Out of sheer misunderstanding, some transcendentalists think that knowledge and renunciation are necessary for rising to the platform of devotional service. This is not so. The cultivation of knowledge and the renunciation of fruitive activities may be necessary to understand one's spiritual existence in relation to the material conception of life, but they are not part and parcel of devotional service. The results of knowledge and fruitive activities are liberation and material sense gratification respectively. Consequently, they cannot be part and parcel of devotional service; rather, they have no intrinsic value in the discharge of devotional service. When one is freed from bondage to the results of knowledge and fruitive activities, he can attain to devotional service. Since a devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa is by nature nonviolent, and since his mind and senses are controlled, he does not have to make a special effort to acquire the good qualities which result from cultivating knowledge and performing fruitive activities.
When Uddhava was asking Kṛṣṇa about rules and regulations according to Vedic injunctions, he asked, "Why is it that the Vedic hymns encourage one in material enjoyment, while at the same time the Vedic instructions also free one from all illusion and encourage one toward liberation?" The Vedic rules are supposed to be ordained by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but apparently there are contradictions, and Uddhava was anxious to know how one could be freed from these contradictions. In reply, Lord Kṛṣṇa informed him of the superexcellence of devotional service.
"It is neither practical nor necessary for one who is already engaged in devotional service to Me and whose mind is fixed on Me to endeavor for the cultivation of knowledge and renunciation." Thus the Lord's conclusion is that devotional service is independent of any other process. The cultivation of knowledge, renunciation or meditation may be a little helpful in the beginning, but they cannot be considered necessary for the discharge of devotional service. In other words, devotional service can be discharged independently of the cultivation of knowledge and renunciation. In this regard, there is also a verse from Skanda Purāṇa in which Parvata Muni told a hunter tribesman: "O hunter, the qualifications which you have just now acquired—such as nonviolence and others—are not astonishing, because one who is engaged in devotional service to the Supreme Lord cannot be a source of trouble for anyone under any circumstance."
After discussing these points, Lord Caitanya told Sanātana Gosvāmī, "Thus far I have explained devotional service according to the regulative principles. Now I shall explain devotional service to you in terms of transcendental attachment."
The inhabitants of Vṛndāvana, Vrajavāsīs, are living examples of devotional service. Theirs is ideal devotional service with attachment, and such devotion can be found only in Vrajabhūmi, Vṛndāvana. If one develops devotional service and attachment by following in the footsteps of the Vrajavāsīs, he attains rāga-mārga-bhakti, or devotional service in attachment to the Lord. According to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (NOD 1.2.270), "Devotional service with ecstatic attachment for that service, which becomes natural for the devotee, is called rāga, or transcendental attachment." Devotional service discharged with such attachment is called rāgātmikā, and deep attachment with deep absorption in the object of love is called rāgātmikā. Examples of these can be seen in the activities of the residents of Vrajabhūmi. One who becomes attracted to Kṛṣṇa by hearing of such attachment is certainly very fortunate. When one becomes deeply affected by the devotion of the residents of Vrajabhūmi and tries to follow in their footsteps, he does not care for the restrictions or regulations of the revealed scriptures. This is the characteristic of one discharging rāga-bhakti.
Devotional service with attachment is natural, and one who has been attracted by it does not argue with those who oppose him, even though others may argue by presenting scriptural injunctions. The natural inclination to devotional service is also based on scriptural injunction, and one who has attachment for such devotional service is not required to give it up simply on the strength of scriptural argument. In this connection it should be noted that a class of so-called devotees (known as prākṛta-sahajiyā) follow their own concocted ideas and, representing themselves as Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā, indulge in debauchery. Such devotional service and attachment are false, and those so engaged are actually gliding down a hellish path. This is not the standard of rāgātmikā, or devotion. The prākṛta-sahajiyā community is actually cheated and very unfortunate.
