दयां मैत्रीं प्रश्रयं च भूतेष्वद्धा यथोचितम् ॥ २३ ॥
ādau saṅgaṁ ca sādhuṣu
dayāṁ maitrīṁ praśrayaṁ ca
bhūteṣv addhā yathocitam
sarvataḥ — everywhere; manasaḥ — of the mind; asaṅgam — detachment; ādau — in the beginning; saṅgam — association; ca — and; sādhuṣu — with saintly persons; dayām — mercy; maitrīm — friendship; praśrayam — reverence; ca — and; bhūteṣu — for all living beings; addhā — thus; yathā ucitam — as is suitable.
A sincere disciple should learn to dissociate the mind from everything material and positively cultivate association with his spiritual master and other saintly devotees. He should be merciful to those in an inferior position to him, cultivate friendship with those on an equal level and meekly serve those in a higher spiritual position. Thus he should learn to deal properly with all living beings.
Śrīla Madhvācārya has quoted from the Garuḍa Purāṇa to demonstrate that within this universe those who take birth as demigods, great ṛṣis or pious human beings are all considered santaḥ, or saintly persons. According to Bhagavad-gītā, traiguṇya-viṣayā vedāḥ: the varṇāśrama culture described in Vedic literature deals mostly with the living entities who are struggling within the three modes of nature. The Vedic literatures teach such conditioned souls that material happiness can be achieved only through pious works. In this sense, the demigods are to be considered the most pious living entities within the three modes of material nature. The ṛṣis, or the great saintly mystics of the universe, who are able to travel at will to various planets and who cultivate mystic powers, are to be considered somewhat below the demigods. And those human beings on earth who perfectly execute the Vedic rituals are to be considered in the third or lowest category of santaḥ, or saintly persons. But a devotee of the Lord is beyond the three modes of material nature. Lord Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā (14.26):
sa guṇān samatītyaitān
“One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down in any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.” Thus Lord Kṛṣṇa clearly says that a Vaiṣṇava who does not fall down from the regulations of bhakti-yoga is beyond the three modes of nature. And Lord Kṛṣṇa advised Arjuna, a kṛṣṇa-bhakta, to transcend the three material qualities of the illusory creation of māyā (nistraiguṇyo bhavārjuna). But in the Eighteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gītā (18.40) the Lord says:
divi deveṣu vā punaḥ
sattvaṁ prakṛti-jair muktaṁ
yad ebhiḥ syāt tribhir guṇaiḥ
“There is no being existing, either here or among the demigods in the higher planetary systems, who is free from the three modes of material nature.” Thus the demigods are not exempt from the pollution of the three modes of material nature, whereas a pure devotee actually becomes guṇātīta, or transcendental to the influence of māyā.
Therefore, one should cultivate the association of the uttama-adhikārī, or pure devotee of the Lord, as stated previously (Bhāg. 11.3.21):
jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam
śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ
“Therefore any person who seriously desires real happiness must seek a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of the bona fide guru is that he has realized the conclusions of the scriptures by deliberation and is able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities, who have taken shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations, should be understood to be bona fide spiritual masters.”
On the other hand, one should avoid the association of a materialistic person even if such a person is outwardly chanting the holy names of Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has advised in this respect:
dīkṣāsti cet praṇatibhiś ca bhajantam īśam
śuśrūṣayā bhajana-vijñam ananyam anya-
One may mentally offer respect to any living entity who is chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa, but one should avoid intimate association with materialistic persons, especially those attached to sex enjoyment. Tamo-dvāraṁ yoṣitāṁ saṅgi-saṅgam. If one associates with a sensuous person who is attached to the company of women, by such association one will surely go to hell.
But if a materialistic person approaches a pure devotee with a sincere desire to hear from him about spiritual improvement, that first-class devotee may mercifully give his association, provided the purpose of such a meeting is advancement in the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa. By such association even a materialistic person can gradually become a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. If an advanced devotee is not able to engage a materialistic person in the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa, such association is strictly forbidden.
