Devotional service means trying to please the Lord. It is meant to give Krishna happiness, not to give happiness to ourselves. Devotional service is the soul’s eternal constitutional propensity, the living entity’s natural characteristic. The soul has no other constitutional duty than to offer service to the Lord. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvathi Thakur.
Devotional service means activities performed for the pleasure of Lord Krishna, with devotion, and ultimately not mixed with any desire for personal pleasure.
The best way to begin devotional service is to try to offer everything you do, or some portion of everything you do, to Krishna. For example, if you cook, offer the food to Lord Krishna before eating. If you work, then take some of the results of your work and offer it at the temple for the seva of Lord Krishna! If you have some skills, offer to help at a temple and use your skills for the benefit of the Deity, the temple, and the devotees.
In the 12th chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna gives several different alternatives as to how to begin the process of devotional service. And He also says that even offering a little water, a fruit, or a flower with love to Him constitutes devotional service. So does prayer; specifically, chanting the Hare Krishna mantra is devotional service, and will clean personal desire from the heart and allow you to focus on just rendering loving service to Krishna:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Devotional service, or bhakti yoga, is the best method for achieving transcendental realization. In today’s society, the term “yoga” is generally associated with gymnastics poses and various breathing exercises. However, yoga is a term originating from the Vedas and it means to have union with the Supreme, or God. Yoga is meant to be a completely spiritual activity.
There are various types of yoga, such as jnana yoga (meditational/contemplation), karma yoga (fruitive activity), and hatha yoga (body positions/exercises). Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, describes all of them in detail in the Bhagavad-gita. Of all the different types of yoga, bhakti yoga is considered the highest since it involves loving devotion to God. Though devotional service can be classified as a means of self-realization, it is actually the natural disposition of all living entities. We are all part and parcels of God and it is our true nature to love him. Through contact with material nature, we have forgotten this relationship. Bhakti yoga is the way for us to reconnect with Krishna.
Lord Krishna Himself states that no one is dearer to Him than His devotee. His bhaktas, or devotees, have pure love for Him, and the Lord reciprocates. The Lord is generally neutral towards all living entities, but He goes to great lengths to favor and protect his bhaktas. He even states that worshipping His devotee is as good as worshipping Himself.
Devotional service can be a broad term and thus may seem difficult to understand. One may ask “what activity actually constitutes devotional service?” The Vedas give us the answer. There are nine distinct processes of devotional service:
1. Hearing (sravanam)
2. Chanting (kirtanam)
3. Remembering (visnhu smaranam)
4. Serving the Lords lotus feet (pada sevanam)
5. Deity Worship (arcanam)
6. Praying (vandanam)
7. Carrying out the orders of the Lord (dasyam)
8. Becoming friends with Him (sakhyam)
9. Surrendering everything to Him (atma nivedanam)
Engaging in any or all of these processes will make one’s life perfect. For each of these processes, Vedic literature has examples of great souls who achieved perfection by practicing them. Religious life is often viewed as being very strict and austere, and requiring great renunciation. Devotional service is above all religious regulations and austerities. Bhakti means love, and it is the natural inclination of everyone to love someone else. So why not try the yoga of love? These processes aren’t very difficult to perform. They don’t take much time and they don’t require any renunciation. In fact, renunciation from sinful activity automatically comes to those who follow the path of devotional service.
In this age, the two most effective processes of devotional service are hearing and chanting. So please chant the Maha-mantra “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare” and hear about Lord Krishna through his authorized representative, the spiritual master, and you will always be happy.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Third Canto, Twenty-ninth Chapter, verses 12 and 13, Śrīla Kapiladeva, while instructing His mother, has given the following characteristics of pure devotional service: “My dear mother, those who are My pure devotees, and who have no desire for material benefit or philosophical speculation, have their minds so much engaged in My service that they are never interested in asking Me for anything — except to be engaged in that service. They do not even beg to live in My abode with Me.”
