Her Grace Urmila Mataji gave a wonderful class about importance of association. It was very eye-opening, and really showed us how association of devotees is very important for our Krsna consciousness. First, Mataji explained how any angas of Bhakti that we engage in can help us achieve perfection. The five most important ones are chanting the Holy Name, associating with pure devotees, reading scriptures, worshipping deities of the Lord, and living in a holy place. Of these five angas, chanting the Holy Name and associating with devotees are the most important ones that can help us on our path of Bhakti.
When we associate with pure devotees, we can get everything we would want in our Krsna consciousness. In fact, Srila Prabhupada says that one of the main purposes of the ISKCON Society is to get the valuable association of devotees.
Even from a material perspective, association can really shape who we are and how we act. We, as human beings, are constantly affected by the people around us in three primary ways: we always strive to please everyone, impress them, and feel a sense of belonging. We actively mold our internal and external selves to try to please others. We do this due to our spiritual and biological natures. It is our spiritual nature to love and be loved by Krsna. Trying to find the same love in the material world, we do many things and disappoint ourselves. The material world is an upside down perversion of the spiritual world, so there is no permanent happiness. Also, it is our biological nature to be social beings. We are very dependent on our group for our physical survival in this world, so we want to have status in the group. The combination of our spiritual nature and biological nature make us want to act in a certain way to please those around us.
The three modes of material nature are also affecting us. Many scientists believe that we only create beliefs after we experience things, but this is not true. We actually already have preconceived beliefs due to our past samskaras and the three modes of material nature, and we perceive things around us with the filter of our beliefs. In fact, many people who experience the same circumstance would feel different about it. We take on different modes based on what we eat, when we sleep, who we associate with, and other daily activities. These things affect our thoughts and beliefs, as well as how well we can understand God and spirituality. For example, atheists and theists might look at the same phenomenon in the world, but atheists will try to prove that God doesn’t exist, while theists will use the same evidence to prove that God exists.
When we associate with those who don’t practice spirituality, our mind starts creating doubts about Lord Krsna. We start becoming hesitant to talk about the Lord in our lives. Associating with non-devotees may also give us a taste for materialistic bodily pleasures, and we may even get pressured to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Since some people are very critical of the devotees, we might end up committing offenses, which can really hurt our practice of Bhakti.
However, when we associate with devotees, we start experiencing the opposite. We will start picking up on their divine qualities like humility, compassion, and the desire to serve. There are also more special benefits that we receive from associating with pure devotees. Firstly, Krsna is pleased when his devotees are pleased. We can please the devotees by serving them. This is a fast track to Krsna’s satisfaction, which allows us to have a relationship with Him. Another special quality of association with devotees is that their mercy can help us get closer to Krsna. A way to visualize this is that a devotee’s mercy is like digging a trench from a river to a water plant, and Krsna’s mercy is the water that flows through the trench. Krsna’s mercy follows a devotee’s mercy.
How should we associate with devotees? We are all at different places in our path of Bhakti, and we should associate with respect to that. There are three different types of devotees: kanistha adhikari, madhyam adhikari, and uttama adhikari. These three types of devotees act in different ways, and we can also use this to understand where we are in our Krsna consciousness. We can check our strictness of Sadhana, dedication to preaching, faith in the sastra, and attachment to chanting and service to gauge where we are. When we interact with devotees who are just starting in their practice, we should be compassionate. When we associate with devotees at our level, we should be friends with them and can share confidential knowledge. When we come across advanced devotees, we should take their guidance. Great devotees are friendly and compassionate with devotees, avoid the envious, and are kind to the innocent. On the other hand, beginners may have the tendency to criticize devotees or those of other faiths. When we are able to associate with devotees respectfully and with humility, we can get love for Krsna and make progress in our Krsna Consciousness. It is a very important part of our journey, and can help us a lot. Thank you Urmila Mataji once again for the amazing class about association of devotees. We are looking forward to hearing from you again. Hare Krsna!