The causeless mercy of Kṛṣṇa, the dust of His lotus feet, His prasādam and association with His devotees are some impetuses toward a devotee's engagement in transcendental loving service to the Lord.
Kṛṣṇa exhibited His causeless mercy when He was present at the departure of Grandfather Bhīṣma. During the Battle of Kurukṣetra, Bhīṣmadeva, the grandfather of Arjuna, was lying on a bed of arrows before departing from this mortal world. When Lord Kṛṣṇa, Mahārāj Yudhiṣṭhira and the other Pāṇḍavas approached Bhīṣmadeva, he was very grateful to Lord Kṛṣṇa, and he addressed the brāhmaṇa military commander, Kṛpācārya, thus: "My dear Kṛpācārya, just see the wonderful causeless mercy of Lord Kṛṣṇa! I am most unfortunate. I have no qualifications. I was opposing Kṛṣṇa's most intimate friend, Arjuna—I even tried to kill him! I have so many disqualifications, and yet the Lord is still so kind that He has come to see me at the last point of my life. He is worshipable by all great sages, but still He is so merciful that He has come to see an abominable person like me."
Sometimes the vibration of Lord Kṛṣṇa's flute, His bugling, His smiling, His footmarks on the ground, the transcendental fragrance of His body and the appearance of a new cloud in the sky also become impetuses for ecstatic love of Him.
In the Vidagdha-mādhava there is the following statement: "When Kṛṣṇa was playing on His flute, Baladeva very anxiously declared, 'Just see how, after hearing the transcendental sound of Kṛṣṇa's flute, Indra the King of heaven is crying in his heavenly kingdom! And from his teardrops falling on the ground, Vṛndāvana appears to have become a celestial residence for the demigods.'"
Ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa, which is known as anubhāva, is symptomized by the following signs: one becomes engaged exclusively in the service of the Lord, being attentive to carry out the orders of the Lord faithfully; one becomes undisturbed and non-envious in full transcendental loving service to the Lord; and one makes friendship with the devotees of the Lord who are situated in faithful service to Him. All of these symptoms are called anubhāva, ecstatic love.
The first symptom of anubhāva, or engagement in a particular type of service, is exemplified by Dāruka, a servant of Kṛṣṇa who used to fan Kṛṣṇa with a cāmara, a bunch of hair. When he was engaged in such service, he was filled with ecstatic love, and the symptoms of ecstatic love became manifest in his body. But Dāruka was so serious about his service that he checked all of these manifestations of ecstatic love and considered them hindrances to his engagement. He did not care very much for these manifestations, although they automatically developed.
In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Tenth Canto, 86th Chapter, 27th verse, there is a statement of how Śrutadeva, a brāhmaṇa from the country called Mithilā in northern India, would become so overpowered with joy as soon as he saw Kṛṣṇa that immediately after bowing to the Lord's lotus feet, he would stand up and begin to dance, raising his two arms above his head.
One of the devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa once addressed Him in this manner: "My dear Lord, although You are not a professional dancer, by Your dancing You have so astonished us that we can understand that You are personally the master of all dancing. Certainly You must have learned this dancing art directly from the goddess of love." When a devotee dances in ecstatic love, there are manifestations of symptoms which are called sāttvika. Sāttvika means that they are from the transcendental platform. They are not symptoms of material emotions; they come from the soul proper.
In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Tenth Canto, 85th Chapter, 30th verse, Śukadeva Gosvāmī tells Mahārāj Parīkṣit that after surrendering everything unto the lotus feet of Vāmanadeva, Bali Mahārāj immediately caught hold of the lotus feet of the Lord and pressed them to his heart. Being overwhelmed with joy, he manifested all the symptoms of ecstatic love, with tears in his eyes and a faltering voice.
In such expressions of ecstatic love there are many other subsidiary symptoms, such as jubilation, withering, silence, disappointment, moroseness, reverence, thoughtfulness, remembrance, doubtfulness, confidence, eagerness, indifference, restlessness, impudence, shyness, inertness, illusion, madness, ghastliness, contemplation, dreaming, disease and signs of death. When a devotee meets Kṛṣṇa, there are symptoms of jubilation, pride and perseverence, and when he is feeling great separation from Kṛṣṇa, the symptoms of ghastliness, disease and the signs of death become prominent.
