A Deliberation on the Methodology of Sädhu-saìga
by Çréla Bhaktivinoda Öhäkura
[NOTE: This page uses Balarama font (available here) for better transliteration of Sanskrit into English. Click here for a version without Balarama font.]
Association is the basis of one’s nature
A person’s nature is shaped by the company he keeps. In other words, a person develops a nature similar to that of whomever he associates with. The jéva’s association with the fruitive activities he performed in his past life moulds his nature, and this nature is transformed by the company he keeps in his current life. Thus, association is the root cause in forming a person’s character. It has therefore been said:
yasya yat saìgatiù puàso
maëivat syät sa tad-guëaù
Çré Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (quoted in
Çré Bhakti-rasämåta-sindhu 1.2.229)
The quartz crystal assumes the colour of any object in its proximity, regardless of the hue of that object. Similarly, a person acquires the qualities of whomever he joins company with. Sädhu-saìga is the path to liberation Çrémad-Bhägavatam (3.23.55) states:
saìgo yaù saàsåter hetur
asatsu vihito ’dhiyä
sa eva sädhuñu kåto
By associating with worldly-minded materialists, a person is bound to undergo severe suffering in material existence. He will certainly have to bear the consequences of his association, even if he cannot distinguish between good and bad. By associating with saintly persons, however, a person attains niùsaìgatva, complete freedom from worldly attachments.
Relinquishing unfavourable association is essential
Regarding bad association, Çrémad-Bhägavatam (3.31.33–34) affirms:
satyaà çaucaà dayä maunaà
buddhiù çrér hrér yaçaù kñamä
çamo damo bhagaç ceti
yat-saìgäd yäti saìkñayam
teñv açänteñu müòheñu
saìgaà na kuryäc chocyeñu
Worldly association destroys all one’s virtues like truthfulness, cleanliness, mercy, gravity, intelligence, shyness, prosperity, reputation, forgiveness, control of the mind, control of the senses, good fortune and opulence. One should utterly reject the company of a person who is not a sädhu, considering such association to be extremely miserable, for such a wicked and restless fool is but a dancing dog in the hands of a woman and is thereby simply bent on annihilating himself.
The symptoms of a sädhu, and the necessity of sädhu-saìga
We do not, however, attain the desired goal merely by renouncing bad association. We must earnestly engage in sädhu-saìga. The symptoms of a genuine sädhu, one whose association must be sought, have been outlined in Çrémad-Bhägavatam (3.25.21,23–24):
mad-äçrayäù kathä måñöäù
çåëvanti kathayanti ca
tapanti vividhäs täpä
ta ete sädhavaù sädhvi
saìgas teñv atha te prärthyaù
saìga-doña-harä hi te
Lord Kapila said, “O Mother, the sublime ornaments of a sädhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and a well wisher and friend to all living entities. He considers no one his enemy, is peaceful and abides by the scriptures. These qualities comprise the nature of all pure devotees.
“Since the minds of such personalities are fully absorbed in Me, they do not perform the arduous endeavours of those lured by the paths of karma, jïäna or añöäìga-yoga. Rather, they engage themselves simply in speaking and hearing harikathä, their minds having been easily cleansed by narrations of My pastimes. O virtuous lady, these devotees, who are completely free from all worldly attachments, counteract the harmful effects of a person’s material bondage. You should pray for their association.”
A sädhu is very rare and not to be judged by external dress
We should not identify a sädhu by his external garb. Even if someone has completely given up criticising others and engaging in idle gossip, he must clearly possess the above-mentioned virtues before we can recognise him as a sädhu. In this Age of Kali, knowledge of what makes a real sädhu is vanishing. It is a matter of grave concern that anyone and everyone who dresses himself as a sädhu is acknowledged as one. We should be ever mindful that by associating with such false sädhus we become duplicitous ourselves. There are few genuine sädhus. They are currently so rare that a person would be lucky to discover one after intently searching far and wide for a very long time.
Kåñëa-bhakti influenced by mädhurya-rasa is especially uncommon
Mahädeva (Lord Çiva) once said to Devé (Pärvaté),
“O Bhagavaté, among thousands upon thousands of persons desiring salvation, perhaps one exhibits the characteristics of a liberated soul. Among thousands upon thousands of such persons, maybe one actually achieves spiritual realisation and perfection. And among millions and millions of perfected and liberated souls, perhaps one, on the strength of his past virtuous activities (sukåti) and good association (sat-saìga), is devoted to Lord Näräyaëa. Just see, the devotees of Lord Näräyaëa are self-satisfied, and therefore they are extremely rare. But look here. If the pure devotee who serves Lord Näräyaëa in däsyarasa, the mood of servitorship, is so rare, how much more uncommon is he who serves Çré Kåñëa in mädhurya-rasa, the mood of amorous love.”
