The next statement is from the Itihasa-Samuccaya :
If one wants God’s mercy, he must first serve his devotees. Only this will satisfy the Lord; of this there is no doubt.
The following verse, from the Pausayana-Sruti, is quoted in Srila Madhvacarya’s commentary on the Brahma-Sutra :
Worship the devotees, serve them, hear from them, and they will protect you.
The Mundaka-Upanisad states:
If you want the real treasure of liberation you must serve the Lord’s pure devotee.
In his Govinda-Bhasya commentary, Baladeva Vidyabhusana quotes Srimad-Bhagavatam :
jnane prayasam-udapasya namanta eva
jivanti sanmukharitam bhavadlya-vartam
sthane sthitah sruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhir
ye prayas’o ‘jita jito’py asi tais tri-lokyam
Brahma prayed to Krishna,
My dear Lord, those who have given up abstract thinking and armchair philosophizing, start hearing about you from devotees and begin divine service with their body, mind, and words. Although you are unconquerable and rarely attained, you are conquered by them.
In the Padma Purana, Shiva says to his wife Parvati:
O Goddess, higher than the worship of all the gods and goddesses is the worship of the Supreme Lord Vishnu. But higher still is the worship of everyone and everything that is dear to Him, including Ganga devi, Tulasi devi, the book Bhagavata and the devotee Bhagavata.
Vrndavana dasa cautions us against seeing Vaishnavas externally. Such superficial vision is condemned:
In order to teach us the absurdity of judging devotees externally according to race, color, family, or other considerations, the Supreme Lord arranged for Haridasa Thakura to take birth in the lowest section of society. All the scriptures emphasize that if a pure devotee appears even in the lowest social circumstances, he is still to be worshipped by everyone.
A Vaishnava may appear in any family or section of society, yet he is still the most elevated person by the decree of the scriptures.
God is the protector of all living entities, and he cannot tolerate insults and disrespect shown to his devotees. Extremely mindful of his dear devotee’s well-being, he refuses to accept any worship from those who slight them. The Lord loves his devotees so much that he not only accepts food and gifts from them, but sometimes he even steals their offerings! Whereas he is repulsed by offerings from a non-devotees.
In one pastime, Krishna was very eager to eat plain chipped rice cooked by Vidura’s wife, and ignored a royal feast set by Duryodhana. Similarly the Lord could not resist eating the few morsels of flat rice offered by Sudama. He told him:
O Brahmin! What wonderful things have you brought for me from your home? Even a small offering from a devotee is a grand feast for me, whereas a non devotee’s feast cannot satisfy me in the least. Anything offered to me with love, I accept with love.
Sriman Mahaprabhu quotes from the Itihasa Samuccaya, recorded by Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja:
A person may learn all the Vedas, but if he has no devotion, how can he be my devotee? Whereas if a person born into the lowest section of society has devotion, he is very dear to me. All respect must be given to such an elevated soul. His offerings must be accepted by all, for he is as much worthy of worship as I am.
Mahaprabhu also quotes Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya:
A Brahmin’s sins are burnt to ashes by the powerful fire of krsna-bhakti. Whereas if a Vedic scholar is an atheist, he is derided. Anyone devoid of devotion may take birth in a great family or nation, have extensive knowledge of the scriptures, perform austerities, or chant Vedic mantras, but such things are like ornaments on a dead body. Only fools will be impressed.
When Mahaprabhu went to embrace Haridasa Thakura, with all humility Haridasa said to him:
My dear Lord, please do not touch me. I am most fallen, the lowest of men. Mahaprabhu replied: I want to touch you just to purify myself. You are so pure, it is as if at every moment you are bathing in all the sacred rivers, visiting all the holy places of pilgrimage, and performing every sacrifice, austerity, and charity imaginable. You are more exalted than any Brahmin or sannyasi.
The Lord then recited this sloka from the Srimad Bhagavatam:
One who always chants your Holy Name, even though born in the worst circumstances, is a saint. We can understand that he must have performed all austerities and sacrifices, bathed in all the holy rivers, and mastered the Vedas. Therefore he is a true Aryan (one who is pure).
In the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda, it is declared:
When a person is admitted into Vishnu’s family, he is called a Vaishnava. It has been said that of all people, the Vaishnava is certainly the most exalted.
The Dvaraka-Mahatmya states:
A person who is devoted to Janardana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is a saint even if he is born into a low-class family; whereas if a person is born into an aristocratic family of noble lineage and is not a devotee of the Lord, he is of bad blood.
Any association with non-Vaishnavas or with Brahmins who lack devotion is categorically denounced. The Padma Purana states:
The association of meat-eaters is strictly prohibited because their lifestyle goes against scriptural regulations; in the same manner, contact with a non-Vaishnava Brahmin must be avoided. Whereas a Vaishnava-one who is initiated and who is affectionate to the Lord and his devotees–even if born into a low-class family, is capable of purifying all three worlds.
