Srimad Bhagavatam 4.22.19
sangamah khalu sadhunam
ubhayesam ca sammatah
sarvesam vitanoti sam
When there is a congregation of devotees, their discussions, questions and answers become conclusive to both the speaker and the audience. Thus such a meeting is beneficial for everyone’s real happiness.
Hearing discussions among the devotees is the only means to receive the powerful message of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For instance, Bhagavad-gita has been well known all over the world for a very long time, especially in the Western world, but because the subject matter was not discussed by devotees, there was no effect. Not a single person in the West became Krsna conscious before the Krsna consciousness movement was founded. But when the same Bhagavad-gita was presented as it is through the disciplic succession, the effect of spiritual realization was immediately manifested.
Sanat-kumara, one of the Kumaras, informed Prthu Maharaja that his meeting with the Kumaras benefited not only Maharaja Prthu but the Kumaras as well. When Narada Muni questioned Lord Brahma about the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Brahma thanked Narada Muni for giving him a chance to speak about the Supreme Lord. Therefore questions put by a saintly person to another saintly person about the Supreme Personality of Godhead or about the ultimate goal of life surcharge everything spiritually. Whoever takes advantage of such discussions is benefited both in this life and in the next.
The word ubhayesam can be described in many ways. Generally there are two classes of men, the materialist and the transcendentalist. By hearing discussions between devotees, both the materialist and transcendentalist are benefited. The materialist is benefited by association with devotees because his life then becomes regulated so that his chance of becoming a devotee or making the present life successful for understanding the real position of the living entity is increased. When one takes advantage of this opportunity, he is assured of a human form of life in the next birth, or he may be liberated completely and go back home, back to Godhead. The conclusion is that if one participates in a discussion of devotees, he is both materially and spiritually benefited. The speaker and the audience are both benefited, and the karmis and jnanis are benefited. The discussion of spiritual matters amongst devotees is beneficial for everyone, without exception. Consequently the Kumaras admitted that not only was the King benefited by such a meeting, but the Kumaras were as well.
This verse is part of the conversation between Sanat-kumara and Prithu Maharaja. The Four Kumaras appeared before Prithu Maharaja and Prithu Maharaja, immediately recognizing their identities, took advantage of their presence by inquiring from them. He said, “There’s no need to ask about your good and bad fortune because you’re always absorbed in bliss. Therefore I’m going to take advantage of your presence and ask you about how I can attain good fortune.
Prithu Maharaja had inquired from the sages, “Persons entangled in this dangerous material existence because of their previous actions, could such persons, whose only aim is sense gratification, be blessed with good fortune?” That was his question… a very relevant question. He’s taking the humble position of a person entangled in a web of sense gratification by asking, “How can I attain any good fortune in his life?”
Sanat-kumara replied, “Thank you”, and then says, “I’ve been very nicely questioned by you. Such questions are beneficial for all living entities especially because they are asked by you, because you’re always thinking of everyone else’s welfare. Although you know everything you ask such questions because that is the behavior of saintly persons.”
We see this exchange in many places of the Bhagavatam where the Bhagavatam speakers express their gratitude to the audience.
munayah sadhu prsto ‘ham
yat krtah krsna-samprasno
O sages, I have been justly questioned by you. Your questions are worthy because they relate to Lord Krsna and so are of relevance to the world’s welfare. Only questions of this sort are capable of completely satisfying the self. (SB 1.2.5)
Suta Goswami thanked his audience for asking relevant questions in the same way as Sanat-kumara is thanking Prithu Maharaja. “Thank you for asking how to obtain good fortune. And although you say that you don’t have to inquire about my good fortune because you see that our status is always auspicious, I can see that not only is my status auspicious, but your status is auspicious too because you are interested in hearing such topics.
Therefore today’s verse explains the essence of Sanat-kumara’s answer to Prithu Maharaja. “When there is a congregation of devotees, their discussions, questions and answers, become conclusive to both the speaker and the audience. Thus such a meeting is beneficial for everyone’s real happiness.”
When the sages of Naimasaranya gathered to perform a sacrifice, they were performing a sacrifice for the benefit of the entire world. What was their sacrifice?…hearing Srimad Bhagavatam. It’s not that they sat in front a sacrificial fire, poured ghee into the fire and then expected that that was sufficient to benefit all humanity. They performed the ultimate sacrifice for this age. They gathered to hear, to discuss, and to glorify the topics related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that’s why Suta Goswami was so pleased by their questions.
