The Glories of Sadhu-sanga

A lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam 1.18.10–13 delivered by
Sri Srimad Bhakti Sri-rupa Siddhanti Gosvami Maharaja

In Srimad-Bhagavatam, after replying to the inquiry of Saunaka and other rishis regarding the history of King Parikshit, which is filled with narrations of Bhagavan Vasudeva’s pastimes, Srila Suta Gosvami said:
ya yah katha bhagavatah
katha niyoru-karmanah
guna-karmasrayah pumbhih
samsevyas ta bubhushubhih

Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.18.10)
Those who desire to attain sad-bhava, the pure state of existence, must thoroughly and submissively serve all the topics related to the transcendental qualities and wonderful activities of Bhagavan Vasudeva.
The katha of Bhagavan is abundant; there is no end to it. He performs wonderful activities and pastimes, and these are to be narrated and glorified by all. Samsevyas ta – it is imperative to thoroughly serve (i.e. hear, glorify and remember) such pastimes. Pumbhih – this is particularly true for those who desire to attain sad-bhava, the pure state of existence. Sad-bhava ca. Sad-bhava means the bhava, or nature, of Bhagavan and His bhaktas. Therefore it is essential for those who desire to attain sad-bhava to thoroughly serve (i.e. hear) all the topics related to Bhagavan’s activities (karma) and qualities (guna). In this verse, karma refers to Bhagavan’s lilas.

Serving katha means hearing (sravana), glorifying (kirtana) and remembering (smarana) that katha. In his commentary, Srila Cakravartipada says “svasattamicchadbhih– those who desire to maintain their satta, existence, must hear bhagavat-katha”; and “anyatha jivanmritatvam syat – otherwise that person will become dead even while living”. Without hearing bhagavat-katha, one is as good as dead.

neha yat karma dharmaya
na viragaya kalpate
na tirtha-pada-sevayai
jivann api mrito hi sah

Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.23.56)

Anyone whose work is not meant to elevate him to religious life, whose religious ritualistic performances do not raise him to renunciation, and who is situated in renunciation that does not lead him to devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, must be considered dead, although he is breathing.

Thus those who do not perform kirtana, sravana and smarana of hari-katha are dead, even while appearing to live. Ordinarily we think that by eating and taking care of ourselves we remain alive. It is true that by eating and defending we can keep our body healthy, but to nourish the immortal existence of the atma is impossible without hearing hari-katha. Therefore it is said that Bhagavan has ample activities. His wonderful qualities are to be glorified by all beings, and those who are eager to attain sad-bhava must thoroughly serve (i.e. hear, glorify and remember) Bhagavan Vasudeva’s various pastimes, characterized by His qualities.

After hearing this, the rishis headed by Saunaka Rishi said:

rishaya ucuh
suta jiva samah saumya
sasvatir visadam yasah
yas tvam samsasi krishnasya
martyanam amritam hi nah

Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.18.11)

The good sages said: O grave Suta Gosvami, may you live many years and have eternal fame, for you are speaking very nicely about the activities of Sri Krishna, the Personality of Godhead. This is just like nectar for mortal beings like us.

The rishis said: “O graceful Suta Gosvami, may you live for an unlimited period of time.” The rishis are hearing the Bhagavata from Suta Gosvami. However, they are not blessing him in the statement above; rather, with great respect and profuse eagerness, they are praying for his long life. Why? Yas tvaim samsasi krishnasya martyanam amritam he nah – “because you are speaking the most purifying and nectarine pastimes of Krishna to mortal beings like us”. The katha of Bhagavan is nectar. “You are distributing that nectar to mortal beings like us; therefore may you live for unlimited years.” Speaking like this, they are praying with great jubilation and eagerness. It is unfeasible for them to bless Suta Gosvami, and therefore they are praying.

The rishis further said:

karmany asminn anasvase
dhuma-dhumratmanam bhavan
apayayati govindapada-
padmasavam madhu

Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.18.12)

We have just begun the performance of this fruitive activity, a sacrificial fire, without certainty of its result due to the many imperfections in our action. Our bodies have become grey from the smoke, but we are indeed pleased by the nectar of the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead, Govinda, which you are distributing.

