Śrīla Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj explains the general attitude of a progressive practitioner.
The middle stage for devotees is very nice.
tat te ’nukampāṁ susamīkṣamāṇo
bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam
hṛd-vāg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jīveta yo mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 10.14.8)
[“One who sees Your mercy perfectly, endures the reactions to one’s past actions, and lives in submission to You with one’s mind, body, and words is an heir to liberation—Your eternal service.”]
I must think that what is coming to me is good: it is the mercy of the Lord. In the middle stage, the devotees should think this way. “What is coming to me, is coming from above. So, I must tolerate it. Good or bad, whatever it may be, it is good for me.”
During my childhood, when we were learning our ABCs, we first had to write in our notebooks, “Bhagavān maṅgalamaya: God is good.” Then we would write letters or do our lessons. So, from my childhood I understood this, “God is good.” To have faith in God is good, but it is necessary to feel that God is good. Nothing can happen without the consent of the Lord. This is higher consciousness, and in this way our knowledge will become firm. Overall, when we can see, “Yes, everything is coming from Kṛṣṇa, and everything belongs to Kṛṣṇa” then we must feel we are liberated from mundanity. This is the consciousness of a liberated soul.
There are different opinions about liberation. Some say liberation is tripuṭi-vināś: knowledge (jñāna), the knowable (jñeya), and the knower (jñātā) are all demolished. This is called jñāna-mukti, but it is not real liberation.
muktir hitvānyathā rūpaṁ svarūpeṇa vyavasthitiḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 2.10.6)
[“Liberation means leaving all other forms and existing purely in one’s true form.”]
Real liberation is when our thinking, feeling, and willing all merge at one point and after that get an extension. Jñāna-mukti is the meeting point of these three lines, and real mukti is the extension of these lines into the transcendental service world. There we have everything, and we have beautiful service to our Lord. The form of our thinking, feeling, and willing is all transcendental there. The soul has a transcendental form. So, it can never be destroyed. In Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā (2.24), it is said,
nityaḥ sarva-gataḥ sthāṇur achalo ’yaṁ sanātanaḥ
[“The soul is eternal, all-pervading, still, immovable, and everlasting.”]
Sanātanaḥ means that the soul can never be destroyed; it is eternal. The soul, as an eternal and moveable form, will do something, and in the transcendental world only service to the Lord is waiting for the soul. And the nature of service is that service gives more service. Service is called bhakti. Bhaj dhātu sevayā: The word bhakti comes from the root bhaj which means sevā: service. Bhakti has different stages, and in them we find different relationships with the our Lord. Śrīla Guru Mahārāj would say, “Reality the beautiful”, and when we serve that beautiful Reality—the Supreme Lord—we will get that kind of quality and qualification.
Spoken 5 May 1996.