As we go through the biographies of great souls, we find that whenever the supremely benevolent have incarnated on earth, slanderers have left no stone unturned in maligning them.
The intellect becomes mean with the association of slanderers but remains stable in the association of equals and becomes superior with the association of those who are superior to us. You reap fruits according to the kind of company you keep. Therefore, you should always be careful in selecting the company you keep.
Long ago, there lived a man named Chajju Bhakta in Lahore. One day he was with his friends when a fruit vendor down the lane shouted, “Acche san ... tare, acche san ... tare ... (buy good oranges)” Chajju Bhakta asked his companions, “Do you hear what that man is saying?” They said: “He is selling santaras (oranges) Bhaktaji!” Bhaktaji said, “You did not understand. Listen carefully, he is saying. ‘Acche sang...tare (good company redeems).’ He is saying that those who associate themselves with good people are redeemed, while those who fall into bad company meet with destruction.”
Bhaktaji told a story to illustrate this: A crow and a swan had become friends. One day the crow took the swan to its house and made him sit on a dry and wilted Babool tree. The place stank of dung, flesh and bones that were scattered all around.
The swan said, “Brother! I cannot stay in such a dirty place, even for a moment. If you know of any pious place, you take me there.”
The crow then took him to the secret grove of the king and made him sit on the tree, and then sat near him. Beneath the tree he was resting. As the swan looked down, he saw the king sitting under the tree with his head exposed to the sun. A swan is kind by nature, and out of compassion it spread out its wings to provide shade to the king who felt some relief from the sun. A crow, however, is uncaring by nature. So it dropped its excreta on the king’s head. The king shot an arrow upwards which brought the swan down, while the crow flew off quickly. The dying swan said: “O King! I am not the crow that dropped the excreta. I am the swan that lives in pure water, but due to the company of the mean crow, my life has been ruined.”
In the Sundara Kandam, Section 45.4 of the Sri Ramacharitamanasa, Rama says to Vibhishana, “May providence keep us from the company of the wicked! It would be better, O respected one, to live in hell.” (Because the company of the evil leads to the cycle of birth and death and repeated relegation to hells.)
Evil company destroys good virtues and is feared by those who recognise this truth. All scriptures and great souls have taught the jiva with great emphasis on the importance of staying clear of bad company. Bad company leads one to degeneration very quickly. For example, one has to make great efforts to climb a tree, but there is no effort required in falling down. Similarly, one has to make great efforts to attain spiritual power and earn the wealth of sadhana; but all our efforts carried out for over a long period of time will come to naught in a moment by keeping the company of slanderers.
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