Rareness of Pure Devotional Service
In the preliminary phase of spiritual life there are different kinds of austerities, penances and similar processes for attaining self-realization. However, even if an executor of these processes is without any material desire, he still cannot achieve devotional service. And aspiring by oneself alone to achieve devotional service is also not very hopeful because Kṛṣṇa does not agree to award devotional service to merely anyone. Kṛṣṇa can easily offer a person material happiness or even liberation, but He does not agree very easily to award a person engagement in His devotional service. Devotional service can in fact be attained only through the mercy of a pure devotee. In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 19.151) it is said: "By the mercy of the spiritual master who is a pure devotee and by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa one can achieve the platform of devotional service. There is no other way."
The rarity of devotional service is also confirmed in the Tantra-śāstra where Lord Śiva says to Satī, "My dear Satī, if one is a very fine philosopher, analyzing the different processes of knowledge, he can achieve liberation from the material entanglement. By performance of the ritualistic sacrifices recommended in the Vedas one can be elevated to the platform of pious activities and thereby enjoy the material comforts of life to the fullest extent. But all such endeavors can hardly offer anyone devotional service to the Lord, not even if one tries for it by such processes for many, many thousands of births."
In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is also confirmed by Prahlāda Mahārāj that merely by personal efforts or by the instructions of higher authorities one cannot attain to the stage of devotional service. One must become blessed by the dust of the lotus feet of a pure devotee who is completely freed from the contamination of material desires.
In the Fifth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, 6th Chapter, 18th verse, Nārada also says to Yudhiṣṭhira, "My dear King, it is Lord Kṛṣṇa, known as Mukunda, who is the eternal protector of the Pāṇḍavas and the Yadus. He is also your spiritual master and instructor in every respect. He is the only worshipable God for you. He is very dear and affectionate, and He is the director of all your activities, both individual and familial. And what's more, He sometimes carries out your orders as if He were your messenger! My dear King, how very fortunate you are, because for others all these favors given to you by the Supreme Lord would not even be dreamt of." The purport to this verse is that the Lord easily offers liberation, but He rarely agrees to offer a soul devotional service because by devotional service the Lord Himself becomes purchased by the devotee. The Happiness of Becoming One with the Supreme
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says that if brahmānanda, or the happiness of becoming one with the Supreme, is multiplied by one trillionfold, still it cannot be compared with an atomic fraction of the happiness derived from the ocean of devotional service.
In the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya Prahlāda Mahārāj, while satisfying Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva by his prayers, says: "My dear Lord of the universe, I am feeling transcendental pleasure in Your presence and have become merged in the ocean of happiness. I now consider the happiness of brahmānanda to be no more than the water in the impression left by a cow's hoof in the earth, compared to this ocean of bliss." Similarly, it is confirmed in the Bhāvārtha-dīpikā, Śrīdhara Svāmī's commentary on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: "My dear Lord, some of the fortunate persons who are swimming in the ocean of Your nectar of devotion, and who are relishing the nectar of the narration of Your pastimes, certainly know ecstasies which immediately minimize the value of the happiness derived from religiousness, economic development, sense gratification and liberation. Such a transcendental devotee regards any kind of happiness other than devotional service as no better than straw in the street."