There is so much talk nowadays in doing what you want to do, and not what others might want you to do. The trend is to give lots of advice about following your interests and not get caught in what others might want for you. At a young age, I followed this – joining Srila Prabhupada in my youth (despite my family’s disapproval) and serving him directly for many years in his mission. But after getting married, the direction of my focus was family life, which was very distracting and not really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Nature had forced its illusion upon me. However, even while performing my household duties, I never stopped practicing and aiming for the day when once again I could serve and surrender one hundred percent.
I was never satisfied in my heart and I yearned for that day when I would again be engaged in direct service with the devotees of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
I mentioned surrendering one hundred percent to Sri Guru and Gauranga. This is a complete service attitude. The meaning of serving guru is quite simple and, through serving guru, we serve Krishna.
However, Srila Sridhara Maharaja tells us about the land of gurus, where we will be the servant there always, where we will go with such a service attitude that we will consider ourselves the servant of the servant. In that land, he says, there are only gurus, because that will be our vision. Our service attitude would be to serve everyone in this land of service. And we will see that every devotee in that land is greater than us, and serving them will give us full satisfaction. This is also the reason for our perseverance in serving in our own capacity at this very moment; at least the aspiration is there. There is an internal feeling of never-ending yearning to increase our service and it is our natural temperament, the very nature of our soul.
At present, even, the real meaning of seva in this kanistha stage, is to realize that all credit for our service goes to guru, it is not our own achievement. I was personally amazed, while serving Srila Prabhupada, painting for his books, which were distributed widely, to notice that I was not painting the illustrations myself, that it was not possible. Actually my guru was painting them all, because how could I have done anything since often I was not in the highest consciousness. And the artwork still came out satisfactorily under his direction. I was just an instrument that had come to his mission just to give some help.
The ego platform telling us that we are achieving something is soon deflated when we examine the state of our consciousness. We cannot serve proudly, only in the spirit of sharanagati, full surrender and humility. If Chaitanya Mahaprabhu needs us to spread His movement, such as we have seen with stalwart devotees, then we might be empowered to do so. If we are not called to help in this way, we can give a hand and help those most favorite devotees.
Seva is everything in our spiritual life. We can study the scriptures and have some intellectual understanding, but without seva, merely by intellect, we cannot attain the real thing. Even japa has to be performed in a serving attitude for the benefit of just not us but also Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s sankirtana movement. The study of scriptures is important for eradicating our doubts, to connect us to the highest plane of consciousness. It is also a useful tool for preaching purposes. But as soon as our learning becomes a source of pride, we know we are in a dangerous position. The intellect cannot even approach atma, spirit. It may think that, “I have got some understanding”, but it is not possible to touch the soul that way, the mind is there as an effective barrier. On the other hand, service and good service attitude will save us from such a predicament. Guru will usually direct the disciple to a service adapted to his nature, so the disciple becomes satisfied performing his or her service.
The very day we realize that we are surrounded with temporary mortal things, everything will vanish, and we will be free and ready for shuddha-bhakti. All this source of deception is misleading us into taking shelter of the wrong things and Maya means misconception. We are living in the midst of misconception and it would be impossible to develop discrimination without performing seva. Whatever conceptions we have about the environment, all are illusory ideas. It is not the proper conception of anything in the absolute sense; it is all relative and misleading. We are living under the influence of a relative world, selfishly, a vision that has been imposed on our environment, since we are always ensnared by Maya. Seva will gradually and naturally take us to the highest goal of life out of this illusory conception, in a descending process, without any intellectual feats on our part: without imagining some so called meditative relationship with Krishna as some sahajiya groups proclaim. It is good therefore to study the goal of our seva. What is it we want to serve? Where are we going? Srila Sridhara Maharaja says:
The positive meaning of liberation is not only to get out of the negative side, but the attainment in the positive life – self-determination!
This is what he advocates strongly: do not just aim at getting out of Maya, but find your place in Krishna’s service. Again it is not done artificially, by imagining our relationship with Krishna. However, to study the scriptures in order to understand the relationships as described in Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya-charitamrita, by example, is very important as we progress in our service. If we understand the goal, we go in the right direction. If we are intend on going to a big city by crossing a large forest, we can climb the highest tree and orient ourselves by sighting our goal. But if we enter that forest without knowing where we are going, we can wander eternally and aimlessly. Similarly if we understand the goal of our service, with the help of guru, we can orient ourselves. Why are we associating with a particular group of vaishnavas? Why did we take initiation into Srila Bhaktivinoda’s parivara and not with some Sri Vaisnavas by example?
We are followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and He has come to give us the highest goal into the highest service – serving in Goloka-Vrindavana. It is mentioned in the Chaitanya-caritamrita that Krishna is only swayed by prema, not by an awe and reverence serving attitude. If we just offer Krishna a tulasi leaf and some Ganges water with love and devotion, He will give Himself to us in order to reciprocate.
tulasi-dala-matrena jalasya culukena va
vikrinite svam atmanam bhaktebhyo bhakta-vatsala˙
Sri Krishna who is affectionate towards His devotees, sells Himself to a devotee who offers merely a tulasi leaf and a palmful of water.” (Cc. Adi.3.104)
But the fine line in the contract is not just the offering of tulasi and water, it is what the Lord relishes most: love and devotion. In order to develop that love Srila Sridhara Maharaja gives us a clue in what is the proper mentality:
I must serve, I must offer myself to be utilized by Him, and not try to utilize Krishna in my own way to satisfy my lower purpose. Pranipatena pariprashnena sevaya: with the seva-vritti, I shall dedicate myself to Him, not that He will dedicate Himself to satisfy my lower animal purposes. So with this attitude I shall seek the plane of real knowledge and I must have standards from there, what is what, to have a proper estimation of the environment.
Therefore follow your heart and join Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s movement without reservation and serve the devotees. And you need to know where that seva is taking you or at least follow a pure Vaisnava who knows about the goal of life. We did not join the movement of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in order to serve our senses, but rather the senses of the Lord, and by doing so we will be more satisfied than any materialist can ever be. To pray to the Lord for a comfortable life is an absolute waste of time, either being under the spell of karma or under the protection of the Lord, everything will come according to the results of our past activities and the good will of the Lord. What is more important is to serve Krishna in a humble service attitude to the best of our ability in association with shuddha-bhaktas. The only impediment is our doubtful nature and identification with this world of illusion. The deeper we enter into devotional service, the more we understand where our duty lies.