Harsha, a young initiated disciple of Srila Prabhupada for the last two years, had chosen to live outside the temple. Many others, both initiated and uninitiated who lived in similar circumstances were present for the class. Harsha spoke in a soft voice. "Srila Prabhupada, how does one associate with the devotees?"
Harsha's question appeared to some as "loaded". Perhaps Harsha was hoping that Srila Prabhupada might give an answer that condoned his habit of keeping himself mostly apart from the temple. The room was quiet as Madhudvisa repeated the question.
"How does one associate with the devotees?"
Prabhupada looked at Harsha a little incredulously. "Oh, you do not understand? You can come and live with these devotees. Where's the difficulty?" Srila Prabhupada looked directly at Harsha. "You can live here, you can take prasadam, and without any charge." Prabhupada paused. "Still you are asking? This is the way. Adau sraddha, tato sadhu sangah. You have to make your association with the devotees. Then you will learn."
Prabhupada's answer seemed clear, although perhaps it was not what Harsha had hoped to hear. And, in case Harsha had not fully grasped the idea, Prabhupada supplied more details about the science of association:
"Sadhu sanga means you have to give up the association of nondevotees. This question was asked to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu by a devotee. He was a householder. So he inquired: 'My dear sir, what is the real standard of behaviour of a devotee?' He immediately answered that asat-sanga tyaga ei vaisnava acara. 'Vaisnava devotee, his first behaviour is he should give up unwanted association.' That is first.
"Now, the next question will be, 'What is that unwanted association?' He answered, "Asat eka stri-sangi krsna bhakta ara: 'This unwanted association means people who are too much addicted to sex life, they are unwanted. And the other: non-devotee of God. They are unwanted.' So you be careful not to mix with these people and come to devotional service; then your life is perfect."
Another young man, living in the same circle as Harsha, raised his hand. "When a disciple takes initiation, does he first take initiation in the heart?"
Srila Prabhupada explained that initiation was not a cheap thing. "Initiation is the third stage. The first stage is that ..Just like you have come. This is called sraddha, faith. Little faith, not full faith. Then you have to increase this faith by association of devotees. That is required. And when the faith is increased, then the question of initiation. Initiation should not be immediately offered. That will be misused. Therefore when we initiate, we enquire from the head of the temple: 'How long he is coming? What is his behaviour?' If he certifies that 'Yes, he is doing nicely', then we initiate. Our initiation is not so cheap. 'You come and be initiated.' No, we do not do that. We must test you first of all. Then we initiate."
Madhudvisa sensed that behind the boy's somewhat vague question was a more serious misunderstanding of Krsna consciousness philosophy. He reiterated what he thought was the boy's real point.
"His question was, 'Can you take initiation by accepting the spiritual master in your heart, without actually taking ...'"
Prabhupada's definitive answer appeared to leave no doubts as to how he felt about the whole issue. "These are bogus propositions. It has no meaning. [Laughter] It has no meaning. If you think within yourself 'I am eating', will you be satisfied? You starve and simply think 'I have eaten everything'. [Laughter] Is that a very practical proposal? You must eat. We don't say all these bogus propositions. All right, thank you very much."
- From "The Great Transcendental Adventure" by HG Kurma Prabhu