If we want to understand the importance of devotee association, we should study the life of Bharata Mahārāja. He was a great devotee of Lord and in the same life he would have returned back to the spiritual world but because of no devotee association, he deviated. And instead of returning to the spiritual world, he became a deer.
Bharata Mahārāja retired early in life and went to Gandaki River to perform penance. Gandaki is famous for Saligram silas. Gandaki is quite high up in Himalayas. Gopal Bhat Goswami had also gone there. Saligrama sila jumped out of the water begging him to take with him. Gopal Bhatt Goswami took one Saligrama sila which became Radha Raman deity.
Bharata Mahārāja went to stay there. He was completely detached. He gave up kingdom, family, opulence and went alone to the mountain. His purpose was to practice devotion in that quite place away from any distraction.
But it did not happen, he developed some attachment for which he had to pay a heavy price.
Bharata Mahārāja‘s attachment
Once when he was near a river, he heard a roar of a lion. One pregnant deer was also there. Hearing the roar, she became very frightened. She jumped to cross the river to save herself. In doing so, she gave birth to a baby deer but unfortunately, she died.
Bharata Mahārāja was witnessing all this. Being a devotee, he was naturally compassionate. That is the nature of a devotee. There is an example of a devotee saving a scorpion. Although the scorpion was biting him again and again but he was trying to save the scorpion.
When someone asked why he is doing so, the devotee said that the scorpion is not giving up his nature, so why should I give up my nature.
So, when Bharata Mahārāja saw the young deer, he began taking care of her out of compassion. But the problem was that he became so absorbed in taking care of the deer that it affected his spiritual practice.
He had gone there so that he is free from all entanglement and concentrate on his spiritual life. But his sadhana got completely affected because of the young deer.
Bharata Mahārāja becomes a deer
He thought that this little animal is depending on me. And indeed the deer was dependent on him, at least initially. Every day Bharat Maharaj was finding grass, herbs, fruits and was feeding the deer.
When he was doing sadhana, his mind was not on God but on deer. What is he doing? Where is he going? In due course of time, it happened that Bharata Mahārāja had an accident. He fell down and died. But at the time of death, he was thinking of deer.
So, next life he had to take birth as a deer. Krishna says that at the end of life whatever you think you get your body accordingly. “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kuntī, that state he will attain without fail.” Bhagavad Gita 8.6
Deer becomes Jaḍa Bharata in next life
As he was very advanced, he had remembrance of his previous life. He remembered that how he was the king, how he had renounced everything but got attached to a deer. So, now he was very careful.
He would stay in the association of sadhus. He would take their remnants. It took some time for him to give up that animal body. By the grace of Lord, he gave up the body of deer and he was born as Jaḍa Bharata, son of a Brahmana.
But he was very careful to not entangle in family affection. So, whatever his father would say he would do opposite. His father would say that wash yourself after going to toilet. But he did the opposite. He washed himself before going to toilet and not after coming from toilet. So, father and family members thought that he is useless.
Jaḍa Bharata was happy to see that his family members are thinking him useless. In this way, he thought, “I will not get again attached and entangled.” He was very careful this time.
Are we also attached to something?
In our case, we know how our family members get attached to us when we are successful. They start having great hope from us that we will become materially successful.
It is important to learn an important lesson from the life of Bharat Maharaj. Although there are no deer around us but there are other things to bind us. And these are mobile, computer, car, house, even pets like dogs and cats.
In many houses, these days people have more pets than children. We get trapped because of gadgets and devices.
Srila Prabhupada would talk how people are attached to their cars. Someone is driving car and thinking I am the car. The man would be proud having a car. If someone hits the car the man would say that you have not hit the car, but you hit me. We start identifying ourselves with the car. We get so attached that it becomes centre of our existence.
These days we get so attached to our mobiles. Sometimes when we chant, bead bag is on one hand and mobile in another hand. If we want to chant japa then we should turn off our mobile or put it aside at least till the time we are chanting.
Sometimes, we buy some gadget and think that we will use it in Krishna’s service but gradually we start getting attached to it and instead of using it for the service of Krishna, we begin using it for sense gratification. We get diverted.
So, when we are using something for Krishna’s service then we should be very careful. It’s a very fine line.
Check your attachment
We should regularly check that how much time we spent chanting japa or reading Srila Prabhupada’s books. We should ask ourselves, where did the time go? Prabhupada would quote Chanakya and say , you can buy gold but not time.
Time moves like an arrow. It moves very fast. In Kaliyuga we have short life. Bharat Maharaj had long life. Srila Vyasadeva writes in Srimad Bhagavatam that people in Kaliyuga have very short life.
Lesson about devotee association from Bharata Mahārāja‘s life
The moot question is why Bharat Maharaj got attached to a deer? One of the most important reasons was that he had no devotee association. He was all alone. Just like in boat if there is no anchor, the boat drifts.
Similarly, we drift in the ocean of material existence if we are not in the association of devotees. We forget the real purpose of life.
Bharata Mahārāja forgot that he had renounced everything to focus on his spiritual life. But instead of thinking about God, he began thinking about deer. This is what happens when one is alone.
Bharata Mahārāja started with a noble idea. He wanted to protect baby deer and there is nothing wrong in this. But later he got so attached to it that he forgot his spiritual life completely.
For example, you do not have a mobile phone and someone gives you one. You may think that its Krishna’s arrangement. Intention is good but slowly we may drift. We know when we have mobile phone, we can do anything with it. So, we have to be very much careful.
One devotee used to be a boxer before. He explains that one important thing in the ring is that hands should be always up, to guard yourself, else you will be hit and knocked down.
Wherever we go maya is everywhere. In school, at home, in office. So, how to protect ourselves? We have to always remember Krishna and be in the association of devotees.
When Bharat Maharaj was doing wrong, no one was pointing to him that he is doing wrong.
What to do to avoid distraction?
Sometimes a devotee keeps a little cat or dog at home. They think its not a big problem. But we get distracted. We want to fix our mind on Krishna. For that we need to have devotee association.
If we are not associating with devotees, then we should associate with holy book or read Srimad Bhagavatam.
Srila Prabhupada says if you read Srimad Bhagavatam daily, you will see Krishna in the pages of Srimad Bhagavatam.
But still many of us do not read Srila Prabhupada’s books. We have to read it again and again. Srila Prabhupada says that it is also important to read with the devotees and discuss on the topics we have read.
So, it is important to be part of spiritual programs like Bhakti Vriksha. It helps us to share our understanding with others and also learn from others. It keeps us strong in Krishna Consciousness. Just trying to be loner is not Krishna Conscious process. We depend on devotee association.
Srila Prabhupada would say that 98% progress in Krishna Consciousness depends on association. If we are not getting devotee association then we should associate with books and holy names.
One devotee asked Prabhupada that what is better for him – to read the book on his own or to hear it from a devotee. Prabhupada said better to hear from a devotee because he will help you to hear by your ear and help you to absorb. Prabhupada gave his association to the devotees when he was present in this world.
One can be a grihasta brahmachari
Gurukripa Prabhu was once waked up because Prabhupada called him in the middle of the night. Prabhupada asked him what he was doing? He said that I am sleeping. Prabhupada said, “Why? In the middle of night, I am not sleeping although I am old but working on Krishna Conscious books.”
To another devotee Prabhupada said that how can you sleep if you have not chanted your rounds. It may sound very austere. People think austerity is in only working in the job. People work hard to make money. Austerity is giving up material enjoyment for service of Krishna.
One can be a grihasta brahmachari. One should not forget Krishna whatever happens. For that it is important to have strong sadhana. There are many great souls in family life. Many mahajans are in grihasta life. Prahlāda Mahārāja, Janak Mahārāja, Bali Mahārāja are grihastas. Maharaj does not mean to be a celibate. One can be in family life and can be great devotees.
Prabhupada said that there are devotees working in factories, offices and they are contributing hard earned wealth in Krishna Conscious movement. These persons are in renounced order of life. Our mission in life is Krishna Consciousness. And for that it is very important to have right association.
Some devotees take house far away from temple and say we cannot come because it’s a far away. These are some problems.
Don’t let maya creep in. Maya is very dangerous. We have to be cautious.
Tamal Krishna Goswami would say that first be conscious then become Krishna Conscious. We have to understand that we are not the body and senses. We have to be very careful and not do anything that will distract us.
When Bharat Maharaj became Jaḍa Bharata, he behaved like a stupid person. He got recruited to carry palanquin for Maharaja Rahugana. But while carrying he was careful not to harm ants.
Maharaja Rahugana became very upset and started chastising him with harsh words. Jaḍa Bharata remained undisturbed and began speaking great philosophy.
He said, “My dear King, you have unnecessarily accused me of being dead though alive. In this regard, I can only say that this is the case everywhere because everything material has its beginning and end. As far as your thinking that you are the king and master and are thus trying to order me, this is also incorrect because these positions are temporary. Today you are a king and I am your servant, but tomorrow the position may be changed, and you may be my servant and I your master. These are temporary circumstances created by providence.” Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 5.10.11
King fell on his feet seeking forgiveness for his behaviour. Jada Bharath instructed the king in the science of self-realization.
Finally, Maharaj Rahugana said, “It is not at all wonderful that simply by being covered by the dust of your lotus feet, one immediately attains the platform of pure devotional service to Adhokṣaja, which is not available even to great demigods like Brahmā. By associating with you just for a moment, I am now freed from all argument, false prestige and lack of discrimination, which are the roots of entanglement in the material world. Now I am free from all these problems.” Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 5.13.22
Jada Bharat knew the importance of devotee association. Because of no devotee association, his going back to the spiritual world got delayed.
Even a short time association with devotees can give us complete perfection. This is the lesson we get from Bharata Mahārāja’s pastime.
(Note: This article is based on a Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam class given by H.H Bhakti Vighna Vinasa Narasimha Swami Maharaja at Iskcon New Town, Kolkata, India.)