Sri Rupa Gosvami says bhakti develops from sadhana to bhava by passing through eight steps (BRS 1.4.15-16). The first step, sraddha, leads to the second, sadhu-sanga: association with a sadhu, a Vaishnava saint. Commenting on these verses, Sri Jiva Gosvami writes that prior to attaining sraddha, a person
By Satyanarayana Dasa
Sri Rupa Gosvami says bhakti develops from sadhana to bhava by passing through eight steps (BRS 1.4.15-16). The first step, sraddha, leads to the second, sadhu-sanga: association with a sadhu, a Vaishnava saint. Commenting on these verses, Sri Jiva Gosvami writes that prior to attaining sraddha, a person has association with a sadhu by whose grace one acquires sraddha. This is how he interprets the word adau (which literally means, “in the beginning”). The first association of a sadhu instills trust in the statements of scripture. This trust is called sraddha. Because it comes without the conscious effort of the recipient, it is described as the “causeless grace” of a devotee. Often scriptures use the word yadrccha for this phenomena which is usually translated as “by chance” or “independent,” and has the connotation of being causeless (e.g. SB 11.20.8, 11).
Sadhu-sanga, which awards sraddha, is the greatest blessing for a conditioned being. It brings about a permanent revolution in the heart of a person, which is why it has been glorified in scriptures more than anything else. In Bhagavat Purana, Lord Krishna himself speaks about the importance of sadhu-sanga (SB 11.12.1-15).
It is rare to acquire a human birth, but sadhu-sanga is still more rare:
durlabho mānuṣo deho
tatrāpi durlabhaṁ manye
“For the conditioned souls, the human body is a rare boon and that too is very transient. But I think that even rarer for those who have achieved human life is the association of devotees, who are dear to the Lord of Vaikuntha.” (SB 11.2.29)
According to King Mucukunda, material existence comes to an end when one has such sadhu-sanga:
bhavāpavargo bhramato yadā bhavej
janasya tarhy acyuta sat-samāgamaḥ
sat-saṅgamo yarhi tadaiva sad-gatau
parāvareśe tvayi jāyate matiḥ
“O Lord Acyuta, the living being wanders in the cycle of birth and death. When the time for his release from this cycle approaches, he obtains the association of those established in truth. From the moment he obtains such association, a devotional inclination is awakened towards You, who are the supreme goal of attainments for the sages and the orchestrator of both cause and their effect.” (SB 10.51.54)
The Lord arranges the cause – the association of sages – which creates the effect of liberation from material existence and inclination towards devotion. Although material existence is uprooted by sadhu-sanga, Mucukunda shows its efficacy by stating that when one’s material bondage has come to an end, one gets the association of a sadhu. He thereby places the effect before the cause.
After attaining sraddha the recipient makes a conscious effort to seek further sadhu-sanga. This is the second of the eight steps. Here the meaning of sadhu (literally, a holy person) is guru because bhajana-kriya (practicing of devotion) is the third step, and, according to Rupa Gosvami, practice of uttama-sadhana-bhakti begins with surrender to a qualified guru (BRS 1.2.74). In other words, when one has proper sraddha one seeks a guru.
Dreaming of the Life of a Sadhu
I am fortunate to have met such a qualified guru in my life, although I am now bereft of his physical association. He entered into the eternal lila of Sri Sri Radha Govindadeva on 6th October, 2013. In separation, my memories of association with him are surfacing on the screen of my mind. This elevates my consciousness and I write to share my memories with others, so they might also benefit.
How I came to his association and became a recipient of his causeless grace is an interesting journey. Thinking in retrospect I cannot consider it anything but the yadrccha kripa of Sri Krishna. It is He who appeared in the form of my guru.
Since my early childhood I had a deep, inner inclination to live the life of a sadhu, Thus I never made plans to lead a material life and was quite certain that I would never marry . As a child I used to lie in my bed and contemplate death. By nature I was very reticent and never revealed my plan to become a sadhu to anybody, therefore nobody in my family ever suspected that I had such an inclination.
My parents and grandparents were krishna-bhaktas associated with the Radha Vallabha-sampradaya which was founded by Hit Harivamsa Gosvami. My paternal house was next to the village temple, which housed the deities of Radha Krishna and Lord Shiva’s family, so I grew up participating in the temple ceremonies. I also had my personal puja room in my house where I used to do some artik and offer the food which my mother cooked for the family. I was very fond of reading Mahabharata and Ramayana and used to recite them for the village people. Sadhus would sometimes visit the village temple, but they were not very knowledgeable.
After I completed my engineering education I had no desire to take up a job. I was contemplating how to take to spiritual life and was always on the lookout for sadhu-sanga. I used to meet sadhus whenever I got the opportunity, but never met a sadhu who impressed me. There were no ashramas or spiritual societies in my village area, so I did not have any definite idea how to take to spiritual life. I had no choice but to take up a job. My parents and other family members had no idea about my personal plans and assumed I would lead a normal life and get married eventually. I was very reserved in my dealings with others and had little interest in mixing with people. When I did engage with them, I acted as if I had no spiritual interests.
After I got a job in my home town, there was a proposal for marriage. I considered that it would completely ruin my plans, so I resigned from my position and found another job in Mumbai – more than 1000 km away from my home town. This was a relief because I knew nobody would pressure me to marry in Mumbai!
In Mumbai, I searched for a spiritual organization. I went to the headquarters of a meditation group at Mount Abu in Rajasthan to attend a three day meditation camp especially for engineers and doctors. I had many questions during the lectures, but they were not answered satisfactorily. So I returned to Mumbai disappointed.
Whenever I returned to my village to visit my family there was a proposal for marriage. I did not think I would be able to convince my parents that I wanted to pursue a sadhu life rather than get married. It is ironic that Indian families hold sadhus in such high regard, but if one of their own members wants to become one, they protest vehemently. I knew very well that if I joined any ashram in India, my family members would track me down and try to convince me to give up my spiritual pursuit because of their strong attachment to me. Consequently, I decided to leave India and go to the West. In January 1979 I moved to the USA – Miami, Florida.
When I landed there, I had a sort of epiphany. I realized the importance of Vedic culture and my resolve to take to spiritual life became much more intense. The American lifestyle did not attract me. I had heard a lot about America and its high standard of living, but to me it all looked very empty inside – a lot of glamour without much substance. At the same time I felt very safe since no one would try to convince me to get married. I had no relatives in the area, and the only communication with my family in India was by letters. It took about a month to get a reply.
At that time there were not many Hindu temples or Hindu organizations in the US. I visited the Krishna Murti Study Center in Miami and the center of Bala Bhagavan, popularly known as Guruji, but was not impressed. Eventually I came to know that there was a temple run by American devotees just a few kilometers away from my residence, so I attended a Sunday evening class. I was unfamiliar with ISKCON up until this point, but learned more about the organization after visiting. The whole atmosphere appeared very strange to me and I was put off by the devotees’ aggressive mood: They seemed mostly interested in selling their books. I have always been fond of buying books, but I refused to make any purchases due to their aggressiveness. I left the temple as quickly as I could and never went back. I remember thinking, “This society is not for me.”
(to be continued)
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