My realization upon reading this lesson is that pure devotional service is very subtle and not so easily understood. The beauty about scriptures such as Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya Caritamrta is that they talk purely about pure devotional service. Pure devotional service, as a concept, is not so easy to get a grasp on. It has so many subtleties and fine nuances that it will take years and probably few lifetimes to realize it. A good analogy is vegetarian food. Different people have different conception of pure vegetarian food. For most Indians, onion and garlic fall under vegetarian food. Interestingly lots of Indians include eggs under vegetarian food. In extreme cases, some Bengalis in India and Bangladesh consider fish vegetarian. And what to speak about western people. They have a totally different idea about vegetarianism. I went to a restaurant once for breakfast and I asked what vegetarian items they have on the menu. The closest to something vegetarian they could guide me to is an omelet made of egg whites. If something so visible and physical object as vegetarian food could be so easily misunderstood, what to say about pure devotional service that is completely transcendental and not so easily perceived.
Most of us are engaging in devotional service unto the Lord, but how many of us are actually engaging in pure devotional service? Definitely not me. I am still trying to understand what pure devotional service it. My definition of pure devotional service is the following verse by Srila Rupa Goswami:
ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu- śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
“When first-class devotional service develops, one must be devoid of all material desires, knowledge obtained by monistic philosophy, and fruitive activities. The devotee must constantly serve Krsna favorably, as Krsna desires.”
In general, I have an idea that pure devotional service must be without material desires, speculative knowledge, and fruitive activities. But have I truly realized it? Superficially I may say that I have no material expectations from the Lord. But is it truly the case? Is my intention so pure? The fact that I desire a comfortable and stable life to engage in my sadhana practice is not pure devotional service. This means somewhere in my heart there is an hidden desire that I desire some level of material comfort and conveniences. This is not pure devotional service. Therefore pure devotional service is not an easy status to achieve. To understand pure devotional service, we should be meditating on: who are such pure devotees? How do they behave? How do they reciprocate with the Lord? What do they pray the Lord for? What is their level of surrender and faith upon Lord Krsna? What is their mood? How do such pure devotees deal with each other? How does the Supreme Lord reciprocate the loving devotion of His pure devotees? Only when we meditate on these aspects of pure devotional service that we may get some idea of it. This is why it is so wonderful to read Srila Prabhupada’s books. They are a minefield of pure devotional service. I therefore consider Srila Prabhupada’s books as pure nectar. They are out of this world. They are truly transcendental. I will forever be indebted to him for his books.
Coming back to the pastime of this lesson, the lesson shows what the Lord thinks about devotees who have material desires and expectations. Lord Caitanya clearly says, “If I hear about the activities of materialistic persons, My mind becomes agitated. There is no need for Me to stay here and be disturbed in that way.” This is one great clue to how the Lord thinks about such persons with material expectation. It is clear the Lord does not like it very much if people approach Him for material benedictions. Of course as a Supreme all-loving father, He cares about us and loves us. But the love is pure when there is no hidden motive and agenda. And that is one aspect of pure devotional service. The Lord wants to love Him with complete devotion, and He loves to reciprocate with us in the same manner. Material desires are simply distractions in the loving reciprocation between the Lord and His devotees.
Srila Prabhupada provided a very beautiful purport in CC Antya 9.67-68: “Becoming a devotee of the Lord to serve material purposes is a great mistake. Many people become showbottle devotees for material profits. Indeed, materialistic persons sometimes take to professional devotional service and keep Viṣṇu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as a means of livelihood. None of this, however, is approved. In the book known as Sapta-śatī, as mentioned by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, one can discover how a person worshiping the goddess Durgā begs her for different varieties of material profit. Such activities are very popular among people in general, but they are the attempts of foolish, blind people. materialist does not actually know why one should become a devotee.”
And then Srila Prabhupada goes on to explain pure devotional service: “A devotee’s only concern is to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead…One should be completely free from all material desires and should serve Kṛṣṇa simply to please Him. When people become interested in their own sense gratification, some of them desire to enjoy the material world to the fullest extent, some of them desire to be liberated and merge into the existence of Brahman, and others want to perform magic through mystic power and thus become incarnations of God. These are all against the principles of devotional service. One must be free from all material desires. The desire of the impersonalist to merge into the existence of Brahman is also material because such an impersonalist wants to gratify his senses by merging into the existence of Kṛṣṇa instead of serving His lotus feet. Even if such a person merges into the Brahman effulgence, he falls down again into material existence.”
We often talk about awakening our dormant love for Godhead. How do we do so? We can achieve this by pure devotional service.
“If one engages in devotional service for Your satisfaction, this will result in his increasingly awakening his dormant love for You. But if one engages in Your devotional service for material purposes, he should be considered a number-one fool. It is only for Your sake that Rāmānanda Rāya resigned from the governorship of South India and Sanātana Gosvāmī gave up his post as minister. It is for Your sake that Raghunātha dāsa gave up all his family relationships. His father sent money and men here to serve him. However, because he has received the mercy of Your lotus feet, he does not even accept his father’s money. Instead he eats by begging alms from centers for the distribution of food.” (CC Antya 9.69-72)
Pure devotional service is such a great treasure that personalities such as Sanatana Goswami, Rupa Goswami, Ramananda Raya, Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, etc. gave up all material things to achieve that state of pure love of Godhead. But we try to forsake our rightful claim to dormant love of Godhead just to fulfill few material desires. What a misfortune?
If we can learn to engage in pure devotional service, then we can claim our rightful unalloyed love for Godhead. It is our rightful claim. No one can deny it to us.
“‘One who seeks Your compassion and thus tolerates all kinds of adverse conditions due to the karma of his past deeds, who engages always in Your devotional service with his mind, words and body, and who always offers obeisances unto You is certainly a bona fide candidate for becoming Your unalloyed devotee.’ ” (SB 10.14.8)
This lesson explains the refined sentiment of exclusive devotion to the Lord in all circumstances so beautifully. Gopinatha Pattanayaka’s life was at stake; but he did not cry out to the Lord for help. Rather he was fearlessly, incessantly chanting the mahā-mantra — Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. He counted the chants on the fingers of both hands, and after he had finished chanting one thousand times, he would make a mark on his body. It is the other devotees who showed concern for him. This is an example of pure devotional service – the ability to give up one’s life but not disturb the Lord for mitigation of material distress. Gopinatha is a pure devotee who worships the Lord only for His satisfaction. He does not care about his personal happiness or distress, for that is the business of a materialist.
One who engages in pure devotional service to the Lord twenty-four hours a day, desiring only His mercy, will very soon attain shelter at His lotus feet.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!