In conversation with His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda
Prabhupāda: A real devotee means, he has no purpose for material gain. That is real devotee. Now we have to see what kind of devotee he is. There are two kinds of devotees: with purpose and without purpose. The “without purpose” devotee is pure devotee, and “with purpose” devotee, is a material devotee. That is distinguished in Bhagavad-gita,
There are pious men and sinful men. Sinful men cannot become devotees. Pious men can become devotees.
These are the definitions. One who is completely free from all sinful activities, can become a pure devotee. So even after becoming free from sinful activities, if one has got some motive, then he is also not a pure devotee. Pure devotee means without any material motive: “God is great. I am His subordinate. I must love God. I must render service to God.” This is pure devotee. And if I go to God, “Please give me my bread,” that is not pure devotee, because he has got some purpose. As soon as his purpose is fulfilled, he may turn non-devotee. Just like one of my German Godbrothers said that in Germany during the last war, Second World War, many women used to go to the church to pray to God to get back their husband, son, or brother. But nobody came back. And they became atheist: “There is no God. We prayed so much, and my father did not come, my brother did not come, my son did not come.” So motivated devotion is sometimes frustrated, and they become atheist. Therefore the devotee who has no motive is pure devotee. “In any condition, it is my duty to love God and to serve Him – not for my benefit but for God’s satisfaction.” That is pure devotee.
This is the definition of pure devotee.
“If God satisfies me in my sense gratification, then I love God. Otherwise I have no connection with Him.”- that is not devotion; that is business. So business-type devotion is not devotion; it may be accepted as a pious activity, but not devotion. Devotion is transcendental to pious and impious activities. Just like Arjuna was thinking that ‘to fight with his cousin-brothers and to kill them’ is impious. But when he understood that ‘Krishna wants this fight,’ he transcended the impious activity, and by the order of Krishna he killed his relatives. Therefore this devotion is above the position of pious and impious activity. Therefore it is called transcendental.
Guest (4): I am not clear on what you’re saying that for someone…
Prabhupāda: It is clear. If you have got some motive and you go to God with motive, then that is not pure devotion.
Guest (4): It is wrong to petition God?
Prabhupāda: No, it is not wrong, but it is not pure devotion.
Guest (4): I see.
Prabhupāda: Some way or other, if you go to God, that is very good. With motive or without motive, you have come to God, that is piety. That is better than to become impious. Impious men, they do not go to God.
[An excerpt from a room conversation in Atlanta, USA, March 1, 1975]