Jana-saṅga (Association with worldly-minded persons)

Niyamāgraha (Attachment or neglect of rules and regulations)Niyamāgraha (Attachment or neglect of rules and regulations)
Laulya (Mental restlessness)Laulya (Mental restlessness)

This article “Jana-saṅga (Association with wordly-minded persons)” is the fifth in a series of articles published in the 10th Volume of Sajjana Toṣaṇī which deals with the six things that are favourable to bhakti and the six things that are unfavourable according to the second and third verses of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Upadeśāmṛta. This fifth article deals with Jana-saṅga – Association with wordly-minded persons – Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura describes the glories of sādhu-saṅga and the dangers of asat-saṅga.

Jana-saṅga (Association with worldly-minded persons)

by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura
(translated by Bhumipati Dasa)

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The word jana means both male and female human beings. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has written in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu: sādho saṅgaḥ svato vare, “a devotee should associate with devotees who are more advanced.” Generally the practicing devotees are superior to karmīs and jñānīs in all respects. In the Bhagavad-gītā (7.28) it is said:

yeṣāṁ tv anta-gataṁ pāpaṁ 
janānāṁ puṇya-karmaṇām
te dvandva-moha-nirmuktā
bhajante māṁ dṛḍha-vratāḥ

“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life and whose sinful actions are completely eradicated are freed from the dualities of delusion, and they engage themselves in My service with determination.”

Therefore devotees are naturally pure. There is no possibility for them to commit sin. They are not less intelligent like the karmis and jñānīs, because they have taken shelter at the lotus feet of the omniscient Supreme Lord. Faith in the devotional service of Lord Kṛṣṇa is achieved as a result of many lifetimes of pious activities. So there is no doubt that the devotees’ activities are pure. From faith, the desire to associate with devotees naturally arises. By associating with devotees, everything is achieved. The glories of sādhu-saṅga is mentioned in the Ādi Purāṇa as follows:

ye me bhakta-janāḥ pārtha
 na me bhaktāś ca te janāḥ
mad-bhaktānāṁ ca ye bhaktās
 te me bhakta-tamā matāḥ

“Lord Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna, “Those who are My direct devotees are actually not My devotees, but those who are the devotees of My servant are factually My devotees.”

Regarding the need to associate with devotees, it is said:

darśana sparśanālāpa
 sahavāsādibhiḥ kṣaṇāt
bhaktāḥ punanti kṛṣṇasya
 sākṣād api ca pukkaśam

“Even an outcaste becomes completely pure by seeing, touching, conversing with, or living with Kṛṣṇa’s devotee for even a moment.”

The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (7.5.32) states:

naiṣāṁ matis tāvad urukramāṅghriṁ
spṛśaty anarthāpagamo yad-arthaḥ
mahīyasāṁ pāda-rajo-‘bhiṣekaṁ
niṣkiñcanānāṁ na vṛṇīta yāvat

“Unless they smear upon their bodies the dust of the lotus feet of a Vaiṣṇava completely freed from material contamination, persons very much inclined toward materialistic life cannot be attached to the lotus feet of the Lord, who is glorified for His uncommon activities. Only by becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious and taking shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord in this way can one be freed from material contamination.”

The scriptures often state that without the association of the Lord’s devotees, Bhakti-devi does not manifest in the heart. It is most necessary for sādhakas to associate with devotees. Therefore, in this context, the word jana-saṅga is understood to mean persons who are devoid of devotion. That is why Śrīla Rūpa Prabhu has included the instruction to give up worldly association as one of the limbs of devotional service. In the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.43) it is said:

saṅga tyāgo vidureṇa bhagavad vimukhair janaiḥ

“One who desires to attain devotion to Kṛṣṇa should carefully give up the association of worldly people.”

That means the devotees should not engage in the activities mentioned in the fourth verse of the Upadeśāmṛta with worldly people. Activities like talking with worldly people in the course of one’s work is not considered association. When the same activities are done with affection for someone, then that is considered association with that person.

Every practicing devotee should know the various kinds of worldly people. Therefore we are hereby most unwillingly enumerating these people. These worldly people are of seven kinds: (1) Māyāvādīs and atheists, (2) sense enjoyers, (3) those who are fond of the sense enjoyers, (4) women, (5) womanizers, (6) the hypocritically devout, and (7) the ill-behaved foolish outcastes.

