“In the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya there is a conversation between Prahlada Maharaja and his father, Hiranyakashipu, in which Hiranyakashipu addresses Prahlada in this way: ‘My dear son, association is very important. It acts just like a crystal-stone which will reflect anything which is put before it.’ Similarly, if we associate with the flowerlike devotees of the Lord, and if our hearts are crystal clear, then certainly the same action will be there.” (The Nectar of Devotion, 12)
“I’ve heard quite often of the need to maintain the association of devotees. It is described as ‘sadhu-sanga’ or ‘sat-sanga.’ The ‘asat’ is non-permanent, like the material nature. Those who are ‘asat’ are interested in the temporary, so they are not aspiring transcendentalists. But doesn’t this restriction seem a little harsh? Aren’t there things we can learn from every person, regardless of their interest or lack thereof in spiritual life?”
The aspiring transcendentalist in Vedic philosophy is given many rules and guidelines to follow. These are necessary since the default condition is to be immersed in maya, which is illusion. There is the law of science which states that a body at rest will stay at rest. Inertia is a powerful force, so if you’re walking for quite a while, it’s easier to continue walking; stopping is more difficult. Similarly, if you’ve been in ignorance for so long, it’s the condition you’re more accustomed to. Thus when taking up something totally new like spiritual life, you need guidelines to help you stay on course.
One of those guidelines is to avoid the association of “asat.” These are the people who have no interest in making spiritual advancement. The astute observer will notice a problem right away. Due to the nature of the material world, practically everyone living in it is in the asat consciousness. It’s like everyone is stuck on the couch. When a person decides to try spiritual life in earnest, not out of fear but out of a desire to make the most out of their existence, then it is very rare.
bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
If you’re one of the rare few to get up off the couch, it means that pretty much everyone else is in a different mindset. How are you supposed to avoid them, then? Isn’t this like asking the spiritualist to give up all human interaction? Isn’t it like asking them to live in a remote cave?
To try spiritual life as a discipline is to attempt to assimilate the highest wisdom that has ever existed. You’re basically learning things throughout the process. The recommendation to avoid the association of asat is in place because there is nothing to learn from asat. The reason there is nothing to learn is because the person who is asat thinks that man can become God.
“Is this really true? I don’t hear people speaking this way?”
Ishvara is the Sanskrit term that corresponds to the concept of God. Ishvara means “supreme controller.” If a person doesn’t know that a supreme controller exists, naturally they will think that the post is up for grabs. Even if they supposedly believe in God, if they are not conscious of Him all the time, then the default mentality is the same as the person who doesn’t believe. This is the logical explanation for why a person would continue to accumulate, for why they would keep jumping from activity to activity in sense gratification.
The spiritualist sincere in their desire to understand the five important topics of the Gita has nothing to learn from the non-devoted. The sincere person knows that Ishvara, the living entities, the material nature, time and karma are more important to study. They know that these topics cover everything about an existence. These topics are more important than what kind of house someone owns, how many children a person has, where they go on vacation, or what they eat for dinner.
The more advancement a person makes on this path, the clearer their understanding of Ishvara becomes. They come in contact with “sat” personalities like Shri Hanuman. In the material realm he could do anything. The person with an “asat” consciousness has a lot to appreciate in Hanuman. They see that the famous god of the Vedic tradition is very powerful. He can lift mountains without a problem. Hanuman can leap over vast oceans and change his shape at will. He speaks extemporaneously in the most difficult language, Sanskrit. He does this effortlessly and respecting the three Vedas at the same time.
“One cannot speak this way without having been well-trained in the Rig Veda, memorized the Yajur Veda, and thoroughly understood the Sama Veda.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.28)
Though possessing the eight perfections of mystic yoga and thus able to enjoy materially to any level, Hanuman is completely “sat.” He knows that Ishvara is a person, an individual. He knows that Ishvara expands Himself into different personal forms for the pleasure of the devoted. Hanuman worships Ishvara as Rama. In fact, everything Hanuman does is for Rama.
A person like Hanuman is ideal for association. He has everything, but he is not so foolish to think that he has become God. The “asat” can never teach us about the true meaning of life. They can reinforce the truths we learn in spiritual life, about the inferior standing of the material energy and how true happiness in life comes from devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They can remind us that devotion is the proper choice, but they can never accurately tell us who is the supreme controller.
If for spiritual wisdom to yearn,
From the non-devoted nothing to learn.
Into depths of ignorance they sink,
Since possible to be equal to God they think.
Association of Hanuman choose,
Who every ability for God to use.
As the Supreme and His wife knowing,
Secrets of life to others bestowing.