There are five kinds of liberation, namely to become one with the Lord, to live with the Supreme Lord on the same planet, to have the same features as the Lord, to enjoy the same opulences as the Lord and to live as a companion of the Lord. A devotee, what to speak of rejecting material sense gratification, does not even want any of the five kinds of liberation. He is satisfied simply by discharging loving service to the Lord. That is the characteristic of pure devotion.
In the above statement by Kapiladeva from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the actual position of a pure devotee is described, and the primary characteristics of devotional service are also defined. Further characteristics of devotional service are described by Rūpa Gosvāmī with evidences from different scriptures. He states that there are six characteristics of pure devotional service, which are as follows:
(1) Pure devotional service brings immediate relief from all kinds of material distress.
(2) Pure devotional service is the beginning of all auspiciousness.
(3) Pure devotional service automatically puts one in transcendental pleasure.
(4) Pure devotional service is rarely achieved.
(5) Those in pure devotional service deride even the conception of liberation.
(6) Pure devotional service is the only means to attract Krishna.
Krishna is all-attractive, but pure devotional service attracts even Him. This means that pure devotional service is even transcendentally stronger than Krishna Himself, because it is Krishna’s internal potency.
Relief from Material Distress
In Bhagavad-gītā, the Lord says that one should surrender unto Him, giving up all other engagements. The Lord also gives His word there that He will protect surrendered souls from the reactions of all sinful activities. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says that the distresses from sinful activities are due both to the sins themselves and to sins committed in our past lives. Generally, one commits sinful activities due to ignorance. But ignorance is no excuse for evading the reaction — sinful activities. Sinful activities are of two kinds: those which are mature and those which are not mature. The sinful activities for which we are suffering at the present moment are called mature. The many sinful activities stored within us for which we have not yet suffered are considered immature. For example, a man may have committed criminal acts, but not yet been arrested for them. Now, as soon as he is detected, arrest is awaiting him. Similarly, for some of our sinful activities we are awaiting distresses in the future, and for others, which are mature, we are suffering at the present moment.
In this way there is a chain of sinful activities and their concomitant distresses, and the conditioned soul is suffering life after life due to these sins. He is suffering in the present life the results of sinful activities from his past life, and he is meanwhile creating further sufferings for his future life. Mature sinful activities are exhibited if one is suffering from some chronic disease, if one is suffering from some legal implication, if one is born in a low and degraded family or if one is uneducated or very ugly.
There are many results of past sinful activities for which we are suffering at the present moment, and we may be suffering in the future due to our present sinful activities. But all of these reactions to sinful deeds can immediately be stopped if we take to Krishna consciousness. As evidence for this, Rūpa Gosvāmī quotes from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Eleventh Canto, Fourteenth Chapter, verse 19. This verse is in connection with Lord Krishna’s instruction to Uddhava, where He says, “My dear Uddhava, devotional service unto Me is just like a blazing fire which can burn into ashes unlimited fuel supplied to it.” The purport is that as the blazing fire can burn any amount of fuel to ashes, so devotional service to the Lord in Krishna consciousness can burn up all the fuel of sinful activities. For example, in the Gītā Arjuna thought that fighting was a sinful activity, but Krishna engaged him on the battlefield under His order, and so the fighting became devotional service. Therefore, Arjuna was not subjected to any sinful reaction.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī quotes another verse from the Third Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Thirty-third Chapter, verse 6, in which Devahūti addresses her son, Kapiladeva, and says, “My dear Lord, there are nine different kinds of devotional service, beginning from hearing and chanting. Anyone who hears about Your pastimes, who chants about Your glories, who offers You obeisances, who thinks of You and, in this way, executes any of the nine kinds of devotional service — even if he is born in a family of dog-eaters [the lowest grade of mankind] — becomes immediately qualified to perform sacrifices.” As such, how is it possible that anyone actually engaged in devotional service in full Krishna consciousness has not become purified? It is not possible. One who is engaged in Krishna consciousness and devotional service has without doubt become freed from all contaminations of material sinful activities. Devotional service therefore has the power to actually nullify all kinds of reactions to sinful deeds. A devotee is nevertheless always alert not to commit any sinful activities; this is his specific qualification as a devotee. Thus Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam states that by performing devotional service a person who was born even in a family of dog-eaters may become eligible to take part in the performance of the ritualistic ceremonies recommended in the Vedas. It is implicit in this statement that a person born into a family of dog-eaters is generally not fit for performing yajña, or sacrifice. The priestly caste in charge of performing these ritualistic ceremonies recommended in the Vedas is called the brāhmaṇa order. Unless one is a brāhmaṇa, he cannot perform these ceremonies.
