ISKCON Press


The Devotee

A person in Kṛṣṇa consciousness who is fully devoted to the transcendental loving service of the Lord develops all the godly qualities of the demigods. There are many divine qualities, but Lord Caitanya describes only some of them to Sanātana Gosvāmī. A devotee of the Lord is always kind to everyone, and he does not pick quarrels. His interest is in the essence of life, which is spiritual. He is equal to everyone, and no one can find fault in him. His magnanimous mind is always fresh and clean and devoid of material obsessions. He is a benefactor to all living entities and is peaceful and always surrendered to Kṛṣṇa. He has no material desires. He is very humble and is fixed in his purpose. He is victorious over the six material qualities such as lust and anger, and he does not eat more than he needs. He is always sane and is respectful to others, but he does not require respect for himself. He is grave, merciful, friendly, poetic, expert and silent. id1

There is also a description of the devotee of the Lord in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.25.21) wherein he is said to be always tolerant and merciful. A friend to all living entities, he has no enemies. He is peaceful, and he possesses all good qualities. These are but a few of the characteristics of a person in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. id2

It is also said in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that if one gets an opportunity to serve a great soul-a mahātmā-his path to liberation is open. However, those who are attached to materialistic persons are on the path of darkness. Those who are actually holy are transcendental, composed, peaceful, friendly to all living entities and not subject to anger. Simply by association with such holy men one can become a Kṛṣṇa conscious devotee. Indeed, to develop love of Godhead, the association of holy devotees is needed. The path of advancement in spiritual life opens for anyone who comes in contact with a holy man, and by following the path of the devotee, one is sure to develop Kṛṣṇa consciousness in full devotional service. id3

In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.2.28), Vasudeva, the father of Kṛṣṇa, asks Nārada Muni about the welfare of all living entities, and in reply Nārada Muni quotes a passage from Mahārāja Nimi’s discussion with the nine sages. “O holy sages,” King Nimi said, “I am just trying to find the path of well-being for all living entities. A moment of association with holy men is the most valuable thing in life, for that moment opens the path of advancement in spiritual life.” This is also confirmed elsewhere in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.25.25). By associating with holy persons and discussing transcendental subject matters with them, one becomes convinced of the value of spiritual life. Very soon, hearing of Kṛṣṇa becomes pleasing to the ear and begins to satisfy one’s heart. After receiving such spiritual messages from holy persons or pure devotees, if one tries to apply them in his own life, the path of Kṛṣṇa consciousness naturally develops in faith, attachment and devotional service. id4

The Lord then informed Sanātana Gosvāmī about the behavior of a devotee. Here the main point is that one should always stay aloof from unholy association. That is the sum and substance of a devotee’s behavior. And what is unholy association? It is association with one who is too much attached to women and with one who is not a devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa. These are unholy persons. One is advised to associate with the holy devotees of the Lord and carefully avoid the association of unholy nondevotees. Those who are pure devotees of Kṛṣṇa are very careful to keep aloof from the two types of nondevotees. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.31.33-35) it is said that one should give up all association with a person who is a playmate for women, for by associating with such an unholy person one becomes bereft of all good qualities, such as truthfulness, cleanliness, mercy, gravity, intelligence, shyness, beauty, fame, forgiveness, control of the mind and senses and all the opulences that are automatically obtained by a devotee. A man is never so degraded as when he associates with persons who are too much attached to women. id5

In this regard, Lord Caitanya also quotes a verse from Kātyāyana-saṁhitā: “One should rather tolerate the miseries of being locked in a cage filled with fire than associate with those who are not devotees of the Lord.”One is also advised not to even look at the faces of persons who are irreligious or who are devoid of devotion to the Supreme Lord. Lord Caitanya recommends that one should scrupulously renounce the association of unwanted persons and completely take shelter of the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa. This same instruction is given to Arjuna in the last verses of Bhagavad-gītā in which Kṛṣṇa says:“Just give up everything and surrender unto Me. I will take care of you and protect you from all the reactions to sinful activities.” (Bg. 18.66) The Lord is very kind to His devotees, and He is very grateful, able and magnanimous. It is our duty to believe His words, and if we are intelligent and educated enough, we will follow His instructions without hesitation. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.48.26) Akrūra tells Kṛṣṇa: id6

kaḥ paṇḍitas tvad aparaṁ śaraṇaṁ samīyād
bhakta-priyād ṛta-giraḥ suhṛdaḥ kṛta-jñāt
sarvān dadāti suhṛdo bhajato ‘bhikāmān
ātmānam apy upacayāpacayau na yasya

