Here is a general description of devotional service given by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. Previously, it has been stated that devotional service can be divided into three categories—namely devotional service in practice, devotional service in ecstasy and devotional service in pure love of God. Now Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī proposes to describe devotional service in practice.
Practice means employing our senses in some particular type of work. Therefore devotional service in practice means utilizing our different sensory organs in service to Kṛṣṇa. Some of the senses are meant for acquiring knowledge, and some are meant for executing the conclusions of our thinking, feeling and willing. So practice means employing both the mind and the senses in practical devotional service. This practice is not for developing something artificial. For example, a child learns or practices to walk. This walking is not unnatural. The walking capacity is there originally in the child, and simply by a little practice he walks very nicely. Similarly, devotional service to the Supreme Lord is the natural instinct of every living entity. Even uncivilized men like the aborigines offer their respectful obeisances to something wonderful exhibited by nature's law, and they appreciate that behind some wonderful exhibition or action there is something supreme. So this consciousness, though lying dormant in those who are materially contaminated, is found in every living entity. And, when purified, this is called Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
There are certain prescribed methods for employing our senses and mind in such a way that our dormant consciousness for loving Kṛṣṇa will be invoked, as much as the child, with a little practice, can begin to walk. One who has no basic walking capacity cannot walk by practice. Similarly, Kṛṣṇa consciousness cannot be aroused simply by practice. Actually there is no such practice. When we wish to develop our innate capacity for devotional service, there are certain processes which, by our accepting and executing them, will cause that dormant capacity to be invoked. Such practice is called sādhana-bhakti.
Every living entity under the spell of material energy is held to be in an abnormal condition of madness. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is said, "Generally, the conditioned soul is mad, because he is always engaged in activities which are the causes of bondage and suffering." Spirit soul in his original condition is joyful, blissful, eternal and full of knowledge. Only by his implication in material activities has he become miserable, temporary and full of ignorance. This is due to vikarma. Vikarma means "actions which should not be done." Therefore, we must practice sādhana-bhakti—which means to offer maṅgala-ārati (Deity worship) in the morning, to refrain from certain material activities, to offer obeisances to the spiritual master and to follow many other rules and regulations which will be discussed here one after another. These practices will help one become cured of madness. As a man's mental disease is cured by the directions of a psychiatrist, so this sādhana-bhakti cures the conditioned soul of his madness under the spell of māyā, material illusion.
Nārada Muni mentions this sādhana-bhakti in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Seventh Canto, First Chapter, verse 32. He says there to King Yudhiṣṭhira, "My dear King, one has to fix his mind on Kṛṣṇa by any means." That is called Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It is the duty of the ācārya, the spiritual master, to find the ways and means for his disciple to fix his mind on Kṛṣṇa. That is the beginning of sādhana-bhakti.
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has given us an authorized program for this purpose, centered around the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. This chanting has so much power that it immediately attaches one to Kṛṣṇa. That is the beginning of sādhana-bhakti. Somehow or other, one has to fix his mind on Kṛṣṇa. The great saint Ambarīṣa Mahārāja, although a responsible king, fixed his mind on Kṛṣṇa, and similarly anyone who tries to fix his mind in this way will very rapidly make progress in successfully reviving his original Kṛṣṇa consciousness.