Saṅga-tyāga (Giving up the association of non-devotees)

Saṅga-tyāga (Giving up the association of non-devotees)

Tat-tat-karma-pravartana (Various activities favourable for devotional service)Tat-tat-karma-pravartana (Various activities favourable for devotional service)
Sādhu-vṛtti (Following in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas)Sādhu-vṛtti (Following in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas)


There are two types of saṅga - association and attachment. One who is serious about advancement in bhakti should avoid bad association completely. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura ellucidates upon this point in this article, "Saṅga-tyāga (Giving up the association of non-devotees)" from Vol.10 of Sajjana Toṣaṇī.

In his Śrī Upadeśāmṛta, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has said that one’s devotion is enhanced by utsāhā, niścayā, dhairya, tat-tat-karma-pravartana, saṅga-tyāga, and sad-vṛtti (the devotee’s lifestyle or propensities). Out of these items, utsāhā, niścayā, dhairya, and tat-tat-karma-pravartana have already been separately discussed in the previous essays. Now I will try to discuss the meaning of the word saṅga-tyāga.

There are two types of saṅga – association and attachment. Association is of two types-with non-devotees and with women. Similarly, attachment is also of two types-attachment for prejudices and attachment for assets. Those mahatmas who wish to attain perfection in devotional service should carefully give up saṅga in the form of association and attachment. Otherwise this saṅga will gradually and surely ruin everything. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā (2.62-63):

dhyāyato viṣayān puṁsaḥ
 saṅgas teṣūpajāyate
saṅgāt sañjāyate kāmaḥ
 kāmāt krodho ‘bhijāyate
krodhād bhavati sammohaḥ
 sammohāt smṛti-vibhramaḥ
smṛti-bhraṁśād buddhi-nāśo
buddhi-nāśāt praṇaśyati

“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises. From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool.”

A practitioner should always remember this instruction of the Lord. If a practitioner engages in prohibited association, then gradually his attachment increases. The more this attachment increases, the more his firm faith in the supreme goal diminishes. The purport is that the living entity is spiritual; being conditioned by māyā and falsely proud due to ignorance, the living entity has forgotten his constitutional position. In his pure state the living entity does not associate with māyā, rather he remains fully spiritual. In the spiritual world all the association of the living entity is spiritual, Therefore, the eternal saṅga of the living entities in that state is desirable. The saṅga in the conditioned state of a living entity is polluted. That aṅga, being polluted with nescience in the form of association with non-devotees and women and attachment for family and assets, is unfavourable for one’s advancement. Spiritual saṅga of the living entities is compatible, and mundane saṅga is incompatible. To get free from this incompatible saṅga is the living entity’s liberation. Now we will be considering incompatible saṅga.

First we will consider the association of non-devotees. Who is a non-devotee? Those who are not subordinate to the Lord are called non-devotees. The jñānīs are never subordinate to the Lord. They think that they can become one with the Lord on the strength of their knowledge. They think, “Jñāna is the topmost object; the Lord cannot keep one who attains jñāna under His control; the Lord became Supreme by the strength of this jñāna, and I too will become Supreme.” Therefore, all the endeavours of the jñānīs are to become independent of the Lord. The Lord’s power does not act on one who achieves liberation in the form of merging with the Lord, which is attained by jñāna. This is the attempt of the jñānīs! The jñānīs and mundane scholars do not depend on the mercy of the Lord. They try to achieve everything on the strength of their knowledge and reasoning, they do not care for the Lord’s mercy. Therefore, jñānīs are non-devotees. Although some jñānīs accept devotional service as their process of sādhana, at the time of perfection they discard it. In all their activities there are no symptoms of eternal serving mood or subordination to the Lord. Such are the symptoms of the jñānī-sampradāya, or philosophical speculators. They only get a glimpse of real knowledge. That real knowledge is only a different aspect of pure devotional service. Only pure devotees, by the mercy of the Lord, can attain that. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu instructs Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 22.29) as follows:

jñānī jīvan-mukta-daśā pāinu kari’ māne
vastutaḥ buddhi ‘śuddha’ nahe kṛṣṇa-bhakti vine

“There are many philosophical speculators (jñānīs) belonging to the māyāvāda school who consider themselves liberated and call themselves Nārāyaṇa. But their intelligence is not purified unless they engage in Kṛṣṇa’s devotional service.”

