Excerpt from Introduction to Nectar of Devotion © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust
This devotional service is a sort of cultivation. It is not simply inaction for people who like to be inactive or devote their time to silent meditation. There are many different methods for people who want this, but cultivation of Krishna consciousness is different. The particular word used by Srila Rupa Gosvami in this connection is anusilana or cultivation by following the predecessor teachers (acaryas). As soon as we say "cultivation," we must refer to activity. Without activity, consciousness alone cannot help us. All activities may be divided into two classes: one class may be for achieving a certain goal, and the other may be for avoiding some unfavorable circumstance. In Sanskrit, these activities are called pravriti and nirvriti-positive and negative action. There are many examples of negative action. For instance, a diseased person has to be cautious and take medicine in order to avoid some unfavorable illness.
Those who are cultivating spiritual life and executing devotional service are always engaged in activity. Such activity can be performed with the body or with the mind. Thinking, feeling and willing are all activities of the mind, and when we will to do something, the activity comes to be manifest by the gross bodily senses. Thus, in our mental activities we should always try to think of Krishna and try to plan how to please Him, following in the footsteps of the great acaryas and the personal spiritual master. There are activities of the body, activities of the mind and activities of speech. A Krishna conscious person engages his words in preaching the glories of the Lord. This is called kirtana. And by his mind a Krishna conscious person always thinks of the activities of the Lord-as He is speaking on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra or engaging in His various pastimes in Vrindavana with His devotees. In this way one can always think of the activities and pastimes of the Lord. This is the mental culture of Krishna consciousness.
Similarly, we can offer many services with our bodily activities. But all such activities must be in relationship with Krishna. This relationship is established by connecting oneself with the bona fide spiritual master, who is the direct representative of Krishna in disciplic succession. Therefore, the execution of Krishna conscious activities with the body should be directed by the spiritual master and then performed with faith. The connection with the spiritual master is called initiation. From the date of initiation by the spiritual master, the connection between Krishna and a person cultivating Krishna consciousness is established. Without initiation by a bona fide spiritual master, the actual connection with Krishna consciousness is never performed.
This cultivation of Krishna consciousness is not material. The Lord has three general energies-namely the external energy, the internal energy and the marginal energy. The living entities are called marginal energy, and the material cosmic manifestation is the action of the external, or material, energy. Then there is the spiritual world, which is a manifestation of the internal energy. The living entities, who are called marginal energy, perform material activities when acting under the inferior, external energy. And when they engage in activities under the internal, spiritual energy, their activities are called Krishna conscious. This means that those who are great souls or great devotees do not act under the spell of material energy, but act instead under the protection of the spiritual energy. Any activities done in devotional service, or in Krishna consciousness, are directly under the control of spiritual energy. In other words, energy is a sort of strength, and this strength can be spiritualized by the mercy of both the bona fide spiritual master and Krishna.
In the Caitanya-caritämåta, by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, Lord Caitanya states that it is a fortunate person who comes in contact with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. One who is serious about spiritual life is given by Krishna the intelligence to come in contact with a bona fide spiritual master, and then by the grace of the spiritual master one becomes advanced in Krishna consciousness. In this way the whole jurisdiction of Krishna consciousness is directly under the spiritual energy-Krishna and the spiritual master. This has nothing to do with the material world. When we speak of "Krishna" we refer to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, along with His many expansions. He is expanded by His plenary parts and parcels, His differentiated parts and parcels and His different energies. "Krishna," in other words, means everything and includes everything. Generally, however, we should understand "Krishna" to mean Krishna and His personal expansions. Krishna expands Himself as Baladeva, Sankarsana, Vasudeva, Aniruddha, Pradyumna, Rama, Nrsimha and Varaha, as well as many other incarnations and innumerable Visnu expansions. These are described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam to be as numerous as the uncountable waves. So Krishna includes all such expansions, as well as His pure devotees. In the Brahma-samhita it is stated that Krishna's expansions are all complete in eternity, blissfulness and cognizance.