“Who can surrender to anyone other than Yourself? Who is as dear, truthful, friendly and grateful as You? You are so perfect and complete that even though You give Yourself to Your devotee, You are still full and perfect. You can satisfy all the desires of Your devotee and even deliver Yourself unto him.” A person who is intelligent and able to understand the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness naturally gives up everything and takes to the shelter of Kṛṣṇa. In this regard, Lord Caitanya recites a verse spoken by Uddhava in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.2.23): “How can one take shelter of anyone but Kṛṣṇa? He is so kind. Even though Bakāsura’s sister planned to kill Kṛṣṇa when He was an infant by applying poison to her breast and offering it to Kṛṣṇa to suck and thus die, still that heinous woman received salvation and was elevated to the same platform as Kṛṣṇa’s own mother.” This verse refers to the time when Pūtanā planned to kill Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa accepted the poisonous breasts of that demonic woman, and when He sucked the milk from her, He sucked out her life also. Nonetheless Pūtanā was elevated to the same position as Kṛṣṇa’s own mother. id7

There is no essential difference between a fully surrendered soul and a person in the renounced order of life. The only difference is that a fully surrendered soul is completely dependent upon Kṛṣṇa. There are six basic guidelines for surrender. The first is that one should accept everything that is favorable for the discharge of devotional service, and one should be determined to accept the process. The second is that one should give up everything that is unfavorable to the discharge of devotional service, and one should be determined to give it all up. Thirdly, one should be convinced that only Kṛṣṇa can protect him and should have full faith that the Lord will give that protection. An impersonalist thinks that his actual identity is in being one with Kṛṣṇa, but a devotee does not destroy his identity in this way. He lives with full faith that Kṛṣṇa will kindly protect him in all respects. Fourthly, a devotee should always accept Kṛṣṇa as his maintainer. Those who are interested in the fruits of activities generally expect protection from the demigods, but a devotee of Kṛṣṇa does not look to any demigod for protection. He is fully convinced that Kṛṣṇa will protect him from all unfavorable circumstances. Fifth, a devotee is always conscious that his desires are not independent; unless Kṛṣṇa fulfills them, they cannot be fulfilled. Lastly, one should always think of himself as the most fallen among souls so that Kṛṣṇa will take care of him. id8

Such a surrendered soul should take shelter of a holy place like Vṛndāvana, Mathurā, Dvārakā, Māyāpur, etc., and should surrender himself unto the Lord, saying, “My Lord, from today I am Yours. You can protect me or kill me as You like.” A pure devotee takes shelter of Kṛṣṇa in such a way, and Kṛṣṇa is so grateful that He accepts him and gives him all kinds of protection. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.29.34) where it is said that if a person who is about to die takes full shelter of the Supreme Lord and places himself fully under His care, he actually attains immortality and becomes eligible to associate with the Supreme Lord and enjoy transcendental bliss. id9

The Lord then explained to Sanātana Gosvāmī the various types and symptoms of practical devotional service. When devotional service is performed with our present senses, it is called practical devotional service. Actually devotional service is the eternal life of the living entity and is lying dormant in everyone’s heart. The practice which invokes that dormant devotional service is called practical devotional service. The purport is that the living entity is constitutionally part and parcel of the Supreme Lord; the Lord can be compared to the sun, and the living entities can be compared to molecules of sunshine. Under the spell of illusory energy, the spiritual spark is almost extinguished, but by practical devotional service one can revive his natural constitutional position. When one practices devotional service, it should be understood that he is returning to his original and normal liberated position. Devotional service can be practiced with one’s senses under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master. id10

One begins spiritual activities for advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness by hearing. Hearing is the most important method for advancement, and one should be very eager to hear favorably about Kṛṣṇa. Giving up all speculation and fruitive activity, one should simply worship and desire to attain to love of God. That love of God is eternally existing within everyone; it simply has to be evoked by the process of hearing. Hearing and chanting are the principal methods of devotional service. id11

Devotional service may be regulative or affectionate. One who has not developed transcendental affection for Kṛṣṇa should conduct his life according to the directions and regulations of the scriptures and the spiritual master. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.1.5) Śukadeva Gosvāmī advises Mahārāja Parīkṣit: id12

tasmād bhārata sarvātmā
bhagavān īśvaro hariḥ
śrotavyaḥ kīrtitavyaś ca
smartavyaś cecchatābhayam