The māyāvādīs do not accept the eternal name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Supreme Lord. They consider the living entity as a product of māyā; therefore, in their opinion the living entity has no eternal existence. They do not consider devotional service eternal; rather, they consider it a temporary method to cultivate knowledge. All the māyāvādī conclusions are opposed to the principles of devotional service. Therefore, by associating with māyāvādīs, one’s devotion gradually disappears. Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara gave the following instruction in Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya 2.94-95):

buddhi bhraṣṭa haila tomāra gopālera saṅge
māyāvāda śunibāre upajila raṅge
vaiṣṇava hañā yebā śārīraka-bhāṣya śune
sevya-sevaka-bhāva chāḍi’ āpanāre ‘īśvara’ māne

“You have lost your intelligence in the association of Gopāla, and therefore you are eager to hear the māyāvāda philosophy. When a Vaiṣṇava listens to the Śārīraka-bhāṣya, the māyāvāda commentary upon the Vedānta-sūtras, he gives up the Kṛṣṇa conscious attitude that the Lord is the master and the living entity is His servant. Instead, he considers himself the Supreme Lord.”

Those who do not accept the Supreme Lord, who is glorified by the Vedas, are called nāstikas, or atheists. Their minds have been polluted by false arguments; therefore one’s devotion is lost in their association.

Association with sense enjoyers is harmful. Those who are always busy associating with sense enjoyment are filled with blasphemy, envy, and violence. Quarrel, argument, and hankering for sense enjoyment is their life. The more they enjoy, the more their thirst for sense enjoyment increases. The sense enjoyers do not get time to speak or hear topics of Kṛṣṇa. Whether they engage in pious activities or sinful activities, the sense enjoyers always remain far from knowledge of the self. Therefore, in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya 6.278) Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has said:

viṣayīra anna khāile malina haya mana
malina mana haile nahe kṛṣṇera smaraṇa

“When one eats food offered by a materialistic man, one’s mind becomes contaminated, and when the mind is contaminated, one is unable to think of Kṛṣṇa properly.”

Those persons who externally engage in sensual activities and accept sense objects just to maintain body and soul together but internally engage in their constitutional position as servants of Kṛṣṇa are not counted amongst the sense enjoyers, who are attached the fruits of their activities.

The sense enjoyers and persons fond of sense enjoyers are both worldly-minded. Persons who are fond of sense enjoyers are themselves also sense enjoyers, because they always think of sense enjoyment within their hearts. There are some people who are not themselves sense enjoyers, but they take pleasure in associating with sense enjoyers. Their association should also be renounced, because they will soon become sense enjoyers and bad association themselves. There are two types of sense enjoyers—those who are extremely attached to sense enjoyment and devotees who are attached to sense enjoyment. Associating with those who are extremely attached should be totally rejected. The devotees who are attached to sense enjoyment are also of two types—those who have included the Lord as a part of their sense enjoyment and those who have kept the Lord in the centre of their sense enjoyment. Association with the latter type is preferable to association with the former. Although those who engage in sense enjoyment according to religious codes are better than the sinful sense enjoyers, still the practicing devotee should not associate with them until they become devotees. Simply by wearing the dress of a renunciate one does not become a devotee free from sense gratification, because renunciates often collect and save objects of sense enjoyment. On the other hand, many persons resemble sense enjoyers but utilize everything in the worship of Lord Hari in the mood of detachment. Considering all this, the practicing devotee should give up the association of sense enjoyers and those fond of them and engage in devotional service in a secluded place or, if he is fortunate, in the association of genuine devotees.

