syān mahat-sevayā viprāḥ
O twice-born sages, by serving those devotees who are completely freed from all vice, great service is done. By such service, one gains affinity for hearing the messages of Vāsudeva.
The conditioned life of a living being is caused by his revolting against the Lord. There are men called devas, or godly living beings, and there are men called asuras, or demons, who are against the authority of the Supreme Lord. In the Bhagavad-gītā (Sixteenth Chapter) a vivid description of the asuras is given, in which it is said that the asuras are put into lower and lower states of ignorance life after life and so sink to the lower animal forms and have no information of the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead. These asuras are gradually rectified to God consciousness by the mercy of the Lord's liberated servitors in different countries according to the supreme will. Such devotees of God are very confidential associates of the Lord, and when they come to save human society from the dangers of godlessness, they are known as powerful incarnations of the Lord, as sons of the Lord, as servants of the Lord, or as associates of the Lord. But none of them falsely claim to be God themselves. This is a blasphemy declared by the asuras, and the demoniac followers of such asuras also accept pretenders as God or His incarnation. In the revealed scriptures there is definite information of the incarnations of God. No one should be accepted as God or an incarnation of God unless he is confirmed by the revealed scriptures.
The servants of God are to be respected as God by the devotees who actually want to go back to Godhead. Such servants of God are called mahātmās, or tīrthas, and they preach according to particular time and place. The servants of God urge people to become devotees of the Lord. They never tolerate being called God. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was God Himself according to the indication of the revealed scriptures, but He played the part of a devotee. People who knew Him to be God addressed Him as God, but He used to block His ears with His hands and chant the name of Lord Viṣṇu. He strongly protested against being called God, although undoubtedly He was God Himself. The Lord behaves so to warn us against unscrupulous men who take pleasure in being addressed as God.
The servants of God come to propagate God consciousness, and intelligent people should cooperate with them in every respect. By serving the servant of God, one can please God more than by directly serving the Lord. The Lord is more pleased when He sees that His servants are properly respected because such servants risk everything for the service of the Lord and so are very dear to the Lord. The Lord declares in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.69) that no one is dearer to Him than one who risks everything to preach His glory. By serving the servants of the Lord, one gradually gets the quality of such servants, and thus one becomes qualified to hear the glories of God. The eagerness to hear about God is the first qualification of a devotee eligible for entering the kingdom of God.
As mentioned in this verse of the Bhāgavatam, such eagerness is awakened by rendering service to the mahātmās, or great souls. Who is a great soul? One who is engaged in the service of the Lord twenty-four hours a day. In the Bhagavad-gītā (9.13) Lord Kṛṣṇa describes the mahātmā in this way:
mahātmānas tu māṁ pārtha daivīṁ prakṛtim āśritāḥ
bhajanty ananya manaso jñātvā bhūtādim avyayam
"Those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of My divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible."
Here Kṛṣṇa uses the word daivī-prakṛti, "divine nature." In the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa explains that He has two kinds of prakṛtis, or natures: the daivī—or parā-prakṛti, which is His transcendental nature, and the aparā-prakṛti, His material nature. Devotees of Kṛṣṇa try to remain under the guidance of daivī-prakṛti personified, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Materialists, however, are under the control of the aparā-prakṛti, personified as Goddess Kālī, or Durgā. So to develop our eagerness to hear about Kṛṣṇa (vāsudeva-kathā-ruci), we have to render service to a person who is under the protection and guidance of Kṛṣṇa's transcendental nature.
That service begins with faith (śuśrūṣoḥ śraddadhānasya [SB 1.2.16]). Without faith, you cannot make any progress. As Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has written, ādau śraddhā: "The beginning of spiritual life is faith." That faith can be simply some appreciation for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Without even taking up the process of bhakti-yoga, if a person thinks, "These Hare Kṛṣṇa people are very nice," such appreciation will give him a touch of spiritual life. And the development of this appreciation by degrees will be the development of his spiritual life.
The next stage is sādhu-saṅga [Cc. Madhya 22.83], association with devotees of Kṛṣṇa. In this stage one may think, "All right, the devotees are chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and talking of Kṛṣṇa. Let me go to the temple and sit down and hear." The third stage is bhajana-kriyā, beginning to perform the processes of devotional service. And after one has been associating nicely with devotees and engaging in devotional service for some time, chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and observing the regulative principles, one will naturally feel, "Why not become a disciple of a spiritual master?" Therefore we receive many applications: "Śrīla Prabhupāda, kindly accept me as your disciple."
Then comes anartha-nivṛtti, vanquishing unwanted habits. One of these habits is illicit sex. We prohibit this in our Society. If one of our members wants to have sex, he or she can get married, but sex outside marriage is strictly forbidden. It is simply an anartha, rascaldom. Another anartha is intoxication. What is the use of intoxication? There is no need for it. In our Society we prohibit any kind of intoxication. We don't even allow coffee, tea, or cigarettes. So, are we dying for want of tea or cigarettes? No. Nor are we dying for want of meat-eating or gambling, which we also prohibit. Therefore all these things are anarthas, unnecessary things.
So the first stage in the development of a taste for hearing about Kṛṣṇa is some preliminary appreciation, the second stage is association with devotees, the third is engagement in devotional service, and the fourth stage—achieved if one is actually executing the rules and regulations of devotional service under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master—is freedom from unwanted desires and habits. Then comes niṣṭhā, firm faith in the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. And the sixth stage is ruci, a taste for hearing and chanting about Kṛṣṇa, serving Him, and so on.
Suppose a person is suffering from jaundice. To him sugar candy tastes bitter, not sweet, but sugar candy is the best medicine for him. If he eats sugar candy, gradually his disease will be cured, and at last he will come to the point where candy tastes sweet again. Similarly, to come to the stage of vāsudeva-kathā-ruci [SB 1.2.16], a taste for hearing the glorification of Kṛṣṇa, you must first go through the five stages mentioned above, which sometimes may appear bitter. But if you continually hear about Kṛṣṇa with faith and appreciation, you will surely come to the stage of tasting. Then you will get the sword of remembrance of Kṛṣṇa spoken of in the last verse, yad anudhyāsinā. If you have a taste for hearing and chanting about Kṛṣṇa, you can very easily remember Kṛṣṇa by constantly chanting—Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare.
So you have to take up the sword of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and cut the knot of material entanglement. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is spreading by teaching people how to take up this sword. I started this movement in New York in 1966. I had no actual sword, like those wielded by some religious preachers. They take their scriptures in one hand and a sword in the other and say, "Accept this scripture or I'll cut off your head!" No, this is not the way of spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Still, I did have a sword—the sword of remembrance of Kṛṣṇa—which I taught people to use by giving them a chance to hear about the Lord. The effect of hearing about the Lord is described in the next verse.