The Association of Sādhus (Sādhu-jana-saṅga)

The Association of Sādhus (Sādhu-jana-saṅga)

Epilogue-to-Krsna-KarnamrtaEpilogue to Śrī Kṛṣṇa Karṇāmṛta
Radha-Kunda-&-Syama-kundaRādhā-kuṇḍa and Śyāma-kuṇḍa


Sādhu-jana-saṅga (The Association of Sādhus) was first published in Sajjana Toṣaṇi, Vol.10 issue 4 in 1898. Here in this article, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura describes the different categories of humans, and how everyone is in need of sādhu-saṅga in order to advance in their spiritual lives.

(translated by Swami B.V. Giri)

Two Categories of Human Beings

In this vast world we see a number of human beings. We can roughly divide all those human beings into two classes. The first category of humans is averse to the Supreme. They are bewildered by māyā and experience endless suffering while constantly wandering within this world due to misidentification of ‘I’ and ‘my.’ Amongst them, many are selfish, lawless or capricious, some are moralists, some are karmīs, and some identify themselves as jñānīs.

The second category of humans are favourable to the Supreme. Even while present in this world, they endeavour to attain the grace of the Supreme. Because they are following different methods, some are karma-yogīs who conduct themselves by selflessly offering their activities to Bhagavān; some are jñānīs who, with the help of renunciation, engage in meditation on the Absolute etc; some are aṣṭāṅga-yogīs who, by means of āsana, prāṇāyāma etc. perform sādhana to merge the ātmā with the Paramātmā; and some are devotees who, with all their senses, cultivate service to Kṛṣṇa. In order to determine which of them is most qualified to receive the grace of the Supreme, it is necessary to discuss Śrī Bhagavad-gītā, the essence of all the Upaniṣads. Based upon the śāstra, a simple believer can easily understand the superiority of bhakti, but after ambiguous disagreements concerning the words of the śāstra, individuals cannot resolve the matter even after creating many arguments. An argumentative mind keeps the field of the heart contaminated at all times. In determining the merits of the karmī, jñānī etc., Bhagavān has said in the 6th Chapter of the Gītā:

tapasvibhyo’dhiko yogī jñānibhyo’pi mato’dhikaḥ
karmibhyaś cādhiko yogī tasmād yogī bhavārjuna

yoginām api sarveṣāṁ mad-gatenāntar-ātmanā
śraddhāvān bhajate yo māṁ sa me yuktatamo mataḥ
(Bhagavad-gītā 6.46-47)

“A yogī is superior to the tapasvi (one who performs penances), and he is better than the jñāna-yogī. The yogī, in other words, a person who practices aṣṭāṅgayoga, is greater than the karmayogī. Therefore Arjuna, become a yogī! However, those who have great śraddhā and whose minds are exclusively focused upon worshipping Me, are the best of all yogīs. That is because the sādhaka who has great śraddhā is a bhaktayogī and bhaktyāham ekayā grāhya only through exclusive bhakti can I be known.’”

Having entered this world, human beings have taken on different natures in different countries, with different impressions, education and association. That is why some favour karma, some are jñānīs, and some are devotees. What is the nature of the Supreme? What is the nature of the jīva? What is this world created by māyā? What is the relationship between them all? What is the goal of the jīva, and who will that goal be fulfilled? Due to lack of transcendental discussions in the association of real sādhus concerning the philosophy of sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana is the major reason for these different conceptions. In fact, the Supreme Being is one Reality, and the nature of the jīvas is also one reality. However, amongst human beings diverse inclinations are observed which are nothing but the results that originate from impressions, education and association. Becoming free from all material designations, one becomes conversant with bhagavat-tattva (philosophical truth concerning Bhagavān). By associating with a sādhu and receiving instructions from him, one gradually obtains knowledge of the Absolute. In this way, this truth can be realised by the mercy of a sādhu. There is no other way to know transcendental reality without the association and mercy of sādhus.

The Importance of Sādhu Saṅga for Understanding Transcendental Reality

There are some people who endeavour to attain the mercy of the Supreme, but whether it is due to the influence of bad impressions or because they rely so much upon themselves, they do not realise the need for sādhu-saṅga and do not try to associate with sādhus. It is nothing more than an indication of being absorbed by māyā, because there is no other way than sādhu-saṅga for a human being floating in the ocean of saṁsāra. Śrī Śaṅkarācārya has written:

kṣaṇam api sajjana-saṅgatirekā
bhavati bhavārṇava-taraṇe naukā

(“At this moment, you can only cross the material ocean by the boat of sajjana-saṅga, the association of devotees.” – Bhaja Govinda 13)

Unfortunately, their attraction towards sādhu-saṅga has not been born. If or when someone acknowledges the necessity for sādhu-saṅga, internally they do not really desire it. This is a sign of misfortune. It is said in the śāstra:

bhaktis tu bhagavad-bhakta-saṅgena parijāyate
sat-saṅgaḥ prāpyate pumbhiḥ sukṛtaiḥ pūrva-sañcitaiḥ

“By association with a devotee one attains bhakti. By the accumulation of great sukṛti, one achieves sādhusaṅga.”

