Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī wrote the stages in the development of bhakti as follows:
ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-saṅgo ’tha bhajana-kriyā
tato ’nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt tato niṣṭhā rucis tataḥ
athāsaktis tato bhāvas tataḥ premābhyudañcati
sādhakānām ayaṁ premṇaḥ prādurbhāve bhavet kramaḥ
Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Pūrva 4.25-26
First there is śraddhā, faith. Then there is the association of sādhus, followed by the eradication of anarthas (unwanted desires), which happens through engagement in bhajana. Afterwards comes niṣṭhā, ruci, āsakti, and bhāva. Anartha–nivṛtti occurs by performance of bhajana-kriyā, the process of devotional absorption, and then niṣṭhā, firm faith, arises. All types of inauspicious things, like sins and offenses will be eradicated by bhajana-kriyā. If the jīva is not engaged in bhajana-kriyā, then anarthas will not leave. If you serve the eternal bhāgavatas, the Vraja-devīs, you will automatically attain their nature and qualities. When this occurs, you will lose all material desires.
One stormy night, a sādhu took shelter of a little shed inside a marketplace. When the rainfall lessened, he saw four people carrying a dead body. The sādhu heard the voice of a lady speaking with her daughter, coming from the story above of the building next to him. She told her daughter, “Please go and check if this dead person will go to hell or to heaven.” The daughter, who was about eight years old, went to see the dead person and when she returned, she said to her mother, “Oh mother, this person will go down to the hellish planets.”
A little later, when the rain stopped entirely, another dead body was being carried away on the same path. Again the mother requested her daughter to check if that person would go to hell or to heaven. When the daughter returned, she said, “Mother, this person will go to Vaikuṇṭha.”
Seeing this, the sādhu thought, “I am always doing tapa and japa, but I don’t have any realization. One small girl has more realization than me. I will go offer obeisance to her, and ask her how she knows everything and who has taught her. The sādhu went upstairs to find the girl, but when he arrived there, the mother said, “Why have you come here? This is not your place. I am a fallen soul who sells her body to other people to sustain my maintenance.”
The sādhu said, “No, no. I did not come here for any business. I have a question. Merely by looking at a dead body, your small daughter can discriminate whether he will go to hell, heaven, or Vaikuṇṭha. How does she do this?”
The mother called her daughter who then said, “You try to determine this for yourself. Go and investigate about these persons who have died, and tell me if my statements about them are true or not.”
The sādhu went to the cremation ground where he again saw the four persons who had just brought the dead body. Apart from them, nobody else was there. These four villagers told the sādhu, “Today everybody is very happy about this person’s death. Throughout his whole life, he disturbed everybody by fighting with them and making court cases against them. And if others fought with each other, he told everybody about it and made politics against both parties.
Therefore, all are very happy about his death. Moreover, when he was about to die, he sent us, his four sons, to gather all the villagers, and when they arrived, he begged them all for forgiveness. Although he killed many people and disturbed everybody, all the villagers forgave him. Our dying father then told the villagers that he had one request.
He said, ‘After I leave my body, you should push a large bamboo stick inside the back of my body and then put this bamboo stick in a hole in the middle of the main square of the village, so that it stands up and I will sit on top of it. Then all the eagles will eat me and I will get liberation.’
Separately he told us four sons that the police will give us one lakh rupees each if we go to them and complain about the villagers putting his dead body on top of a bamboo stick in the middle of the square. The villagers followed his request and so did we, and when the police came, they beat, arrested, and punished the villagers, and took a lot of money from the villagers to give us. He disturbed everybody throughout his life and even after his death. Now we four sons brought him here to the cremation ground and nobody else came.”
After his discussion with the four sons of the deceased sinful person, the sādhu saw the other dead body arriving at the cremation ground and asked his carriers about him. They said, “He helped everybody throughout his entire life and even when he was about to leave his body, he was still protecting and blessing us.”
The sādhu went back to the girl and told her everything. A person who practices humility, compassion, and faithfulness in his life will live happily. He will get the blessings of everyone. Someone who is sinful, harmful to other living entities, and cultivates asat-saṅga during his life, however, will suffer in this life and the next. Some people die and they cannot find anyone who is willing to help carry the dead body to the cremation grounds. Why are there such different responses depending on who has died?
Sat-saṅga and bhāgavata–sevā will automatically give good results. But one who is antagonistic to Bhagavān and the devotees will only suffer. After his death, the body of such a person will become rotten and full of worms, and people will feel themselves very fortunate to be rid of him. To be completely happy, we must take shelter of the bhāgavatas and perform nityam-bhāgavata-sevāya.
