Writings

Getting and Giving Good Association

Dear disciples and friends,Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.As I explained last time, I arrived in Irkutsk in East Siberia from Moscow.

I was there about a week and as usual had a busy programme of meeting with devotees and conducting programmes, although one day we managed to get away for a while to Lake Baikal, a fascinating and beautiful place about an hour’s drive from the temple.While there I conducted a seminar on “Getting and Giving Good Association”, which Caitanya Prema prabhu discusses in some length beneath, in his report on my stay in Krasnoyarsk, which I went to after Irkutsk.

But one important thing came through when I was in Irkutsk, which he is not aware of, and I thought I could mention it here. That is that the previous leader in Irkutsk, Laksmi Narayana prabhu about six months ago resigned as the Regional Secretary, and more recently has moved out of the region, at least temporarily, and as a result some of the devotees who had been under his shelter for many years, and had become dependent on him in their spiritual lives, had become disappointed. Many of them were no longer attending the temple programmes, or involving themselves in ISKCON activities.

I often try to stress the idea of service in separation. Actually most of my Krishna conscious life I was in separation from Srila Prabhupada, and I was only in his personal presence a few times. But still, if we cultivate our internal relationships with Srila Prabhupada then we feel contact with him, as the relationship is spiritual and not material.

So similarly I felt the devotees in Irkutsk should try to develop that sort of attitude in their connections with Laksmi Narayana prabhu.

Then on the 6th I went to Krasnoyarsk, and what happened there is described below by Caitanya Prema.

Dear devotees,

Please accept my humble obeisances.

All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

All glories to Guru Maharaj!

We (devotees from East Siberia) were fortunate to have Guru Maharaj as our dearest guest from 6th to 15th of August here in Krasnoyarsk. More than that, he again showered us with greatest mercy having made up his mind to have his Vyasa-Puja ceremony held in Krasnoyarsk. This is the second time that we have such a wonderful opportunity to associate with Guru Maharaj and offer our service to him.

For quite a time already we are trying to have our new temple building finished and move there as soon as possible, but there seem to be so many obstacles. And this time we invited Guru Maharaj to see the building, give his recommendations, and say some words of wisdom. Having got the whole picture he suggested we could move into the new temple either on Janmastami, or on Radhastami, or on Govardhan Puja as the latest. What we really need now is to fix lights for the Deities in the altar, finish the boiler and also get all the necessary documents from the city, which seems to have most importance among all of the items. And just today when Guru Maharaj is in another place already and thus is not aware we are having a phone call from a devotee, who is one of the responsible persons for the construction works and he informed that he had managed to get some tangible part of the papers from the city. That is increasing our chances to move into the new building very soon.

One of the highlights of the visit was the seminar which was prepared by Guru Maharaj not long ago. He called it as “Getting and giving good association”. It was already given by Guru Maharaj in some places before.

The seminar usually consists of three parts and covers three main ideas:

getting good association, giving good association and giving and getting bad association. Also Guru Maharaj suggested that we could have a test at the end of the seminar. The devotees were mostly enthusiastic about it, perhaps because of the fact that the test would be something new, since we never had such things before. Besides Guru Maharaj said, it does help to really get things into the head. Tests do help. Even in Krishna consciousness. He said he had done many tests, he had given many, he’d been a member of the audience in many. When you are under a little pressure, then if you get bad marks in the exam, everyone will think you are stupid. So this fear of embarrassment is sometimes a stimulus to focus more.

In order to give good association we need to get good association. In this way the first day of the seminar was dedicated to “Getting good association”. As the introduction to the seminar a verse from Bhagavad Gita

(10.9) was used:

mac-citta mad-gata-prana

bodhayantah parasparam

kathayantas ca mam nityam

tusyanti ca ramanti ca

“The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me”.

This text, as Guru Maharaj said, was mentioning the essence of the whole topic. Devotees take great pleasure in discussing Krishna with one another.

