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The Importance of Friendship and Association

Friday, 28 September 2018 / Published in Articles, Karnamrita dasa / 13,851 views

By Karnamrita dasa

I have been thinking today of friendship and its power of influence over us which indicates the secret meaning of association. What drives us to seek friends and close relationships and what will be the effect on us?

Our heart is compared in the scriptures to be like a clear crystal that reflects what is before it. We become like who we associate with closely or intimately. That means that when we open our heart to someone, and they open their heart to us there is an exchange of energy or power–we and they are influenced.

I meet people all day where I work. Some I have gotten to know well, others casually. I see coming together with someone like two doors facing each other. Behind each door is many pathways leading to different oceans. So two people coming together has the potential of revealing many oceans. We could get lost in our own or another persons’ ocean unless we can uncover the soul, which is what spiritual association can offer us.

There is an urge of human beings for intimacy—to be able to share their story and who they currently are or are trying to become. Sharing our self means being able to open our door to let someone in. It may be a crack to reveal our particular color of light in the beginning, as we are all eventually guarded as to who we let in—otherwise we may have boundary issues or be taken advantage of.

Everyone has needs and the desire to be needed. Perhaps the single most important reason many people come together is the desire to be understood. From that we feel we gain strength, can be our self, with the ability to face the world which can seem alien, being inhabited by those other people that don’t really understand us. We doubt our self and want to find someone who believes in us. This doubt or low self esteem drives many people to therapists or spiritual paths. From a spiritual perspective, real self esteem comes from realizing our nature as souls who are part of the Supreme Great. He or we could say—They, as in Radha and Krishna–is (are) our real friend(s).

This urge to share the details of our life and it’s journey is fascinating to me. We think this sharing of who we “think we truly are” to be what friendship and intimacy is about—with the addition of giving support and respect to one another, while accepting who the other is without negative judgment. We may give up our family are reputation to find this.

In our both our professional and personal life, we have acquaintances, and close friends. I mentioned sharing the details with another and mutual support and acceptance, though there are other things as well which constitute friendship. What do you think they are?

Some further ideas I have are as follows.

Friendships are about giving and receiving, like a dance where first one person leads, then the other, and sometimes it seems like an invisible partner is directing us. Other than a saint who makes no distinctions between people, seeing everyone as a soul, there is some calculation in who we choose for a friend. We see or feel something in them, some quality, attractiveness, that causes us to want to be with them. We are charmed, fascinated, or at least interested to know more, and have their company. We may see some quality in them we would like to have, or they may be in need and we are drawn to help them in some way. Birds of a feather, flock together, or are attracted in the first place. Or on the downside, we could want to exploit them for our selfish purpose, which when revealed can end the so-called friendship. Sometimes even with a real friend, there may be a mixture of both the good and bad, since we are imperfect human beings and devotees.

Most people are hungry for relationships, either as friends or lovers. Since we have forgotten our original, primal love with Krishna and our true spiritual self, we seek the fulfillment of our eternal needs through the flesh, which is our conception of who we are. Even in material relationships we can gain much and learn more about our self because people are like mirrors that reflect back to us what we like or dislike, or want or hate. We devotees of Krishna or anyone on a spiritual path can also gain those things from relationships, yet more importantly in spiritual relationships we are reminded of our true spiritual self interest, and object of love.

