BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS: THE BHAGAVATAM WAY
by Gauranga Darshan Das
Spiritual life is not meant to give up relationships, but expanding the scope of one’s relationships by identifying everyone a member of the Lord’s spiritual family.
To love and be loved is the natural characteristic of every living being. Everyone longs for the loving relationships that facilitate sharing the joys of life, and getting the necessary emotional strength to pass through testing situations.
No one is fond of living alone. Everyone needs someone. Although at times, people prefer solitude, one seldom desires to live in isolation forever. Even the Supreme Lord Krsna, who is self-sufficient and self-satisfied (atmarama), always seeks for pleasurable relations with His devotees. He even proclaims that all His opulence doesn’t make Him happy when He is bereft of the association of His devotees (SB 9.4.64), who always please Him in various moods like that of a friend (sakhya), parent (vatsalya), servant (dasya) or an amorous lover (madhurya).
Being an amsa of Krsna (BG 15.7), everyone has an eternal relationship with Him. Thus, everyone is spiritually related to everyone else through the means of Krsna. But how many people realize it, and act on that platform? This article attempts to describe the dynamics of sustainable relationships, and effective means to build them, the Bhagavatam way.
Does Spirituality arrest Relationships?
It’s a popular perception among people that those walking on the spiritual path should give up all relationships. However, the fact is that relationships are of vital importance even in spiritual life. Spiritual life doesn’t mean that we disconnect from the rest of the world in the name of cultivating relationship with the Lord. If God is the Supreme Father of all beings, how can we truly love Him while being indifferent to His children?
The magnum opus literature Srimad Bhagavatam, describes that a devotee is friendly to all living beings (suhrdah sarva-dehinam), and doesn’t consider anyone as an enemy (ajata-satravah). The First Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam describes the story of a great devotee king named Pariksit who offered an interesting prayer:
punas ca bhuyad bhagavaty anante
ratih prasaṅgas ca tad-asrayesu
mahatsu yaṁ yam upayami sṛṣṭiṁ
maitry astu sarvatra namo dvijebhyaḥ
“I pray that if I should again take birth in the material world I will have – (i) complete attachment to the unlimited Lord Kṛṣṇa, (ii) association with His devotees, and (iii) friendly relations with all living beings.” (SB 1.19.16)
Although Pariksit was cursed to die within seven days, he was neither afraid of death nor did he hanker for liberation. Still, if it was ordained that he die and be born in this world again, Pariksit desired for friendly relationships with all living beings and hearty association with the devotees. After all, he understood well that every living being is a child of God.
But what does having friendly relationships with all living beings actually mean? Is it fine to be friendly even with the unrighteous?
The Role of Discrimination in Relationships
Srila Rupa Gosvami explains how cultivating loving relationships with like-minded spiritual seekers or devotees is extremely conducive to spiritual advancement (sa-jātīyāśaya-snigdha-śrī-bhagavad-bhakta-saṅgo). And Lord Chaitanya warns us to avoid close relations with materialistic people who are envious of God (asat-saṅga-tyaga), because such relations diminish our inspiration in devotional life.
A spiritual seeker should understand the difference between a conducive and an unfavorable relationship. For all valid reasons, a devotee must invest one’s love, emotion and feelings in relationships with devotees who aspire for the same goal – kṛṣṇa-prema.
However, this also doesn’t mean that devotees hate materialistic people. For instance, when a person is inflicted with a contagious disease, one consciously stays away from that person to avoid contracting the disease. Still, one must not hate the diseased person. Similarly, one may stay away from materialistic people to protect one’s own devotion, but one shouldn’t hate them. Just as Pariksit prayed, devotees are willing to have loving relationships with all living beings, but upon considering some people’s poor consciousness, one may restrain oneself from entering into an intimate relationship with such materialistic people.
