(Click to enlarge photo of Srila Prabhupada)
"Devotional service is not a matter of sentimental speculation or imaginative ecstasy. Its substance is practical activity. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.11), has defined devotional service as follows:
śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
(CC Madhya 19.167)
'Uttamā bhakti, or unalloyed devotion unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, involves the rendering of devotional service in a way that is favorable to the Lord. This devotional service should be free from any extraneous motive and devoid of fruitive karma, impersonal jñāna and all other selfish desires.'
Bhakti is a sort of cultivation. As soon as we say 'cultivation,' we must refer to activity. Cultivation of spirituality does not mean sitting down idly for meditation, as some pseudo-yogīs teach. Such idle meditation may be good for those who have no information of devotional service, and for this reason it is sometimes recommended as a way to check distracting materialistic activities. Meditation means stopping all nonsensical activities, at least for the time being. Devotional service, however, not only puts an end to all nonsensical mundane activities, but also engages one in meaningful devotional activities. Śrī Prahlāda Mahārāja recommends:
śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ
arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ
The nine processes of devotional service are as follows:
1. hearing the name and glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead
2. chanting His glories
3. remembering the Lord
4. serving the Lord’s feet
5. worshiping the Deity
6. offering obeisances unto the Lord
7. acting as the Lord’s servant
8. making friends with the Lord
9. surrendering oneself fully to the Lord
Śravaṇam, or hearing, is the first step in acquiring transcendental knowledge. One should not give aural reception to unauthorized persons, but should approach the proper person, as recommended in Bhagavad-gītā (4.34):
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
'Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.'
It is further recommended in the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet: (MU 1.2.12) 'To understand that transcendental science, one must approach a bona fide spiritual master.' Thus this method of submissively receiving transcendental confidential knowledge is not merely based on mental speculation. In this regard, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu told Rūpa Gosvāmī:
brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja
'In the course of traversing the universal creation of Brahmā, some fortunate soul may receive the seed of bhakti-latā, the creeper of devotional service. This is all by the grace of guru and Kṛṣṇa.' (CC Madhya 19.151) The material world is a place of confinement for the living entities who are by nature ānandamaya, pleasure-seeking. They actually want to be free from the confinement of this world of conditional happiness, but not knowing the process of liberation, they are bound to transmigrate from one species of life to another and from one planet to another. In this way the living entities are wandering throughout the material universe. When by good fortune one comes in contact with a pure devotee and hears from him patiently, one begins to follow the path of devotional service. Such an opportunity is offered to a person who is sincere. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is giving such a chance to humanity at large. If by fortune one takes advantage of this opportunity to engage in devotional service, the path of liberation immediately opens.
One should accept this opportunity to return home, back to Godhead, very enthusiastically. Without enthusiasm, one cannot be successful. Even in the material world one has to be very enthusiastic in his particular field of activity in order to become successful. A student, businessman, artist or anyone else who wants success in his line must be enthusiastic. Similarly, one has to be very enthusiastic in devotional service. Enthusiasm means action, but action for whom? The answer is that one should always act for Kṛṣṇa—kṛṣṇārthākhila-ceṣṭā (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu).
In all phases of life one has to perform devotional activities under the direction of the spiritual master in order to attain perfection in bhakti-yoga. It is not that one has to confine or narrow one’s activities. Kṛṣṇa is all-pervading. Therefore nothing is independent of Kṛṣṇa, as Kṛṣṇa Himself states in Bhagavad-gītā (9.4):
mayā tatam idaṁ sarvaṁ
na cāhaṁ teṣv avasthitaḥ
'By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.' Under the direction of the bona fide spiritual master, one has to make everything favorable for Kṛṣṇa’s service. For example, at present we are using a dictaphone. The materialist who invented this machine intended it for businessmen or writers of mundane subject matters. He certainly never thought of using the dictaphone in God’s service, but we are using this dictaphone to write Kṛṣṇa conscious literature. Of course, the manufacture of the dictaphone is wholly within the energy of Kṛṣṇa. All the parts of the instrument, including the electronic functions, are made from different combinations and interactions of the five basic types of material energy—namely, bhūmi, jala, agni, vāyu and ākāśa. The inventor used his brain to make this complicated machine, and his brain, as well as the ingredients, were supplied by Kṛṣṇa. According to the statement of Kṛṣṇa, mat-sthāni sarva-bhūtāni: 'Everything is depending on My energy.' Thus the devotee can understand that since nothing is independent of Kṛṣṇa’s energy, everything should be dovetailed in His service.
Endeavor executed with intelligence in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is called utsāha, or enthusiasm. The devotees find the correct means by which everything can be utilized in the service of the Lord (nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate). The execution of devotional service is not a matter of idle meditation but practical action in the foreground of spiritual life.
These activities must be executed with patience. One should not be impatient in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Indeed, this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement was started single-handedly, and in the beginning there was no response, but because we continued to execute our devotional activities with patience, people gradually began to understand the importance of this movement, and now they are eagerly participating. One should not be impatient in discharging devotional service, but should take instructions from the spiritual master and execute them with patience, depending on the mercy of guru and Kṛṣṇa."
(Nectar of Instruction 3, Purport)