Life is full of pitfalls. But the most hazardous is the influence of bad company.
Even a fleeting association with such bad company leads virtuous
people to be deflected from their noble path. Conversely, good company can instil noble qualities in even the most hardened sinner.
Long, long ago during the rein of King Hiranyakashipu an incident occurred which today may seem unbelievable and far-fetched. But in fact it is just as much true today as it was then.
Once, while King Hiranyakashipu was out conquering, the chief of the deities, Indra, decided to kidnap Queen Kayadhu, the king's wife. She was pregnant and Indra thought that if the child is born, he will grow up to be just as villainous as his father. For this reason he kidnapped Kayadhu with the intention of killing the unborn child. On the way to his palace, however, he came across Sage Narad.
"Say Indra! Where are you taking the queen?"
"To my palace to kill her unborn child. Because when he grows up he will be as just villainous as his father."
"You know Indra, it's not always true that only a villain is born in a villain's family. And if you kill this child you will be committing murder."
"But revered sage! What can I do? His father is harassing us terribly and this child will do the same when he grows up. That's why it's better to get rid of him now."
"Have faith Indra. I will take care of the queen and ensure that the child doesn't become a replica of his father."
Indra, trusting the wise words of the sage, handed the queen over to him. Naradji gave refuge to the queen in his hermitage and told her she could stay until her husband, the king, returns from his battles.
Now, being a sage, everyday there were spiritual discourses going on in his hermitage. The queen listened to these discourses and simultaneously the child in her womb also listened. Thus, when this child, Prahlad, was born, he was a staunch disciple of Lord Vishnu. The constant spiritual discourses in Naradji's hermitage had an effect on him. Because the unborn child had the company of Naradji, who was attached to God, Prahlad too, developed an attachment for God. From this incident one can see that the type of company a person keeps has a profound effect on one's development.
Classroom in the Womb
People nowadays may find this incident hard to believe. Could the unborn child be affected by the mother's listening to the spiritual discourses? We can easily understand that if a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, smokes cigarettes, or takes drugs, then the child will be affected. But listening to words, how can that affect the unborn child?
In the November 1988 issue of Back to Godhead an incident was mentioned of a pregnant mother in America. She used to watch Ryan's Hope, a soap opera, five days a week. After her child was born, whenever it cried it could only be pacified by placing it in front of the TV and exposing it to Ryan's Hope. The mother's watching of the show had had an impact on her unborn child. Recent research in Britain supports this finding. Researchers found that what women hear during gestation influences their unborn child.
Dr. Peter Hepper, a psychologist at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, says children may become soap opera fans while in the womb. When the mothers watch shows such as Dallas and Dynasty, foetuses form a link with the music during their development. Dr. Hepper carried out a controlled study of 14 pregnant women. Half the women religiously watched Neighbours, an Australian soap opera popular in the UK. Another group did not watch the show. When the children were born, six babies in the first group became quiet and alert when they heard the theme tune, compared with only two in the second group. Dr. Hepper says, "We often overlook the fact that development through impressions begins at conception and not at birth."
So Prahlad's story does not now seem far-fetched.
From these two incidents we can see that the type of company we keep is very important. If we keep bad company, we too become bad. On the other hand, if we keep good company, we become good.
If company can affect an unborn child, indirectly, then think how much of an effect a direct association can have?
Company Determines Character
I want to tell you of a person whom I knew while I was in UK. His name was Muhammed. He used to regularly visit the mosque in his home town of Birmingham and prayed five times a day. He never smoked, gambled, drunk alcohol or got involved with girls. For his BSc degree he went to study at the University of North Wales in Bangor. Here he fell into bad company. He stopped praying five times a day. He started drinking, smoking, going to discos, gambling, and had illicit relations with women. When he finished his studies at Bangor he came to Surrey, and this is where I met him, because we were studying together. Whenever his parents decided to visit him, they would phone a day in advance. Then, he would clean the entire flat out, get rid of the scattered cigarette ends, hide the ashtrays, and clean the dustbins out, because they contained cigarette packets and beer cans. He would then light joss sticks to clear the flat of its cigarette smell. He would hand the bottles of whiskey and wine to the person with whom he shared the flat. And after his parents returned to Birmingham, he would collect the bottles back. His parents hadn't the slightest notion that their son was doing all this. Of course when he went home for the weekend he would do his prayers there and visit the mosque, but this was just for the sake of his parents. What a change company made to his life - truly a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Because such a metamorphosis can occur to us in bad company, George Washington, the first President of the United States advises us,
"Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad company."
Shriji Maharaj in Vachanamrut Gadhada III-33 tells us the consequences of associating with bad company: "If one gets the contact of bad company, then one will forget one's devotion and start imitating the company one keeps."
This is precisely what happened to Muhammad. Previously, he was a devout person. But with the company he kept, he forgot his devotion and fell into bad habits. This is why it is imperative we remain aloof of bad company. Once in the clutches of bad company we tend to forget our vows and rules and cling to the habits of that company.
The Jekyll and Hyde Within
Shriji Maharaj explains in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-70 that all of us have a Jekyll and Hyde within us. If we keep the contact of bad people than the evil Mr. Hyde within us will flourished and overpower us. On the contrary if we keep the company of holy people then the good Dr. Jekyll within us will be nourished. For this reason Maharaj has advised in verse 36 of the Shikshapatri: "Everyday keep the company of sadhus."
And in verse 63 of the Shikshapatri, Shriji Maharaj tells us to go to the mandir every evening. Pramukh Swami Maharaj also stresses that we should visit the mandir regularly, attend youth and kishore meetings, hold religious meetings at home. From these activities, the good Dr. Jekyll is nourished and we develop good habits. In the mandir we can get involved in various activities - arti, seva, katha. That will boost the Dr. Jekyll within us. If we live far from the mandir, then we can hold meetings at home. In these meetings, by reading the Vachanamrut we are keeping the company of Shriji Maharaj and by reading the Swamini Vato we are keeping the company of Gunatitanand Swami. And thus we are fulfilling verse 36 of the Shikshapatri.
Because we hold sabhas at home does not mean we can abstain from visiting the mandir. We should still attend the weekly youth and kishore meetings arranged for us. If we do these things then we boost our Dr. Jekyll part, and at school or college we will not be influenced by bad company. At the same time we would also progress in Satsang, and more importantly, please our guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
We have seen what bad company can do. Now we have to decide, do we want the good Dr. Jekyll or the bad Mr. Hyde within us to flourish?