Rūpa Goswāmī, and practically every ācārya in the history of the world, makes it very clear that we need “good association” if we want to make progress in spiritual life. The principle is very simple and universal. If you want to get more involved in Soccer (to pick any example), then hang around with people who love it and play it – the rest happens naturally.
But hanging out with people into Soccer can also turn you off to Soccer, if those people happen to be incompatible with you, or have an angle on Soccer very different from the one you have, or perhaps really aren’t all that good at Soccer after all.
Many people feel like they have to be dependent on social groups like ISKCON, even when much of what happens in and around those groups is distasteful, disturbing, and discouraging. “But, I need the saṅga,” we say.
The truth is, you don’t.
You don’t need a social life to attain samādhi. You don’t need a social life to fall in love with someone, either – even Krishna.
You do need the association of someone who is in the samādhi of love for Krishna. But you don’t need a social network or social group or institution of people.
In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu, Rūpa Gosvāmī clearly explains what type of “association” we need:
- sajātiya – there has to be practical compatibility, and spiritual compatibility as well
- snigdha – there has to be natural, simple, plain-old affection and liking
- āśraya – there has to be genuine advancement
First seek even one person who has genuine depth of bhakti for Krishna (which you should measure by how much you feel love of Krishna in their presence, and you can detect more in the tone of their voice, and the nature of their words, rather than in a checklist of things like “four regs” and “fourty thousand additional requirements for bonafidity.”) The association of hundreds of people who aren’t really all that good at Soccer, or aren’t really into the game itself, who just like it for an excuse to get rowdy and drink beer, that kind of “association” is worse that associating with people who have no connection at all to Krishna, because it turns us off to the subject (be it Soccer or Krishna).
Out of those few you can find who have some palpable amount of genuine bhakti, then look for the still more few who have the same basic angle on Krishna consciousness as you do (i.e. an Advanced Viṣṇu Bhakta is great for someone else who seeks Śānti, but isn’t such special saṅga for someone who longs for Vraja Prema), and who also come from the same basic practical background as you (this makes communication so much easier). And, most importantly, there should be a natural, spontaneous affection between you and the person.
If you find even one or two or three people like this, you have hit the jackpot. That is your sādhu-saṅga.
Sanga is not a “large group.” Sanga is intimate.
Sure you also have needs for socializing. So go to a Soccer game or something. Socialize to socialize. Remember, regular people are not poison – though the cult-versions of Krishna consciousness have certainly tried their best to brainwash this idea into us. Hang out with regular people if you need some regular social interaction, and regular sense gratification, etc. etc. Hang out with a real sādhu to get serious, real, significant spiritual advancement.
The sky doesn’t need a hundred suns. One more than suffices. Similarly, for sādhu-saṅga we don’t need to hold a “fest”.