The intrinsic constitutional nature of the jīva to be the servant of Kṛṣṇa is not destroyed even though he has remained bound since time without beginning in the fetters of desire for material enjoyment. Somehow his true nature continues to exist and when it finds just a small opportunity, it becomes manifest again and begins to reveal its own identity. This opportunity is nothing but the association of saintly devotees, sādhu-saṅga.
yasya deve parā bhaktir
yathā deve tathā gurau
tasyaite kathitā hyarthāḥ
Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (6.23)
The actual purport of the Vedas is revealed within the hearts of those great souls who have parā-bhakti for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. In other words, it is revealed to those who have become eligible for śuddha-bhakti through the awakening of faith in Kṛṣṇa, and who also have the same unflinching faith in guru and sādhus.
It has also been stated in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.43, 45, 54, 33):
saṁsāra brahmite kona bhāgye keha tare
nadīra pravāhe yena kāṣṭha lāge tīre
kona bhāgye kāro saṁsāra kṣayonmukha haya
sādhu-saṅge tare, kṛṣṇe rati upajaya
‘sādhu-saṅga’ ‘sādhu-saṅga’—sarva-śāstre kaya
lava-mātra sādhu-saṅge sarva-siddhi haya
‘kṛṣṇa, tomāra haṅa’ yadi bale eka-bāra
māyā-bandha haite kṛṣṇa tāre kare pāra
The meaning is, when the jīva becomes averse to Kṛṣṇa, he is swept away in the current of birth and death in material existence. He wanders aimlessly throughout 8,400,000 species of life, being burnt by the threefold miseries. It is extremely difficult to attain deliverance from this current. However, just as a piece of wood flowing in the forceful current of a river may by good fortune be washed up on the bank, similarly, a jīva may by extremely good fortune attain the shelter of sādhu-saṅga and thus gain release from the current of material existence and again become established in his own constitutional position as the servant of Kṛṣṇa.
When, by good fortune, someone is about to be released from material existence, he attains sādhu-saṅga. Due to this association, his loving attachment to the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa awakens. That is why all the śāstras profusely glorify sādhu-saṅga, and at the same time they point out that even brief association with a sādhu is not easily attained. If any jīva, feeling extreme anguish, prays to Kṛṣṇa from the core of his heart and even once calls out, “O Kṛṣṇa, I am Yours!” then Kṛṣṇa sends him sādhu-saṅga and transports him beyond the bondage of māyā.
When, by great good fortune, someone’s material existence is about to come to an end, he associates with sādhus. What is this good fortune? We should understand this very well. The jīva’s fortune is only the fruit of his previous activities (karma). There are two types of karma: for material gain (ārthika) and for spiritual gain (paramārthika). Material good fortune arises from ārthika-karma, and spiritual fortune arises from paramārthika-karma. Activities such as serving sādhus, Bhagavān and His name, which are performed for the sake of acquiring spiritual wealth, are collectively paramārthika. No matter what a jīva may do, if he performs paramārthika activities, these collective activities create within his heart a type of impression, or saṁskāra, in the form of the desire for bhakti. When this impression becomes well nourished, it is called good fortune, or saubhāgya, and by the influence of this good fortune the jīvas’ materialistic desires gradually begin to weaken. When desires pertaining to material existence are very much diminished and the saṁskāra of good fortune has been nourished to a great extent, then śraddhā, or faith, in sādhu-saṅga arises. This same śraddhā easily causes sādhu-saṅga to occur repeatedly, and that is the cause of attaining complete perfection.
The philosophical conclusion (siddhānta) is that good fortune is the fruit of sukṛti accumulated birth after birth, and on the awakening of this good fortune one develops attraction for sādhu-saṅga. Then again, this faith, or śraddhā, gradually develops into devotional practice (bhajana-kriyā), the eradication of obstacles to devotion (anartha-nivṛtti), steadfast faith (niṣṭhā), transcendental relish (ruci), attachment to Kṛṣṇa (āsakti), and then kṛṣṇa-rati, transcendental ecstasy, appears. A life in which good fortune has arisen is characterized by this faith. Therefore it is said that śraddhā and sādhu-saṅga are the foundation of all auspiciousness. This is confirmed in the Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa (4.33):
bhaktis tu bhagavad-bhakta-
sat-saṅgaḥ prāpyate pumbhiḥ
Bhakti is awakened by the association of the pure devotees of Śrī Bhagavān. Such sādhu-saṅga is attained by the accumulation of sukṛti in previous lives.