This is the essence of good association. And we are interested in doing that, following in the footsteps of Srila Prabhupada. Because even in the world of hearing and chanting about Krishna there are many people and they have different angles on Krishna. So to avoid any possibility for confusion, entering the picture, we must stick to descriptions of Krishna and Krishna consciousness as given by Srila Prabhupad.

I assume, Guru Maharaj deliberately talked so much about how and why we should always be under the protection of guide line of Srila Prabhupada. The thing is that in Krasnoyarsk, as well as in some other nearby cities quite a number of ISKCON devotees became affected by preaching of a Murali Krishna dasa (or Murali Krishna “Swami” as he and his followers call him). The worst thing which happens to devotees after such unauthorized preaching is that they loose faith in their spiritual masters and devotees of ISKCON in general, thinking that they are not qualified enough to give siksa or diksa.

Some absolutely foolish ideas are being propagated, that, for example, if your guru is not an uttama-adhikari and thus does not inspire you, you should leave him for the sake of some other guru (evidently for the sake of the above mentioned person). Many devotees became disturbed because their friends in Krishna Consciousness became followers of Murali Krishna das and thus quit their association of ISKCON devotees.

Guru Maharaj mentioned that on more than one occasion the GBC Body tried to help Murali Krishna to make his position in ISKCON clear and become a normal member of the institution, but he seemed to want to have his own thing somewhere on the edge of the movement.

I was present at a darsan of one disciple of Guru Maharaj, one of the seniors in Krasnoyarsk, a respected devotee, who was once charged personally by Guru Maharaj to become the head of a special council. That was amazing:

such a sober and intelligent devotee (as he seemed) was turned in a completely confused person who wanted to prove his “right” position to his diksa guru. He looked just like a baby in some phantasmagoric world, talking about his feelings, his emotions, about what he had in his heart. I was shocked. Guru Maharaj asked him to keep it in his mind that if diksa guru says to his disciple to quit some association but the disciple disobeys him and continues his dealings with the so-called siksa guru who is not approved, he commits the third offence against the holy name, which is to neglect the orders of spiritual master.

Guru Maharaj then commented that this was the power of bad association. If we are in the association of Srila Prabhupada and his followers we can know we are safe in Krishna consciousness, but if there is some other approach, then we don’t know, and maybe we are safe, but maybe not. If we simply hear about Krishna and chant about Krishna as presented to us by Srila Prabhupad, then we know we are safe, and what we are getting is the right thing, and if we are trying to give it, then what we are giving is the right thing.

Otherwise it is not so difficult to become deviated.

Then Guru Maharaj cited one verse which is repeated in Srimad Bhagavatam twice. This is Canto 1, Chapter 18, Verse 13 and Canto 4, Chapter 30, Verse 34.

tulayama lavenapi

na svargam napunar bhavam

bhagavat sangi sangasya

martyanam kim utasisah

“The value of a moment’s association with the devotee of the Lord cannot even be compared to the attainment of the 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.”

If we study Caitanya Caritamrta, Srimad Bhagavatam and other books that Srila Prabhupada has given us we will find many examples of people who were not doing very well but then get good association. Those were Mrgari, the hunter, Nalakuvara and Manigriva, Dhruva Maharaj, Jagai and Madhai, Valmiki, Prahlad Maharaj, the Pracetas, Bilvamangal Thakur, Maharaj Pracinabarhisat, Maharaj Rahugana, Maharaj Pariksit, the sons of Daksa, Bali Maharaj, Vyasadeva, Dhritarastra, Kalidas, the uncle of Ragunath das Goswami, who all got the association of different great vaisnavas. An interesting trend is there that many of these people were benefited by the association of Narada Muni.

Guru Maharaj then raised a question that how we can get good association.

What should be our strategy? Is it necessary that we should be in the personal association of our spiritual master of some great personality all the time, and thus we will have got good association? However we see in the example with Srila Prabhupada, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and Lord Caitanya that they did not put tremendous emphasis on personal association.

Prabhupada, as soon as a devotee became little qualified, would send him out preaching to open a centre. There were such preachers who were so much in the mood of preaching that even when Srila Prabhupada would come to their place, say, for a week, they, in some cases, would only be able to be with him at a couple of last days of his visit. And Srila Prabhupada appreciated this on their parts. They were serving him and thru that service they were getting his association.

