By Kesava Krsna Dasa
How many of us are fortunate to have not just good friends, but close friends with whom we can phone at any time, and for no particular reason, than to simply share a Krishna conscious realization?
How many of us are blessed to be able to shed all institutional and scholarly roles, simply to sit down in an informal setting once in a while, and discuss none other than Krishna katha?
Does it ever occur to us sometimes, particularly if we are second initiated, that the services we try to render for Srila Prabhupada’s preaching mission, may appear to be light years away from the deep and esoteric meanings of the Gayatri mantras chanted thrice daily?
In other words, we serve together in association with other devotees, hear class together, eat together, all in a routine and sometimes mechanical way, and learn that perhaps we are not associating closely enough, or not deriving real benefits from vaisnava sanga. It can also be said that one can still feel a sense of loneliness even while mixing with many devotees. It can induce a sense of being there, but not there.
In another way, we can get so absorbed in the formality of service that it seems like a dharmic duty. To do seva in this mood can go in vain: “The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labour if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.” (SB 1.2.8)
A typical example of this can be experienced whenever there is a festival or a Sunday program at a local temple. We see many old friends and acquaintances, but due to time restraints and the hustle and bustle of the occasion, one can hardly speak meaningful Krishna katha. The talks will more likely be confined to; “How are you, and the family? How’s business?”
Not that this is wrong, but the same hustle and bustle is often carried over into general temple life, or into our service attitude. When new guests arrive they may not always get the attention they deserve, because devotees usually appear to be busy doing something. When deep meaningful relationships are required between devotees, the same routine hustle and bustle can prevent this too, yet devotees are mixing with each other.
“O Narada, I am not in Vaikuntha nor am I in the hearts of the yogis. I remain where My devotees glorify My name, form, qualities and transcendental pastimes.” (Padma Purana)
In such situations it is hardly surprising to discover that many devotees feel somewhat lonely, or are not relating as they should be. The formality of the temple sadhana program, from mangala-artika to japa, to class then prasadam, leaves little room for developing meaningful relationships. And when service begins for the day, there should be more time to foster friendships, but without giving an opportunity to enable this on an informal basis, there is little chance otherwise.
One may object that we have daily Srimad Bhagavatam classes, and those living at home listen to audio lectures, so are these not the times to hear Krishna katha? Or that we have certain seminars and other forums for this purpose, so what is the need for Krishna katha?
Then perhaps we should look at the difference between formal and informal Krishna katha. Formal Krishna katha means there will be one way traffic talk from an elected speaker, with scope for questions and answers. These are certainly very nice, but again, the formality of the occasion may prevent real interaction as one would expect from an informal more intimate forum.
While hearing, eating and serving together on this formal level, it is quite easy to lose track of the disparity of our real objective in Krishna consciousness – to hopefully attain Krishna Prema, and how the mystical power of the Gayatri mantras can enable entrance into the groves of Vraja – as opposed to simply serving in a routine, sometimes mechanical way and not being aware of this disparity.
To be constantly in touch with our sacred objectives we need the association of fellow vaisnavas. Not just token association, or formal association, but deep personal friendships and mentorship from those who have the time and willpower to enable occasional breaks from routine formality. We need to be able, as mentioned earlier, to shed our institutional or scholarly roles and sit together for real shared Krishna katha.
That is, there is no elected speaker, little formality, just simple sharing of realizations of any Krishna conscious topic. This sort of interaction helps to break down our positional blockages and encourages more bonding. We cannot underestimate the power of Krishna katha.
It also helps to keep devotees on track as to why they came to Krishna consciousness, and restores the balance between necessary routine service, and the esoteric objectives of Bhakti-yoga.
It even reduces whatever pride may be lurking that tells us to distance ourselves from others, for such pride causes loneliness, even while living or serving with likeminded devotees. Barring language barriers and obvious age gaps, there can be little excuse to associate correctly with fellow devotees.
We should also be mindful that if we are accustomed to doing everything routinely and formally, it must reflect the way we chant our japa. Perhaps we are chanting japa and treating the Supreme Person – Sri Hari Nama Prabhu – as just a formal routine objective. The fact is, much more can be done for our mission when there is cohesion of interest. Friends are more likely to achieve more as a team for the benefit of a community.
This is not to say to that we must get closer as devotees just for the sake of it. No. Wherever Krishna is, specifically when there is congenial talk about Him, He is an unfathomable treasure meant for sharing between all. The best way to share is through proper Krishna katha. This is the real essence of closeness between devotees. This should be encouraged more often.
Everyone can participate, even those who know everything. The magic ingredient here is humility. If one knows everything one can never be above the need for Krishna katha at any time.
“When there is a congregation of devotees, their discussions, questions and meeting is beneficial for everyone’s real happiness.” (SB 4.22.19)
To be able to say we are there, and there, with a balanced blend of service with shared association, practical and esoteric harmony, the benefits of real Krishna katha is the gel to unite on all fronts. “The discussion of spiritual matters amongst devotees is beneficial for everyone, without exception.” (SB 4.22.19 purport)