As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh: Lord Shiva is the greatest Vaishnava, and why he is so is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is considered the ripened fruit of the tree of Vedic scriptures. The glories of Lord Shiva are described in many Bhagavatam chapters, and if we were to discuss all of them, it would take many days. So we are just going to focus on one verse from one chapter of one series of chapters about the glories of Lord Shiva as the greatest Vaishnava. Leading up to where we are in today’s verse, the Pracetas, who were all royal princes, had been doing severe austerities when Lord Shiva came to them to offer them some benediction. And the benediction they requested was to approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vishnu. So Lord Shiva was very pleased with their request. They did not ask him for some material boon; they asked for the highest purpose of life, which is eternal service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, which takes one beyond the material world of birth, death, disease, and old age.
In this verse, 30, Lord Shiva expresses his appreciation for the Pracetas as Vaishnavas, devotees of Lord Vishnu, and he also explains why Vaishnavas appreciate him.
atha bhagavata yuyam
priyah stha bhagavan yatha
na mad bhagavatanam ca
preyan anyo ’sti karhicit
You are all devotees of the Lord, and as such I appreciate that you are as respectable as the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. I know in this way that the devotees also respect me and that I am dear to them. Thus no one can be as dear to the devotees as I am.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
It is said, vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh: Lord Siva is the best of all devotees. Therefore all devotees of Lord Krishna are also devotees of Lord Siva.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
In the Padma Purana, Lord Shiva tells his wife, aradhananam sarvesam visnor aradhanam param: Of all types of worship, the worship of Vishnu is the highest. Tasmat parataram devi tadiyanam samarcanam: but even higher than the worship of Vishnu is the worship of Vishnu’s devotees. So, in that context we worship devotees, we worship the spiritual master, and we worship Vaishnavas, including Lord Shiva.
Lord Shiva has another aspect, which is of a demigod, a deva, whom people approach for material boons, like they approach Ganesh, Durga, and others. But we are not discussing Shiva in that inferior aspect—it is the same Shiva, but he plays the part of a demigod for those whose intelligence is a little bewildered or small.
In Vrndavana there is Lord Siva’s temple called Gopisvara. The gopis used to worship not only Lord Siva but Katyayani, or Durga, as well, but their aim was to attain the favor of Lord Krsna. A devotee of Lord Krsna does not disrespect Lord Siva, but worships Lord Siva as the most exalted devotee of Lord Krsna. Consequently whenever a devotee worships Lord Siva, he prays to Lord Siva to achieve the favor of Krsna, and he does not request material profit. In the Bhagavad-gita (7.20) it is said that generally people worship demigods for some material profit. Kamais tais tair hrta jnanah. Driven by material lust, they worship demigods, but a devotee never does so, for he is never driven by material lust. That is the difference between a devotee’s respect for Lord Siva and an asura’s respect for him.
Asura means “demon.”
The asura worships Lord Siva, takes some benediction from him, misuses the benediction, and ultimately is killed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who awards him liberation.
One example is Ravana. Ravana was a devotee of Shiva, and by the blessings of Lord Shiva he attained immense wealth and power, but he became so maddened with material desires and so intoxicated by his material opulence that he dared to kidnap Mother Sita, and in the end he was killed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the form of Lord Ramachandra.
So, we should be very careful not to approach Lord Shiva for material benefit, which is actually demonic. It is demonic because it means that we want to take God’s property—everything is God’s property—and enjoy it for ourselves, in competition with God. Sita is Lakshmi, and Lakshmi is meant to be engaged in the service of Narayana. Demons like Ravana want to take Lakshmi from Narayana and exploit her for their own sense gratification. So, we don’t want to be like Ravana, but rather, we want to be like Hanuman, who rescued Lakshmi (Sita) from the clutches of Ravana and returned her to Rama.