So to have personal association of the spiritual master or of some senior vaisnava is a nice thing to, and it is important, but it is not that we must be in the personal face-to-face association all the time. There is service in meeting, there is service in separation. And the latter is higher. That does not mean that we should make a point of not getting personal association. No, we should get personal association. But really we need to cultivate association when we are in separation and if we do that very nicely then we will understand that we are not in separation. Srila Prabhupada, when asked, would often say: “I am not alone; my spiritual master is always with me”. So, this internal form of association is a very, very important part of Krishna consciousness. So the whole idea that association is transcendental and some personal face-to-face association is very important, but in the long run to develop some understanding, some realization of association even when in separation is more important.

The second day was dedicated to “giving good association”. As the introduction to this part of the seminar Guru Maharaj took a verse from Srimad Bhagavatam (7.4.31-32)

brahmanyah sila sampannah

satya-sandho jitendriyah

atmavat bhuta-bhutanam

eka-priya-suhrttamah

“[The qualities of Maharaja Prahlada, the son of Hiranyakasipu, are described herewith.] He was completely cultured as a qualified brahmana, having very good character and being determined to understand the absolute truth. He had full control of his senses and mind. Like the Supersoul, he was kind to every living entity and was the best friend of everyone. To respectable persons he acted exactly like a menial servant, to the poor he was like a father, to his equals he was attached like a sympathetic brother, and he considered his teachers, spiritual masters and older Godbrothers to be as good as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He was completely free from unnatural pride that might have arisen from his good education, riches, beauty, aristocracy and so on”.

Guru Maharaj continued the theme: Prahlada Maharaj was giving very good association. What was special about his association and what was good about it is that he was giving it to different people in different ways. Not in the same way for everyone. And it must have been very amazing for all the people he was associating with. In this way if we want to be able to give good association we have to also develop ourselves in these types of ways.

And it can’t really be done artificially. Prahlad Maharaj was a pure devotee and thus in a very natural way he could relate with his seniors, equals and juniors. So, ultimately, this factor of spiritual advancement is a very essential factor in the matter of giving good association.

In this connection Guru Maharaj referred to the example of Raghunath Bhatta Goswami, who was a maha bhagavata and would never hear of say anything bad about any devotee but rather see everyone being nicely engaged in the devotional service to the Lord. Well, we are not maha-bhagavatas, are we? We cannot imitate him. Does that mean we can criticize others? No. we should not criticize the vaisnavas.

To illustrate this Guru Maharaj gave an example, which became a very popular one. In South Africa they have a family of devotees. Once they were listening to a lecture by Srila Prabhupad. He was saying that you can only chastise your sons or disciples. If you have none, then you should not chastise anyone at all. In that family there was a small girl, about seven years old. And one time she did something wrong and her father started being a little angry with her and began to chastise her a little. In reply to that she said: “Pita, wait a minute! Don’t you remember, what Prabhupada said?

You only can chastise your sons or your disciples, and I am your daughter!

You can’t chastise me!”

If we see someone making an apparent mistake we should not run and start a big discussion about it. Rather we should try to help the devotee. In this way in good association the mood is always one of serving the devotees.

So when we are talking about giving association really there has to be an underlying theme of affection, either to juniors, or to equals or to seniors. If we manage to have such mood then we will be successful in our preaching.

Talking about some particular examples from the scriptures Guru Maharaj mentioned that in the majority of those interactions these different devotees give their association not in a stereotyped way. They are very personal and very thoughtful. They are really considering the situation of the person they are dealing with. And through doing this they are able to touch the heart of the person in a very real and practical way. They really help those people and change their lives very dynamically. This is actually called a creative preaching.

In order to illustrate this point Guru Maharaj told the story of Pracinabarhi whose particular problem was that he was deeply absorbed in very sensual activity. He was extremely attached to his wife and he spent so much time just watching her and associating in different intimate ways. So what did Narada Muni do in order to correct him? He told him the story of King Puranjan. It’s an allegorical story, and is not to be taken literally.

