There are three divisions of devotees-first-class, second-class and third-class. Even the third-class devotees are liberated souls. It is explained in this verse that although they do not have knowledge, simply by seeing the beautiful decoration of the Deity in the temple, they are absorbed in thought of Him and lose all other consciousness. By fixing oneself in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, engaging the senses in the service of the Lord, one is imperceptibly liberated. This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā. Simply by discharging uncontaminated devotional service as prescribed in the scriptures, one becomes equal to Brahman. In Bhagavad-gītā it is said, brahma-bhūyāya kalpate (BG 14.26). This means that the living entity in his original state is Brahman because he is part and parcel of the Supreme Brahman. Because of his forgetfulness of his real nature as an eternal servitor of the Lord, he is overwhelmed and captured by māyā. His forgetfulness of his real constitutional position is māyā. Otherwise he is eternally Brahman.
When one is trained to become conscious of his position, he understands that he is the servitor of the Lord. "Brahman" refers to a state of self-realization. Even the third-class devotee - who is not advanced in knowledge of the Absolute Truth but who offers obeisances with great devotion, thinks of the Lord, sees the Lord in the temple and brings forth flowers and fruits to offer to the Deity - becomes imperceptibly liberated. Śraddhayānvitāḥ: with great devotion the devotees offer worshipful respects and paraphernalia to the Deity. The Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, Lakṣmī and Nārāyaṇa, and Rāma and Sītā, are very attractive to devotees, so much so that when they see the Deity decorated in the temple, they become fully absorbed in thinking of the Lord. That is liberation. In other words, it is confirmed herein that even a third-class devotee is in the transcendental position, above those who are striving for liberation by speculation or other methods. Even great impersonalists like Śukadeva Gosvāmī and the four Kumāras were attracted by the beauty of the Deities in the temple, by the decorations and by the aroma of tulasī offered to the Lord, and they became devotees. Even though they were in the liberated state, instead of remaining impersonalists they were attracted by the beauty of the Lord and became devotees.
Here the word vilāsa is very important. Vilāsa refers to the activities or pastimes of the Lord. It is a prescribed duty in temple worship that not only should one visit the temple to see the Deity nicely decorated, but at the same time he should hear the recitation of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Bhagavad-gītā or some similar literature, which is regularly recited in the temple. In Vṛndāvana, in every temple, there is recitation of the śāstras. Even third-class devotees who have no literary knowledge or no time to read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam or Bhagavad-gītā have the opportunity to hear about the pastimes of the Lord. In this way their minds may remain always absorbed in the thought of the Lord - His form, His activities and His transcendental nature. This state of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is a liberated stage. Lord Caitanya, therefore, recommended five important processes in the discharge of devotional service: (1) to chant the holy name of the Lord, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, (2) to associate with devotees and serve them as far as possible, (3) to hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, (4) to see the decorated temple and the Deity and, if possible, (5) to live in a place like Vṛndāvana or Mathurā. These five items alone can help a devotee achieve the highest perfectional stage. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā and in this verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. That third-class devotees can also imperceptibly achieve liberation is accepted in all Vedic literatures.
As far as meditation on the arcā-vigraha form of the Lord is concerned, we have to look at the Deity beginning with His lotus feet. It is not that we immediately look at His smiling face. We should first try to see the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, and when we are practiced in this way, we can look at His thighs, His waist and His chest. Then we can reach His smiling face. In this manner we should meditate on Kṛṣṇa's form, and thus we can associate with Kṛṣṇa by meditating on His smiling face, His flute, His hands, His dress, His consort Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and the other gopīs surrounding Him. Thus we should practice observing the Supreme Lord, and to this end He has appeared before us as the arcā-vigraha.
There are three kinds of devotee: kaniṣṭha-adhikārī, madhyama-adhikārī and uttama-adhikārī. The uttama-adhikārī is the most advanced; the madhyama-adhikārī is in the middle stage; and the kaniṣṭha-adhikārī is the neophyte. It is recommended that the neophyte meditate on the Deity daily. He should begin by meditating on the lotus feet, and then when he is practiced, he should turn his gaze toward Kṛṣṇa's smiling face. The neophyte should also read and hear Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. If we simply try to see and don't listen, the results will not be permanent. In some temples there are Deities but no discussion about Kṛṣṇa. People attend for some time, but after a while they lose interest. Thus there must be two activities. The Deities must be worshiped, and this is called pāñcarātrikī-vidhi. There must also be bhāgavata-vidhi, reading Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Pāñcarātrikī-vidhi and bhāgavata-vidhi go hand in hand. By participating in these two processes, the neophyte can gradually attain the intermediate stage.