Therefore, those who are attached to philosophical speculation are counted amongst the non-devotees. There is a fruit called mukti, and that is the supreme goal of their sādhana. It is not the purpose of their life to attain the Lord’s mercy through His service. People who have faith in fruitive rituals are not devotees. Therefore, they are also non-devotees. If anyone performs karma in order to achieve the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, then that karma is called bhakti. That karma which yields mundane results or mundane knowledge is averse to the Lord. Karmīs do not exclusively search for the mercy of Kṛṣṇa. Although they respect Kṛṣṇa, their main purpose is to attain some kind of happiness. Karma is nothing but selfish activities, Therefore, karmīs are also called non-devotees. Yogis sometimes search for liberation, the fruit of jñāna, and sometimes they search for vibhūti, or opulence, the fruit of karma. Hence, they too are called non-devotees. Due to lack of full surrender, worshipers of the demigods are also called non-devotees. Those who are attached to discussing dry logic are also averse to the Lord. And what to speak of those who conclude that the Lord is only a figment of the imagination. Those who are attached to sense gratification and thus have no opportunity to remember the Lord are also counted among the non-devotees. If one associates with these non-devotees, then in a very short time one’s intelligence is polluted and one’s heart is overcome by their propensities. If anyone desires to attain pure devotional service, then he should carefully give up the association of non-devotees.

Second is association of women. Association with women is detrimental. In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 22.87) Śrī Caitanya instructs Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī as follows:

asat-saṅga-tyāga,—ei vaiṣṇava-ācāra
‘strī-saṅgī’—eka asādhu, ‘kṛṣṇābhakta’ āra

“A Vaiṣṇava should always avoid the association of ordinary people. Common people are very much materially attached, especially to women. Vaiṣṇavas should also avoid the company of those who are not devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa.”

There are two types of Vaiṣṇavas-the householders and the renunciates. Renunciates are forbidden from speaking with any woman. By the instruction to give up the association with women, they have been forbidden from conversing with women. As stated by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya 2.120):

kṣudra-jīva saba markaṭa-vairāgya kariyā
indriya carāñā bule ‘prakṛti’ sambhāṣiyā”

“There are many persons with little in their possession who accept the renounced order of life like monkeys. They go here and there engaging in sense gratification and speaking intimately with women.”

Regarding Vaiṣṇavīs, the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya 12.42) says:

pūrvavat prabhu kailā sabāra milana
strī-saba dūra ha-ite kailā prabhura daraśana

“Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu received them all, just as He had in previous years. The women, however, saw the Lord from a distance.”

This is the prescription in regard to householder Vaiṣṇavas. Householders should not associate with others’ wives or prostitutes. They should not indulge in any association other than with their own wives according to religious scriptures. One should give up the uxorious mentality of being excessively fond of one’s wife. The instructions of the scriptures regarding the smārtas is given in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi 15.27) as follows:

na gṛhaṁ gṛham ity āhur
 gṛhiṇī gṛham ucyate
tayā hi sahitaḥ sarvān
puruṣārthān samaśnute

“Merely a house is not a home, for it is a wife who gives a home its meaning. If one lives at home with his wife, together they can fulfill all the interests of human life.”

There are four kinds of human interests for people in general – religiosity, economic development, sense gratification, and liberation. The prescriptions of the scriptures regarding varṇa and āśrama are called religion. Whatever is prohibited in the scriptures is called irreligion. A householder should follow all those prescriptions and give up all those prohibitions with the help of his wife. Whatever is achieved by following religious principles is called artha, economic development. Assets of the house, sons, daughters, cows, and animals are all artha. For enjoying those objects there is kāma. Dharma, artha, and kāma-these three are called trivarga, the pursuits of human life. Practicing these three vargas is the life of a conditioned living entity who is wandering in the cycle of fruitive activities. It is the duty of the smārta householder to practice trivarga with one’s wife. A householder should practice trivarga with his wife day and night. The wife can accompany one while visiting holy places. Until one endeavours for the supreme goal of life, what else is there except pursuing trivarga? Liberation is the living entities’ fourth human interest. There are two types of liberation-relief from extreme distress and attaining spiritual happiness. Those whose religious lives are regulated by dry knowledge or impersonalism, for them relief from extreme distress is the prime goal. Those whose hearts are filled with pure knowledge ultimately search for transcendental happiness and do not remain bound in simply gaining relief from extreme distress. A Vaiṣṇava, whether a householder or a renunciate, is desirous of transcendental happiness. A householder Vaiṣṇava always works together with his wife with the aim of achieving transcendental happiness. Although engaged in all work in this way, he never becomes uxorious. In this way he remains free from women’s association throughout his life. He totally gives up illicit intimate speaking with women and the mundane uxorious mood in licit association with his wife. In the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (1.2.9-10, 13-14), Sūta Gosvāmī has briefly explained the rules for a gṛhastha Vaiṣṇava as follows:

dharmasya hy āpavargyasya
 nārtho ‘rthāyopakalpate
nārthasya dharmaikāntasya
 kāmo lābhāya hi smṛtaḥ

“All occupational engagements are certainly meant for ultimate liberation. They should never be performed for material gain. Furthermore, according to sages, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification.”

kāmasya nendriya-prītir
l ābho jīveta yāvatā
jīvasya tattva-jijñāsā
 nārtho yaś ceha karmabhiḥ

“Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works.”

ataḥ pumbhir dvija-śreṣṭhā
svanuṣṭhitasya dharmasya
 saṁsiddhir hari-toṣaṇam

“O best among the twice-born, it is Therefore, concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve by discharging the duties prescribed for one’s own occupation according to caste divisions and orders of life is to please the Personality of Godhead.”

tasmād ekena manasā
 bhagavān sātvatāṁ patiḥ
śrotavyaḥ kīrtitavyaś ca
 dhyeyaḥ pūjyaś ca nityadā

“Therefore, with one-pointed attention, one should constantly hear about, glorify, remember and worship the Personality of Godhead, who is the protector of the devotees.”

The purport is that in twenty religious scriptures there are mainly instructions about trivarga. For the welfare of the karmīs, the merciful sages have composed twenty religious scriptures that are suitable for karmīs. In the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.20.9) it is said:

tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta 
na nirvidyeta yāvatā
mat-kathā-śravaṇādau vā
 śraddhā yāvan na jāyate

“As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ, one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.”

For the karmīs mentioned by the Lord in this verse, trivarga is the only prescribed occupation. Those who have become indifferent and attained jñāna, for them there is no longer a need for trivarga activities. They give up those activities and become eligible for sannyāsa with dry knowledge. Those who are faithful in hearing the topics of the Lord after receiving His mercy on the strength of their accumulated pious activities from many lifetimes are no longer attached to karma. They are called Vaiṣṇavas. Among them, those who are gṛhasthas enjoy whatever artha they obtain while practicing dharma  for the purpose of liberation, not for the purpose of sense gratification; rather, this artha helps them purely maintain their lives in the favourable cultivation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness with the purpose of understanding the Absolute Truth. In this, the difference between karma and spiritual activities can be seen. Therefore, to attain the mercy of the Lord, a gṛhastha Vaiṣṇava should accept the divisions of varṇāśrama and along with his wife practice dharma , artha, kāma, and mokṣa in order to maintain his life. Whenever his house becomes unfavourable for this purpose, he should give it up out of disgust. Thus by properly performing the activities of trivarga, the gṛhastha Vaiṣṇava’s character becomes pure. With such pure characteristics, he should hear, chant, and remember the names, forms, qualities, and pastimes of the Lord with full surrender. The wife should also always endeavour for spiritual perfection with the help of subordinate women such as her sister and daughter. There is no illicit conduct in this, so there will not be any association with women. Therefore, whether one is a householder or a renunciate – all practitioners should totally give up the association with women. The devotees should carefully give up the above mentioned saṅga in the form of association.