There was actually no King Puranjan. But he told the story of Puranjana, who was just like Pracinabarhi, very sensual and into all those material enjoyments. But Narada is not saying that you are like this. So Puranjan also had a very nice wife and he was very fond of her and coouldn’t stop thinking of her. He was practically in “wife consciousness”. In this way in his next life he became Puranjani, a woman, and she went through so many things, including the death of her husband. So in different ways Narada thought very intelligently how to help Pracinabarhi. This was the example of giving association to juniors.

To illustrate the theme of giving good association to equals Guru Maharaj used the example of Vidura and Dhritarastra. That was quite another type of preaching, rather a severe style of giving association.

On the 3rd day Guru Maharaj spoke about giving and getting bad association.

Sometimes due to our conditioning we have a tendency to allow ourselves to become influenced by bad association and sometimes when things are not so nicely in our lives then we may give bad association also. But a vaisnav is one who knows what is right and what is wrong and in this way he is always avoiding some wrong situations and is always trying to find or create a good situation.

Talking about giving bad association it is inevitable that we have to talk also about aparadhas.

One of the famous examples that Guru Maharaj mentioned was of Maharaj Bharat who was such a wonderful devotee but got the association of a deer. He literally fell in love with the deer and just lost his intelligence, falling completely into what one might call “deer consciousness”. Jiva Goswami explains how it happened in Bhakti Sandarbha. Bharat Maharaj was on the level of bhava. This is an extremely high level. So how could he possibly become bewildered by an animal? So there is a verse there in the 5th Canto where this is all described, and the verse says this was all because of his karma. However Jiva Goswami comments on this story saying that it could not have been just because of his material karma, since Bharat Maharaj was already beyond that. He was on the level of bhava, completely free from all karmic reactions long time ago. It can only have been the reactions of some aparadha, because the effects of aparadha may still be felt even by someone who is on the level of bhava.

Actually there were two stages in the manifestation of the reactions to these offences. One was when he left home. He was thinking, I am going to the forest to live as a renounced person. So he thought, I will go and make my own little asram in a nice place. Jiva Goswami says he could have decided to go and join some other devotees in their asram but somehow he became inspired to stay on his own. As a result when that deer came there was no one to correct him. Devotees could have stopped him if he had been among other devotees. But no!… Guru Maharaj in this way reminded us that when we stay on our own we are not alone. We are in the association of our mind who can do us lots of harm.

In the verse that we read that night there was an example of the bhakti lata, the creeper of devotional service, which is growing when we water it with different activities in Krishna consciousness, like hearing and chanting. But then there may also be a mad elephant who can rush into the garden of our heart and destroy it completely within an instance. Guru Maharaj said that our creeper of devotional service can be very strong, thick and healthy because of our being in this process for a long time already. BUT! That cannot stop a mad elephant from destroying the creeper.

Then our devotional life may be finished.

And Lord Caitanya said if we commit offences we must be caring enough to counteract them. We have to do something. There is a story of Mother Saci who offended Advaita Acarya. And because of that offence Lord Caitanya said would not get love of God. But when she got the dust from the lotus feet of Advaita Acarya she rectified that offence. At the end Guru Maharaj concluded that we should carefully avoid offending devotees and nicely live in their association.

Then, on one of the days Guru Maharaj conducted a meeting the main theme of which was the activities of our movement in the region and also some problems which took place after Murali Krishna and one Sri Caitanya das, his follower, started their preaching in this place. First Guru Maharaj mentioned the background of the whole thing, how Murali Krishna started his preaching in Estonia, how it started having a glimpse of criticism of ISKCON gurus, how he “became” a swami, how he did not want to set things nicely in his situation and go through the usual procedure of getting the status of sannyasi in ISKCON and how as a result of his preaching Estonia now has two Hare Krishna movements. Such is the phenomenon of Murali Krishna who gives so much trouble misleading many devotees in their devotional lives.

Guru Maharaj said that ISKCON is Srila Prabhupad’s movement where all is under Prabhupad. And on the whole he tried to get it home to devotees that we should stick to the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada, be faithful to him and his teaching and keep on with our services in his movement.

From August, 12th to 15th we moved from Krasnoyarsk to a place near a small city called Zheleznogorsk, an hour’s drive away, for his Vyasa Puja Festival. It was a nice recreational place in a beautiful pine forest. Guru Maharaj had a short rest and in the evening gave an opening speech where he especially thanked all devotees who took trouble to get to the place. Some of the devotees came from some quite remote places and wanted to spend some nice days in the association of their beloved spiritual master and their Godbrothers and Godsisters. After that we had Gaura arati and a nice kirtan.

The kirtans of our Guru Maharaj are always very fascinating and ecstatic.

Even if you are depressed a little or just not in a mood to jubilantly jump and sing together with other devotees that state of mind will not last for a long time. Usually one finds himself in the middle of the crowd of devotees, loudly singing Hare Krishna, jumping and rotating in the air. One thing which always makes devotees very enthusiastic about Guru Maharaja’s kirtans is how he finishes them. He sings Nitay Gaura Hari Bol several times and that seems the end of it. But all of a sudden when all devotees think that’s all and some even start to kneel to chant premadhvani glorifications, Guru Maharaj cries out Hari bol and everything starts again. Usually he is doing that many times in a row and so you never know whether the kirtan is really finished or not.

On the 13th Guru Maharaj held an initiation ceremony and 12 disciples became his initiated disciples and one devotee from Irkutsk, Govinda Caran prabhu got second initiation. As usual Guru Maharaj gave a detailed explanation of what this harinama diksa means, what are the 10 offences against the holy name and we should be very careful to avoid them. And afterwards he also spoke on how important is the initiation in gayatri, how it facilitates the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. As a result bhakta Vladimir from Bratsk became Vraja Mohana das, bhakta Yuri from Ulan-Ude – Upendra das, bhakta Boris from Zheleznogorsk – Balarama das, bhakta Eugene from Borodino Yajna Purusa das, his wife bhaktin Maria – Madhupuri devi dasi, bhakta Gennadiy from Krasnoyarsk – Gopesvara das, his wife bhaktin Lilya – Lalitaprana d.d., bhaktin Oxana from Tomsk – Anandamayi d.d., bhaktin Anastasiya from Irkutsk – Vrindavani dd., bhaktin Anastasiya from Krasnoyarsk – Karuna Sakti d.d., bhaktin Galina from Krasnoyarsk – Sitarani d.d., bhaktin Nadezhda from Irkutsk – Nandimukhi d.d.

On the 14th of August we had the actual celebration of Guru Maharaja’s Vyasa Puja ceremony. First he gave a lecture explaining about the meaning of Vyasa Puja in general. Guru Maharaj mentioned the lecture by Srila Prabhupada which he gave on his Vyasa Puja in Hamburg, Germany in 1969. He said that in one sense spiritual master is not just a person but is a principle and through this principle then Krishna accepts the offerings, accepts the service. And in this way there is a very intimate connection between the devotee and Krishna but also through a spiritual master. And somehow if we dedicate ourselves to the spiritual master then Krishna sees that and Krishna gives His mercy. If we try to just approach Krishna directly He’s not so interested.

To give a vivid picture of his words Guru Maharaj told us a story which happened to him and other devotees in Vrindavan a few years ago. He said:

“We have just finished Govardhan Parikrama and that was a long way in bear feet and particular if you are getting older. So at the end you feel: ‘Oh, we did it!! So we were there at Radha Kund, we were sitting there and I was

thinking: We did it! Again! Another Govardhan Parikrama. Very good!’ and so in a sense we were patting ourselves on the back, sort of thinking: ‘You did it again!’ But just when I was thinking like that, from the loudspeakers around Radha Kund suddenly a song just appeared like that. Just one verse – yasya prasadad bhagavad prasado yasya prasadan nagati kutopi dhyayan stuvams tasya yasas tri sandhyam vande guroh sri caranaravindam. ‘He, by whose mercy we get the mercy of Bhagavan, and he without whose mercy we cannot achieve that goal, we should meditate upon this person, we should remember him. We offer our obeisances to the spiritual master’. So it was one of those uncanny experiences. It was quite a revelation. It was just too much of a coincidence, and then I thought it was by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada that we managed to finish that parikrama.”

Guru Maharaj further shared that we should try and see our lives like this.

How have we got our good fortune? How we got the particular service we have?

And the different things, the gifts that we got in our lives? We may not understand exactly how these things have actually happened but the recommended attitude is vande guroh sri caranaravinda we offer our humble obeisances unto our spiritual master.

The lecture was followed by the ceremony of abhisek of Guru Maharaja’s lotus feet and by reading of the offering from disciples. After that Guru Maharaja was offered 108 preparations of prasadam. (Actually there were more than that). Well, that may be seen as a sensual enjoyment just to sit and relish different delicious foods but when there are so many of them this may be also seen as some sort of austerity. And Guru Maharaj tasted all of those preparations. Devotees were very happy and gave a loud cry of Hari Bol and Jaya Guru Maharaj!!!

Well, we may think that we are serving our spiritual master doing this and that, but rather it is he who serves us allowing us to make something for him and thus purify us. He serves us when he’s giving a class and answers our questions, he serves us when he respects prasadam that we cooked for him, he serves us when he agrees to have a rest we are offering to him. And he serves when he agrees to guide us all the way back to Godhead. This is his greatest mercy which we should learn to appreciate and reciprocate properly.

On the 15th of August Guru Maharaj gave a lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam about different types of yoga, saying how higher the system of bhakti yoga is. He compared it with a lift in a skyscraper. You may walk upstairs very slowly, but you may also get into the lift and be at the top of the building within several seconds. He also remembered how once when he visited Saratov (a city in Russia) he was staying on the 16th floor and the lift was not working.

Every time Guru Maharaj and other devotees who were with him wanted to get to the flat they were thinking whether they had enough foodstuffs from a supermarket.

In the midday Guru Maharaj said good bye to all devotees and went to the airport to leave for the next of his stops. This would be in Novosibirsk where he was planning to participate in another festival.

Now just in a week or so we will again see Guru Maharaj on the festival in Angarsk, the third one already.

We are all looking forward to seeing him again in a little while.

His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Caitanya Swami Maharaj ki – jay!!!

Desiring to be helpful to all devotees,

Your servant,

Caitanya Prema das (Krasnoyarsk)

As Caitanya Prema mentions, from Krasnoyarsk I flew to Novosibirsk. While we were waiting at the airport for our flight we found out that it had been delayed, so we decided to go to a nearby forest area to chant and relax for those hours.

We got there and started walking, and it really was very pleasant. However, after a little while we realized that we were not alone. There was a whole team of mosquitos and other little biting creatures following us. In the end it turned out to be a major Food for Life programme for them, at our expense, and I was happy to get back to the airport.

I flew that evening with two disciples, Vrindavana das from Omsk, and Radha Prema devi dasi from Moscow. We finally landed in Novosibirsk around 9.20 at night and then drove to the flat of Bhakta Constantine and his wife Bhaktin Svetlana, who are aspiring disciples of mine, and then we were driven to the site of the annual West Siberian festival by Raghupati das.

It was cold outside, about 10 degrees, but as he drove the 2 hour drive Raghupati was feeling sleepy so he turned the air conditioning on to the level described on the controls as “Max Cold” and we shivered our way to the festival site, arriving at about 1am.

There were about 400 devotees gathered from all over the region, and the whole experience was nice, with lots of Krishna Katha and kirtana.

Then last night, the 18th, I flew back to Irkutsk, where I am now, and tomorrow I’ll go to Ulan Ude, on the other side of lake Baikal.

I’ll let you all know what happens there shortly.

Hoping this meets you well.

Your ever well wisher,

Bhakti Caitanya Swami

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