The spiritual master is supposed to be in the most advanced stage, but for preaching purposes he descends to the intermediate stage. The uttama-adhikārī, the most advanced devotee, does not discriminate between devotees and nondevotees. He sees everyone but himself as a devotee. The truly advanced devotee sees that he is not a devotee but that everyone else is a devotee. The kaniṣṭha-adhikārī, the neophyte, simply concentrates on the Deity, and that is required in the beginning:
- arcāyām eva haraye
- pūjāṁ yaḥ śraddhayehate
- na tad-bhakteṣu cānyeṣu
- sa bhaktaḥ prākṛtaḥ smṛtaḥ
"A person who is very faithfully engaged in the worship of the Deity in the temple, but who does not know how to behave toward devotees or people in general is called a prākṛta-bhakta, or kaniṣṭha-adhikārī." (SB 11.2.47) According to the prescribed duties mentioned in the scriptures, one must care for the Deity, but when one is a little further advanced, he considers his functions with others. When one attains the madhyama-adhikārī stage, his vision is described thus:
- īśvare tad-adhīneṣu
- bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca
- yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ
"The madhyama-adhikārī is a devotee who worships the Supreme Personality of Godhead as the highest object of love, makes friends with the Lord's devotees, is merciful to the ignorant and avoids those who are envious by nature." (SB 11.2.46)
The madhyama-adhikārī is not only interested in the Deity, but he can also discern between devotees and nondevotees. He can also understand that this man is innocent and that this man is not. The innocent do not know what is to be done, and they do not know anything about God. They are not actually offenders, but there are others who are offenders. The offenders become immediately envious as soon as they hear about God or His devotees.
The madhyama-adhikārī knows that Kṛṣṇa is God: kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam (SB 1.3.28). He wants to develop his love for Kṛṣṇa. He also wants to see that not a moment is wasted without engagement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He is always careful not to spoil life's valuable time. That is the first qualification of a madhyama-adhikārī. We have a very short period to live, and we never know when we are going to die. There is no certainty. Foolish people think that they will go on living forever, but that is simply foolishness. Life is transient; therefore the devotee wants to utilize every moment for the advancement of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
The madhyama-adhikārī also has a special taste for chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. He is also very anxious to live in places like Vṛndāvana, Dvārakā and Mathurā, places where Kṛṣṇa lived. Of course it is a fact that Kṛṣṇa, being God, has His residence everywhere. He even resides within every atom. Aṇḍāntara-stha-paramāṇu-cayāntara-stham (Bs. 5.35). Nonetheless, He has special places of residence like Vṛndāvana, Dvārakā and Mathurā; therefore a devotee is anxious to live in those places.
Increasing one's love for God is a gradual process, and the first ingredient is faith. Without faith, there is no question of progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. That faith is created after reading Bhagavad-gītā carefully and actually understanding it as it is. Unless one reads Bhagavad-gītā, there is no question of faith in Kṛṣṇa. One must have faith in the words of Kṛṣṇa, particularly when Kṛṣṇa says, "Abandon all dharmas and surrender to Me. I will give you all protection." If we study Bhagavad-gītā as a literary treatise and then throw it away, that is not faith. Faith is explained by Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī thus:
- 'śraddhā'-śabde-viśvāsa kahe sudṛḍha niścaya
- kṛṣṇe bhakti kaile sarva-karma kṛta haya
"By rendering transcendental loving service to Kṛṣṇa, one automatically performs all subsidiary activities. This confident, firm faith, favorable to the discharge of devotional service, is called śraddhā." (CC Madhya 22.62)
In Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says that He is not only a person but the Supreme Personality of Godhead as well. He also says that there is no one superior to Him. If one believes these words, then one will have faith. Impersonalists read Bhagavad-gītā, but they do not accept Kṛṣṇa as a person. In the Twelfth Chapter of Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa says that the impersonalist takes more trouble to come to Him. He will come later, but it will take some time. This is because impersonal understanding of the Supreme Absolute Truth is partial understanding. As Kṛṣṇa states:
- kleśo 'dhikataras teṣām
- avyaktā hi gatir duḥkhaṁ
- dehavadbhir avāpyate
"For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied." (BG 12.5)
We have often given the example of impersonal understanding being like the understanding of the sunshine. One may see the sunshine entering through a window into his room, but this does not mean that one knows everything about the sun. Impersonal understanding of the Absolute Truth is like that. The sunshine is impersonal (Brahman), the sun itself is localized (Paramātmā) and the sun-god residing within the sun is a person (Bhagavān). Just as one can understand the three aspects of the sun - the sunshine, the sun itself and the sun-god - one can also understand the three aspects of the Supreme Absolute Truth - Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān.
