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Association with worldly-minded persons
The word jana refers to both male and female human beings. Shrila Rupa Gosvami has written in the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu: sadho sangah svato vare—“a devotee should associate with devotees who are more advanced.” Practicing devotees are generally superior to karmis and jnanis in all respects. In the Bhagavad-gita (7.28) it is said:
yesham tv anta-gatam papam jananam punya-karmanam
te dvandva-moha-nirmukta bhajante mam dridha-vratah
“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life and whose sinful actions are completely eradicated are freed from the dualities of delusion, and they engage themselves in My service with determination.” Therefore devotees are naturally pure. There is no possibility for them to commit sin. They are not less intelligent like the karmis and jnanis, because they have taken shelter at the lotus feet of the omniscient Supreme Lord. Faith in the devotional service of Lord Krishna is achieved as a result of many lifetimes of pious activities. So there is no doubt that the devotees' activities are pure. From faith, the desire to associate with devotees naturally arises. By associating with devotees, everything is achieved. The glories of sadhu-sanga are mentioned in the Adi Purana as follows:
ye me bhakta-janah partha na me bhaktash ca te janah
mad-bhaktanam ca ye bhaktas te me bhakta-tama matah
“O Partha, those who claim to be My devotees are actually not My devotees, but those who are the devotees of My devotees are actually My devotees.”
Regarding the need to associate with devotees, it is said:
darshana sparshanalapa sahavasadibhih kshanat
bhaktah punanti krishnasya sakshad api ca pukkasham
“Even an outcaste becomes completely pure by seeing, touching, conversing with, or living with Krishna's devotee for even a moment.” The Shrimad Bhagavatam (7.5.32) states:
naisham matis tavad urukramanghrim
sprishaty anarthapagamo yad-arthah
nishkincananam na vrinita yavat
“Unless they smear upon their bodies the dust of the lotus feet of a Vaishnava completely freed from material contamination, persons very much inclined toward materialistic life cannot be attached to the lotus feet of the Lord, who is glorified for His uncommon activities. Only by becoming Krishna conscious and taking shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord in this way can one be freed from material contamination.”
The scriptures often state that without associating with the Lord's devotees, Bhaktidevi does not manifest in one's heart. It is most necessary for sadhakas to associate with devotees. Therefore, in this context, the word jana-sanga is understood to mean persons who are devoid of devotion. That is why Shrila Rupa Prabhu has included the instruction to give up worldly association as one of the limbs of devotional service. In the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.2.43) it is stated: sanga tyago vidurena bhagavad vimukhair janaih—“One who desires to attain devotion to Krishna should carefully give up the association of worldly people.” That means the devotees should not engage in the activities mentioned in the fourth verse of the Upadeshamrita with worldly people. Activities like talking with worldly people in the course of one's work are not considered association. But when the same activities are done with affection for someone, then one is considered to be associating with that person.
Every practicing devotee should know the various kinds of worldly people. Therefore we are hereby most unwillingly enumerating these people. These worldly people are of seven kinds: (1) Mayavadis and atheists, (2) sense enjoyers, (3) those who fond of the sense enjoyers, (4) women, (5) womanizers, (6) the hypocritically devout, and (7) the ill-behaved foolish outcastes.
The Mayavadis do not accept the eternal name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Supreme Lord. They consider the living entity as a product of maya; therefore in their opinion the living entity has no eternal existence. They do not consider devotional service eternal; rather, they consider it a temporary method to cultivate knowledge. All the Mayavadi conclusions are opposed to the principles of devotional service. Therefore by associating with Mayavadis, one's devotion gradually disappears. Shri Svarupa Damodara gave the following instruction in Chaitanya-caritamrita (Antya 2.94-95):
buddhi bhrashta haila tomara gopalera sange
mayavada shunibare upajila range
vaishnava hana yeba shariraka-bhashya shune
sevya-sevaka-bhava chadi' apanare `ishvara' mane
“You have lost your intelligence in the association of Gopala, and therefore you are eager to hear the Mayavada philosophy. When a Vaishnava listens to the Shariraka-bhashya, the Mayavada commentary upon the Vedanta-sutras, he gives up the Krishna conscious attitude that the Lord is the master and the living entity is His servant. Instead, he considers himself the Supreme Lord.”
Those who do not accept the Supreme Lord, who is glorified by the Vedas, are called nastikas, or atheists. Their minds have been polluted by false arguments; therefore one's devotion is lost in their association.
