Some senior devotees that I have taken shelter under for learning vaishnava etiquettes or to participate in regular temple services have very different psycho-physical nature than mine. According to their nature, they have set ideas about how one should perform devotional service. For instance, a couple of seniors in our temple persistently repeat that reading books leads to pride. They don’t give up this idea even when other senior devotees point it out that Srila Prabhupada wanted us to study his books. They give more importance to physical seva. Basically they do what matches their nature, and I do what matches mine. None of us do everything. Also, there are many things I observe in their demeanor which I should not observe. It’s human nature to see faults first. Overall, their association makes me doubt the process and I try to practice more at home and meet them only occasionally. It will be some more time, maybe a lot more time, before I can learn to appreciate them as devotees. So, I feel that I should stay away from them until I have developed the maturity that I have been lacking. However, other devotees say that if we don’t remain in some association, we may fall. Whereas I feel that if I keep their association, I would fall. I practice my sadhana by chanting, hearing, and reading at home. By nature I love solitude and thus I don’t miss their association. I see that just as the modes of nature are interfering in their practice, the same is happening with me too.
Kindly suggest how to deal with this situation.
Answer by Romapada Swami: There are few components we can divide your situation into:
A) Importance of Association: You have mentioned in your question that you practice your sadhana, reading, hearing at home and do not associate with devotees. Srila Prabhupada place a lot of importance in associating with devotees in order to make progress in our spiritual life. Please find below some of the purports on association from Srila Prabhupada.
1. The process of advancing in Krsna consciousness and devotional service is described here. The first point is that one must seek the association of persons who are Krsna conscious and who engage in devotional Reading Srila Prabhupada’s books: Srila Prabhupada has on several occasions stated that one should make time to read his books daily. Without such association one cannot make advancement. Simply by theoretical knowledge or study one cannot make any appreciable advancement. One must give up the association of materialistic persons and seek the association of devotees because without the association of devotees one cannot understand the activities of the Lord. SB 3.25.25
2. Transcendental devotional service cannot be complete and cannot be relish able without the association of devotees. We have therefore established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Anyone who is trying to be aloof from this Krishna Consciousness Society and yet engage in Krsna consciousness is living in a great hallucination, for this is not possible. From this statement by Dhruva Maharaja it is clear that unless one is associated with devotees, his devotional service does not mature; it does not become distinct from material activities. The Lord says satäà prasaìgän mama vérya-saàvido bhavanti håt-karëa-rasäyanäù (SB 3.25.25). Only in the association of pure devotees can the words of Lord Krsna be fully potent and relish able to the heart and ear. Dhruva Maharaja explicitly wanted the association of devotees. That association in devotional activities is just like the waves of an incessantly flowing river. SB 4.9.11 Purport
If you feel the association of certain devotees is not helping you, then you can associate with other devotees in the temple who inspire you in your Krsna consciousness.
B) Regular reading of Sril Prabhupada’s books is very important for our spiritual progress. As you can see in the following letters Prabhupada has written to his disciples:
The more we become renounced from this material world, the more we advance in Krsna consciousness. But we are only able to make such sacrifices and perform tapasya if we have got knowledge…. So I am requesting all of my students to read my books very seriously every day without fail. In this way, if your mind becomes absorbed at least one or two hours daily in the transcendental subject of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and other books, then very easily you will make advancement in Krsna consciousness…. This restlessness or agitation of the mind cannot be rectified by altering the material circumstances. If we are Krsna conscious, any type of occupation will suit me and we shall always be satisfied. Therefore, I recommend you to read books more and more and try to understand the subject matter from different angles of vision and be always discussing it with your Godbrothers, even while you are working…. When you are working and you cannot read, then listen to the tapes of my lectures, and hear in that way.”
(Letter to Bhargava, June 13, 1972)
“Actually these books are the foundation stone of our movement. Whatever we are is resting on these books. Reading and distributing them—this should be our only motto.”(Letter to Hrdayananda Goswami, October 31, 1974)
Also please refer to Digest 183 http://www.romapadaswami.com/node/2642 which addresses how to overcome the fault finding tendency as it may help address your concerns about seeing faults in others.