Devotee: “Does the ego disappear altogether after the realization of God?”
Master: “Yes, sometimes God totally effaces the ego of His devotee, as in the state of samadhi. But in many cases He keeps a trace of ego. But that doesn’t injure anybody. It is like the ego of a child. A five-year-old child no doubt says ‘I,’ but that ego doesn’t harm anybody. At the touch of the philosopher’s stone, steel is turned into gold; the steel sword becomes a sword of gold. The gold sword has the form of a sword, no doubt, but it cannot injure anybody. One cannot cut anything with a gold sword.
(To Pratap) “You have been to England. Tell us what you saw there.”
Pratap: “The English people worship what you call ‘gold.’ Of course, there are also some good people in England, those who live an unattached life. But generally one finds there a great display of rajas in everything. I saw the same thing in America.
Master (to Pratap): “It is not in England alone that one sees attachment to worldly things. You see it everywhere. But remember that work is only the first step in spiritual life. God cannot be realized without sattva—love, discrimination, kindness, and so on. It is the very nature of rajas to involve a man in many worldly activities. That is why rajas degenerates into tamas. If a man is entangled in too many activities he surely forgets God. He becomes more and more attached to ‘woman and gold.’
“But it is not possible for you to give up work altogether. Your very nature will lead you to it whether you like it or not. Therefore the scriptures ask you to work in a detached spirit, that is to say, not to crave the work’s results. For example, you may perform devotions and worship, and practice austerities, but your aim is not to earn people’s recognition or to increase your merit.
“To work in such a spirit of detachment is known as karma yoga. But it is very difficult. We are living in the Kali yuga, when one easily becomes attached to one’s actions. You may think you are working in a detached spirit, but attachment creeps into the mind from nobody knows where. You may worship in the temple or arrange a grand religious festival or feed many poor and starving people. You may think you have done all this without hankering after the results. But unknown to yourself the desire for name and fame has somehow crept into your mind. Complete detachment from the results of action is possible only for one who has seen God.”
A Devotee: “Then what is the way for those who have not seen God? Must they give up all the duties of the world?”
Master: “The best path for this age is bhakti yoga, the path of bhakti prescribed by Nārada: to sing the name and glories of God and pray to Him with a longing heart, ‘O God, give me knowledge, give me devotion, and reveal Thyself to me!’ The path of karma is extremely difficult. Therefore one should pray: ‘O God, make my duties fewer and fewer; and may I, through Thy grace, do the few duties that Thou givest me without any attachment to their results! May I have no desire to be involved in many activities!’
“It is not possible to give up work altogether. Even to think or to meditate is a kind of work. As you develop love for God, your worldly activities become fewer and fewer of themselves. And you lose all interest in them. Can one who has tasted a drink made of sugar candy enjoy a drink made of ordinary molasses?”
A Devotee: “Isn’t action the aim of life then?”
Master: “The aim of life is the attainment of God. Work is only a preliminary step; it can never be the end. Even unselfish work is only a means; it is not the end.”
– Sri Ramakrishna, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna