Form, Spirit, and Sadhu-Sanga

By B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami

Formalism may be favorable for devotion, but not always. The spirit is all-important, even when crossing every formality. What is required of us is our absolute attraction for service, for beauty. Laws have no status there. In the beginning they have some sort of utility, but when one is advanced, one should not care for them, for anything. Only seek sadhu-sanga, adherence to the saints of similar type, a little better than ourselves, our guides in raga-bhajana, those who are in the path of divine love and attraction.

That is the only way. That is the only thing that can guide us. Laulyam, the only price is our laul, earnest desire, nothing else: krishna bhakti rasa bhavita matih. Ramananda Raya says to Mahaprabhu that if one finds it anywhere, one should try to purchase it. What is that? The pure inclination towards the service of Krishna. The innermost tendency to want Krishna, to get him, to have him—the earnest desire to have him. Anywhere you find that desire, a drop of that divine attraction, try to purchase it for any price. Acquire it! It may be obtained from anywhere or anyone, it does not matter. Kiba vipra kiba nyasi sudra kene naya, yei krishna tattva vetta sei guru haya. A brahmana, a sannyasi, or a sudra who knows Krishna, he is guru.

Wherever there is a drop of that love divine, only try to get it. It is not to be purchased with any money, nor is it anything that is acquired by so many formal practices in millions of births. Substance is necessary and not the form. Form is required only as much as it may connect us with that real substance, otherwise it is not necessary. Sarva dharman parityajya, give up all phases of duty which you perceive as perfect. At once try to jump in the ocean of nectar. That is the desired teaching. Earnest desire, that is to be acquired; that is bhakti proper.

There are some that want to know about Krishna only from the sastra, scripture. In the almanac it is written that this year so much rain is expected, so much rain will come. But if we press the almanac, will a drop of water ooze out of it? The sastra is like that, something like that. The sastra says do this, do that, but the scripture cannot give us Krishna. First we get the direction, then we practice; we are to do it. We are helpless when searching with this method or that method.

Practically, we should come in connection with the service of a Vaishnava. But where, whom to serve? I can’t come directly in connection with him. Who can I serve? The deity form of the Lord, the vigraha is there, the sastra is there—but in a sense these are superficial. The real substance we find in a Vaishnava, in his heart: dharmasya tattvam nihitam guhayam. The Krishna conception, Krishna as he is, knowledge and love, we find living in the heart of a Vaishnava who directs all activities towards Krishna, towards his service.

Faith in the devotees, the Vaishnavas, grants us the most substantial help. Such a position is not flickering, but firm. One who has faith in the Vaishnavas achieves devotion of a tangible character. Otherwise, with only abstract faith in the Lord, without faith in the devotees, we are but beginners in the stage of kanistha-adhikari. This is an unreliable platform. Our devotion reaches a reliable standard when we can develop faith in the devotees, and recognize their importance. The devotees are above even sastra, the scriptures. The tangible stage when our real faith in them develops is the middle stage, madhyama-adhikari.

In the Vaishnava, the truth is animated more than in the vigraha , the tirtha (holy place of pilgrimage), or the sastra. We find a direct connection with Krishna in the consciousness of a Vaishnava. We find that which is regulating all his activities and withdrawing him from worldly attraction, guiding him towards some unknown and most desirable direction. He is moving towards that direction. The Lord is making him move in a particular direction that cannot be traced by any loss or gain of this world. Developing a connection with such a person is our utmost concern.

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9 Responses to Form, Spirit, and Sadhu-Sanga

  1. I recall this verse which is spoken in the spirit of this article by Sridhar Maharaja.
    S.B 1.13.10
    bhavad-vidhā bhāgavatās
    tīrtha-bhūtāḥ svayaḿ vibho
    tīrthī-kurvanti tīrthāni
    svāntaḥ-sthena gadābhṛtā

    My Lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage.

    • This same verse is quoted by Mahaprabhu in Sanatana-siksa of the CC and interestingly the story fits perfectly with Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s article: Sanatana Goswami appeared on Chandrashekara’s doorstep looking like a muslim mendicant but Mahaprabhu saw through the externals and recognized him as a vaishnava and also disregarded social considerations by embracing him (although he was considered untouchable at the time).

  2. This is such a wonderful article and such an important topic. Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s words are magnetic. They are forceful in the most charming way.

  3. There is nothing better than these words…magnetic is the perfect was to describe it. How can someone find fault in this presentation? What kind of person can choose the external above and beyond the heart of the Vaisnava? When I am almost barren of faith, my faith in the heart of Srila Gurumaharaja sustains me. I first made contact with him at Brahma prabhu’s house many many years ago, and I had never felt anything like it. During the kirtana he led, I could feel and see the emotion rising in him, and I could see and hear his efforts to contain it. It was like the moon trying to hide the rays of the sun. The entire room was flooded with feeling from the mere power of his contained and concealed emotion. Nothing in my rational and atheistically inclined mind can or has ever been able to explain this away… this is beyond reason.. this is a matter of the heart; the heart of the true Vaisnava.

  4. Sridhara Deva Goswami: “What is required of us is our absolute attraction for service, for beauty. Laws have no status there. In the beginning they have some sort of utility, but when one is advanced, one should not care for them, for anything.”

    Such profound wisdom…

    I was never surprised that Sridhara Maharaja did not want to be a part of Iskcon despite repeated invitations from Srila Prabhupada to play a leading role in his organization. His mood was simply incompatible with that of Iskcon. And this article makes it perfectly obvious.

  5. The devotees are above even sastra, the scriptures. The tangible stage when our real faith in them develops is the middle stage, madhyama-adhikari.

    This point seems to be crucial. How does one move from a kanistha conception to recognizing a vaisnava as superlative? Is there a stage in one’s progressive development of bhakti which correlates with the madhyama conception such as anartha nivrtti which is characterized by the retiring of principal obstacles in one’s devotional life or maybe nistha bhajana kriya where one’s practice is steady. It seems that one’s progress would be very minimal without this conceptual orientation.

    • “Madhyama” implies a progressive, essential orientation to spiritual life, one that begets tangible progress. One arrives there with the help of advanced devotees, by which one experiences practically that the sadhu is largely the source of ones progress. So, by experience of the principle upon introspection.

      • There seems to be a lot of gray areas in all this as one could have a mixed bag of perspectives some more kanistha in orientation than others. In terms of the sadhu, one may appreciate his or her progressive presentation but then when it comes to following their guidance one’s faith may wane.

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