(Click to enlarge photo of Srila Prabhupada and little girl, Bhaktivedanta Manor, 1973)
"The living entity transmigrating through 8,400,000 species of life is sometimes likened to a log gliding downstream on the waves of a river. Sometimes, by chance, a log washes up on shore and is thus saved from being forced to drift further downstream. In this regard there is a nice verse in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.38.5) that encourages every conditioned soul: 'No one should be depressed by thinking he will never be out of the clutches of matter, for there is the possibility of being rescued, exactly as it is possible for a log floating down a river to come to rest on the bank.' This fortunate opportunity was also discussed by Lord Caitanya. Such fortunate incidents are considered the beginning of the decline of one’s conditioned life, and they occur if one associates with the pure devotees of the Lord. By associating with pure devotees, one develops attraction for Kṛṣṇa. There are various types of rituals and activities, some of which lead to material enjoyment and others to material liberation. But if a living entity takes to those ritualistic activities by which pure devotional service to the Lord is developed in the association of pure devotees, then his mind naturally becomes attracted to devotional service. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.51.53) Mucukunda states:
bhavāpavargo bhramato yadā bhavej
janasya tarhy acyuta sat-samāgamaḥ
sat-saṅgamo yarhi tadaiva sad-gatau
parāvareśe tvayi jāyate matiḥ
'My dear Lord, while traveling in this material world through different species of life, a living entity may progress toward liberation. But only when he gets the chance to come in contact with a pure devotee can he actually be liberated from the clutches of material energy and become a devotee of You, the Personality of Godhead.'
When a conditioned soul becomes a devotee of Kṛṣṇa, the Lord, by His causeless mercy, trains him in two ways: He trains him from without as the spiritual master, and He trains him from within as the Supersoul. In this connection there is a very nice verse in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.29.6), in which Uddhava says to Lord Kṛṣṇa: 'My dear Lord, even if someone lives as long as Brahmā, he would still be unable to express his gratitude to You for the benefits derived from remembering You. Out of Your causeless mercy You drive away all inauspicious conditions for Your devotee, expressing Yourself from outside as the spiritual master and from inside as the Supersoul.'
If one somehow or other gets in touch with a pure devotee and thus develops a desire to render devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, he gradually rises to the platform of love of Godhead and is thus freed from the clutches of the material energy. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.20.8) where the Lord says, 'For one who, out of his own accord, becomes attracted to topics of My activities—being neither allured nor repelled by material activities—following the path of devotional service leading to the perfection of love of God becomes possible.' However, it is not possible to achieve the stage of perfection without being favored by a pure devotee, or a mahātmā, a great soul. Without the mercy of a great soul, one cannot even be liberated from the material clutches, and what to speak of rising to the platform of love of Godhead. This is also confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.12.12), in a conversation between Jada Bharata and King Rahūgaṇa, ruler of the Sindhu and Sauvīra provinces. When King Rahūgaṇa expressed surprise upon seeing Bharata’s spiritual achievements, Bharata replied:
rahūgaṇaitat tapasā na yāti
na cejyayā nirvapaṇād gṛhād vā
na cchandasā naiva jalāgni-sūryair
vinā mahat-pāda-rajo ’bhiṣekam
'My dear Rahūgaṇa, no one can attain the perfected stage of devotional service without being favored by a great soul, a pure devotee. No one can attain the perfectional stage simply by following the regulative principles of scriptures, or by accepting the renounced order of life, or by prosecuting the prescribed duties of householder life, or by becoming a great student of spiritual science, or by accepting severe austerity and penances for realization.' Similarly, when the atheist Hiraṇyakaśipu asked his son Prahlāda Mahārāja how he had attained such a devotional attitude, the boy replied, 'As long as one is not favored by the dust of the feet of pure devotees, one cannot even touch the path of devotional service, which is the solution to all the problems of material life.' (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.5.32)
Thus Lord Caitanya told Sanātana Gosvāmī that all scriptures stress association with pure devotees of the Lord. The opportunity to associate with a pure devotee of the Supreme Lord is the beginning of one’s complete perfection. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.18.13), where it is said that the facilities and benedictions one achieves by associating with a pure devotee are incomparable. They cannot be compared to anything—neither elevation to the heavenly kingdom nor liberation from the material energy."
(Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Chapter 11)