Please accept my respectful obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudev.
The scriptures glorify the association of devotees and its effect in many different ways. I came across an interesting story in this regard. The following sloka from Bhagavatam has a striking connection with this story.
tulayāma lavenāpi na svargaṁ nāpunar-bhavam
bhagavat-saṅgi-saṅgasya martyānāṁ kim utāśiṣaḥ
The value of a moment's association with the devotee of the Lord cannot even be compared to the attainment of heavenly planets or liberation from matter, and what to speak of worldly benedictions in the form of material prosperity, which are for those who are meant for death.
Once a saint was travelling across a long river in a boat. He was a great scholar in the vedas and a staunch devotee of the Supreme Lord. On his travel, he was talking to the boatman. He asked the boatman, "Do you know Bhagavad Gita?" He said, "No". Then the saint said, "Oh no. No problem, I'll teach you". Then he explained Gita in a beautiful way in which he can understand. Then he asked, "Do you know Ramayana?". He said, "No". Then he explained Ramayana in simple terms. Then he asked, "Do you know Mahabharata?". He said, "No". Then he explained the essence of Mahabharata also. Then after sometime, the waves started becoming aggressive and the boat struck on a rock. This created a hole in the boat through which water started pouring in. Then the boatman asked the saintly person "Sir, do you know swimming?". He said, "No". The boatman replied, "Oh no. Ok no problem. I know how to handle the situation." The he taught the saint how to row the boat. Then he plugged the hole in the boat with his thumb and the saint rowed the boat. They came across a wooden log and the he helped the saint to get onto the log and he also moved. Throughout the night he was holding the log and he guarded the saint with his dhoti so that he'll not shiver. In the morning things were ok and he helped the saint reach the destination. When the saint got down from the boat, he saw that the boatman's fingers were bleeding and his body was wounded badly because of the difficulties he faced the previous night. The saint felt very compassionate and expressed his gratitude to the boatman and the boatman replied, "Swami, the instructions you gave me changed my mind completely and I decided to take to spiritual path. Had you not told me the instructive stories, I would have simply jumped and saved my life alone when the waves attacked the boat. Because of your instructions, I got the conviction that I should serve saintly persons and make my life more selfless.". Then the saint blessed him to take the name of God which he practiced till the end of his life and attained perfection. So the saint transformed his life completely during his short travel.
Similar was the association that Prabhupada and other acharyas gave to the general public. Krishna also confirms this in the 11th canto of Bhagavatam (Uddhava Gita). In the Lord's incarnation as Lord Rama all the monkeys who assisted him and Jambavan-the bear who helped him attained perfection. They attained perfection only by His association though their birth was not an elevated birth. One cannot get God's association directly. So first one gets he association of his devotees and these devotees gives the association of the Lord in the form of his holy name and shastras.
Yours in service of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudev,
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