Devotional service with attachment can be executed in two ways—externally and internally. Externally the devotee strictly follows the regulative principles beginning with chanting and hearing, while internally he thinks of the attachment which attracts him to serve the Supreme Lord. Indeed, he always thinks of his special devotional service and attachment. Such attachment does not violate the regulative principles of devotional service, and a real devotee adheres to these principles strictly; yet he always thinks of his particular attachment.
Since all the inhabitants of Vrajabhūmi, Vṛndāvana, are very dear to Kṛṣṇa, a devotee selects one of the inhabitants and follows in his footsteps in order to be successful in his own devotional service. A pure devotee who is attached to the Lord always follows in the footsteps of a personality of Vrajabhūmi. It is advised in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (NOD 1.2.294) that a pure devotee attached to devotional service should always remember the activities of a particular inhabitant of Vraja, even though he is not able to live in Vrajabhūmi or Vṛndāvana. In this way he can always think of Vrajabhūmi and Vṛndāvana.
The confidential devotees attached to the service of the Lord are divided into several categories: some of them are servants, some are friends, some are parents, and some are conjugal lovers. In devotional service with attachment, one has to follow a particular type of devotee of Vrajabhūmi. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (SB 3.25.38) the Lord says:
- na karhicin mat-parāḥ śānta-rūpe
- naṅkṣyanti no me 'nimiṣo leḍhi hetiḥ
- yeṣām ahaṁ priya ātmā sutaś ca
- sakhā guruḥ suhṛdo daivam iṣṭam
"The word mat-para is only used to refer to persons who are satisfied with the idea of becoming My adherents alone. They consider that I am their soul, I am their friend, I am their son, I am their master, I am their well-wisher, I am their God, and I am their supreme goal. My dear mother, time does not act on such devotees." In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (NOD 1.2.308), Rūpa Gosvāmī offers his respectful obeisances to those who always think of Kṛṣṇa as He is, and His relation as son, well-wisher, brother, father, friend, etc. Whoever follows the principles of devotional service with attachment and follows a particular devotee of Vrajabhūmi certainly attains the highest perfection of love of Godhead in that spirit.
There are two characteristics by which the seeds of love of Godhead can develop, and these are known as rati, or attachment, and bhāva, the condition immediately preceding love of Godhead. It is by such attachment and bhāva that the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is conquered by His devotees. These two characteristics are present before any symptoms of love of Godhead are manifest. This was all explained to Sanātana Gosvāmī by Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya told him that since there is really no end to describing the system of devotional service with attachment, He is simply trying to offer a sampling. Lord Caitanya then described the ultimate goal of devotional service, which is meant for one who wants to attain perfection. When one's attachment to Kṛṣṇa becomes very deep, one attains the condition called love of Godhead. Such a state of existence is considered a permanent situation for a devotee. In this regard, Kavirāja Gosvāmī offered his respectful obeisances to Lord Caitanya for His sublime teachings of love of Godhead. As stated in Caitanya-caritāmṛta, (Madhya 23.1): "O Supreme Personality of Godhead, who but You has ever awarded such pure devotional service? O most magnanimous incarnation of the Personality of Godhead, for my part I offer my respectful obeisances to this incarnation known as Gaurakrṣṇa."
In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (NOD 1.3.1) the state of being in love with the Godhead is compared to the sunshine emanating from the sun; this shining makes the devotee's heart more and more lovely. The heart of such a devotee is situated in a transcendental position beyond even the mode of goodness. The process for making the heart even more sterilized by the sunshine of love is called bhāva. A description of bhāva is given by Rūpa Gosvāmī. Bhāva is called the permanent characteristic of the living entity, and the crucial point of progress for bhāva is called the marginal state of love of Godhead. When the bhāva state becomes deeper and deeper, learned devotees call it love of Godhead. As stated in the Nārada-pañcarātra:
- ananya-mamatā viṣṇau
- mamatā prema-saṅgatā
- bhaktir ity ucyate bhīṣma-
"When one is firmly convinced that Viṣṇu is the only object of love and worship and that there is no one else—not even a demigod—worthy of receiving devotional service, one feels intimacy in his love relationship with God, and this is approved by such personalities as Bhīṣma, Prahlāda, Uddhava and Nārada."
