By Purushottama Nitai Dasa
Keeping company with devotees of Lord Krishna guarantees a safe and secure journey back to Him.
Srila Prabhupada many times repeats the importance of association, and he even declares that success in spiritual life depends mostly on the company we keep. Association creates a strong and lasting impression in our life. Association being contagious, we unknowingly inherit the qualities of the people we spend time with. And this is why all spiritual seekers are advised to keep company with devotees who are very sincere in their devotional pursuit.
Association assures us that we aren’t alone in the spiritual journey; our fellow travelers’ warmth and comfort make us always feel protected. The material club of the Lord continuously reminds us that in this world it is hard to be materially happy, yet simultaneously, ephemeral allurements entice us to look for sensual pleasures. But if we choose to be led and guided by senior practitioners and associate with likeminded seekers who care for us and make us feel wanted, then the goal of achieving love for Krishna, which may look daunting in the beginning, can ultimately be realized.
For a child, achieving the affection of a selfless father is simple; the child just needs to reciprocate with the father’s love. Similarly, being our original loving and caring father, Krishna is always ready and willing to reciprocate with us; we just need to take a sincere step towards Him.
To develop deep attachment for Krishna, we need to get attached to those who are very much attached to Him. An iron rod put into fire acquires the qualities of fire after a while; similarly if we remain in the association of Krishna’s lovers, our heart will eventually get flooded with love for Krishna.
Protecting Our Spiritual Life
While looking for the company of sincere souls, we need to give up the company of those whose association can drag us away from Krishna. In a nondevotional environment our old bad habits can crop up anytime, or we may not find enough enthusiasm to sustain our devotional desire.
In The Nectar of Instruction, Rupa Goswami warns that “associating with worldly-minded persons who are not interested in Krishna consciousness” will spoil our spiritual life. Lord Chaitanya says, asat-sanga-tyaga,—ei vaishnava-acara: Characteristically, a Vaishnava is one who gives up the association of worldly people, or nondevotees.
Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura has advised that one should always live in the association of those who are sincerely practicing devotional life and following the footsteps of previous acharyas – tandera charana sevi bhakta-sane vasa.
Two Kinds of Association
Scripture lauds the craving for the association of great souls and says that one can look for two types of association: vapu and vani. Vapu means associating physically, and vani means associating through words. Although both are important, vani – associating with the teachings of revered saintly persons – is eulogized.
In fact, learned spiritual authorities declare that if we associate with the wise words of worthy sages and live by them, we can progress remarkably in our spiritual life. But if we merely want to stay close to holy persons without imbibing their devotional virtues and actualizing their sage advice in our own life, then such closeness won’t help us much.
If we turn the pages of history, we will find many spiritual stalwarts who had little opportunity to associate physically with their gurus. Our Srila Prabhupada met his guru, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, perhaps a dozen times, and the sage Narada Muni associated with great Vedantists for only a few months. But the life-transforming instructions they received were ingrained in their heart and guided them throughout their lives; they never felt bereft of the love of their spiritual guides. Underlining the importance of vani, Srila Prabhupada said that he would always be present with us in his books.
We can always associate with the Supreme Lord, Krishna, with Srila Prabhupada, and with all saintly people if we constantly contemplate their teachings and dovetail all our activities accordingly. Krishna spoke the Gita not just to Arjuna, but through Arjuna to all of us. After hearing the Gita, Arjuna said to Krishna, “I am prepared to act according to Your instructions.” (18.73) We can also say the same to Krishna, and like Arjuna become Krishna’s close friend.
To ensure our spiritual life, we should always surround ourselves with Krishna’s genuine lovers and orchestrate our life according to their teachings. If we aren’t fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be surrounded by devotees, we should pray for that. The Lord will surely answer our prayer and put us in their company.
Devotees’ association always positively influences us. The grit of the sincere seekers motivates us to become more resolute in our purpose. The lives and teachings of senior devotees inspire us, and when we come across those who have braved monumental difficulties in their pursuit of self-realization, we too become enthusiastic to continue with our devotional lives, tolerating all challenges and fixing ourselves firmly on the final goal of attaining Krishna.
While associating with devotees, we must take care that our mind wholeheartedly cooperates. If not, we may be in the temple, standing in front of Krishna with several devotees amidst a mellifluous kirtana of the holy names, but still be contemplating nondevotional subjects. Such association will not help us much. We should always entice or cajole or force our mind to accompany us whenever we are in devotees’ company. And when our mind starts enjoying the spiritual ambience, we can reap the maximum benefit of association.
The company of God’s messengers will help us exorcise all our insatiable worldly desires, purify our life, and take us closer to the object of our love – Lord Krishna.