What are the six characteristics of pure devotional service?

By Purushottam Kumar - 2.2 2022


The six characteristics of pure devotional service are:

klesaghni: Pure devotional service gives immediate relief from all kinds of material distress.
subhada: Pure devotional service is the beginning of all auspiciousness.
moksa – laghutakrt: Pure devotional service deride the conception of liberation.
sudurlabha: Pure devotional service is rarely achieved.
sandrananda visesatma: Pure devotional service automatically puts one in transcendental pleasure.
sri krsnakarsini: Pure devotional service is the only means to attract Kṛṣṇa.

1) Klesaghni: Gives immediate relief from all distress.

The first characteristic of pure devotional service, Klesaghni, manifests at the stage of nistha, steadiness.  Klesaghni means getting relief from all sufferings. We suffer because of the sins we committed in this life or in previous life.

Our sufferings have three causes:

Papam: We suffer because of our sins.
Bijam: We suffer because of our material desires. This is the secondary cause of our suffering.
Avidya: Our material desires are because of our ignorance. We fail to understand that we are in reality spiritual beings, and our eternal identity is that we are eternal servants of Krishna. Ignorance is the root cause of our suffering.

Padma Purana explains that sinful activities causes four kinds of sinful reactions:

Four kinds of sinful reactions are:

aprarabdha: The effect which is not yet fructified
kutam: The effect which is lying as seed
prarabdha: The effect which is already mature
karma bijam: The effect which is almost mature

As of now we are suffering because of our prarabdha karma and in future we will suffer because of aprarabdha karma. However, we can get relief from all distress if we take shelter of Krishna. Devotion to Krishna is so powerful that it burns all our sinful reactions. In Srimad Bhagavatam, Lord Krishna says to Uddhava, “My dear Uddhava, devotional service unto Me is just like a blazing fire, which can burn into ashes unlimited fuel supplied to it.” Srimad Bhagavatam 11.14.19.  So, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, is assuring that he will completely destroy all our aprarabdha karma, the unmanifest sinful reaction for which we had to suffer in future.  He also completely destroys our present sins for which we are currently suffering.

Ignorance is the root cause of our suffering

It is said that ignorance is the root cause of all our suffering. It is because of ignorance we get entangled in this material world and get materially contaminated. Material contamination leads to material desire and to satisfy our material desires we indulge in sinful activity which brings unlimited suffering in our life.

There are different rituals given in the Vedic scriptures to counteract our suffering. However, it has been observed that a Vedic ritual may sometime give relief from sinful reaction but it does not destroy sinful proclivity. And because of sinful proclivity a person again commits sin for which he has to again suffer.  However pure devotional service not just give relief from all distress but it completely purifies our heart of all material contamination, it totally destroys all our material desires and all our sinful proclivity. So, a sincere devotee of Krishna never again commits sins and so he never suffers again.

2) subhada: Pure devotional service is the beginning of all auspiciousness.

The second characteristic of pure devotional service, subhada, manifests at the stage of nistha, steadiness.  Pure devotional service is all auspicious because it

Benefits everyone
Attracts everyone
Produce good qualities
Bestow superior happiness

Benefits and Attracts Everyone

Padma Puraṇa glorifies pure devotional service, “A person who is engaged in devotional service in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness is to be understood to be doing the best service to the whole world and to be pleasing everyone in the world. In addition to human society, he is pleasing even the trees and animals, because they also become attracted by such a movement.”

Lord Chaitanya practically showed that pure devotional service not just attract human beings, but it also attracts animals and trees. When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was passing through the forest of Jharikhanda then all the animals including tiger, elephant, deer began dancing and singing the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. We see that when Srila Prabhupada began worldwide preaching then many people who had earlier not even heard the name of Krishna became attracted to Krishna and became sincere devotees of Krishna.

Produce good qualities

Scriptures say that those who practice pure devotional service develop saintly qualities and it can be practically seen also. There were many hippies who were drug addict, animal flesh eater, would indulge in illicit sex and other abominable activities but once they began practicing devotion to Krishna they were able to give up all their sinful habits. They became sincere and serious devotees of Krishna. Many even became sannyasis and began preaching the message of Krishna all over the world.

In our life also we can see that once we have started practicing devotion to Krishna, we have been able to give up many bad habits. We see in this world that there are many highly materially educated people but they are addicted to sinful habits like intoxication and meat eating. But a devotee of Krishna may not be materially well educated but by practicing devotion to Krishna they become so pure that they are easily able to give up all the bad habits and is able to lead a happy life. In Srimad Bhagavatam 5.18.12 Sukhadeva Goswami says to King Parikshit that those who have unflinching faith in Krishna and are without any duplicity develop all the good qualities of demigods.

Superior Happiness

Srila Rupa Goswami explains in Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu that there are three sources of happiness:

Happiness from material enjoyment i.e. through sense gratification
One derives happiness by identifying oneself with the Supreme Brahman i.e. by Brahman realization.
Happiness derived from engaging in pure devotional service to Krishna.

Out of these three, happiness derived by practicing Krishna Consciousness is the topmost. There are two reasons for this

Happiness achieved by pure devotional service is eternal whereas happiness derived from other process is temporary and flickering.
Also, happiness which we experience by engaging in pure devotional service to Krishna includes the happiness derived from other sources and also excels it.

