The Hammer - 9
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The Hammer For Smashing Illusion

Shankaracharya's famous "Bhaja Govinda"


By Hansadutta das

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Text 9

By associating with saintly persons one becomes detached. By such detachment one achieves freedom from illusion. The living entity, being freed from illusion, becomes steady, or fixed, and by such steadiness he then attains liberation.

Freedom from Illusion--the Benefits of Spiritual Association

The sum and substance of advancing in spiritual life is association. When Lord Chaitanya was asked what was the most important factor in the advancement of Krishna consciousness, the ultimate conclusion was association with saintly persons. We become what we are by association. If we associate with thieves and rogues, we shall become thieves and rogues. If we associate with drunkards, we shall become drunkards. If we associate with scholars, we shall become scholarly. Similarly, if we associate with sadhus (saintly people), we shall become saintly. Association is the most important factor for a person wishing to make progress on the path of spiritual life. The shastras also emphasize the importance of saintly persons.

According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to upper planetary systems and some of them are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and guru such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service. (Chaitanya-charitamrita Madhya-lila 19.151)

Who is Opening the Door to Liberation?

Every living entity has been wandering in this material atmosphere since time immemorial. No one can remember when and how his conditional life began, but that we are caught up in the cycle of birth and death is an undeniable fact. Even if we do not accept the concept of repeated birth and death, we have to admit that we have suffered the pangs of birth in this life, that we are becoming old and that with old age, disease manifests itself in various ways. Disease is the forewarning of death, and death is certain for everyone.

After wandering through the 8,400,000 species of life, a living entity comes into the human form of life. The human form of life gives us an opportunity to get free from material existence. That freedom begins if by good fortune we come in touch with a bona fide representative of Krishna. We cannot become free from material existence simply by studying shastra, practicing penance, austerity and renunciation. Real liberation is effected the moment we come in touch with a pure devotee of Krishna, because he--and he alone--has the power to appeal our case to the Supreme Lord. It is the mercy of the spiritual master, the pure devotee representative of the Lord, which opens up the door to liberation.

Association with Devotees--Nothing is More Valuable

There are unlimited conditioned souls who are bereft of Lord Krishna's service. Not knowing how to cross over the ocean of nescience, they are scattered by the waves of time and tide. However, some are fortunate to contact devotees, and by this contact they are delivered from the ocean of ignorance, just as a log floating down the river accidentally washes up on the bank. (Chaitanya-charitamrita Madhya-lila 22.43)

O my Lord, O infallible One, when a person wandering throughout the universe becomes eligible for liberation from material existence, he gets an opportunity to associate with devotees. When he associates with devotees, his attraction for You is awakened. You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the highest goal of the supreme devotees of the Lord of the universe. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.51.53)

By association with a devotee, one awakens his faith in devotional service. Because of devotional service, one's dormant love of Krishna awakens, and thus one's material conditional existence comes to an end. (Chaitanya-charitamrita Madhya-lila 22.49)

Unless one is favored by a pure devotee, he cannot attain the platform of devotional service, to say nothing of krishna-bhakti. One cannot even be relieved from the bondage of material existence. ( Chaitanya-charitamrita Madhya-lila 22.51)

The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment's association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success. (Chaitanya-charitamrita Madhya-lila 22.54)

The value of a moment's association with a devotee of the Lord cannot be compared to the attainment of heavenly planets, or liberation from material existence, what to speak of worldly benedictions in the form of prosperity, wealth, and women, which is for those who are meant for death. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.18.13)

Who is a Saint?

Now the next question may be asked: Who is a devotee? How can I tell who is and who is not a devotee? Everyone is claiming to be a devotee, to possess the truth and to be able to deliver people from ignorance. In that connection, there are explicit instructions in Srimad-Bhagavatam regarding who is the devotee and who is not.

The symptoms of a sadhu, or a saintly person, or a devotee, are that he is tolerant, merciful, friendly to all living entities, he has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime. ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.21)
Such a sadhu engages in staunch devotional service to the Lord without any deviation. For the sake of the Lord he renounces all other connections, such as family relationships and friendly acquaintances in the world. ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.22)

Generally, an advanced devotee becomes so absorbed in devotional service to Krishna that he cannot bear to divert his attention to anything else except the service of the Lord. For that purpose he gives up his wife, children, friends, home, country and his money. Indeed, he sacrifices his entire existence just for the satisfaction of the Lord. In Bhagavad-gita (9.14) it is further said:

satatam kirtayanto mam
yantas cha dridha-vratah
Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me in devotion.