Association with sense enjoyers is harmful. Those who are always busy associating with sense enjoyment are filled with blasphemy, envy, and violence. Quarrel, argument, and hankering for sense enjoyment is their life. The more they enjoy, the more their thirst for sense enjoyment increases. The sense enjoyers do not get time to speak or hear topics of Krishna. Whether they engage in pious activities or sinful activities, the sense enjoyers always remain far from knowledge of the self. Therefore in the Chaitanya-caritamrita (Antya 6.278) Shrila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami has said:
vishayira anna khaile malina haya mana
malina mana haile nahe krishnera smarana
“When one eats food offered by a materialistic man, one's mind becomes contaminated, and when the mind is contaminated, one is unable to think of Krishna properly.” Those persons who externally engage in sensual activities and accept sense objects just to maintain body and soul together but internally engage in their constitutional position as servants of Krishna are not counted amongst the sense enjoyers, who are attached the fruits of their activities.
The sense enjoyers and persons fond of sense enjoyers are both worldly-minded. Persons who are fond of sense enjoyers are themselves also sense enjoyers, because they always think of sense enjoyment within their hearts. There are some people who are not themselves sense enjoyers, but they take pleasure in associating with sense enjoyers. Their association should also be renounced, because they will soon become sense enjoyers and bad association themselves. There are two types of sense enjoyers—those who are extremely attached to sense enjoyment and devotees who are attached to sense enjoyment. Associating with those who are extremely attached should be totally rejected. The devotees who are attached to sense enjoyment are also of two types—those who have included the Lord as a part of their sense enjoyment and those who have kept the Lord in the center of their sense enjoyment. Association with the latter type is preferable to association with the former. Although those who engage in sense enjoyment according to religious codes are better than the sinful sense enjoyers, still the practicing devotee should not associate with them until they become devotees. Simply by wearing the dress of a renunciate one does not become a devotee free from sense gratification, because renunciates often collect and save objects of sense enjoyment. On the other hand, many persons resemble sense enjoyers but utilize everything in the worship of Lord Hari in the mood of detachment. Considering all this, the practicing devotee should give up the association of sense enjoyers and those fond of them and engage in devotional service in a secluded place or, if he is fortunate, in the association of genuine devotees.
Do not associate with women. On the other hand, when a woman is engaged in sadhana-bhakti, she should not associate with men. Associating with the opposite sex is very inauspicious for the advancing devotee. There are two types of men and women. When a man and woman are married according to religious principles, there is no sin in their touching and talking with each other; rather, this touching and talking is beneficial because of the scriptural sanction. There is, however, no provision for illusory activities other than the execution of reciprocal duties. If they are illusioned by each other and they engage in activities other than prescribed duties, then that is called stri-sanga and purusha-sanga, or association with the opposite sex. For those who are engaged in worshiping Krishna, such association yields inauspicious results. If either one is guilty of such association, then they become an obstacle for the other party. If the wife is helpful in the discharge of devotional service, then the fault of stri-sanga does not arise. But if the wife is an impediment in the discharge of devotional service, then one should carefully give up her association. We should consider the behavior of the great Vaishnava acarya, Shrimad Ramanujacarya2, in this connection. When there is no marital relationship and one converses with a woman with evil intentions, then this is stri-sanga. That is sinful and detrimental to devotional service. Considering these points, the practicing devotee should very carefully give up the association of women and persons fond of women. As stated in Shrimad Bhagavatam (3.31.35):
na tathasya bhaven moho bandhash canya-prasangatah
yoshit-sangad yatha pumso yatha tat-sangi-sangatah
“The infatuation and bondage which accrue to a man from attachment to any other object is not as complete as that resulting from attachment to a woman or to the fellowship of men who are fond of women.” For a householder devotee, touching and speaking to his wife in the above mentioned manner is not detrimental to devotional service; but for a renunciate there cannot be any type of talking or touching a woman, otherwise his practice of devotional service will be completely spoiled. Association with such a deviated person should be totally rejected.
One should give up the association of dharmadvajis, the hypocritically devout, with special care. Those who accept the external signs of dharma but do not actually follow dharma are called dharmadvajis. There are two types of dharmadvajis—the hypocrites and the fools, or the cheaters and the cheated. Such hypocrisy in jnana-kanda and karma-kanda is also condemned. In devotional service this hypocrisy ruins everything. Better associate with sense enjoyers, for in this whole world there is no worse association than the dharmadvaji. The deceitful dharmadvajis accept the signs of dharma with a desire to cheat the world, and to fulfill their crooked desires they cheat the foolish by helping them in their rascaldom. Some of them become gurus and others become disciples, and by trickery they accumulate wealth, women, false-prestige, and material assets. If one gives up the association of crooked hypocrites, then he can honestly engage in devotional service. Honest worship is the only way to attain Krishna's mercy. As stated in Shrimad Bhagavatam (1.3.38):
sa veda dhatuh padavim parasya
yo 'mayaya santatayanuvrittya
“Only those who render unreserved [without hypocrisy*], uninterrupted, favorable service unto the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, who carries the wheel of the chariot in His hand, can know the creator of the universe in His full glory, power, and transcendence.” Again in Shrimad Bhagavatam (2.7.42) Lord Brahma tells Narada:
yesham sa esha bhagavan dayayed anantah
sarvatmanashrita-pado yadi nirvyalikam
te dustaram atitaranti ca deva-mayam
naisham mamaham iti dhih shva-shrigala-bhakshye
“But anyone who is specifically favored by the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, due to unalloyed [without hypocrisy*] surrender unto the service of the Lord, can overcome the insurmountable ocean of illusion and can understand the Lord. But those who are attached to this body, which is meant to be eaten at the end by dogs and jackals, cannot do so.”
