The Need for Social Groups (Sanga)

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:

  1. sajātiya – there has to be practical compatibility, and spiritual compatibility as well
  2. snigdha – there has to be natural, simple, plain-old affection and liking
  3. 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”.

-Vraja Kishor

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  1. Strictly for socializing for the devotees and for attracting the newcomers Srila Prabhapada leveraged on the festivals, the kirtan and other social events. but it is sold as sadhysanga from the authorities of Iskcon. Sadhu sanga manifests, on my understanding, only when there is Krishna Katha among devotees of the same level or with the association of more advanced. Thanks for bringing this up. YS


    1. I don’t mean to say that large gatherings are not also nice. It’s also sādhusaṅga. But we don’t NEED large social groups for nityaṁ sādhusaṅgaḥ (regular, constant sanga).


  2. Yes! I agree 100%. A superb & important post on the much misunderstood topic of Sadhu Sanga. You should probably publish this one someday as part of a collection of articles or something.


  3. A brilliant post on the topic of “Sadhu Sanga”.
    How to understand the statement of Mahaprabhu “Asat sang tyaga, ahei Vaishnava acara…….” in context of the above.


    1. There’s nothing difficult about the statement. See the article.

      Sanga does not mean recreation. It means close communion. Playing tennis with someone isn’t sanga.


  4. I don’t know how you regularly come up with topics I’m currently struggling with, but please go on. Thank you so much.


  5. Very enlightening.

    True meaning of sadhu sanga is presented.
    It resonates with my experiences and understandings.

    Deserves loud applause and louder thanks!


  6. From my limited personal experience I agree that association is about quality and connection, not about herds and crowds. You said that regular people are not poison. Yes, they are not. However, their regular association does affect a novice or a medicore devotee. In fact, Srila Rupa Goswami warns of jana-sanga in text 2 of Sri Updeshaamrita:

    atyāhāraḥ prayāsaś ca
    prajalpo niyamāgrahaḥ
    jana-saṅgaś ca laulyaṁ ca
    ṣaḍbhir bhaktir vinaśyati


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