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Second Stage of Bhakti | Sadhu Sanga | Sri Vinod Babaji Maharaj

"Binu satsang na hari katha, teha bin moha na bhaag, 
Moha gaye bina raam pada hoye na dhridha anuraag"

(Ramcharitramanas ‘Uttar Kand’ - Doha 61)

Meaning: - Without the association of enlightened sadhus and listening to discourses about Hari and His pastimes, the delusions engulfing a sadhak will not leave him, and without dispelling the worldly delusions, one cannot achieve the love of the lotus feet of Rama.

The association of devotees has great importance in the path of Bhakti. It doesn't mean that one should associate with any and every devotee he finds. The devotee should be a bonafide sadhu with the following qualities of a sadhu: Shanta, Snigdha, Mahattar and Aninduka

  • Shanta means one who is undriven by the causes of happiness and sadness, praise and criticism, winter and summer, etc. That is, one who has surrendered his ego at the lotus feet of Krishna and accepts everything is happening as the will of Krishna. Such a person is calm and undeterred from the contemplation of Krishna by any external circumstances. 
  • Snigdha means one who respects each and everyone's views & opinions and tries to present his opinion basing it on the scriptures without unnecessary disagreements. If there is a disagreement, then he accepts it as different ways to reach the same Supreme Godhead, although he is himself dedicated to the path instructed by his own Guru. Such Sadhus have a lovely way of interacting with those who inquire about bhajan and pastimes of Krishna. They will seldom be seen quarrelling with anyone over scriptural misunderstandings. They either reply with respect and humility or keep silent.
  • Mahattar means one who is spiritually advanced than yourself. Since we are trying to advance in the path of Bhakti, association with someone who can show us how the higher stages look like would help us to understand that where we are and how we must improve. Here, it is important that the Mahattar sadhak is also ‘Acharanshila', i.e., practically exercises the ways and conduct of a Vaishnav. If a Sadhu is spiritually advanced but behaves in such a way that is not acceptable by Vaishnavas (in order to conceal his love for Yugal Kishore and thus, save himself from praise and worship which such sadhus dislike), then it is better not to associate too much with them but respect them at the same time. This is because we might easily misunderstand them and fall in Vaishnav Aparadh or follow their conduct in vain and create a barrier for ourselves in our advancement towards spiritual love.
  • Aninduka means one who never criticizes others whatsoever. Such a sadhak respects others as Vaishnavas or servants of Krishna, and sees Krishna in everyone. He thinks that whatever is happening, is the will of Krishna and is for the overall welfare. If someone seems to be the cause of one's misery, there must be a reason behind it and Krishna is making that person behave like that for his (the sufferer's) spiritual growth. Association with such an Aninduka Sadhu ensures that we do not develop any disrespect towards anyone while we listen to Hari Katha (lectures about Hari) or learn how to do bhajan.

All paths described in our scriptures are respectable and have their own values & reasons to exist. Suppose someone has lots of material desires and in order to fulfil them he worships demi-gods & goddesses. Even if anyone explains to him about the importance of selfless love of Radha Krishna as well as the drastic results of material desires, it will not be easy for him to abandon all his desires immediately and jump to the selfless spiritual love. Such a person will advance slowly from such selfish Bhakti to self-less Bhakti through the refinement process of Bhakti itself. When more and more enlightened sadhus will shower mercy on such a person, he too will reach the incomparable and beautiful stage of Prem Bhakti but gradually.

There are so many scriptures that explain everything which you need to know for your spiritual advancement. It is also said that the Sadhus you associate with must base their opinions and views on the scriptures. Then why is it necessary that you associate with the Sadhus rather than simply read the scriptures and follow their teachings?

The Sadhus, who are experienced in this path of Bhakti, speak from the very bottom of their heart. And they know every detail of this path by experience. There is extraordinary power in their speech which touches the listener’s heart and destroys the deep ignorance occupying his heart. That is why, whenever it is possible, one must try to associate with such Sadhus and listen to their Hari Katha, abandoning all other work.