Do not associate with women. On the other hand, when a woman is engaged in sādhana-bhakti, she should not associate with men. Associating with the opposite sex is very inauspicious for the advancing devotee. There are two types of men and women. When a man and woman are married according to religious principles, there is no sin in their touching and talking with each other; rather, this touching and talking is beneficial because of the scriptural sanction. There is, however, no provision for illusory activities other than the execution of reciprocal duties. If they are illusioned by each other and they engage in activities other than prescribed duties, then that is called strī-saṅga and puruṣa-saṅga, or association with the opposite sex. For those who are engaged in worshiping Kṛṣṇa, such association yields inauspicious results. If either one is guilty of such association, then they become an obstacle for the other party. If the wife is helpful in the discharge of devotional service, then the fault of strī-sanga does not arise. But if the wife is an impediment in the discharge of devotional service, then one should carefully give up her association. We should consider the behavior of the great Vaiṣṇava ācārya, Śrīmad Rāmānujācārya. Śrīmad Rāmānujācārya sent his wife to her parent’s home after she offended his guru’s wife. He then took sannyāsa, in this connection. When there is no marital relationship and one converses with a woman with evil intentions, then this is strī-saṅga. That is sinful and detrimental to devotional service. Considering these points, the practicing devotee should very carefully give up the association of women and persons fond of women. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.31.35):

na tathāsya bhaven moho
 bandhaś cānya-prasaṅgataḥ
yoṣit-saṅgād yathā puṁso
 yathā tat-saṅgi-saṅgataḥ

“The infatuation and bondage which accrue to a man from attachment to any other object is not as complete as that resulting from attachment to a woman or to the fellowship of men who are fond of women.”

For a householder devotee, touching and speaking to his wife in the above mentioned manner is not detrimental to devotional service; but for a renunciate there cannot be any type of talking or touching a woman, otherwise his practice of devotional service will be completely spoiled. Association with such a deviated person should be totally rejected.

One should give up the association of dharma-dhvajīs, the hypocritically devout, with special care. Those who accept the external signs of dharma but do not actually follow dharma are called dharma-dhvajīs. There are two types of dharma-dhvajīs—the hypocrites and the fools, or the cheaters and the cheated. Such hypocrisy in jñāna-kaṇḍa and karma-kaṇḍa is also condemned. In devotional service this hypocrisy ruins everything. Better associate with sense enjoyers, for in this whole world there is no worse association than the dharma-dhvajī. The deceitful dharma-dhvajīs accept the signs of dharma with a desire to cheat the world, and to fulfil their crooked desires they cheat the foolish by helping them in their rascaldom. Some of them become gurus and others become disciples, and by trickery they accumulate wealth, women, false-prestige, and material assets. If one gives up the association of crooked hypocrites, then he can honestly engage in devotional service. Honest worship is the only way to attain Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.3.38):

sa veda dhātuḥ padavīṁ parasya
duranta-vīryasya rathāṅga-pāṇeḥ
yo ‘māyayā santatayānuvṛttyā
bhajeta tat-pāda-saroja-gandham

“Only those who render unreserved, uninterrupted, favorable service unto the lotus feet of Lord Kṛṣṇa, who carries the wheel of the chariot in His hand, can know the creator of the universe in His full glory, power and transcendence.”

Again in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.7.42) Lord Brahmā tells Nārada:

yeṣāṁ sa eṣa bhagavān dayayed anantaḥ
sarvātmanāśrita-pado yadi nirvyalīkam
te dustarām atitaranti ca deva-māyāṁ
naiṣāṁ mamāham iti dhīḥ śva-śṛgāla-bhakṣye

“But anyone who is specifically favoured by the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, due to unalloyed surrender unto the service of the Lord, can overcome the insurmountable ocean of illusion and can understand the Lord. But those who are attached to this body, which is meant to be eaten at the end by dogs and jackals, cannot do so.”

Externally exhibiting the symptoms of a Vaiṣṇava while internally remaining a māyāvādī is actually pseudo-Vaiṣṇavism, or hypocrisy. In Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya 13.93, 109-110) there is a description of Rāmadāsa Viśvāsa, who was externally a great Vaiṣṇava, devoted to Lord Rāmacandra:

aṣṭa-prahara rāma-nāma japena rātri-dine
sarva tyaji’ calilā jagannātha-daraśane
rāmadāsa yadi prathama prabhure mililā
mahāprabhu adhika tāṅre kṛpā nā karilā
antare mumukṣu teṅho, vidyā-garvavān
sarva-citta-jñātā prabhu—sarvajña bhagavān

“Rāmadāsa had renounced everything and was going to see Lord Jagannātha. While traveling, he chanted the holy name of Lord Rāma twenty-four hours a day. When Rāmadāsa Viśvāsa met Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the Lord did not show him any special mercy, although this was their first meeting. Within his heart, Rāmadāsa Viśvāsa was an impersonalist who desired to merge into the existence of the Lord, and he was very proud of his learning. Since Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is the omniscient Supreme Personality of Godhead, He can understand the heart of everyone, and thus He knew all these things.”

Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, in his great humility, has stated:

kāma, krodha chaya jane
 lañā phire nānā sthāne
viṣaya bhuñjāya nānā mate
haiyā māyāra dāsa
 kari nānā abhilāṣa
tomāra smaraṇa gela dūre
artha-lābha-ei āśe
 kapaṭa-vaiṣṇava-veṣe
bhramiyā bulaye ghare ghare

“The six enemies, beginning with lust and anger, are taking me here and there to enjoy various forms of sense gratification. Being a servant of Māyā, I have unlimited desires and have therefore forgotten You. Hoping to gain wealth, I wander from house to house in the dress of a pseudo-Vaiṣṇava.”

Unless one gives up the association of this type of dharma-dvajī, one cannot purely engage in devotional service. Most of the people in the world are of this type. Therefore, until one gets the opportunity to associate with a pure devotee, he should pass his life engaged in devotional service in a solitary place.

The worship of Kṛṣṇa is not enhanced by associating with ill-behaved, foolish outcastes. They are naturally attached to eating meat and drinking wine, and they are not situated in varṇāśrama-dharma. Their character is always unregulated. By associating with ill-behaved persons, the mind becomes polluted. But if those persons become faithful in devotional service by associating with a Vaiṣṇava and they gradually get a taste for worshiping Kṛṣṇa with a pure heart, then their association is auspicious. Even if they commit abominable actions for some time due to their former nature, still they are sadhus. In Bhagavad-gītā (9.30-31) it is said:

api cet su-durācāro
 bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ
 samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā
 śaśvac-chāntiṁ nigacchati
kaunteya pratijānīhi
 na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati

“Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination. He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kuntī, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.”

The purport is this: If the outcastes attain faith in unalloyed devotional service by some good fortune, then it can be said that they have attained the genuine path. There is no doubt that in a short time they too will become pure and peaceful by following the footsteps of Haridāsa Ṭhākura. Ill-behavior, due to one’s nature, necessarily remains for some time. Even then, such association cannot be called bad. In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.20.27-29) the symptoms of such persons are described as follows:

jāta-śraddho mat-kathāsu
 nirviṇṇaḥ sarva-karmasu
veda duḥkhātmakān kāmān
 parityāge ‘py anīśvaraḥ
tato bhajeta māṁ prītaḥ
 śraddhālur dṛḍha-niścayaḥ
juṣamāṇaś ca tān kāmān
duḥ khodarkāṁś ca garhayan
proktena bhakti-yogena
 bhajato māsakṛn mune
kāmā hṛdayyā naśyanti
 sarve mayi hṛdi sthite

“Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities. When an intelligent person engages constantly in worshiping Me through loving devotional service as described by Me, his heart becomes firmly situated in Me. Thus all material desires within the heart are destroyed.”

The conclusion is that the association of pious and sinful persons who are bereft of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is undesirable. On the other hand, the association of persons who are sinful, yet devoted to the Lord, is desirable. The Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.51) quotes the following verse spoken by Mahāṛṣi Kātyāyana in the Kātyāyana-saṁhitā:

varaṁ huta-vaha-jvālā-
pañjarāntar-vyavasthitiḥ
na śauri-cintā-vimukha-
jana-saṁvāsa-vaiśasam

“It is better to accept the miseries of being encaged within bars and surrounded by burning flames than to associate with those bereft of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Such association is a very great hardship.”

While practicing devotional service one should carefully understand this subject and act accordingly.

Jana-saṅga (Association with worldly-minded persons) is the fifth in a series of articles published in the 10th Volume of Sajjana Toṣaṇī by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. This article was translated by Bhumipati Dasa)
Niyamāgraha (Attachment or neglect of rules and regulations)Niyamāgraha (Attachment or neglect of rules and regulations)
Laulya (Mental restlessness)Laulya (Mental restlessness)

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