vedas; satyam—truth; sva-ātma-arpaṇam—the full surrendering of one’s self; sva-suhṛdaḥ—unto the supreme friend; paramasya—the ultimate; puṁsaḥ—personality.
Religion, economic development and sense gratification—these are described in the Vedas as tri-varga, or three ways to salvation. Within these three categories are education and self-realization; ritualistic ceremonies performed according to Vedic injunction; logic; the science of law and order; and the various means of earning one’s livelihood. These are the external subject matters of study in the Vedas, and therefore I consider them material. However, I consider surrender to the lotus feet of Lord Viṣṇu to be transcendental.
These instructions of Prahlāda Mahārāja stress the transcendental position of devotional service. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (14.26):
“One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down in any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.” One who fully engages in the devotional service of the Lord is immediately raised to the transcendental position, which is the brahma-bhūta stage. Any education or activity not on the brahma-bhūta platform, the platform of self-realization, is considered to be material, and Prahlāda Mahārāja says that anything material cannot be the Absolute Truth, for the Absolute Truth is on the spiritual platform. This is also confirmed by Lord Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā (2.45), where He says, traiguṇya-viṣayā vedā nistraiguṇyo bhavārjuna: “The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them.” To act on the material platform, even if one’s activities are sanctioned by the Vedas, is not the ultimate goal of life. The ultimate goal of life is to stay on the spiritual platform, fully surrendered to the parama-puruṣa, the supreme person. This is the object of the human mission. In summary, the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies and injunctions are not to be discounted; they are means of being promoted to the spiritual platform. But if one does not come to the spiritual platform, the Vedic ceremonies are simply a waste of time. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.8):
“Duties [dharma] executed by men, regardless of occupation, are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Supreme Lord.” If one very strictly performs the various duties of religion but does not ultimately come to the platform of surrendering to the Supreme Lord, his methods of attaining salvation or elevation are simply a waste of time and energy.
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