Externally exhibiting the symptoms of a Vaishnava while internally remaining a Mayavadi is actually pseudo-Vaishnavism, or hypocrisy. In Shri Chaitanya-caritamrita (Antya 13.93, 109-110) there is a description of Ramadasa Vishvasa, who was externally a great Vaishnava, devoted to Lord Ramacandra:
ashta-prahara rama-nama japena ratri-dine
sarva tyaji' calila jagannatha-darashane
ramadasa yadi prathama prabhure milila
mahaprabhu adhika tanre kripa na karila
antare mumukshu tenho, vidya-garvavan
sarva-citta-jnata prabhu—sarvajna bhagavan
“Ramadasa had renounced everything and was going to see Lord Jagannatha. While traveling, he chanted the holy name of Lord Rama twenty-four hours a day. When Ramadasa Vishvasa met Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Lord did not show him any special mercy, although this was their first meeting. Within his heart, Ramadasa Vishvasa was an impersonalist who desired to merge into the existence of the Lord, and he was very proud of his learning. Being the omniscient Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu can understand the heart of everyone, and thus He knew all these things.”
Shrila Narottama dasa Thakura, in his great humility, has stated:
kama, krodha chaya jane, lana phire nana sthane,
vishaya bhunjaya nana mate.
haiya mayara dasa, kari nana abhilasha,
tomara smarana gela dure
artha-labha—ei ashe, kapata-vaishnava-veshe,
bhramiya bulaye ghare ghare.
“The six enemies, beginning with lust and anger, are taking me here and there to enjoy various forms of sense gratification. Being a servant of Maya, I have unlimited desires and have therefore forgotten You. Hoping to gain wealth, I wander from house to house in the dress of a pseudo-Vaishnava.”
Unless one gives up the association of this type of dharmadvaji, one cannot purely engage in devotional service. Most of the people in the world are of this type. Therefore until one gets the opportunity to associate with a pure devotee, he should pass his life engaged in devotional service in a solitary place.
The worship of Krishna is not enhanced by associating with ill-behaved, foolish outcastes. They are naturally attached to eating meat and drinking wine, and they are not situated in varnashrama-dharma. Their character is always unregulated. By associating with ill-behaved persons, the mind becomes polluted. But if those persons become faithful in devotional service by associating with a Vaishnava and they gradually get a taste for worshiping Krishna with a pure heart, then their association is auspicious. Even if they commit abominable actions for some time due to their former nature, still they are sadhus. In Bhagavad-gita (9.30-31) it is said:
api cet su-duracaro bhajate mam ananya-bhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah samyag vyavasito hi sah
kshipram bhavati dharmatma shashvac-chantim nigacchati
kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhaktah pranashyati
“Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination. He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.”
The purport is this: If the outcastes attain faith in unalloyed devotional service by some good fortune, then it can be said that they have attained the genuine path. There is no doubt that in a short time they too will become pure and peaceful by following the footsteps of Haridasa Thakura. Ill-behavior, due to one's nature, necessarily remains for some time. Even then, such association cannot be called bad. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam (11.20.27-29) the symptoms of such persons are described as follows:
jata-shraddho mat-kathasu nirvinnah sarva-karmasu
veda duhkhatmakan kaman parityage 'py anishvarah
tato bhajeta mam pritah shraddhalur dridha-nishcayah
jushamanash ca tan kaman duhkhodarkamsh ca garhayan
proktena bhakti-yogena bhajato masakrin muneh
kama hridayya nashyanti sarve mayi hridi sthite
“Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee remains happy and worships Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities. When an intelligent person engages constantly in worshiping Me through loving devotional service as described by Me, his heart becomes firmly situated in Me. Thus all material desires within the heart are destroyed.”
The conclusion is that the association of pious and sinful persons who are bereft of Krishna consciousness is undesirable. On the other hand, the association of persons who are sinful, yet devoted to the Lord, is desirable. The Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.2.51) quotes the following verse spoken by Maharishi Katyayana in the Katyayana-samhita:
varam huta-vaha-jvala- panjarantar-vyavasthitih
na shauri-cinta-vimukha- jana-samvasa-vaishasam
“It is better to accept the miseries of being encaged within bars and surrounded by burning flames than to associate with those bereft of Krishna consciousness. Such association is a very great hardship.”
While practicing devotional service one should carefully understand this subject and act accordingly.