CC Madhya 22.4 — “Now I shall speak about the characteristics of devotional service, by which one can attain the shelter of Kṛṣṇa and His loving transcendental service.
CC Madhya 22.5 — “A human being’s activities should be centered only on devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa. That is the verdict of all Vedic literatures, and all saintly people have firmly concluded this.
In Bhagavad Gita too, Lord Krsna says that only through devotional service can one understand Him.
BG 18.55: One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.
Devotional service is the only process to approach Krsna. This is the verdict of all Vedic literatures.
We should understand that bhakti is always distinct from karma and jnana. The accomplishments of results on the paths of jnana, karma, etc. are completely dependent on bhakti. This has been said by none other than Lord Brahma. He says that devotional service to the Lord is the best path for self-realization. If someone gives up that path and engages in the cultivation of speculative knowledge, he will simply undergo a troublesome process and will not achieve his desired result. As a person who beats an empty husk of wheat cannot get grain, one who simply speculates cannot achieve self-realization. His only gain is trouble. (SB 10.14.4)
Why is this so? This is because devotional service to the Supreme Lord is the natural and eternal function of every living entity. 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.
We can prove this through the example of Srila Vyasadeva. Even after compiling all the Vedic literatures, he was still despondent. Seeing his dejection, Narada Muni appeared. He is the spiritual master of Vyasadeva. Narada Muni explained the deficiency in Vyasadeva’s compilation of books. Narada Muni said that 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? The following beautiful verses from Srimad Bhagavatam very beautifully highlights the supreme position of devotional service.
SB 1.5.8 — Śrī Nārada said: You have not actually broadcast the sublime and spotless glories of the Personality of Godhead. That philosophy which does not satisfy the transcendental senses of the Lord is considered worthless.
SB 1.5.9 — Although, great sage, you have very broadly described the four principles beginning with religious performances, you have not described the glories of the Supreme Personality, Vāsudeva.
SB 1.5.10 — Those words which do not describe the glories of the Lord, who alone can sanctify the atmosphere of the whole universe, are considered by saintly persons to be like unto a place of pilgrimage for crows. Since the all-perfect persons are inhabitants of the transcendental abode, they do not derive any pleasure there.
SB 1.5.11 — On the other hand, that literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, pastimes, etc., of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.
SB 1.5.12 — Knowledge of self-realization, even though free from all material affinity, does not look well if devoid of a conception of the Infallible [God]. What, then, is the use of fruitive activities, which are naturally painful from the very beginning and transient by nature, if they are not utilized for the devotional service of the Lord?
In this way, Narada Muni instructed Vyasadeva to describe Supreme Lord’s glories in the form of Srimad Bhagavatam. I consider Sri Caitanya Caritamrta at the same level as Srimad Bhagavatam because it also glories the Supreme Lord who appeared as Lord Caitanya.
Thus without bhakti (devotional service), all other endeavors are fruitless. Karma, jnana and yoga cannot actually awaken love of Godhead. One has to take to the Lord’s devotional service.
CC Madhya 22.17 — “Devotional service to Kṛṣṇa is the chief function of the living entity. There are different methods for the liberation of the conditioned soul — karma, jnana, yoga and bhakti — but all the others are dependent on bhakti.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!