If, due to some righteous activities which provoke devotional service, one is influenced by the service attitude and takes shelter of the good association of pure devotees, he develops attachment for hearing and chanting. By developing chanting and hearing, one can advance further and further in regulative devotional service to the Supreme Lord. As one so advances, his misgivings about devotional service and his attraction for the material world proportionately diminish. By advancing in hearing and chanting, a devotee becomes more firmly fixed in his faith, and gradually his initial faith develops into a taste for devotional service, and that taste gradually develops into attachment. When attachment becomes pure, it exhibits the two characteristics of bhāva and rati. When rati increases, it is called love of Godhead, and love of Godhead is the ultimate goal of human life.
This process is summarized by Rūpa Gosvāmī in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (NOD 1.4.15-16): The first requirement is faith; it is due to faith that one associates with pure devotees, and, by such association, develops devotional service. As devotional service develops, one's misgivings diminish. Then one is situated in firm conviction, and from that conviction he develops a taste for devotional service and advances to the stage of attachment, whereby he follows the regulative principles of devotional service. After that point, after one makes further progress, he attains the state called bhāva, which is permanent. When such love of God increases, it reaches the highest stage of love of Godhead."
In Sanskrit this highest stage is called premā, premā can be defined as love of God without any expectation of exchange or return. Actually the words premā and love are not synonymous, yet one can say that premā is the highest stage of love. One who has attained premā is the most perfect human being. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam also confirms this statement (SB 3.25.25): Only by the association of pure devotees can one develop a taste for Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and when he tries to apply Kṛṣṇa consciousness in his life, he can achieve everything up to the stage of bhāva and prema.
Lord Caitanya, describing the symptoms of a person who has developed from faith to the stage of bhāva, states that such a person is never agitated even if there are causes for agitation. Nor does such a person waste his time even for a moment; he is always anxious to do something for Kṛṣṇa. Even if he has no engagement, he will find some work to do for Kṛṣṇa's satisfaction. Nor does such a person like anything which is not connected with Kṛṣṇa. Although he is situated in the best position, he does not hanker after honor or personal respect. He is confident in his work, and he is never under the impression that he is not making progress toward the supreme goal of life-going back to Godhead. Since he is fully convinced of his progress, he is always confident and keeps himself busy to achieve the highest goal. He is very much attached to gratifying the Lord and in chanting or hearing about the Lord, and he is always attached to describing the transcendental qualities of the Lord. He also prefers to live in holy places like Mathurā, Vṛndāvana or Dvārakā. Such characteristics are visible in one who has developed to the stage of bhāva.
King Parīkṣit affords a good example of bhāva. When sitting on the banks of the Ganges waiting to meet his death, he said: "All the brāhmaṇas present here, as well as Mother Ganges, should know that I am a soul completely surrendered to Kṛṣṇa. I do not mind if I am immediately bitten by the snake sent by the brāhmaṇa boy's curse. Let the snake bite me as it likes. I shall be pleased if all of you present here will go on chanting the message of Kṛṣṇa." Such a devotee is always anxious to see that his time is not wasted in anything which is not connected with Kṛṣṇa. Consequently he does not like the benefits derived from fruitive activity, yogic meditation or the cultivation of knowledge. His attachment is to discourses which are favorably related to Kṛṣṇa. Such pure devotees of the Lord always pray to the Supreme Lord with tears in their eyes; their minds are always engaged in recollecting the activities of the Lord, and their bodies are always engaged in offering obeisances. In this way they are satisfied. Any devotee who is acting in devotional service dedicates his life and body for the purpose of the Lord.