The sages of Naimasaranya began the sacrifice by asking, “What is the supreme occupation for all mankind? In other words, “What dharma should all living beings engage in? The answer was the famous verse:
sa vai pumsam paro dharmo
yato bhaktir adhoksaje
The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self. (SB 1.2.6)
So the only solution for satisfying the hankering, or the needs, of the eternal soul is to establish his connection with the Supreme.
Srila Prabhupada explains in a Bhagavad-gita commentary that the living entities in the material world suffer due to want of an ultimate goal in life. Without establishing an ultimate goal, people will continue to aspire for the fulfillment of so many lesser goals and will still not feel sheltered upon receiving the fruits of their efforts.
In other words, the only way the self can be perfectly sheltered and satisfied is by being fully engaged in devotional service to the Lord. And what is the means for obtaining devotional service? If devotional service is the ultimate goal, is the only activity which can satisfy the hankering soul, then a person should become eager to know how to obtain it.
In the conversation between Lord Caitanya and Ramananda Raya, Ramananda Raya answers this question:
kriyatam yadi kuto ‘pi labhyate
tatra laulyam api mulyam ekalam
janma-koti-sukrtair na labhyate
“‘Pure devotional service in Krsna consciousness cannot be had even by pious activity in hundreds and thousands of lives. It can be attained only by paying one price — that is, intense greed to obtain it. If it is available somewhere, one must purchase it without delay.’” (Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya 8.70)
One has to develop a greed to have it. There is no other way to obtain it. If one doesn’t become greedy to have it, it’s not going to just immediatley fall from the sky and immediately transform our hearts. Therefore when one obtains the association of a devotee of the Lord, that association is called divine grace. That’s why we refer to Srila Prabhupada as “His Divine Grace.” By His Divine Grace, even a person who previously had no inclination for devotional service can immediately develop an attraction to obtain it.
That desire is awakened in the heart. It’s already there, but it needs to be awakened.
nitya-siddha krsna-prema ‘sadhya’ kabhu naya
sravanadi-suddha-citte karaye udaya
“Pure love for Krsna is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, this love naturally awakens. (Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya 22.107)
Once it’s awakened, what does one have to do? Once it’s awakened, one has to make some effort. It’s not only by the effort of somebody else.
For example, if you have a very important engagement on a particular day, and somebody comes and wakes you up, “It’s time to get up.”
“Oh, I’m so tired.”
And they come back again, “Prabhu it’s time to get up.”
“Oh I’m just so tired, so tired.”
Even modern society takes all this into consideration. Now all alarm clocks always have a “snooze” button. Isn’t it? Every morning, they can count how many times they hit the snooze button. “Five more minutes. I can get five more minutes.” Then after five minutes passes, they think, “Well I can get five more. Why not?”
So either somebody comes and shakes you every five minutes or your alarm goes off every five minutes, but you have an important event that day. Once somebody wakes you up, you have to make the effort to stay awake. Whether it’s your alarm clock or somebody else coming and waking you, you still have to make the effort, “OK. I’m going to get up, and I’m going to take a cold shower. And then I’m going to stick my hand in my bead bad and stay awake.”
Isn’t it? The first thing we do when we wake up in the morning is offer our obeisances to our spiritual master. Then we have to make the effort to stay awake.
Lord Caitanya is calling, “Jiv Jago, Jiva Jago. Wake up sleeping souls. How long are you going to sleep on the lap of the witch called Maya.” So Lord Caitanya is making the call to everybody, “Wake up!” He’s making the first call. “OK. Time to wake up.” But are we going to expect him to keep on coming back to say, “Wake up. Wake up”… again and again and again. He’s got better things to offer you than to tell you to wake up.
We have to make the effort to stay awake and therefore that effort is our responsibility. How to stay awake. So by the mercy of “His Divine Grace”, he wakes up the sleeping soul. He tells us that we are the eternal servants of Krsna. Our constitutional nature is to render pure, loving, unmotivated, devotional service to Him. And then he has so many more things to tell us after we’re awake… about how to stay awake. How to realize our actual spiritual identity. That realization awakens in those who are eager to obtain it. We have to make the effort.
na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau
svayam eva sphuraty adah
“‘Therefore material senses cannot appreciate Krsna’s holy name, form, qualities and pastimes. When a conditioned soul is awakened to Krsna consciousness and renders service by using his tongue to chant the Lord’s holy name and taste the remnants of the Lord’s food, the tongue is purified, and one gradually comes to understand who Krsna really is.’ (Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya 17.136)
Krsna can only be understood by spiritual senses which become purified, beginning with the tongue. When the tongue is used for discussing transcendental topics about the Lord, then either by speaking about Krsna or by inquiring about Krsna, we can then take responsibility. We might say, “I’m not Krsna conscious.” But then you can inquire about Krsna. That’s exactly what is happening right here in this exchange between Prithu Maharaja and Sanat-kumara.
