nīco ’pi yat-prasādāt syād
I offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, by whose mercy even a person in the lowest status of life can find direction in transcendental devotional service to the Lord.
After Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu accepted the renounced order of life (sannyāsa), He traveled all over India. During this period He went to Maldah, a district in Bengal. In that area there was a village named Rāmakeli, where two government ministers of the Nawab Hussain Shah’s regime lived. These two ministers, who were brothers, were named Dabira Khāsa and Sākara Mallika; later they were renamed Rūpa Gosvāmī and Sanātana Gosvāmī, respectively. They had a chance to meet Lord Caitanya, and afterward they decided to retire from government service and join His saṅkīrtana movement.
Upon making this decision, the two brothers at once took steps to leave their material engagements, and they appointed two learned brāhmaṇas to perform certain Vedic religious rituals that would enable them to achieve complete freedom for the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa. These preliminary ritualistic functions are known as puraścaryā. They require that three times a day one worship and offer respects to one’s forefathers, offer oblations to a fire, and respectfully offer food to a learned brāhmaṇa. Five items – the time, the worship, the offering of respect, the offering of oblations into the fire, and the offering of food to a brāhmaṇa – constitute puraścaryā. These and other rituals are mentioned in the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, an authoritative book of directions for Vaiṣṇavas.
After arranging for the performance of these religious rituals, the younger brother, Dabira Khāsa (Rūpa Gosvāmī), returned home with an immense amount of money, which he had acquired during his government service. The silver and gold coins he brought back filled a large boat. After arriving home, he first divided the accumulated wealth in half and distributed one part to the brāhmaṇas and Vaiṣṇavas. Thus for the satisfaction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he distributed fifty percent of his accumulated wealth to persons engaged in the Supreme Lord’s transcendental loving service. Brāhmaṇas are meant to understand the Absolute Truth, and once they understand the Absolute Truth and actually engage in the loving service of the Lord, they are known as Vaiṣṇavas. Both brāhmaṇasand Vaiṣṇavas are supposed to fully engage in transcendental service, and Rūpa Gosvāmī, considering their important transcendental position, gave them fifty percent of his wealth. The balance he again divided in half: one part he distributed to his relatives and dependent family members, and the other he kept for personal emergencies.
Such distribution of personal wealth is very instructive for all who desire to be elevated in spiritual knowledge. Generally a person bequeaths all his accumulated wealth to his family members and then retires from family activities to make progress in spiritual knowledge. But here we find the behavior of Rūpa Gosvāmī to be exemplary: he gave fifty percent of his wealth for spiritual purposes. This should serve as an example for everyone. The twenty-five percent of his accumulated wealth he kept for personal emergencies was deposited with a Bengali grocer, since in those days there were no banks. Ten thousand coins were deposited for expenditures to be incurred by his elder brother, Sanātana Gosvāmī.
At this time Rūpa Gosvāmī received information that Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu was preparing to go to Vṛndāvana from Jagannātha Purī. Rūpa Gosvāmī sent two messengers to get actual information of the Lord’s itinerary, and he made his own plans to go to Mathurā to meet the Lord. It appears that Rūpa Gosvāmī got permission to join Lord Caitanya, but Sanātana Gosvāmī did not. Therefore Sanātana Gosvāmī entrusted the responsibilities of his government service to his immediate assistants, and he remained at home to study Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. He engaged ten or twenty learned brāhmaṇas and began an intensive study of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in their company. While he was thus engaged, he submitted sick-leave reports to his employer, the Nawab. But the ruler was so anxious for Sanātana Gosvāmī’s advice in government matters that one day he suddenly appeared at his house. When the Nawab entered the room where Sanātana Gosvāmī and the brāhmaṇas were assembled, out of respect they all stood up to receive him, and they offered him a place to sit.
