As mentioned above, a person in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, being fully devoted to the transcendental loving service of the Lord, develops all the godly qualities of the demigods. There are many such qualities, but Lord Caitanya described only some of them to Sanātana Gosvāmī.
A devotee of the Lord is always kind to everyone; he does not pick quarrels. His interest is in the essence of life, which is spiritual. He is equal to everyone, no one can find fault in him, his magnanimous mind is always fresh and clean, and he is without material possessions. 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.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.25.21 also describes the person in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, one who is devoted to the loving service of the Lord. There the devotee is said to be always tolerant and merciful, and a friend to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, and he possesses all good qualities. These are a few of the characteristics of a person in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
It is also said in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.5.2) that if one gets the 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 transcendentalists; they are equipoised, very peaceful, free from anger, and friendly to all living entities. Simply by associating with such holy men one can become a Kṛṣṇa conscious devotee of the Lord. Indeed, to develop love of Godhead, the association of such great souls is needed. The path of advancement in spiritual life opens for anyone who comes in contact with such holy men, and by following their path, one is sure to develop Kṛṣṇa consciousness in full devotional service.
In the Eleventh Canto, second chapter, text 30 of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, 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 Yogendras. “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 statement is 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, one naturally and successively develops faith, attachment and devotion while progressing on the path of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
The Lord then informed Sanātana Gosvāmī about the behavior of a devotee. The sum and substance of such behavior is that one should always stay aloof from unholy association. And what is unholy association? It is association with one who is too much attached to women or one who is not a devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa. These are unholy persons. One is thus advised to associate with holy devotees of the Lord and carefully avoid the association of unholy nondevotees. Pure devotees of Kṛṣṇa are very careful to keep aloof from the two kinds of nondevotees. The result of unholy association is described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.31.33–35). There it is said that one should give up all association with a person who is a plaything 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, control of the 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.
Regarding remaining aloof from unholy persons, Lord Caitanya quoted a verse from the 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.” Indeed, one is advised not to even look at the faces of persons who are irreligious, or without any devotion to the Supreme Lord. In other words, Lord Caitanya recommended that one should scrupulously renounce the association of unwanted persons and completely take shelter of the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa gave Arjuna this same instruction near the end of the Bhagavad-gītā (18.66): “Just give up everything and surrender unto Me. I will take care of you and protect you from all the reactions to sinful activities.” The Lord is very kind to His devotees, and He is very grateful, able and magnanimous. Therefore it is our duty to believe His words, and if we are intelligent enough and educated enough, we will follow His instructions without hesitation. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.48.26) Akrūra tells Kṛṣṇa:
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 You? Who is so dear? Who is so truthful? Who is so friendly? And who is so grateful? You are so perfect and complete that even though You give Yourself to Your devotee, You are still full and perfect. You can therefore 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 shelter only of Kṛṣṇa. In this regard, Lord Caitanya recited a verse spoken by Uddhava in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.2.23): “How can one take shelter of anyone but Kṛṣṇa? Who else is so kind? Even though Bakāsura’s sister Pūtanā tried to kill Kṛṣṇa when He was an infant by applying poison to her breast and offering it to Him to suck, still that heinous woman received salvation and was elevated to the same platform as His own mother.” Kṛṣṇa accepted the poisonous breast of that demonic woman Pūtanā, and when He sucked the milk from her breast, He sucked out her life also. Nonetheless, Pūtanā was elevated to the same position as Kṛṣṇa’s own mother.
There is no essential difference between a fully surrendered soul and a man in the renounced order of life. The only difference is that a fully surrendered soul is completely dependent upon Kṛṣṇa. There are six qualifications for surrender. The first is that one should accept everything favorable for the discharge of one’s duties in devotional service, and one should be determined to accept the process. The second is that one should give up everything that is unfavorable for 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 kinds of unfavorable conditions. Fifthly, a devotee is always conscious that he is not independent in fulfilling his desires; unless Kṛṣṇa fulfills them, they cannot be fulfilled. Lastly, one should always think of himself as most fallen so that Kṛṣṇa will take care of him.
Such a surrendered soul should take shelter of a holy place like Vṛndāvana, Mathurā, Dvārakā or Māyāpur 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.” When a devotee takes shelter of Kṛṣṇa in such a way, 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 at that time and becomes eligible to associate with the Supreme Lord and enjoy transcendental bliss.
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 the illusory energy, the spiritual spark is almost extinguished, but by practical devotional service one can revive his natural constitutional position. When one practices such devotional service, it should be understood that he is returning to his original and normal liberated position. Practical devotional service can be performed with one’s senses under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master.
One begins spiritual activities for advancement in devotional service, or Kṛṣṇa consciousness, by hearing. Indeed, hearing is the most important method for advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and one should be very eager to hear favorably about Kṛṣṇa. Giving up all speculation and fruitive activity, one should simply worship Kṛṣṇa and desire to attain 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.
Devotional service may be regulative or affectionate. One who has not developed transcendental affection for Kṛṣṇa should conduct his life according to scriptural injunctions and under the guidance of the spiritual master. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.1.5) Śukadeva Gosvāmī advises Mahārāja Parīkṣit:
tasmād bhārata sarvātmā
bhagavān īśvaro hariḥ
śrotavyaḥ kīrtitavyaś ca
“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 and is not to be forgotten for even a moment. This is the sum and substance of all regulative principles. The conclusion is that when all the rules, regulations and recommended and prohibited activities in the revealed scriptures are taken together, remembrance of the Supreme Lord is always the essence of everything. To always remember the Supreme Personality of Godhead within one’s heart is the main practice of devotional service, and in that practice there are no regulative principles – there are no do’s and don’t’s.
