We can enter a most intimate form of service to God by responding to His call for friendship.

In Srimad-Bhagavatam, the devotee Prahlada Maharaja, a great spiritual authority, says, "Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Visnu [Krsna], remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind, and words) these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krsna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge." Here we continue our series on the nine processes of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to the Lord.

TWO MEN SIT in front of the television together watching a football game. The volume's turned way up, and they're eating and drinking and shouting till their throats ache. This goes on for hours. When it's all over, they slap each other on the back as if to say, "We really showed 'em, friend!"

In another part of town, two women sit knee-to-knee at a restaurant table. They talk to each other with an intensity that forbids even the interruption of an eye blink voices lowered and heads nodding and fingers restless on napkins and forks. They discuss the details of their lives, letting their problems tumble over the empathy of the other until each burden is affirmed and appreciated. In the end, they stand and embrace, saying without words, "You're not alone, my friend!"

Meanwhile, two kids on the corner kick a ball against a wall, sounding off on the inanity of teachers and other useless adults. The ball bounds back against nearly identical pairs of Nike-clad feet, in a syncopated rhythm countering the music blaring from a boom box. The kids agree passionately on the major unfairnesses of life, which chafe against their hearts and minds like physical restraints. After a while, they drift apart, waving to each other with that kidlike nonchalance that says, "Stand fast, friend!"

Three kinds of friendship. Stereotypical, twodimensional exchanges of the kind we can all recall. As the influence of the media forces itself on collective global consciousness, the rituals of friendship begin to seem like commodities sold by Hallmark and Budweiser. Friends gathered around the bar. Running side-by-side through the park. Meeting for lunch in a trendy restaurant. These images define for us how friends ought to behave.

So when I tell you that the eighth process of devotional service is sakhyam, or friendship with the Lord, you might feel that smacks of presumption. How could devotional service to God have any elements in common with this most carefree form of relationship? Isn't the comfort of friendship the security of warts-and-all companionship? Fed as we are on the conditioning of materialistic friendship, we can hardly imagine offering such grimy intimacy to the Supreme Lord.

Let's think for a moment, though, about our spiritual selves, rather than our external image. We are by nature sentient spiritual beings entrapped in a material mind and body. Generally, we see as worth pursuing things that please our minds or bodies, if even momentarily. From the spiritual perspective, these pleasures the euphoria of winning, the thrill of a compliment are trivial. After all, what real benefit have we accomplished when someone admires our new car? But because we're so caught up in misidentifying with our material mind and body, we take transient pleasures to heart.

This is the terrain of material friendships. It solidifies our sense of belonging, though none of us belongs here at all. It validates emotions normal only to those who have forgotten their spiritual identity. It allows us to share temporal experiences in a temporal world, experiences that distract us from the inevitability of separation and death.

From this point of view, the friendships described earlier are most pleasurable when the soul is unaware of its identity apart from the material mind and body. But as soon as the spiritual entity increases awareness of its distinct nature, the casual rituals of material friendship grow unappealing. Most material friendships depend on some sense of "us and them" for adhesion. When we start realizing that spiritually we have only a transient connection to the body, all the designations of the body, such as age, gender, favorite team, or even religious affiliation, start to lose significance. On a spiritual level, there is no "them"; we're all spiritual entities struggling to make sense of our material condition.

So much for material friendship. But seeing spiritually and recognizing that I'm connected to all living beings might leave me feeling lonely. On the spiritual platform, how do I interact with others in a meaningful way?

Think about the aim of material friendship: to increase the pleasures of the material body and mind. But spiritual friendship aims to increase the spiritual pleasure of the soul. The soul is by nature joyful. So we don't need to contrive activities to share, but discover the activities that come naturally to the soul devoid of material interference. Those activities are familiar to readers of Back to Godhead, being the components of devotional service. Hearing about the glories of the Lord, reciting those glories, praying to Him, serving His purpose all these are well described in these pages as well as in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. Spiritual friendship is sealed when someone can reach through our material disguise to our true self, the soul thirsting for the eternal service of the Supreme Lord.

But isn't sakhyam supposed to be an offering of friendship to the Lord personally? If it's a stretch to form a spiritual friendship with another spirit soul, encumbered as we are by the trappings of material mind and body, what friendship could a hapless conditioned soul offer God?

Eternal Friends

Just as the body we see and feel around us now is temporal and aberrant, so also is the material world. But there is another world, composed exclusively of spiritual energy, in which everything is sentient and full of love for Lord Krsna. Even the blades of grass there have a vibrant relationship with the Lord, who spends His days taking care of His cows and playing with His friends. Think of those friendships! Krsna's friends chase Him in their games, massage His legs when He rests, and toss Him sweets in their food lights. Their love for Lord Krsna is so complete that they are blind to His divinity and only know how much they love their very wonderful friend.

Srila Rupa Gosvami cites Arjuna as the example of a devotee who achieved perfection through friendship with the Lord. Krsna and Arjuna were so close that they would share the same bed, so familiar that Arjuna asked Krsna to drive his chariot into battle for him, hardly a request you would make of the Supreme Lord. And yet, when Arjuna became confused as he faced his relatives on the battlefield, he turned to his friend and chariot-driver for help. Because Arjuna had such a friendly rapport with the Lord, his turning to Krsna for instruction was a shift in the relationship. This was the setting for the Bhagavad-gita, wherein Krsna reveals His magnificent universal form to His friend Arjuna. Aghast, Arjuna stammers out an apology. "I have in the past addressed You as 'O Krsna,' 'O Yadava,' 'O my friend,' without knowing Your glories. Please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love." (Bg. 11.41)

In his purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada writes:

Although Krsna is manifested before Arjuna in His universal form, Arjuna remembers his friendly relationship with Krsna and is therefore asking pardon and requesting Him to excuse him for the many informal gestures which arise out of friendship. He is admitting that formerly he did not know that Krsna could assume such a universal form, although Krsna explained it as his intimate friend. Arjuna did not know how many times he may have dishonored Him by addressing Him as "O my friend," "O Krsna," "O Yadava," etc., without acknowledging His opulence. But Krsna is so kind and merciful that in spite of such opulence He played with Arjuna as a friend. Such is the transcendental loving reciprocation between the devotee and the Lord. The relationship between the living entity and Krsna is fixed eternally; it cannot be forgotten, as we can see from the behavior of Arjuna. Although Arjuna has seen the opulence in the universal form, he could not forget his friendly relationship with Krsna.

Like all other processes of devotional service, sakhyam is both a means to purify the heart and an activity of the purified soul. Completely pure souls in the spiritual world enjoy a friendship with Krsna because they have no desire for anything else. We are unable to act with this full spiritual consciousness as yet, but that does not mean that we have no means of friendship with the Lord. After all, who is still with you when the restaurants close, when the mind begins to fail, when you leave the body at death? It is the Lord, Krsna, who is with you always. Now that's a friend! Recognizing that the Lord has already extended Himself to you, it's left to you to reciprocate His friendship.

Dvarakadhisa Devi Dasi, a longtime BTG contributor, has a Master's degree in library science and works as a librarian for the Alachua County [Florida] Library District.

A Pause For Prayer

THE living being caught in the cycle of birth and death does not know how he can be delivered from the material body, which brings him so much trouble. But You, the Supreme Lord, descend to this world in various personal forms, and by performing Your pastimes You illumine the soul's path with the blazing torch of Your fame. Therefore I surrender unto You.

Sri Narada Muni to Lord Krsna,Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.70.39