Friendship or good relationships are synergistic, there is more substance in the combination than there is with one person alone. Some metaphors have come to mind this morning regarding this effect of friendship. One is that friendship is like two flowers cross pollinating each other—helping each other to realize their potential and fullness. Or we provide encouraging words, support, or our practical insights about KC which act like fertilizer to help one another grow and move forward, or upward. Sometimes two creepers may intertwine in such a way to also help each other grow individually upward, moving off the ground and on to a mighty oak tree where they go higher than they ever could alone and touch the stars, and beyond to Goloka. So we can think of sankirtana (group chanting of the holy name) or the power of saintly association with devotees as the perfection of friendship and association.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive, definitive essay on friendship and association as it is my usual method of writing flow. I am quite aware that many of my posts here are very basic, yet I hope they are relevant to devotees’ lives, and provide food for thought and reflection. Perhaps you could share with me and the other readers, your insights about what friendships are to you, and the meaning of all types of association. Discerning what positive and negative association with others is important as most of us here know. We have learned that spiritual advancement is helped by first associating with devotees in openhearted friendship
(and in the case of a guru, with friendly reverence) and secondly by avoiding intimate dealings with the unfaithful. Therefore this is an important topic to understand and discuss, even though it might seem very basic.

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15 Responses to “The Importance of Friendship and Association”

  1. Akruranatha says :

    Wow! Karnamrta Prabhu, you have really outdone yourself with this beautiful essay. Friendship is a very important topic. We are enjoined to make friends with devotees. “tad adhinesu. . .prema-maitri-krpopeksa yah karoti sah madhyama” (S.B. 11.2.46)

    One thing very special about the bhakti path is that it is followed in the association of friendly devotees. Associating with devotees reflects our understanding of God, not as something impersonal or alone, but full of playful pastimes with innumerable, blissful associates.

    In the Bhagavad Gita, there are various verses in which Lord Krishna extols the virtue of living in a secluded place (e.g., B.G. 6.10), the idea being that to make spiritual progress, one has to give up the association of worldly-minded people. The yogis can go out alone into the forest because they know Krishna or Paramatma to be their friend. However, it must be terribly difficult.

    When I was a new devotee, struggling to hear my rounds, I sometimes would fantasize during japa period about going off alone to practice Krishna consciousness in the wilderness somewhere, now that I knew how to meditate. What a fool I was to think that I would have had the slightest chance outside the association of devotees. Why on earth was I thinking like that?

    In the Purport to B.G. 4.10, Srila Prabhupada talks about how impersonalists are fearful of retaining personality after liberation. He tells us we have to get rid of this fear of our spiritual personal identity. By the slow process of devotional service under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, we can become free from all material attachment, from the fearfulness of our individual spiritual personality, and from the frustrations (from encountering contradictory specuative philosophies) resulting in voidism. Then we can attain the Lord’s abode.

    “Perhaps the single most important reason many people come together is the desire to be understood. From that we feel we gain strength, can be our self, with the ability to face the world which can seem alien, being inhabited by those other people that don’t really understand us. ”

    Yes. This material world is really inhabited by people who don’t understand us (and want to exploit us and do not really care about us). Only the devotees know “who we really are” and can engage with us in the six loving exchanges. Only they can really “get” us, because we really, truly are “krsnera nitya das.”

  2. soma108 says :

    Dear Karnamrita Prabhu,

    Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

    Thank you for your thoughts and insight on relationships and their various facets. Association is very important. One time Govinda dasi wanted to live alone and left the temple in Hawaii and Srila Prabhupada was not encouraging this. He did not want her to live alone and he always emphasized the importance of association. He said we are not meant to live alone.

    I myself have to work a regular job and in my daily activities have various relationships. There are a few people I have come to know who are receptive to Krsna Consciousness and the process of meditation and devotional service. However, there are others that I maintain a respectful friendship, however, more distant.

    Yes, we are in these human physical bodies and are full of desires. By association we can be encouraged spiritually and emotionally, therefore, to choose who we associate with is very important. We can become energized, grow and flourish by the proper spiritual association, or we can be drained and disillusioned by the wrong association.

    Since I am older now and have survived through the years, my past experiences remind me of my real focus points and what is more beneficial and long term to me wherein I can gravitate more so to positive association. To share one’s experiences and help another person is important. I believe that just as it is important to preach to people about Krsna it is very important to give of our self to others what we have learned in our personal experiences. To be an encouragement and impetus for growth, knowledge and strength.

