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yo na dveṣṭi na hṛṣyati
viṣṇor māyām idaṁ paśyan
sa vai bhāgavatottamaḥ
According to Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī, the position of the uttama-adhikārī, or first-class devotee of the Lord, is so worshipable that additional symptoms are now given in eight verses. It should be understood that unless one comes in contact with the lotus feet of a pure devotee of the Lord, the path of freedom from material illusion is very difficult to understand. In the fifth verse of Śrī Upadeśāmṛta Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has stated, śuśrūṣayā bhajana-vijñam ananyam anya-nindādi-śūnya-hṛdam īpsita-saṅga-labdhyā: “One should associate with and faithfully serve that pure devotee who is advanced in undeviated devotional service and whose heart is completely devoid of the propensity to criticize others.” Śrīla Prabhupāda comments, “In this verse Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī advises the devotee to be intelligent enough to distinguish between the kaniṣṭha-adhikārī, madhyama-adhikārī and uttama-adhikārī. A neophyte Vaiṣṇava or a Vaiṣṇava situated on the intermediate platform can also accept disciples, but such disciples must be on the same platform, and it should be understood that they cannot advance very well toward the ultimate goal of life under his insufficient guidance. Therefore a disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikārī as a spiritual master.” Therefore additional symptoms will now be given so that the conditioned soul who desires to go back home, back to Godhead, can properly identify the bona fide spiritual master.
According to Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī and Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, associating with a pure devotee of the Lord is so important that now that the various categories of devotional service have been defined, eight additional verses are given concerning the qualifications of a pure devotee, so that students of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam will make no mistake in this connection. Similarly, in the Second Chapter of Bhagavad-gītā Arjuna asked Kṛṣṇa about the symptoms of a completely Kṛṣṇa conscious person, and Kṛṣṇa elaborately explained the symptoms of one who is prajñā pratiṣṭhitā, or established in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
The particular qualification mentioned in this verse is viṣṇor māyām idaṁ paśyan: one should see the entire material universe as a product of the illusory energy of the Lord. There is no question of lamenting or rejoicing for that which is the property of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Within this world one generally laments upon losing something desirable and rejoices upon acquiring the object of his wish. But since a pure devotee has no personal desire whatsoever (kṛṣṇa-bhakta niṣkāma — ataeva ‘śānta’), there is no question of gain or loss. As the Lord says in Bhagavad-gītā (18.54):
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
“One who is transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” Similarly, Lord Śiva says to his wife, Pārvatī, while glorifying the character of King Citraketu,
na kutaścana bibhyati
“Devotees solely engaged in the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Nārāyaṇa, never fear any condition of life. For them the heavenly planets, liberation and the hellish planets are all the same, for such devotees are interested only in the service of the Lord.” (Bhāg. 6.17.28)
This state of complete satisfaction in the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa is not a mental concoction achieved by artificial meditation, but is a result of having experienced the superior nature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is a reservoir of transcendental bliss. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (2.59), rasa-varjaṁ raso ’py asya paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate. When impersonalists and voidists artificially try to push material things out of their minds, they undergo great hardships and ordeals in their artificial meditation.
kleśo ’dhikataras teṣām
avyaktā hi gatir duḥkhaṁ
According to Lord Kṛṣṇa, it is only with great inconvenience and suffering that one can achieve impersonal liberation, because every living being is eternally a person, being part and parcel of the Supreme Person, Kṛṣṇa. The concept of giving up one’s personal identity is a reaction to the terrible frustration of material egotism. It is not a positive program. If one is suffering unbearable pain in his hand, he may agree to have the hand amputated, but the real solution is to remove the infection so that the healthy hand may become a source of pleasure. Similarly ego, or the sense that “I am,” is a source of unlimited happiness when we understand what we are, namely servants of Kṛṣṇa. Impersonal meditation is dry and troublesome. A pure devotee realizes that he is an eternal person, part and parcel of the Supreme Person, Lord Kṛṣṇa, and that he has the privilege as the son of God to participate in the ecstatic eternal pastimes of the Supreme Lord, loving Kṛṣṇa and playing with Him forever. For such a devotee the pale material nature, which is but a perverted reflection of the spiritual world, becomes totally unattractive. Therefore, one who is completely attached to Kṛṣṇa and uninterested in the manifestations of māyā can be considered bhāgavatottamaḥ, a pure devotee of the Lord, as described in a previous verse (bhaktiḥ pareśānubhavo viraktir anyatra ca).
Śrīla Madhvācārya has stated, viṣṇor māyāṁ viṣṇv-icchādhīnām: “The words viṣṇor māyām in this verse indicate that the illusory energy always remains dependent upon the will of Lord Viṣṇu.” Similarly the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.44) says, sṛṣṭi-sthiti-pralaya-sādhana-śaktir ekā chāyeva yasya bhuvanāni bibharti durgā. Māyā is like a shadow of the Supreme Personality of Godhead who serves Him in the creation, maintenance and annihilation of this world. Just as a shadow has no independent power of movement but follows the substance that casts the shadow, the illusory energy of the Lord has no independent power, but bewilders the living entities according to the Lord’s desire. One of Kṛṣṇa’s opulences is that He is supremely detached; when a living entity wants to forget Him, Kṛṣṇa immediately employs His illusory energy to facilitate the foolishness of the conditioned soul.
According to Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī the words gṛhītvāpīndriyair arthān indicate that the pure devotee of the Lord does not cease acting within this world; rather, he uses his senses in the service of the Lord of the senses, Hṛṣīkeśa. Hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has stated that if one gives up those material things which are favorable for serving Kṛṣṇa, considering them material and therefore an impediment to his spiritual advancement, his renunciation is merely phalgu-vairāgya, or immature and imperfect renunciation. On the other hand, one who accepts all material things for the service of Kṛṣṇa without any personal desire for sense gratification is actually renounced (yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate).
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura has warned in his commentary on this verse that by envying any of the three classes of devotees — uttama-adhikārī, madhyama-adhikārī or kaniṣṭha-adhikārī — one falls down to the platform of impersonalism and loses all power to benefit others or even himself. Therefore those who are trying to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness should not endanger their transcendental experience by unnecessarily criticizing other Vaiṣṇavas. According to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, if one engages in phalgu-vairāgya, or renouncing material things that are favorable to the service of Lord Kṛṣṇa, one runs the risk of being polluted by impersonal philosophy. On the other hand, by sticking to the principle of yukta-vairāgya, engaging everything for Kṛṣṇa without personal desire, one can remain aloof from the danger of material sense gratification and gradually come to the mahā-bhāgavata platform, as mentioned in this verse.