The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in June 1974 during an early-morning walk in Geneva.
Disciple: What does Krishna mean when He says in the Bhagavad-gita that we should be desireless?
Srila Prabhupada: He means that we should desire only to serve Him. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, na dhanam na janam na sundarim kavitam va jagad-isa kamaye: “I don’t want wealth. I don’t want followers. I don’t want beautiful women.” Then what does He want? “I want to serve Krishna.” It is not that He says, “I don’t want this, I don’t want that. Let Me become zero.” No.
Disciple: The nondevotee also says he knows what he wants, but he says, “I can accomplish the same good results without Krishna.”
Srila Prabhupada: Then he is a fool, because he does not know what “good results” really are. Today he is struggling very hard for one “good result,” but tomorrow he’ll desire something else, because he must undergo a change of body when he dies. Sometimes he’s taking the body of a dog and desiring one “good result,” and sometimes he’s taking the body of a demigod and desiring another “good result.” Bhramatam uparyadha˙: he’s wandering up and down the universe, just like . . . what is that?
Disciple: A ferris wheel.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Sometimes he is rising to an elevated position, and then again he must come down and take the body of a dog or hog. This is going on.
brahmanda bhramite kona
"After wandering up and down the universe for many lifetimes, one who is very fortunate comes to devotional life by the mercy of the spiritual master and Krishna.” [Caitanya caritamrta, Madhya 19.151]
Disciple: Well, the non devotee will say, “We are also doing good service. You are distributing food, and we are also distributing food. You are opening schools, and we are also opening schools.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but we are opening schools that teach Krishna consciousness, while your schools are teaching illusion. The problem is that the rascals cannot understand the difference between bhakti [devotional service] and karma [material activity]. Bhakti looks like karma, but it’s not karma. In bhakti we also work, but for Krishna’s sake. That is the difference.
For example, Arjuna fought in the Battle of Kurukshetra, but because he fought for Krishna he is accepted as a great devotee. Krishna told him, bhakto ’si me . . . priyo ’si me: “Arjuna, you are My dear devotee.” What did Arjuna do? He fought, that’s all. But he fought for Krishna. That is the secret. He did not change his fighting capacity as a warrior, but he changed his mentality. At first he was thinking, “Why shall I kill my kinsmen? Let me leave the battlefield and go to the forest and become a mendicant.” But Krishna wanted him to fight, so at last he surrendered and did it as a service for Krishna. Not for his own sense gratification, but for Krishna’s sense gratification.
Disciple: So sense gratification is there even in devotional service?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. A karmi works for his own sense gratification, and a bhakta works for Krishna’s sense gratification. That is the difference between a nondevotee and a devotee. Sense gratification is there in either case, but when you work for your personal sense gratification it is karma, and when you work for Krishna’s sense gratification it is bhakti. Bhakti and karma look similar, but the quality is different.
Another example is the behavior of the gopis [Krishna’s cowherd girlfriends]. Krishna was a beautiful boy and the gopis were attracted to Him. They wanted Him as their lover, and they went out from their homes in the middle of the night to dance with Him. So it appears that they acted sinfully but they did not, because the center was Krishna. Therefore Caitanya Mahaprabhu recommends, ramya kacid upasana vraja-vadhu-vargena ya kalpita: “There is no better mode of worshiping Krishna than that practiced by the gopis.”
But the rascals think, “Oh, this is very good. Krishna danced in the middle of the night with other men’s wives, so let us also gather some girls and dance, and we will also enjoy like Krishna.”
This is a gross misunderstanding of Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis. To prevent this misunderstanding, Srila Vyasadeva has devoted nine cantos of the Bhagavatam to describing Krishna’s position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Then he gives a description of Krishna’s behavior with the gopis. But the rascals jump immediately to the Tenth Canto, to Krishna’s dealings with the gopis. In this way they become sahajiyas [pseudo devotees].
Disciple: Will such persons experience a change of heart, since they’re somehow or other associating with Krishna?
Srila Prabhupada: No. Kamsa also associated with Krishna but as an enemy. That is not bhakti. Bhakti must be anukulyena krishnanu- silanam: favorable devotional service. One should not imitate Krishna or try to kill Him. That is also Krishna consciousness, but it is not favorable and therefore it is not bhakti. Still, the enemies of Krishna get salvation, because they have somehow or other thought of Krishna. They get impersonal liberation, but they are not allowed to enter into the pastimes of Krishna in the spiritual world. That benediction is reserved for those who practice pure loving devotion to Krishna.