Kṛṣṇa is the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He is situated in His internal potency, which is known as svarūpa-śakti or ātma-śakti, as described in the Bhagavad-gītā. He expands Himself in multiple forms, some of which are known as His personal forms and some as His separated forms. Thus He enjoys Himself in all the spiritual planets, as well as in the material universes.
Kṛṣṇa's separated expanded forms are the living entities, who are classified according to which of the Lord's energies they are under. They are divided into two classes—eternally liberated and eternally conditioned. Eternally liberated living entities never come into contact with the material nature, and therefore they do not have any experience of material life. They are eternally engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, or devotional service to the Lord, and they are counted among the associates of Kṛṣṇa. Their pleasure, the only enjoyment of their life, is derived from rendering transcendental loving service to Kṛṣṇa.
On the other hand, those who are eternally conditioned are always divorced from the transcendental loving service of Kṛṣṇa and are thus subjected to the threefold miseries of material existence. On account of the conditioned soul's eternal attitude of separation from Kṛṣṇa, the spell of the material energy awards him two kinds of bodies—the gross body, consisting of five elements, and the subtle body, consisting of mind, intelligence and ego. Being covered by these two bodies, the conditioned soul eternally suffers the pangs of material existence, known as the threefold miseries. He is also subjected to six enemies (lust, anger, etc.). Such is the everlasting disease of the conditioned soul.
Diseased and conditioned, the living entity transmigrates all over the universe. Sometimes he is situated in the upper planetary system, and sometimes he travels in the lower planetary system. In this way he leads his diseased, conditioned life. His disease can be cured only when he meets and follows the expert physician, the bona fide spiritual master. When the conditioned soul faithfully follows the instructions of a bona fide spiritual master, his material disease is cured, he is promoted to the liberated stage, and he again attains to the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa and goes back home, back to Kṛṣṇa.
A conditioned living entity should become aware of his real position and pray to the Lord, "How much longer will I be ruled by all these bodily functions, such as lust and anger?" As masters of the conditioned soul, lust and anger are never merciful. Indeed, such bad masters never cease demanding service from the conditioned soul. But when he comes to his real consciousness, Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he stops serving these bad masters and approaches Kṛṣṇa with a frank and open heart to achieve His shelter. At such a time he prays to Kṛṣṇa to be engaged in His transcendental loving service.
Sometimes the Vedic literature highly praises fruitive activities, mystic yoga and the speculative search for knowledge as different ways to self-realization. Yet despite such praise, in all Vedic literature the path of devotional service is accepted as foremost. In other words, devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa is the highest perfectional path to self-realization, and it is recommended that it be performed directly. Fruitive activity, mystic meditation and philosophical speculation are not direct methods of self-realization. They are indirect because without devotional service they cannot lead to the highest perfection of self-realization. Indeed, all paths to self-realization ultimately depend on the path of devotional service.
When Vyāsadeva was not satisfied even after compiling heaps of books of Vedic knowledge, Nārada Muni, his spiritual master, explained that no path of self-realization can be successful unless it is mixed with devotional service. When Nārada Muni arrived, Vyāsadeva was sitting by the banks of the river Sarasvatī in a state of depression. Upon seeing Vyāsa so dejected, Nārada explained the deficiency in his compilation of various books: "Even pure knowledge does not look well unless it is complemented by transcendental devotional service. And what to speak of fruitive activities when they are devoid of devotional service? How can they be of any benefit to their performer?"
Similarly, Śukadeva Gosvāmī prays in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.4.17): "There are many sages who are expert in performing austerities, there are many men who give much in charity, there are many famous men, scholars and thinkers, and there are those who are very expert in reciting Vedic hymns. Although all the activities of these men are auspicious, unless one performs them in order to attain devotional service to the Lord, they cannot award the desired results. Therefore I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord, the only one who can award such results."
Although many types of philosophers and transcendentalists believe that one who lacks knowledge cannot be liberated from material entanglement, there is no possibility that knowledge without devotional service can award liberation. In other words, when jñāna, or the cultivation of knowledge, leads one onto the path of devotional service, then only does it help one gain liberation, but not otherwise. This is confirmed by Brahmā in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.14.4):
- śreyaḥ-sṛtiṁ bhaktim udasya te vibho
- kliśyanti ye kevala-bodha-labdhaye
- teṣām asau kleśala eva śiṣyate
- nānyad yathā sthūla-tuṣāvaghātinām
"My dear Lord, devotional service unto You is the best path for self-realization. If someone gives up that path and engages in the cultivation of knowledge or in speculation, he will simply undergo a troublesome process and will not achieve his desired results. Just as a person who beats an empty husk of wheat cannot get grain, one who engages simply in speculative knowledge cannot achieve the desired result of self-realization. His only gain is trouble."
In the Bhagavad-gītā (7.14) it is stated that material nature is so strong that it can be surmounted only by those living entities who surrender unto the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. Only they can cross the ocean of material existence. When a living entity forgets that he is eternally the servitor of Kṛṣṇa, that forgetfulness causes his bondage in conditioned life and his attraction for the material energy. Indeed, that attraction is the shackle of the material energy. Since it is very difficult for a person to become free as long as he desires to lord it over the material nature, it is recommended that he approach a spiritual master who can train him in devotional service. In this way he can get out of the clutches of the material nature and achieve the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa.