CC Madhya 8.68
rāya kahe, “prema-bhakti — sarva-sādhya-sāra”
At this point, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu replied, “This is all right, but still you can speak more on the subject.”
Rāmānanda Rāya then replied, “Ecstatic love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the essence of all perfection.”
In his Amṛta-pravāha-bhāṣya, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura summarizes the conversation up to this point, where Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu says to Rāmānanda Rāya, eho haya, āge kaha āra: “This is the process accepted in devotional service, but there is something more than this. Therefore please explain what is beyond.” Simply executing the duties of all varṇas and āśramas is not as good as offering all the results of one’s activities to the Lord. When one gives up all fruitive activity and fully surrenders to the Lord, he attains sva-dharma-tyāga, wherein he abandons the social order and takes to the renounced order. That is certainly better. However, better than the renounced order is cultivation of knowledge mixed with devotional service. Yet all these activities are external to the activities of the spiritual world. There is no touch of pure devotional service in them. Pure devotional service cannot be attained by empiric philosophy, nor can perfection be attained simply by good association. Devotional service by self-realization is a different subject matter. It is untouched by fruitive activity, for one surrenders the results of activities to the Lord, abandons prescribed duties and accepts the renounced order of life. Such devotional service is situated on a higher platform than that of empiric philosophical speculation with a mixture of bhakti. This is verified by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.11):
ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu- śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
“One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa favorably and without desire for material profit or gain through fruitive activities or philosophical speculation. That is called pure devotional service.”
Devotional activities, however, sometimes appear to be impure in the neophyte stage, but in the mature stage they are completely pure, or free from material activity. Therefore Rāmānanda Rāya replied after hearing the last statement of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu: prema-bhakti — sarva-sādhya-sāra. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu actually accepted this verse (jñāne prayāsam) as the basic principle of perfection. One has to practice this principle in order to make further progress. When further progress is actually made, one comes to the platform of ecstatic loving service to the Lord. This first stage is technically called sādhana-bhakti, or devotional service in practice. The result of sādhana-bhakti must be ecstatic love, attachment for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, which is also called prema-bhakti. In the neophyte stage, sādhana-bhakti includes faith, association with devotees, and practicing devotional service. Thus one is freed from all unwanted things. One then becomes fixed in devotional service and increases his desire to act in devotional service. Thus one becomes attached to the Lord and His devotional service.