saṅga-tyāgāt sato vṛtteḥ
ṣaḍbhir bhaktiḥ prasidhyati
Devotional service is not a matter of sentimental speculation or imaginative ecstasy. Its substance is practical activity. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.11), has deﬁned devotional service as follows:
śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
“Uttamā bhakti, or unalloyed devotion unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, involves the rendering of devotional service in a way that is favorable to the Lord. This devotional service should be free from any extraneous motive and devoid of fruitive karma, impersonal jñāna and all other selﬁsh desires.”
Bhakti is a sort of cultivation. As soon as we say “cultivation,” we must refer to activity. Cultivation of spirituality does not mean sitting down idly for meditation, as some pseudo yogīs teach. Such idle meditation may be good for those who have no information of devotional service, and for this reason it is sometimes recommended as a way to check distracting materialistic activities. Meditation means stopping all nonsensical activities, at least for the time being. Devotional service, however, not only puts an end to all nonsensical mundane activities, but also engages one in meaningful devotional activities. Śrī Prahlāda Mahārāja recommends:
śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ
arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ
The nine processes of devotional service are as follows:
1. hearing the name and glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead
2. chanting His glories
3. remembering the Lord
4. serving the Lord’s feet
5. worshiping the Deity
6. offering obeisances unto the Lord
7. acting as the Lord’s servant
8. making friends with the Lord
9. surrendering oneself fully to the Lord
Śravaṇam, or hearing, is the ﬁrst step in acquiring transcendental knowledge. One should not give aural reception to unauthorized persons, but should approach the proper person, as recommended in Bhagavad-gītā (4.34):
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”
It is further recommended in the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet: “To understand that transcendental science, one must approach a bona ﬁde spiritual master.” Thus this method of submissively receiving transcendental conﬁdential knowledge is not merely based on mental speculation. In this regard, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu told Rūpa Gosvāmī:
brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja
“In the course of traversing the universal creation of Brahmā, some fortunate soul may receive the seed of bhakti-latā, the creeper of devotional service. This is all by the grace of guru and Kṛṣṇa.” (Cc. Madhya 19.151) The material world is a place of conﬁnement for the living entities who are by nature ānanda-maya, pleasure-seeking. They actually want to be free from the conﬁnement of this world of conditional happiness, but not knowing the process of liberation, they are bound to transmigrate from one species of life to another and from one planet to another. In this way the living entities are wandering throughout the material universe. When by good fortune one comes in contact with a pure devotee and hears from him patiently, one begins to follow the path of devotional service. Such an opportunity is offered to a person who is sincere. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is giving such a chance to humanity at large. If by fortune one takes advantage of this opportunity to engage in devotional service, the path of liberation immediately opens.
One should accept this opportunity to return home, back to Godhead, very enthusiastically. Without enthusiasm, one cannot be successful. Even in the material world one has to be very enthusiastic in his particular ﬁeld of activity in order to become successful. A student, businessman, artist or anyone else who wants success in his line must be enthusiastic. Similarly, one has to be very enthusiastic in devotional service. Enthusiasm means action, but action for whom? The answer is that one should always act for Kṛṣṇa – kṛṣṇārthākhila-ceṣṭā (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu).
In all phases of life one has to perform devotional activities under the direction of the spiritual master in order to attain perfection in bhakti-yoga. It is not that one has to conﬁne or narrow one’s activities. Kṛṣṇa is all-pervading. Therefore nothing is independent of Kṛṣṇa, as Kṛṣṇa Himself states in Bhagavad-gītā (9.4):
mayā tatam idaṁ sarvaṁ
na cāhaṁ teṣv avasthitaḥ
“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” Under the direction of the bona ﬁde spiritual master, one has to make everything favorable for Kṛṣṇa’s service. For example, at present we are using a dictaphone. The materialist who invented this machine intended it for businessmen or writers of mundane subject matters. He certainly never thought of using the dictaphone in God’s service, but we are using this dictaphone to write Kṛṣṇa conscious literature. Of course, the manufacture of the dictaphone is wholly within the energy of Kṛṣṇa. All the parts of the instrument, including the electronic functions, are made from different combinations and interactions of the ﬁve basic types of material energy – namely, bhūmi, jala, agni, vāyu and ākāśa. The inventor used his brain to make this complicated machine, and his brain, as well as the ingredients, were supplied by Kṛṣṇa. According to the statement of Kṛṣṇa, mat-sthāni sarva-bhūtāni: “Everything is depending on My energy.” Thus the devotee can understand that since nothing is independent of Kṛṣṇa’s energy, everything should be dovetailed in His service.
