Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī offers his respectful prayers to the eternal Supreme Personality of Godhead who is always so beautiful and for whom the pure devotees are always engaged in loving transcendental service. This third division of Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu describes the five primary kinds of devotional service—namely, neutrality, servitude, fraternity, parenthood and conjugal love. These five items will be very elaborately explained here, and thus they have been figuratively described as the five waves on the western side of this ocean of nectar of devotion.
When one is actually able to maintain the transcendental position, his stage is called neutrality in devotional service. Some great sages have attained this neutral position by practicing austerity, penance and meditation to control the senses. Such sages are generally called mystic yogīs, and in most cases they are inclined to appreciate the spiritual pleasure of the impersonal feature of the absolute truth. They are practically unaware of the transcendental pleasure derived from personal contact with the Supreme Godhead.
Actually the transcendental pleasure derived in association with the Supreme Person is far greater than the pleasure derived from impersonal Brahman realization, because of the direct meeting with the eternal form of the Lord. Impersonalists do not directly derive the transcendental pleasure of association with the Lord by hearing of His pastimes. As such, the impersonalists cannot derive any relishable transcendental pleasure from the topics of the Bhagavad-gītā, in which the Lord is personally talking with Arjuna. The basic principle of their impersonal attitude does not allow them the transcendental pleasure which is relished by a devotee whose basic principle of understanding is the Supreme Person. The impersonalistic commentary on the Bhagavad-gītā is therefore disastrous because, without understanding the transcendental pleasure of the Gītā, the impersonalist wants to interpret it in his own way. If an impersonalist can, however, come in contact with a pure devotee, his transcendental position can be changed for greater elevation. Great sages are therefore recommended to worship the form of the Lord in order to achieve that highest transcendental pleasure.
Without worshiping the arcā-vigraha, the form or Deity of the Lord, one cannot understand such literature as the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. For those great sages situated in the position of transcendental neutrality, the beginning should be to take shelter of Lord Viṣṇu, the four-handed eternal form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The mystic yogīs are therefore advised to meditate on the form of Lord Viṣṇu as recommended by Kapila Muni in the sāṅkhya-yoga system. Unfortunately, many mystic yogīs try to meditate on something void, and as is stated in the Gītā, the result is that they simply undergo trouble and do not achieve any tangible result.
When some great saintly persons who had undergone penances and austerities saw the four-handed transcendental form of Viṣṇu, they began to remark as follows: "This four-handed form of the Lord, manifested in a bluish color, is the reservoir of all pleasure and the center of our living force. Actually, when we see this eternal form of Viṣṇu, we, along with many other paramahaṁsas, become immediately captivated by the beauty of the Lord." This appreciation of Lord Viṣṇu by saintly persons is an instance of situation in śānta-rasa, or the neutral stage of devotional service. In the beginning, those who are aspiring for salvation try to get out of the material entanglement by performing painful austerities and penances, and ultimately they come to the impersonal status of spiritual realization. At this brahma-bhūta stage of liberation from the material entanglement, the symptoms, as explained in the Bhagavad-gītā, are that one becomes joyous beyond any hankering or lamentation and gains a universal vision. When the devotee is situated in the śānta-rasa, or neutral stage of devotional service, he appreciates the Viṣṇu form of the Lord.
Actually, all Vedic culture is aiming at understanding Lord Viṣṇu. In the Ṛg Veda one mantra says that any advanced saintly person is always aspiring to be fixed in meditation upon the lotus feet of Viṣṇu.
In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is said that the foolish do not know that Viṣṇu is the ultimate goal of life. According to the conclusion of all authoritative Vedic scriptures, when a person comes to the stage of appreciating Viṣṇu, he is at the beginning of devotional service. If one cultivates devotional service further and further, under proper guidance, other features of devotional service will gradually become manifest. At this stage of śānta-rasa, one can see Lord Viṣṇu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the deliverer of even the demons. The Lord is appreciated by such would-be devotees as the eternal transcendental form, chief of all self-realized souls, the supersoul, the supreme Brahman, completely pacified, completely controlled and pure, merciful to the devotees and untouched by any material condition. This appreciation of Lord Viṣṇu in awe and veneration by the saintly is to be understood as the sign that they are situated in the śānta-rasa, or neutral stage of devotional service.