The Vraja-devīs are the greatest bhāgavatas. Without the moods of the Vraja-devīs, you cannot achieve realization of Kṛṣṇa in Vraja. Kṛṣṇa is not happy with the Dvārakā queens or when He is in Mathurā, but Kṛṣṇa is very pleased when He is near the gopīs. How does one attain the mood of the gopīs? The first stage is to be a brahmacārī. When one is prepared for sannyāsa, at that time he gets entrance into the process of attaining gopī-bhāva. Who will get this bhāva? We must renounce everything and engage cent-per-cent in the service of Kṛṣṇa.
prabhu kahe sādhu ei bhikṣuka-vacana
mukunda sevanavrata kaila nirdhāraṇa
mukunda-sevāya haya saṁsāra-tāraṇa
seī veśa kaila ebe vṛndāvana giyā
kṛṣṇa-niṣevana kari nibhṛte vasiyā
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 3.7.9
Why take sannyāsa? It enables the sādhaka to give up everything and go to Vṛndāvana where he can solely engage in solitary service to Mukunda.
yā dustyajaṁ sva-janam ārya-pathaṁ ca hitvā
bhejur mukunda-padavīṁ śrutibhir vimṛgyām
The gopīs renounced everything for Kṛṣṇa’s service. They are fearless, and only desire is to serve. By cultivating the mood of being the servant of the Vraja-devīs, we can in due course achieve gopī-bhāva. Without this bhāva, it is not possible to realize anything beyond the fourth śloka of Śikṣāṣṭakam. And without taking real sannyāsa, you cannot gain entrance into Vṛndāvana.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu Himself took sannyāsa, showing the world by His example. The Vraja-gopīs took sannyāsa at the time of Katyāyāni-vrata. Without having this mood of the gopīs, the sādhaka cannot understand vraja–bhakti. Gopī-bhāva vīṇā na paya kṛṣṇa ke. Any other mood cannot control Kṛṣṇa. But how can this mood come? This mood is very elevated. It will come by nityam–bhāgavata–sevaya, one-pointed service to Śrī Guru-pāda-padma and Mahāprabhu.
Therefore, we pray in this verse: “Oh Jagadīśa, I do not want to disturb You for the fulfillment of worldly desires. My only desire is to continuously chant Your holy name, kīrtanayaḥ sadā hariḥ. However, when You are pleased with the devotees who perform saṅkīrtana, you bestow wealth, followers, friends, and family. I have no desire for these things. I will not accept them. If I accept them, I will distance myself from You. I will be connected to whatever I accept. In this way I will have lost everything.”
First, the sādhaka develops some faith in Kṛṣṇa and the Vaiṣṇavas, and thus he starts to continuously listen to the glories of Kṛṣṇa from the mahā-bhāgavata Vaiṣṇavas. If the sādhaka accepts material possessions from guru and does not follow this process of akiñcana-bhakti, rather distancing himself from his Gurudeva, his sādhana will be incomplete and will never bear fruit. A newly planted mango tree will take four or five years until the first mangoes grow.
Everything requires time. One who has a little faith and respect to Guru and Vaiṣṇavas continuously hears hari-kathā from his Gurudeva. This hari-kathā nourishes the soul and makes it strong. But due to foolishness, the sādhaka sometimes mistakes unfavorable things as helpful, which he accepts and then takes them far away from Guru and Vaiṣṇavas.
This fourth verse teaches the sādhaka how to make a relationship with Hari, Guru, and Vaiṣṇavas. How does one attain svarūpa-siddhi? If the sādhaka performs bhajana and tries to obtain the fruit prematurely, he loses everything.
Therefore, this verse teaches that if the sādhaka has a little faith and respect, he renounces dana and jana and continuously listens to hari-kathā from his Gurudeva. To enable one to follow this, in all the different ages, there is always the institution known as a Gurukula. There, Śrī Guru, who comes in the śrautavāṇī–paramparā, lineage of realized knowledge, passed down from guru to disciple through aural reception, gives classes every day to his disciples.
Janaka Ṛṣi used to frequently invite many ṛṣis, maharṣis, and rājarṣis to his residence in Janaka Purī for discourses on the glories of the Lord. Jīva Gosvāmī wrote in his Gopāla Campu that every day Snigdhakānta and Madhukānta distribute the glories of Kṛṣṇa and Vraja-bhūmi for three hours in Vraja. Nanda Bābā, Yaśodā Mātā, Śrīmatī Rādhārānī, all the sakhās and sakhīs, and even Kṛṣṇa Himself come to hear these narrations. They alternate daily, with Snigdhakānta speaking one day and Madhukānta the next.
If you neglect hari-kathā, and instead accept other things, then these will not help you establish a relation with Hari, Guru, and Vaiṣṇavas. The hearts of the Vaiṣṇavas contain a tendency to serve as well as realizations of the glories of the Lord. They distribute this through their hari-kathā.
tasmin mahan-mukharitā madhubhic-caritra-
pīyūṣa-śeṣa-saritaḥ paritaḥ sravanti
tā ye pibanty avitṛṣo nṛpa gāḍha-karṇais
tān na spṛśanty aśana-tṛḍ-bhaya-śoka-mohāḥ
My dear king, in the place where pure devotees live, following the rules and regulations and thus purely conscious and engaged with great eagerness in hearing and chanting the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in that place if one gets a chance to hear their constant flow of nectar, which is exactly like the waves of a river, one will forget the necessities of life—namely hunger and thirst—and become immune to all kinds of fear, lamentation, and illusion.
[CC-by-NDNC Bhakta Bandhav]