It is stated in the First Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, 11th Chapter, 4th verse, that when Lord Kṛṣṇa returned from the battlefield of Kurukṣetra to His home at Dvārakā, all the residents of Dvārakā began to talk with Him, as a child talks lovingly to his father after the father's return from foreign countries. This is an example of jubilation.
When Bahulāśva, the King of Mithilā, saw Kṛṣṇa at his palace, he decided to offer his respects by bowing down before Him at least a hundred times, but he was so overcome by feelings of love that, after bowing down only once, he forgot his position and could not rise up again.
In the Skanda Purāṇa a devotee tells Lord Kṛṣṇa: "My dear Lord, as the sun evaporates all the water on the ground by its scorching heat, so my mental state has dried away the luster of my face and body, due to separation from You." This is an example of withering in ecstatic love.
An expression of disappointment was made by Indra, the King of heaven. When he saw the sungod, he told him, "My dear sungod, your sunshine is very glorious because it reaches unto the lotus feet of Lord Kṛṣṇa, the master of the Yadu dynasty. I have thousands of eyes, but they have proved to be useless because not even for a moment are they able to see the lotus feet of the Lord."
Reverential devotion for the Lord gradually increases and transforms itself into ecstatic love, then affection and then attachment. In the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, 38th Chapter, 5th verse, Akrūra says: "Because I am going to see Lord Kṛṣṇa today, all symptoms of inauspiciousness have already been killed. My life is now successful because I shall be able to offer my respects unto the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead!"
Another devotee in ecstatic reverential affection once said, "When will that glorious day in my life come when it will be possible for me to go to the bank of the Yamunā and see Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa playing there as cowherd boy?"
When there is no diminishing of this ecstatic love and when it is freed from all kinds of doubt, that stage is called steady love for Kṛṣṇa. In this stage all expressions of unhappiness by the devotee are called anubhāva, or ecstatic loving symptoms.
The symptom of ecstatic affection with reverence felt by Bali Mahārāj is expressed as follows: "My dear Lord, You have simultaneously punished me and showed me Your causeless mercy. My conclusion is that when I have taken shelter of Your lotus feet I shall never be disturbed in any condition of life. Whether You give me the opportunity to enjoy all the yogic perfections, or You put me into the most abominable condition of hellish life, I shall never be disturbed."
Kṛṣṇa Himself, after seeing Bali Mahārāj, told Uddhava, "My dear friend, how can I express the glorious characteristics of Bali Mahārāj, the son of Virocana? Although the king of the suras (demigods) was cursed by this son of Virocana, and although I cheated him in my incarnation as Vāmana, taking away his dominions throughout the universe, and although I still criticized him for not fulfilling his promise, I have just now seen him in his kingdom, and he feelingly expressed his love for me."*
* Bali was a king of the demons who waged war against the demigods and nearly conquered the universe. When the demigods prayed for help, the Lord appeared as Vāmanadeva, a dwarf brāhmaṇa, and asked Bali for three paces of land. Bali agreed, and Vāmana covered all the worlds with His first two steps. Then He demanded to know where His third pace was to be. Bali offered his own head beneath the Lord's foot and thus became a mahājana, or great devotee.
When such a feeling of love becomes intensified, it is called affection. In that affectional stage no one can bear separation from Kṛṣṇa even for a moment.
One devotee told Dāruka, the servant of Kṛṣṇa: "My dear Dāruka, when you become like wood because of your separation from Kṛṣṇa, it is not so wonderful. Whenever any devotee sees Kṛṣṇa, his eyes become filled with water, and in separation any devotee like you would become stunned, standing just like a wooden doll. That is not a very wonderful thing."