Although sādhusaṅga is not attained by those who lack sukṛti, sādhusaṅga is not rare if one tries desperately and makes an endeavour. There are places where there are sādhus in this world, and one can see them only by striving hard. But what will happen if you simply sit at home without trying, lamenting that you never achieved any sādhu-saṅga?

Humans have entered this māyika world and are wandering here and there like lost travellers. “On which road will there be happiness? Which road will fulfill my purpose?” Eagerly think like this, they cannot decide anything. But if one attains sādhu-saṅga, all doubts will be removed, and one will see the road ahead. The Śrīmad Bhāgavata states:

bhavāpavargo bhramato yadā bhavej
janasya tarhy acyuta sat-samāgamaḥ
sat-saṅgamo yarhi tadaiva sad-gatau
parāvareśe tvayi jāyate matiḥ

(“When the material existence of a person who has been constantly wandering ceases, then, O Acyuta, he may attain the association of sādhus. Only by the association of sādhus, are thoughts about You, the Supreme Lord, who is true purpose of the devotees and the cause and effect, born.” – Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.51.53)

Due to his obsession with māyā, the jīva’s adversity to Bhagavān has become so strong that a materialistic human cannot remain for a single moment without thinking about sense-objects and serving them. Even after much endeavour, it is difficult to defeat māyā. But when one listens to kīrtana, the shackles of māyā are soon opened. In the Bhāgavata it is said:

satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvido
bhavanti hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ
taj-joṣaṇād āśv apavarga-vartmani
śraddhā ratir bhaktir anukramiṣyati

(“From association with sādhus, topics of my wonderful deeds become directly realised and are a medicine for the ear and heart. By cultivation of this, one is placed on the path of liberation, and śraddhā and rati arise and eventually bhakti appears.” – Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.25.25)

Many people think that the result of sādhu-saṅga is listening to hari-kathā or kīrtana, and this can be done by reading a book or sitting alone, so what is the necessity of sādhu-saṅga? Śrīman Mahāprabhu has said that removing this doubt leads to the attainment of bhakti or the association of sādhus.

kṛṣṇa-bhakti-janma-mūla haya sādhu-saṅga
kṛṣṇa-prema janme, teṅho punaḥ mukhya aṅga

(“Sādhu-saṅga is the root-cause of kṛṣṇa-bhakti. Even when kṛṣṇa-prema appears, it is still the main principle” – Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.83)

mahat-kṛpā vinā kona karme bhakti naya
kṛṣṇa-bhakti dūre rahu saṁsāra nahe kṣaya

(“Without great mercy, no other activity can produce bhakti. What to say of kṛṣṇabhakti, one cannot remove the miseries of saṁsāra.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.51)

sādhu-saṅga sādhu-saṅga sarva-śāstre kaya
lava-mātra sādhu-saṅge sarva-siddhi haya

(“All the śāstra declares, ‘Sādhu-saṅga! Sādhu-saṅga!’Even accepting sādhu-saṅga for a fraction of a second can lead to all perfection.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.54)

Bhakti is not gained by any deed except by the association and grace of sādhus. Even by a moment’s association with a sādhu, great mercy and bhakti, the essence of all perfection, can be attained. But nothing will happen without great mercy. The Bhāgavata has said:

rahūgaṇaitat tapasā na yāti
na cejyayā nirvapaṇād gṛhād vā
na cchandasā naiva jalāgni-sūryair
vinā mahat-pāda-rajobhiṣekam

(“O Rahūgana, this knowledge is not revealed by meditation, nor elaborate Deity worship, nor the distribution of food, building homes for the poor, study of the Vedas, or performing austerities in the water, fire or the sun. It cannot be attained without bathing in the foot-dust of great devotees.” – Srīmad Bhāgavatam 5.12.12)

It is only attained by bathing in the foot-dust of the mahājanas. In the Bhāgavata, Śrī Śrī Prahlāda says:

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

(“As long as they do not accept the dust from the feet of those devotees who have no material desires, the intelligence of materialistic people will never touch the lotus feet of Lord Urukrama which remove the anarthas of this mundane world.” – Srīmad Bhāgavatam 7.5.32)

