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Next Lord Caitanya explained to Sanātana Gosvāmī the process by which one can approach Kṛṣṇa. The only process, said Caitanya Mahāprabhu, is devotional service to Kṛṣṇa. This is the verdict of all Vedic literature. As the sages declare, “If someone inquires into the Vedas to determine the process of transcendental realization, or if someone consults the Purāṇas (which are considered sister literatures), one will find that in all of them the conclusion is that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, is the only object of worship.”
Kṛṣṇa is the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He is situated in His internal potency, which is known as svarūpa-śakti or ātma-śakti, as described in the Bhagavad-gītā. He expands Himself in multiple forms, some of which are known as His personal forms and some as His separated forms. Thus He enjoys Himself in all the spiritual planets, as well as in the material universes.
Kṛṣṇa’s separated expanded forms are the living entities, who are classified according to which of the Lord’s energies they are under. They are divided into two classes—eternally liberated and eternally conditioned. Eternally liberated living entities never come into contact with the material nature, and therefore they do not have any experience of material life. They are eternally engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, or devotional service to the Lord, and they are counted among the associates of Kṛṣṇa. Their pleasure, the only enjoyment of their life, is derived from rendering transcendental loving service to Kṛṣṇa.
On the other hand, those who are eternally conditioned are always divorced from the transcendental loving service of Kṛṣṇa and are thus subjected to the threefold miseries of material existence. On account of the conditioned soul’s eternal attitude of separation from Kṛṣṇa, the spell of the material energy awards him two kinds of bodies—the gross body, consisting of five elements, and the subtle body, consisting of mind, intelligence and ego. Being covered by these two bodies, the conditioned soul eternally suffers the pangs of material existence, known as the threefold miseries. He is also subjected to six enemies (lust, anger, etc.). Such is the everlasting disease of the conditioned soul.
Diseased and conditioned, the living entity transmigrates all over the universe. Sometimes he is situated in the upper planetary system, and sometimes he travels in the lower planetary system. In this way he leads his diseased, conditioned life. His disease can be cured only when he meets and follows the expert physician, the bona fide spiritual master. When the conditioned soul faithfully follows the instructions of a bona fide spiritual master, his material disease is cured, he is promoted to the liberated stage, and he again attains to the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa and goes back home, back to Kṛṣṇa.
A conditioned living entity should become aware of his real position and pray to the Lord, “How much longer will I be ruled by all these bodily functions, such as lust and anger?” As masters of the conditioned soul, lust and anger are never merciful. Indeed, such bad masters never cease demanding service from the conditioned soul. But when he comes to his real consciousness, Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he stops serving these bad masters and approaches Kṛṣṇa with a frank and open heart to achieve His shelter. At such a time he prays to Kṛṣṇa to be engaged in His transcendental loving service.
Sometimes the Vedic literature highly praises fruitive activities, mystic yoga and the speculative search for knowledge as different ways to self-realization. Yet despite such praise, in all Vedic literature the path of devotional service is accepted as foremost. In other words, devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa is the highest perfectional path to self-realization, and it is recommended that it be performed directly. Fruitive activity, mystic meditation and philosophical speculation are not direct methods of self-realization. They are indirect because without devotional service they cannot lead to the highest perfection of self-realization. Indeed, all paths to self-realization ultimately depend on the path of devotional service.
When Vyāsadeva was not satisfied even after compiling heaps of books of Vedic knowledge, Nārada Muni, his spiritual master, explained that no path of self-realization can be successful unless it is mixed with devotional service. When Nārada Muni arrived, Vyāsadeva was sitting by the banks of the river Sarasvatī in a state of depression. Upon seeing Vyāsa so dejected, Nārada explained the deficiency in his compilation of various books: “Even pure knowledge does not look well unless it is complemented by transcendental devotional service. And what to speak of fruitive activities when they are devoid of devotional service? How can they be of any benefit to their performer?”