    I like your comment that “friendships are about giving and receiving….”. That is so true. By giving and receiving (and sharing) we help each other genuinely grow. It gravitates from sincerity. If someone is sincere and honest by their endeavors all positive things fructify.

    Hare Krishna.
    Your servant,
    Omkara devi dasi

  3. Akruranatha says :

    They say lawyers are buried 12 feet underground, because . . . “deep down, they are really good people.” :-)

    Really, isn’t everyone a really good person, deep down far enough? By true nature, everyone is a devotee, part and parcel of Krishna.

    But somehow, due to forgetfulness of Krishna, communication can be lacking, and friendship on that deep, emotional level goes missing.

    We find that real communication and fellowship within kirtans and bhagavatam class, because it is during those times that we are really who we are “deep down”.

    Suta Goswami congratulated the sages for enquiring about Krishna, because only discussions about Krishna can fully satisfy the self. Otherwise, so many questions and answers are going on, so many discussions and superficial friendships, but it never really gets “deep down.”

    Oh, materialistic people can get really serious about their so-called soul-mates, and Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers can end up committing suicide for each other and so on, but when the basis of friendship is the external mind and senses and our various asat-dharmas, it can never really, truly be “deep down.”

    But sometimes we hear devotees complaining about “impersonalism” and/or a lack of friendly dealings within our spiritual communities. This is a serious concern.

    Neophytes, or materialistic devotees, worship Krishna in the temple, but do not know how to form deep, serious, spiritually-satisfying friendly relations with Krishna’s devotees.

    We might be able to repeat the formulas of spiritual instructions from Prabhupada’s books (a good start), but in order to really connect with other devotees and derive “great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing” about Krishna, we need to really digest these formulas and also know how to listen to other devotees with a proper service attitude and respond sympathetically to their devotional moods and intentions.

    The “urge to share the details of our life and it’s journey” can be truly fulfiled if we share with knowing devotees about each others’ journeys toward Krishna consciousness. We can share our realizations, and properly raise doubts or problems for each other to help solve.

    Everyone seeks true friendship and love. Krishna consciousness is the only means of finding it. Only Krishna and His devotees are truly worthy friends. As George Harrison says, “All you need is love (Krishna)”

  4. Akruranatha says :

    Frienship and love are among the major themes of literature. The need to find”the meeting of true minds” is powerful and universal.

    In popular culture, love songs and movies confuse the drive to find true love with the not-very-civilized mating behavior of contemporary, nondevotee culture. This runs the gamut from pop music and Harlequin Romances to the so-called great novels (e.g., Tolstoi’s “Anna Karenina.”) As a devotee I find it hard to relate to the heroes and heroines, their concerns and interests.

    Even when the characters are somewhat religious, they never seem to be as likeable as real devotees who attend morning program and read Bhagavatam every day. They just have too many mundane and even sinful concerns. (It always shocks me when the hero sits down at the dinner table and starts carving a big pot roast or something). It is not a mere cultural matter over vegetarianism; their entire value system is “off”.

    Plato’s “Symposium” is an interesting discourse on love, but it is really culturally exotic. Athenian society in the so-called Golden Age, at least as portayed in this classic dialogue, seems strangely libertine and homosexual. And yet the conclusion (explained by a prostitute), that there is a supreme object of love, the form of beauty, whom having once been beheld completely captivates the beholder, who thereafter is never atracted to the lesser forms of this temporary world, sounds familiar to a devotee. Were they really talking about Krishna?

    Lord Gauranga calls, “I have descended just to save you. Other than Myself, who is your friend?”

    Of course the Srimad Bhagavatam is the greatest and original love story, with full exposition of the plight of the conditioned soul in material bondage and the true object of love and how that love is expressed in full spiritual freedom. Once we have gotten a little taste of that, it is no wonder we find mundane songs and stories pale and vicious.

    But are we as neophyte devotees sometimes “impersonal” and unfriendly to each other? Callous to each other’s difficulties and struggles?