However, one should generally accept the following principles to properly execute devotional service. The devotee should (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) be prepared to give up all kinds of enjoyment and suffer all kinds of 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 not hanker for more than that, (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 the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa and reading of scriptures are increased.), and (10) show respect to devotees, cows and sacred trees like the banyan tree.
It is essential for a neophyte devotee who is beginning to follow the path of devotional service to observe these ten principles.
The eleventh principle is to try to avoid offenses in serving the Lord and in chanting His holy names. There are ten kinds of offenses in the matter of chanting the holy name: (1) to blaspheme a devotee of the Lord, (2) to consider the Lord and the demigods on the same level or to think there are many gods, (3) to neglect the orders of the spiritual master, (4) to minimize the authority of the scriptures (the Vedas), (5) to interpret the holy names of God, (6) to commit sins on the strength of chanting, (7) to instruct the glories of the Lord’s names to the unfaithful, (8) to compare the chanting of the holy name to material piety, (9) to be inattentive while chanting the holy name and (10) to remain attached to material things in spite of chanting the holy names. These ten offenses against the holy name should be avoided.
The twelfth principle in the execution of devotional service is that one should avoid the association of unholy nondevotees; (13) one should not attempt to have many disciples; (14) one should not take the trouble to understand many books or to understand partially any particular book, and one should avoid discussing different doctrines; (15) one should be equipoised both in gain and in loss; (16) one should not be subject to any kind of lamentation; (17) one should not disrespect the demigods or other scriptures; (18) one should not tolerate blasphemy against the Supreme Lord or His devotees; (19) one should avoid ordinary topics of novels and fiction, but there is no injunction that one should avoid hearing ordinary news; (20) one should not give any trouble to any living creature, even a small bug.
The first ten of the twenty items mentioned above are affirmative, and the second ten are prohibitive. In the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, compiled by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, it is said that one should be very liberal in behavior and should avoid any undesirable activities. Of the twenty regulations, the most important are the first three: to accept the shelter of a bona fide spiritual master, be initiated by him and serve him.
In addition to these twenty, there are thirty-five more items of devotional service, and they can be analyzed as follows: (1) hearing about the Lord, (2) chanting about Him, (3) remembering Him, (4) worshiping Him, (5) praying to Him, (6) serving Him, (7) engaging as His servitor, (8) being friendly toward Him, (9) offering everything to Him, (10) dancing before the Deity, (11) singing before the Deity, (12) informing the Deity of one’s thoughts, (13) offering obeisances to the Deity, (14) standing up to show respect to the Deity and 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) reciting prayers to the Lord, (19) vibrating hymns in His honor, (20) performing saṅkīrtana, or congregational chanting of the holy name, (21) smelling the incense and flowers offered to the Deity, (22) accepting prasādam (food offered to Kṛṣṇa), (23) attending the ārati ceremony, (24) seeing the Deity, (25) offering palatable foodstuffs to the Lord, (26) meditating on the Lord, (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) joining with devotees in performing Kṛṣṇa’s ceremonial functions, (34) surrendering to the Lord in all respects, (35) observing different ceremonial functions and vows.
To these thirty-five items are added another four: (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’s coverings, (4) sipping caraṇāmṛta, the water that has washed 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 and (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 items and there are a total of sixty-four items for conducting devotional service. The devotional service of one who adopts these sixty-four items with his body, mind and senses gradually becomes pure. Some of the items are completely distinct from others, some are identical, and others appear to be mixed.
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 the 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.
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. Some devotees in history, like Mahārāja Ambarīṣa, attained perfection in devotional service by executing all the items of devotional service, while many others attained perfection by discharging the duties of only one item. Some of them 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 mentioned above, Mahārāja Ambarīṣa performed all the items of devotional service. He first of all engaged his mind by fixing it on 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.
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):
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, giving up all other duties, is no longer indebted to the demigods, the sages, other living entities, his relatives, the forefathers or any man.” Every man, just after his birth, is at once indebted to all the abovementioned personalities, and one is expected to discharge many kinds of ritualistic functions because of this indebtedness. But a person who is fully surrendered unto Kṛṣṇa has no obligation. He becomes free from all debts.
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 material desire and is not apt 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 such a devotee unintentionally commits some sinful activity or is obliged to act sinfully under certain circumstances, God, situated within his heart, gives him all protection.”
The processes of speculative knowledge and renunciation are not 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 of cultivating speculative knowledge and renunciation if one is actually engaged in the devotional service of the Lord.
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 for understanding 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. Therefore they cannot be part and parcel of devotional service; rather, they have no intrinsic value in the discharge of devotional service. One who is freed from bondage to the results of knowledge and fruitive activities can be situated in 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 questioning Kṛṣṇa about the 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 said to be ordained by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but apparently there are contradictions, and Uddhava was anxious to know how one could resolve these contradictions. In reply, Lord Kṛṣṇa cited the verse mentioned above (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.20.31), informing him of the superexcellence of devotional service: “For one who is already engaged in devotional service to Me and whose mind is fixed on Me, it is neither practical nor necessary to cultivate 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 discharging 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 the Skanda Purāṇa, in which Nārada Muni tells a hunter tribesman: “O hunter, the qualifications 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.”