A person is born in a brāhmaṇa family or in a family of dog-eaters due to his past activities. If a person is born in a family of dog-eaters it means that his past activities were all sinful. But if even such a person takes to the path of devotional service and begins to chant the holy names of the Lord — Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare — he is at once fit to perform the ritualistic ceremonies. This means that his sinful reactions have immediately become neutralized.
It is stated in the Padma Purāṇa that there are four kinds of effects due to sinful activities, which are listed as follows: (1) the effect which is not yet fructified, (2) the effect which is lying as seed, (3) the effect which is already mature and (4) the effect which is almost mature. It is also stated that all these four effects become immediately vanquished for those who surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Viṣṇu, and become engaged in His devotional service in full Krishna consciousness.
Those effects described as “almost mature” refer to the distress from which one is suffering at present, and the effects “lying as seed” are in the core of the heart, where there is a certain stock of sinful desires which are like seeds. The Sanskrit word kūṭam means that they are almost ready to produce the seed, or the effect of the seed. “An immature effect” refers to the case where the seedling has not begun. From this statement of Padma Purāṇa it is understood that material contamination is very subtle. Its beginning, its fruition and results, and how one suffers such results in the form of distress, are part of a great chain. When one catches some disease, it is often very difficult to ascertain the cause of the disease, where it originated and how it is maturing. The suffering of a disease, however, does not appear all of a sudden. It actually takes time. And as in the medical field, for precaution’s sake, the doctor injects a vaccination to prevent the growing of contamination, the practical injection to stop all the fructifications of the seeds of our sinful activities is simply engagement in Krishna consciousness.
In this connection, Śukadeva Gosvāmī speaks in the Sixth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Second Chapter, verse 17, about the story of Ajāmila, who began life as a fine and dutiful brāhmaṇa, but in his young manhood became wholly corrupted by a prostitute. At the end of his wicked life, just by calling the name “Nārāyaṇa [Krishna],” he was saved despite so much sin. Śukadeva points out that austerity, charity and the performance of ritualistic ceremonies for counteracting sinful activities are recommended processes, but that by performing them one cannot remove the sinful desire-seed from the heart, as was the case with Ajāmila in his youth. This sinful desire-seed can be removed only by achieving Krishna consciousness. And this can be accomplished very easily by chanting the mahā-mantra, or Hare Krishna mantra, as recommended by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. In other words, unless one adopts the path of devotional service, he cannot be one-hundred-percent clean from all the reactions of sinful activities.
By performing Vedic ritualistic activities, by giving money in charity and by undergoing austerity, one can temporarily become free from the reactions of sinful activities, but at the next moment he must again become engaged in sinful activities. For example, a person suffering from venereal disease on account of excessive indulgence in sex life has to undergo some severe pain in medical treatment, and he is then cured for the time being. But because he has not been able to remove the sex desire from his heart, he must again indulge in the same thing and become a victim of the same disease. So medical treatment may give temporary relief from the distress of such venereal disease, but unless one is trained to understand that sex life is abominable, it is impossible to be saved from such repeated distress. Similarly, the ritualistic performances, charity and austerity which are recommended in the Vedas may temporarily stop one from acting in sinful ways, but as long as the heart is not clear, one will have to repeat sinful activities again and again.
