Hearing the Revealed Scriptures
According to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, any book which gives enlightenment in the matter of advancing in devotional service is considered to be revealed scripture. Śrīla Madhvācārya has also defined revealed scriptures as referring to books such as the Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata, Purāṇas, Upaniṣads, Vedānta - and any other literature written in pursuance of such revealed scriptures.
In the Skanda Purāṇa there is this statement: "A person who is constantly engaged in reading literature enunciating the cultivation of Vaiṣṇava devotional service is always glorious in human society, and certainly Lord Kṛṣṇa becomes pleased with him. A person who very carefully keeps such literature at home and offers respectful obeisances to it becomes freed from all sinful reactions and ultimately becomes worshipable by the demigods."
It is also said to Nārada Muni, "My dear Nārada, a person who writes Vaiṣṇava literature and keeps such literature at home has Lord Nārāyaṇa always residing in his house."
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Twelfth Canto, Thirteenth Chapter, verse 15, it is stated, "Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the essence of all Vedānta philosophy. Any person who has become attached in some way or other to the reading of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam cannot have any taste for reading any other literature. In other words, a person who has relished the transcendental bliss of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam cannot be satisfied with mundane writings."
Residing in Mathurā
In the Varāha Purāṇa there is a statement praising the residential quarters of Mathurā. Lord Varāha tells the men of earth, "Any person who becomes attracted to places other than Mathurā will certainly be captivated by the illusory energy." In the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa it is said that all the results of traveling on all the pilgrimages within the three worlds can be achieved simply by touching the holy land of Mathurā. In many śāstras (scriptures) it is said that simply by hearing, remembering, glorifying, desiring, seeing or touching the land of Mathurā, one can achieve all desires.
Rendering Service to Devotees
In the Padma Purāṇa, there is a nice statement praising the service of the Vaiṣṇavas, or devotees. In that scripture Lord Śiva tells Pārvatī, "My dear Pārvatī, there are different methods of worship, and out of all such methods the worship of the Supreme Person is considered to be the highest. But even higher than the worship of the Lord is the worship of the Lord's devotees."
A similar statement is in the Third Canto, Seventh Chapter, verse 19, of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: "Let me become a sincere servant of the devotees, because by serving them one can achieve unalloyed devotional service unto the lotus feet of the Lord. The service of devotees diminishes all miserable material conditions and develops within one a deep devotional love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
In the Skanda Purāṇa there is a similar statement: "Persons whose bodies are marked with tilaka, symbolizing the conchshell, wheel, club and lotus - and who keep the leaves of tulasī on their heads, and whose bodies are always decorated with gopī-candana - even seen once, can help the seer be relieved from all sinful activities."
A similar statement is found in the First Canto, Nineteenth Chapter, verse 33, of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: "There is no doubt about one's becoming freed from all reactions to sinful activities after visiting a devotee or touching his lotus feet or giving him a sitting place. Even by remembering the activities of such a Vaiṣṇava, one becomes purified, along with one's whole family. And what, then, can be said of rendering direct service to him?"
In the Ādi Purāṇa there is the following statement by Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself, addressed to Arjuna: "My dear Pārtha, one who claims to be My devotee is not so. Only a person who claims to be the devotee of My devotee is actually My devotee." No one can approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead directly. One must approach Him through His pure devotees. Therefore, in the system of Vaiṣṇava activities, the first duty is to accept a devotee as spiritual master and then to render service unto him.
Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī affirms that all the quotations given in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu from different scriptures are accepted by the great ācāryas and devotees of the Lord.
Serving the Lord According to One's Position
In the Padma Purāṇa there is a statement that one should perform the ceremonies for the Lord according to one's financial position. Everyone should observe the different ceremonies and celebrations of the Lord by all means.
Performing Devotional Service in Kārttika
One of the most important of these ceremonial functions is called Ūrja-vrata. Ūrja-vrata is observed in the month of Kārttika (October-November); especially in Vṛndāvana, there is a specific program for temple worship of the Lord in His Dāmodara form. "Dāmodara" refers to Kṛṣṇa's being bound with rope by His mother, Yaśodā. It is said that just as Lord Dāmodara is very dear to His devotees, so the month known as Dāmodara or Kārttika is also very dear to them.
The execution of devotional service during Ūrja-vrata in the month of Kārttika is especially recommended to be performed at Mathurā. This system is still followed by many devotees. They go to Mathurā or Vṛndāvana and stay there during the month of Kārttika specifically to perform devotional services during this period.