“Durlabho mānuṣo deho
dehināṁ kṣaṇa-bhaṅguraḥ,
Tatrāpi durlabhaṁ manye

 (Srimad Bhagvatam 11.2.29)

Meaning: The human body is very difficult to achieve by a jivatma, and it is only temporary. But even those who have achieved human life, rarely gain the association of pure devotees, who are dear to the Lord of Vaikuntha.

According to our scriptures, there are 84 hundred thousand types of births. But a jivatma can try to perform devotional service and break free from the cycle of birth & death only in the human birth. Even demi-gods yearn to take birth in the form of human body. They know that they had been given the opportunity to break free from the cycle of birth & death, but they only performed good, fruitful deeds that resulted in their birth as demi-gods. They would enjoy the result of their good deeds and fall back to Earth to experience the results of their other deeds.

They think, ‘Ahh, we made a great mistake! If we utilized our human birth to perform devotional services, we could have achieved Hari Bhakti. But instead, we foolishly engaged in good deeds with various desires in our hearts and landed in heaven only to enjoy some exclusive but worthless pleasures. If we would have just surrendered ourselves at the lotus feet of Radha Krishna sincerely and called Them lovingly (O Krishna! O Radharani! I belong to you!), then we would have achieved an eternally blissful state of loving devotion. Alas! How foolish we have been! How unfortunate!’

We have been given such an invaluable opportunity to achieve eternal bliss but still, we complain, ‘I am so unhappy! I am so miserable!’ It is you who has created this suffering for yourself! You have chained yourself in various worldly desires! You have deluded yourself in thinking that the things that give pleasure to your body are desirable and gotten attached to them!  Those pleasurable worldly things were always temporary. How did you expect that you would always have everything you want and never lose them?! You are running towards the reservoir of miseries in search of happiness. Is this not foolish?

Sometimes Krishna has to let the devotee experience harsh circumstances to make him realize that worldly relationships are selfish and temporary, or that there is no real happiness in this world. This is also a form of mercy. Without Krishna’s mercy, the jivatma can never realize this truth even though he constantly suffers in this world. Once he realizes this truth, he tries to associate with Sadhus and perform devotional services to attain Krishna.

The same mind, intellect and senses can be used to engage in either worldly pleasures or devotion to Krishna. While worldly pleasures entangle the jivatma into ignorance, devotion to Krishna results in eternal bliss. While engaging in worldly talk wastes our invaluable time and human birth, Sadhu sanga results in the destruction of ignorance and spiritual consciousness.

“Dehinām kṣaṇa-bhaṅguraḥ means this body is temporary. Even while we are alive, nobody knows when we might fall ill or meet an accident. In old age, this body develops various kinds of problems. That is why, whether one wants to enjoy pleasures or attain Krishna, youth is the best time of human life. If one think ‘Oh, I am young now. What Baba says can be done in old age. Just now, I need to enjoy worldly pleasures a bit,’ then he is making a great mistake. You are wasting the invaluable present time in worthless activities; how can you sit peacefully thinking you will find favourable circumstances to do bhajan in the future?

The past is history. Nobody can change that. The future is uncertain. Nobody knows what circumstances we might fall in. It can be even worse than what it is now. Therefore, the best time to do bhajan is the present time! Utilize the present time! The present moment which is passing by will never come back. Why are you wasting the present by either brooding on the past or planning for the future? One who expects circumstances will become favourable in the future is the biggest fool in the world! Just keep chanting Harinaam continuously. Let miseries, disasters, poverty, diseases, etc come but don’t say anything to anyone. Just cling on to Harinaam. Everything will work out on its own towards your spiritual upliftment. Whenever possible, associate with experienced Sadhus. Don’t let the present moment go without Harinaam and grab every opportunity for Sadhu sanga. In this way, you will definitely progress towards Prem Bhakti in very short time.

“Tatrāpi durlabham” means something which is even more difficult to achieve (than the invaluable human birth, in this case). Meeting Sadhus is rare in this world, except in few places like Vrindavan, Ayodhya, Kashi, Haridwar, etc. But meeting experienced, sincere, totally surrendered, selfless, desireless and undistracted (by anything other than Bhakti) Sadhus is absolutely rare. Even if one finds such a Sadhu, his association and service can be achieved only by someone who is immensely fortunate.