Now let us consider saṅga in the form of attachment. Attachments are of two kinds-attachment for prejudices and attachment for assets. First I will discuss the attachment for prejudices. There are two types of prejudice-ancient and current. The conditioned living entity has been performing fruitive activities and endeavouring for knowledge since time immemorial, and the prejudices that have developed in his subtle body as a result are called ancient prejudices. Those prejudices are known as one’s nature. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā (5.14):

na kartṛtvaṁ na karmāṇi
 lokasya sṛjati prabhuḥ
na karma-phala-saṁyogaṁ
 svabhāvas tu pravartate

“The embodied spirit, master of the city of his body, does not create activities, nor does he induce people to act, nor does he create the fruits of action. All this is enacted by the modes of material nature.”

Śrīla Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa comments: anādi pravṛttā pradhāna vāsanātra svabhāva śabdenokta-prādhānika dehādimān jīvaḥ kārayitā karttā ceti na viviktasya tattvam iti  – “The primordial material desire that is active since time immemorial is called one’s nature. Due to such a desire the living entity is supplied with material bodies and other paraphernalia. False identification with the bodies causes one to act and causes others to act, although this is not the pure soul’s real constitution or nature.”

Again from the Bhagavad-gītā (18.60):

svabhāva-jena kaunteya
 nibaddhaḥ svena karmaṇā
kartuṁ necchasi yan mohāt
 kariṣyasy avaśo ‘pi tat

“Under illusion you are now declining to act according to My direction. But, compelled by the work born of your own nature, you will act all the same, O son of Kuntī.”

Regarding the bondage of the prejudice of knowledge, the Bhagavad-gītā (14.6) says:

tatra sattvaṁ nirmalatvāt
 prakāśakam anāmayam
sukha-saṅgena badhnāti
j ñāna-saṅgena cānagha

“O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode become conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge.”

Śrīla Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa comments: ‘jñāny ahaṁ,’ ‘sukhy aham’ ity abhimānas tena puruṣaṁ nibadhnati “‘I am wise.’ ‘I am happy.’ By this pride, the living entity is bound by goodness.”

People’s association with karma and jñāna is the result of attachment born from the prejudices of one’s nature that are produced from past karma and jñāna. In the previous verse, the māyāvādī’s bondage of jñāna is displayed. Regarding the karmīs, the Bhagavad-gītā (3.26) says:

na buddhi-bhedaṁ janayed
a jñānāṁ karma-saṅginām
joṣayet sarva-karmāṇi
 vidvān yuktaḥ samācaran

“So as not to disrupt the minds of ignorant men attached to the fruitive results of prescribed duties, a learned person should not induce them to stop work. Rather, by working in the spirit of devotion, he should engage them in all sorts of activities [for the gradual development of Kṛṣṇa consciousness].”

From ancient prejudices one develops association with karma and jñāna. Association with these ancient prejudices is inevitable. Despite all attempts, up to suicide, one cannot give up one’s prejudices.

