Because Krsna wants us to enter His elite group of personal associates, He is ever eager to help us develop our love for Him.

Dhruva Maharaja performed austerities to gain a kingdom greater than that of his grandfather, Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe. By the grace of the saint Narada, however, Dhruva received the audience of Lord Visnu. After being touched by the Lord's conch shell, Dhruva offered prayers to the Lord. The last verse of his prayers sums up his previous materialistic attitude and his present devotional one:

My Lord, O Supreme Lord, You are the supreme personified form of all benedictions. Therefore, for one who abides in Your devotional service with no other desire, worshiping Your lotus feet is better than becoming king and lording it over a kingdom. . . . To ignorant devotees like me, You are the causelessly merciful maintainer, just like a cow who takes care of the newly born calf by supplying milk and giving it protection from attack.

Dhruva originally epitomized the type of devotee who approaches the Lord to have his material desires fulfilled. After meeting Lord Visnu, however, Dhruva realized how cheap that material desire was.

I like to study Dhruva Maharaja's prayers because although we have no such great material ambitions our material ambitions extend only to a little insignificant sense gratification we can relate to Dhruva's transformation. We have spent lifetimes thinking ourselves the center of enjoyment. Now we have turned to Krsna consciousness with the hope of freeing ourselves from suffering (material desire) and of coming to pure love of God. Dhruva Maharaja has realized that serving Krsna's lotus feet is much more relishable than the enjoyment of even a hugely opulent kingdom in the material world. So he prays to Visnu as the protector of one on the devotional path, similar to a cow protecting her calf. And what is Visnu protecting the devotee from? From him-self from his own defective nature.

In the first sentence of the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada writes, "Dhruva Maharaja was cognizant of the defective nature of his own devotional service." Even those fortunate enough to come in touch with the Krsna consciousness movement, to hear the message of bhakti, will not automatically be free of mistakes. We are faulty beings, and it takes time before we learn to offer our service in a pure way. Here, Dhruva describes Krsna as being active in our coming to the pure stage.

Unfortunately we don't always value His participation. Often, devotees think that Krsna consciousness is so much a science that everything must happen by our own endeavor. They imagine Krsna at the top of a long line of pure devotees, sharing His pastimes with them and not thinking much of those further down the line. If we are not pure, we may think Krsna cares less for us than for those fully surrendered. We think that the path of bhakti has been scientifically organized and that Krsna remains neutral, waiting for our purity to develop, at which time He will love us more. In the meantime, we try to hoist ourselves up from one stage to another.

Uncompromising Devotion

Of course, the truth is that we are not pure; we are defective. This fact was prominent in Dhruva Maharaja's mind, and he felt a deep regret to see how materially motivated he had been. His regret lasted even beyond his audience with Krsna.

And the truth is that pure devotion is uncompromising: anyabhilasita-sunyam jnana-karmady-anavrtam. We must offer our love without being motivated by karma (material endeavors) or jnana (mental speculation). We must learn to want only Krsna's pleasure.

Neither of these truths that aspiring devotees are not pure and that pure devotion is uncompromising means that Krsna has no mercy toward a devotee before he or she comes to the unmotivated stage. Rather, like a cow, Krsna gives His calves milk and also protects them from danger. Although in the material sense, a cow is herself vulnerable to danger in this world, she is prepared to give her life to protect her calf.

Also, the calf remains completely dependent on the mother. A calf will follow its mother without regard for where she is going. The mother in turn shows even more tender concern for her calf. Krsna exemplifies this tender concern toward His faltering bhaktas.

What makes us so helpless, so dependent on Krsna, is not simply our smallness in the material energy, but the misleading desires within our hearts. Any mother knows that an infant is at risk not only from outside influences but from the child's own nature.

Of course, despite Krsna's tender concern, He will not interfere with the free will of the living entity. To receive His mercy, we must reveal some level of sincerity or inclination toward Him. In Sanatana Gosvami's Brhad- Bhagavatamrta, after Gopa-kumara finally returns to the spiritual world, Krsna embraces him and says, "I'm happy that you have come back. For so long I was awaiting an opportunity to bring you to Me."

Why did Krsna not simply rescue Gopa-kumara from the material world? Because we have free will. Krsna will never take that from us. His liberal attitude is like that of a kind parent: Krsna provides His children space to grow as they will, yet remains loving toward them and prepared to help if they turn to Him. In Bhagavad-gita He says that He provides the intelligence by which we can return to Him. He also says that He provides what we lack and carries what we have, and that He is the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.

Even if these points are still theoretical for us, we should acknowledge the truth of the Lord's intention toward us. We should not refuse Krsna's gestures of protection. If we accept that our service is defective, that our hearts are filled with gross and subtle material desire, and that we are lost without Krsna's guidance, we will better be able to accept that guidance in the form that He gives it. He is always giving it. We can pray to Him to protect us, to help us give up the lower stages of bhakti in favor of the higher forms of surrender, and to clarify our intelligence so that it is filled only with Him.

If our main purpose in life is to attain bhakti, we should trust Krsna to maintain our attempt. Krsna is, after all, "the causelessly merciful maintainer, just like a cow who gives milk and protection from attack."

Real Protection

One of the symptoms of surrender is to know Krsna as the maintainer. In our stage, we often look to the Lord to protect us materially. We shouldn't just look to Krsna to protect our possessions, however. Although Srimad-Bhagavatam provides prayers such as the Narayana-kavaca shield, wherein mantras are chanted over different parts of the body to provide armor against gross and subtle weapons, we are not interested in seeking Krsna's protection so we can survive more comfortably in our material bodies. We see Krsna as the protector of our bhakti. We pray that our bhakti our service to the spiritual master, our attempts to progress in chanting and hearing may not be deviated.

The knowledge we receive from Bhagavad-gita is the sword with which we can slay our doubts. Krsna has also given us His elder brother, Balarama, to help us. It is Balarama who provides us with the strength to wield the heavy sword of knowledge. We will never become materially exhausted, never left without Krsna's mercy in the form of the knowledge He provides us. Any advancement in Krsna consciousness is Krsna's gift to us.

We need to trust in that. The material world is full of jivas trying to enjoy. As Ksirodaksayi Visnu, Krsna maintains all of them. How much more will He maintain His devotees! The materially engrossed jivas receive His maintenance through the neutral auspices of the Supersoul, who guides their wanderings according to their karmic activities and desires. Krsna Himself personally attends to the relatively small group of souls who are interested in His direct love and protection.

Krsna's Elite Group

In this regard, Prabhupada once commented that devotees have monopolized devotional service. They have cornered the market with their love. Still, the bhakti market is open to any who wish to pursue it. As soon as a jiva understands that Krsna is the maintainer of the attempt to approach Him, He welcomes that jiva into His elite group.

When we relate to Krsna personally in this way, we receive His heart. This is Krsna's real nature: His desire to reciprocate with His devotees (bhakta-vatsala). Because He is responsible, He maintains all living entities, although He does it through His expansions and energies. But because He is bhakta-vatsala, He offers Himself to His devotees. Therefore, devotional service is rarely achieved.

But anyone who wants to try for devotional service can gain entrance. Despite their faults, Krsna will help those who want to enter. He wants His elite group to expand. He wants us to take to devotional service for our own sake. Why shouldn't He help us?

Of course, material attachment may mean we don't value the form in which His protection comes, just as a calf may not always appreciate the mother's insistence on a certain path. Still, Krsna protects us.

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, one of Srila Prabhupada's first disciples, is a former editor of BTG and the author of many books on Krsna consciousness, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.