We are all engaged in occupational duties of different types according to our bodies and minds, and our relation to nature. Bodily or mental duties change, because we change our bodies. I am now a human being, and next time, if I become some animal, or a demigod, my occupational duty changes. If the body is born in India, one is feeling that "It is my duty to serve my country." Similarly, an Englishman is thinking to serve his country. The mind also changes according to body, or according to mind the body becomes engaged in a particular duty. We are contaminated by so many qualities of nature, and we are making our concoction, manufacturing our duty. A drunkard, because he has mixed with the quality of drunkards, he thinks, "Drinking is my duty." When you mix with the teabaggers, then you become like the teabaggers: "Oh, it is my duty to protest against the government." Otherwise you cannot stay in the society of teabaggers. But these occupational duties are not para. Para means transcendental, supreme.
After Krishna left the planet, the question was dharmaḥ kaṁ śaraṇaṁ gataḥ. "After departure of Krishna from this planet to His abode, under whom was the real occupational duty entrusted?" Krishna gave the answer in Bhagavad-gītā (18.66) sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: "This is your real occupation. You have got some bodily occupation, some mental occupation, some intellectual occupation, but you have to give up all these things. Simply surrender unto Me. This is your real occupation." Krishna descends to teach us this dharma, or occupational duty. He has explained karma-yoga, jñāna-yoga, dhyāna-yoga. These are all occupational duties of the body, of the mind, of intelligence. But real occupation is the soul's surrender to Krishna, because the soul is eternal. The body and mind are not eternal.
The bodies and minds of materialistic nondevotees seem to display the symptoms of life, but this appearance is deceptive. Actually, the conditioned soul has little control over his own bodily existence. Against his will, he has to excrete waste, get sick from time to time, and eventually age and die. And in his mind he unwillingly suffers anger, hankering and lamentation. Lord Krishna describes this situation as yantrārūdhāni māyayā (Bhagavad-gītā 18.61), riding helplessly as a passenger in a mechanical vehicle. The soul undoubtedly is alive, and irrevocably so, but in his ignorance that inner life is covered and forgotten. In its place, the automation of the external mind and body carries out the dictates of the modes of nature, which force one to act in a way altogether irrelevant to the dormant needs of the soul. Calling out to the forgetful prisoners of illusion, the Śvetāśvatara Upanisad (2.5) urges, "All you sons of immortality, hear, you who once resided in the divine kingdom!"
So, on the one hand, what is normally viewed as living -- the material body -- is in actuality a dead machine being manipulated by the modes of nature. And on the other hand, what the materialist condescendingly views as inert matter meant for exploitation is in its unknown essence connected with a living intelligence vastly more potent than his own. The Vedic civilization recognizes the intelligence behind nature as belonging to demigods who preside over the various elements, and ultimately to the Supreme Lord Himself. Matter, after all, cannot act coherently without the impulse and guidance of a living force. As Krishna states in Bhagavad-gītā (9.10),
"This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kuntī, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again."
There are many thoughtful writers and creative philosophers, but despite all their learning, if they cannot approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they are simply useless mental speculators. There are many sharply intelligent people in this material world, and they discover so many things for sense gratification. They also analytically study all the material elements, but despite their expert knowledge and expert scientific analysis of the whole cosmic manifestation, their endeavors are useless because they cannot understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Polluted intelligence has been compared to a prostitute. One who has not purified his intelligence is said to be controlled by that prostitute. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (2.41), those who are actually serious are conducted by one kind of intelligence, namely, intelligence in Krishna consciousness. One who is not fixed in proper intelligence discovers many modes of life. Thus involved in material activities, he is exposed to the different modes of material nature and subjected to varieties of so-called happiness and distress. If a man becomes the husband of a prostitute, he cannot be happy, and similarly one who follows the dictations of material intelligence and material consciousness will never be happy.
One must judiciously understand the activities of material nature. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (3.27)
"The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature."
It is like a bull tethered by a nose ring. The bull always thinks he's in control, but he's being pulled by the nose this way and that. The bull is being pulled in one direction, and the bull thinks "Let me go this way." When the bull is pulled in the other direction, then the bull thinks, "Let me go that way."
Although one follows the dictations of material nature, he happily thinks himself the master or husband of material nature. Scientists, for example, try to be the masters of material nature, life after life, not caring to understand the Supreme Person, under whose direction everything within this material world is moving. Trying to be the masters of material nature, they are imitation gods who declare to the public that scientific advancement will one day be able to avoid the so-called control of God. In fact, however, the living being, unable to control the rulings of God, is forced to associate with the prostitute of polluted intelligence and accept various material bodies. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (13.22)
"The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil amongst various species."