Similarly, Śukadeva Gosvāmī prays in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.4.17): “There are many sages who are expert in performing austerities, there are many men who give much in charity, there are many famous men, scholars and thinkers, and there are those who are very expert in reciting Vedic hymns. Although all the activities of these men are auspicious, unless one performs them in order to attain devotional service to the Lord, they cannot award the desired results. Therefore I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord, the only one who can award such results.”
Although many types of philosophers and transcendentalists believe that one who lacks knowledge cannot be liberated from material entanglement, there is no possibility that knowledge without devotional service can award liberation. In other words, when jñāna, or the cultivation of knowledge, leads one onto the path of devotional service, then only does it help one gain liberation, but not otherwise. This is confirmed by Brahmā in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.14.4):
- śreyaḥ-sṛtiṁ bhaktim udasya te vibho
- kliśyanti ye kevala-bodha-labdhaye
- teṣām asau kleśala eva śiṣyate
- nānyad yathā sthūla-tuṣāvaghātinām
“My dear Lord, devotional service unto You is the best path for self-realization. If someone gives up that path and engages in the cultivation of knowledge or in speculation, he will simply undergo a troublesome process and will not achieve his desired results. Just as a person who beats an empty husk of wheat cannot get grain, one who engages simply in speculative knowledge cannot achieve the desired result of self-realization. His only gain is trouble.”
In the Bhagavad-gītā (7.14) it is stated that material nature is so strong that it can be surmounted only by those living entities who surrender unto the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. Only they can cross the ocean of material existence. When a living entity forgets that he is eternally the servitor of Kṛṣṇa, that forgetfulness causes his bondage in conditioned life and his attraction for the material energy. Indeed, that attraction is the shackle of the material energy. Since it is very difficult for a person to become free as long as he desires to lord it over the material nature, it is recommended that he approach a spiritual master who can train him in devotional service. In this way he can get out of the clutches of the material nature and achieve the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa.
There are four social divisions of human society: the brāhmaṇas, or intellectuals; the kṣatriyas, or administrators; the vaiśyas, or businessmen and farmers; and the śūdras, or laborers. There are also four spiritual orders, or āśramas: the brahmacārīs, or students; the gṛhasthas, or householders; the vānaprasthas, or retired persons; and the sannyāsīs, or those in renounced life. Regardless of one’s social or spiritual position, however, one who is lacking in devotional service, or Kṛṣṇa consciousness, cannot be released from material bondage, even if he executes his prescribed duty. On the contrary, he will glide down to hell due to material consciousness. Therefore, whoever is engaged in his occupational or spiritual duty must simultaneously cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness in devotional service if he wants liberation from the material clutches.
In this regard, Lord Caitanya recited two verses from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.5.2–3) that were spoken by Nārada Muni to indicate the path of bhāgavata cultivation. Nārada pointed out that the four social divisions of human society, as well as the four orders of life, are born from the gigantic universal form of the Lord, the virāṭ-puruṣa. The brāhmaṇas are born from the mouth of the universal form, the kṣatriyas are born from the arms, the vaiśyas from the waist, and the śūdras from the legs. As such, the members of all these social orders are qualified in the different modes of material nature within the form of the virāṭ-puruṣa. But if a person is not engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, he falls from his position, regardless of whether he executes his prescribed occupational duty or not.
Lord Caitanya further pointed out that although those who belong to the Māyāvāda, or impersonalist, school consider themselves to be one with God, or liberated, they are not actually liberated, as confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.2.32):
- ye ’nye ’ravindākṣa vimukta-māninas
- tvayy asta-bhāvād aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ
- āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ
- patanty adho ’nādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ
“Those who think that they are liberated according to Māyāvāda philosophy but who do not take to the devotional service of the Lord fall down for want of devotional service, even after they undergo the severest types of penances and austerities, and even after they sometimes approach the supreme position.”
