Question: Although our desire to associate with sādhus is constantly increasing, we are often unable to travel and be with them. Is it possible for us to associate with them when the circumstances are such that we are physically separated?
Śrīla Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja: It is always possible to associate with sādhus, even if we are not able to physically be with them. If we take into our heart whatever we have heard from a sādhu and sincerely follow it, then we will be considered to be associating with the sādhu, no matter where we may be physically.
In his prayers to Śrī Kṛṣṇa (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.14.3), Brahmā-jī prayed, “sthāne sthitāḥ śrutigatāṁ tanu-vāṅ-manobhir—a person should reside in a place where he can hear from pure sādhus.” Although it is not always possible to physically stay with sādhus, one should always hanker to do so. Whenever association is available to us, we should go there. We should not become lazy and think that because we are remembering Vaiṣṇavas and following their instructions there is no need to be with them physically; we must certainly go to them. However, when the circumstances do not allow us to be with sādhus, then ‘associating’ means to take their teachings into the heart and sincerely follow them.
The sun is known as padma-bandhu (friend of the lotus), because the lotus immediately blossoms upon seeing his friend the sun, and does not blossom for anyone else. Although they are physically separated by many millions of miles, due to their heart-to-heart relationship, it is considered they are together. Similarly, when a person, by the will of providence, is unable to attain the physical association of a sādhu, he will always be considered to be in his association if he sincerely follows his teachings.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī used to reside in Vṛndāvana, and Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu used to reside in Jagannātha Purī. Despite the fact that they were only in each other’s physical presence for a very short time, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmīpāda is honored by the prayer “śrī caitanya mano-‘bhiṣṭam sthāpitaṁ yena bhūtale—he understood the inner-heart’s desire of Śrīman Mahāprabhu and established it in this world.” Although we should always hanker for the physical presence of sādhus, this physical presence is not the true criterion of association.