“Of these, the wise one who is in full knowledge in union with Me through pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.17)
teṣāṁ jñānī nitya-yukta
priyo hi jñānino ‘tyartham
ahaṁ sa ca mama priyaḥ
How do you find God? Does He live somewhere specific? The fabled Santa Claus has his home in the North Pole. Each year so many children write letters to him and send it to that address. Is there a place where a letter can be delivered for God to read?
Actually, the initial approach is not all that different. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna says that four kinds of people render devotional service to Him. This is approaching Him directly. The worshipers of the demigods go to Him indirectly, as they seek a specific favor from an empowered representative. The atheists are approaching Him through the separated energy that is the material nature.
Devotional service, bhakti-yoga, is going to God directly. Still, the motives when making that approach are not always the same. The distressed approach Krishna. They are in trouble for one reason or another. It is not difficult to empathize with them, since in the land of birth and death there is trouble at every step. When you’re in trouble, why not go to someone who is known as Hari, the one who takes away?
One of Krishna’s opulences is aishvarya, which means “wealth.” If you’re looking for wealth, why not ask someone who always has it in full? Then there are the genuinely inquisitive. What does life mean? Why are we all here? Where did we come from? Where are we going? God is the most knowledgeable, so why not ask Him to answer these questions?
Then there are the people who know things as they are. The Sanskrit word is jnani. They know the difference between matter and spirit. They understand that there is a singular spiritual force pervading the entire creation. They know that without Brahman, or spirit, there would be no life. These people also approach Krishna, as they would like to know more.
Of these four groups, the latter is the most dear to the Lord. There are conditions, though. The jnani must be steadily engaged in devotion, bhakti, and they must be in full knowledge of Krishna. Nevertheless, what need is there for the special distinction? Are not the other three groups dear to the Supreme Lord? They are approaching Him, after all. It takes many lifetimes for a person to surrender to Krishna. Such a soul is rare. Why not hold all the rare souls equally as dear?
bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
The specific conditions revealed by Krishna is what makes the jnanis the most dear. These people know things as they are. They are not looking for benedictions in maya, which is illusion. They don’t want money and they understand that both happiness and distress arrive in due course, like the arrival and egress of the winter and summer seasons.
Since the jnani knows things as they are, when they take up devotional service in earnest, they are the most likely to stick to it. They follow it out of love for God, without any outside motives. This is known as pure devotional service. It is distinct from any other kind of approach made to the Divine. It stands tallest, as the service is done without motivation and without interruption.
The question may be raised that if the jnani is the most dear, doesn’t that mean bhakti-yoga has conditions? What about people who are not very intelligent? What about the child who has yet to develop the ability to understand higher truths? Will they never be the most dear to Krishna?
Actually, the practice of devotion is itself indicative of the highest knowledge. The pure devotee is already to be considered higher than a jnani. They know that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that no one is above Him, and that surrender to Him is the highest objective in life. What else do they need to know? Since they understand these things, they maintain their position in devotion. Ulterior motives are absent. In whatever way a person finds the lotus feet of Mukunda, the giver of liberation, by maintaining His association and the association of those who are already dear to Him, the highest platform will surely be reached.
Jnani with knowledge clear,
To Shri Krishna most dear.
But in unflinching devotion must be,
Asking nothing from Lord is he.
Typical for wanting something to gain,
So not easy for platform to attain.
Devotion itself that knowledge showing,
Towards lotus feet the intelligent going.