The prejudices or attachments for good and bad attained in this life due to association are called modern prejudices. Everyone in the world is under the control of these two kinds of prejudices. When a living entity is not bound by māyā, then by nature he is a servant of Kṛṣṇa. Being bound by māyā, a living entity cannot give up ancient and modern wicked prejudices. At that time ancient wicked prejudices become his second nature. Only sādhu-saṅga can reform the attachment to prejudices. Sādhu-saṅga is the only remedy for this disease. Unless one reforms his attachment to prejudices, one cannot attain perfection in devotional service by any means. As stated in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (3.23.55):

saṅgo yaḥ saṁsṛter hetur
 asatsu vihito ‘dhiyā
sa eva sādhuṣu kṛto
niḥ saṅgatvāya kalpate

“Association for sense gratification is certainly the path of bondage. But the same type of association, performed with a saintly person, leads to the path of liberation, even if performed without knowledge.”

Due to association with materialistic people, the living entity is bound in the cycle of birth and death. Even if one unknowingly associates with a materialist, the result must come. And if one unknowingly associates with a real sādhu, he attains freedom from material association. Again in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.12.1-2) it says:

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
na rodhayati māṁ yogena sāṅkhyaṁ dharma eva ca
na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo
 neṣṭā-pūrtaṁ na dakṣiṇā
vratāni yajñaś chandāṁsi
 tīrthāni niyamā yamāḥ
yathāvarundhe sat-saṅgaḥ
 sarva-saṅgāpaho hi mām

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Uddhava, by associating with My pure devotees one can destroy one’s attachment for all objects of material sense gratification. Such purifying association brings Me under the control of My devotee. One may perform the aṣṭāṅga-yoga system, engage in philosophical analysis of the elements of material nature, practice nonviolence and other ordinary principles of piety, chant the Vedas, perform penances, take to the renounced order of life, execute sacrificial performances and dig wells, plant trees and perform other public welfare activities, give in charity, carry out severe vows, worship the demigods, chant confidential mantras, visit holy places or accept major and minor disciplinary injunctions, but even by performing such activities one does not bring Me under his control.”

Association with prejudices is very dangerous. By affectionately associating with pure devotees of the Lord, one’s association with prejudices, in the form of karma and jñāna, is destroyed. Due to this association with prejudices a living entity’s propensity for ignorance and passion becomes stronger. Whatever propensities for goodness, passion, and ignorance are seen in people’s eating, sleeping, and sensual activities are all due to association with prejudices. Karmīs and jñānīs disrespect Vaiṣṇavas only due to this attachment for prejudices. Until the attachment to prejudices is destroyed, the ten offenses in chanting will not be uprooted. Offenses at the feet of sādhus is due to being proud of one’s karma and jñāna. The offense in chanting in the form of blaspheming devotees enters the heart of the non-devotee and takes up residence there. Worldly attachment is contrary to acceptance of Kṛṣṇa’s undisputed supremacy, and it Therefore, does not allow the unfortunate living entity to fully surrender to the Lord. Thus disobeying the spiritual master, blaspheming the Vedic literatures, interpreting the holy name, considering the chanting of the holy names as equal to the pious activities offered in the Vedas, committing sinful activities while pretending to chant the holy name, aversion due to conceptions of I and mine, selling the holy names to unfit persons-all these offenses against the holy names continue. In such a condition, how can one be benefitted? Therefore, it is said:

asadbhiḥ saha saṅgas tu
 na kartavyaḥ kadācana
yasmāt sarvārtha hāniḥ syād
adhaḥ pātaś ca jāyate

“One should never associate with materialistic persons, for by doing so all one’s assets are lost and he falls from his position.”