“You have submitted sick reports,” the Nawab told Sanātana Gosvāmī, “but I sent my physician to see you, and he reported that you have no illness at all. Since I did not know why you were submitting sick reports and not attending to your service, I have personally come to see you. I am much perturbed by your behavior. As you know, I completely depend on you and your responsible work in government. I was free to act in other matters because I was depending on you, but if you do not join me, your past devotion will be spoiled. Now, what is your intention? Please tell me.”
On hearing this, Sanātana Gosvāmī replied that he was unable to work anymore and that it would be very kind of the Nawab to appoint someone else to execute the work that had been entrusted to him. At this the Nawab became very angry and said, “Your elder brother lives like a hunter, and if you retire from the administration, everything will be finished.” It was said that the Nawab used to treat Sanātana Gosvāmī like a younger brother. Since the Nawab was principally engaged in conquering different parts of the country and also in hunting, he depended largely on Sanātana Gosvāmī for government administration. Thus he pleaded with him: “If you retire from government service, how will the administration be run?”
“You are the governor of Gauḍa,” Sanātana Gosvāmī replied very gravely, “and you punish different kinds of criminals in different ways. So you are at liberty to punish anyone according to his activity.” By this reply Sanātana Gosvāmī indicated that since the governor was engaged in hunting animals and in killing men to expand his kingdom, let both of them suffer according to the acts they were performing. The Nawab, being intelligent, understood Sanātana Gosvāmī’s purport. He left the house in an angry mood, and shortly afterward he went off to conquer Orissa. He ordered the arrest of Sanātana Gosvāmī and commanded that he be held until the Nawab returned.
When Rūpa Gosvāmī learned that the Nawab had arrested his elder brother Sanātana, Rūpa sent Sanātana a message that he could use the ten thousand coins in the care of the Bengali grocer to secure his release from the Nawab’s detention. Having sent this message, Rūpa departed for Vṛndāvana with his younger brother Vallabha to meet Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
After receiving Rūpa Gosvāmī’s message, Sanātana offered five thousand of the coins to the keeper of the jail in which he was being held in custody. He advised the jailkeeper to gladly accept the five thousand coins from him and let him go because by accepting the money he would not only be materially benefited but would also be acting very righteously by freeing Sanātana for spiritual purposes.
“Of course I would like to let you go,” the jailkeeper replied, “for you have done many services for me and you are in government service. But I’m afraid of the Nawab. When he hears that you are free, I’ll have to explain everything to him. How can I accept such a proposal?” Sanātana then invented a story the jailkeeper might submit to the Nawab to explain how he had escaped, and he raised his offer to ten thousand coins. Anxious to get the money, the jailkeeper agreed to the proposition and let him go.
Sanātana then departed to see the Lord. He did not travel on the open road but went through the jungles until he arrived at a place in Bihar called Pātaḍā. There he rested in a hotel, but the hotelkeeper was informed by an astrologer employed there that Sanātana Gosvāmī had some gold coins with him. The hotelkeeper, wanting to steal the money, spoke to Sanātana with superficial respect: “Just take your rest tonight, and in the morning I shall arrange for you to get out of this jungle trap.”
However, Sanātana was suspicious of his behavior, and he inquired from his servant Īśāna whether he had some money. Īśāna told him that he had seven gold coins. Sanātana did not like the idea of the servant carrying such money. He became angry with him and said, “Why do you carry this death knell on the road?”
Sanātana at once took the gold coins and offered them to the hotelkeeper. He then requested the hotelkeeper to help him through the jungle. Sanātana informed him that he was on a special journey for the government and that since he could not travel on the open road, it would be very kind of the hotelkeeper to help him through the jungle and over the hills.
The hotelkeeper replied, “I learned that you had eight coins with you, and I was thinking of killing you to take them. But I can understand that you are a very good man, and so you don’t have to offer me the money. I will get you over this hilly tract of land.”
“If you don’t accept these coins, then someone else will take them from me,” Sanātana replied. “Someone will kill me for them, so it is better that you take them. I offer them to you.” The hotelkeeper then gave him full assistance, and that very night he helped him get past the hills.
