Lord Krishna is known as Adhokshaja, one who cannot be approached through the material senses. But when the senses are employed in His transcendental loving service, the inapproachable Lord manifests Himself before the devotee. Bhakti or devotional service means to render service for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. When a devotee renders such service, the Lord becomes pleased and thus reveals Himself.

The person who renders service or seva is called sevaka and the beneficiary is called sevya. The principle behind rendering any service is to please the sevya. The first class devotional service is defined by Srila Rupa Gosvami as:

 anyabhilashita-sunyam jnana-karmady-anavritam / anukulyena krishnanu-silanam bhaktir uttama

"One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Krishna favorably and without desire for material profit or gain through fruitive activities or philosophical speculation. That is called pure devotional service."

The significant point here is ‘anukulyena krishnanu-silanam: transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Krishna favorably’ because the service is considered as devotional when it is rendered favorably to Lord Krishna. A favorable service has two essential elements:

  1. welfare of the served and
  2. authorization for the service

Without these two the service doesn’t even stand good as a service.

Kamsa, the maternal uncle of Lord Krishna, was constantly thinking of Krishna. Day and night, while eating, walking, sleeping, etc., he meditated upon Krishna but with a motive of killing Him. Even though constantly remembering Krishna is one of the nine bona fide processes of devotional service and it’s a state that is achieved by the yogis after great sadhana, yet Kamsa’s remembrance is not considered devotional service because it was against well being of Krishna.

Despite investing so much of energy and consciousness in Krishna, Kamsa missed out the most desired goal of human life; pleasing Krishna and establishing loving relationship with Him because his action was against the welfare of the Lord.

However, Lord Krishna, being an ocean of compassion, awarded impersonal liberation to him. Thus, consideration of welfare of the sevya forms an essential element of devotional service.

The consideration of welfare alone is not enough. There is another indispensible aspect: authorization. The authorization for a service comes from the sevya or the beneficiary.

Srila Prabhupada elucidates this matter thus, “Don't manufacture your ways of pleasing God. Suppose I want to please you. Then I shall ask you, "How can I serve you?" Not that I manufacture some service. That is not pleasing. Suppose I were to ask a disciple, "My dear student, please give me a glass of water." It is then his duty to give me a glass of water. If he thinks, "Prabhupada wants a glass of water, but why not give him something better? Why not a glass of hot milk?" that is not service. In his consideration, hot milk is very palatable and is better than water, yet because I have asked for water, he has to give me water, not milk. That is favorable service.

If you want to please me, then you should ask me, "How can I please you?" And if you do what I order, that will please me.”  

One’s only desire should be to serve Krishna favorably, as He desires. If Krishna wants something, then we should do it. In order to know what Krishna wants, one has to hear from Him. In conditioned state one cannot directly approach Krishna but when one develops an intimate relationship with Krishna then he can serve Him favorably. Thus, one must take information of what Krishna wants through the transparent medium of the spiritual master.

Acting under the guidance of the spiritual master makes the devotional service bona fide and thus, acceptable to Lord Krishna.

Taking the example of Ashvatthama from Mahabharata one can easily understand the risk of unauthorized service. “When the respective warriors of both camps, namely the Kauravas and the Pandavas, were killed on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra and the dead warriors obtained their deserved destinations, and when the son of Dhritarashtra fell down lamenting, his spine broken, being beaten by the club of Bhimasena, the son of Dronacharya [Ashvatthama] beheaded the five sleeping sons of Draupadi and delivered them as a prize to his master, foolishly thinking that he would be pleased.

Duryodhana, however, disapproved of the heinous act, and he was not pleased in the least.” It is further described in Mahabharata that Duryodhana lay lamenting in pain as there was no one to carry on the family line of the Kurus as all his own brothers were dead. Mourning over this loss, he breathed his last. Seeing his master die in grief rather than in joy, Ashvatthama too became repentant.

By his over-smart actions, Ashvatthama neither pleased his master nor himself. Likewise, an unauthorized service may give temporary sense pleasure of having performed it, but the essential matter of pleasing Krishna and establishing a loving relationship with Him will be lost.

Trying to serve Krishna out of our own whims and fantasies is like repeating the mistake of Ashvatthama, which not only brought about remorse to him but also great displeasure to his master. Without knowing from the Lord if we serve the Lord, then neither will we be pleased nor the Lord.

Without this authorization, the service not only loses its credit of being anukulya or favorable but also becomes a cause of disturbance as stated by Srila Rupa Gosvami:

sruti-smrti-puranadi-pancaratra-vidhim vina
aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatayaiva kalpate

"Devotional service of the Lord that ignores the authorized Vedic literatures like the Upanishads, Puranas and Narada Pancharatra is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society."

A living entity being marginal in nature must dwell either in Krishna or in Maya. There is no other option for him. A Krishna conscious action is called devotional service and a Maya conscious action is called sense gratification. In other words a living entity is either engaged in devotional service or in sense gratification. In order to be engaged in devotional service the principle of anukulyena krishna anusilanam must be followed.

If this principle is missed out then the actions are understood to be inspired by Maya and it is called sense gratification or the actions directed towards one’s pleasure rather than the pleasure of Lord Krishna. Devotional service is not an object of sentiment. Rather, it is systematic procedure to transform the independent self centered living entity into a humble loving servitor of the Supreme Lord.

The fundamental point in devotional service is to direct the living entity to give up independence and align his thoughts and actions with the desires of Lord Krishna. The scriptures, which are the voice of the Supreme Lord, enjoin the means and processes of pleasing Him.

One has to learn from the scriptures the desire of the Lord and for that one must take shelter of bona fide spiritual master. Therefore Lord Krishna advices in the Bhagavad-gita that one should surrender to a bona fide spiritual master, inquire from him and render service unto him, so that one can be guided by the spiritual master in rendering favorable devotional service to Lord Krishna. When one serves Lord Krishna in this way, he not only attracts the attention of the Lord but also gets entry into His eternal abode:

“One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.”

– Bhagavad-gita 18.55