Vrndavana dasa says that intimate association with non-Vaishnavas, regardless of their parentage, is suicidal. According to the Padma Purana, the characteristics of a Vaishnava are as follows:
One who is dedicated to worshipping Vishnu, who has received initiation into a Vishnu-mantra, is classified as a Vaishnava by spiritual preceptors; all others are non-Vaishnavas.” (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 1.55)
Those who are simply born into a Brahmin family but are non-Vaishnavas, and who are inimical towards Vishnu and Vaishnavas, are condemned. Vrndavana dasa cries out against these namesake Brahmins, citing the Varaha Purana:
In Kali-yuga, demons will be born in smarta Brahmin families to harass and torture the righteous devotees of the Lord. The demons choose Kali-yuga to be born in, so they can torment those rare persons who adhere to the path enunciated by the Vedas (sruti ). They viciously attempt to disrupt the devotee’s service to the Supreme Lord.
These Brahmin impostors view Vaishnavas who have a bad background with contempt. They scoff at their spiritual practices, or when they see them receive honor and respect, they vainly try to expose the Vaishnava’s background, and other mundane trivialities. The Brhad Aranyaka Sruti describes them, saying:
One who leaves the world fully understanding the Absolute Truth is honored as a Brahmin, but one who does not has wasted his life.
According to Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja, not only should one not consider the form of God to be mundane, but the same is true of his devotees.As written by Srila Krishna-Dvaipayana Vyasadeva, the author of Srimad-Bhagavatam:
There is no greater blasphemy than to think that the body of Vishnu is material. And Mahaprabhu says: The Vaishnava’s body is never mundane; it is supramundane, and supercharged with ecstasy. (Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 7.155, Antya-lila 4.191)
The use of the term atmasama does not imply that pure devotees are equal to the Supreme Lord in every respect. The Supreme Lord is the only one who possesses transcendental qualities to an infinite degree. The jiva can only possess these qualities to a finite degree.
Mahaprabhu says: “The finite and the Infinite can never be considered equal, just as a tiny spark is never equal to a fire.” The following verse is found in theBhagavat Sandarbha and also in Sridhara Swami’s commentary to the Srimad-Bhagavatam:
The Supreme Lord is the embodiment of eternality, knowledge, and bliss. Two of his multifarious spiritual energies are: hladini-sakti, the pleasure-giving potency, and samvit, perfect knowledge of the self and all other things, while the jivas are cocooned in ignorance, and deeply anchored in suffering.
Only by taking complete shelter of Sri Radhika and her serving group, the hladini sakti, can we realize our innate spiritual identity and service to the holy lotus feet of Sri Guru, Gauranga, and Krishna. Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja explains further why a pure Vaishnava’s body is aprakrta, or supramundane:
At the time of diksa (initiation), the devotee surrenders to Krishna with body and soul. In reciprocation, Krishna accepts him, elevating him, body and soul, to a status equal to his own. The Lord transforms the Vaishnava’s body and makes it a repository of transcendental emotions.” (Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila 8. 192-193)
He then quotes the Srimad-Bhagavatam:
When people reject materialism and conduct their lives under my direction, they attain immortality. They become eligible to be with me and share spiritual emotions (rasa ) with me in their spiritual identity.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.29.34)
But what is meant by surrender, Srila Saraswati Prabhupada writes in his Anubhasya commentary:
Although one who has completely renounced the world (akincana ) and one who is completely sheltered in Krishna (saranagatah ) may appear to be the same externally, the devotee who has given up the world has also offered his soul. At the time of initiation, the devotee gives up material conceptions while he begins to understand sambandha-jnana, one’s eternal relationship with God and those who are part of the family of God. When the devotee gives up the shelter of maya, he takes shelter of Krishna and is Krishnized. At this stage, the devotee’s delusion as enjoyer of material pleasures dissipates, and his real self merges with his new identity as an eternal servant of Krishna. The devotee attains his spiritual body (sac cid ananda svarupa )and his eternal service to Krishna, serving him in his own transcendental form. The pure devotee’s ecstatic service is an elevated stage of devotion which is often misinterpreted and misunderstood by those unacquainted with the science of devotion. For this kind of aparadha one is deprived of the shelter of a Vaishnava guru.” (Anubhasya, Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya 4.193)
Mahaprabhu taught everyone that a Vaishnava’s transcendental body is unlike that of an ordinary person, or even an extraordinary person. The Lord did not view personalities like Haridasa Thakura, who took birth in a low-class family, or Sanatana Goswaml, whose body was diseased, or Vasudeva Vipra, who was suffering from acute leprosy, as social outcasts or disease ridden beggars. Instead he embraced them, proving that a pure devotee’s body is never impure. The pure devotee’s body is transcendental, infused with spiritual bliss, and best suited to serve Krishna. As the Lord himself says:
The worship of my devotees is the real worship of me. In fact it is higher than worshipping my very self. (Bhag. 11.19.21)
My dear devotees, please read and listen carefully to the divine stories and instructions that follow, and pray to the Supreme Lord and his devotees-the Vaishnavas-that we may always worship and adore them, and thereby enter The Heart of Krishna.