Endeavor executed with intelligence in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is called utsāha, or enthusiasm. The devotees ﬁnd the correct means by which everything can be utilized in the service of the Lord (nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate). The execution of devotional service is not a matter of idle meditation but practical action in the foreground of spiritual life.
These activities must be executed with patience. One should not be impatient in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Indeed, this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement was started single-handedly, and in the beginning there was no response, but because we continued to execute our devotional activities with patience, people gradually began to understand the importance of this movement, and now they are eagerly participating. One should not be impatient in discharging devotional service but should take instructions from the spiritual master and execute them with patience, depending on the mercy of guru and Kṛṣṇa. The successful execution of Kṛṣṇa conscious activities requires both patience and conﬁdence. A newly married girl naturally expects offspring from her husband, but she cannot expect to have them immediately after marriage. Of course, as soon as she is married she can attempt to get a child, but she must surrender to her husband, conﬁdent that her child will develop and be born in due time. Similarly, in devotional service surrender means that one has to become conﬁdent. The devotee thinks, avaśya rakṣibe kṛṣṇa: “Kṛṣṇa will surely protect me and give me help for the successful execution of devotional service.” This is called conﬁdence.
As already explained, one should not be idle but should be very enthusiastic about executing the regulative principles – tat-tat-karma-pravartana. Neglect of the regulative principles will destroy devotional service. In this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement there are four basic regulative principles, forbidding illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and intoxication. A devotee must be very enthusiastic about following these principles. If he becomes slack in following any of them, his progress will certainly be checked. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī therefore recommends, tat-tat-karma-pravartanāt: “One must strictly follow the regulative principles of vaidhī bhakti.” In addition to these four prohibitions (yama), there are positive regulative principles (niyama), such as the daily chanting of sixteen rounds on japa-mālā beads. These regulative activities must be faithfully performed with enthusiasm. This is called tat-tat-karma-pravartana, or varied engagement in devotional service.
Furthermore, in order to be successful in devotional service one must give up the association of undesirable people. This includes karmīs, jñānīs, yogīs and other nondevotees. Once Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was asked by one of His householder devotees about the general principles of Vaiṣṇavism, as well as the general routine activities of the Vaiṣṇava, and Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu immediately replied, asat-saṅga-tyāga, – ei vaiṣṇava-ācāra: “Characteristically, a Vaiṣṇava is one who gives up the association of worldly people, or nondevotees.” Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura has therefore recommended, tāṅdera caraṇa sevi bhakta-sane vāsa: one has to live in the company of pure devotees and execute the regulative principles laid down by the previous ācāryas, the Six Gosvāmīs (namely, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī and Śrī Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī). If one lives in the association of devotees, there is little chance of associating with nondevotees. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is opening many centers just to invite people to live in the company of devotees and practice the regulative principles of spiritual life.
Devotional service means transcendental activities. On the transcendental platform there is no contamination by the three modes of material nature. This is called viśuddha-sattva, the platform of pure goodness, or goodness free from contamination by the qualities of passion and ignorance. In this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement we require everyone to rise early in the morning, by four A.M., and attend maṅgala-ārati, or morning worship, then read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, perform kīrtana, and so forth. Thus we hold continuous activities in devotional service twenty-four hours daily. This is called sato vṛtti, or following in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas who expertly ﬁlled every moment of time with Kṛṣṇa conscious activities.