The devotee is not a self-made man, but he is the property of Krishna. Whenever and wherever one meets a devotee, the devotee will always be absorbed in glorifying the Supreme Lord. That is what distinguishes a devotee from a non-devotee. The non-devotees have many subject matters for hearing--politics, art, music, business, economics--but a pure devotee of the Lord is not interested in any worldly subject matter. If he speaks of anything worldly, it is only in connection with Krishna; otherwise he has no program for amassing wealth, becoming popular or enjoying material comforts.

Engaged constantly in chanting and hearing about Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the sadhus do not suffer from material miseries because they are always filled with thoughts of My pastimes and activities. ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.23)
O mother, O virtuous lady, these are the qualities of great devotees who are free from all attachments. You must seek attachment to such holy men, for this counteracts the pernicious effects of material attachment. ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.24)
In the association of pure devotees, discussion of the pastimes and activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes detached and advanced on the path of liberation, and thereafter he is freed and his attraction becomes fixed. Then real devotional service begins. ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.25)

The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great bliss and satisfaction enlightening one another and conversing about Me. (Bhagavad-gita 10.9)

Thus conscientiously engaged in devotional service in the association of devotees, a person gains distaste for sense gratification, both in this world and in the next, because of constant thinking about the activities of the Lord. This process of Krishna consciousness is the easiest process of mystic yoga and power. When one is actually situated on the path of devotional service he is able to control his mind. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.26)

Tell Me with Whom You Associate, and I will Tell You Who You Are!

The opposite effect, due to association with non-devotees, is also described. Who is a non-devotee?

asat-sanga-tyaga, ei vaishnava-achara
stri-sangi-eka asadhu, 'krishnabhakta' ara
(Chaitanya-charitamrita Madhya-lila 22.87)

Here Lord Chaitanya has given this guideline for persons who are serious about becoming Krishna conscious. He says, "One should avoid persons who are asat (materialists)." There are two kinds of materialists: those who are attached to women and sense gratification and others who are simply non-devotees. Kapiladeva, in the Third Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, describes the effects of associating with non-devotees:

By association with worldly people, one becomes devoid of truthfulness, cleanliness, mercy, gravity, spiritual intelligence, shyness, austerity, fame, forgiveness, control of the mind, control of the senses, fortune and all opportunities.
One should not at any time associate with a coarse fool who is bereft of knowledge of self-realization and who is no more than a toy animal in the hands of a woman. The illusion and bondage that accrue to a man from attachment to any other object are not as complete and blinding as that resulting from associating with women or with men too much attached to women. ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.31.33-35)

The Science of Spiritual Purification

These are the conclusions of Vedic literature. We should not take it to be sectarian or dogmatic, but try to understand it as a science, which we have to learn to appreciate by practicing the process of devotional service. This movement is not against women or anyone, nor is this movement a passing fad for exhibiting a fashionable behavior such as the punk movement. It is a movement for enlightening us about the spiritual truths which underlie our very existence. It is not a religion in the sense of Christian, Mohammedan, Jewish or Hindu religions. It is not a faith or a belief. It is a science and culture. And every human being's business is to assimilate the science of the soul, the science of God, to understand the very purpose and essence of his existence. If we fail to understand our true nature and our purpose in life, then we shall have missed the greatest opportunity--namely, to purify our existence and to go home, back to Godhead and live an eternal life of knowledge and bliss.

Getting to the Root of Sin

Here are a number of additional quotations regarding the importance of associating with saintly persons.

My dear King, if a sinful person engages in the service of a bona fide devotee of the Lord and thus learns how to dedicate his life unto the lotus feet of the Lord, he can be completely purified. One cannot be purified merely by undergoing austerity, penance, brahmacharya (celibacy) or other methods of atonement which I have previously described. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.16)

Generally, when one commits a sin such as stealing, lying or adultery, then he has to undergo some kind of atonement. For example, in the Christian religion, one goes to a priest and confesses. The priest then prescribes some atonement or penance to be performed to counteract the sinful deed, just as when a criminal is apprehended and brought to trial he is given some punishment to counteract his criminal activity. But Shukadeva Goswami explains in Srimad-Bhagavatam that this is not really effective in giving us the ultimate cure to our sinful deeds. We see that even when a criminal is apprehended and punished, upon his release, he again commits a crime. In this way, he continues his miserable existence.

