True to the ancient aphorism that “one is known by the company he keeps”, in any endeavour one’s chances of success is determined by the association he cultivates. The higher the goal, the tighter this close-knit association of like minded people is required for success. Attainment of Sudh Bhakti, being one of the highest goals of life, demands an even stricter and absolute adherence to this principle. This infallible wisdom is dexterously interwoven by Srila Rupa Goswami in updeshamrita text 2 & 3. The two key words used to convey this message are jana-saṅgaḥ (association with worldly-minded persons) and saṅga-tyāgāt (giving up the association of nondevotees). He cautions that jana-saṅgaḥ can cause our bhakti-lata to dwindle, whereas saṅga-tyāgāt will enable it to blossom – guaranteeing our success. If we scrutinize the various aspects of this advice the following compelling arguments emerge.
2.Avoiding Being Trapped In A Vicious Cycle
Jana-saṅgaḥ is the root cause of many evils. It is the door through which the other five symptoms of material entanglement creep in. For instance jana-saṅgaḥ ignites and fans one’s desire to lord the material energy. As a consequence we over-endeavour (prayāsaḥ) to gratify our senses. Such an endeavour, fuelled by the mode of passion, leads to accumulating more than required (ati-āhāraḥ) and eventually transforms into greed (laulyam). Thus we become susceptible to niyama-āgrahaḥ, and turn oblivious to self-realisation in the blind pursuits of our interests. This creates a never ending vicious cycle that not only invites many vices, but also makes escaping from the grab of Maya impossible.
3.Preventing Loss of Opportunity (for God Realisation)
The higher intelligence conferred on humans is meant for a higher purpose. It is the only form of life in which our dormant relationship with Krsna can be revived; and liberation from the material bondage can be achieved. Srila Prabhupada explains that the revival of this relationship demands that we associate with those who have not forgotten Krishna, so that an intelligent inquiry about our higher purpose of life can be made – jīvasya tattva jijñāsā (Updeshamrit 2 p). However, if we make a mistaken choice to associate with the worldly minded people, this valuable opportunity to attain God Realisation is lost. Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, therefore, advises us to live only in the association of Kṛṣṇa conscious devotees – bhakta-sane vāsa (Updeshamrit 2 p).
4.Only Bhakti Begets Bhakti
Advancement in Krishna consciousness is possible only through the mercy of self-realised Bhaktas. Pure devotional service can neither be achieved through mundane efforts nor be terminated by any mundane cause. It is “ahaituky apratihatā” (SB 1.2.6). On the other hand, non-devotees, who neither have an inclination towards spiritual development nor any faith in Krsna, can only serve to impede or recede our progress. Therefore, to the extent possible, one’s company and aural reception should be given only to self-realised people by approaching and inquiring from them submissively “tad viddhi praṇipātena” (BG 4.34). This is the recipe for sure success.
To summarise, our devotional service gets spoiled when we fail to exercise discretion in the company we keep. One must remember that association always causes transfer of desires. Therefore, it’s imperative that those aspiring for pure devotional service should carefully protect their bhakti-lata by nourishing it in the divine light and company of knowledgeable self-realised souls – and thus augment their chances of relishing the complete nectar of devotion in this very lifetime, and associating with the ambrosial pastimes of Lord Shri Krishna in the life here after.