    I remember back in the late 1970s sometime, we heard (in Vancouver) that some devotees in L.A. had started going bowling together one night a week. We thought, “Scandalous!” :-)

    It seems so innocent to me now, and was probably just meant to counteract the “I’m not going to listen to your prajalpa Prabhu” attitude some of us projected as enthusiastic but self-centered new devotees.

  5. Yes, this is such an important and wide ranging topic. We see how attempts are made in various Nama-hatta groups to form ‘buddies’, or at least to have a close friend in whom to confide.

    I find that when a devotee engages in some service for the temple, the productivity increases when doing it in the company of close friends. It is no crime to be surrounded by like-minded temperaments and to forge ahead with a mission to please the Lord in such company enables the attainment of goals.

    To have at least one or two confidential friends in spiritual life is most essential. Such understanding friends are available when you need them and can be embarrassingly lavish in their help in all sorts of situations. One is truly blessed to have genuine buddies, and even more so, to serve the vaisnava community and try to please Krishna in that company.

    I think a test of a great friendship is one where you can pick up the phone any time of the day, and say, “Hey Prabhuji, I just had this realization after reading such and such a passage from the Bhagavatam; what’s your take on it?” To be able to talk Krishna Katha like this certainly produces – “tusyanti ca ramanti ca – it gives satisfaction and bliss (BG 10.9)

    Is there any wonder why devotee association is the highest form of socialisation and can even ease the way back home, back to Godhead.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

  6. ccd says :

    I was just walking down the street and ran into a devotee I have not seen in years. Uddhava. He was telling me how these days its rare for him when someone just addresses him, “Haribol!” – he said he went into Govindas in Dublin and Goloka said “Haribol” and it took him a while to gather that it was a greeting… But he said that while at work he is often saying “Jaya” in exactly the approving manner he used to. So some things do not change. It is not only that devotees of the highest calibre need association, it is at every level, and I am not saying that Uddhava is not at this category, he probably is, as he was for years a leader and was running a bhakti-vrksa program really well. But it was really enlivening to meet him on the street, he caught me on my chanting break too. He said that he is keeping very busy with his work “Keeps me out of trouble”.. he said. Well devotee association should also ‘keep one out of trouble” – that is what it is supposed to do. What to speak of friendship too. That is possibly the best part of the meaning of our movement, a devotee friendship..

  7. Akruranatha says :

    “That is possibly the best part of the meaning of our movement, a devotee friendship.”

    Yes, CCd, this reminds me of Srila Prabhupada’s Purport to Text 4 of NOI:

    “In the previous verse, Srila Rupa Goswami advised that one should renouce worldly association and keep company with the devotees (sanga-tyagat sato vrtteh). The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has been established to facilitated these six kinds of loving exchanges between devotees.”

    And later in the same Purport: “The life of the Krsna conscious society is nourished by these six types of loving exchange among the members; therefore people must be given the chance to associate with the devotees of ISKCON because simply by reciprocating in the six ways mentioned above an ordinary man can fully revive his dormant Krishna consciousness.”

    A true friend is someone you can rely on through thick and thin, who will never disparage you behind your back, reveal your secrets to others, betray you, exploit you, compete with you, hurt you. An honest well-wisher always has your welfare at heart. Although you make a mistake or have some weakness, a tested friend will not reject you, but will try to help you overcome it and continue to love you.

    The Shakespearean sonnet says “love is not love that alters when it alteration finds”. . . It is “an ever fixed mark, that looks on tempests and is never shaken, it is the star to every wand’ring bark whose worth’s unknown although its height is taken”

    We do have a need to develop such strong friendships, and as devotees we must form such friendships with devotees (and renounce worldly association). The original, dearmost intimate friend of everyone is Krishna (who else can truly be a worthy friend?), and the society of devotees facilitates friendly dealings or loving exchanges with Krishna and His friends.