“O best of the Bhāratas, it is the prime duty of persons who want to become fearless to hear about the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, and to chant about Him and always remember Him. Lord Viṣṇu is always to be remembered; indeed, He is not to be forgotten for even a moment. He is the sum and substance of all regulative principles.” The conclusion is that when all the rules, regulations, recommended and prohibited activities revealed in scriptures are taken together, the remembrance of the Supreme Lord is invariably the essence of everything. Remembrance of the Supreme Personality of Godhead within one’s heart is the goal of devotional service. When devotional service is performed purely and affectionately, there is no question of regulative principles. There are no do’s and don’t’s. id13

However, one should generally accept the following principles to properly execute devotional service: (1) take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master, (2) receive initiation from the spiritual master, (3) serve the spiritual master, (4) inquire and learn love from the spiritual master, (5) follow in the footsteps of holy persons devoted to the transcendental loving service of the Lord, (6) prepare to give up all kinds of enjoyment and miseries for the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa, (7) live in a place where Kṛṣṇa had His pastimes, (8) be satisfied by whatever is sent by Kṛṣṇa for the maintenance of the body and hanker for no more, (9) observe fasting on Ekādaśī day (this occurs on the eleventh day after the full moon and the eleventh day after the new moon. On such days no grains, cereals or beans are eaten; simply vegetables and milk are moderately taken, and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and reading scriptures are increased.), (10) show respect to devotees, cows and sacred trees like the banyan tree. id14

It is essential for a neophyte devotee who is beginning to follow the path of devotional service to observe these ten principles. One should also try to avoid offenses in serving the Lord and in chanting His holy names. There are ten kinds of offenses which one can commit while chanting the holy name, and they should be avoided. These offenses are: (1) blaspheming a devotee of the Lord, (2) considering the Lord and the demigods on the same level or thinking that there are many gods, (3) neglecting the orders of the spiritual master, (4) minimizing the authority of the scriptures (the Vedas), (5) interpreting the holy names of God, (6) committing sins on the strength of chanting, (7) instructing the glories of the Lord’s names to the unfaithful, (8) comparing the holy name with material piety, (9) being inattentive while chanting the holy name, (10) remaining attached to material things in spite of chanting the holy names. Ten additional regulations are as follows: (1) one should try to avoid offenses in the service of the Lord and in chanting the holy names of the Lord; (2) one should avoid the association of unholy nondevotees; (3) one should not attempt to have many disciples; (4) one should not take the trouble to understand many books or to understand partially any particular book, and one should avoid discussing different doctrines; (5) one should be composed both in gain and in loss; (6) one should not be subject to any kind of lamentation; (7) one should not disrespect the demigods or other scriptures; (8) one should not tolerate blasphemy against the Supreme Lord and His devotees; (9) one should avoid ordinary topics of novels and fiction, but there is no injunction that one should avoid hearing ordinary news; (10) one should not give any trouble to any living creature, including a small bug. id15

In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu compiled by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī it is said that one should be very liberal in behavior and should avoid any undesirable activities. The most important affirmative points are that one should accept the shelter of a bona fide spiritual master, be initiated by him and serve him. id16

In addition to these, there are thirty-five items of devotional service, and they can be analyzed as follows: (1) hearing, (2) chanting, (3) remembering, (4) worshiping, (5) praying, (6) serving, (7) engaging as a servitor, (8) being friendly, (9) offering everything, (10) dancing before the Deity, (11) singing, (12) informing, (13) offering obeisances, (14) standing up to show respect to the devotees, (15) following a devotee when he gets up to go to the door, (16) entering the temple of the Lord, (17) circumambulating the temple of the Lord, (18) reading prayers, (19) vibrating hymns, (20) performing saṅkīrtana, or congregational chanting, (21) smelling the incense and flowers offered to the Deity, (22) accepting prasāda (food offered to Kṛṣṇa), (23) attending the ārātrika ceremony, (24) seeing the Deity, (25) offering palatable foodstuffs to the Lord, (26) meditating, (27) offering water to the tulasī tree, (28) offering respect to the Vaiṣṇavas or advanced devotees, (29) living in Mathurā or Vṛndāvana, (30) understanding Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, (31) trying one’s utmost to attain Kṛṣṇa, (32) expecting the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, (33) performing ceremonial functions with the devotees of Kṛṣṇa, (34) surrendering in all respects, (35) observing different ceremonial functions. To these thirty-five items, another four can be added: (1) marking one’s body with sandalwood pulp to show that one is a Vaiṣṇava, (2) painting one’s body with the holy names of the Lord, (3) covering one’s body with the remnants of the Deity covers, (4) accepting caraṇāmṛta, the water which washes the Deity. These four additional items make thirty-nine items for devotional service in all, and out of all of these the following five are most important: (1) to associate with devotees, (2) to chant the holy name of the Lord, (3) to hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, (4) to live in a holy place such as Mathurā or Vṛndāvana, (5) to serve the Deity with great devotion. These items are especially mentioned by Rūpa Gosvāmī in his book Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. The thirty-nine items above, plus these five items, total forty-four items. Add to these the twenty preliminary occupations and there are a total of sixty-four different items for conducting devotional service. One can adopt the sixty-four items with his body, mind and senses and thus gradually purify his devotional service. Some of the items are completely different, some are identical, and others appear to be mixed. id17

Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has recommended that one live in the association of those who are of the same mentality; therefore it is necessary to form some association for Kṛṣṇa consciousness and live together for the cultivation of knowledge of Kṛṣṇa and devotional service. The most important item for living in that association is the mutual understanding of Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. When faith and devotion are developed, they become transformed into the worship of the Deity, chanting of the holy name and living in a holy place like Mathurā and Vṛndāvana. id18

The last five items-mentioned after the first thirty-nine-are very important and essential. If one can simply discharge these five items, he can be elevated to the highest perfectional stage, even if he does not execute them perfectly. One may be able to perform one item or many items, according to one’s capacity, but it is the principal factor of complete attachment to devotional service that makes one advance on the path. There are many devotees in history who have attained perfection in devotional service simply by discharging the duties of one item, and there are many other devotees, like Mahārāja Ambarīṣa, who executed all the items. Some individual devotees who attained perfection in devotional service by executing only one item are: Mahārāja Parīkṣit, who was liberated and fully perfected simply by hearing; Śukadeva Gosvāmī, who became liberated and attained perfection in devotional service simply by chanting; Prahlāda Mahārāja, who attained perfection by remembering; Lakṣmī, who attained perfection by serving the lotus feet of the Lord; King Pṛthu, who attained perfection simply by worshiping; Akrūra, who attained perfection simply by praying; Hanumān, who attained perfection simply by becoming the servant of Lord Rāma; Arjuna, who attained perfection simply by being a friend of Kṛṣṇa’s; and Bali Mahārāja who attained perfection simply by offering whatever he had in his possession. As far as Mahārāja Ambarīṣa is concerned, he actually performed all the items of devotional service. He first of all engaged his mind upon the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. He engaged his words, his power of speaking, in describing the transcendental qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He engaged his hands in washing the temple of the Deity, his ears in hearing the words of Kṛṣṇa and his eyes in beholding the Deity. He engaged his sense of touch by rendering service to the devotees, and he engaged his sense of smell by relishing the fragrance of the flowers offered to Kṛṣṇa. He engaged his tongue in tasting the tulasī leaves offered to the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, his legs in going to the temple of Kṛṣṇa, and his head in offering obeisances to the Deity of Kṛṣṇa. Because all his desires and ambitions were thus engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, Mahārāja Ambarīṣa is considered the leader in discharging devotional service in all kinds of ways. id19

Whoever engages in the devotional service of the Lord in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness becomes freed of all debts to the sages, demigods and forefathers, to whom everyone is generally indebted. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.5.41): id20

devarṣi-bhūtāpta-nṛṇāṁ pitṝṇāṁ
na kiṅkaro nāyam ṛṇī ca rājan
sarvātmanā yaḥ śaraṇaṁ śaraṇyaṁ
gato mukundaṁ parihṛtya kartam

“Whoever fully engages himself in the service of the Lord, O King, is no longer indebted to the demigods, the sages, other living entities, his relatives, the forefathers or to any man.” Every man, just after his birth, immediately becomes indebted to so many people, and one is expected to discharge many kinds of ritualistic functions because of this indebtedness. However, if one is fully surrendered unto Kṛṣṇa, there is no obligation. One becomes free from all debts. id21

It should be carefully noted, however, that when a person gives up all other duties and simply takes to the transcendental service of Kṛṣṇa, he has no desire and is not subjected to or likely to perform sinful activities. If, however, he performs sinful activities (not willfully but by chance), Kṛṣṇa gives him all protection. It is not necessary for him to purify himself by any other method, and this is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.5.42): “A devotee who is fully engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Lord is protected by the Supreme Person, but in case he unintentionally commits some sinful activity or is obliged to act sinfully under certain circumstances, God, situated within his heart, gives him all protection.” id22

The processes of speculative knowledge and renunciation are not actually the chief items for elevation in devotional service. One does not have to take to the principles of nonviolence and sense control, although there are rules and regulations for acquiring these qualities in the other processes. Without even practicing these processes a devotee develops all good qualities simply by discharging devotional service to the Lord. In the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.20.31), the Lord Himself says that there is no necessity to cultivate speculative knowledge and renunciation if one is actually engaged in the devotional service of the Lord. id23

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