It has been seen that many fortunate souls have given up attachment for prejudices by the association of pure Vaiṣṇavas. From the scriptures it is well known that by the association of Śrī Nārada Muni the hunter (Mṛgāri) and Ratnākara (Vālmīki) attained auspiciousness. The foremost instruction of Śrī Rāmānujācārya is this: “If you cannot purify yourself by any endeavour whatsoever, then just go sit with the Vaiṣṇavas and you will achieve all auspiciousness.” By observing the pure characteristics of a devotee, in a very short time a person’s mind is changed, his attachment for sense enjoyment decreases, and the seedling of bhakti sprouts in the heart. One even gradually develops a taste for the Vaiṣṇavas’ food and behavior. We have seen how by associating with Vaiṣṇavas, people have given up many anarthas-taste for associating with women, thirst for wealth, desire for sense enjoyment and liberation, inclination for karma and jñāna, eating meat and fish, drinking wine, smoking tobacco, and the desire to chew pan. By observing a Vaiṣṇava’s quality of not uselessly wasting time, many people have easily given up anarthas such as laziness, oversleeping, useless talk, urge of speech, etc. We have also seen that by associating with Vaiṣṇavas for some time someone’s cheating propensity and desire for fame have been destroyed. We have seen with our own eyes that by associating with Vaiṣṇavas with a little affection all other association, such as attachment for prejudices, has been vanquished. Those who are attached to winning fights, those who are expert at attaining dominion, those who are eager to accumulate great wealth-all such types of people have attained devotional service by being purified in the association of Vaiṣṇavas. Even the hearts of persons who think, “I will defeat the world by my arguments and attain supremacy,” have been pacified. Without the association of Vaiṣṇavas there is no alternative for rectifying the attachment for prejudices.

One should carefully give up attachment for material assets. People in general have spontaneous attachment for house, household paraphernalia, clothes, ornaments, wealth, wife and children’s health, their own health, eatables, trees, and animals. Some people are so addicted to smoking, chewing pan, eating fish and meat, and drinking alcohol that their practice of spiritual life is obstructed. Many people do not respect the Lord’s remnants out of great attachment to eating things like fish. Because of the desire to constantly smoke, many people’s study of devotional scriptures, relish for hearing and chanting, and remaining long in temples is obstructed. Attachment for these things is averse to the constant practice of devotional service. If one does not carefully give up these things, then he cannot get happiness from his devotional service. Attachment for these things is easily destroyed by the association of devotees. Still, one should try to destroy these petty attachments by fully engaging in devotional service. By observing vows approved in devotional service, those attachments are vanquished.

By properly observing hari-vāsara, Ekādaśī, and appearance days of the Lord, those attachments are vanquished. The rules of such vows are the provisions for diminishing one’s attachments. There are prescriptions for practicing devotional service while giving up all types of enjoyment on those days. There are two types of eatables-those which sustain one’s life and those which gratify the senses. Eating grains and drinking are life sustaining. Fish, meat, pan, intoxicants, and smoking are all for gratifying the senses. On days of vows, unless one totally gives up sense gratifying items, it is not a vow. As far as possible, life sustaining items should also be given up. According to the prescribed needs of one’s bodily condition one must try as far as possible to reduce the acceptance of life sustaining eatables. There is no prescription for acceptance of sense gratifying items, the only prescription is to reject them. One of the limbs of a vrata is to diminish the devotee’s propensity for enjoyment. If one thinks, “Today somehow or other I will renounce, but tomorrow I will enjoy profusely,” then the purpose of the vow will not be successful. The reason is that vows have been prescribed to give up the association of such items by gradual practice. Vows are usually for three days. First by practicing vows for three days, then by practicing for one month, then by practicing for four months (Cāturmāsya) – in this way gradually one should completely uproot the attachment for sense gratifying items and leave them forever. For those who cannot remember the statements of Bhagavad-gītā: kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā “He quickly becomes righteous,” in regard to the observance of vows, their renunciation is temporary like the bathing of an elephant.

For those who desire to attain pure devotional service, the association of non-devotees and women is meant to be given up. It is extremely necessary for them to associate with sādhus in order to give up the attachment for prejudices. They must follow all vows meant for Vaiṣṇavas in order to give up the attachment for material objects. One should not be negligent in these practices. One should follow these instructions with great care and respect. If one does not follow carefully, then cheating in the form of duplicity renders the whole endeavour useless. For those who do not have respect in this regard, attaining devotion to Śrī Hari becomes very rare, even after hearing for many births.

