“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, said: My dear Uddhava, neither through ashtanga-yoga [the mystic yoga system to control the senses], nor through impersonal monism or an analytical study of the Absolute Truth, nor through study of the Vedas, nor through austerities, charity or acceptance of sannyasa can one satisfy Me as much as by developing unalloyed devotional service unto Me.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.14.20)
न साधयति मां योगो न साङ्ख्यं धर्म उद्धव
न स्वाध्यायस्तपस्त्यागो यथा भक्तिर्ममोर्जिता
na sādhayati māṁ yogo
na sāṅkhyaṁ dharma uddhava
na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo
yathā bhaktir mamorjitā
Friend1: Okay, so I understand that devotional service, bhakti-yoga, is everything. It is the ultimate cure.
Friend2: For what?
Friend1: Every disease. Every issue.
Friend2: So if I have a cold or the flu, I should just stick to bhakti? Chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Then everything will be alright?
Friend1: I think the focus is on the long-term. The higher, superior objective. Chanting the holy names is not going to solve physical ailments, but then nothing really can.
Friend2: Why not?
Friend1: Because of the influence of kala.
Friend2: What is that?
Friend1: The Sanskrit word for “time.” It also means “death.” They are essentially the same thing. Time destroys. Vyadhi, disease, works together with time. We can cure one disease, but that does not equate to safety.
Friend2: Think about it. We probably carry so many viruses with us, all the time, without even knowing it.
Friend1: Yes, and that brings me to this social distancing issue. Do you think that really stops the spread of disease?
Friend2: If it is practiced properly, it has to. No easier way to be safe from a disease than to keep a distance from the virus itself. The problem is that the people lecturing about social distancing are always out and about. It takes contact with a single person for the spread to take place.
Friend1: And even during these government-mandated lockdowns, there is so much interaction.
Friend2: The supermarkets are still open. The banks. The roads. They don’t really shut anything down, except someone’s ability to make money in specific industries.
Friend1: Right, and so how should the knowledgeable person behave? Say that a devotee contracts a contagious disease. Should they self-quarantine?
Friend2: I would say to listen to the doctors. What do I know about this stuff?
Friend1: The reason I am asking is that in the modern day the recommended practice is sankirtana; for spiritual life. Follow the yajna [sacrifice] of chanting the holy names together. This means with other people. That automatically carries the risk of disease.
Friend2: There is danger at every step in this material world. Shrimad Bhagavatam confirms this:
समाश्रिता ये पदपल्लवप्लवं
महत्पदं पुण्ययशो मुरारे:
भवाम्बुधिर्वत्सपदं परं पदं
पदं पदं यद् विपदां न तेषाम्
samāśritā ye pada-pallava-plavaṁ
mahat-padaṁ puṇya-yaśo murāreḥ
bhavāmbudhir vatsa-padaṁ paraṁ padaṁ
padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadāṁ na teṣām
“For one who has accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Mukunda or the giver of mukti, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf’s hoofprint. Param padam, or the place where there are no material miseries, or Vaikuntha, is his goal, not the place where there is danger in every step of life.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.14.58)
Friend1: If the government gives recommendations to stay home, should sankirtana be stopped?
Friend2: That is a good question. What do you think?
Friend1: There is the story of Sanatana Gosvami meeting Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Sanatana Gosvami was suffering from some type of skin disease. He was resolved to end his life.
Friend1: Mahaprabhu met him and forced an embrace. Sanatana Gosvami was mortified, thinking that he had spread his disease.
Friend2: Mahaprabhu gave the best explanation. He said that nothing pleases Krishna more than bhakti. Suicide is not the way. Stay alive as long as time allows, and always be serving the Supreme Lord.
Friend1: But should Sanatana Gosvami have practiced social distancing?
Friend2: He was a sannyasi, wasn’t he? That means there is no connection to the material world. Limited interaction with society.
Friend1: Right, but that wasn’t to protect others from disease.
Friend2: Everyone is infected with the disease of illusion. Isolation or quarantine will not save them. The message of Divine love is needed, and that cannot be delivered without bold and benevolent representatives of Krishna travelling far and wide. They take every risk in this endeavor, seeking to lift others out of illusion. They wish to eliminate the suffering in the ocean of misery. Bask in the Divine light of devotion instead.
Not cowardly in corner to hide,
Representatives going far and wide.
Message of Divine love to bring,
Glories of Narayana to sing.
For benefit into future endure,
The disease of illusion’s cure.
Shri Krishna this work to see,
Most pleased by it is He.