    But is there a conflict there? As beginning devotees we may sometimes still harbor worldly affection. How can we be steady, reliable friends to each other, and at the same time strictly renounce all worldly association?

    There may be a danger in the life of a sadhaka that too much austerity can make him or her grumpy, hard-hearted, faultfinding or judgmental of other aspiring sadhakas, impatient, unfriendly. Then it will be hard to form friendships.

    But a broad-minded devotee can love his friend even (or especially) in a time of weakness, and patiently give the support and encouragement he needs.

  8. Karnamrita.das says :

    Thank you all for your insightful comments. Like many topics this is indeed a deep one, with many perspectives and facets.

    One thing I would like to add is how rare such really close friends are—the kind you both share your inner life with, or who will be there for us, and we for them. Perhaps it depends on one’s personality and how social one is. I also think it is easier for women to have more friends, being in general more relationship oriented then men.

    Personally I have so many devotees I know and like and even who I have had a good friendship before we moved away from one another, yet my really close friends are very few. This is not a lamentation, but my observation. I see many reasons for this in my life. First I am a bit reclusive, and although I work at a store where I meet many people, my time at home is solitary. For many of us–especially in the West–our spouse is our best friend–the person who knows us the best, and who we can confide in.

    And for others? As I think Thoreau said, “If you want a friend, be a friend”, so having close friendships take time and energy, and quality time spent together in work or service. This is not so easy in today’s busy world with more then a few devotees. We tend to make time for what is important to us.

    I think it is a common understanding that we have to make other times to come together besides the Temple programs, which, as important as they are, are often not a time to really connect with other devotees. How do we have more “fellowship” with each other, for new people or even older devotees in the life of devotion?I remember reading years ago something by Rohini-nandana of England who spoke of a guest who told him that he thought the KC philosophy was a great one, but he didn’t see any real fellowship between the devotees—meaning personal dealings and close friendships. I think many of us know what he was referring to.

    So we have the type of association where we dive deep into the nectar of the KC philosophy and lila of the Lord, and we have the type of association where we share who we are on the path, the human being type issues we may be working on, and our fears, problems, desires, dreams, and highest aspirations. Both are very essential for meaningful friendships, though we may not have both sides with everyone. We want to share Krishna with our dear friend, and also our humanity, or who we are in this body. If we can, I would say that is a very special friend!

  9. Akruranatha says :

    “We want to share Krishna with our dear friend, and also our humanity, or who we are in this body.”

    Yes, Karnamrta Prabhu, this is something I love about this article and many of your other articles, your recognition of dealing with our humanity.

    The lack of “fellowship” that some people have noticed and you are referring to may come from an idea some of us have somehow gotten that we are supposed to simply ignore or transcend “our humanity, or who we are in this body.”

    I know I still have a touch of that misconception. I cannot seem to escape it. We were talking about this a little bit over in the thread on abandoning our “svadharma”, with the sanatanist.

    Sometimes we talk about it in terms of “premature renunciation.” I need to hear more about it. I do not know precisely where it is discussed very thoroughly and directly in Prabhupada’s books, at least not all neatly wrapped up in bite-sized morsels. (Maybe someone can suggest some passages?)

    It seems to be an impersonalist idea that we can simply “ignore who we are in this body.” This could be related to the “jagan mithya” idea of the mayavadis: “My body and mind and senses are not real, and to be a transcendentalist requires me to just ignore them.”

    That is not only impractical and unrealistic; it just is not true. Our body and mind and senses, although composed of Krishna’s illusory, material energy, are real, and can be used in Krishna’s service and spiritualized or “Krishna-ized”.

    We have to overcome our lower natures (often it involves struggle), but Krishna recommends regulating the senses and dovetailing our propensities in works of devotion. Yes, we can overcome material nature by (and only by) surrendering to Krishna, but it is a gradual process and Krishna usually does not ask us to go against our nature. “Nigraha kim karisyasi?”