What is association and giving up association? Many people have doubts about this. Doubts may be there, because if just by coming close to a materialist or material object is consider associating with them, then there is no way to give up this association. As long as the material body is there, how can one give up the proximity of these things? How can a gṛhastha Vaiṣṇava give up his family members? One cannot give up the association of deceitful persons, even if they are renunciates. One will have to come across materialists in one’s life, whether one is a gṛhastha or a renunciate. Therefore, the limit for giving up the association of materialists is prescribed in Śrī Upadeśāmṛta as follows:

dadāti pratigṛhṇāti 
guhyam ākhyāti pṛcchati
bhuṅkte bhojayate caiva
 ṣaḍ-vidhaṁ prīti-lakṣaṇam

“Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one’s mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasādam and offering prasādam are the six symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another.”

O sādhakas! One must accept proximity with both bad and good people as one passes his life. This equally applies to householders and renunciates. Proximity must be there, nevertheless one should not engage in bad association. Giving in charity, accepting charity, revealing one’s mind, hearing one’s mind, accepting foods, and giving foods-if done with love, these are called saṅga, or association. Giving some foodstuffs to a hungry person and accepting some charity from a pious man is done out of duty, not out of love. Even if they are materialists, this type of engagement is not considered association. But if they are pure devotees, then such activities are performed out of love. When acts are performed out of love, then it is association. Therefore, giving charity to pure Vaiṣṇavas and accepting items or wealth from them becomes sat-saṅga. Giving charity to a materialist or accepting charity from one, if done out of love, becomes asat-saṅga. When a materialist approaches you, whatever is required to be done should be done only out of duty. One should not speak confidentially with a materialist. Generally there is some love involved in confidential speaking, Therefore, it is association. While meeting a materialistic friend, one should speak only what is extremely necessary. At that time, it is better not to exhibit heartfelt love. But if that friend is a proper Vaiṣṇava, then one should accept his association by speaking to him with love. This type of behavior with relatives and friends creates no hostility. There is no association in ordinary talk. One should behave with ordinary people as one externally behaves with a stranger while buying something in the market. The same dealings with a pure devotee of the Lord should be done out of love. If one is obliged to feed hungry people, needy people, and teachers, he should do so as a host dutifully cares for his guest, there is no need to exhibit love. Care for them, but not out of love. One should feed pure Vaiṣṇavas with love, and when required accept the remnants given by them with love. If one can behave in this way while giving in charity, accepting charity, speaking confidentially, hearing confidentially, feeding, and accepting food with one’s wife, children, servants, maidservants, strangers, and whoever else one meets, there will be no unholy association, only good association. There is no hope of achieving devotion to Kṛṣṇa until one gives up unholy association in this way. A renunciate Vaiṣṇava should accept whatever alms he receives by mādhukarī, or begging, at the house of a honest householder with the above mentioned consideration. He should always remember the difference between gross begging and mādhukarī. A gṛhastha Vaiṣṇava should accept prasāda-grains and drinks-in the house of another gṛhastha who has pure character. One should always be cautious about taking prasāda in the house of a non-devotee and one with bad character. There is no need to speak further about this. Due to their pious activities, those who have developed faith in devotional service have a little intelligence by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa. Due to that intelligence they can easily understand the essence of the ācāryas’ instructions. Therefore, only a few words are needed to instruct them. Those who have no pious credits have no faith. Even if they are given volumes of instruction, they will not understand a thing. Therefore, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has given only a few words of instruction in Śrī Upadeśāmṛta.

(‘Saṅga-tyāga – Giving up the association of non-devotees’ is the third in a series of articles published in the 10th Volume of Sajjana Toṣaṇī by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.)
Tat-tat-karma-pravartana (Various activities favourable for devotional service)Tat-tat-karma-pravartana (Various activities favourable for devotional service)
Sādhu-vṛtti (Following in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas)Sādhu-vṛtti (Following in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas)

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