(Click to enlarge photo of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.)
"In the Padma Purāṇa, there is a nice statement praising the service of the Vaiṣṇavas, or devotees. In that scripture Lord Śiva tells Pārvatī, 'My dear Pārvatī, there are different methods of worship, and out of all such methods the worship of the Supreme Person is considered to be the highest. But even higher than the worship of the Lord is the worship of the Lord's devotees.'
A similar statement is in the Third Canto, Seventh Chapter, verse 19, of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: 'Let me become a sincere servant of the devotees, because by serving them one can achieve unalloyed devotional service unto the lotus feet of the Lord. The service of devotees diminishes all miserable material conditions and develops within one a deep devotional love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead.'
In the Skanda Purāṇa there is a similar statement: 'Persons whose bodies are marked with tilaka, symbolizing the conchshell, wheel, club and lotus -- and who keep the leaves of tulasī on their heads, and whose bodies are always decorated with gopī-candana -- even seen once, can help the seer be relieved from all sinful activities.'
A similar statement is found in the First Canto, Nineteenth Chapter, verse 33, of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: 'There is no doubt about one's becoming freed from all reactions to sinful activities after visiting a devotee or touching his lotus feet or giving him a sitting place. Even by remembering the activities of such a Vaiṣṇava, one becomes purified, along with one's whole family. And what, then, can be said of rendering direct service to him?'
In the Ādi Purāṇa there is the following statement by Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself, addressed to Arjuna: 'My dear Pārtha, one who claims to be My devotee is not so. Only a person who claims to be the devotee of My devotee is actually My devotee.' No one can approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead directly. One must approach Him through His pure devotees."
(Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 12)
"A pure devotee of the Lord cannot be separated from the lotus feet of the Lord for even a moment. Undoubtedly the Lord is always within the hearts of all living creatures, but they hardly know about it because they are deluded by the illusory material energy. The devotees, however, realize the presence of the Lord, and therefore they can always see the lotus feet of the Lord within their hearts. Such pure devotees of the Lord are as glorious as the Lord; they are, in fact, recommended by the Lord as more worshipable than He Himself. Worship of the devotee is more potent than worship of the Lord."
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.13.4, Purport)
"Lord Kṛṣṇa says, mad-bhakta-pūjābhyadhikā: (SB 11.19.21) 'The worship of My devotees is better than worship of Me.' Similarly, in the Padma Purāṇa, it is stated that the best mode of worship is to offer oblations to Viṣṇu, but better than that is to worship the devotees of Kṛṣṇa."
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 4.3.3, Purport)
"Lord Śiva's instruction should be taken. He says, 'The best worship is to worship Viṣṇu,' viṣṇu ārādhanaṁ param. When Śiva was asked by Pārvatī, so 'What method of worship is first class?' then he said, 'The first-class worship is worshiping Lord Viṣṇu.' Viṣṇu ārādhanaṁ param. Tasmāt parataraṁ devi tadīyānām ārādhanam (Cc. Madhya 11.31, Padma Purāṇa). He said, 'The Viṣṇu worship is the best.' There are many demigods, but he recommended, 'Viṣṇu worship is the best.' And the better than Viṣṇu worship is to worship Vaiṣṇava. Tadīyānām ārādhanam. Tadīyā means His servant, or one who is... or what is in relationship with Him.
Just like we are worshiping this plant, tulasī. We are not worshiping all plants, but because this tulasī has very intimate connection with Kṛṣṇa and Viṣṇu, therefore we are worshiping. Tadīyānām ārādhanam. Similarly, anything who is intimately related with Kṛṣṇa, worship of that thing is better than worship of Viṣṇu, Kṛṣṇa."
(Srila Prabhupada Conversation, New York, July 4, 1972)
"My dear Śrutadeva, you may therefore accept all these great saintly persons, brāhmaṇas and sages as My bona fide representatives. By worshiping them faithfully, you will be worshiping Me more diligently. I consider worship of My devotees to be better than direct worship of Me. If someone attempts to worship Me directly without worshiping My devotees, I do not accept such worship, even though it may be presented with great opulence."
