Vaiṣṇavas are generally very compassionate toward the conditioned souls. Without even being invited, a devotee will go from door to door to enlighten people, to bring them out of the darkness of nescience by imparting knowledge of the living entity's constitutional position as a servant of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Such devotees are empowered by the Lord to distribute devotional consciousness, or Kṛṣṇa consciousness, to the people in general. They are known as authorized spiritual masters, and it is by the mercy of such a spiritual master that a conditioned soul gets the seed of devotional service. The causeless mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is first appreciated when one comes in touch with a bona fide spiritual master, who can enlighten the conditioned soul and bring him to the highest position of devotional life. Therefore Lord Caitanya said that by the mercy of the spiritual master one can achieve the causeless mercy of the Lord and by the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead one can attain the mercy of the bona fide spiritual master.
Thus by the mercy of the spiritual master and Kṛṣṇa one receives the seed of devotional service. Then one has to sow the seed in the field of his heart, just as a gardener sows the seed of a valuable tree. After sowing this seed, one has to water it by chanting and hearing the holy name of the Supreme Lord and by taking part in discussions about the science of devotional service in a society of pure devotees. When the plant of devotional service sprouts up from the seed of devotion, it begins to grow freely. When it is fully grown, it surpasses the length and breadth of this universe and enters the transcendental atmosphere of the spiritual world, where everything is bathed in the effulgence of the brahmajyoti. The plant penetrates even the brahmajyoti and gradually enters the planet known as Goloka Vṛndāvana. There the plant takes shelter at the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. That is the ultimate goal of devotional service. After attaining this position, the plant produces the fruit of love of Godhead. To taste this fruit, however, it is necessary for the devotee, or transcendental gardener, to water the plant daily by chanting and hearing. Unless one waters the plant by chanting and hearing, there is every chance that it will dry up.
Lord Caitanya pointed out to Rūpa Gosvāmī that there was another danger to be encountered while watering the root of the devotional plant. After a plant has grown somewhat, an animal may come and either eat it or destroy it. When the green leaves of a plant are eaten by some animal, the plant generally dies. Thus one has to take precautions so that the plant of devotional service is not disturbed by animals, which represent offenses. The most dangerous animal is a mad elephant, for if a mad elephant enters a garden, it causes tremendous damage to plants and trees. An offense to a pure devotee of the Lord is called vaiṣṇava-aparādha, the mad elephant offense. In the discharge of devotional service, an offense to the feet of a pure devotee creates havoc and stops one's advancement. Thus one has to defend the plant of bhakti by fencing it off properly and taking care not to offend pure devotees. Then the plant of devotional service will be properly protected.
An offense to a pure devotee is one of the ten offenses against the holy name. The first offense is to blaspheme the great devotees who have tried to spread the glories of the holy name all over the world. The greatest offender at the feet of the holy name is the rascal who is envious of such devotees. The holy name of Kṛṣṇa is nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa, and Lord Kṛṣṇa cannot tolerate offenses against a pure devotee who, following the order of his spiritual master, is spreading the holy name all over the world. The second offense is to deny that Lord Viṣṇu is the Absolute Truth. Since there is no difference between the Lord and His name, qualities, form and pastimes, or activities, one who sees a difference is considered an offender. The Lord being supreme, no one is equal to or greater than Him. Consequently, one who thinks that the name of some demigod is equal to the Lord's name is an offender. The Supreme Lord and the demigods should never be considered on the same level.
The third offense is to consider the bona fide spiritual master to be a common man. The fourth offense is to blaspheme the Vedic literature—the Vedas and such corollaries as the Purāṇas. The fifth offense is to consider the glories of the holy name to be exaggerations. The sixth offense is to imagine a perverted meaning of the holy name. The seventh offense is to commit sinful activities on the strength of chanting the holy name. It is understood that by chanting the holy name one is freed from sinful reactions, but this does not mean that one should perversely act sinfully on the strength of chanting. That is the greatest offense. The eighth offense is to equate chanting the holy name with religious rituals, austerity, renunciation or sacrificial performances. Chanting the holy name is as good as associating with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whereas these pious activities are only means of approaching the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they can also be performed for some material reason. It is an offense to equate them with chanting the holy name. The ninth offense is to preach the glories of the holy name of God to a faithless person. The tenth and last offense is to maintain material attachment even after hearing and chanting the holy name of God. The idea is that by chanting the holy name without offense one is elevated to the liberated platform, where one is freed from all material attachment. Thus if one chants the holy names and still has material attachments, he is committing an offense.