Another example given in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam concerns the elephant who enters into a lake and takes a bath very seriously, cleansing his body thoroughly. Then as soon as he comes onto shore he again takes some dust from the earth and throws it over his body. Similarly, a person who is not trained in Krishna consciousness cannot become completely free from the desire for sinful activities. Neither the yoga process nor philosophical speculations nor fruitive activities can save one from the seeds of sinful desires. Only by being engaged in devotional service can this be done.
There is another evidence in the Fourth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Twenty-second Chapter, verse 39, wherein Sanat-kumāra says, “My dear King, the false ego of a human being is so strong that it keeps him in material existence as if tied up by a strong rope. Only the devotees can cut off the knot of this strong rope very easily, by engaging themselves in Krishna consciousness. Others, who are not in Krishna consciousness but are trying to become great mystics or great ritual performers, cannot advance like the devotees. Therefore, it is the duty of everyone to engage himself in the activities of Krishna consciousness in order to be freed from the tight knot of false ego and engagement in material activities.”
This tight knot of false ego is due to ignorance. As long as one is ignorant about his identity, he is sure to act wrongly and thereby become entangled in material contamination. This ignorance of factual knowledge can also be dissipated by Krishna consciousness, as is confirmed in the Padma Purāṇa as follows: “Pure devotional service in Krishna consciousness is the highest enlightenment, and when such enlightenment is there, it is just like a blazing forest fire, killing all the inauspicious snakes of desire.” The example is being given in this connection that when there is a forest fire the extensive blazing automatically kills all the snakes in the forest. There are many, many snakes on the ground of the forest, and when a fire takes place, it burns the dried foliage, and the snakes are immediately attacked. Animals who have four legs can flee from the fire or can at least try to flee, but the snakes are immediately killed. Similarly, the blazing fire of Krishna consciousness is so strong that the snakes of ignorance are immediately killed.
Krishna Consciousness Is All-auspicious
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has given a definition of auspiciousness. He says that actual auspiciousness means welfare activities for all the people of the world. At the present moment groups of people are engaged in welfare activities in terms of society, community or nation. There is even an attempt in the form of the United Nations for world-help activity. But due to the shortcomings of limited national activities, such a general mass welfare program for the whole world is not practically possible. The Krishna consciousness movement, however, is so nice that it can render the highest benefit to the entire human race. Everyone can be attracted by this movement, and everyone can feel the result. Therefore, Rūpa Gosvāmī and other learned scholars agree that a broad propaganda program for the Krishna consciousness movement of devotional service all over the world is the highest humanitarian welfare activity.
How the Krishna consciousness movement can attract the attention of the whole world and how each and every man can feel pleasure in this Krishna consciousness is stated in the Padma Purāṇa as follows: “A person who is engaged in devotional service in full Krishna consciousness is to be understood to be doing the best service to the whole world and to be pleasing everyone in the world. In addition to human society, he is pleasing even the trees and animals, because they also become attracted by such a movement.” A practical example of this was shown by Lord Caitanya when He was traveling through the forests of Jhārikhaṇḍa in central India for spreading His sańkīrtana movement. The tigers, the elephants, the deer and all the other wild animals joined Him and were participating, in their own ways, by dancing and chanting Hare Krishna.
Furthermore, a person engaged in Krishna consciousness, acting in devotional service, can develop all the good qualities that are generally found in the demigods. It is said by Śukadeva Gosvāmī in the Fifth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Eighteenth Chapter, verse 12, “My dear King, persons who have unflinching faith in Krishna and are without any duplicity can develop all the good qualities of the demigods. On account of a devotee’s high grade of Krishna consciousness, even the demigods like to live with him, and therefore it can be understood that the qualities of the demigods have developed within his body.”
