Those who make donkeys the Gita’s role models sentence themselves to donkey-like roles
“Work is worship is the central teaching of the Bhagavad-gita.” So claim many people.
If they were right, then wouldn’t it make the creature that works extremely hard, the donkey, the Gita’s role model?
But the Gita doesn’t consider the donkey as its model. Of course, it (05.12) urges us to cultivate equal vision towards all living beings including animals such as donkeys: to see them all as sparks of spirit, similar in spiritual essence to us. Additionally, it uses the standard metaphor of a donkey (mudha) to refer to people who labor pointlessly, without any spiritual insight or interest. The donkey subjects itself to unnecessary torture, carrying huge loads for tiny rewards, lumps of grass that it could have got without becoming a beast of burden.
Similar to the donkey, the Gita (07.15) indicates, are those people who exhaust their human intelligence and energy for gaining the bodily pleasures of eating, sleeping, mating and defending – pleasures available to animals. Humans who labor for these animalistic pleasures labor like donkeys, unnecessarily and unproductively. Thus Gita wisdom indicts the “work is worship” brigade. For the Gita, such sloganeers are models, no doubt – but models to be avoided, not emulated.
Of course, the Gita shows the way to authentically make work into worship (18.46: sva-karmana tam abhyarca). But that way is far different from the self-serving notion that work itself is intrinsically, automatically worship. That way begins by recognizing the enormous potential of human life as a launching pad from mortality to immortality. To attain immortal life in Krishna’s imperishable abode, we need to devote quality time for exclusively worshiping him. This singular devotion transforms our heart into an altar for the continuous worship of Krishna. With this inner sanctification when we engage in our worldly work, he graciously accepts our work as a form of worship.
By thus cultivating a deep devotional disposition, we can all transform our work into worship.