In the Padma Purāṇa it is said, "The Lord may offer liberation or material happiness to a devotee, but after some devotional service has been executed, particularly in Mathurā during the month of Kārttika, the devotees want only to attain pure devotional service unto the Lord." The purport is that the Lord does not award devotional service to ordinary persons who are not serious about it. But even such unserious persons who execute devotional service according to the regulative principles during the month of Kārttika, and within the jurisdiction of Mathurā in India, are very easily awarded the Lord's personal service.
Observing Festivals Celebrating the Lord's Activities
In the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa there is a statement about observing different ceremonies celebrating the Lord's appearance (birthday) and other transcendental activities. It is said, "My Lord Janārdana [Kṛṣṇa], please let us know the date when Your mother Devakī-devī gave birth to You. If You kindly inform us about this, then we shall observe a great celebration on this date. O killer of Keśī, we are souls one-hundred-percent surrendered unto Your lotus feet, and we wish only to please You with our ceremonies."
This statement of the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa gives evidence that by observing different functions in relationship with the Lord one is sure to become pleasing to the Lord.
Serving the Deity with Great Devotion
It is said in the Ādi Purāṇa, "A person who is constantly engaged in chanting the holy name and who feels transcendental pleasure, being engaged in devotional service, is certainly awarded the facilities of devotional service and is never given just mukti (liberation)."
Mukti means liberation from material contamination; when liberated, one does not have to take birth again in the material world. The impersonalists desire to merge into the spiritual existence, to end their individual existence, but according to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, mukti is only the beginning of one's becoming situated in his normal condition. The normal condition of every living entity is to be engaged in the devotional service of the Lord. From the statement of the Ādi Purāṇa it appears that a devotee is satisfied simply with being engaged in devotional service. He does not aspire for any liberation from material, conditional life. In other words, anyone who is engaged in devotional service is not in the material condition of life, although he may appear so.
Recitation of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Among Devotees
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the desire tree of Vedic wisdom. Veda itself means "the aggregate of knowledge." And whatever knowledge is required for human society is perfectly presented in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. There are different branches of knowledge in the Vedic writings, including sociology, politics, medicine and military art. All these and other branches of knowledge are perfectly described in the Vedas. So, as far as spiritual knowledge is concerned, that is also perfectly described there, and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is considered to be the ripened fruit of this desire-fulfilling tree of the Vedas. A tree is honored by the production of its fruit. For example, a mango tree is considered very valuable because it produces the king of all fruits, the mango. When the mango fruit becomes ripened it is the greatest gift of that tree, and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is similarly held to be the ripened fruit of the Vedic tree. And as ripened fruit becomes more relishable when first touched by the beak of a parrot, or śuka, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam has become more relishable by being delivered through the transcendental mouth of Śukadeva Gosvāmī.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam should be received in disciplic succession without any breakage. When a ripened fruit comes from the upper part of the tree onto the ground by the process of being handed down from a higher branch to a lower branch by persons in the tree, the fruit does not break. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, when received in the paramparā system, or disciplic succession, will likewise remain unbroken. It is stated in Bhagavad-gītā that the disciplic succession, or paramparā, is the way of receiving transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge must come down through the disciplic succession, through authorized persons who know the real purpose of the śāstra.
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu recommended that one learn Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from the mouth of the self-realized person called bhāgavatam. Bhāgavata means "in relationship with the Personality of Godhead (Bhagavān)." So the devotee is sometimes called bhāgavatam, and the book which is in relationship with devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is also called Bhāgavatam. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu recommended that, in order to relish the real taste of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, one should take instruction from the person bhāgavatam. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is relishable even by a liberated person. Śukadeva Gosvāmī admitted that although he was liberated from within the very womb of his mother, it was only after relishing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that he became a great devotee. Thus, one who is desirous of advancing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness should relish the purport of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam through the discussions of authorized devotees.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Second Canto, First Chapter, verse 9, Śukadeva Gosvāmī admits that although he was very much attracted by the impersonal Brahman, when he heard the transcendental pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead from the mouth of his father, Vyāsadeva, he became more attracted to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The idea is that Vyāsadeva was also a self-realized soul, and his mature contribution of transcendental knowledge was delivered directly to Śukadeva Gosvāmī in the manner indicated.