If someone finds such precious Sadhu sanga, he must not let the opportunity go. Sadhu sanga is the medicine for one’s mind that is inclined and attached to worldly pleasures. One must associate more and more with experienced Sadhus to awaken the yearning for spiritual advancement. Realizing what nectarine bliss and divine love we are missing due to worldly attachments and developing loving devotion for Radha Krishna is possible only through Sadhu sanga.

The sadhak must persevere to minimize bad association (with materialistic people and things that attract the mind towards worldly matters) and increase good association (with Sadhus and their teachings), physically and mentally. It might not be possible to physically associate with Sadhus all the time, especially for householders living away from Vraja Dham. They must associate with Sadhus mentally. Remembering Sadhu's teachings and practicing them in one's life will beget their heartfelt blessings.

If this mind thinks about worldly matters, the person becomes a materialist. If the same mind is forced to think about Guru, Govind and Radharani, then the person is always in Sadhu (here, the meaning is pious) sanga. Other than that, reading biographies of saints and books consisting the teachings of such enlightened Sadhus is also Sadhu sanga. Although physical association with Sadhus is more powerful (because of the powerful spiritual vibes of such experienced Sadhus), the other times should be utilized in mental Sadhu sanga.

It is seen in the world that many good devotees deviate from the Bhakti path due to the association with materialistic people. And sometimes, many corrupt, evil, immoral and sinful people become devotees of Krishna due to the association of bonafide Sadhus. When a farmer irrigates and fertilizes his farms, the weeds get fertilizer and water as well. Similarly, due to the association with Sadhus, even people full of faults get charged with spiritual energy and engage in Bhakti all the time.

There was a highly enlightened saint in Bengal called Sri Ram Thakur. He had many disciples. One woman was able to get initiation from him despite the opposition of her materialistic and sinful husband. Her husband engaged in all kinds of sinful activities like drinking liquor, visiting prostitutes, gambling, etc. He was totally against going to Sadhus or performing any kind of devotional service. The Vaishnavi used to do bhajan very secretly so that her husband would not know. If he found her worshipping Krishna accidentally, he would shout and swear at her. She would silently tolerate it and do bhajan. She would cook vegetarian food and offer to Krishna, while cook non-vegetarian food for her husband. She even had to serve liquor to him at his order.

One day, she prayed to her Gurudev, Sri Ram Thakur, “Baba, I am very worried for my husband. He has taken the path of hell by indulging in all kinds of sinful activities. Please give him a new life. You have the power to completely change him and bring him on the pious path of Bhakti. Living with such an unfavourable person is also an obstacle in my bhajan. Please bestow your causeless mercy on him!” She cried holding Sri Ram Thakur's lotus feet. That is why his heart melted with compassion. He said, “Daughter, don’t worry. Just bring him to me somehow.”

She said, “Baba, he is totally against Sadhus. This is impossible! He will never come here.” “Daughter, just bring him here in any way you can think of. If he just comes here to see me from a distance, it will be enough. Then you will not have to worry anymore,” he said. Therefore, from the next day, the Vaishnavi started serving her husband in every way possible. She would do whatever her husband told her as if serving him was her highest desire in life! After approximately one month of such diligent service, her husband became a little compassionate towards her.

One day, he asked her, “You are always serving me day and night. I too want to please you. Let’s go to the market. I will buy anything you want.” The Vaishnavi said, “Are you truly pleased with my service? No, no, I don’t want any jewellery or new clothes. I have only one request for you. Please come with me to visit my Gurudev.” Her husband flinched at hearing this. “No! I will not go to any Sadhu. I dislike those pretentious and greedy folks! I will have nothing to do with such people,” he said, angrily. The Vaishnavi prayed repeatedly but he rejected the idea of visiting a Sadhu.

So, she started serving him diligently again. Eventually, her husband became a little more compassionate towards her. Hence, again one day, she requested him to visit her Gurudev along with her. “I don’t like Sadhus. Why do you insist on meeting him?” he said, angrily. “This is my only desire. You don’t even have to sit near him, prostrate or offer him money. Just see him from a distance. That is all I ask in return for all my service to you,” she said. “Ok, for your sake, I will just see him from a distance and come back. The sight of Sadhus extremely irritates me, but I will visit once at your request,” he said, grumpily.

