Persons who cultivate knowledge for liberation are of three kinds: those who simply desire liberation, those who are liberated already, even while in this material existence, and those who are actually self-realized. There are many persons in this world who desire liberation, and sometimes they engage in devotional service for this purpose. It is corroborated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.26) that those who actually desire liberation give up all kinds of demigod worship and, without envy, concentrate their minds in the worship of Nārāyaṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When such persons come in contact with a pure devotee, they engage in the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa and give up the idea of liberation. A verse in the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya states:
- aho mahātman bahu-doṣa-duṣṭo
- ’py ekena bhāty eṣa bhavo guṇena
- sat-saṅgamākhyena sukhāvahena
- kṛtādya no yena kṛśā mumukṣā
“O great soul, although there are many flaws within this miserable life, there is yet one glory—the association of pure devotees. Cultivate such association. By it our desire for liberation diminishes.”
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.2.37) it is stated that man’s fear is due to his material conception of life and to his forgetting his eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord. Consequently he finds himself having only perverted memories. This occurs due to the spell of material energy. One who has sufficient intelligence will engage in full devotional service and regard the Supreme Lord as his spiritual master and worshipable God. The conclusion is that no one can attain a revolution in consciousness without engaging in devotional service to the Lord. When one is actually free from material contamination, he can fully engage himself in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.14.4) it is clearly said that one who engages in spiritual life to understand things as they are but who lacks all intention of engaging in Kṛṣṇa consciousness simply achieves trouble for his undertaking. There is no substance to his life. Every living entity is part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, and therefore it is the duty of every living entity to serve that supreme whole. Without such service, the living entity falls into material contamination.
Lord Caitanya concluded His teachings to Sanātana Gosvāmī by pointing out that the six kinds of ātmārāmas, or transcendentalists, engage in some kind of devotional service to Kṛṣṇa. In other words, at some time or another all the transcendentalists ultimately come to understand the necessity of rendering devotional service to Kṛṣṇa and become fully Kṛṣṇa conscious. Even if one is very learned or extravagant, he can still engage in the devotional service of the Lord.
The six kinds of transcendentalists are the neophyte transcendentalist, the absorbed transcendentalist, one who is situated in transcendence, one who desires liberation, one who is actually liberated, and one who is engaged in activities in his constitutional position. All of these are ātmārāmas. When a person becomes an ātmārāma, or a great thinker in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he fully engages in devotional service. According to the grammatical rules, there are many kinds of ātmārāmas, but one sense of the word is sufficient to represent the others. In the collective sense, all the ātmārāmas are inclined to worship the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa.
The mystic who worships the Supersoul within himself is also an ātmārāma. The ātmārāma yogīs are of two kinds: sagarbha and nigarbha. It is stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.2.8): “Some yogīs meditate within their heart on the localized Viṣṇu, who is four-handed and who holds four symbols: conch, disc, mace and lotus.” The yogī who thinks of the four-handed Viṣṇu becomes absorbed in devotional ecstasy and shows the symptoms of that state. Sometimes he cries, and sometimes he feels separation from the Lord. In this way he merges in transcendental bliss, resulting in his becoming entrapped like a fish.
The sagarbha and nigarbha yogīs can be further divided into three categories: the beginner, the advanced yogī, and he who has attained perfection. These yogīs are described in the Sixth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā. Those who are trying to ascend the path of mystic yoga are called ārurukṣu-yogīs, beginners. In ārurukṣu yoga, one practices various sitting postures and concentrates the mind. One ascends the path of yoga by means of meditation and detachment, and when one is no longer attached to working for sense gratification, he gradually becomes free. At that time he attains a state of ecstasy called yogārūḍha. If such a mystic yogī somehow or other comes in contact with a saintly person, he becomes a devotee of Kṛṣṇa.
The word urukrama has already been explained: it indicates the Supreme Lord. All the ātmārāmas are engaged in devotional service to Urukrama. Before engaging in devotional service, such transcendentalists are called śāntas, or pacified devotees.