When Sanātana emerged from the hills, he requested his servant to go home with the one coin he still had with him, for Sanātana decided he would go on alone. After the departure of his servant, Sanātana felt completely free. With torn clothing and with a waterpot in his hand, he proceeded toward Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu. On the way he met his rich brother-in-law, who was also in the government service and who offered him an excellent blanket, which Sanātana accepted at his special request. Then he departed from him and went on alone to see Caitanya Mahāprabhu at Benares.
When he reached Benares, Sanātana learned that the Lord was there, and he became overjoyed. He was informed by the people that the Lord was staying at the house of Candraśekhara, and Sanātana went there. Although Caitanya Mahāprabhu was inside the house, He could understand that Sanātana had arrived at the door, and He asked Candraśekhara to call in the man who was sitting there. “He is a Vaiṣṇava, a great devotee of the Lord,” Caitanya Mahāprabhu said. Candraśekhara came out to see the man, but he saw no Vaiṣṇava at the door. He saw only a man who appeared to be a Muslim mendicant. The Lord then asked to see the mendicant, and when Sanātana entered the courtyard, Lord Caitanya hurriedly came out to receive him and embrace him. When the Lord embraced him, Sanātana became overwhelmed with spiritual ecstasy, and he said, “My dear Lord, please do not touch me.” But they embraced each other and began to cry. Seeing Sanātana and Lord Caitanya acting thus, Candraśekhara was struck with wonder. Caitanya Mahāprabhu then asked Sanātana to sit down with Him on a bench. The Lord was touching the body of Sanātana with His hand, and again Sanātana asked Him, “My dear Lord, please do not touch me.”
“I am touching you just for My purification,” the Lord replied, “for you are a great devotee. By your devotional service you can deliver the whole universe and enable everyone to go back to Godhead.”
The Lord then quoted a nice verse from the Vedic literature stating that a person who is a devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa and is one hundred percent engaged in devotional service is far better than a brāhmaṇa who is versed in all the Vedic literatures but who does not engage in the devotional service of the Lord. Because the devotee carries the Supreme Lord within his heart, he can purify every place and everything.
The Vedic literature also states that the Supreme Personality of Godhead does not recognize a nondevotee who is very learned in all the divisions of the Vedas but He likes a devotee even if he was born in a low family. If one offers charity to a brāhmaṇa who is not a devotee, the Lord does not accept it; but if something is offered to a devotee, the Lord accepts. In other words, whatever a person wishes to offer the Lord may be given to His devotees. Caitanya Mahāprabhu also quoted Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to the effect that even if a brāhmaṇa was born in a high family and is qualified with the twelve brahminical qualities, he is lower than the lowest of the low if he is not a devotee of the Supreme Lord. Although a devotee may have been born in a caṇḍāla (dog-eater) family, by devotional service he can purify his whole family for one hundred generations, past and future, whereas a proud brāhmaṇa cannot purify even himself. Lord Caitanya then said to Sanātana, quoting the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (13.2):
tanoḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-gātra-saṅgaḥ
jihvā-phalaṁ tvādṛśa-kīrtanaṁ hi
su-durlabhā bhāgavatā hi loke
“O devotee of the Lord, to see you is the perfection of the eyes, to touch your body is the perfection of bodily activities, and to glorify your qualities is the perfection of the tongue, for it is very rare to find a pure devotee like you.”
Next the Lord told Sanātana, “Kṛṣṇa is very merciful and is the deliverer of fallen souls. He has saved you from Mahāraurava.” Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describes Mahāraurava as a hell meant for persons engaged in killing animals, for it is stated there that butchers and animal eaters go to that hell.
“I do not know the mercy of Kṛṣṇa,” Sanātana replied, “but I can understand that Your mercy upon me is causeless. You have delivered me from the entanglement of material life.”
Then the Lord asked, “How did you get free from custody? I understand that you were arrested.” Sanātana then narrated the whole story of his release. The Lord then informed him: “I saw your two brothers and advised them to proceed toward Vṛndāvana.”