“We have started performing karma in the form of this yajna, but we are unsure whether we shall be able to attain the lotus feet of Bhagavan at any point through this endeavour. We have performed yajna for thousands upon thousands of years, but we have been unable to attain any realisation of Bhagavan. Our sole achievement has been dhuma-dhumratmanam bhavan: by the smoke of this yajna our atma – that is, our bodies – have become pale (ashy). This is what we have attained.” The rishis were performing yajna for thousands of years, and therefore they are saying that they are uncertain about realising any results from the yajna.

The futility of such yajnas is mentioned in then Bhagavata; however, people are performing yajnas to this day and they will continue to do so in the future also. All paths will endure. Man can follow any opinion, for who can obstruct his free will? But for him to attain bhakti by whatever path he treads, is impossible. The method to attain bhakti is distinct and that process cannot simply be found anywhere.

Therefore the rishis are saying, “We have passed thousands of years in performing yajna, the results of which are uncertain, and consequently our bodies have become pale. But we have been unable to make progress towards Bhagavan, even by an inch. In this state of ours, habvan apayayati (you have made us drink). Drink what? Govinda pada-padmasava – the nectar from the lotus feet of Govinda. You have made us drink the nectar of Govinda’s katha.” Madhu means “the nectarean katha”.

In his commentary Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada says: “Why do we have no trust or confidence in this act of yajna? Why will we not achieve anything by performing yajna?

vaigunya-bahulyena phalaniscayabhavat
While performing acts like yajna so many defects appear, that it becomes uncertain whether or not its fruits will be achieved. Thus, because the results are uncertain due to the presence of imperfections, no one knows what result will occur and when.”

What is being expressed in the rishis’ statement? tena bhakter visvasaniyatvamukttam “We have developed faith in whatever you have made us hear about, namely, those matters pertaining to bhakti and Bhagavan. This is the real path. By speaking hari-katha to us, you have arranged for us to attain Bhagavan’s lotus feet. This is trustworthy; we can understand this.”

dhumena dhumra vivarna atmanscaksur adyavyava
“By the smoke of this yajna our eyes have become like that of a blind man. People of this world hope to attain Bhagavan by performing yajna, yoga, dhyana and so on, but there is no certainty of attaining Bhagavan by following these paths. This is because all these paths carry so many faults.” Therefore the rishis are saying that they have developed faith in the path of bhakti to the extent that Suta Gosvami has spoken bhakti-katha to them, and thereby made them drink the sweetness of Bhagavan. “Bhakteh sakshat phaladatvamaha – Bhakti can bestow its results directly.” Many people, despite hearing something about the excellence of bhakti, nonetheless follow other paths, which leads them to karma and samsara.

asavam makrandarupam madhu madakam
This hari-katha is so intoxicating that by once entering into the sweetness of sravana, kirtana and smarana, one cannot give it up or live without it, and one will most certainly relish it.

taditara sarva sukha dukhananubhavat
This hari-katha is so sweet and so intoxicating that even despite its own sweetness, it will not let us experience the happiness and distress of any other topic of this world. Such is the glory of Bhagavan’s katha.

pratiksanam tadiyasvadutvanuhavacca
At every moment this hari-katha makes us relish and experience such bhavas (moods), so that we do not develop a liking for any other topic. It makes one forget happiness, distress and all worldly affairs, and intoxicates one.

Sadhu-sanga: A Wealth Beyond Compare

After speaking in this way, the rishis declare that they cannot estimate the value of the kind of association that bestows such hari-katha, what to speak of the association of one who has in fact embraced such katha within his heart:
tulayama lavenapi
na svargam napunar-bhavam
martyanam kim utasishah

Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.18.13)
Saunaka Rishi says: “The association of a bhagavadbhakta – that is to say, of one who has attained the direct association of Bhagavan – is very rarely achieved in the course of the jiva’s destiny. We see thousands of saints and ascetics wandering about in groups; but to get the association of one who has in fact attained the association of Bhagavan, has received His darsana and has entered into His lila, is very difficult. What to speak of such a person, it is extremely rare to attain the association even of one who has associated with such a person.”

How rare? “Tulayama lavenapi – The value of even a single moment (lava) of such association is incomparable. I do not consider anything equal to it.

