The Vedanta sutra states, ānanda-mayo 'bhyāsāt – the spirit is by nature full of joy. Every soul is a ‘pleasure being’. In the bodily concept of self, the pleasure being’s potential is limited to the trappings of gross and subtle bodies. Stuck in the ‘well’ of paltry pleasures, the soul is unable to experience its full pleasure potential.
Pleasure is commonly known to be sensations derived momentarily at different layers of our self: sensations of gross body through the five senses; sensation of the emotional body, of loving exchanges; pleasures of the intellectual body, cognitive pleasures of discovery and knowledge and sensations of the ego body, pleasures of power, freedom, success and fame.
Outside the realm of sensational pleasure is the existential or ‘being’ pleasure of the self — the pleasure of our state of being. For example, the happiness of ‘love’ is different from the sensational pleasure of ‘loving exchanges’ between loved ones. The pleasure of ‘love’ is the continuing sense of belonging of loved ones. Existential pleasures arise from a sense of belonging or possessing a lover, wealth, education, and social position.
We normally work to gain access, create, and expand situations for sensational and existential pleasures. The default paradigm of a layman is that ‘work’ is a burden that must be undertaken in order to enjoy its fruits. There is the other paradigm of a yogi, wherein working itself is pleasure, a pleasure different from sensational and existential pleasures. Such work-pleasure is enjoyed by yogis.
A karma yogi takes pleasure in work itself, irrespective of its outcome. He enjoys living most of his time in the world of activity leading to his dream, rather than dwelling on the dream itself. He is content each moment of his work, with whatever fruit comes by the Will of Providence. He tries to excel in his work every moment, giving each moment his best to attain the fruit. It is the flowing experience of fulfillment of every bit of work. He is focused on ‘doing of work’ itself without the anxiety of a distant outcome at the end of the work.
However, what the karma yogi enjoys is the preliminary kind of work-pleasure. The pinnacle of such pleasure is that of a yogi whose actions combine the principles of karma, jnana and bhakti. He enjoys selfless devoted service as rendered by a part to the Absolute Whole. It springs from spiritual knowledge (of his oneness in quality with the Absolute beyond his body), love and compassion to serve the ignorant and suffering. The causes of such service are in harmony with humankind’s dharma or eternal existential purpose. When engaged thus, one’s own needs are lovingly taken care of mystically, by the Absolute.
Arjuna agreed to fight the war of Kurukshetra for a larger cause advocated by Krishna. This illustrates highest activity-pleasure of combined karma, jnana and bhakti. He transcended the limited, conditioned urges for sensational pleasure of his senses and mind and acted harmoniously with the holistic wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita received from Krishna. Such actions are performed and relished in the background of the highest spiritual existential joy of service, even if they mean discomfort for the body and mind. Such a mature yogi enjoys becoming just a willing, joyful creative instrument in loving devotional service. The inspiring force behind such works is the Omnipotent Absolute Whole Himself.