    Even for fully mature devotees whose bodies and senses are totally spiritual, they are going to have some special deep friendships and affinity groups, as we see in Krishna’s lila. Those relationships are completely spiritual and only seem to contradict the brahma bhuta ideal of being equally disposed (“samye sthitam”) and friendly to all (“suhrdam sarva dehinam”).

    Eternally liberated devotees have relationships with family, friends, gurus, etc., based on spiritual identity. Arjuna’s refusal to kill his loved ones was maya in an unusual circumstance, but he normally had pure, spiritual affection for them.

  10. Karnamrita.das says :

    Certainly the general subject of immature renunciation is there in many places. In the first Canto of the Bhagavatam Prabhupada describes the inferior position of one who takes sannyas merely due to the frustration of married life—in other words, without a higher calling. I would say that to formally accept the sannyas order (especially at a young age) one must be called to that. As far as renunciation for everyone, most of us know the Gita verse in the second chapter where Krishna speaks of experiencing a higher taste (2.59) in order to be fixed in renunciation of sense enjoyment. Or in the 3rd chapter vs 6 where he goes so far to say that if we make a show of renunciation while still absorbed in thinking of sense enjoyment, then we are a pretender or hypocrite.

    My main reference for “immature renunciation” is my own life, and also observing in the early days of the movement so many of my contemporaries. Interestingly, our immaturity and actually naivete served us in some ways. If I had to accept initiation today and vow to follow the four principles, I don’t know if I could. Prabhupada and all the great teachers simplify the deep, esoteric philosophy of KC, and make it seem self evident and easy, so we can take it up with enthusiasm. Eventually we discover how difficult it really is, and how inconceivable so many things are. By then it is too late to go back, and we are on again on the path of Bhakti. Some devotees have noted that “preaching and siddhanta” are not always the same. Yet if the goal is to bring people to Krishna, then the end justifies the means.

    In my experience it really takes a long time to really understand oneself in the body. I didn’t really realize this was important until I had been a devotee for 12 years and was 32. It would have helped to know this earlier and had role models to demonstrate it. Anyway, everything happens for a reason, and that was my path. Never-the-less I am rather intensely passionate about the topic of being real and acting according to ones’ nature, and I do my to speak and write about it. There is certainly “emergency devotional service” where we may act in ways we might not ordinarily for the service of Shri Guru and Gauranga. Yet most of us can’t major in that as many of us did for years under the shakti of Prabhupada during his physical manifestation. I know I received a lot of spiritual blessings during those wild times, though it later took many years to situate myself in my ashrama and work.

  11. Akruranatha says :

    The concept of “who we are in the body” is a fascinating one.

    The idea that we have a particular varna due to the family we take our birth in has been discredited by Srila Prabhupada.

    On the other hand, my American conditioning is full of ideas that I can “be whoever I want to be.” We are supposed to be able to invent ourselves, and even our biology is not supposed to determine our destiny (or so they tell us). That seems to be taking things to the opposite extreme.

    I am always amazed to hear stories of people overcoming their supposed destiny. O.J. Simpson wore leg braces as a child, but in true “Forrest Gump” fashion he became a Heisman trophy-winning running back. (He had a less-heroic destiny to fulfill later, it seems…)

    Nevertheless, some things about us are just bred in the bone and do not change very easily. We have to learn to how to engage those aspects of our personalities in Krishna’s service. This may take some critical self-analysis, as well as some proper guidance by an expert spiritual master.

    Christians have a fairly liberal attitude regarding conversion. You have to do little more than profess a belief and you’re in the club. Jews make it harder for outsiders to convert, but if your mother is Jewish you are a member regardless of how you think and act (but you have a serious responsibility to think and act like a true member).

    I do not know much about Muslims. They seem to accept converts easily, but they expect more than lip service: there are a lot of rules to follow. We seem to be more like that.

    The real idea of spiritual initiation is supposed to be that it actually transforms one into a new kind of being (like changing bell metal to gold by an alchemical process). But in the mean time if anyone is willing to enter our sanga and chant the holy names, we accept them as devotees.