In the Garuḍa Purāṇa it is stated:
vinā saṅgaṁ na mucyate
sva-nīceṣu tu deveṣu
vinā saṅgaṁ na pūryate
“One cannot be liberated without association with a pure devotee of the Lord. And unless one shows mercy to those in an inferior position, one’s life will be superficial.” It is our practical experience in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement that those who are expanding their mercy by preaching the message of Kṛṣṇa are making rapid spiritual progress, and their life is filled with transcendental bliss. Those who neglect the quality of mercy, being uninterested in the missionary activities of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, are not filled with transcendental pleasure as described here by the word pūryate. Not being filled with spiritual pleasure, surely such persons attempt to fill their lives with material pleasure through sense gratification and mental speculation, associating with women or reading innumerable mundane novels, newspapers, newsmagazines, and so on. According to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu the preaching activities of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement are ānandāmbudhi-vardhanam, the ever-increasing ocean of bliss. Missionary activities are based on the principle of dayām, or mercy to those who are fallen. Those who are actually preaching become enlivened by associating with other preachers. This principle is called maitrīm, or friendship among equals. The power to carry out such preaching activities, as well as the proper guidance for distributing Kṛṣṇa’s message, comes through the principle of praśrayam, or humble service at the lotus feet of spiritual authorities such as the spiritual master. If one preaches Kṛṣṇa consciousness sincerely under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master and in the company of fellow preachers, one is perfectly fulfilling the statement of this verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and thus he will come to the point of sarvato manaso ’saṅgam, or complete detachment from the illusory energy of the Lord. Caitanya Mahāprabhu has stated, lava-mātra sādhu-saṅge sarva-siddhi haya. By becoming attached to the devotees of the Lord, one will achieve all perfection in life, going back home, back to Godhead.
If one neglects the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead by engaging in sinful life, he is certainly not merciful. One who ignores his eternal status as part and parcel of the Supreme Lord and who instead covers himself more and more with material illusions in the form of temporary designations — “I am American,” “I am Russian,” “I am Indian,” “I am black,” “I am white” and so on — is certainly a killer of his own soul and cannot be considered merciful. Similarly, those who support animal slaughter by eating meat, fish and eggs cannot be considered merciful. Sometimes the argument is given that if one does not harm others he is perfectly religious. But because we are now in a state of ignorance, we have no idea whatsoever of the future reactions to our present activities. Ignorantly boasting that one is not harming others, without an awareness of the subtle laws of nature, does not make one a religious person. One becomes religious by surrendering to the laws of God as they are stated by the Lord Himself in Bhagavad-gītā. As long as a living entity is infatuated with his own mental speculations, which carry him away like the waves of the ocean, he cannot understand the process of devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Mental speculations based on our experience of the variegated creations of the Lord’s illusory energy are incapable of bringing us to perfect knowledge. One must give up materialistic association and make company with pure devotees of the Lord, those who are engaged twenty-four hours a day in perfectly pleasing the Supreme Lord.
One should cultivate association with those who are more advanced than oneself in devotional service. One’s advancement can be measured by one’s detachment from sense gratification and his ability to distribute Kṛṣṇa consciousness to others. In this connection Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura has said, chāḍiyā vaiṣṇava-sevā, nistāra pāyeche kebā: “Who can attain salvation if he gives up the service of the Vaiṣṇavas?” By serving the lotus feet of pure devotees, one is immediately enlightened with spiritual knowledge. All of the so-called pleasures of the material world, culminating in many varieties of sexual fantasy and impersonal visions of oneself as God, become useless to one who has achieved the mercy of the lotus feet of a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. The entire material creation is compared to an insignificant bubble in the ocean. The material universe rests on the spiritual potency of the Lord called brahmajyoti, just as an insignificant bubble rests on the potency of the unlimited ocean. By serving the lotus feet of a pure devotee one can enter the ocean of eternal happiness and experience his constitutional position as a servant of Kṛṣṇa. The mercy of the Vaiṣṇavas is unlimited, and one who has tasted that mercy becomes mad after the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, not caring for the hallucinations of so-called material pleasure or mental speculation. The mercy of the Vaiṣṇavas is substantial and as powerful as Kṛṣṇa Himself, whereas impersonal speculations and hopeless dreams of society, friendship and love merely constitute various means by which māyā cheats the conditioned souls and keeps them in perpetual frustration.