Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj explains the importance of having a pure devotee’s association.
Student: Mahārāj, I once heard that the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam must be taken together, that the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa alone will have some effect but the knowledge within Śrīmad Bhāgavatam must also be there.
Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: Not only Bhāgavatam. That presupposes Bhakta Bhāgavatam also. Sādhu-saṅga and Nām-kīrtan, these are the best. When there is want of sādhu-saṅga, want of living scripture, then there is passive scripture [Bhāgavatam].
sādhu-saṅge kṛṣṇa-nāma ei mātra chāi
(Śrī Śrī Prema-vivarta: 6.13)
With the association of the sādhu, we want to chant the Lord’s Name, and when the sādhu is not available, then of course with scripture, śāstra.
We are to take men to the guidance of the sādhu, the man of higher realisation. There may be so many obstacles, appositions, and difficulties along the way, but with his help, they may be removed. So, the guidance of the sādhu has been advised to be indispensable. But when sādhu is not available, then śāstra comes. Mahāprabhu says:
sādhu-saṅga, nāma-kīrtana, bhāgavata-śravaṇa
mathurā-vāsa, śrī-mūrtira śraddhāya sevana
sakala-sādhana-śreṣṭha ei pañca aṅga
[“(1) Associating with sādhus. (2) Chanting the Lords’ Name. (3) Hearing the scriptures of pure devotion. (4) Residing in a holy place. (5) Faithfully serving the Lord’s Deity. These five are the best of all the limbs of devotional practice.”]
And if only one is to be accepted, then it is Nām-kīrtan. Kīrtan means to chant loudly, and that presupposes that with the company of someone or in congregation we will chant. So, saṅkīrtan. Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī Prabhu has given this interpretation of saṅkīrtan:
bahubhir militvā yat kīrtanaṁ tad eva saṅkīrtanam
To talk about Kṛṣṇa not alone but in a group is saṅkīrtan. But Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur also warns: “Don’t join any type of imitation saṅkīrtan. At least one leading man must be there who is a śuddha bhakta [pure devotee]. When there is cholera or the great epidemic, some people want to go on with Nām-saṅkīrtan, but that is aparādha [offensive]. They want the Name, the Lord, Hari, to remove all inauspicious things from the world. That is sakām [interested] chanting. That is aparādh. A śuddha bhakta, a pure devotee, will not associate when such saṅkīrtan is going on. So, at least one pure devotee must be in the group, then one can join the saṅkīrtan.” In this way, Śrīla Bhaki Vinod Ṭhākur has warned that there must be guidance under a pure devotee, who is nirguṇa, who does not want anything mundane, but only the grace of Hari. That type of vibration must be present there, and that will help me in my subtle-most plane of self, my nirguṇa aspect, and awaken me.
Spoken 30 August 1981.