Caitanya Mahāprabhu explained that Kṛṣṇa is just like the sun and that Māyā, the illusory material energy, is just like darkness. Therefore one who is constantly in the sunshine of Kṛṣṇa cannot possibly be deluded by the darkness of the material energy. This is very clearly confirmed in the last of the four principal verses of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.9.34), as well as in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 2.5.13, which states: “The illusory energy, or Māyā, is ashamed to stand before the Lord.” Nonetheless, the living entities are constantly being bewildered by this very same illusory energy. In his conditioned state, the living entity discovers many forms of word jugglery to get apparent liberation from the clutches of Māyā, but if he sincerely surrenders unto Kṛṣṇa by simply once saying “My dear Lord Kṛṣṇa, from this day I am Yours,” he at once gets out of the clutches of the material energy. This is confirmed in the Rāmāyaṇa (Yuddha-kāṇḍa 18.33), wherein the Lord says:
- sakṛd eva prapanno yas tavāsmīti ca yācate
- abhayaṁ sarvadā tasmai dadāmy etad vrataṁ mama
“It is My duty and vow to give all protection to one who surrenders unto Me without reservation.” One may develop the desire to enjoy fruitive activities, liberation, jñāna or the perfection of the yoga system, but if one becomes very intelligent he will give up all these paths and engage himself in sincere devotional service to the Lord. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.3.10) confirms that an intelligent person, whether free of desires or full of desires for material enjoyment or desirous of liberation, should engage in intense devotional service. Those who are ambitious to derive material benefit from devotional service are not pure devotees, but because they are engaged in devotional service they are considered fortunate. They do not know that the result of devotional service is not material benediction, but because they engage in devotional service of the Supreme Lord they ultimately come to understand that material enjoyment is not its goal. Kṛṣṇa says that persons who want some material benefit in exchange for devotional service are certainly foolish because they want something that is poisonous for them. Yet although a person may desire material benefits from Kṛṣṇa, the Lord, being all-powerful, considers the person’s position and gradually liberates him from a materially ambitious life and engages him in more devotional service. When one is actually engaged in devotional service, he forgets his material ambitions and desires. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.19.27):
- satyaṁ diśaty arthitam arthito nṛṇāṁ
- naivārtha-do yat punar arthitā yataḥ
- svayaṁ vidhatte bhajatām anicchatām
- icchā-pidhānaṁ nija-pāda-pallavam
“Lord Kṛṣṇa certainly fulfills the desires of His devotees who come to Him in devotional service, but He does not fulfill desires that would again cause miseries. In spite of being materially ambitious, such devotees, by rendering transcendental service to the Lord, are gradually purified of desires for material enjoyment and come to desire the pleasure of devotional service.”
Generally people come into the association of devotees to mitigate some material wants, but the influence of a pure devotee frees a man from all material desires by enabling him to relish the taste of devotional service. Devotional service is so nice and pure that it purifies the devotee, and he forgets all material ambitions as soon as he engages fully in the transcendental loving service of Kṛṣṇa. A practical example is Dhruva Mahārāja, who wanted something material from Kṛṣṇa and therefore engaged in devotional service. When the Lord appeared before Dhruva as four-handed Viṣṇu, Dhruva told Him: “My dear Lord, because I engaged in Your devotional service with great austerity and penances, I am now seeing You, whom even great demigods and sages have difficulty seeing. Now I am pleased, and all my desires are satisfied. I do not want anything else. I was searching for some broken glass, but instead I have found a great and valuable gem.” Thus Dhruva Mahārāja expressed his full satisfaction and refused to ask anything from the Lord.