On the other hand, a person who is not in Krishna consciousness has no good qualities. He may be highly educated from the academic point of view, but in the actual field of his activities he can be seen to be baser than the animals. Even though a person is highly educated academically, if he cannot go beyond the sphere of mental activities then he is sure to perform only material activities and thus remain impure. There are so many persons in the modern world who have been highly educated in the materialistic universities, but it is seen that they cannot take up the movement of Krishna consciousness and develop the high qualities of the demigods.
For example, a Krishna conscious boy, even if he is not very well educated by the university standard, can immediately give up all illicit sex life, gambling, meat-eating and intoxication, whereas those who are not in Krishna consciousness, although very highly educated, are often drunkards, meat-eaters, sexmongers and gamblers. These are practical proofs of how a Krishna conscious person becomes highly developed in good qualities, whereas a person who is not in Krishna consciousness cannot do so. We experience that even a young boy in Krishna consciousness is unattached to cinemas, nightclubs, naked dance shows, restaurants, liquor shops, etc. He becomes completely freed. He saves his valuable time from being extravagantly spent in the way of smoking, drinking, attending the theater and dancing.
One who is not in Krishna consciousness usually cannot sit silently even for half an hour. The yoga system teaches that if you become silent you will realize that you are God. This system may be all right for materialistic persons, but how long will they be able to keep themselves silent? Artificially, they may sit down for so-called meditation, but immediately after their yogic performance they will engage themselves again in such activities as illicit sex life, gambling, meat-eating and many other nonsensical things. But a Krishna conscious person gradually elevates himself without endeavoring for this so-called silent meditation. Simply because he is engaged in Krishna consciousness he automatically gives up all this nonsense and develops a high character. One develops the highest character by becoming a pure devotee of Krishna. The conclusion is that no one can truly have any good qualities if he is lacking Krishna consciousness.
Happiness in Krishna Consciousness
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has analyzed the different sources of happiness. He has divided happiness into three categories, which are (1) happiness derived from material enjoyment, (2) happiness derived by identifying oneself with the Supreme Brahman and (3) happiness derived from Krishna consciousness.
In the tantra-śāstra Lord Śiva speaks to his wife, Satī, in this way: “My dear wife, a person who has surrendered himself at the lotus feet of Govinda and who has thus developed pure Krishna consciousness can be very easily awarded all the perfections desired by the impersonalists; and beyond this, he can enjoy the happiness achieved by the pure devotees.”
Happiness derived from pure devotional service is the highest, because it is eternal. The happiness derived from material perfection or understanding oneself to be Brahman is inferior because it is temporary. There is no preventing one’s falling down from material happiness, and there is even every chance of falling down from the spiritual happiness derived out of identifying oneself with the impersonal Brahman.
It has been seen that great Māyāvādī (impersonalist) sannyāsīs — very highly educated and almost realized souls — may sometimes take to political activities or to social welfare activities. The reason is that they actually do not derive any ultimate transcendental happiness in the impersonal understanding and therefore must come down to the material platform and take to such mundane affairs. There are many instances, especially in India, where these Māyāvādī sannyāsīs descend to the material platform again. But a person who is fully in Krishna consciousness will never return to any sort of material platform. However alluring and attracting they may be, he always knows that no material welfare activities can compare to the spiritual activity of Krishna consciousness.
The mystic perfections achieved by actually successful yogīs are eight in number. Aṇimā-siddhi refers to the power by which one can become so small that he can enter into a stone. Modern scientific improvements also enable us to enter into stone, because they provide for excavating so many subways, penetrating the hills, etc. So aṇimā-siddhi, the mystic perfection of trying to enter into stone, has also been achieved by material science. Similarly, all of the yoga-siddhis, or perfections, are material arts. For example, in one yoga-siddhi there is development of the power to become so light that one can float in the air or on water. That is also being performed by modern scientists. They are flying in the air, they are floating on the surface of the water, and they are traveling under the water.
