“The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment's association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 22.54)
“I’m in the clear. The boss just stepped out for the day. Time to party. No one to look over my shoulder now. No more pressure for the rest of the day. I’m at work, so I still have a job to do, but if I take a little extra time for lunch, no one will be the wiser. If I surf the internet a little longer, unless they are monitoring my outbound traffic, how will they ever find out?”
Sure, the absence of the boss brings some relief from the pressure of strict oversight, but if this is the norm rather than the aberration, is that good? Is not there a purpose to the business? In the larger picture, the presence of the boss is actually helpful, provided they know what they are doing.
We can understand the same concept using the example of a school. For the young child, hearing that school is closed is like music to the ears. You don’t have to get up early the next morning. You don’t have to worry about your homework assignment or that big test. At least the pressure is off for one day. It’s an unexpected day off to be used as a vacation. A similar feeling exists when the teacher is out for a specific class. The substitute teacher isn’t as strict, and they’re only there to make sure nothing goes wrong in the class. They’re not really there to apply any pressure to learn.
But if the teacher were absent all the time, it wouldn’t be a good thing. You’re in school to learn after all. And to learn you need a teacher and you need a school that is open. The office exists to sell a good or service for a profit. If it is not open, there is no profit earned. Without profit there are no jobs. If the boss isn’t there, the workers aren’t as diligent, which means that the end product will suffer. The presence of the authority figures is thus ultimately beneficial.
If this is true in work and in school, it is most certainly true in spiritual life. The human mind is incapable of conjuring up the nature of the Absolute Truth on its own. This is because we are illusioned by the external world. The pursuit for sense enjoyment is sort of like dreaming of becoming a king. If you are a king in your dreams, you have all the enjoyment of regal life, but only for a brief period. Once the dream ends, your crown gets taken away. You’re back to being an ordinary person, someone who isn’t a king.
The stay within a material body is like the same dream because it can end at any second. Moreover, it definitely will end. No one can be king forever. While they are king, the range of their sovereignty isn’t that great. I may be the king of one country, but another country has their own leader. Even if I should conquer them, I will have to constantly worry about holding on to my power. Consolidated power is as fragile as localized power; they are both relegated to temporary status based on the nature of the world.
Spiritual life is the way out of the dream. To permanently escape, one should know the cause of their illusion. You enter the dream at night from sleeping, so if you don’t sleep, you won’t dream. As sleeping is required to maintain the body, there is nothing that can be done to stop dreaming altogether. With the dream that is the stay in the material world, the sleeping component is the ignorance of the true nature of the self. This ignorance can be permanently avoided. Aham brahmasmi, which means I am spirit soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. To say that I am spirit is to say that I am not matter. My body is composed of matter, and so my body does not represent my identity.
In ignorance I think that I am my body and that my body is to be used for becoming king. This is considered ignorance because there is only one true king: God. Acknowledgment of this fact keeps one away from the dream; free from the sleep. As soon as there is forgetfulness, the jiva soul falls into the material creation, where the dream begins.
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
To realize the self is not easy, and so in the Vedas it is advised that one approach a spiritual master who knows the self and learn from them. While this opens the door for many cheaters to pose as spiritual guides when they actually don’t know anything, the requirement to learn from someone else makes sense. We learn from authority figures in all other areas of life, so why would it be any different when trying to learn something that is the most difficult to comprehend?
The spiritual master is also a sadhu, or devotee, and in the Vedas it is said that it is most beneficial to have the association of devotees, sadhu-sanga. A real sadhu knows that they are spirit soul. They also act off of that knowledge by engaging in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. The bona fide spiritual master is one who follows bhakti-yoga as a way of life. Their presence alone makes a huge difference. If the spiritual master is around to teach, the students pay more attention to their work, which starts and ends with the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
More beneficial than the guru’s presence is his instructions, which other sadhus, or devotees, follow. So if you’re around sadhus, you’re essentially around the guru as well. They are his proxy, and while they may not always be in an acknowledged position of authority, their association is enough to bring a positive influence. With the combination of sadhu, shastra and guru, the sleeping jiva soul ignorant of his position as servant of God can awaken from his slumber and be inspired to serve the Supreme Lord, the king of kings. As bhakti is an eternal engagement, when it is fully rekindled the nightmare of the material existence never has to be experienced again.
Quitting time for boss is here,
No more his presence to fear.
The pressures now start to come undone,
In surfing the internet I will have fun.
That absence of authority better is the thought,
But forgotten is the discipline the chief brought.
In spiritual life find a guru bona fide,
Along the proper path he will guide.
Sadhu is devotee who follows guru’s instructions,
With their association begin ignorance’s destruction.