mukhyatas tu mahat-kṛpayaiva bhagavat-kṛpā-leśād vā
mukhyataḥ — primarily; tu — but; mahat — of great souls; kṛpayā — by the mercy; eva — indeed; bhagavat — of the Supreme Lord; kṛpā — of the mercy; leśāt — by a trace; vā — or.
Primarily, however, one develops bhakti by the mercy of great souls, or by a small drop of the Lord’s mercy.
Nārada has outlined the main practices for a devotee-in-training (sādhaka). Now he emphasizes that the devotee cannot succeed simply on the strength of his own endeavor, but only when he receives the mercy of Kṛṣṇa’s representative or a drop of the Lord’s direct mercy.
Unless one seeks out the association of a sādhu, bhakti will remain distant. But who is a sādhu? Śrīla Prabhupāda explains:
A sādhu is not just an ordinary man with a saffron robe or long beard. A sādhu is described in Bhagavad-gītā as one who unflinchingly engages in devotional service. Even though one is found not to be following the strict rules and regulations of devotional service, if one simply has unflinching faith in Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Person, he is understood to be a sādhu. … If one associates with a sādhu, the result will be that the sādhu will teach him how to become a devotee, a worshiper and sincere servitor of the Lord. These are the gifts of a sādhu. [SB 3.25.20, purport]
The Caitanya-caritāmṛta and the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu state that the acceptance of a spiritual master is absolutely essential for advancement in devotional service. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes:
Without the attentive service of his parents, a child cannot grow to manhood; similarly, without the care of the spiritual master one cannot rise to the plane of transcendental service…. One should always remember that a person who is reluctant to accept a spiritual master and be initiated is sure to be baffled in his endeavor to go back to Godhead. [Cc. Ādi 1.46, purport, and 1.35, purport]
And so by the grace of the spiritual masters, all the aforementioned practices taught by Nārada—the chanting and hearing of the holy names, avoiding sense gratification, and so on—will come naturally to one who serves and inquires from devotees.
Conditioned souls are brought to the path of bhakti by the help of the Vaiṣṇavas, and also by the direct guidance of the Supreme Lord. Hariṁ vinā naiva sṛtiṁ taranti: “Without the blessings of Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one cannot stop the continuous chain of birth and death within this material world.” Lord Kṛṣṇa, as the Supersoul within everyone’s heart, directly gives us guidance. When a soul cries out for spiritual guidance, the Lord as the caitya-guru, or the spiritual master in the heart, gives direct inspiration. Kṛṣṇa states,
teṣām evānukampārtham aham ajñāna-jaṁ tamaḥ
nāśayāmy ātma-bhāva-stho jñāna-dīpena bhāsvatā
“To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance” (Bg. 10.11).
In the purport to the previous verse (Bg. 10.10), Śrīla Prabhupāda explains, “A person may have a bona fide spiritual master and may be attached to a spiritual organization, but still, if he is not intelligent enough to make progress, then Kṛṣṇa from within gives him instructions so that he may ultimately come to Him without difficulty.”
The Lord’s mercy is therefore available both in the form of the instructing spiritual masters and the Supersoul within the heart. The appearance of the spiritual master within the life of the conditioned soul is the direct mercy of the Lord. Prabhupāda writes that “the great sage Śukadeva Gosvāmī was certainly inspired by Lord Kṛṣṇa to appear voluntarily before Mahārāja Parīkṣit, the great devotee of the Lord, just to give him the teachings of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam” (SB 1.19.36).
It is truly a sign of the Lord’s mercy when one meets His pure representative, the bona fide spiritual master. But how effective this mercy is depends on one’s sincerity. As soon as the Lord finds that a soul has developed eagerness to go back to Godhead, the Lord sends a bona fide spiritual master, and if one takes full advantage of the instructions of such a spiritual master, one is guaranteed success. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “The conclusion is that to get the… help of a bona fide spiritual master means to receive the direct help of the Lord Himself” (SB 1.19.36, purport; italics in original).
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