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What is pure devotional service & its two characteristics – Svarupa-Laksanam and Tatastha-Laksanam?

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What pure devotional service and its two characteristics - Svarupa-Laksanam and Tatastha-Laksanam?

The definition of pure devotional service is given by Srila Rupa Goswami in Nectar of Devotion (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu) 1.1.11



anukulyena krsnanu-

silanam bhaktir uttama

“When first-class devotional service develops, one must be devoid of all material desires, knowledge obtained by monistic philosophy, and fruitive actions. The devotee must constantly serve Krsna favorably, as Krsna desires.”

In pure devotional service one has no desire for personal enjoyment, one just wants to serve Krishna constantly.  This is beautifully explained by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Siksastakam Text 4, “O almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor do I desire beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. I only want Your causeless devotional service, birth after birth.”  

Pure devotional service has two characteristics – Svarupa-Laksanam (Primary Characteristics) and Tatastha-Laksanam (Secondary Characteristics).

1) Svarupa-Laksanam — Primary Characteristics

Pure devotional service has three primary characteristics (Svarupa-Laksanam):

  1. It is for Krsna
  2. Devotion to Krishna is an active engagement
  3. It is executed with favourable intent.

1. Pure devotional Service is for Krsna

The first and the most important characteristic of pure devotional service is that it is for Krsna and not for anyone else.

Now when we say Krishna then it also includes:

  • Krishna’s plenary parts and parcels like Baladeva, Sankarsana, Vasudeva, Aniruddha, Pradyumna, Rama, Nrsimha, Varaha etc.
  • His differentiated parts and parcels which means the living entities
  • His multifarious energies – the material and spiritual worlds

However, it does not mean that the pure devotional can be for anything and everything because Krishna is anything. The correct understanding is that we can love and serve Krishna directly or love and serve those things and persons who are explicitly connected to Krishna. For example, we can love and serve Krishna’s expansions, His pure devotees, His places of pastimes, His paraphernalia.

2. Anusilanam — Devotional Service is an Active Engagement

Pure devotion is not passive but it is an active engagement. When we love someone then we try to do anything to please that person.  Similarly, if we love Krishna then we will put in our best efforts to please Krishna. Anusilanam has two aspects:

  • Pravrtti or positive actions: Doing activities which are favourable to Krishna consciousness.
  • Nivrtti or negative actions: Avoiding those activities which are unfavourable to Krishna consciousness.

To know the positive and negative activities, we should take guidance from our spiritual master who is coming in guru parampara, disciplic succession. These activities should be performed with our body, mind and words. For example, we should avoid breaking four regulative principles like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. But we should do activities which are favourable to Krishna Consciousness like chanting the names of Krishna, deity worship, reading Srimad Bhagavatam.

3. Anukulyena — Favourable Intention

While doing devotional service, it is also important that our intent should be to please Krishna. Sometimes demons like Kamsa, Ravana give pleasure to Krishna by giving Krishna an opportunity to fight and protect His devotees. But we cannot say that the demons are engaged in pure devotional service because the demon’s intention is not to please Krishna but to give pain to Krishna and pain to Krishna’s devotees.

On the other hand, some activities may apparently appear that it is displeasing to Krishna but it will fall in the category of pure devotional service if the intent is pure. For example, mother Yashoda punishing Krishna may appear displeasing to Krishna, but it is actually pure devotional service because mother Yashoda’s intention is to always love and care for Krishna.

2) Tatastha-Laksanam — Secondary Characteristics

The two secondary characteristics, Tatastha-Laksanam, of pure devotional service are:

1. anyabhilasita-sunyam — pure devotional service is free from all ulterior motives

A pure devotee engages in serving Krishna only to please Krishna and guru. He does not want anything in return. Sometimes some people may visit temple, bow down to the deity, give donation but they may have hidden motives. For example, they may think that if they come to temple and give donation then in return Krishna will grant them benediction and give them lots of wealth. This is not pure devotional service.  Pure devotional service is free of all ulterior motives, the only motive should be to please Krishna.

2. jnana-karmady anavrttam — pure devotional service is not covered by philosophical or fruitive pursuits.

Philosophical speculation:

If philosophical speculation is taking one to voidism or impersonalism then it is dangerous because it takes one away from Krishna. So, Rupa Goswami is saying that pure devotional service should not be covered by philosophical speculation. But if philosophical speculation is taking one to Krishna then it is acceptable.

Srila Prabhupada explains, “The ultimate end of philosophical speculation, then, must be Kṛṣṇa, with the understanding that Kṛṣṇa 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.” Nector of Devotion, Introduction

Fruitive pursuits:

Fruitive pursuits may cover our devotional service to Krishna, so we should be cautious. There are many ritualistic or fruitive activities described in the Vedas and if one becomes attracted to these fruitive activities without understanding Krishna then these activities are unfavourable to Krishna Consciousness.  One may get caught up in fruitive activities and stop paying proper attention to pure devotional activities like hearing and chanting.

However, it does not mean that a devotee should not at all engage in ritualistic activities. Sometimes a devotee may perform some ritualistic activities out of social convention. Such activities do no cover devotional service. For example, Lord Chaitanya offered pinda when his father died.

But there are some activities that may cover devotional service. So, one should be very cautious about those activities. For example, putting faith in astrology. Astrology is a Vedic science, and it can serve some functional purpose. But if one gets too much caught up in astrology then he may start putting more faith in destiny then in bhakti.   Srila Prabhupada explains, “Actually, Kṛṣṇa consciousness can be based simply on hearing, chanting, remembering, etc. Described in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam are nine different processes, besides which everything done is unfavorable to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.”

Srila Rupa Goswami has beautifully explained what constitutes pure devotional service. With this understanding we should try our best to engage in pure devotional service to Krishna.

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