Associating with Advanced Devotees
The importance of discussing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in the society of pure devotees was explained by Śaunaka Muni during the meeting at Naimiṣāraṇya, in the presence of Sūta Gosvāmī. Sūta Gosvāmī confirmed that if someone is fortunate enough to associate with a pure devotee of the Lord even for a moment, that particular moment is so valuable that even those pious activities which can promote one to the heavenly planets or give liberation from material miseries cannot compare to it. In other words, those who are attached to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam do not care for any kind of benefit derived from elevation to the higher planetary kingdoms, or for the liberation which is conceived of by the impersonalists. As such, the association of pure devotees is so transcendentally valuable that no kind of material happiness can compare to it.
In the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya there is a conversation between Prahlāda Mahārāja and his father, Hiraṇyakaśipu, in which Hiraṇyakaśipu addresses Prahlāda in this way: "My dear son, association is very important. It acts just like a crystal stone, which will reflect anything which is put before it." Similarly, if we associate with the flowerlike devotees of the Lord, and if our hearts are crystal clear, then certainly the same action will be there. Another example given in this connection is that if a man is potent and if a woman is not diseased, then by their conjugation there will be conception. In the same way, if the recipient of spiritual knowledge and the deliverer of spiritual knowledge are sincere and bona fide, there will be good results.
Chanting the Holy Name of the Lord
The importance of chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare is very strongly stressed in the Second Canto, First Chapter, verse 11, of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in the following way. Śukadeva Gosvāmī tells Mahārāja Parīkṣit, "My dear King, if one is spontaneously attached to the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, it is to be understood that he has attained the highest perfectional stage." It is specifically mentioned that the karmīs who are aspiring after the fruitive results of their activities, the salvationists who are aspiring to become one with the Supreme Person, and the yogīs who are aspiring after mystic perfections can achieve the results of all perfectional stages simply by chanting the mahā-mantra. Śukadeva uses the word nirṇītam, which means "it has already been decided." He was a liberated soul and therefore could not accept anything which was not conclusive. So Śukadeva Gosvāmī especially stresses that it has already been concluded that one who has come to the stage of chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra with determination and steadiness must be considered to have already passed the trials of fruitive activities, mental speculation and mystic yoga.
The same thing is confirmed in the Ādi Purāṇa by Kṛṣṇa. While addressing Arjuna He says, "Anyone who is engaged in chanting My transcendental name must be considered to be always associating with Me. And I may tell you frankly that for such a devotee I become easily purchased."
In the Padma Purāṇa also it is stated, "The chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is present only on the lips of a person who has for many births worshiped Vāsudeva." It is further said in the Padma Purāṇa, "There is no difference between the holy name of the Lord and the Lord Himself. As such, the holy name is as perfect as the Lord Himself in fullness, purity and eternity. The holy name is not a material sound vibration, nor has it any material contamination." The holy name cannot, therefore, be chanted offenselessly by one who has failed to purify his senses. In other words, materialistic senses cannot properly chant the holy names of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra. But by adopting this chanting process, one is given a chance to actually purify himself, so that he may very soon chant offenselessly.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu has recommended that everyone chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra just to cleanse the dust from the heart. If the dust of the heart is cleansed away, then one can actually understand the importance of the holy name. For persons who are not inclined to clean the dust from their hearts and who want to keep things as they are, it is not possible to derive the transcendental result of chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. One should, therefore, be encouraged to develop his service attitude toward the Lord, because this will help him to chant without any offense. And so, under the guidance of a spiritual master, the disciple is trained to render service and at the same time chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. As soon as one develops his spontaneous service attitude, he can immediately understand the transcendental nature of the holy names of the mahā-mantra.
Living in Mathurā
In the Padma Purāṇa there is a statement about the importance of living at holy places like Mathurā or Dvārakā. It is stated there, "To travel to different places of pilgrimage means to attain emancipation from material bondage. This emancipation, however, is not the highest perfectional stage. After attaining this liberated stage, one has to become engaged in devotional service to the Lord. After attainment of the brahma-bhūta (liberation) stage, one can further advance to engagement in devotional service. So this attainment of transcendental loving devotional service to the Lord is the goal of life, and it can be achieved very easily for one who lives in Mathurā-maṇḍala even for a few seconds."
It is further said, "Who is that person who will not agree to worship the land of Mathurā? Mathurā can deliver all the desires and ambitions of the fruitive workers and of the salvationists, who desire to become one with the Supreme Brahman. Certainly Mathurā will deliver the desires of the devotees, who simply aspire to be engaged in the devotional service of the Lord." In the Vedic literature it is also stated, "How wonderful it is that simply by residing in Mathurā even for one day, one can achieve a transcendental loving attitude toward the Supreme Personality of Godhead! This land of Mathurā must be more glorious than Vaikuṇṭha-dhāma, the kingdom of God!"