Prithu Maharaja took the position of being very fallen and engrossed in sense gratification and he said, “This is a very dangerous material existence because I’m entangled because of my previous actions in this material existence. How can any person who is so entangled in sense gratification have any good fortune in life? How can they be blessed with good fortune?”
So he took the position of asking, although he could have spoken. All realization was there but he took the position of asking. And Sanat-kumara says, “Oh thank you so much. You are helping me. I’ll benefit from this opportunity. You’re engaging me in devotional service.” He was so grateful. “You’re so merciful that you are giving me an opportunity to speak about transcendental topics. I know I can’t speak about anything else because you’re not interested in hearing anything else. I’m so grateful. I know I won’t get away with talking about Maya to you because you don’t want to hear anything about Maya. You are so kind. For my benefit you’ve asked this question. Thank you.”
Therefore both the speaker and the hearer, they benefit because the only topic is transcendental subject matter.
There are many things that I wanted to speak about this morning but we have a schedule to follow today. I want to end at the appropriate time, at 9:00. I was going to read this later, but I’ll read it now because I want to make sure it’s read. It’s a very wonderful verse from the fifth canto of the Bhagavatam. I really like it. It’s spoken by Jada Bharata to Maharaja Rahugana.
“Who are the pure devotees mentioned here? In an assembly of pure devotees, there is no question of discussing material subjects like politics and sociology. In an assembly of pure devotees, there is discussion only of the qualities, forms and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is praised and worshiped with full attention. In the association of pure devotees, by constantly hearing such topics respectfully, even a person who wants to merge into the existence of the Absolute Truth abandons this idea and gradually becomes attached to the service of Vasudeva.”
The symptoms of pure devotees are described in this verse. The pure devotee is never interested in material topics. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has strictly prohibited His devotees to talk about worldly matters. Gramya-varta na kahibe: [Cc. Antya 6.236] one should not indulge in talking unnecessarily about news of the material world. One should not waste time in this way. This is a very important feature in the life of a devotee. A devotee has no other ambition than to serve Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This Krsna consciousness movement was started to engage people twenty-four hours daily in the service of the Lord and in His glorification. The students in this institution engage in the cultivation of Krsna consciousness from five in the morning to ten at night. They actually have no opportunity to waste their time unnecessarily by discussing politics, sociology and current events. These will go their own way. A devotee is concerned only with serving Krsna positively and seriously. [End of purport] (SB 5.12.13)
These will go their own way! In other words, they will go on anyways and it will be their own way. Of course, someone might say, “Well this verse is speaking about an assembly of pure devotees, but I’m not a pure devotee.” But we already established that the only real solution to the problems of life is to become purified. Any effort we make to try to counteract one fruitive activity by another fruitive activity is going to entangle us further. That’s exactly what material life is. Material life is a constant endeavor to counteract reactions to past sinful life. And that’s why Prithu Maharaja said, “I’m a sense gratifier and my current situation is simply the result of my previous activities.”
He didn’t say, “How do I counteract the results of my previous activities?” That’s how materialists think. How to avoid suffering to obtain happiness and to mitigate distress. Prahlada Maharaja explains:
“In this material world, every materialist desires to achieve happiness and diminish his distress, and therefore he acts accordingly. Actually, however, one is happy as long as one does not endeavor for happiness; as soon as one begins his activities for happiness, his conditions of distress begin.” (SB 7.7.42)
An intelligent person should try to stop the cycle. Not “How do I counteract my past sinful reactions so that I can be [so-called] happy now.” This happiness is temporary. Therefore Lord Rsabhadeva instructed his sons, instead one should look for “brahma saukhyam”, real happiness, which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever.
An intelligent person looks for the real solution. He becomes greedy for attaining the opportuinty to hear about Krsna, the only solution. Therefore when devotees get together, they utilize their time to its full potential. They don’t waste time discussing politics, sociology and current events. These will go their own way!! They are going to go their own way. Why should we waste time discussing these things? No solution comes by discussing these things! They will still go their own way. Better I become Krsna conscious. Better I get together to discuss topics related to Krsna. It’s in my hands. It’s my responsibility to utilize my life wisely. In other words, it’s my responsibilitiy to stay awake!