After comparing all these mystic yoga-siddhis to materialistic perfections, we find that the materialistic scientists try for the same perfections. So actually there is no difference between mystic perfection and materialistic perfection. A German scholar once said that the so-called yoga perfections had already been achieved by the modern scientists, and so he was not concerned with them. He intelligently went to India to learn how he could understand his eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord by means of bhakti-yoga, devotional service.
Of course, in the categories of mystic perfection there are certain processes which the material scientists have not yet been able to develop. For instance, a mystic yogī can enter into the sun planet simply by using the rays of the sunshine. This perfection is called laghimā. Similarly, a yogī can touch the moon with his finger. Though the modern astronauts go to the moon with the help of spaceships, they undergo many difficulties, whereas a person with mystic perfection can extend his hand and touch the moon with his finger. This siddhi is called prāpti, or acquisition. With this prāpti-siddhi, not only can the perfect mystic yogī touch the moon planet, but he can extend his hand anywhere and take whatever he likes. He may be sitting thousands of miles away from a certain place, and if he likes he can take fruit from a garden there. This is prāpti-siddhi.
The modern scientists have manufactured nuclear weapons with which they can destroy an insignificant part of this planet, but by the yoga-siddhi known as īśitā one can create and destroy an entire planet simply at will. Another perfection is called vaśitā, and by this perfection one can bring anyone under his control. This is a kind of hypnotism which is almost irresistible. Sometimes it is found that a yogī who may have attained a little perfection in this vaśitā mystic power comes out among the people and speaks all sorts of nonsense, controls their minds, exploits them, takes their money and then goes away.
There is another mystic perfection, which is known as prākāmya (magic). By this prākāmya power one can achieve anything he likes. For example, one can make water enter into his eye and then again come out from within the eye. Simply by his will he can perform such wonderful activities.
The highest perfection of mystic power is called kāmāvasāyitā. This is also magic, but whereas the prākāmya power acts to create wonderful effects within the scope of nature, kāmāvasāyitā permits one to contradict nature — in other words, to do the impossible. Of course, one can derive great amounts of temporary happiness by achieving such yogic materialistic perfections.
Foolishly, people who are enamored of the glimmer of modern materialistic advancement are thinking that the Krishna consciousness movement is for less intelligent men. “I am better off being busy with my material comforts — maintaining a nice apartment, family and sex life.” These people do not know that at any moment they can be kicked out of their material situation. Due to ignorance, they do not know that real life is eternal. The temporary comforts of the body are not the goal of life, and it is due only to darkest ignorance that people become enamored of the glimmering advancement of material comforts. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has therefore said that the advancement of material knowledge renders a person more foolish, because it causes one to forget his real identity by its glimmer. This is doom for him, because this human form of life is meant for getting out of material contamination. By the advancement of material knowledge, people are becoming more and more entangled in material existence. They have no hope of being liberated from this catastrophe.
In the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya it is stated that Prahlāda Mahārāja, a great devotee of the Lord, prayed to Nṛsiḿhadeva (the half-lion, half-man incarnation) as follows: “My dear Lord, I repeatedly pray unto Your lotus feet that I may simply be stronger in devotional service. I simply pray that my Krishna consciousness may be more strong and steady, because happiness derived out of Krishna consciousness and devotional service is so powerful that with it one can have all the other perfections of religiousness, economic development, sense gratification and even the attainment of liberation from material existence.”
Actually, a pure devotee does not aspire after any of these perfections, because the happiness derived from devotional service in Krishna consciousness is so transcendental and so unlimited that no other happiness can compare to it. It is said that even one drop of happiness in Krishna consciousness stands beyond comparison with an ocean of happiness derived from any other activity. Thus, any person who has developed even a little quantity of pure devotional service can very easily kick out all the other kinds of happiness derived from religiousness, economic development, sense gratification and liberation.
