Taking Advantage of Sadhu Sanga (Saintly Association)

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Author: 
Karnamrita Das

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To help facilitate a Bhagavad Gita class or to put the Radha-Krishna Deities (Radha-Kanayalal) to rest at our country temple, I have been walking the 8 minutes there from our home, almost every evening for the last 2 years. I walk in all kinds of weather in both the light and warmth of summer, or the darkness and coldness of winter. It is the dark moon now, and except for the stars and ambient light from a few houses, the road is dark, but not unfriendly. In these dark conditions one’s eyes become accustomed to seeing in all but pitch black conditions when the sky is overcast. I look up at the stars and down at my white dhoti to get my bearings. A staff also helps guide me as I sometimes feel my way. Although I carry I flash light, I rarely use it.

As you know, due to the quieter conditions in the evening, sounds are much amplified. So as I walk I clearly hear my footsteps on the gravel road, punctuated by my large staff. The walk to and from the temple is a very simple activity, and yet it seems very primal, and full of meaning, as it is service related, and a time for contemplation on myself as Krishna’s servant. In general, living in a peaceful country environment helps one slow down and be more thoughtful. I often sing as I walk, or think of some point of philosophy. Since over the last two months we have had the opportunity to participate in sadhu-sanga at different locations, this evening, I considered the importance of saintly association, and thought of writing about it.
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Shrila Rupa Goswami, is one the sastra (scriptural), or foundational gurus, for our particular lineage which is formally known as Gaudiya Vaishnavism (or Chaitanya Vaishnavism). In fact he is so important, that we are referred to as “Rupanugas,” or the followers of Rupa Goswami. He was one of the empowered devotees (and the Lord’s eternal associates) who were originally instructed by Lord Chaitanya to codify His teachings with references to all the Vedas.

Of Rupa Goswami’s many teachings, an important guide for us, are the stages of spiritual advancement, beginning with initial faith, and progressing to the ultimate goal of love of God, or Krishna prema. To facilitate one’s spiritual progress through these stages, the association of saints is especially highlighted, since such devotees share their faith and taste with the listeners. From them, receptive listeners feel the inspirational “current” of spirituality, as an electric wire delivers electricity to light up our home. Some can’t appreciate such talks, for to appreciate them requires one to have a great necessity for spiritual advancement and an open heart. Otherwise, we may be distracted by a critical mentality, or material evaluations. We see this in every generation of Vaishnavas.
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For example, not everyone who met Shrila Prabhupada valued his message, and yet without his coming to America there would be not be such an explosion of devotees of Krishna in the U.S or in the world today. Those devotees who were touched my him have in turn created other devotees, which is how “Krishna consciousness” (another term for our practice of bhakti) continues from one generation to the next. Thus, the beginning of everyone’s active spiritual practice is the association of some devotee who inspires faith, conviction, and commitment. Keeping this in mind, when we have the opportunity to hear from living saints, or “live wires,” in our disciplic line, it is important to take advantage of hearing from, and serving, them, with the prayer of receiving their blessings. We can catch their “disease” of Krishna devotion, as one might become infected by a contagious virus.

Krishna works through his devotees, especially his pure devotees, and their intention to give spiritual knowledge and advancement is powerfully facilitated by the Lord. Ordinarily, in relationship to the souls in the material world, God is neutral, deferring to the law of karma, or action and reaction. However, when a devotee desires to give Krishna consciousness to someone, then bhakti-devi, or Krishna’s devotional energy personified, goes to that person, regardless of that person’s apparent lack of qualification. If we are fortunate enough to follow the rules of bhakti strictly we should understand that we show our spiritual advancement through showing mercy to those who can’t by offering them love and encouragement to keep trying to improve (and sometimes "tough love" to get them back on track).

Our lack of tolerance for other's shortcomings reveals the condition of our heart. We are challenged to be compassionate in the face of what we find less than ideal character in other devotees, and to not condemn them, but to truly pray for their benefit, remembering the grace of Lord Nityananda on Jagai and Madhai--by whose grace we are also on the path, disqualified as we are! Those of us who counsel devotees know how many struggle with following the process. This tends to make one more understanding and patient. Krishna will help any of us if we keep trying, praying, are remorseful, sincere, and don't give up.
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Krishna consciousness is ultimately a process of grace, as it comes to us by the blessings of saints, even without our knowing. Being touched by the grace of faith in bhakti, we then engage in spiritual practices recommended by Shrila Rupa Goswami and his followers, like our Shrila Prabhupada, and his disciples. There is an argument in Christian circles that it isn’t by “works” that we come to God but by grace. While we agree with this, there is still much we need to do, not to “earn” our way to God, but to attract mercy by doing those actions favorable for bhakti, and avoiding actions unfavorable.

By endeavoring to follow the path of full surrender (sharanagati) and pure devotion (shuddha-bhakti) we please Shri Chaitanya and our gurus. Our effort on this path is to be absorbed in remembering Krishna with affection through devotional practices with the prayer to attract more mercy for our further advancement. And showing our enthusiasm to listen by traveling to hear, or hosting saintly persons, is one way we show this eagerness. As I have often shared, we spend time doing what we value, so when we value sadhu-sanga we arrange our life, as far as possible, to facilitate such hearing and service. If we don't have such eagerness, then that is much of our prayer life...to have the desire to have the desire. Spiritual life isn't about staying the same, but changing for the better!
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