(Kṛṣṇa Book, Chapter 86)
"Lord Śiva is so great that he does not care for the material prosperity for which every one of us is so eager. Pārvatī, who is the powerful material nature personified, is under his full control as his wife, yet he does not use her even to build a residential house. He prefers to remain without shelter, and his great wife also agrees to live with him humbly. People in general worship goddess Durgā, the wife of Lord Śiva, for material prosperity, but Lord Śiva engages her in his service without material desire. He simply advises his great wife that of all kinds of worship, the worship of Viṣṇu is the highest, and greater than that is the worship of a great devotee or anything in relation with Viṣṇu."
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.14.26, Purport)
"As it is said in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (SB 12.3.52):
kṛte yad dhyāyato viṣṇuṁ
tretāyāṁ yajato makhaiḥ
kalau tad dhari-kīrtanāt
'Whatever result one obtained in Satya-yuga by meditating on Viṣṇu, in Tretā-yuga by performing sacrifices and in Dvāpara-yuga by serving the Lord's lotus feet one can also obtain in Kali-yuga simply by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra.' In Satya-yuga, every person was spiritually advanced, and there was no envy between great personalities. Gradually, however, because of material contamination with the advance of the ages, disrespectful dealings appeared even among brāhmaṇas and Vaiṣṇavas. Actually, an advanced Vaiṣṇava is to be respected more than Viṣṇu. As stated in the Padma Purāṇa, ārādhanānāṁ sarveṣāṁ viṣṇor ārādhanaṁ param: of all kinds of worship, worship of Lord Viṣṇu is the best. Tasmāt parataraṁ devi tadīyānāṁ samarcanam: and recommended more than worship of Viṣṇu is worship of the Vaiṣṇava."
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.14.39, Purport)
"In Padma Purāṇa it is said:
avaiṣṇavo gurur na syād
vaiṣṇavaḥ śva-paco guruḥ
'Even if a brāhmaṇa is very learned in Vedic scriptures and knows the six occupational duties of a brāhmaṇa, he cannot become a guru, or spiritual master, unless he is a devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. However, if one is born in a family of dog-eaters but is a pure devotee of the Lord, he can become a spiritual master.' The conclusion is that one cannot become a spiritual master unless he is a pure devotee of the Lord. One who is a spiritual master in accordance with the above descriptions of devotional service is to be understood as the Supreme Personality of Godhead personally present. According to the words mentioned here (gurur hariḥ), consulting a bona fide spiritual master means consulting the Supreme Personality of Godhead personally. One should therefore take shelter of such a bona fide spiritual master. Success in life means accepting a spiritual master who knows Kṛṣṇa as the only supreme beloved personality. One should worship such a confidential devotee of the Lord."
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 4.29.51, Purport)
"In the incarnation of Gaura-Nitāi, the Lord is not supposed to kill demons but is supposed to deliver them by preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In the case of Jagāi and Mādhāi, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was so angry that He would have immediately killed them, but Nityānanda Prabhu was so kind that He not only saved them from death but elevated them to the transcendental position. Thus what was not possible for Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was carried out by Nityānanda Prabhu.
Similarly, if one is true to Gaura-Nitāi's service in the disciplic succession, he can even excel Nityānanda Prabhu's service. This is the process of disciplic succession. Nityānanda Prabhu delivered Jagāi and Mādhāi, but a servant of Nityānanda Prabhu, by His grace, can deliver many thousands of Jagāis and Mādhāis. That is the special benediction of the disciplic succession. One who is situated in the disciplic succession can be understood by the result of his activities. This is always true as far as the activities of the Lord and His devotees are concerned. Therefore Lord Śiva says:
ārādhanānāṁ sarveṣāṁ viṣṇor ārādhanaṁ param
tasmāt parataraṁ devi tadīyānāṁ samarcanam
'Of all types of worship, worship of Lord Viṣṇu is best, and better than the worship of Lord Viṣṇu is the worship of His devotee, the Vaiṣṇava." (Padma Purāṇa)
By the grace of Viṣṇu, a Vaiṣṇava can render better service than Viṣṇu; that is the special prerogative of a Vaiṣṇava. The Lord actually wants to see His servants work more gloriously than Himself."
(Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 16.65, Purport)
"The father likes to see the son become more famous than himself. The Lord declares very emphatically that worship of His devotee is more valuable than the worship of the Lord Himself."
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.9.25, Purport)