After a long day in his workshop, Lalji only wanted to spend time with his friend. Every evening, he would walk for more than an hour to a Shiv mandir. There, he would meet his friend Mulji and they would talk all night about their daily struggles, their hopes and dreams, the nature of the world and their deep desire to attain God. It was a friendship based on mutual growth and support.
Many years passed. As Mulji and Lalji grew, so did their shared life goals and conviction. When they met Shriji Maharaj, their inner yearnings bore fruit and they both renounced the world. Mulji Sharma became Gunatitanand Swami and Lalji Suthar became Nishkulanand Swami. And so their friendship continued.
Perhaps Gunatitanand Swami was reflecting on this friendship when he said, “Two people with the same inclination are equal to thousands and hundreds of thousands. Without this, know that even if we are thousands and hundreds of thousands, we are alone” (Swamini Vato: 1.334).
In our quest to succeed in our school, career, families, and satsang, we must surround ourselves with friends who share our inclination. It is through this power that we can do the work of hundreds of thousands. Like Lalji, we need a Mulji in our lives.
Each conversation and interaction shapes us subtly to determine the destiny of our lives. It is said, “Sang evo rang” – You are the company you keep. Scientists and thinkers in the Western world say, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
This translates into real world differences. In a study of 147 students in high school, researchers tried to understand the impact our social circle has on our grades. They discovered a very interesting trend: if your friends have higher grades, you will work harder to raise your grades as well. On the other hand, they also found that if your friends have lower grades, your grades will start to decline as well.
Similarly, researchers at Harvard wanted to understand the impact of friends on our health and lives. They tracked a group of people over three decades and found that having even one obese friend shoots up our own risk of becoming overweight by more than 50%! This means a lower life expectancy, higher chances of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
One would think that genetics or family history would matter more when it comes to obesity. Or that our grades are determined by the schools we go to, the tutors and teachers we have and our past performance. Yet, this research shows us that it is our friends that make a deeper impact in our lives. Their negative habits, attitudes and results start seeping into our life if we aren’t vigilant of their impact on us.
The research above proves Gunatitanand Swami’s words about how deeply the wrong company can affect us. Our friends change us more than we think, and they influence not only our academics, career and health, but also our relationships and spirituality.
Shriji Maharaj understands the tremendous impact our friends can have in our lives. He warns us to stay away from those who take us away from our niyams and upasana.
We must become conscious of the impact our friends make in our lives: in our studies, careers, relationship and spirituality. We must ask ourselves if their impact on our lives is positive or negative.
This line of questioning isn’t meant to add a clinical detachment to our friendships. It means to pursue these relationships with intent. It isn’t meant to remove the joy we get from friends, but rather to make us understand what sort of person we are becoming when surrounding ourselves with others.
Conscious friendships happen when we choose to share our values with others openly and with courage. We have to be determined in following our niyams and our life goals. This may seem difficult at first, because we do not want to appear ‘weird’ in front of others. But most often, our fears are misguided. People are more accepting than we think. This was the experience of a yuvak from USA who chose to make friends with intent and purpose.
Nisarg from Chicago had recently joined satsang and decided to do the tilak-chandlo to college. He was nervous about how his friends would react. He decided the best place to announce this decision would be on Facebook. He wrote a post and tagged all his friends explaining that he was making a change in his life and he needed their support. Privately, he felt that many of his friends would stop associating with him. He prayed, posted the message and hoped for the best.
Over the next few days, instead of receiving criticism, he received an overwhelming amount of support and praise. His friends became very curious about how this change came about in his life. So, Nisarg decided to invite all his friends, Indian and non-Indian, to his birthday party – at the mandir.
He gave them a tour of the mandir and exhibition, explaining to them the roots of our culture. He even had a cake-cutting ceremony and dinner in the haveli. Throughout this entire process, he was surprised that he was met with curiosity and openness. He created lasting friendships by expressing his values openly and surrounding himself with positive people cheering his success. At graduation, Nisarg proudly wore the tilak-chandlo as he gave the class graduation speech about Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life motto ‘In the Joy of Others’ and how it had transformed his life.
His story teaches us to lead with our values courageously. On the other hand, we may have tried to explain our goals and beliefs but may have been met with a discouraging response. Perhaps our peers ridiculed us, or downright guilted or shamed us. Since we now understand just how deeply our friends can affect our lives, we can interact with them with the purpose of mutual growth.
We spend our lives thinking mostly about big decisions, but forget that small decisions matter just as much. Where to go to school, what to study, or where to work are important questions that define the starting lines. Yet, it’s the simple ways we live our lives with our friends that determines how we fare on the journey.
We can choose to spend more time with supportive friends, even if their beliefs and goals differ. This may also be a great opportunity to call swamis, speak with fellow kishores and karyakars, and perhaps even write to Mahant Swami Maharaj – our eternal friend.
He is, after all, the pragat form of Mulji.