The living entity transmigrating through 8,400,000 species of life is sometimes likened to a log gliding downstream on the waves of a river. Sometimes, by chance, a log washes up on shore and is thus saved from being forced to drift further downstream. In this regard there is a nice verse in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.38.5) that encourages every conditioned soul: “No one should be depressed by thinking he will never be out of the clutches of matter, for there is the possibility of being rescued, exactly as it is possible for a log floating down a river to come to rest on the bank.” This fortunate opportunity was also discussed by Lord Caitanya. Such fortunate incidents are considered the beginning of the decline of one’s conditioned life, and they occur if one associates with the pure devotees of the Lord. By associating with pure devotees, one develops attraction for Kṛṣṇa. There are various types of rituals and activities, some of which lead to material enjoyment and others to material liberation. But if a living entity takes to those ritualistic activities by which pure devotional service to the Lord is developed in the association of pure devotees, then his mind naturally becomes attracted to devotional service. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.51.53) Mucukunda states:
- bhavāpavargo bhramato yadā bhavej
- janasya tarhy acyuta sat-samāgamaḥ
- sat-saṅgamo yarhi tadaiva sad-gatau
- parāvareśe tvayi jāyate matiḥ
“My dear Lord, while traveling in this material world through different species of life, a living entity may progress toward liberation. But only when he gets the chance to come in contact with a pure devotee can he actually be liberated from the clutches of material energy and become a devotee of You, the Personality of Godhead.”
When a conditioned soul becomes a devotee of Kṛṣṇa, the Lord, by His causeless mercy, trains him in two ways: He trains him from without as the spiritual master, and He trains him from within as the Supersoul. In this connection there is a very nice verse in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.29.6), in which Uddhava says to Lord Kṛṣṇa: “My dear Lord, even if someone lives as long as Brahmā, he would still be unable to express his gratitude to You for the benefits derived from remembering You. Out of Your causeless mercy You drive away all inauspicious conditions for Your devotee, expressing Yourself from outside as the spiritual master and from inside as the Supersoul.”
If one somehow or other gets in touch with a pure devotee and thus develops a desire to render devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, he gradually rises to the platform of love of Godhead and is thus freed from the clutches of the material energy. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.20.8) where the Lord says, “For one who, out of his own accord, becomes attracted to topics of My activities—being neither allured nor repelled by material activities—following the path of devotional service leading to the perfection of love of God becomes possible.” However, it is not possible to achieve the stage of perfection without being favored by a pure devotee, or a mahātmā, a great soul. Without the mercy of a great soul, one cannot even be liberated from the material clutches, and what to speak of rising to the platform of love of Godhead. This is also confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.12.12), in a conversation between Jada Bharata and King Rahūgaṇa, ruler of the Sindhu and Sauvīra provinces. When King Rahūgaṇa expressed surprise upon seeing Bharata’s spiritual achievements, Bharata replied:
- rahūgaṇaitat tapasā na yāti
- na cejyayā nirvapaṇād gṛhād vā
- na cchandasā naiva jalāgni-sūryair
- vinā mahat-pāda-rajo ’bhiṣekam
“My dear Rahūgaṇa, no one can attain the perfected stage of devotional service without being favored by a great soul, a pure devotee. No one can attain the perfectional stage simply by following the regulative principles of scriptures, or by accepting the renounced order of life, or by prosecuting the prescribed duties of householder life, or by becoming a great student of spiritual science, or by accepting severe austerity and penances for realization.” Similarly, when the atheist Hiraṇyakaśipu asked his son Prahlāda Mahārāja how he had attained such a devotional attitude, the boy replied, “As long as one is not favored by the dust of the feet of pure devotees, one cannot even touch the path of devotional service, which is the solution to all the problems of material life.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.5.32)
Thus Lord Caitanya told Sanātana Gosvāmī that all scriptures stress association with pure devotees of the Lord. The opportunity to associate with a pure devotee of the Supreme Lord is the beginning of one’s complete perfection. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.18.13), where it is said that the facilities and benedictions one achieves by associating with a pure devotee are incomparable. They cannot be compared to anything—neither elevation to the heavenly kingdom nor liberation from the material energy. Lord Kṛṣṇa also confirms this in the most confidential instruction in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.64–65), wherein He tells Arjuna:
- sarva-guhyatamaṁ bhūyaḥ śṛṇu me paramaṁ vacaḥ
- iṣṭo ’si me dṛḍham iti tato vakṣyāmi te hitam
- man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
- mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te pratijāne priyo ’si me
“My dear Arjuna, you are My affectionate friend and relative, and therefore I am imparting to you this most confidential knowledge for your benefit. Just become always mindful of Me, become My constant devotee, become My constant worshiper, and become a soul surrendered to Me. Only in this way will you be sure to achieve My abode. Because you are My very dear friend, I hereby disclose to you this most confidential knowledge.”