Devotional service means to prosecute Krishna conscious activities which are favorable to the transcendental pleasure of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, and any activities which are not favorable to the transcendental favor of the Lord cannot be accepted as devotional service. For example, great demons like Ravana, Kamsa and Hiranyakasipu were always thinking of Krishna, but they were thinking of Him as their enemy. This sort of thinking cannot be accepted as bhakti, or Krishna consciousness.
The impersonalists sometimes misunderstand devotional service in such a way that they divide Krishna from His paraphernalia and pastimes. For example, the Bhagavad-gita is spoken on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, and the impersonalists say that although Krishna is of interest, the Battlefield of Kuruksetra isn't. The devotees, however, also know that the Battlefield of Kuruksetra by itself has nothing to do with their business, but in addition they know that "Krishna" does not mean just Krishna alone. He is always with His associates and paraphernalia. For instance, if someone says, "Give something to eat to the man with the weapons," the eating process is done by the man and not by the weapons. Similarly, in Krishna consciousness, a devotee may be interested in the paraphernalia and locations-such as the Battlefield of Kuruksetra-which are associated with Krishna, but he is not concerned with simply any battlefield. He is concerned with Krishna-His speech, His instructions, etc. It is because Krishna is there that the battlefield is so important.
This is the summary understanding of what Krishna consciousness is. Without this understanding one is sure to misunderstand why the devotees are interested in the Battlefield of Kuruksetra. One who is interested in Krishna becomes interested in His different pastimes and activities.
The definition of a pure devotee, as given by Rupa Gosvami in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, can be summarized thus: his service is favorable and is always in relation to Krishna. In order to keep the purity of such Krishna conscious activities, one must be freed from all material desires and philosophical speculation. Any desire except for the service of the Lord is called material desire. And "philosophical speculation" refers to the sort of speculation which ultimately arrives at a conclusion of voidism or impersonalism. This conclusion is useless for a Krishna conscious person. Only rarely by philosophical speculation can one reach the conclusion of worshiping Vasudeva, Krishna. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita itself. The ultimate end of philosophical speculation, then, must be Krishna, with the understanding that Krishna is everything, the cause of all causes, and that one should therefore surrender unto Him. If this ultimate goal is reached, then philosophical advancement is favorable, but if the conclusion of philosophical speculation is voidism or impersonalism, that is not bhakti.
Karma, or fruitive activities, are sometimes understood to be ritualistic activities. There are many persons who are very much attracted by the ritualistic activities described in the Vedas. But if one becomes attracted simply to ritualistic activities without understanding Krishna, his activities are unfavorable to Krishna consciousness. Actually, Krishna consciousness can be based simply on hearing, chanting, remembering, etc. Described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam are nine different processes, besides which everything done is unfavorable to Krishna consciousness. Thus, one should always be guarding against falldowns.
Srila Rupa Gosvami has also mentioned in this definition of bhakti the word jnana-karmadi. This karmadi (fruitive work) consists of activities which are unable to help one attain to pure devotional service. Many forms of so-called renunciation are also not favorable to Krishna conscious devotional service.
Srila Rupa Gosvami has also quoted a definition from the Narada-pancaratra, as follows: "One should be free from all material designations and, by Krishna consciousness, must be cleansed of all material contamination. He should be restored to his pure identity, in which he engages his senses in the service of the proprietor of the senses." So when our senses are engaged for the actual proprietor of the senses, that is called devotional service. In our conditional state, our senses are engaged in serving these bodily demands. When the same senses are engaged in executing the order of Krishna, our activities are called bhakti.
As long as one identifies himself as belonging to a certain family, a certain society or a certain person, he is said to be covered with designations. When one is fully aware that he does not belong to any family, society or country, but is eternally related to Krishna, he then realizes that his energy should be employed not in the interests of so-called family, society or country, but in the interests of Krishna. This is purity of purpose and the platform of pure devotional service in Krishna consciousness.