There was a great devotee of Lord Caitanya known as Kholāvecā Śrīdhara, who was a very poor man. He was doing a small business selling cups made from the leaves of plantain trees, and his income was almost nothing. Still, he was spending fifty percent of his small income on the worship of the Ganges, and with the other fifty percent he was somehow living. Lord Caitanya once revealed Himself to this confidential devotee, Kholāvecā Śrīdhara, and offered him any opulence he liked. But Śrīdhara informed the Lord that he did not want any material opulence. He was quite happy in his present position and wanted only to gain unflinching faith and devotion unto the lotus feet of Lord Caitanya. That is the position of pure devotees. If they can be engaged twenty-four hours each day in devotional service they do not want anything else, not even the happiness of liberation or of becoming one with the Supreme.
In the Nārada-pañcarātra it is also said that any person who has developed even a small amount of devotional service doesn’t care a fig for any kind of happiness derived from religiousness, economic development, sense gratification or the five kinds of liberation. Any kind of happiness derived from religiousness, economic development, liberation or sense gratification cannot even dare to enter into the heart of a pure devotee. It is stated that as the personal attendants and maidservants of a queen follow the queen with all respect and obeisances, similarly the joys of religiousness, economic development, sense gratification and liberation follow the devotional service of the Lord. In other words, a pure devotee does not lack any kind of happiness derived from any source. He does not want anything but service to Krishna, but even if he should have another desire, the Lord fulfills this without the devotee’s asking.
The Rareness of Pure Devotional Service
In the preliminary phase of spiritual life there are different kinds of austerities, penances and similar processes for attaining self-realization. However, even if an executor of these processes is without any material desire, he still cannot achieve devotional service. And aspiring by oneself alone to achieve devotional service is also not very hopeful, because Krishna does not agree to award devotional service to merely anyone. Krishna can easily offer a person material happiness or even liberation, but He does not agree very easily to award a person engagement in His devotional service. Devotional service can in fact be attained only through the mercy of a pure devotee. In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 19.151) it is said, “By the mercy of the spiritual master who is a pure devotee and by the mercy of Krishna one can achieve the platform of devotional service. There is no other way.”
The rarity of devotional service is also confirmed in the tantra-śāstra, where Lord Śiva says to Satī, “My dear Satī, if one is a very fine philosopher, analyzing the different processes of knowledge, he can achieve liberation from the material entanglement. By performance of the ritualistic sacrifices recommended in the Vedas one can be elevated to the platform of pious activities and thereby enjoy the material comforts of life to the fullest extent. But all such endeavors can hardly offer anyone devotional service to the Lord, not even if one tries for it by such processes for many, many thousands of births.”
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is also confirmed by Prahlāda Mahārāja that merely by personal efforts or by the instructions of higher authorities one cannot attain to the stage of devotional service. One must become blessed by the dust of the lotus feet of a pure devotee, who is completely freed from the contamination of material desires.
In the Fifth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Sixth Chapter, verse 18, Nārada also says to Yudhiṣṭhira, “My dear King, it is Lord Krishna, known as Mukunda, who is the eternal protector of the Pāṇḍavas and the Yadus. He is also your spiritual master and instructor in every respect. He is the only worshipable God for you. He is very dear and affectionate, and He is the director of all your activities, both individual and familial. And what’s more, He sometimes carries out your orders as if He were your messenger! My dear King, how very fortunate you are, because for others all these favors given to you by the Supreme Lord would not even be dreamt of.” The purport to this verse is that the Lord easily offers liberation, but He rarely agrees to offer a soul devotional service, because by devotional service the Lord Himself becomes purchased by the devotee.
The Happiness of Becoming One with the Supreme
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says that if brahmānanda, or the happiness of becoming one with the Supreme, is multiplied by one trillionfold, it still cannot compare to an atomic fraction of the happiness derived from the ocean of devotional service.