Certainly by “divine grace” somebody will come and tell us to wake up. Don’t stay sleeping in the lap of the witch called Maya. But how to stay awake? The way to stay awake is to utilize this human life to it’s full potential… and the best opportunity for this is in the association of devotees. A devotee will be eager to ask, “Please, can you tell me something Krsna conscious?” And we should say, “Thank you. You saved me. My tendency would have been to talk nonsense but you saved me by asking the right question.
Then when devotees become inspired in this way, what is the result? Prabhupada explains that in the commentary today. He says,
“The word ubhayesam can be described in many ways. Generally there are two classes of men, the materialist and the transcendentalist. By hearing discussions between devotees, both the materialist and transcendentalist are benefited.”
In other words, when devotees become inspired by topics about the Supreme Lord, then anybody who comes in contact with such discussions can also obtain divine grace. Devotees can be carriers of divine grace. Materialists become devotees by association with such devotees.
Both the devotees are benefitted and the materialists are benefitted. Or as it is stated in verse that we just read from the fifth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, “Even the impersonalists become devotees. The verse states that, “…by constantly hearing such topics respectfully, even a person who wants to merge into the existence of the Absolute Truth abandons this idea and gradually becomes attached to the service of Vasudeva.”
So therefore when the sages asked their question to Suta Goswami, “What is the supreme sacrifice, or highest activity, meant to benefit all humanity?”, the sages then performed that sacrifice by sitting and hearing the topics of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Anyone who comes in contact with such discussions are reminded of the need to wake up. Once awake, they then become eager to stay awake.
That’s why it’s so important for devotees to regularly come together to discuss transcendental topics. When devotees come together, sometimes they think, “What are we going to do with each other? Should we play football? That will keep us all engaged. Good exercise. What else? There must be other things that we can think of to keep us busy so that we don’t fall into maya.”[Devotees laugh]
It’s so clear. Well someone may say, “Well I don’t have any taste for that. Well then Bhagavatam states that one should seek out the association of devotees who will give you some taste.
ta ete sadhavah sadhvi
sangas tesv atha te prarthyah
sanga-dosa-hara hi te
O My mother, O virtuous lady, these are the qualities of great devotees who are free from all attachment. You must seek attachment to such holy men, for this counteracts the pernicious effects of material attachment. (SB 3.25.24)
The pernicious effects of material attachments will be counteracted and a natural taste will awaken. But even if I still don’t have taste, Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, that a sages should act for his own purification.
“The yogis, abandoning attachment, act with body, mind, intelligence and even with the senses, only for the purpose of purification.” (Bg 5.11)
An intelligent person will therefore think, “Yes. Even though I don’t have a taste, because it’s pleasing to Krsna and it’s pleasing to the Vaisnavas, I’ll do it for my own purification.”
syan mahat-sevaya viprah
O twice-born sages, by serving those devotees who are completely freed from all vice, great service is done. By such service, one gains affinity for hearing the messages of Vasudeva. (SB 1.2.16)
And what do devotees ask those who serve them to do? What did Prabhupada ask his tender, neophyte followers to do when they came and heard from him in 26 Second Avenue? He took them out and introduced them to giving the holy name to others.
In the “Prabhupada Lilamrita” there is a wonderful description of the first harinama the devotees went on without Prabhupada. The devotees were just so ecstatic because they were so eager to go back and tell Prabhupada what they did. They couldn’t wait. They burst into his room, “Prabhupada. We went out and we chanted today!” And Prabhupada was so pleased. Oh yes. Now you are understanding. Now you understand what pleases me. This makes me very happy. You have understood my message. Thank you so much.
This is how to serve the devotees. Even if we don’t have taste. We do it for our own purification because by serving them, we develop some taste. We benefit and anyone who comes in contact with us benefits. We don’t water down. We give the essence because it is the essence which purifies the heart, puts us on the path of pure devotional service and keeps us on the path. It keeps us awake, so that we won’t fall back asleep again and forget what the purpose is of this life.
So Sanat-kumara is saying, “Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to speak and then he said, “This is the solution.
“When there is a congregation of devotees, their discussions, questions and answers become conclusive to both the speaker and the audience. Thus such a meeting is beneficial for everyone’s real happiness.”
This is a partially-edited transcription of a Srimad Bhagavatam lecture (SB 4.22.19) given on May 17, 2014 during the Ukrainian Counselor Retreat.
By Niranjana Swami
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