If one strictly follows the advice given in this verse by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī – namely, being enthusiastic, being conﬁdent, being patient, giving up the association of unwanted persons, following the regulative principles and remaining in the association of devotees – one is sure to advance in devotional service. In this regard Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura remarks that the cultivation of knowledge by philosophical speculation, the collection of mundane opulence by the advancement of fruitive activities, and the desire for yoga-siddhis, material perfections, are all contrary to the principles of devotional service. One has to become thoroughly callous to such nonpermanent activities and turn his intention instead to the regulative principles of devotional service. According to Bhagavad-gītā (2.69):
yā niśā sarva-bhūtānāṁ
tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī
yasyāṁ jāgrati bhūtāni
sā niśā paśyato muneḥ
“What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.”
Engagement in the devotional service of the Lord is the life and soul of the living entity. It is the desired goal and supreme perfection of human life. One has to become conﬁdent about this, and one also has to be conﬁdent that all activities other than devotional service – such as mental speculation, fruitive work or mystic endeavor – will never yield any enduring beneﬁt. Complete conﬁdence in the path of devotional service will enable one to attain his desired goal, but attempting to follow other paths will only succeed in making one restless. In the Tenth Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is stated: “One must be calmly convinced that those who have given up devotional service to engage in severe austerities for other purposes are not puriﬁed in their minds, despite their advanced austerities, because they have no information of the transcendental loving service of the Lord.”
It is further stated in the Tenth Canto: “Although mental speculators and fruitive actors may perform great austerities and penances, they still fall down because they do not have information about the lotus feet of the Lord.” The devotees of the Lord, however, never fall down. In Bhagavad-gītā (9.31), the Supreme Personality of Godhead assures Arjuna, kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati: “O son of Kuntī, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.”
Again in Bhagavad-gītā (2.40) Kṛṣṇa says:
pratyavāyo na vidyate
svalpam apy asya dharmasya
trāyate mahato bhayāt
“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.”
Devotional service is so pure and perfect that once having begun, one is forcibly dragged to ultimate success. Sometimes a person will give up his ordinary material engagements and out of sentiment take shelter of the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord and thus begin the preliminary execution of devotional service. Even if such an immature devotee falls down, there is no loss on his part. On the other hand, what is the gain of one who executes the prescribed duties according to his varṇa and āśrama but does not take to devotional service? Although a fallen devotee may take his next birth in a low family, his devotional service will nonetheless resume from where it left off. Devotional service is ahaituky apratihatā; it is not the effect of any mundane cause, nor can it be terminated by any mundane cause or permanently curtailed by any material interruption. Therefore a devotee should be conﬁdent about his engagement and should not be very interested in the activities of the karmīs, jñānīs and yogīs.
There are certainly many good qualities among fruitive actors, philosophical speculators and mystic yogīs, but all good qualities automatically develop in the character of a devotee. No extraneous endeavor is needed. As conﬁrmed by Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.18.12), all the good qualities of the demigods manifest progressively in one who has developed pure devotional service. Because a devotee is not interested in any material activity, he does not become materially contaminated. He is immediately situated on the platform of transcendental life. However, one who engages in mundane activity – be he a so-called jñānī, yogī, karmī, philanthropist, nationalist or whatever – cannot attain the higher stage of mahātmā. He remains a durātmā, or cripple-minded person. According to Bhagavad-gītā (9.13):
mahātmānas tu māṁ pārtha
daivīṁ prakṛtim āśritāḥ
jñātvā bhūtādim avyayam
“O son of Pṛthā, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.”
Since all the devotees of the Lord are under the protection of His supreme potency, they should not deviate from the path of devotional service and take to the path of the karmī, jñānī or yogī. This is called utsāhān niścayād dhairyāt tat-tat-karma-pravartanāt, enthusiastically executing the regulative activities of devotional service with patience and conﬁdence. In this way one can advance in devotional service without hindrance.