If we want to achieve spiritual love or priti, we must know what it means so we don’t try for something we don’t really want.
Jiva Gosvami, who always bases his philosophy on shastra, defines priti in Priti Sandarbha, Text 61. First he quotes a verse from Vishnu Purana 1.20.19 in which Prahlad Maharaja speaks about the defining characteristics by atidesha (comparison):
“My Lord, that priti which men who lack discrimination have in the sense objects, a similar priti should not leave my heart while I remember you.”
From this verse Jiva Gosvami extracts the meaning of priti as something unending and undiminishing. People in the material world never give up the hankering for sense pleasure. Without any training, that desire always exists in their minds. It is never taken away from their hearts. Therefore they never renounce sense pleasure, and they never give up that desire. It is like the flow of a river.
Prahlad is praying that just as their priti is unending, my priti should also be unending. So the atidesha is material love. The word used for both material and spiritual love is the same, but they should not be confused with each other. The definition is similar, but we must understand the difference. The first priti is a manifestation of maya, the external energy of the Lord. Thus it is under the jurisdiction of the three gunas of nature - rajas, sattva and tamas. It keeps on changing because the gunas fluctuate. The second, which Prahlad begs for, is a manifestation of the Lord’s internal potency. It is transcendental and conscious. Just as material priti always takes us towards insentient material objects, the spiritual priti, which is the svarupa shakti of the Lord, will always take us towards Him. These two cannot stay together.
The first, maya-shakti vritti, is like darkness, and the second, svarupa-shakti vritti, is like light. The former is self-centered, the latter is other-centered; it is called bhagavat-priti, because it is centered around the Supreme Lord, Bhagavan.