King Bharata—after whom India is called Bhārata-varṣa—was also a pure devotee, and at an early age he left his household life, his devoted beautiful wife, his son, friends and kingdom just as if they were stool. This is typical of a person who has developed bhāva in devotional service. Such a person thinks of himself as the most wretched, and his only satisfaction is in thinking that some day or other Kṛṣṇa will be kind enough to favor him by engaging him in devotional service. In the Padma Purāṇa another instance of pure devotion is found. There it is recorded that the king, although the most elevated of human beings, was begging from door to door and was even praying to the caṇḍālas, the lowest members of human society.
It was Sanātana Gosvāmī who later composed this verse:
- na premā śravaṇādi-bhaktir api vā yogo 'thavā vaiṣṇavo
- jñānaṁ vā śubha-karma vā kiyad aho saj-jātir apy asti vā
- hīnārthādhika-sādhake tvayi tathāpy acchedya-mūlā satī
- he gopījanavallabha vyathayate hā hā madāśaiva mām
"I am poor in love of Godhead, and I have no asset for hearing about devotional service. Nor do I have any understanding of the science of devotional service, nor any cultivation of knowledge, nor any righteous activities to my credit. I am not even born in a high family. Nonetheless, O darling of the damsels of Vraja, I still maintain hopes of achieving You, and these hopes are always disturbing me." Such a devotee, being touched deeply by such strong desires, always chants Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare.
In this regard, the following verse by Bilvamaṅgala appears in the kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta (32):
- tvac chaiśavaṁ tri-bhuvanādbhutam ity avehi
- mac cāpalaṁ ca tava vā mama vādhigamyam
- tat kiṁ karomi viralaṁ muralīvilāsi
- mugdhaḥ mukhāmbujam udīkṣitum īkṣaṇābhyām
"O Kṛṣṇa, O wonderful flute player, the beauty of Your boyhood activities is very wonderful in this world. You know the agitation of my mind, and I know what You are. No one knows how confidential our relationship is. Although my eyes are anxious to see You and Your face, I cannot see You. Please let me know what I shall do." A similar passage appears in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (NOD 1.3.38) in which Rūpa Gosvāmī states:
- dṛgindīvarādya govinda
- tava madhura-svara-kaṇṭhī
- gāyati nāmāvalīṁ bālā
"O Govinda! This young girl with tears in her eyes is crying in a sweet voice, chanting Your glories." Such pure devotees are always anxious to describe the glories of Kṛṣṇa and to live in a place where He exhibited His pastimes. A similar verse appears again in kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta (92): "The body of Kṛṣṇa is so nice, and His face is so beautiful. Everything about Him is sweet and fragrant." And in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (NOD 1.2.156): "O lotus-eyed one, when will I be able to always chant Your holy name, and being inspired by that chanting, when will I be able to dance on the banks of the Yamunā?"
All these descriptions of the bhāva stage of devotional service were quoted by Lord Caitanya to Sanātana Gosvāmī. Lord Caitanya next proceeded to describe the symptoms of actual love for Kṛṣṇa. He informed Sanātana Gosvāmī that no one can understand the person who has developed love of Kṛṣṇa. No one can understand his words, his activities or his symptoms. Even if one is very learned, it is very difficult for him to understand a pure devotee who is in love with the Lord. This is also confirmed in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu.
A person engaged in devotional service becomes heartsick when singing the glories of the Supreme Lord. Because the Lord is very dear to him, when he glorifies the Lord's name, fame and so on, he becomes almost like an insane man, and in that condition he sometimes laughs, sometimes cries and sometimes dances. He continues in this way without even considering his situation. By gradually developing his love of Godhead, he increases his affection, his emotion and his ecstasy. Such attachment, mahābhāva, is the highest stage of devotional love. It may be likened to sugar candy, which is the most powerful form of sugar. Love of Godhead can gradually develop in such a way that transcendental pleasure is increased to the highest stage for the real devotee.