After having stressed on the importance of avoiding materialistic association and endeavouring to always be in the association of the Vaishnavas, Srila Rupa Goswami is now explaining the meaning of association. Merely carrying out everyday dealings with people in the context of work and other such activities is not considered as associating with those people. It is inevitable that while living in this material world, we will have to, at times, talk to and deal with people who are averse to Bhakti and completely engrossed in sense gratification, yet that is not as detrimental, for there is no affection in such dealings and these are carried out in the normal course of one’s occupation. However, all affectionate relationships should be maintained with devotees only and one should associate in loving friendship with those who perform devotional service to the lotus feet of the Lord. In order to clearly explain what association is and in what way one should maintain loving relations with other Vaishnavas, Srila Rupa goswami has given this fourth verse of Sri Upadeshamrtia:
dadāti pratigṛhnāti guhyamākhyāti pṛcchati bhuńkte bhojayate caiva ṣaḍvidhaḿ prītilakṣaṇam
Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one’s mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasada and offering prasada are the six symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another.
When one performs any one or all of the above mentioned six activities with a person, only then is one considered to be associating with that individual. It is therefore advisable for devotees to never give or receive any sort of gifts from materialists. One may raise the question that it is understandable that we should not receive gifts but why not give gifts. However, if we consider this carefully, we can understand that if we give gifts to others they will also expect us to take the gifts that they give and failure to do so will unnecessarily create displeasure for them. Therefore, it is best to avoid any giving and receiving of gifts.
In the course of life it is unavoidable that, being social creatures, we will need to open our heart to someone and Srila Rupa goswami advises one to do so only with the Vaishnavas. It is indeed very helpful to reveal one’s mind confidentially and enquire from our close Vaishnava friends as doing so can be a great source of inspiration for making progress in spiritual life, as it is natural that in the course of such discussions the topics of the Lord shall automatically come and Vaishnava friends can share their realisations and spiritual emotions and thus encourage and be encouraged.
It is also instructed that we should offer and accept Prasad only from the Vaishnavas. As discussed before, the urge of the tongue is the most difficult to control and controlling that helps one in controlling all the other urges. The process of controlling this urge has also been given by the Acharyas in the form of accepting only and only Krishna Prasad. When accepting Prasad from Vaishnavas, one can be sure that they are eating only offered food cooked with pure ingredients. This however is not the case with the materialistic people, where the food is not offered to the Lord and one is also always fearful about the ingredients of the food. Not only that, the consciousness of the person cooking the food also enters the food and the one eating such food also gets affected by that consciousness. It is therefore instructed to only offer and accept Prasad from other Vaishnavas.
Knowing these six characteristics of association, one should always avoid associating lovingly with any person averse to Bhakti but rather one should always affectionately associate with other Vaishnavas by performing these activities which are the symptoms of love shared between one devotee and another.