If the most important part of our association with devotees is the split second you realize you are seeing a vaishnava and that reminds you of Krishna, then what is the value of the rest of what makes our relationships?
There are six legitimate “symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another”, after all, aren’t they also important?
Yes, relatively speaking.
There are two things to consider here – do we genuinely love devotees and do we build all our interactions on that principle? And how legitimate our association really is?
The first consideration is very important – the legitimate loving exchanges should be between devotees and being a devotee is not a cheap thing. In fact, until we achieve liberation we don’t actually qualify, we are just materialists trying to do the right thing. We might become devotees eventually if we follow the program but until then we don’t genuinely love anyone but our false egos. Even on the liberated stage we still don’t have love for Krishna yet, it comes later, and so we can’t honestly claim that we love devotees either.
It’s a bit like our chanting – there are sparks of sincerity here and there but unless we chant the pure Name we aren’t doing sankirtana, even namabhasa, which grants liberation, is not sankirthana yet. We might like it, Krishna might like it, but it’s not the real thing yet. It’s good but, relatively speaking, it’s far from perfect.
Second consideration is equally important if we ever want to progress towards becoming devotees. Here’s the list of what is prescribed by Rupa Goswami (NoI 4):
Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one’s mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasāda and offering prasāda..
There’s no “hanging out”, there’s no debating, there’s no arguing, there’s actually very little we can do, and there are great many ways we can distort these prescribed activities. Offering gifts, for example, must be done in the proper consciousness. We can’t just dump stuff we don’t really like or stuff we got bored off, or stuff that we have no use for anymore.
Devotees are not a replacement for Salvation Army, they are not beggars and they don’t depend on our help, they perfectly satisfied within themselves and they rely on Krishna if they ever interested in obtaining something.
We cannot offer gifts to devotees while thinking that I’m a giver and this person is a receiver of my mercy. It’s easier understand for Indians who are culturally accustomed to giving things to sadhus as a way to plead for mercy, not to show it. “I have the greatest opportunity of my life to give something to this devotee, I completely depend on his acceptance of this gift and it would be my greatest honor” – that’s the kind of sentiment we should be cultivating.
Similarly, we can’t accept gifts while thinking we deserve them. “Oh, this devotee has entrusted me this thing to engage it in Krishna’s service and it’s the greatest opportunity of my life. I better not screw it up and not betray this trust. It’s a very special thing, it’s directly connected to Krishna and now I’m responsible for maintaining it in His service.”
Accepting and offering prasada also requires great skill and genuine devotion. For starters we should learn to see food as prasada, which along might take lifetimes, otherwise we would be spreading our material disease: “I enjoyed this dish very much and I feel generous, so come and take some, too, doesn’t it feel so nice in your mouth?” Prasadam is not meant to be enjoyed, it’s meant to be served, and not in a sense of “serving food” but in a sense of being honored.
Then there’s the most common kind of interaction between devotees – verbal. Here we have to be very careful and there are too many rules to remember. There’s etiquette, there’s the need to discern between our relative levels of advancement, there’s definitely the need to establish seniority, there’s the choice of topics, there’s assessment of compliance with guru-sadhu-shastra, there’s all kinds of preconceived notions and probably many more other equally important considerations. Depending on each particular configuration of these parameters we should express ourselves differently and any deviation would be offensive.
Honestly, I can think of many cases where silence would have been truly golden and things said by some devotee better remain unheard.
Therefore, simply remembering Krishna when we see a devotee is perfect in every way. What happens next could very well be detrimental to our progress.
Still, we need to communicate, we are driven by our karma and by our desires, so we must find the best way to do it and here Rupa Goswami’s list comes very handy. If we were on the transcendental platform it would have been all the same but in the conditioned state some things are relatively better than others.
Once again, it’s similar to chanting. Strictly speaking we don’t need to utter any other sounds but Hare Krishna mantra. Unfortunately, we are incapable of such tapasya so we need to choose lesser ways to engage our speaking abilities. We know the gradation – Srimad Bhagavatam, discussions of Lord’s pastimes described in Srimad Bhagavatam, then confidential exchanges as per Rupa Goswami’s list, then small talk when we see people at the temple, then whatever we want to talk about our lives in ISKCON, then outright prajalpa. It’s all important but some topics are relatively better than others, even prajalpa, because it’s better to engage in it with devotees than with materialists.
And then there’s preaching. There are a lot of things we need to do to perform this service and they are all fully legitimate but to be fully transcendental they require absolute purity on our behalf, too. Ultimately, we should learn to see our entire life as preaching service, there’s no other purpose in living inside our bodies. Until we get there, however, we should learn to see the value of every interaction relative to this ultimate goal.
That’s why simply remembering Krishna when seeing a devotee is a perfection of one’s life. It’s pure, it’s fully spiritual, and it stops time itself, and then we plunge back into this illusion, thinking that things happening here are somehow important. They are, but only relatively so.