    One of the scary things about friendship and love is that it threatens to change who we are. We know the all-importance of association. Not only do birds of a feather flock together, but we start to take on the feathers of whatever flock we fly with.

    [Or it may be an exhilerating thought that by forming a new friendship we are changing or at least discovering a new chapter of our destiny.]

    Finding the rare true friends we share the ups and downs of life with is like finding the missing limbs of our own bodies. Impersonalists despise their bodies, but devotees properly engage them in Krishna’s service.

  12. Akruranatha says :

    Thanks Karnamrta for the scriptural references regarding immature renunciation. This is a subject I need to consider and study.

    “Interestingly, our immaturity and actually naivete served us in some ways. If I had to accept initiation today and vow to follow the four principles, I don’t know if I could. Prabhupada and all the great teachers simplify the deep, esoteric philosophy of KC, and make it seem self evident and easy, so we can take it up with enthusiasm. ”

    Yes. Prabhupada made it seem simple. Srutakirti chose a nice title for his book of Prabhupada vignettes: “What is the difficulty?”

    I am also afraid that I could not “surrender” today the way I did as a teenager. I feel as if I should, I have to, but I know I am not really that advanced.

    Nowadays some of my peers and I seem to be asking ourselves, “Do I have enough money to become a retired vanaprastha?” Somehow that practical consideration does not seem to be in keeping with the spirit of penance and renunciation that retired life is supposed to entail.

    Maybe I am wrong. I am not saying we have to be materially irresponsible. But I just can’t help thinking that I do not really “need” as much as I think I do.

    As kids, when we joined, our parents were saying, “You have to be practical. Stay in school. Get a good job. If you want to be a Hare Krishna in your spare time, you can make that your hobby.” But we weren’t having any. We wanted to be cent percent devotees and didn;t have anything left over for so-called responsible considerations. And we had Prabhupada right there encouraging us, “What is the difficulty?”

    One of my favorite verses is “tyaktva sva-dharmam caranambujam harer. . . ” (S.B. 1.5.17) It is not that Narada Muni is encouraging people to abandon material obligations exactly, but he is pointing out the glory of devotional service. Even one who recklessly drops everything to become a devotee, and falls down while still immature, has not lost anything. He will take it up again until he is mature. But one who perfectly executes material duties without bhakti, gains nothing. Thus Sri Narada encouraged his disciple Vyasa to compose the spotless Purana.

    I feel I am wasting time, struggling for artificial comforts, and I wish I had the fearless, youthful, authentic exuberance to just risk everything for pure bhakti, even though it is way beyond my grasp. I should not wait until another life to finish up, and Prabhupada does not want me to.

  13. Akruranatha says :

    I guess I veered away from the topic of friendship. Sorry for that. I tend to “shoot from the hip” and often shoot wide of the mark.

    I have been thinking about “wages for sages” and “giving up material duties” and “makings mums and dads cry,” and all the threads just start weaving together for me. I have more questions than answers and am not really able to write clearly, consisely and to the point.

    The Srimad Bhagavatam is full of stories concerning balancing and tension between material and spiritual duties, such as Lord Brahma’s anger at the Four Kumara’s renunciation, or Priyavrata’s being persuaded to accept the kingdon, or Daksa’s cursing of Narada Muni.

    How do all these topics relate to the topic of friendships? I am not sure but I sense they do.

    Sometimes devotees fall down after a long time and say they felt they had no genuine personal relationships with other devotees, or their “emotional needs” were not being met.[One sannyasi wrote something like that after he infamously ran off with a young married female disciple, and although his behaviour was atrocious, his explanation is probably worth discussing.]

    It strikes me as curious, at least, because we know that Krishna consciousness is the only thing that really satisfies a deep spiritual need which is also a most basic emotional need. I mean, a devotee’s relationships with Krishna, His holy names, His vigrahas, His lilas, really are deep emotional relationships that satisfy our elemental need for intimate friendship. There is no denying that.