Na svargam napunar-bhavam. The heavenly kingdom (Svarga) and liberation from matter (moksha) are generally regarded as the highest of all goals, and therefore those who desire them endeavour very hard to achieve them. But bhagavat-sangi-sangasya. The result of just a moment’s association with one who is in Bhagavan’s direct company cannot be equated to or compared with the attainment of even Svarga or moksha. What an astonishing fact! Lava means 1/11th of a second, a very short interval.”

Saunaka Rishi continues: “We are speaking from experience, having had the association of Suta Gosvami. This our realization. It is not that we have merely heard of the glories of sadhu-sanga or have fabricated them with our imagination; we have directly experienced them. We performed yajna for thousands of years with no result, but what we have attained in the very first instant, through only a moment’s association with Suta Gosvami, cannot be compared to the attainment of Svarga and moksha.

“What of similar value to sadhu-sanga could we possibly attain by going to Svarga or achieving moksha, as a result of performing yajna?

tulayama lavenapi
na svargam napunar-bhavam
If even Svarga and moksha cannot be weighed against such association, what can be said of the kingdom and seemingly unlimited wealth of mortal beings? Of what importance, then, are the great personalities of this world – the vastly learned, the immensely rich, the famous, and those of high birth and aristocratic lineage? All are inconsequential. If Svarga and moksha have become insignificant, then what comparative value can this worldly kingdom and wealth have?”

Eternal Union with God

Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada has written a wonderful commentary on this sloka. He states:
tasmat tadrsasadhusanga mahanidher mahatmyam
The rishis headed by Saunaka Rishi are saying: “Asmadanubhava-gocarikritam – I have directly experienced and perceived the glory of mahanidhi, the great treasure of sadhu-sanga about which I have spoken earlier. In other words, by having your personal association, Srila Suta Gosvami, we have now understood its glory.”

“Srila Sukadeva Gosvami is bhagavat-sangi – he has attained the association of Bhagavan. And you are his sangi – you have associated with Srila Sukadeva Gosvami. Thus by having the association of a bhagavad-bhakta like you we have realized that this type of association is mahanidhi, a great treasure, and that its glory which we have experienced is indeed wonderful. What more can we say?”

Who is bhagavat-sanginah? The bhaktas. They always remain with Bhagavan; they never live outside His association. People may ask, “If the bhaktas are Bhagavan’s associates, they ought to reside in Bhagavan’s eternal abode. Why then are they living here?” But wherever the bhaktas may reside, whether it be here or elsewhere, they remain forever with Bhagavan.

Hiranyakasipu questioned his son Prahlada Maharaja, “You are always chanting ‘Hari Hari’, but where is your Hari?”

Prahlada Maharaja replied, “My Hari is everywhere.”

Hiranyakasipu then asked, “Can you see Him everywhere? I have searched for Him everywhere but I was unable to find Him. If I had found Him, I would have killed Him. But you are saying that He is everywhere. Are you actually seeing Hari everywhere? Is He in this pillar? Can you see Him in this pillar?”

Prahlada Maharaja replied, “Yes, He is in the pillar.” Hiranyakasipu then struck the pillar with His fist and broke it, and Sri Nrisimhadeva appeared. Just see, Prahlada Maharaja lived in Hiranyakasipu’s kingdom and, despite being in the dynasty of a demon, he was always associating with Bhagavan and always having His darsana. Even when Hiranyakasipu was torturing Prahlada in various ways, Bhagavan at all times kept the boy in His lap. When Prahlada was made to sit in fire, was thrown in water and was placed under the feet of an elephant, Bhagavan always kept him in His lap and protected Him.

Those devotees who have gained entrance into Bhagavan’s eternal pastimes (nitya-lila) reside in Bhagavan’s abode as His eternal associates. By the will of Bhagavan, however, such associates also come and reside in this world. During their sojourn here also, they are not without Bhagavan’s association; they always remain with Him. Thus, even while in this world they are to be regarded as associates of the Lord. They never leave Bhagavan.

Therefore, Srila Cakravartipada has written that bhagavat-sanginah refers to the bhaktas. But who are those bhaktas, who always live with Bhagavan and with whom Bhagavan also always resides? This is a separate topic of discussion.