It has also been said in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.51.53):
bhavāpavargo bhramato yadā bhave-
jjanasya tarhyacyuta sat-samāgamaḥ
sat-saṅgamo yarhi tadaiva sad-gatau
parāvareśe tvayi jāyate ratiḥ
O infallible one, the jīvas are wandering in the cycle of repeated birth and death since time immemorial. When the time for their release from that cycle is approaching, they attain the association of sādhus. The very moment the jīva acquires sat-saṅga, his intelligence becomes firmly attached to You, the supreme shelter and controller of all causes and activities.
satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvido
bhavanti hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ
taj-joṣaṇād āśv apavarga-vartmani
śraddhā ratir bhaktir anukramiṣyati
In the association of saintly persons, discussions of My valiant deeds become a rejuvenating nectar to the heart and ears. By such cultivation one quickly becomes liberated from ignorance. He then progressively attains śraddhā (sādhana-bhakti), then rati (bhāva-bhakti) and finally the awakening of prema-bhakti.
When one is freed from material existence, it is essential to continue cultivating bhakti to attain Bhagavān. It has been said in śāstras such as the Upaniṣads that it is only unalloyed bhagavad-bhakti that carries the jīvas close to Bhagavān and arranges an audience with Him and eternal sevā to Him. Bhagavān is only controlled by bhakti. This is substantiated by verses such as Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.14.21, bhaktyāham ekayā grāhyaḥ, and Māṭhara-śruti (quoted in Aṇu-bhāṣya on Vedānta-sūtra 3.3.53), bhaktir evainaṁ nayati bhaktir evainaṁ darśayati / bhakti-vaśaḥ puruṣo bhaktir eva bhūyasī.
This bhakti is not attainable without sat-saṅga. When one cultivates bhakti in the association of devotees, first sādhana-bhakti is awakened, then bhāva-bhakti and in the end prema-bhakti. At this point, the jīva’s life becomes successful. After being completely released from māyā, he attains the fifth objective of human life (pañcama-puruṣārtha), in the form of kṛṣṇa-prema.
There are two types of jīvas who are liberated from māyā. Eternally liberated jīvas (nitya-mukta) are those who have never been in the bondage of māyā. Baddha-mukta jīvas are those who were first bound in māyā and who then became liberated by engaging in devotional practices. There are also two types of nitya-mukta jīvas: aiśvarya-gata and mādhurya-gata. The aiśvarya-gata nitya-mukta jīvas, such as Garuḍa, are the associates of Nārāyaṇa, the Lord of Vaikuṇṭha, and they are the particles of the effulgent rays emanating from Mūla-Saṅkarṣaṇa situated in Paravyoma. Mādhurya-gata nitya-mukta jīvas are the associates of Goloka Vṛndāvana-nātha Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and they are manifest from Baladeva in Goloka Vṛndāvana.
There are three types of baddha-mukta jīvas, namely brahmajyotir-gata, aiśvarya-gata and mādhurya-gata. Those jīvas who perform sādhana with the objective of attaining the oneness of jīva and brahma attain liberation and complete destruction in brahma-sāyujya, entering into the brahma-jyoti. Those whose sādhana is based on fondness for opulence attain sālokya, residence on the same planet as the Lord, with the associates of Vaikuṇṭha. And those whose sādhana is imbued with an inclination towards sweetness, after being released from māyā, taste the happiness derived from prema-sevā in dhāmas such as the eternal Vṛndāvana.
It is necessary to know one special siddhānta: mādhurya-rasa has two aspects, namely, mādhurya, sweetness, and audārya, magnanimity. Where mādhurya predominates, the form of Śrī Kṛṣṇa is manifest. Where audārya predominates, the form of Śrī Gaurāṅga reigns, radiant with the sentiments and bodily lustre of Śrīmatī Rādhikā. In the original Vṛndāvana there are two compartments: kṛṣṇa-pīṭha and gaura-pīṭha. In kṛṣṇa-pīṭha, Kṛṣṇa’s attendants are nitya-siddha and nitya-mukta pārṣadas who have attained audārya-bhāva predominated by mādhurya. This is the same quality possessed by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself. In gaura-pīṭha the nitya-siddha and nitya-mukta parikaras experience mādhurya predominated by audārya.
Some associates are, by the disposition of their svarūpa, present in both places simultaneously. Others are present in one svarūpa in one realm only, and not in the other. At the time of perfection, those whose sādhana is devoted to Gaura exclusively, render service only in gaura-pīṭha. Those who worship Kṛṣṇa exclusively render service only in kṛṣṇa-pīṭha at the time of perfection. And those who worship both svarūpas, Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Gaura, accept two bodies and are present in both realms simultaneously. This is the supreme mystery of the acintya-bhedābheda, inconceivable difference and non-difference, of Gaura and Kṛṣṇa.