Relationships with Worldly People
Srimad Bhagavatam (11.5.3) informs us that materialistic people who do not worship the Lord are of two types – those who are ignorant (na bhajanti) and those who are arrogant (avajananti). A devotee tries to educate and enlighten ignorant or innocent people, but tries to stay away from arrogant people because their company disturbs one’s own bhakti. However, a kind devotee never looks down upon them, but prays for their welfare.
In fact, devotees never hate even those who hate them. King Yudhistira never hated Duryodhana who always envied him. Prahlada never hated his father Hiranyakasipu who tried to kill him in various ways, but he prayed to Lord Narasimha to liberate Hiranyakasipu. Prahlada also compassionately prayed for all materialistic people who pursue sense enjoyment, ignoring their relationship with the Lord.
The gosvamis of Vṛndavana are considered dhiradhira-jana-priyau priya-karau nirmatsarau pujitau: they are popular both amongst the gentlemen and ruffians alike because they don’t hate anyone. Thus, following in the footsteps of the gosvamis, if we stop hating and start praying for everyone’s welfare, we will benefit and benefit others too. Srimad Bhagavatam (11.2.46) explains that a devotee who loves Krsna (prema), maintains friendly relationships with other devotees (maitri), is compassionate to innocent people (krpa) and stays away from envious people (upeksa).
In this regard, we can refer to the example of a florist named Sudama in the Mathura city. When Lord Kṛṣṇa was touring Mathura, He came to Sudama’s house. This florist offered fragrant flower garlands to Kṛṣṇa and His friends. Being greatly pleased at heart, Lord Kṛṣṇa asked Sudama to voice the benediction he desired. Sudama then asked for the following three things (SB 10.41.51):
so ’pi vavre ’calaṁ bhaktiṁ
tad-bhakteṣu ca sauhardaṁ
bhūteṣu ca dayaṁ param
Sudama prayed for – (i) unshakable devotion for Krsna, (ii) friendship with His devotees; and (iii) compassion for all living beings.
Spiritualizing Material Relationships
After the Kuruksetra war, Lord Krsna was departing from Hastinapura to Dvaraka. At that time, Mother Kuntī implored him to stay back at Hastinapura, for she wanted Him protect her sons, the Pandavas. Then Kunti felt, “I was thinking about my sons’ welfare, but if Krsna stays with my sons, who will protect the members of the Vrsni dynasty who are staying in Dvaraka? After all, they belong to my parental family.” So Kunti, out of her deep affection for her parents’ family and husbands’ family desired that Krsna protects both. Then she questioned herself, “Why am I thinking too much about my relatives? I must think of Krsna alone, and not my bodily relationships and their welfare!” In this mood she prayed as follows:
atha viśveśa viśvatman
viśva-mūrte svakeṣu me
sneha-paśam imaṁ chindhi
dṛḍhaṁ paṇḍuṣu vṛṣṇiṣu
“O Lord of the universe, soul of the universe, O personality of the form of the universe, please, therefore, sever my tie of affection for my kinsmen, the Paṇḍavas and the Vṛṣṇis.” (SB 1.8.41)
tvayi me ’nanya-viṣaya
matir madhu-pate ’sakṛt
ratim udvahatad addha
“O Lord of Madhu, as the Ganges forever flows to the sea without hindrance, let my attraction be constantly drawn unto You without being diverted to anyone else.” (ŚB 1.8.42)
Mother Kunti, however, didn’t mean that to develop relationship with the Lord, one must give up family relationships. A spiritualist doesn’t just give up family, but accepts a larger family with God in center. According to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti, although Kuntī prayed to cut her loving bonds with her family members, she never wanted to give up her spiritual relationship with them. She had two kinds of relationships with them: skin relationship and soul-relationship. All mother Kunti wanted was to arrest her attachment to the family on a bodily platform and enhance her spiritual relationship with all of them on the spiritual platform. Thus, even we can spiritualize our relationships and collectively inch forward to Lord Kṛṣṇa.
Keys to Cordial Relationships
It is only in the association of devotees that one can advance in bhakti. Identifying the organic necessity of developing relationships, one needs to be careful in one’s dealings, speech and attitude with them. While relationships among devotees are based on selflessness and service, relationships among demons are based on exploitation and pampering of egos. The upkeep of wholesome relationships requires sensitivity, empathy, sympathy, forgiveness, gratitude, and a willingness to support each other through the troughs and peaks in life. These qualities strengthen, nourish, and enliven our relationships. Further, Srila Rupa Gosvamī gave six kinds of loving exchanges that nourish the spiritual emotions of devotees:
guhyam akhyati pṛcchati
bhuṅkte bhojayate caiva
“The six symptoms of love shared by devotees among each other include – (i) Offering gifts, (ii) accepting gifts, (iii) revealing one’s mind in confidence, (iv) inquiring confidentially, (v) accepting prasada and (vi) offering prasada.”
With whomever we have these six exchanges, we develop a loving bonding. Therefore, it is important to have these exchanges with devotees. There is one more very crucial element that the Bhagavatam (1.7.11) highlights through the example of Sukadeva Gosvamī. Sukadeva was loved by all the devotees, while he himself loved every one of them (nityaṁ viṣṇu-jana-priyaḥ). What made him love and be loved by all? – It was his absorption in Lord Hari’s qualities (harer guṇakṣipta-matih). And how did he develop such deep love for Lord Hari? – The answer is by hearing and studying the Srimad Bhagavatam. Therefore, when we hear and study the Bhagavatam sincerely, we will throne the all-attractive Lord in our heart and this will naturally attract the hearts of the devotees.
Kṛṣṇa says that His devotees interact with each other with Kṛṣṇa katha as the pivot of all their conversations. By enlightening each other about Kṛṣṇa, they come together in a loving bond, as exemplified by the gosvamis of Vrndavana, and as emphasized by the following sloka of the Bhagavatam (11.3.30):
mitho ratir mithas tuṣṭir
nivṛttir mitha atmanaḥ
“One should learn how to associate with the devotees of the Lord by gathering with them to chant the glories of the Lord. This process is most purifying. As devotees thus develop their loving friendship, they feel mutual happiness and satisfaction. And by thus encouraging one another they are able to give up material sense gratification, which is the cause of all suffering.”
Spiritual Discussions for Sustainable Relationships
Our attraction towards Kṛṣṇa’s qualities, and our absorption in Kṛṣṇa katha and our Krsna-centric discussions with devotees, simply compounds the love and nourishment in our relationships. And this is what Kṛṣṇa emphasizes in the Bhagavad-gīta:
kathayantaś ca maṁ nityaṁ
tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca
“The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me.” (BG 10.9)
Glorification of Kṛṣṇa need not and should not be restricted only to formal gatherings in the temples, auditoriums, ratha-yātras, paṇḍāl programs, and online conferences, with a vyāsāsana, microphones, speakers, large audience, and so on. Yes, such public gatherings are wonderful forums to hold spiritual discourses. Yet, we have to be eager to discuss the Lord’s qualities and pastimes even in our private conversations with like-minded devotee friends.
Practicing devotees might sometimes associate with several devotees for various reasons and discussions on some services, current affairs, problem solving, sharing reflections, and even some gossip . Some of these discussions may be essential for practical life, while some may be unnecessary too. But if we can welcome the culture of conversing about Kṛṣṇa’s qualities and activities even in our personal conversations with other devotees, that would effectively help us become Kṛṣṇa conscious together and string cordial relationships with devotees. As a result, our collective love for Kṛṣṇa will also intensify.
