According to Patañjali's system, mysticism means perfect control of the mental plane with its various fickle inclinations. According to Patañjali, the transcendental state is to become free from sensuous activities and to attain the stage of perfection perceptible purely by the spirit soul. In such a state, the attention of the mystic never deviates from that spiritual achievement. The eightfold material perfections—such as aṇimā, laghimā, prāpti, īśitā, vaśitā, prākāmya, and so on—are concomitant in the attainment of perfection in mysticism, and are but indirect by-products of that process.
After attainment of one or two of the above perfections, many mystics fall into the trap of mental oscillation. In such a state, the mystic fails to attain to the highest perfection, namely, pure devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But the transcendental worker, or karma-yogī, has no such fear of falling down, for his attention is already fixed in the transcendental service of the Personality of Godhead. Thus, he does not need to enter separately into trance. For the karma-yogī, the mystic perfections manifest automatically due to the ever-increasing freshness of their object of attention, the Personality of Godhead. A mundaner is surely unable to realize how there can be so much transcendental happiness in the service of the Personality of Godhead.
Further, there can be no loss for either the mystic or the karma-yogī in his attempt to perfect such transcendental activities. And the gain is always assured, even if the process is only partially completed. Anything that is material or mundane—be it acquisition of knowledge or of wealth—is vanquished along with the annihilation of the material body. But the transcendental work of the karma-yogī surpasses the mundane limits of the material body and mind, because it is performed in relation with the transcendental spirit soul. Being thus spiritualized, these transcendental activities transcend the limits of material annihilation. Just as the soul is not annihilated, even after annihilation of the material body, so also these spiritualized activities are not annihilated, even after the annihilation of the body or mind.
To some extent, we have already discussed this endurance of the results of transcendental work in the section on transcendental knowledge. The Personality of Godhead confirms this reality in the Bhagavad-gītā (6.40), and Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda explains it in the following manner: "After all, the human race is divided into two sections. The one is legitimate and the other is illegitimate. Those who do not care about any laws of life, but simply work on the principle of sense gratification—they are all illegitimate. They may be civilized or uncivilized, they may be learned or illiterate, they may be powerful or weak, but such illegitimate persons, generally known as outlaws, always act like the lower animals. There is no good in them, in spite of all appearances. But those who are legitimate or law-abiding persons may be divided into three transcendental divisions: namely, the lawful workers, the empiric philosophers, and the transcendental devotees. The lawful workers are again divided into two sections: namely, the workers with a desire to enjoy the fruits of their work; and the transcendental workers, without any such desire. The worker with a desire to enjoy the fruits of his work is hankering after transient material happiness, and such a worker is rewarded with worldly or heavenly happiness within the material worlds. But it must be known that all these forms of happiness are temporary. Thus, the worker cannot attain to real happiness, which is permanent and transcendental. This real and transcendental happiness is attained only after liberation from the bondage of material existence. Any action which does not aim at such transcendental happiness is always temporary and baffling."
When ordinary work aims at such a transcendental objective, this work is called karma-yoga. By this process of karma-yoga, one gradually attains self-purification, then transcendental knowledge, next perfect meditation, and ultimately transcendental service to the Personality of Godhead. Sometimes a mundane worker is misunderstood to be a tapasvī (renunciant) or a mahātmā (great soul) because of the many austerities he performs to attain his mundane goals. But these austerities accepted by such rigid mundaners are, after all, aimed merely at material sense gratification, and therefore these austerities are useless in the transcendental sense. Some of the asuras, or demons, such as Rāvaṇa and Hiraṇyakaśipu, also underwent a severe process of austerity and penance, but they obtained nothing except some temporary objects of sensory pleasure. Therefore, only when one has transcended the limits of sensory pleasure can he be classified as a karma-yogī, or a worker for transcendental results. Real goodness lies in the activities of karma-yoga, even if one is only in the preliminary stages. Further, a karma-yogī makes progressive headway life after life, and this is confirmed as follows in the Bhagavad-gītā (6.43): "Even after successive births, the karma-yogī revives the transcendental sense of service, and by his natural attachment, he tries again to give further perfection to the progress of his transcendental activities."
Even if such transcendentalists slip away from the path of progress in some way or other, they are again given chances for making progress. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (6.41), they are allowed to take their next birth either in the family of a bona fide brahmaṇa or in the family of a rich merchant who is devoted to the service of Godhead.