The next day, he accompanied her to her Gurudev's Ashram. While the Vaishnavi went to offer her obeisance to Sri Ram Thakur, her husband remained at the doorway and looked at Sri Ram Thakur, who looked at him at the same time and transmitted spiritual energy to him. When the couple came back home, she asked him how he felt about her Gurudev. “Well, as you know, I don’t like Sadhus. But your Gurudev seems to me to be a good person. Not that it changes anything, but I must say he is a good person,” he said.

So, the Vaishnavi went to Sri Ram Thakur and said, “Baba, I don’t see much difference in him. What should I do?” He said, “Bring him a couple of times more. Don’t worry, he will surely change.” Therefore, she requested her husband to visit her Gurudev again. “No, no! I visited him for your sake. Why should I visit him again? I don’t like Sadhus at all. Yes, he is a good person. But that doesn’t mean I will prostrate before him and massage his feet.”. The Vaishnavi said “I am not telling you to prostrate before him or massage his feet, I am just requesting you to see him from a distance,”. Due to Sri Ram Thakur's causeless mercy, his heart was softened a little. So, he agreed to visit her Gurudev once again. When they went to Sri Ram Thakur's Ashram, he did not stay at the doorway this time but went in front of Sri Ram Thakur. The powerful saint transmitted spiritual energy into him again by looking at him and changed his heart from within.

When they came back home, the man was not normal like earlier. He was silent and gloomy. The Vaishnavi asked him what was wrong but he would avoid the question. In reality, his conscience was awoken by the spiritual energy of Sri Ram Thakur. He realized what a sinful life he has been leading and how he wasted his precious human life in worthless activities. He became worried about how he could save himself from the evident results of his actions and engage in Bhakti. This awakening of conscience is possible only through Sadhu sanga.

The next time, when the Vaishnavi asked him to accompany her to her Gurudev, he immediately said, “Yes, yes. I have been thinking about your Gurudev. He is a very good person. Let’s turn his Ashram.” In this way, he started going to Sri Ram Thakur’s Ashram with his wife on his own accord. Now he talks and prostrates before Sri Ram Thakur willingly!

One day, Sri Ram Thakur said to him, “Why don’t you take Harinaam (initiation)?” He said, “Baba, I have no problem in chanting Harinaam but my lifestyle is very bad. Due to the Samskaras (impressions) of innumerable previous lives, I commit many sins daily.” “Don’t bother about all that. Do as you like. Just do one thing before every action you perform – remember me. Remember me when you eat. Remember me when you leave your home to go somewhere. I do not ask anything else from you,” said Sri Ram Thakur.

The man agreed. He got initiated by Sri Ram Thakur. This caused a huge transformation in his heart. He would try to eat non-vegetarian food due to his Samskara but as soon as he remembers his Gurudev, he sees his Gurudev in the food admonishing him to eat the food. He tries to drink liquor as his habit, but he sees his Gurudev in the liquor admonishing him to drink. Similarly, he tries to go to gambling or prostitutes, but he sees his Gurudev admonishing him to go out of his house.  His heart started burning in remorse. He couldn’t engage in sinful activities anymore and started considering himself as the most sinful person in the world. He stops entering his room and use to stay near the place where shoes were kept considering himself unfit and sinful person. In this way, he changed so much that, gradually, he became a Sadhu.

Therefore, Sadhu sanga is very important in a sadhak's life. Enlightened souls sow the seeds of Bhakti (Shraddha) in a jivatma and inspire him to progress in the path of Bhakti. Shraddha deepens with Sadhu sanga and with deeper Shraddha, we are able to absorb more mercy of a Sadhu. At that time, the sadhak realizes he has so many faults and there is no way he could attain Krishna Prem Bhakti. His heart starts burning in remorse, which is important to purify the heart of its materialistic Samskaras. Then he engages in Bhajan Kriya, that is, he tries to do bhajan. How the bhajan increases in the life of a sadhak will be discussed in the next article.


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