Impersonalists maintain that the sun is simply a fiery globe and nothing else, but in Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa specifically states that He spoke Bhagavad-gītā to the sun-god Vivasvān. Of course we can hardly imagine how the sun-god can be a person. The sun is a great fiery globe, and we think that it is impossible for anyone to live there, but this thinking is simply shortsighted. It does not follow that no one can live in fire just because we cannot live there. We cannot live in water, yet there are aquatics living there. We live on this planet, which is basically composed of earth, and our bodies are basically composed of earth in order to live here. Bodies are made in such a way that they can live in their environment. Similarly, the sun-god has a body capable of living in fire.
Kṛṣṇa is sac-cid-ānanda-vigraha (Bs. 5.1), being, knowledge and bliss, with form. Impersonal understanding is understanding of the sat feature. Understanding Kṛṣṇa in full is understanding all of His features. The ānanda feature is realized in Bhagavān. Kṛṣṇa plays on His flute and is accompanied by His pleasure potency, hlādinī śakti, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Of Kṛṣṇa's many potencies, the hlādinī śakti is His pleasure-giving potency. That is ānanda. Although Kṛṣṇa is full in Himself, He expands Himself when He wants to enjoy. That expansion is His pleasure potency, Rādhārāṇī. The gopīs are the expansions of Rādhārāṇī, and the various forms of Kṛṣṇa are manifest just to taste the mellow of transcendental bliss. Ānanda-cinmaya-rasa. Thus Brahman realization is realization of the sat portion, Paramātmā realization is realization of the cit portion, and Bhagavān realization is the realization of the ānanda portion. In the Vedānta-sūtra it is said that the Absolute Truth is ānandamayo 'bhyāsāt (Vedānta-sūtra 1.1.12). Kṛṣṇa's līlā is always full of transcendental bliss - especially in Vṛndāvana, His original residence. It is in Vṛndāvana that Kṛṣṇa plays with His cowherd boy friends and dances with the gopīs. It is also in Vṛndāvana that Kṛṣṇa steals Mother Yaśodā's butter. All His activities there are filled with transcendental bliss.
We can begin to experience this bliss by following the prescribed methods of devotional service. When we see the Deity, we can gradually realize how Kṛṣṇa is smiling, playing on His flute and enjoying the company of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Then we also have to hear about Kṛṣṇa. These two processes will increase in such a way that we will automatically become great devotees. Anicchato me gatim aṇvīṁ prayuṅkte. This is actually a scientific method. It is not imagination. People think that this is idol worship and imagination, but this method is prescribed in all the śāstras for developing God consciousness. It is an actual science.
- śrī-bhagavān uvāca
- jñānaṁ parama-guhyaṁ me
- yad vijñāna-samanvitam
- sa-rahasyaṁ tad-aṅgaṁ ca
- gṛhāṇa gaditaṁ mayā
"The Personality of Godhead said: Knowledge about Me as described in the scriptures is very confidential, and it has to be realized in conjunction with devotional service. The necessary paraphernalia for that process is being explained by Me. You may take it up carefully." (SB 2.9.31)
In Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna that He has revealed this most confidential knowledge to him because Arjuna is His very dear friend. That confidential knowledge is, sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: "Just surrender unto Me." (BG 18.66) Brahman realization is certainly confidential, and Paramātmā realization is still more confidential, but understanding Kṛṣṇa as He is, is the most confidential knowledge of all.
If one's mind and senses are completely absorbed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, one is experiencing bhakti. Bhakti is not a sentiment but a practical science. One may engage in many activities, but in all cases, one's mind must be fully absorbed in Kṛṣṇa. Although a housewife is always busy working around the house, she always takes care that her hair is nicely combed. Regardless of her engagements, she never forgets to arrange her hair in an attractive way. Similarly, a devotee engages in many activities, but he never forgets Kṛṣṇa's transcendental form. This is the meaning of perfection.