In the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya Prahlāda Mahārāja, while satisfying Lord Nṛsiḿhadeva by his prayers, says, “My dear Lord of the universe, I am feeling transcendental pleasure in Your presence and have become merged in the ocean of happiness. I now consider the happiness of brahmānanda to be no more than the water in the impression left by a cow’s hoof in the earth, compared to this ocean of bliss.” Similarly, it is confirmed in the Bhāvārtha-dīpikā, Śrīdhara Svāmī’s commentary on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, “My dear Lord, some of the fortunate persons who are swimming in the ocean of Your nectar of devotion, and who are relishing the nectar of the narration of Your pastimes, certainly know ecstasies which immediately minimize the value of the happiness derived from religiousness, economic development, sense gratification and liberation. Such a transcendental devotee regards any kind of happiness other than devotional service as no better than straw in the street.”
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has stated that devotional service attracts even Krishna. Krishna attracts everyone, but devotional service attracts Krishna. The symbol of devotional service in the highest degree is Radharani. Krishna is called Madana-mohana, which means that He is so attractive that He can defeat the attraction of thousands of Cupids. But Radharani is still more attractive, for She can even attract Krishna. Therefore devotees call Her Madana-mohana-mohinī — the attractor of the attractor of Cupid.
To perform devotional service means to follow in the footsteps of Radharani, and devotees in Vṛndāvana put themselves under the care of Radharani in order to achieve perfection in their devotional service. In other words, devotional service is not an activity of the material world; it is directly under the control of Radharani. In Bhagavad-gītā it is confirmed that the mahātmās, or great souls, are under the protection of daivī prakṛti, the internal energy — Radharani. So, being directly under the control of the internal potency of Krishna, devotional service attracts even Krishna Himself.
This fact is corroborated by Krishna in the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Fourteenth Chapter, verse 20, where He says, “My dear Uddhava, you may know it from Me that the attraction I feel for devotional service rendered by My devotees is not to be attained even by the performance of mystic yoga, philosophical speculation, ritualistic sacrifices, the study of Vedānta, the practice of severe austerities or the giving of everything in charity. These are, of course, very nice activities, but they are not as attractive to Me as the transcendental loving service rendered by My devotees.”
How Krishna becomes attracted by the devotional service of His devotees is described by Nārada in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Seventh Canto, Tenth Chapter, verses 48 and 49. There Nārada addresses King Yudhiṣṭhira while the King is appreciating the glories of the character of Prahlāda Mahārāja. A devotee always appreciates the activities of other devotees. Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja was appreciating the qualities of Prahlāda, and that is one symptom of a pure devotee. A pure devotee never thinks himself great; he always thinks that other devotees are greater than himself. The King was thinking, “Prahlāda Mahārāja is actually a devotee of the Lord, while I am nothing,” and while thinking this he was addressed by Nārada as follows: “My dear King Yudhiṣṭhira, you [the Pāṇḍava brothers] are the only fortunate people in this world. The Supreme Personality of Godhead has appeared on this planet and is presenting Himself to you as an ordinary human being. He is always with you in all circumstances. He is living with you and covering Himself from the eyes of others. Others cannot understand that He is the Supreme Lord, but He is still living with you as your cousin, as your friend and even as your messenger. Therefore you must know that nobody in this world is more fortunate than you.”
In Bhagavad-gītā when Krishna appeared in His universal form Arjuna prayed, “My dear Krishna, I thought of You as my cousin-brother, and so I have shown disrespect to You in so many ways, calling You ‘Krishna’ or ‘friend.’ But You are so great that I could not understand.” So that was the position of the Pandavas; although Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the greatest among all greats, He remained with those royal brothers, being attracted by their devotion, by their friendship and by their love. That is the proof of how great this process of devotional service is. It can attract even the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is great, but devotional service is greater than God because it attracts Him. People who are not in devotional service can never understand what great value there is in rendering service to the Lord.