“One should accept a thing as genuine by studying the words of saintly people, the spiritual master and shastra. The actual center is shastra, the revealed scripture. If a spiritual master does not speak according to revealed scripture, he is not to be accepted. Similarly, if a saintly person does not speak according to the shastra, he is not a saintly person. Shastra is the center for all.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.352 Purport)
This is the saintly person. If I am seeking higher knowledge, the best choice is to approach someone who has some familiarity. Another seeker will be beneficial in the sense that I won’t feel alone. Less peer pressure when your peers are travelling in the same direction. It’s not necessarily good to follow the herd, but going it alone sometimes is too much stress to bear. The burden of criticism and contrary viewpoints can take a toll on a person.
The sadhu might have a particular outfit for identification, but this is not a requirement. A real police officer has the same qualities whether or not they are in uniform. The doctor is equally capable of treating patients while at home sleeping as they are in the hospital. The knowledge is the same. The potential for the practical application, vijnana, is always there.
Yet sadhus are generally known by their dress and also their location. They tend to congregate around tirthas. These are places of pilgrimage, typically having some significance to God or one of His dear servants. In India today there are many tirthas, such as Badrinath, Vrindavan, Jagannath Puri and Mayapur. A person is sure to find many sadhus living there, and such association is beneficial. Sadhu-sanga is synonymous with sat-sanga.
Sat refers to that which is transcendental, lasting beyond this temporary experience inside of a destructible body. Asat is the negation; hence the opposite. It is very easy to find asat-sanga. Anyone not pursuing a higher goal, the param-drishtva described in the Bhagavad-gita, is asat at present.
This is scripture, or the holy book. In Vedic culture there is not just one shastra, but the destination is uniform. That is to say there may be many books, but the underlying message is always the same. Shastra is any work of authority originally passed down, since before anyone can remember, such as the Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads and so forth. Shastra extends through any works that are based on the originals.
The authority is the same because the glories of the Supreme Lord are ananta, or without end. A sadhu is known to author shastra through their lens of devotional love. They record their observations, experiences and insights for the benefit of others. Sometimes the sadhu offers a translation so that an original work of shastra can be made more accessible to the people of the time. This is one reason a true sadhu is known as kripalu, or merciful.
Shastra is the basis for determining the genuineness of the sadhu. If a saintly person is not following shastra, then they are not genuine. Even if they have the proper dress and ideal location, there must be scripture at the foundation. Otherwise, everything that emanates from their mouth is based on mental speculation, which is flawed. Such teachings will not provide an ultimate benefit to anyone.
This is the spiritual master. They are the specific sadhu reserved for helping an individual. Amongst the sadhus I meet or interact with, the guru is the one who helps me directly. They provide the instruction to lift me out of the darkness of ignorance. They help me find the light of the Divine, which is the supreme shelter, Hari-sharanam.
All three actually teach the same thing. If any one of them should diverge, then there is a question on authenticity. Something is faulty, and so the seeker should become skeptical. When all three align then the individual is on the right path.
Shastra describes this age of Kali as dark and full of faults. Everyone argues over everything, even trivial matters. No one is truthful; hypocrisy is easier than integrity. Despite the inauspicious conditions, one concession has been made. Simply through harinama a person can achieve liberation. Never mind the many strikes against them, at least if they are holding on to the holy name they will achieve perfection.
The sadhus of this age are identified through such behavior. They are always chanting the holy names in some form or another. The guru gives guidance on which names to chant and how to make a routine of the process. As an example, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada advises to repeat the maha-mantra daily: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Give up the four worst habits: meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex and gambling. Associate with other saintly people chanting this mantra and remain always conscious of God the person. Shastra and sadhu are in agreement, and so a person following with a genuine spirit is assured of success.
If actual success wanting to see,
From cycle of rebirth to free.
Then in accord factors three,
For highest benefit to me.
Sadhu as saintly person known,
Highest knowledge in shastra shown.
Offering guru spiritual science,
Hari-sharanam on their reliance.
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