Vapu and vāṇī are two types of spiritual association. Vapu means form and vāṇī means words. When we are associating with Lord or devotees physically it is called vapu association. And when we are associating with the teachings of Lord or devotees then it is called vāṇī association. Association is extremely important for our spiritual nourishment.
For success in spiritual life
The importance of association is repeated many by Srila Prabhupada. He even avers that success in spiritual life depends mostly on the type of association we keep. Association creates a strong and many a times lasting impression in our life.
Association being contagious, we unknowingly inherit the qualities of the people we associate with. And this is why all spiritual seekers are advised to be in the company of those devotees who are very sincere in their devotional pursuit.
Association assures us that we aren’t alone in the spiritual journey; the fellow travellers’ warmth and comfort make us always feel protected. The material truncheon of the Lord continuously reminds us that in this world it is not easy to be materially happy but simultaneously the ephemeral allurements of this world inveigle us to look for sensual pleasures.
But if we continue to be led and guided by senior practitioners and associate with like-minded seekers who care for us and where we feel wanted then the goal of achieving love of God, which may look daunting in the beginning, can ultimately be realized.
Devotees association always positively influences us. Grit of the sincere seekers motivates us to become more resolute in our purpose. Senior devotees’ life and teachings inspires us and when we come across those practitioners who braved multitude of monumental difficulties in their pursuit for self-realization then we too get enthused to continue with our devotional life tolerating all the challenges fixing ourselves firmly on the final goal which is attaining Krishna.
Meaning of Vapu & Vāṇī
While emphasising on association, scriptures and seers do not merely talk of physical association but they also expect that our mind too whole heartedly contribute. Or else, it may happen that we may be in the temple, standing in front of Krishna with several other devotees amidst the mellifluous kirtan of the holy names but still we may be contemplating on non- devotional subject matters. Such association will not help us much.
We should always entice or cajole or force our mind to accompany us whenever we are in devotees’ company. And when our mind starts enjoying the spiritual ambience then we can reap the maximum benefit of association.
Every spiritual seeker desire to exorcise insatiable worldly desires and so they desire the company of God’s chosen messengers whose grace can help them to purify their life.
Scripture lauds the craving for great souls association and goes on to say that one can look for two types of association – “vapu” and “vāṇī”. “Vapu” means associating physically and “vāṇī” means associating with the words. Although “vapu” and “vāṇī” both are important but “vāṇī” i.e. associating with the teachings of revered saintly people is eulogized.
In fact, learned men asseverate that if we associate with the wisdom words of worthy sages and live by it then we can make remarkable progress in our spiritual life. However, if we merely want to stay closer to the holy men without imbibing their devotional virtues and without actualizing their sagely advice in our own life then such closeness won’t help us much.
Prabhupada about physical or vapu association
Srila Prabhupada cautions those who just hanker for physical bonding, “Those who think that association with the spiritual master is physical, they are no better than a mosquito sitting on the lap of a king. And what is the business of a mosquito? Simply to suck blood.”
If we turn the pages of history then we will find that many of the spiritual stalwarts hardly had much opportunity to physically associate with their gurus and well – wishers. Our Srila Prabhupada met his guru, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, at the most 5 or 6 times. And the great sage Narada Muni associated with great Vedantists only for four months.
But the life transforming instructions which they received got ingrained in their heart which continued to guide them throughout their life. They never felt bereft of the love of their spiritual guide. Underlining the importance of “vāṇī” Srila Prabhupada said that he will be always present with us in his books.
Some of the disciples of Srila Prabhupada personally met him only for few times but they are playing significant role in serving the mission of Srila Prabhupada.
One of the examples is of HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj. He met Prabhupada few times. We do not see pictures of Maharaj with Prabhupada. Also, there is no video or audio recording where he is conversing with Prabhupada. But he has always been at forefront in carrying the message of Prabhupada all over the world.
Although Maharaj did not get vapu association of Prabhupada, but he is always with Prabhupada because he associates with his vāṇī constantly.
Endeavour to associate with vāṇī
Both types of spiritual association are desirable but vāṇī is more important than vapu.
For example, currently we are not associating with Lord Krishna physically, but we are associating with him through Bhagavad Gita which is his teaching. And by associating with Bhagavad Gita and studying it scrutinizingly millions of people have transformed their lives.
In fact, we can always associate with the Supreme Lord Krishna, with Srila Prabhupada and with all the saintly people if we constantly contemplate on their teachings i.e. vāṇī and dovetail all our activities accordingly.
Krishna not just spoke Gita to Arjuna but through Arjuna he spoke to all of us. Arjuna after hearing Gita, said to Krishna, “am prepared to act according to Your instructions”, Bhagavad Gita 18.73. We can also say the same to Krishna and like Arjuna become Krishna’s close friend.
Srila Prabhupada explains, “There are two words, vāṇī and vapuḥ. Vānī means words, and vapuḥ means this physical body. So vāṇī is more important than the vapuḥ. Vapuḥ will be finished. This is material body. It will be finished. That is the nature. But if we keep to the vāṇī, to the words of spiritual master, then we remain very fixed up.“
We can safely give up the notion that association is just physical. And can start associating with Krishna and Krishna’s close associates by meditating on their sublime messages.