There are still other factors which can disturb the plant of devotional service. As this plant grows, the weeds of material desires may also grow. When a person advances in devotional service, it is natural that many persons will come to him requesting to become disciples and will offer him some material gains. If one is attracted by a large number of disciples offering material conveniences and forgets his duty as a bona fide spiritual master, the growth of the plant will be impeded. Simply by taking advantage of material conveniences one may become addicted to enjoying material comforts.
Other impediments are to desire liberation or material name and fame by discharging devotional service, or to neglect the prohibitions. These prohibitions are mentioned in the authorized scriptures: One should not indulge in illicit sex, intoxication, gambling or eating meat—indeed, one should not eat anything other than kṛṣṇa-prasādam, food offered to Kṛṣṇa. These are the restrictions for one who is attempting to advance in devotional service. If one does not follow these principles strictly, there will be a severe disturbance in the discharge of devotional service.
If one is not particularly careful, by watering the plant of devotional service one will instead nourish the weeds described above, which will then grow very luxuriantly and hamper one's progress. The idea is that when one waters a garden, not only does the desired plant grow rapidly but the unwanted plants grow also. If the gardener does not see these weeds and cut them down, they will overcome and choke the plant of devotion. It is thus the duty of the neophyte devotee to cut down all the weeds that may grow by the watering process of devotional service. If one is careful to guard against the growth of these weeds, the plant of devotion will grow luxuriantly and reach the ultimate goal, Goloka Vṛndāvana. When the living entity engaged in devotional service relishes the fruit of love of Godhead, he forgets all religious rituals aimed at improving his economic condition. He no longer desires to satisfy his senses, and he no longer desires to become one with the Supreme Lord by merging into His effulgence.
There are many practices leading to spiritual knowledge and transcendental bliss, including the ritualistic sacrifices recommended in the Vedas, the execution of austerities and pious duties, and the practice of mystic yoga. These all reward different results to their performers. But all these rewards appear to glitter only as long as one is not elevated to the transcendental loving service of the Lord. Love of God is dormant in everyone, and it can be awakened from its dormant position by the execution of pure devotional service, just as a person bitten by a serpent and fallen unconscious can be revived by smelling ammonia.
After speaking in this way about pure devotional service, Lord Caitanya began to describe that service and its symptoms to Rūpa Gosvāmī. He explained that in pure devotional service there can be no desire other than the desire to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In Kṛṣṇa consciousness there is no scope for worshiping any demigod or even any other form of Kṛṣṇa, nor is there room for indulgence in speculative empiric philosophy or fruitive activities. One should be free from all these contaminations. A devotee should accept only those things that are favorable for keeping his body and soul together and should reject those things that increase the demands of the body. Only the bare necessities for bodily maintenance should be accepted. By making one's bodily necessities secondary, one can primarily devote his time to the cultivation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness through the chanting of the holy names of God. Pure devotional service means engaging all one's senses in the service of the Lord. At the present moment our senses are all designated because the body is designated. So we think that our body belongs to a particular society or a particular country or a particular family. In this way the body is bound by so many designations. Similarly, the senses belong to the body, and when the body is subject to such designations, the senses are also. Thus one engages the senses on behalf of family, society, nation and so on. When the senses are so engaged, one cannot cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The senses must be purified, and this is possible when one purely understands that he belongs to Kṛṣṇa and that his life belongs to Kṛṣṇa—in other words, that his identity is to be an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa. In this way one can engage his senses in the service of the Lord, and such engagement is called pure devotional service.
A pure devotee accepts the transcendental loving service of the Lord but rejects all kinds of liberation for his personal sense gratification. This is stated by Lord Kapila in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.29.11-14), in His explanation of the nature of pure devotional service. As soon as a pure devotee hears the glories and transcendental qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is seated in everyone's heart, his mind at once flows toward the Lord, just as the waters of the Ganges flow down toward the sea. Such spontaneous attraction of the devotee's mind to the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead signifies pure devotional service.
Devotional service is pure when one engages in the service of the Supreme Lord without any selfish motive and without being hampered by any material impediment. The pure devotee does not desire to live on the same planet as the Supreme Lord, nor does he desire the same opulence as the Lord, nor does he desire to have the same form as the Lord, nor to live with Him side by side, nor to merge into His existence. Even if the Lord offers the pure devotee such rewards, he rejects them. The point is that a pure devotee is so much absorbed in the transcendental loving service of the Lord that he has no time to think of any benefit beyond his immediate engagement. Just as an ordinary materialistic businessman thinks of nothing else when he is absorbed in his business, a pure devotee, when engaged in the service of the Lord, does not think of anything beyond that engagement.