The Value of Only a Moment’s Association

Tesham sangasya means the association of such type of bhaktas. Yo lava means for very short time, that is, for 1/11th of a second. Such association, even if only momentary, cannot be compared to attaining Svarga, the fruit of karma. By following the path of karma people hope to reach Svarga, believing Svarga to be the highest goal and the topmost fruit of karma.

Apunar bhavam moksham ca. Apunar bhavam refers to moksha, the fruit of jnana. By cultivating jnana people hope to attain moksha. But na tulayama: the fruits of karma and jnana cannot be measured against the fruit of even a moment’s association with a bhagavad-bhakta. But people do not readily put their faith in the result attained by 1/11th of a second of such association, and this kind of good fortune does not easily come their way also. Therefore it is said: “na tulayama martyanam tuccha asisho rajyadyah kimuta – how, then, can it be compared with an insignificant worldly kingdom of mortal beings?”

The rishis headed by Saunaka Rishi are now asking rhetorically, “Why is it that I do not wish to make any comparison with sadhu-sanga? What result is in fact obtained from the association of Bhagavan’s sangi for even a very short time? What of significant value is gained in such a brief interval that cannot be measured against the attainment of Svarga and moksha?”

paramdurlabhaya bhakterankuro hridy
udbhavata iti bhavah
What is obtained is the supremely rare commodity known as bhakti. It cannot be attained even by thousands of different types of sadhana, including the sadhanas performed on the paths of karma, jnana and yoga. This is because bhakti is paramdurlabha, the rarest among all rarities. But it is that sadhu-sanga that manifests within one’s heart the sprout of this extremely rare bhakti. This is the result of associating with a bhagavad-bhakta for even a very short time, what to speak of associating with such a personality over a prolonged period.

tatra bhakteh sadhanasyapi sadhusangasya
lavenapi karmajnanadeh phalam sampurnamapi
Sadhu-sanga is the sadhana of bhakti. Whatever is achieved by sadhu-sanga for a very little time cannot be compared against even the complete fruits of karma and jnana.

Sadhu-sanga is the method to achieve bhakti, and the fruits of karma and jnana in their entirety do not even bear comparison with the result of obtaining sadhu-sanga for a single moment.

kimuta bahukala vyapina sadhu-sangena
And what can be said about the results one derives from sadhu-sanga and bhakti-sadhana over a long time? They are kimuta, truly incomparable. Even if bhakti-sadhana in the form of sadhu-sanga is momentary, it has no comparison.

kimutataram tatphalabhutaya bhaktya
Now the word kimutataram (“still more incomparable”) is being used. The rishis are saying that this describes the nature of bhakti attained as a result of performing bhakti-sadhana (i.e. sadhu-sanga). And finally the word kimutatamam (“most incomparable”) is used, denoting the highest fruit of bhakti, namely, prema. When as a result of bhakti, prema is attained, then where is the question of drawing any possible comparison? There simply cannot be any comparison whatsoever.

The words kimuta, kimutataram and kimutatamam are in the positive, comparative and superlative degrees respectively. The suffix -tara is used to convey the sense of “still more incomparable”, and -tama the sense of “most incomparable”. Thus, the highest idea is gradually revealed.

Meaningless Attempts to Calculate

tathatra sambhavanarthak lota tolene
sambhavanameva na kurmah
Someone may submit that whatever has been said previously is merely speculative, and that now some type of objective scale should be used to make verifiable comparisons. To this Saunaka Rishi replies, “But I have no wish to compare sadhu-sanga against the attainment of Svarga and moksha on a scale, setting aside the fact that such task is actually impossible.”

“Why? What is the harm of such a comparative analysis?”

“For what purpose should I do it?” Saunaka Rishi asks. He further states, rhetorically: “na hi meruna sarshapam kascittulayati – can any meaningful comparison be made between a mountain and a sesame seed?”

In other words, it is quite sufficient simply to observe the incomparable nature of the two. No one in his right mind will think it necessary to place the two on either side of a scale. That which is widely accepted (bahuvacanena bahunam sammatya) cannot be denied by anyone (naishor ’thah kenacidapramanikarttum sakyate). That is, one is simply unable to reject or disregard it.

