Nārada has taught that bhakti is the best of all processes for realizing truth, and he has described the rules and regulations leading to perfection. He has told us that we have to experience bhakti for ourselves, and that it is the highest bliss. Now he indicates the liberality of bhakti by listing the various ways one may render devotional service.
There has been nothing to suggest that Nārada is presenting a theoretical treatise. Thus we should not conclude our reading of the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra without deciding how we shall render practical service to Kṛṣṇa. Once a college student came to visit Śrīla Prabhupāda and told him that he had already read the Bhagavad-gītā. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked, "So, what is your conclusion?" The student admitted that he had not reached any particular conclusion after his study of the Gītā. Prabhupāda explained that the conclusion of the Bhagavad-gītā is that Lord Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that one should give up all other processes of religion and serve Him. An intelligent reader of the Bhagavad-gītā should know this and take up devotional service. Similarly, here at the end of the Bhakti-sūtras Nārada is telling us how we may serve the Supreme Lord.
Of course, the rasas with Kṛṣṇa are for the liberated devotees and cannot be taken up arbitrarily. Our service to Kṛṣṇa should be guided by our spiritual master. He will help us to serve according to our psychophysical nature, in a way that is most effective for our purification. But from the beginning we can at least know that Lord Kṛṣṇa is served by His liberated associates in many ways and that our own perfection will be to discover how we are meant to serve Him eternally to our heart's content.
A devotee appreciates the many services the Lord's devotees engage in, and he studies how to become perfect in his particular relationship with the Lord. Nārada's eleven ways of bhakti appear to be a combination of the nine process of bhakti taught by Prahlāda Mahārāja and the five main rasas with Lord Kṛṣṇa described by Rūpa Gosvāmī in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. Examples of devotees who achieved perfection by practicing one of the nine processes of bhakti are as follows:
(1) Mahārāja Parīkṣit became perfect by hearing about Kṛṣṇa; (2) Śukadeva Gosvāmī became perfect by speaking the glories of the Lord; (3) Prahlāda Mahārāja became perfect by remembering the Lord; (4) Lakṣmīdevī became perfect by serving the lotus feet of the Lord; (5) Mahārāja Pṛthu became perfect by worshiping the Lord; (6) Akrūra became perfect by offering prayers to the Lord; (7) Hanumān became perfect by serving the Lord; (8) Arjuna became perfect by befriending the Lord; and (9) Bali Mahārāja became perfect by offering everything to the Lord.
As for the five rasas, they are: (1) adoration of the Lord (śānta), (2) servitude (dāsya), (3) friendship (sakhya), (4) parental love (vātsalya), and (5) conjugal love (mādhurya). Prominent examples of devotees in each of these rasas are as follows: the four Kumāras in śānta-rasa; Hanumān and Kṛṣṇa's various servants in Dvārakā and Mathurā in dāsya-rasa; Śrīdāmā, Sudāmā, and Stoka-kṛṣṇa in sākhya-rasa; Kṛṣṇa's parents in vātsalya-rasa; and the gopīs of Vṛndāvana and the queens in Dvārakā in mādhurya-rasa.
All liberated devotees are situated in absolute transcendence, and one devotee does not hanker for the perfection of another. But the Vaiṣṇava ācāryas have analyzed the rasas to show that there is a progression in affection—and a diminishing in feelings of awe and reverence toward the Lord—from dāsya-rasa up to mādhurya-rasa. All the qualities of the other rasas are fully contained in conjugal love. As for love in separation, which Nārada mentions as the eleventh and highest stage of attachment, that was especially demonstrated by the gopīs of Vṛndāvana, and also by Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya's demonstration of viraha, or transcendental anguish in separation from Kṛṣṇa, is the highest of all possible expressions of love of God.
Although there is a progression in intimacy in the rasas from dāsya-rasa to mādhurya-rasa, all are based on the ecstasy of service to the Lord. Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja writes, "Love for Kṛṣṇa has this one unique effect: it imbues superiors, equals, and inferiors with the spirit of service to Lord Kṛṣṇa" (Cc. Ādi 6.53). Kṛṣṇa's friends in Vṛndāvana feel pure fraternal affection for Him, yet they too worship His lotus feet in a spirit of servitude. Kṛṣṇa's mother and father sometimes chastise the Lord, thinking that He is their little son, and yet they always think of themselves as His servants. Kṛṣṇa's father, Nanda Mahārāja, once said to Uddhava, "May our minds be attached to the lotus feet of your Lord Kṛṣṇa, may our tongues chant His holy names, and may our bodies lie prostrate before Him" (Cc. Ādi 6.60). Even the gopīs of Vṛndāvana regard themselves as Kṛṣṇa's maidservants. Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī prays, "O My Lord,... reveal Yourself to Your maidservant, who is very much aggrieved by Your absence" (SB 10.33.9). Being a servant of the Supreme Lord is so auspicious and blissful that even Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself descended as Lord Caitanya to accept the emotions and form of His own servant. Therefore all devotees can best cultivate their loving relationship with Lord Kṛṣṇa by becoming the servant of other Vaiṣṇava devotees. If we fix ourselves in steadfast and spontaneous loving service to the Lord's devotees, Kṛṣṇa will reveal Himself to us and indicate new, intimate ways in which we may serve Him.