    But in our relationship with other devotees, “in the body” so to speak, we also should have satisfying emotional, spiritual relationships. We cannot deny that. We are not supposed to imitate bhajananandis who go off to chant alone. And if our friends are devotees, being true friends can be completely spiritual, devotional service, can’t it? We are enjoined to make friends with the Lord’s devotees (“tad adhinesu . . . maitra”).

    So why do some devotees feel a lack of intimacy and friendship in their spiritual life, or in their ISKCON dealings? What are they doing wrong, if anything, and how are we failing them?

    We do need to have people we can trust will act as constant well-wishers, in whom we can confide and mutually support. What is it, if anything, about ISKCON social arrangements that prevent people from finding such friends? What is it about ourselves that might prevent us from forming such relationships?

  14. Akruranatha says :

    Most friendships seem to form based on common interests, things people do together, and genuinely admire about each other’s skills or accomplishments in those fields.

    (Let’s leave aside the question of alliances based on mating behavior, which preoccupies a lot of nondevotee social interaction in societies where men and women mix freely with fewer moral restrictions, other than to say that good devotee marriages should also be based on firm, friendly commitment and trust.)

    Among nondevotees, the common interests are nondevotional, generally based on sense enjoyment or material duties. Kids play sports and games with one another, or work on school projects together. Adults work together at work and my share career goals, and in leisure they vacation together, play or watch sports, discuss art or music or philosophy or politics, maybe in dining or other pursuits (cigars, wine, model trains, contract bridge) that sort of thing.

    Devotees can have common devotional interests, like book distribution, cooking, deity worship, devotional music, and other devotional service. They can develop a real interest in reading and discussing Prabhupada’s books together and chanting together, and they can also do leisurely physical exercise together for keeping the body healthy.

    The Spanish word “compadre” implies rearing children in partnership, in the sense that our kids play together at each other’s houses and we need to have people we can trust and rely on to help each other watch the kids and be there in emergencies and trade notes and concerns about child rearing with. Such mutual trust is a kind of friendship that both nondevotees and devotees enjoy.

    My experience in brahmacari asram in old-school ISKCON did involve, naturally, some regimentation. We had no kids (most of us were kids ourselves), and we purposely did not have leisure activities. Still, there was a kind of camaraderie that we were all in the same thing together. Our isolation from the nondevotee world made us feel like we were in an oasis of others who intensely shared our interests. At least in Vancouver when Bahudak was TP there was sort of a family-like espirit de corps, and naturally we felt closer to some individuals than others (yet there were so many friendly, nice devotees, almost all of whom still are active devotees).

    Still in some ways the asrama environment and restriction from “elective” leisure activities could stifle some common avenues of friendship. . .

  15. Akruranatha says :

    There are plenty of opportunities for devotees in asram life to show friendship and kindness to one another.

    I guess mainly we become friends with people who are kind to us, who understand what we are going through and find ways to help us and show us they do understand. And this naturally inspires a mutuality of kindness and understanding.

    I guess these are just obvious platitudes, but I do wonder about what it is that makes us sometimes feel that there is unkindness or impersonalism in asram life. Sometimes we may be struggling with over-austerity and become a little selfish or callous to the suffering of our mates. Or maybe we become a little competitive?

    It can happen in temples, large and small, that enmities form and devotees try to push each other down. In the kind of restricted “fishbowl” of an asrama environment, that could be very difficult.

    Or there might be situations in which new devotees (or even senior devotees) have no one to confide in about some difficulty or doubt.

    We have to be kind and friendly to one another and form close friendships or life in an asrama could become unbearable.

    (It reminds me of a genre of novels and movies where a small group of people are required to live and work together, either in a military platoon or navy ship, a sports team, prison, mental hospital, or even a cozy academic environment or small town, and people have to find friends in order to thrive and survive.)

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