Such a direct instruction from Kṛṣṇa is more important than any Vedic injunction or regulative service. There are certainly many Vedic injunctions, ritualistic and sacrificial performances, regulative duties, meditative techniques, and speculative processes for attaining knowledge, but Kṛṣṇa’s direct order—“Just give up everything else and become My devotee, My worshiper”—should be taken as the final order of the Lord and should be followed. If one is simply convinced of this direct order of the Lord in the Bhagavad-gītā, becomes attached to His devotional service, and gives up all other engagements, one will undoubtedly attain success. To confirm this statement, in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.20.9) Kṛṣṇa says that one should follow other paths of self-realization only as long as one is not convinced of His direct order to become His devotee. It is the conclusion of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Bhagavad-gītā that the direct order of the Lord is to give up everything and engage in devotional service.
Firm conviction that one should execute the order of the Lord is known as faith. One who has faith is firmly convinced that simply by rendering devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa all other activities are automatically performed, including ritualistic duties, sacrifices, yoga and the speculative pursuit of knowledge. In fact, devotional service to the Lord includes everything. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (4.31.14):
- yathā taror mūla-niṣecanena
- tṛpyanti tat-skandha-bhujopaśākhāḥ
- prāṇopahārāc ca yathendriyāṇāṁ
- tathaiva sarvārhaṇam acyutejyā
“By watering the root of a tree, one automatically nourishes the branches, twigs, leaves and fruits, and by supplying food to the stomach, one satisfies all the senses. Similarly, by rendering devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, one automatically satisfies the requirements for all other forms of worship and all other spiritual processes.” One who is faithful and firmly convinced of this is eligible to be elevated as a pure devotee.
There are three classes of devotees, according to the degree of conviction. The first-class devotee is conversant with all kinds of Vedic literature and at the same time has the firm conviction mentioned above. He can deliver all others from the pangs of material miseries. The second-class devotee is firmly convinced and has strong faith, but he has no power to cite evidence from revealed scriptures. The third-class devotee is one whose faith is not very strong, but by the gradual cultivation of devotional service he can be promoted to the second- or first-class position. It is said in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.2.45) that the first-class devotee always sees the Supreme Lord as the soul of all living entities. Thus in seeing all living entities, he sees Kṛṣṇa and nothing but Kṛṣṇa. The second-class devotee places his full faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead, makes friends with pure devotees, shows favor to innocent persons and avoids those who are atheistic or against devotional service. The third-class devotee engages in devotional service according to the directions of the spiritual master, or engages out of family tradition, and worships the Deity of the Lord, but he has not cultivated knowledge of devotional service, and he does not know a devotee from a nondevotee. Such a third-class devotee cannot actually be considered a pure devotee; he is almost in the devotional line, but his position is not very secure.
One can thus conclude that when a person shows love for God and friendship for devotees, displays mercy toward the innocent and is reluctant to associate with nondevotees, he may be considered a pure devotee. By developing devotional service, such a person can perceive that every living entity is part and parcel of the Supreme. In each and every living entity he can see the Supreme Person, and therefore he becomes highly developed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. At this stage he does not distinguish between the devotee and the nondevotee, for he sees everyone as being engaged in the service of the Lord. Such a pure devotee continues to develop all great qualities while engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and devotional service. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.18.12):
- yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā
- sarvair guṇais tatra samāsate surāḥ
- harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇā
- mano-rathenāsati dhāvato bahiḥ
“One who attains pure, unalloyed devotional service to the Supreme Lord develops all the good qualities of the demigods, whereas a person who doesn’t develop such service is sure to go astray despite all his material qualifications, for he hovers on the mental platform. Thus his material qualifications are valueless.”