There is a statement about Uddhava's symptoms of love. When he saw Lord Kṛṣṇa his eyes filled with tears and created a river which flowed down toward the sea of Kṛṣṇa to offer tribute, as a wife offers tribute to her husband. When his body erupted with goose-pimples, he appeared like the kadamba flower, and when he began to offer prayers, he appeared completely distinct from all other devotees.
When affection is symptomized by direct happiness and distress, that is called attraction. In such an attracted state of ecstatic love, one can face all kinds of disadvantages calmly. Even at the risk of death such a devotee is never bereft of the transcendental loving service of the Lord. A glorious example of this ecstatic love was exhibited by King Parīkṣit when he was at the point of death. Although he was bereft of his entire kingdom, which spread over all the world, and although he was accepting not even a drop of water in the seven days remaining to him, because he was engaged in hearing the transcendental pastimes of the Lord from Śukadeva Gosvāmī, he was not in the least distressed. On the contrary, he was feeling direct transcendental ecstatic joy in association with Śukadeva Gosvāmī.
One devotee has confidently expressed this opinion: "If a drop of Lord Kṛṣṇa's mercy can be bestowed upon me, then I shall feel completely carefree, even in the midst of a fire or an ocean. But if I become bereft of His causeless mercy, then even if I became the King of Dvārakā, I would be simply an object for pinpricks."
Devotees such as Mahārāj Parīkṣit and Uddhava are all situated in ecstatic attraction on the basis of affection, and in that state of affection a feeling of friendship becomes manifest. When Uddhava was freed from all material contamination, he saw the Lord, and his throat became choked up, and he could not speak. By the movements of his eyebrows alone he was embracing the Lord. Such ecstatic love has been divided by great scholars into two groups—addition and subtraction. If a devotee is not directly associated with the Lord, it is called subtraction. In this state of love, one is constantly fixed with his mind at the lotus feet of the Lord. A devotee in this state becomes very eager to learn of the transcendental qualities of the Lord. The most important business of such a devotee is attaining the association of the Lord.
In the Nṛsiṁha Purāṇa there is a statement about King Ikṣvāku which illustrates this state of ecstatic love. Because of his great affection for Kṛṣṇa, King Ikṣvāku became greatly attached to the black cloud, the black deer, the deer's black eyes and to the lotus flower, which is always compared to the eyes of the Lord. In the Tenth Canto, 38th Chapter, 9th verse of the Bhāgavatam, Akrūra thinks: "Since the Lord has now appeared to diminish the great burden of the world and is now visible to everyone's eyes in His personal transcendental body, when we see Him before us, is that not the ultimate perfection of our eyes?" In other words, Akrūra realized that the perfection of the eyes is fulfilled when one is able to see Lord Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, when Lord Kṛṣṇa was visible on the earth by direct appearance, everyone who saw Him surely attained perfection of sight.
In the Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta written by Bilvamaṅgala Thākur there is this expression of eagerness in ecstatic love: "How miserable it is, my dear Kṛṣṇa, O friend of the hopeless! O merciful Lord, how can I pass these thankless days without seeing You?" A similar sentiment was expressed by Uddhava when he wrote a letter to Kṛṣṇa and said, "My dear Supreme King of Braja, You are the vision of nectar for the eyes, and without seeing Your lotus feet and the effulgence of Your body, my mind is always morose. I cannot perceive any peace under any circumstance. Besides that, I am feeling every moment's separation to be like the duration of many, many long years."
In the Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta it is also said, "My dear Lord, You are the ocean of mercy. With my arms placed upon my head, I am bowing down before You with all humility and sincerity. I am praying unto You, my Lord. Would You be pleased just to sprinkle a little of the water of Your glance upon me? That will be a great satisfaction."
A devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa said, "When even Śaśiśekhara (Lord Śiva) is unable to see You, what chance is there for me, who am lower than an ordinary worm? I have only committed misdeeds. I know that I am not at all fit to offer my prayers to You, but because You are known as Dīnabandhu, the friend of the fallen, I humbly pray that You will kindly purify me by the beams of Your transcendental glance. If I become thoroughly bathed by Your merciful glance, then I may be saved. Therefore, my Lord, I am requesting You to please bestow upon me Your merciful glance."