Sadhu-sanga: More Powerful Than Associating with Bhagavan

Now the potency of bhagavad-bhaktas will be highlighted further.
bhagavat sangi sangasya ityanena –
na tathasya bhavet kleso
bandhas canya-prasangatah
yoshit-sangad yatha pumso
yatha tat-sangi-sangatah
Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada here offers an analogy from the Eleventh Canto of Srimad- Bhagavatam (Chapter 14, verse 30) to elucidate the nature of sadhu-sanga. He explains that by associating with a woman one is afflicted by bondage. But yatha tatsangisangatah: the association of one who associates with women is in fact more harmful than the direct association of a woman. Why? Because by knowing that the association of women will bind one, a person can at least try to remain aloof from such association. More harmful is the company of a man who associates with women, as greater bondage comes from such a relationship.

For this reason, it has similarly been said: vishayer anna khaile malina haya mana – by eating grains (foodstuffs) given by a worldly person (sense enjoyer), one’s mind becomes polluted, and with such a contaminated mind one cannot perform bhajana of Sri Krishna. In this regard, it is also harmful to accept anything from a person who associates with women. There is a danger in associating with such a person.

Associating with women is harmful, but associating with persons addicted to associating with women is more harmful. Similarly, associating with bhaktas of Bhagavan is more powerful than associating with Bhagavan Himself. One attains auspiciousness by associating with Bhagavan, but one attains greater auspiciousness by associating with His bhaktas.

This same fact was explained by Dhruva Maharaja when he attained darsana of Bhagavan. At that time Bhagavan asked him to accept any benediction. Dhruva said, “My only request is that I should always have the association of Your bhaktas. I do not desire anything else.”

Bhagavan replied, “What is this? You have finally attained Me, and now, having achieved this, you again desire the association of My bhaktas?”

Dhruva said, “O Prabhu, if I had not attained the association of your bhaktas, then how could I have attained Your association today? I would have deviated from the path of attaining You by committing some offence. And even now, how will it be possible for me to remain in Your company if I am without the association of your bhaktas? At any time I may commit some offence and lose Your association.”

Thus, the association of bhaktas is more powerful than the association of Bhagavan Himself. This has been made clear. Since we are unable to understand this, the harmful effects of associating with a woman and with a man who associates with women has been illustrated. Of the two, the latter harm is the greater. But although people may hear this, do they pay any regard?

iti yoshitsangadapi yoshitsanginam
sango yathatinindya uk ttah
Just as associating with a man who associates with a woman has been denounced in Srimad-Bhagavatam as more condemnable than associating with a woman, so associating with a bhagavad-bhakta has been glorified as more virtuous, advantageous and desirable than associating with Bhagavan directly. Indeed, there is nothing more virtuous and desirable than sadhu-sanga. Through such association all one’s desires are fulfilled.

Our Inability to Actually Associate

Real sadhus, however, are extremely rare and therefore difficult to find; and if they are found, it is very difficult to associate with them in the real sense. Although people of this world may attain the association of a bhagavad-bhakta, they remain unable to comprehend his bhava-dhara, line of thought that is his moods. We may, by the accumulation of previous sukriti, come close physically to a bhagavad-bhakta; but we then discover that we cannot associate with him in any real sense. If those who have attained the sanga of bhagavad-bhaktas find themselves unable to benefit from it, what can be said of the predicament of those who have not even attained such sanga.

Why is this so? Why can we not properly associate with bhagavad-bhaktas despite being in their company? Sanga means “samyak rupena gamana – to completely follow the bhagavad-bhakta.” It is difficult for us to comply with their instructions. Moreover, the foundation of sanga is priti. Without priti, there can be no sanga. We go to the market and see, meet and talk with many people, but can this be called sanga? No. Priti is the real requirement.

What is priti? Srila Rupa Gosvami has written:

dadati pratigrihnati
guhyam akhyati pricchati
bhunkte bhojayate caiva
shad-vidham priti-lakshanam

Sri Upadesamrita (4)
Offering pure devotees items in accordance with their requirements, accepting remnant items given by pure devotees, revealing to devotees one’s confidential realizations concerning bhajana, inquiring from them about their confidential realizations, eating with great love the prasada remnants given by devotees and lovingly feeding them prasada – these are the six symptoms of loving association with pure devotees.