Again and again, the statements of the śāstra all point to the glories of sādhusaṅga. It cannot be said as to why sādhusaṅga has so many glories, so much potency, and so many results. However, it can be said that only due to lack of sādhusaṅga, some people do not achieve kṛṣṇa-bhakti even after many births. There are also those who attain bhakti very quickly through sādhusaṅga. Only one who has sādhu-saṅga knows how much sweetness there is in sādhu-saṅga, how much attractive power there is in a sādhu’s character, and how satisfying it is to hear hari-kathā from the lips of a sādhu. How will argumentative people that are deprived of sādhu-saṅga understand this? The śāstra openly speaks about the glories of sādhu-saṅga:

tulayāma lavenāpi na svargaṁ nāpunar-bhavam
bhagavat-saṅgi-saṅgasya martyānāṁ kim utāśiṣaḥ

(“The association of devotees cannot be compared to the celestial realm or liberation, what to speak of any blessing in this world of death.”– Srīmad Bhāgavatam 1.18.13)

Undoubtedly it is one’s duty to attain sādhu-saṅga to achieve the grace of Bhagavān. But before associating with sādhus, it is necessary to deliberate on who is a sādhu. Otherwise, there is the possibility of exceptional misfortune if one accepts the company of asādhus as sādhus. There are statements in the śāstra that indicate the characteristics of a sādhu:

nirvairaḥ sadayaḥ śānto dambāhaṅkāra varjitaḥ
nirapekṣo munir-vīta-rāgaḥ sādhurihocyate

(“A sādhu is said to be without any enemy, merciful, tranquil, devoid of pride and false ego, indifferent, silent and without any attachments.”)

The reader should not think the sādhus and Vaiṣṇavas are different. In answer to what are the symptoms of a Vaiṣṇava, Mahāprabhu says:

yāra mukhe eka kṛṣṇa-nāma
seita vaiṣṇava tāra karaha sammāna

(“One who chants the Name of Kṛṣṇa even once is a Vaiṣṇava. Therefore, you should show all respect to him.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 15.111)

kṛṣṇa-nāma nirantara yāṅhāra vadane
sei se vaiṣṇavatara, bhaja tāhāra caraṇe

(“One who constantly chants Kṛṣṇa’s Name is Vaiṣṇavatara and one should render service to his feet.” – Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 16.72)

yāṅhāra darśane mukhe āise kṛṣṇa-nāma
tāṅhāre jāniha tumi vaiṣṇava-pradhāna

(“One who inspires others to chant the Name of Kṛṣṇa merely by their darśana is known as Vaiṣṇavatama and is considered to be the topmost Vaiṣṇava.” – Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 16.74)

However, all these symptoms are internal, therefore the identity of a sādhu cannot be known by these. What is the external behaviour of a sādhu apart from the internal activity of taking pure hari-nāma is explained by Mahāprabhu in the Caritāmṛta:

asat-saṅga-tyāga ei vaiṣṇava-ācāra
strī-saṅgī eka asādhu kṛṣṇābhakta āra

(“The conduct of a Vaiṣṇava is to reject materialistic association such as those who are attached to women, the impious and those who are not devotees of Kṛṣṇa.” – Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.87)

The external conduct of a Vaiṣṇava is that he abandons asādhu-saṅga, whoever it may be. He is a Vaiṣṇava. One can attain all perfection in his association. On the other hand, those who chant harināma and engage in the limbs of bhaktisādhana without doing anything to renounce bad company are vaiṣṇavaprāya (almost Vaiṣṇavas), or vaiṣṇavābhāsa (a dim reflection of a Vaiṣṇava). It is impossible to achieve the results of sādhusaṅga in their company.

What is sādhusaṅga? Simply talking to a sādhu is not saṅga. The word saṅga means ‘love’ or ‘attachment.’ Śrī Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has said this about prīti-lakṣaṇa (the symptoms of love):

dadāti pratigṛhṇāti guhyam ākhyāti pṛcchati
bhuṅkte bhojayate caiva ṣaḍ-vidhaṁ prīti-lakṣaṇam
(Upadeśāmṛta 4)

“Giving a sādhu items for kṛṣṇasevā, accepting similar items from a sādhu, telling and asking a sādhu about confidential matters related to Kṛṣṇa, to happily honour prasāda from a sādhu, and to give mahāprasāda foodtsuff to a sādhu,”

Obstacles to Real Sādhu Saṅga

The main thing is the activity of abandoning one’s inner attachment towards materialistic friends and relatives, and considering only the sādhu as one’s true friend, and in this way discussing and behaving in relation to Kṛṣṇa. Then only does sādhu-saṅga occur. Otherwise going to a sādhu and discussing that, “This place is very hot, that place is good for our health, this gentleman is so nice, how will rice paddy grow there? etc.” such talks are an illusory aberration, and if we talk all this nonsense, then that is not sādhu-saṅga. The sādhu may be immersed in self-realisation and may answer one or two queries of a questioner, but does that become sādhu-saṅga, or does one attain kṛṣṇabhakti from that? Approaching a sādhu and lovingly discussing bhāgavatkathā with him is sādhu-saṅga. Then bhakti may be attained. Those sādhakas with śraddhā are especially conscious of the difference between kṛṣṇa-kathā and viṣaya-kathā (mundane talk), and will only discuss kṛṣṇa-kathā in the association of sādhus. Those talks which make us averse to Kṛṣṇa and attracted to material sense-objects are viṣaya-kathā.

