Sadhu Sanga

Sadhu Sanga — Fulfilling Our Society’s Purpose

By Giriraj Swami

Sri Krishna informs us, “By service of the Absolute Truth, even for a few days, a devotee attains firm and fixed intelligence in Me. Consequently he goes on to become My associate in the transcendental world after giving up the present deplorable material worlds.” (SB 1.6.23)

This powerful verse calls to mind the Sadhu Sanga Retreat held recently near Austin, Texas. The retreat lasted only a few days, from Friday evening to Monday noon, but during that time, especially in the kirtanas, participants engaged in intense devotional service to the Absolute Truth, the Absolute Personality of Godhead. And for practically every devotee there it was such a deep experience, such a profound experience, that one could gain firm and fixed intelligence in Krishna—because one was not living in the realm of theoretical knowledge but was actually entering into the realm of personal experience. And when one has such deep, personal experience of the Absolute Personality of Godhead, one can never forget that experience, and thus one’s intelligence becomes firm and fixed in Krishna. Then as far as possible one will arrange his or her life in such a way as to continue to serve the Lord with great intensity and concentration so that one will continue to actually experience the Lord’s presence and kind reciprocation. Thus, even though the experience begins with only a few days, the devotee will go on to become Krishna’s associate in the transcendental world after giving up the present deplorable material worlds.

With that firm, fixed intelligence we should remain focused on the goal of Krishna and not be distracted by the paltry pleasures and petty perturbations of this deplorable material world. It is deplorable because, although by nature we are eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss, the material world is full of ignorance and misery, and furthermore it is temporary. Also deplorable is that we come to the material world to forget Krishna and try to take His place. But when our intelligence becomes fixed on the goal of Krishna, we can go to Krishna and become His personal associate.

Sometimes there are problems. Of course, there are always problems in the material world; even in the association of devotees there can be problems. But we should not forget our real goal. Srila Prabhupada wrote, “Although there may be some difficulties within our society [ISKCON], these things are not very important. What is important is that we should simply fix our mind on Krishna’s lotus feet. This is His instruction in the Bhagavad-gita [man-mana bhava mad-bhakto]. So we associate with one another so that we can assist each other in hearing and chanting about Krishna. That is the purpose of our society, to assist each other in hearing and chanting about Krishna. This you will not find in the materialistic society, where all hearing and chanting is simply concerned with sense gratification. So, our desire is Krishna, and we want to go back home, back to Godhead, where Krishna lives eternally. So you simply follow my instructions as I have given them to you and surely your life will be a success.” (Letter dated November 22, 1974)

This is the real purpose of our society, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness: to become Krishna conscious—to chant and hear about Krishna and fix our minds on Krishna, mainly through the process of chanting and hearing in the association of devotees.

Kirtana is something devotees do all the time, but at the Sadhu Sanga Retreat the devotees experienced the kirtana on a deeper level because of the association. The retreat was organized by His Holiness Indradyumna Swami, and many other wonderful kirtana leaders came—His Holiness Bhakti Bhrnga Govinda Swami Maharaja, His Grace Badahari dasa, Madhava dasa, Ananta Govinda dasa, Acyuta Gopi dasi, the whole Kazakh bhajana band. So that was part of it—associating with devotees who have a real taste for the holy name. And another part was leaving aside everything else. A retreat provides a special facility for participants because they can leave behind everything else and go to a new place where all the associations and patterns of thought and behavior from the old place are left behind. That is very healthy. Another reason why the experience is so deep is that one is focused specifically on the experience of chanting and hearing about Krishna.

In Govinda Maharaja’s introductory talk at the retreat he appealed to the devotees, “When you are in the hall, that is the Krishna Zone. In the Krishna Zone the only activity is directly chanting and hearing Krishna’s holy name, or directly discussing Krishna and pure devotional service. And if you want to meet people in a more social way, you do it outside the Krishna Zone.” Of course, meeting in a more social way is also not outside Krishna consciousness, but it is not the same, or not exactly the same, as directly chanting and hearing and absorbing oneself fully in the holy name of Krishna.

And then there is the mind. You could be in the hall, the Krishna Zone, not talking, not socializing, not texting, but still your mind could be somewhere else. So we have to control the mind; we have to practice (abhyasa-yoga-yuktena). “He who meditates on Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Partha, is sure to reach Me.” (Bg8.8) We have to practice controlling the mind. And when we actually control the mind and fix the mind on Krishna, on His holy name or His transcendental topics, we experience His association. We experience a happiness and a love that we cannot experience in the material world and that we may not have experienced in quite the same way in our entire life. That will make our intelligence firm and fixed on Krishna, and thus we will accept whatever is favorable for our development of Krishna consciousness and reject whatever is unfavorable.

When the retreat ended I was thinking, “What will I do now? After such an experience, what will I do?” I wished that the kirtana-mela could continue, and I tried to find out when the next kirtana-melas would take place and how to attend them.

Three days later was Pandava-nirjala Ekadasi, which I observed by fasting completely and chanting more than sixty-four rounds. Some service came to me, which was also favorable, but there was still a lot of time for japa. And sixty-four rounds was just the beginning—a good beginning, but a beginning nonetheless. And I had the same type of experience as at the retreat, because it was an intense absorption in Krishna, in the holy name, and even though I didn’t have all the association I had enjoyed at the retreat, I had the holy name, I had the beautiful Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Kalachandji, and at different times and to different degrees there were devotees in the temple room chanting with me. So I had good association then too.

So we don’t necessarily have to be at a big retreat, but we do need to set aside time to focus exclusively, as much as possible, on directly chanting and hearing about Krishna. And if others can join us in the same effort, without being distracted, so much the better, for us and for them.

We should always keep in mind what is the purpose of our society. As Srila Prabhupada mentioned directly in his letter, and indirectly in the verse and purport, and throughout his books, it is to fix the mind on the lotus feet of Krishna and assist each other in hearing and chanting about Krishna and remembering Him. With that perspective we can make progress without being unnecessarily distracted by the petty problems, or so-called problems, of the material world—because we are fixed on the goal. We have to deal with the material world—we have to keep the body and soul together and to do so many things to live in this world. And we have to expand the mission of Krishna consciousness—that was very much Srila Prabhupada’s mood, gosthy-anandi. But again, as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura said, “The best gosthy-anandi is a bhajananandi who preaches.” So when we actually experience that bliss, that ananda, in bhajana, in chanting and hearing about Krishna, we get the conviction and inspiration and potency to actually preach, to touch people’s hearts with Krishna consciousness.

So we should remain fixed on our goal and the process to achieve it. And as this verse says, after even only a few days of being engaged in the service of the Absolute Truth a devotee attains firm and fixed intelligence in Krishna and consequently, after giving up the present deplorable material worlds, goes on to become Krishna’s associate in the transcendental world.

—Giriraj Swami