Understanding the Value of Devotee Association

Hare Krishna Prabhujis and Matajis,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva.

In the Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Caritamrta, the Lord explains the various aspects of association of devotees in many slokas. One such sloka occurs in Srimad Bhagavatam 3.25.25,

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

In the association of pure devotees, discussion of the pastimes and activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and the heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes advanced on the path of liberation, and thereafter he is freed, and his attraction becomes fixed. Then real devotion and devotional service begin.

We can test the quality of devotee association by how much attraction we have developed for hearing more and more krishna katha and how much we develop our compassion towards other living entities and want to help them. But rather on the practical field, there is always some dissensions and misunderstandings even among the devotees. Since the maturity is absent in us, we do not rise above the temporary misunderstandings to serve the higher purpose of cooperatively serving the mission of the Supreme Lord and our Spiritual master.

In SB 11.2.47 such an immature devotee is explained as follows:

arcāyām eva haraye pūjāṁ yaḥ śraddhayehate
na tad-bhakteṣu cānyeṣu sa bhaktaḥ prākṛtaḥ smṛtaḥ

A devotee who faithfully engages in the worship of the Deity in the temple but does not behave properly toward other devotees or people in general is called a prākṛta-bhakta, a materialistic devotee, and is considered to be in the lowest position.

So many of us do chanting all these years, read Bhagavatam and Bhagavat-gita many times, conducted so many programs, but still the tendency to pick up quarrel and misunderstanding with others does not go away. Our Guru Maharaj says that this is because almost all the time we are caught up in the modes of material nature. To serve him and please him, we need to rise above these modes and cooperatively serve him to the best of our ability.

The association of devotees is characterized by friendship and love. The Vaishnavas are the representatives of Radha and Krishna in this world. There are six kinds of affectionate exchange that are shared with devotees, called priti-lakshanam, the signs of love. The devotee is a harbor, a storehouse of love. The quality of our sadhana is recognized by the greater presence of natural affection between each other.

In Chaitanya Caritamrta, the discussion between Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Ramananda Rai is very important to ponder over to understand the importance of devotee association.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu asked Ramananda Raya, "What is the most painful kind of suffering?"
Ramananda Raya responded, "I know of nothing more unbearable than separation from the devotees of Krishna."

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu asked, "What is the most auspicious and beneficial activity for the living entity?"
Ramananda Raya replied, "There is nothing more auspicious than association with the devotees of Krishna."

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has said, "if individual spirit souls can have the knowledge that they are interrelated with loving relation, this forest of fire of clashing of interests will stop."

Thus, it is possible to transform the material world and its elements into spiritual ones by proper consciousness. For this reason, it is said that the Vaishnava's body is not material because his senses are being used in the optimal fashion for the development of his pure consciousness. 

Let us all take advantage of this wonderful opportunity given to us by the causeless mercy of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva by making so many devotees and creating so many wonderful centers for Krsna-katha all over the world.

Thank you very much.
Yours in service of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva,
Prabhupadananda das