Lord Caitanya then introduced Candraśekhara and Tapana Miśra to Sanātana, and Tapana Miśra pleasantly invited Sanātana to dine with him. The Lord requested Candraśekhara to take Sanātana to a barber and make him “gentle,” for Sanātana had grown a long beard, which Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu did not like. He asked Candraśekhara to provide Sanātana not only with a bath and clean shave but with a change of clothes as well.
After Sanātana had bathed, Candraśekhara offered him some good cloth. When Lord Caitanya was informed that Sanātana had not accepted the new garments but later accepted only some used garments from Tapana Miśra, He was very glad. The Lord went to Tapana Miśra’s house for lunch and asked him to keep food for Sanātana. Tapana Miśra did not offer Sanātana food immediately, however, but after the Lord had finished eating there were some remnants of His food, and those remnants were offered to Sanātana while the Lord took His rest.
After resting, Lord Caitanya introduced a Maharashtriyan brāhmaṇa, a devotee of His, to Sanātana, and that brāhmaṇa invited Sanātana to accept lunch daily at his place as long as he remained in Benares.
“As long as I remain in Benares, I will beg from door to door,” Sanātana said. “But the Lord will be so good as to accept this invitation for daily lunch at your house.”
Lord Caitanya was very much pleased by this behavior of Sanātana’s, but He noticed the valuable blanket that had been given to him by his brother-in-law while Sanātana was en route to Benares. Although Lord Caitanya did not say anything about the blanket, Sanātana understood that He did not approve of such a valuable garment on his body, and therefore Sanātana decided to get rid of it. He immediately went to the bank of the Ganges, and there he saw a mendicant washing an old quilt. When Sanātana asked him to trade the old quilt for the valuable blanket, the poor mendicant thought that Sanātana was joking with him. “How is this?” the mendicant replied. “You appear to be a very nice gentleman, but you are mocking me in this unmannerly way.”
“I am not joking with you,” Sanātana informed him. “I am very serious. Will you kindly exchange your torn quilt for this blanket?” Finally the mendicant exchanged his torn quilt for the blanket, and Sanātana returned to the Lord.
“Where is your valuable blanket?” the Lord immediately inquired. Sanātana informed Him about the exchange, and the Lord loved him for this and thanked him. “You are intelligent enough, and you have now exhausted all your attraction for material wealth.” In other words, the Lord accepts a person for devotional service only when he is completely free from all material possessions. The Lord then told Sanātana: “It would not look good for you to be a mendicant and beg from door to door with such a valuable blanket on your body. It is contradictory, and people would look on it with abhorrence.”
“Whatever I am doing to become free from material attachment is all Your mercy,” Sanātana replied. The Lord was very much pleased with him, and they discussed spiritual advancement.
Previous to this meeting between Lord Caitanya and Sanātana Gosvāmī, the Lord had met a householder devotee named Rāmānanda Rāya. At that meeting, which is discussed in a later chapter, Lord Caitanya asked Rāmānanda Rāya questions, and Rāmānanda replied as if he were the Lord’s teacher. However, in this case Sanātana put questions to the Lord, and the Lord answered them.
The instructions of Lord Caitanya to Sanātana Gosvāmī are very important for people in general. The Lord taught him the process of devotional service, which is the constitutional occupation of every living entity. Because this is so, it is every man’s duty to advance in spiritual science. Many subjects were thoroughly discussed in the talks between Lord Caitanya and Sanātana Gosvāmī. Due to the mercy of Lord Caitanya, Sanātana was able to put important questions before Him, and these questions were replied to properly.
The meeting of Sanātana Gosvāmī and Lord Caitanya teaches us that to understand spiritual subject matters one must approach a spiritual master like Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu and make submissive inquiries. This is confirmed in the instructions of the Bhagavad-gītā (4.34), where Lord Kṛṣṇa says that one should approach a man of authority and learn the spiritual science from him.
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