The devotee of Lord Kåñëa is the topmost sädhu,and the fruit of associating with him is the highest
Only Çré Kåñëa’s pure devotee, who possesses all the symptoms mentioned previously, is to be
considered the best of sädhus, and his association is highly desirable for us. Çré Brahmä describes the benefit we receive from this association:
tävad rägädayaù stenäs
tävat kärä-gåhaà gåham
tävan moho ’ìghri-nigaòo
yävat kåñëa na te janäù
Çré Brahmä says, “The attachment and hatred that arise from spontaneous absorption in the objects of sense gratification are robbing us of our true nature. Our homes have become nothing but prison houses and we are constantly bound by the foot-shackles of material affection (moha). What a miserable condition we are in. O Çré Kåñëa, only when possessiveness (mamatä) towards You awakens in my heart by associating with Your pure devotees, shall I be counted among Your associates. From that day, the various propensities of my mind, such as attachment, shall no longer act like thieves but like beloved friends, by allowing me to engage in pure devotional service to You. Only then will my home become transcendental and bestow eternal bliss; only from that day will my power of affection become favourable for devotional service and actually advance the cause of my soul.”
Lord Brahmä offered further prayers:
tad astu me nätha sa bhüri-bhägo
bhave ’tra vänyatra tu vä tiraçcäm
yenäham eko ’pi bhavaj-janänäà
bhütvä niñeve tava päda-pallavam
“O Çré Kåñëa,” he entreated, “my earnest prayer is that in this life as Brahmä, or in any other species of life, even as an animal or a bird, I may attain the fortune of being counted as one of Your devotees and engage in devotional service to Your lotus feet.” One achieves this exalted position only by associating with a pure devotee of Çré Kåñëa.
What activities comprise sädhu-saìga? This is a matter of great importance. Generally people think that sädhu-saìga is performed when one identifies a sädhu and massages his feet, offers obeisances to him, honours his caraëämåta, takes his remnants or donates some money to him. It is true that a person honours a sädhu by these activities and thereby derives some benefit, but it is incorrect to deem these activities sädhu-saìga.
RAYS OF THE HARMONIST • 13
The methodology of associating with sädhus
Çrémad-Bhägavatam (2.7.46) describes how to engage in sädhu-saìga:
te vai vidanty atitaranti ca deva-mäyäà
stré-çüdra-hüëa-çabarä api päpa-jéväù
tiryag-janä api kim u çruta-dhäraëä ye
The word adbhuta-krama denotes Çré Kåñëa, whose pure devotees are adbhuta-krama-paräyaëa, or dedicated to Him. Only those who make a great endeavour to seek training and instruction from the çéla, or nature and spotless character, of such pure devotees can understand the illusory potency of the Lord. They alone become capable of fully crossing the ocean of mäyä. Even souls who are born as women, çüdras, hüëas1, çabaras 2 or other sinful kinds of human beings, or as animals and birds, can learn from the character of a kåñëa-bhakta and thereby effortlessly cross the ocean of birth and death. Thus, what doubt can there be that scholars with profuse knowledge of the scriptures will not also easily cross the ocean of material bondage by following the spotless conduct and character of a pure devotee.
In conclusion, one cannot transcend the power of mäyä even after acquiring knowledge from many scriptures. No great benefit is achieved from birth in a high-class family, and one is unable to cross the material ocean of birth and death even after practicing the dry renunciation enjoined in çästra. Nor can worldly opulence and physical beauty render this favour. One achieves unalloyed, transcendental devotional service to Çré Kåñëa only by very carefully investigating the nature and character of the pure devotee, who is a true sädhu, and then by honestly following him.
The materialist’s humility and appeals for mercy are utter hypocrisy
Materialistic persons offer obeisances to a sädhu and pray to him, “O benevolent one, I am extremely fallen. Please bestow your mercy upon me and explain how my attachments to this world may be removed.” But their words are hollow. In the depths of their heart, they are convinced that accumulating wealth is real gain, and amassing objects for sense enjoyment is life’s only goal. An infatuation for money burns in their hearts day and night. The materialist hankers to be recognised by the sädhu and fears that the sädhu’s curse may destroy his prospects for sensual pleasure. Therefore, he displays false humility and devotion before him. If the sädhu were to bless such a person by saying, “May your desire for sense gratification be extinguished, your opulence destroyed and your relatives taken away”, the materialist would at once cry, “O sädhu-mahäräja, be kind! Don’t bless me like this. Your favour is a curse and definitely harmful for me.” Just see! Such behaviour with a sädhu makes a mockery of sädhu-saìga.
Duplicity deprives one of the real fruits of sädhu-saìga
In the course of life, we may encounter many sädhus, but our deceitful natures check us from receiving the real benefit of their association. Our souls will make spiritual advancement if, with simple faith, we carefully and continuously assimilate the spotless character of a genuine sädhu – that is, a mahätmä, great soul. Keeping this in mind, we should associate closely with a sädhu. By doing so, we will become conscious of his nature and character and make a focused endeavour to develop such a nature and character ourselves. This, indeed, is the teaching of Çrémad-Bhägavatam.
1 a hill tribe originating from Eastern Germany and part of Russia
2 a tribe of hunters who keep and sell pigs