“‘When first-class devotional service develops, one must be devoid of all material desires, knowledge obtained by monistic philosophy, and fruitive action. The devotee must constantly serve Krishna favorably, as Krishna desires.’” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.167)
शीलनṁ भक्तिर् उत्तमा
śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
“It’s like a broken record. Time after time. Again and again. Line after line. Chapter after chapter. Book after book. Lecture after lecture. After a while, I get sick of hearing it.
“The term to which I refer is ‘pure devotee.’ His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada uses it a lot. Followers of the bhakti tradition refer to it often, especially in terms of saintly personalities. For instance, they say that the people in their guru parampara, in the disciplic succession of teachers, are all pure devotees.
“At least that is the claim. I think the pure devotee considers themselves to be the most fallen. Therefore, someone else must elevate them to a higher status. It’s like being nominated for a prestigious prize. You can’t be self-proclaimed.
“Okay, I get the general idea, but what really is a pure devotee? Why the insistence on that description? Who are some impure devotees? It doesn’t make sense. You are either aligned with the principles of the science of self-realization or not.
“You either love God the person or not. Is that too simple? What am I missing? What are some examples of impurity?”
We can think of the impurities as diversions. Imagine you are travelling a distance. It could be a trip via automobile. The journey will take several days to complete. Along the way, you decide to stop at various places. These come up at random; the stops were not pre-planned.
With enough of these stops, you eventually lose your way. You never make it to the destination. There was an initial desire. No one can deny that. There was intent. There was purpose. There was follow-through.
The issue is that impurities arose. These were alternate desires. The interest became so great that the initial purpose was lost. It became secondary or tertiary in importance.
Apply the same concept to spiritual life and it is easy to spot impure devotion. To better understand, we have the general categories of jnana, karma, and yoga. Though we are interested in serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead, attention gets diverted elsewhere.
In jnana, we get puffed up by knowledge. We become proud of how much Sanskrit we have learned, how well we memorize and recite shlokas from sacred texts. We think we have become too smart to be bothered with the daily procedures of bhakti, which are reserved for the less intelligent.
In karma, we think that with enough work, through proper effort, all of our problems will be solved. Perhaps we don’t need Bhagavan. Just the reactions alone will account for everything. Fate is in my hands. I can work in such a way that I will enjoy to a great degree, as a result.
Yoga in this instance refers to mysticism. I might start out wanting to concentrate on the four-armed form of Vishnu within the heart. He is the goal of my meditation, but along the way I acquire siddhis. These are perfections, and suddenly I can do amazing things like travel out of the body, become light, become heavy, disappear, and read minds.
A simple way to understand pure devotion is to think that I will never pray for my personal sense gratification. I will only ask to be able to continue in service. With this mood I chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
I will not pray a single time for my personal benefit. It could be something as basic as wanting more money to the more elaborate scheme of the best destination in the afterlife. Wherever Krishna places me, I will continue to serve. This is because of His transcendental qualities, which are too great to glorify in a single lifetime.
If in a single existence sitting,
Time not enough permitting.
For prior to this form quitting,
For proper glorification befitting.
Never for myself to ask,
Only for His pleasure the task.
Support of Divine behind,
Pure devotion defined.