“The value of a moment’s association with a devotee of the Lord cannot even be compared to the attainment of heavenly planets or liberation from matter, and what to speak of worldly benedictions in the form of material prosperity, which is for those who are meant for death.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.18.13)
न स्वर्गं नापुनर्-भवम्
मर्त्यानां किम् उताशिषः
na svargaṁ nāpunar-bhavam
martyānāṁ kim utāśiṣaḥ
“I am really feeling the separation at the moment. I am in the category you would describe as fortunate, given the present conditions within the world. I still have a job. No dent to the monthly income. Though there are harsh restrictions relating to movement out in public, I have not been affected. I go outside just as much as I used to, though many of the establishments are now closed, some for good.
“But I really miss one thing: meeting with other devotees. The virtual kathas are okay, but you don’t feel the same magic for some reason. I guess it would be the difference between sitting in a classroom and learning a difficult subject matter at your own pace, while at home.
“I could never put it into words, but I know the association was beneficial to me. Even in instances when I didn’t want to attend, where I was annoyed at the lack of quality in the speaker, in being troubled by the lousy weather, I could tell a few days later that there was a benefit to me.
“Shastra confirms this, that even a moment’s association with a devotee is priceless. Could you further explain the importance? What is so special about meeting such a person?”
The simplest explanation is that you will never come across the valuable, lifesaving information any other way. We have the potential to meet so many people. In childhood, it is mostly elders. We automatically imitate them. If they are sitting in front of the computer working, we want to do the same.
If they drive us around town, we wonder when we will be allowed to do the same. While we are strapped into a car-seat, they are free to roam about. While we are compelled to go to school, it seems like they have all the freedom in the world.
In adulthood, there are colleagues at the office. Perhaps they are enduring similar struggles in how to maintain peace and happiness at home, while steadily progressing along the career path, however that is defined.
We can meet so many people who influence us, both directly and subtly, but no one compares to the dedicated servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They are known as bhagavata due to the link to Bhagavan, which is one way to describe God.
As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says, the person bhagavata is as important as the book bhagavata, which is also known as Shrimad Bhagavatam. In that sacred text we find references to the importance of associating with devotees.
Meeting for even a moment, as if by chance, can dramatically change the way of life for the better. Ratnakara had fallen into the worst kind of business: highway robbery. He met Narada Muni for a few moments and eventually turned into the celebrated poet named Valmiki.
Vyasadeva had the greatest catalog of literature to his name to feel proud over. He was instead depressed, feeling empty that none of his works had hit the mark. He met the spiritual master, the same Narada Muni, and everything changed for the better.
Those suffering in the material world, not only in this lifetime but through countless previous ones, find hope and light through the teachings of sanatana-dharma. There is the potential to give up unfulfilling habits like meat-eating and intoxication. The purification in behavior translates to a clearer consciousness.
With a pure mind, I can finally see clearly. I am able to understand the world around me and my role in it. I know that death is not the end and that birth was not the origin. The soul continues to live, and through dedicated acts in devotion I have the ability to direct the next birth towards the spiritual world, which translates to liberation.
These achievements and more would not be possible without bhagavata-sanga. It is a chain, of sorts, where one person accepts the information and then passes it forward. We only have the potential today because of those who came before us, and so we are forever indebted to them.
So many past mistakes regretted,
But now to parampara indebted.
Because bringing rescue to me,
Finally now clearly can see.
In absence no other way,
With reincarnation to stay.
That association most value to give,
So that in bliss eternally to live.