It is not required to say any more to convey the necessity for sādhu-saṅga. Only sādhakas with śraddhā will endeavour for sādhusaṅga. Those who are not able to advance in their bhajana, even though they possess śraddhā, must take sādhusaṅga. Lack of sādhusaṅga has become an obstacle to their progress. Everyone should remember this statement of Gauracandra:

kona bhāgye kona jīvera śraddhā yadi haya
tabe sei jīva sādhu-saṅga ye karaya

(“By some good fortune, if a jīva develops śraddhā, then that jīva begins to associate with sādhus.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 23.9)

Mahāprabhu says to those jīvas who are bewitched by māyā:

nitya-baddha kṛṣṇa haite nitya-bahirmukha
nitya-saṁsāra bhuñje narakādi duḥkha

(“Those jīvas who are eternally bound are eternally averse to Kṛṣṇa. They are constantly in the material world where they experience hellish misery.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.12)

bhramite bhramite yadi sādhu-saṅga pāya
tāra upadeśa-mantre māyā piśāca palāya
kṛṣṇa-bhakti pāya tabe kṛṣṇa-nikaṭa yāya

(“Constantly roaming, if he attain sādhu-saṅga, then by his teachings and mantra, the witch Māyā will flee. He achieves kṛṣṇa-bhakti and comes close to Kṛṣṇa.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.15)

Concerning the activities of the karmī, jñānī etc., the Lord said:

bhramite bhramite yadi sādhu-saṅga pāya
sabe saba tyaji tabe kṛṣṇere bhajaya

(“Constantly roaming, if they attains sādhu-saṅga, if they give up everything, then they can worship Kṛṣṇa.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 24.310)

Concerning those sādhakas that chant harināma, the Lord said:

asādhu-saṅgete bhāi nāma nāhi haya
nāmākṣara bāhirāya baṭe nāma kabhu naya
kabhu nāmābhāsa haya kabhu aparādha

(“O brother, kṛṣṇa-nāma never appears in bad association. The external syllables may be there, but not the Holy Name. Sometimes there is nāmābhāsa, and sometimes nāmāparādha.” – Prema Vivarta 7.1-2)

yadi karibe kṛṣṇa-nāma sādhu-saṅga kara

(“If you want kṛṣṇa-nāma then take sādhu-saṅga.” – Prema Vivarta 7.3)

māyā jinibāre āra kona vastu nāi
sādhu-saṅge kṛṣṇa-nāma ei-mātra cāi

(“There is no other way to conquer māyā. The only goal is to chant kṛṣṇa-nāma in the association of sādhus.” – Prema Vivarta 6.13)

In this way, Mahāprabhu has instructed human beings with different inclinations to only accept sādhu-saṅga. From this, the readers will understand the glories of sādhu-saṅga! In this field of material life, sādhu-saṅga is like a desire tree.

Who will disbelieve the infinite glories of sādhu-saṅga? Who does not know that with the help of Śrī Hari Dāsa Ṭhākura, an immoral woman was able to attain kṛṣna-bhakti? Who has not heard how, by the association and mercy of Nārada, that best of devotees, a cruel-hearted hunter attained hari-bhakti and how careful he became to make sure that not even an insignificant ant was killed. The heart of the great miscreant Jagāi initially became softened by the association of Nityananda-Prabhu, and he became the recipient of Śrī Śrī Gauracandra’s mercy. Without the association and grace of Nitāi-cāṅda, the Deliverer of the fallen, how could Jagāi and Mādhāi be saved? Thus, all of you should have faith in sādhus and immerse your hearts and minds in sādhu-saṅga, chanting “Rādhā-Śyāma!” making your lives successful.

(‘Sādhu-jana-saṅga’ – The Association of Sādhus – was first published in Sajjana Toṣaṇi, Vol.10 issue 4 in 1898., and translated into English by Swami B.V. Giri)
Epilogue-to-Krsna-KarnamrtaEpilogue to Śrī Kṛṣṇa Karṇāmṛta
Radha-Kunda-&-Syama-kundaRādhā-kuṇḍa and Śyāma-kuṇḍa

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