Sri Ramakrishna would often extol the power of the company of the holy. He would say that holy company is capable of taking one very high in the ladder of spirituality. To illustrate the idea he used to narrate a story from the Puranas.
Uma, the mother of the universe incarnated herself as the daughter of Himalaya as a result of the intense penance of the latter. Slowly, Himalaya understood the supremely spiritual nature of his daughter and wanted to seek her help in his spiritual quest. He was a sincere sadhaka and was practicing various austerities with the highest goal of human life in view.
He entreated his daughter to bless him in his spiritual quest. She blessed him with the vision of the various manifestations of the omnipresent Mother. But, all these were in the realm of dwaita or duality. Although he was immensely happy, Himalaya wanted to progress further.
So, Giriraj, the king of mountains, asked her to grant him the knowledge of Brahman. But, Uma, who loved her father dearly, was not ready to grant the boon. She said, Oh Father, if you wish to realise Brahman, you must live in the company of the holy, i.e., men who are fully established in tyaga or renunciation and have given up the world altogether.
Thus Sri Ramakrishna would say that while it is easy to climb the lower rungs of the ladder of spirituality, the task becomes more and more difficult as one goes up. To scale greater heights the company of the holy is essential. This is because the highest knowledge of Brahman is the same as attaining immortality, which cannot be gained without tyaga or renunciation. But, the company of the holy, i.e. those who are already established in tyaga is extremely essential for the sadhaka to acquire the spirit of tyaga. Thus the company of the holy has been given a very high place in spiritual striving.
-by Swami Shantatmananda, Sunday Guardian, 22nd Mar 2014