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ata atyantikam ksemam
prcchamo bhavato ’naghah
samsare ’smin ksanardho ’pi
sat-sangah sevadhir nrnam
Translation by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada:
Therefore, O completely sinless ones, I ask you to kindly tell me what the supreme good is. After all, even half a moment’s association with pure devotees within this world of birth and death is a priceless treasure for any man.
Purport by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada:
The word sevadhih, or “a great treasure,” is significant in this verse. Just as an ordinary man is overjoyed to discover an unexpected treasure, one who is actually intelligent is overjoyed to gain the association of a pure devotee of the Lord, by which one’s life can easily be perfected. According to Srila Jiva Gosvami the words atyantikam ksemam, or “the supreme good,” indicate that situation in which one cannot be touched by even the slightest fear. Now we are entangled in the cycle of birth, old age, disease and death (samsare). Because our entire situation can be devastated in a single moment, we are constantly in fear. But the pure devotees of the Lord can teach us the practical way to free ourselves from material existence and thus to abolish all types of fear.
According to Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, normal etiquette would dictate that a host immediately ask a guest who has arrived about his well-being. But such an inquiry is unsuitable to place before self-satisfied devotees of the Lord, who are themselves the bestowers of all well-being. According to Srila Visvanatha, the King knew that it would be useless to ask the sages about their business affairs, since the only business of the pure devotees of the Lord is the achievement of the supreme goal of life. According to Bhagavad-gita, the goal of life is to free oneself from the cycle of birth and death and reinstate oneself as an eternal servant of God on the platform of spiritual bliss. Pure devotees of the Lord do not waste their time with ordinary mundane affairs. Sometimes foolish relatives of a Vaisnava preacher lament that such a transcendental preacher has not used his life for material business and that so much money has therefore been lost by the practice of spiritual life. Such ignorant persons cannot imagine the unlimited prosperity available on the spiritual platform to those who have surrendered heart and soul to the mission of the Lord. King Nimi was himself a learned Vaisnava, and therefore he did not foolishly ask the sages about ordinary worldly affairs. He immediately inquired about atyantikam ksemam, the highest, most perfect goal of life.
According to Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, the word anaghah, “O sinless ones,” has two meanings. Anaghah indicates that the nine Yogendras were themselves completely free of sins. It also indicates that merely by the great fortune of seeing them and hearing from them submissively, an ordinary, sinful man could also be freed of his sins and achieve everything he desired.
One might object that since the great sages had just arrived, the King should not have been so impatient as to inquire from them about the perfection of life. Perhaps the King should have waited until the sages themselves invited his inquiry. Such a hypothetical objection is answered by the words ksanardho ’pi. Even a single moment’s association with pure devotees, or even half a moment’s association, is sufficient to give one the perfection of life. An ordinary person who is offered a great treasure will immediately desire to claim such a treasure. Similarly, King Nimi was thinking, “Why should I consider myself fortunate enough to have such great sages stay here for a long time? Because I am an ordinary person, undoubtedly you will soon be leaving. Therefore, let me immediately take advantage of your holy association.”
According to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, in this world there are different varieties of mercy. But ordinary mercy cannot bring about the cessation of all unhappiness. In other words, there are many humanitarians, altruists and social reformers who certainly work for the betterment of humanity. Such persons are universally considered merciful. But in spite of their mercy, humanity continues to suffer in the grip of birth, old age, disease and death. I may distribute free food to the needy, but even after eating my merciful gift, the recipient will again become hungry, or he will suffer in some other way. In other words, by mere humanitarianism or altruism, people do not actually become free from unhappiness. Their unhappiness is merely postponed or altered. King Nimi was joyful upon seeing the nava-yogendras because he knew that they were eternally perfect associates of the Supreme Lord. Therefore he thought, “You are not prone to sinful activities like unfortunate mundane people such as me. Thus the words you speak carry no deception or exploitation.”
The materially conditioned souls spend their days and nights discussing various topics of sense gratification. They never find time to hear about transcendental knowledge. But if even only briefly or accidentally they hear hari-katha, topics of Krsna, in the association of pure devotees of the Lord, their propensity to suffer in material existence will slacken. When one sees liberated persons, hears about Krsna from them, remembers their saintly behavior and so on, one’s tendency to bind himself in the illusion of sense gratification is diminished, and he becomes eager to serve the Supreme Lord.