Richard (now Radhanath Swami) got trapped in a quick sand and as he was drowning, a boat man waved his hand and indicated that he swim forward with the current of Yamuna. There once again he heard the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra, the song he had first heard from Mother Ganges at Rishikesh. He finally survived and sat on the river bank. Earlier he had found the sand to be scorching but now the sand was cool and soft. He reflected on how humans are also like this sand. A person influenced by his association or circumstances can either become envious or affectionate. Our company has an effect on our consciousness. Therefore we have to be instruments of kindness by associating with the inherent goodness of all rather than the negativities.
To keep ourselves spiritually charged we have to be careful of the association we keep. Radhanath Swami says that while association of spiritually advanced people is essential for making progress in developing love for God, one should also be careful to avoid offending great or even ordinary spiritual practitioners. We have to keep the association of spiritually advanced people as our priority and search for this kind of association. The scriptures compare our hearts to a crystal which reflects and becomes similar to whatever type of people it associates with. Radhanath Swami quotes the fifteenth century masterpiece work of spiritual literature, Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita which states that even a moment’s association with a lover of God can ensure us all perfection. Therefore association is important. Radhanath Swami says the converse is also true. If we constantly associate with those who love to criticize and find faults, we also get filled with these mentalities.
Radhanath Swami has a simple formula for spiritual advancement. He asks how one becomes a drug addict. The easiest way to become one is by associating with other addicts. Similarly how does one become a sincere spiritualist? By associating with other sincere spiritualists. Radhanath Swami sums it up beautifully, “Good association increases our attachment to the highest truth. Those who come to attend discussions on absolute truth are compared to hamsas or swans. The swan never goes so low to eat the garbage on the side of the street. Its mind is fixed on attaining the nectar in the whorl of the lotus flower. The greatest, pure-hearted human beings are called Paramahamsas; they are like the supreme swans.” Therefore we have to hanker to associate with such swans.
Radhanath Swami gives a telling example from the Indian scripture Srimad Bhagavatam. One of the greatest devotees of Lord recognized in Srimad Bhagavatam is Narada Muni. He was earlier born of a poor maid servant and had little facility to practise spiritual life. However his mother sincerely served great devotees of the Lord. While she served the great devotees, five year old Narada assisted his mother. This service purified him and by his momentary association of these pure hearted souls, he too went on to become a great devotee of the Supreme Lord.
Radhanath Swami is quick to clarify that association of great devotees doesn’t mean simply being physically close to them. Real association means service to great souls and following their instructions. When we do these two things, then the association will give us benefits. Otherwise despite being in association, we may not experience any tangible progress in our spiritual life.