There are two characteristics by which the seeds of love of Godhead can develop, and these are known as rati, or attachment, and bhāva, the condition immediately preceding love of Godhead. It is by such attachment and bhāva that the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is conquered by His devotees. These two characteristics are present before any symptoms of love of Godhead are manifest. This was all explained to Sanātana Gosvāmī by Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya told him that since there is really no end to describing the system of devotional service with attachment, He is simply trying to offer a sampling. Lord Caitanya then described the ultimate goal of devotional service, which is meant for one who wants to attain perfection. When one's attachment to Kṛṣṇa becomes very deep, one attains the condition called love of Godhead. Such a state of existence is considered a permanent situation for a devotee. In this regard, Kavirāja Gosvāmī offered his respectful obeisances to Lord Caitanya for His sublime teachings of love of Godhead. As stated in Caitanya-caritāmṛta, (CC Madhya 23.1): "O Supreme Personality of Godhead, who but You has ever awarded such pure devotional service? O most magnanimous incarnation of the Personality of Godhead, for my part I offer my respectful obeisances to this incarnation known as Gaurakrṣṇa."
In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.3.1) the state of being in love with the Godhead is compared to the sunshine emanating from the sun; this shining makes the devotee's heart more and more lovely. The heart of such a devotee is situated in a transcendental position beyond even the mode of goodness. The process for making the heart even more sterilized by the sunshine of love is called bhāva. A description of bhāva is given by Rūpa Gosvāmī. Bhāva is called the permanent characteristic of the living entity, and the crucial point of progress for bhāva is called the marginal state of love of Godhead. When the bhāva state becomes deeper and deeper, learned devotees call it love of Godhead. As stated in the Nārada-pañcarātra:
- ananya-mamatā viṣṇau
- mamatā prema-saṅgatā
- bhaktir ity ucyate bhīṣma-
"When one is firmly convinced that Viṣṇu is the only object of love and worship and that there is no one else—not even a demigod—worthy of receiving devotional service, one feels intimacy in his love relationship with God, and this is approved by such personalities as Bhīṣma, Prahlāda, Uddhava and Nārada."
If, due to some righteous activities which provoke devotional service, one is influenced by the service attitude and takes shelter of the good association of pure devotees, he develops attachment for hearing and chanting. By developing chanting and hearing, one can advance further and further in regulative devotional service to the Supreme Lord. As one so advances, his misgivings about devotional service and his attraction for the material world proportionately diminish. By advancing in hearing and chanting, a devotee becomes more firmly fixed in his faith, and gradually his initial faith develops into a taste for devotional service, and that taste gradually develops into attachment. When attachment becomes pure, it exhibits the two characteristics of bhāva and rati. When rati increases, it is called love of Godhead, and love of Godhead is the ultimate goal of human life.
This process is summarized by Rūpa Gosvāmī in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.4.15-16): The first requirement is faith; it is due to faith that one associates with pure devotees, and, by such association, develops devotional service. As devotional service develops, one's misgivings diminish. Then one is situated in firm conviction, and from that conviction he develops a taste for devotional service and advances to the stage of attachment, whereby he follows the regulative principles of devotional service. After that point, after one makes further progress, he attains the state called bhāva, which is permanent. When such love of God increases, it reaches the highest stage of love of Godhead."
In Sanskrit this highest stage is called premā, premā can be defined as love of God without any expectation of exchange or return. Actually the words premā and love are not synonymous, yet one can say that premā is the highest stage of love. One who has attained premā is the most perfect human being. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam also confirms this statement (SB 3.25.25): Only by the association of pure devotees can one develop a taste for Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and when he tries to apply Kṛṣṇa consciousness in his life, he can achieve everything up to the stage of bhāva and prema.