There are two kinds of service rendered to the guru. One kind is ordinary and arises out of the consciousness of duty. The other kind is performed by the loving affection of the heart (anurāga), and this service is extraordinary. This is viśrambha-guru-sevā.
One simple sādhaka leaves home, comes in contact with a spiritual master, takes initiation and gradually takes instruction also. He makes progress in bhajana. He offers obeisances to his guru every morning, touches his feet and performs ninefold devotion: hearing (śravaṇam), chanting (kīrtanam), remembering the glories of the Lord (viṣṇu-smaraṇam), serving His lotus feet (pāda-sevanam), worshipping Him (arcanam), praying to Him (vandanam), carrying out His orders (dāsyam), making friends with Him (sakhyam) and offering one’s very self to Him (ātma-nivedanam). These are the nine limbs of bhakti mentioned in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (7.5.23).
There are also five limbs of bhakti mentioned in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta(Madhya
sādhu-saṅga, nāma-kīrtana, bhāgavata-śravaṇa
mathurā-vāsa, śrī-mūrtira śraddhāya sevana
One should associate with devotees, chant the holy name of the Lord, hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, reside in Mathurā-maṇḍala and serve the deity with great faith.
Of all the methods prescribed for performing bhajana, to always chant the holy name of the Lord is topmost. This is expressed in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya-līlā 4.70, 71):
bhajanera madhye śreṣṭha nava-vidhā bhakti
tāra madhye sarva śreṣṭha nāma-saṅkīrtana
Of all the limbs of bhajana, the nine types of devotion are the best, and amongst these nāma-saṅkīrtana is best of all.
So one type of disciple places more emphasis on executing the activities of sādhana and on hearing, chanting and remembering. This is ordinary service to the spiritual master. The second service, which is performed with spontaneous feelings of love, is when the disciple serves the spiritual master first and then chants the holy name and performs other types of sādhana if he finds time after serving his guru. He gives preference to serving the spiritual master rather than to sādhana. This is special and extraordinary service.
yasya deve parā bhaktir
yathā deve tathā gurau
One should have equal devotion for one’s guru as he does for Kṛṣṇa Himself; this is an eternal truth.
In the early stages of sādhana one should have more devotion for the guru than for Bhagavān, because hearing, chanting and so on have sambandha– a relationship with the worshipful object – but in the beginning we really don’t have much of a relationship with Kṛṣṇa or render service directly unto Him. On the other hand, service to the spiritual master bestows all kinds of perfection.
One noteworthy example of service to guru is found among the disciples of Śrī Śaṅkarācārya. This particular disciple, named Giri (later Toṭakācārya), was illiterate. He used to wash his spiritual master’s clothes, cook for him and perform other menial services. Even while Śaṅkarācārya was giving a lecture, Giri would be engaged in the service of his guru, but he tried to hear also. Other disciples considered him to be a fool. One day he went across the river to wash clothes and got delayed. Meanwhile his spiritual master was scheduled to speak, but did not start the lecture. The other disciples, numbering six thousand, asked their gurudeva to start the class. They said:
"Except for that one ignorant disciple, all others are present. And he does not understand anything anyway, so please start the class.”
But Śaṅkarācārya kept waiting for Giri. After finishing his service, Giri came running and sat for class, and began reciting Sanskrit verses that were full of beautiful poetry and metaphors. The others were astonished at his knowledge. Śrī Śaṅkarācārya explained that this was the result of viśrambha-sevā, service rendered unto the spiritual master with intimacy and great love.
There are several such examples of guru-sevā. Govinda dāsa used to serve Śrīman Mahāprabhu with great love and intimacy. He used to tell Svarūpa Dāmodara:
“Why do you come and make Mahāprabhu cry?”
It is not so that he did not understand the dealings of Mahāprabhu; he was not a fool. He understood the deep spiritual emotions (bhāvas) of Mahāprabhu. He could write Sanskritvverses, and he recorded the pastimes of Mahāprabhu in his notebooks, which are known as the kaḍacā, or notes, of Govinda dāsa. These writings were used by Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī in composing his Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.