We practically see that there are Mayavadi (impersonalist) sannyasis who are highly educated and very much realized souls but indulge in political or social welfare activities. It is because the happiness which they get by identifying themselves with Supreme Brahman does not satiate their heart, so they look for some material means to find happiness. There are mystic yogis who attain siddhis but they too cannot experience supreme enjoyment. The highest enjoyment is only in Krishna Consciousness.

Two Examples

So, we see that devotees of Krishna maybe material impoverished but they experience so much pleasure in Krishna Consciousness that the want nothing but Krishna. Kholaveca Sridhara was extremely poor, he had almost no material possession, but he would always joyful chant the names of Krishna. When Lord Chaitanya wanted to give him material opulence, he refused, because the happiness which he derived by chanting the names of Krishna was so great that nothing could have replaced it.

Prahlada Maharaja, a great devotee of the Lord, offers prayer to Lord Narasimhadeva, “My dear Lord, I repeatedly pray unto Your lotus feet that I may simply be stronger in devotional service. I simply pray that my Kṛṣṇa consciousness may be more strong and steady, because happiness derived out of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and devotional service is so powerful that with it one can have all the other perfections of religiousness, economic development, sense gratification and even the attainment of liberation from material existence.” Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya 

3) moksa – laghutakrt: Pure devotional service derides the conception of liberation

At the stage of bhava, the third characteristics of pure devotional service manifests – moksa – laghutakrt. Explaining how pure devotional service is superior to liberation, Srila Prabhupada explains, “Srila Rupa Gosvami says that if brahmananda, or the happiness of becoming one with the Supreme, is multiplied one trillionfold, it still cannot compare to an atomic fraction of the happiness derived from the ocean of devotional service.”

This is the reason that devotees of Krishna do not want anything from Krishna not even liberation. It is because the joy they experience in practicing devotion to Krishna is unlimited which cannot be expressed in words.

4) sudurlabha: pure devotional service is rarely achieved

The fourth characteristics of pure devotional service – sudurlabha – manifests at the stage of bhava. One cannot attain pure devotional service by one’s own effort and also Krishna is reluctant to give it. Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, can easily give material happiness and he can even give liberation. But he does not easily give pure devotional service. It is because pure devotional service is so potent that Krishna himself gets purchased by it. We see in Vrindavan that Krishna becomes a puppet of brajvasis.

Sometimes mother Yashoda punishes Krishna, sometimes Krishna carries the shoes of Nanda Maharaj on his head. And sometimes the gopis ask Krishna to dance and the Supreme Lord starts dancing. Similarly, Krishna becomes the messenger of Pandavas and charioteer of Arjuna. We see that Krishna, the Supreme Lord, becomes subservient to his devotees. Since pure devotional service has the power to conquer and control the Supreme Lord, so Krishna is very reluctant to give pure devotional service. However, Krishna can bestow his mercy upon a sincere devotee and give him pure devotional service. Also, by the mercy of a pure devotee one can also achieve pure devotional service.

5) sandrananda visesatma: Pure devotional service automatically puts one in transcendental pleasure.

The fifth characteristics of pure devotional service – sandrananda-visesatma – manifests at the stage of prema. It is explained that metal is so dense that nothing can penetrate it. Similarly pure devotional service is highly concentrated and dense and so no other thoughts and perception penetrates in the mind of a devotee. So, in pure devotional service, a devotee experiences condensed bliss.

6) sri krsnakarsini: Pure devotional service is the only means to attract Kṛṣṇa.

The sixth characteristics of pure devotional service – sri krsnakarsini – manifests at the stage of prema. Krishna attracts everyone but pure devotional service even attracts Krishna. Srimati Radharani is the highest symbol of pure devotional service. Krishna is called Madana-mohana because he attracts thousands of cupids, but Radharani is so attractive that she even attracts Krishna. By her devotion, she controls Krishna. So, Radharani is called, Madana-mohana-mohini.

Devotional service is directly under the control of Srimati Radharani. So, if we have to practice pure devotion then we should follow the footsteps of Srimati Radharani. The residents of Vrindavan and all the pure devotees of Krishna always serve Krishna under the guidance of Srimati Radharani.

Lord Krishna himself confirms that he gets attracted by pure devotional service, “My dear Uddhava, you may know it from Me that the attraction I feel for devotional service rendered by My devotees is not to be attained even by the performance of mystic yoga, philosophical speculation, ritualistic sacrifices, the study of Vedānta, the practice of severe austerities or the giving of everything in charity. These are, of course, very nice activities, but they are not as attractive to Me as the transcendental loving service rendered by My devotees.” Srimad Bhagavatam 11.14.20

Three categories of devotional service

Srila Rupa Goswami says that there are three categories of pure devotional service – sadhana bhakti, bhava bhakti and prema bhakti. In each of these categories, two characteristics of pure devotional service manifests as described below:

Sadhana bhakti

klesaghni: Relief from all kinds of material distress.

subhada: All auspiciousness.

Bhava bhakti (the previous two plus the following)

moksa – laghutakrt: Happiness deriding conception of liberation.

sudurlabha: Rarely achieved.

Prema bhakti (the previous four plus the following)

sandrananda visesatma: Incalculable transcendental pleasure.

sri krsnakarsini: Attracting Lord Krishna.