Are we able to deal with bhagavad-bhaktas with these six symptoms of priti? We can have these six exchanges with worldly people, but not with bhagavad-bhaktas, because maya does not let us do so. Such is the oppression of maya that she will not allow us to associate with sadhus. Hence, the sanga of bhagavad-bhaktas is very rare; we are unable to attain it even after attaining their company. This is our misfortune.

Why is this so? Man is the sangi (associate) of maya and likes associating with her. Ordinary people may come close to a bhagavad-bhakta, but they will prefer to discuss worldly topics with him and go away. They are not influenced by his association. It is very difficult for them. Therefore it is said that the result of associating with a bhagavad-bhakta for a single moment cannot be compared to the attainment of Svarga and moksha. What a significant matter! What a precious commodity is sadhu-sanga. Is such a highly worshipable and desirable thing attained in the course of everyone’s fate?

It is said in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita (Madhya-lila 22.54):

‘sadhu-sanga’, ‘sadhu-sanga’ sarva-sastre kaya
lava-matra sadhu-sange sarva-siddhi haya

The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment’s association with a sadhu, one can attain all success.

Smearing One’s Body with a Sadhu’s Foot Dust

In Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bharata Maharaja speaks as follows to King Rahugana: r
ahuganaitat tapasa na yati
na cejyaya nirvapanad grihad va
na cchandasa naiva jalagni-suryair
vina mahat-pada-rajo-’bhishekam

Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.12.12)
How significant are the words spoken by Bharata Maharaja to King Rahugana. “O Rahugana, you want to know Bhagavan, but He cannot be known by austerity (tapasya), nor by worship, nor by giving up one’s home, nor indeed by living in one’s home. He cannot be known by reciting the Vedas nor by worshiping the demigods such as the Sun-god, Varuna and so on.

Why? Because vina mahat-pada-rajo-’bhishekam: as long as one does not smear himself with the foot dust of the mahat, great saintly personalities, one cannot achieve any result by performing all these other activities. So one should first seek the sanga of a great saintly personality, and only when he can smear himself with the foot dust of this personality, can Bhagavan be known to him.”

Prahlada Maharaja gave the same instruction to the sons of his guru:

naisham matis tavad urukramanghrim
sprisaty anarthapagamo yad-arthah
mahiyasam pada-rajo-’bhishekam
nishkincananam na vrinita yavat

Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.5.32)
Prahlada Maharaja told the sons of his teacher that they should give up everything. “What benefit can you derive from your father Sukracarya, who you consider a great pandita?” he asked. “His consciousness is unable to touch the lotus feet of Bhagavan, who performs uncommon activities. These lotus feet have the effect of removing a person’s anarthas and awarding him complete perfection. They deliver to him his prayojana, or goal.

“So how can we attain Bhagavan? Can everyone attain him? Mahiyasham pada-rajo-’bhishekam: one must smear himself with the dust of the lotus feet of mahat, a saintly personality. Who is such a saintly personality? Niskincananam na vrinita yavat: one who possesses no wealth other than Bhagavan. As long as we do not accept and smear upon our bodies the foot dust of a niskincana mahapurusha, we will achieve nothing at all.”

The essence of the whole subject, in the language of my gurupada-padma Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, is that the jiva’s supreme auspiciousness comes about by hearing hari-katha in sadhu-sanga. This is because sadhusanga is the sole means to attain krishna-bhakti:

krishna-bhakti-janma-mula haya ‘sadhu-sanga’
Sri Caitanya-caritamrita (Madhya-lila 22.84)
The root cause of bhakti to Sri Krishna is association with sadhus.

Hare Krishna.

(Audio recording (in Bengali) courtesy of the disciples of Srila Bhakti Pramoda Puri Gosvami Maharaja)
Translated by the Rays of The Harmonist team
Published in English for the first time in Rays of The Harmonist No. 12 Gaura-purnima 2003
and Rays of The Harmonist No. 13 Karttika 2003

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