In the same way, until a sinful person has the seed of sinful activity rooted out, he will again and again become a victim of sinful life. Rooting out the seed of sinful activity is accomplished not simply by penance, austerity, celibacy, renunciation, or studying the shastras. It is the association of a pure devotee that can remove the seeds of sinful desire, and thus one can actually get relief from material miseries.

Becoming Great by Serving the Great

Here is a very important verse:

One can attain the path of liberation from material bondage only by rendering service to the highly advanced spiritual personalities. These personalities are impersonalists and devotees. Whether one wants to merge into the Lord's existence or wants to associate with the Personality of Godhead, one should render service to the mahatmas, or sadhus. For those who are not interested in such activities, who associate with people fond of women and sex, the path to hell is wide open. The mahatmas are equipoised. They do not see any difference between one living entity and another. They are devoid of anger, and they work for the benefit of everyone. They do not behave in any abominable way. Such people are known as mahatmas. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.2)

The mahatmas are further described as follows:

Those who are not deluded--the great souls--are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible. ( Bhagavad-gita 9.13)

My dear King Rahugana, unless one has the opportunity to smear his entire body with the dust of the lotus feet of great devotees, one cannot realize the Absolute Truth. One cannot realize the Absolute Truth by observing celibacy, strictly following rules and regulations of household life, leaving home as a vanaprastha or accepting sannyasa, or undergoing severe penances in winter by keeping oneself submerged in water, or by surrounding oneself in summer by fire and the scorching heat of the sun. There are many other processes to understand the Absolute Truth, but the Absolute Truth is only revealed to one who has attained the mercy of a great devotee. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.12.12)

Spiritual Life is Not Mechanical--It's Personal

Therefore, we find throughout history that it is not a particular doctrine, book or movement which has inspired the world to upliftment and liberated men from material entanglement. It has always been a person--and furthermore, a person who is thoroughly purified and attached to the devotional service of the Lord. In the Christian tradition we find great saintly persons like Lord Jesus Christ or Saint Francis. Similarly, in Vedic culture there are many great sadhus.

Krishna consciousness is not a mechanical process where we join up, pay some dues, get a mantra and are then instantly liberated. Of course, there must be some organization for the association of like-minded men--that is necessary. But simply living together, eating and sleeping and forming another kind of love, friendship and society is not really the aim of Krishna consciousness. The real purpose is to find a pure devotee and associate with him. In this way, the very root of all our material problems shall be removed, and the path to self-realization will be simplified, just as reading, writing and arithmetic are more easily mastered when children agree to submit to the teacher.

Living for the Welfare of Others

The teacher comes down to show the children how ABC has to be done. That is the nature of the devotee. In Srimad-Bhagavatam it is said: "The great souls do not live for their own satisfaction, but they live only for the welfare of others." In another place we find Lord Shiva saying to Parvati, "It is the nature of saintly persons to overlook that which is bad, and greatly magnify that which is good." So a sadhu is a person who has got only the interest of the conditioned soul in his heart. In Bhagavad-gita (6.32) Krishna says, "He is a real or true yogi who sees the equality of all living beings, both in their happiness and distress, by dint of his own personal experience." A sadhu can see everyone's real position, because a sadhu has experienced everything personally. He alone can show real compassion. He alone can give real relief and do welfare for all living beings, because a sadhu is finished with material life. He no longer aspires to become popular. He has no concern about his personal comfort. He is completely free from material existence. He is not bound up. Therefore he can give us real fortune. He can give us real happiness, real knowledge and relief from our suffering.

He Who Gives the Mercy

Everyone else--as long as he is not liberated, as long as he is not pure--will try to take something from us; but a saintly person is trying to give us something. Unfortunately, we are so bewildered and puzzled due to our long-standing engagement in material activities that we cannot recognize the sadhu's mercy, and we sometimes mistake the saintly person to be a man of the world who is trying to exploit us. That is unfortunate. But if one is sincere and actually wants to be liberated from the material existence, Krishna, who sits within the heart of everyone, will point out to us who is a genuine saintly person. That should be our only aspiration in life: finding a genuine saintly person, then approaching him and trying to satisfy him in all respects. In this way we can make our life perfect. Hare Krishna.

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