By tasting the qualities of Kṛṣṇa in the association of like-minded people, devotees naturally come together in a loving bond and nourish each other’s emotions. This is what we see in several episodes of Śrī Caitanya-caritamṛta. Caitanya-caritamṛta is imbued with descriptions of personal conversations between devotees with Kṛṣṇa katha forming the centre of such interactions. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu discussed with Ramananda Raya at the banks of the Godavarī in Vidyanagara, the pastimes and qualities of Kṛṣṇa for ten days. Lord Caitanya personally sat with Rūpa Gosvamī and Haridasa Ṭhakura at Siddha Bakul and the three of them would discuss the qualities of Kṛṣṇa for a long time. Ramananda Raya and Pradyumna Miśra would also sit together and discuss the qualities of Kṛṣṇa for extended hours. On their way to Jagannath Puri, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Nityananda Prabhu, Jagadananda, Damodara and Mukunda, would discuss among themselves the pastimes of Lord Gopalji and Madhavendra Puri in the temples they visited.
When a devotee glorifies Kṛṣṇa, the hearers can understand how much the devotee loves Kṛṣṇa. And when we praise the Lord, they will understand our genuine appreciation for Him. Thus, when we mutually appreciate each other based on how much we love Kṛṣṇa, naturally, we come closer to each other and collectively closer to Kṛṣṇa.
Friendly Relationships for the Lord’s Pleasure
When devotees are united through loving relationships, the Lord becomes very pleased with them and showers all blessings and benedictions upon them. But when the devotees quarrel with each other and share strained relationships, the Lord’s heart becomes pained. A great example of loving relationships can be seen in the case of the Pracetas. They were ten brothers who worshiped the Lord together under water for ten thousand years. The Lord then appeared before them and glorified them in the following way:
varaṁ vṛṇīdhvaṁ bhadraṁ vo
yūyaṁ me nṛpa-nandanaḥ
tuṣṭo ’haṁ sauhṛdena vaḥ
“My dear sons of the King, I am very much pleased by the friendly relationships among you. All of you are engaged in one occupation — devotional service. I am so pleased with your mutual friendship that I wish you all good fortune. Now you may ask a benediction of Me.” (SB 4.30.8)
Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport: “Since the sons of King Pracīnabarhisat were all united in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the Lord was very pleased with them. Each and every one of the sons of King Pracīnabarhisat was an individual soul, but they were united in offering transcendental service to the Lord. The unity of the individual souls attempting to satisfy the Supreme Lord or rendering service to the Lord is real unity… this makes the Supreme Personality of Godhead very happy and willing to award all kinds of benedictions to His devotees.”
Commonness within Uniqueness
The Paṇḍavas set another great example. Although each of the five Paṇḍavas had different natures and preferences, they were bound together with love. At times, they too had differences in terms of opinions. Yudhiṣṭhira Maharaja was a great dharmik leader and the elder brother of the Paṇḍavas. Bhīma possessed great physical strength while Arjuna was a skillful bowman. Nakula and Sahadeva had their own special skills. Although all of them had different natures and unique skills, they were always united with Kṛṣṇa in the center. The commonality they shared was their appreciation and love for Kṛṣṇa. Although it was only Arjuna who got the privilege of having Kṛṣṇa as his chariot driver, still, none of the other Pandavas complained or envied Arjuna. Although Bhīma and Arjuna were the prominent warriors of the Kurukṣetra war and had exterminated other valorous combatants, still, they never thought of occupying the throne. They lovingly served their elder brother Yudhiṣṭhira, who became the emperor. Each of them was respected for their unique contribution. They were always united despite the differences in their personalities, working styles and opinions. Thus, it is not necessary that one’s qualities and skills be perfectly match those of others so that loving relationships may be built.
One can have one’s own unique personality while respecting others for who they are, by keeping Kṛṣṇa in the center. Such relationships exist in Vrindavan, the eternal land of Lord Krsna. This is so because the residents of Vrindavan had Krsna-centric relationships. Thus, orienting our lives in a way that makes Krsna their fulcrum helps us build loving relationships. We can experience nourishment in our relationships with devotees through spiritual discussions and service, and we can also be compassionate to innocent people and bring them to spiritual path, and pray for the envious.