The word ātmā, or self, is sometimes translated as “mind.” Sometimes mental speculators present philosophical theories in different ways, but when they come in contact with saintly persons engaged in devotional service, they also become devotees.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.87.18) describes the two classes of yogīs (sagarbha and nigarbha) as follows: “The yogīs begin their practice of yoga by worshiping the abdomen, and they try to concentrate their attention on their intestines. Gradually their meditation rises to the heart and they concentrate the mind there. Then they gradually direct their attention to the top of the head. One who can raise his meditation to that position is understood to have become perfect and to be no longer subject to birth and death.” Even such yogīs render causeless devotional service to the Lord when they come in contact with pure devotees.
The word ātmā also means “an endeavor.” In every practice there is some endeavor, and the ultimate endeavor is the endeavor to reach the highest perfectional stage of devotional service. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.5.18) it is stated that one should try to attain the highest goal, which cannot be attained either in the higher or lower planetary systems. The idea is that material happiness and misery are automatically available in all planetary systems in the course of time, but the highest achievement, devotional service, cannot be attained anywhere without endeavor. Therefore in the Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa it is said that one who is serious about understanding the highest perfectional stage of devotional service can become successful simply by his endeavor. One cannot attain the highest perfectional stage of devotional service without personal endeavor. As Kṛṣṇa states in the Bhagavad-gītā (10.10):
- teṣāṁ satata-yuktānāṁ bhajatāṁ prīti-pūrvakam
- dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ yena mām upayānti te
“To those who are constantly rendering devotional service to Me with love, I, who am situated in everyone’s heart, give the intelligence by which they can make undeterred progress in devotional activities.”
The word ātmā also means dhṛti, “patience and perseverance.” By patience and perseverance one can achieve the highest stage of devotional service.
As far as the word muni is concerned, there are additional meanings. The word also refers to a bird and a large black bee. Another meaning of the word nirgrantha is “a foolish person.” Thus even birds, bees and foolish people engage in the service of the Supreme Lord when they are favored by the pure devotee. Indeed, it is stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.21.14) that the birds in Vṛndāvana are devoted to the service of the Supreme Lord. It is also stated in the Bhāgavatam (10.15.6) that the black bees in Vṛndāvana always follow Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma. In that verse Śrī Kṛṣṇa describes to Balarāma the devotional service the bees were rendering unto Him (Lord Balarāma):
- ete ’linas tava yaśo ’khila-loka-tīrthaṁ
- gāyanta ādi-puruṣānupathaṁbhajante
- prāyo amī muni-gaṇā bhavadīya-mukhyā
- gūḍhaṁ vane ’pi na jahaty anaghātma-daivam
“O supremely virtuous one, O original Personality of Godhead, just see how these bees are following You, glorifying Your transcendental fame and thus worshiping You. Actually, these bees are not as they appear: they are great sages who are taking this opportunity to worship the Supreme Soul. Although You are not knowable by ordinary persons, they know You, and they are following and glorifying You.”
In the next verse in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.15.7) Kṛṣṇa describes the similar reception given to Balarāma by the peacocks and cuckoos of Vṛndāvana: “O worshipable one, just see how the peacocks returning to their nests are receiving You with full pleasure. These peacocks are just like the damsels of Vraja. The cuckoos on the branches of the trees are also receiving You in their own way. The residents of Vṛndāvana are so glorious that everyone is prepared to render devotional service to the Lord.” Another verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.35.11) describes a similar reception given to Kṛṣṇa by the birds of Vṛndāvana: “O just see how the cranes and swans on the water are singing the glories of the Lord! Indeed, they are standing in the water meditating on Him and worshiping Him.” It is stated elsewhere in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.4.18): “Even the aborigines and uncivilized human beings like Kirātas, Hūṇas, Āndhras, Pulindas, Pulkaśas, Ābhīras, Śumbhas, Yavanas and Khasas, as well as many other such human beings, can all be purified simply by taking shelter of the pure devotees.” Therefore Śukadeva Gosvāmī offered his respectful obeisances unto Lord Viṣṇu, whose devotees can work so wonderfully.
Another meaning of the word dhṛti is “to realize oneself as elevated.” In this state one feels that he is free from all miseries and is elevated to the highest platform of life. All devotees of Kṛṣṇa in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness are free from all kinds of material pleasures and miseries. They are fully absorbed in the service of the Lord, and they are always jolly by virtue of their engagement in His transcendental service. They are experienced men of happiness. Indeed, they are so happy that they do not even wish to be promoted to the spiritual planets, for they are happy in every sphere of life. Being fulfilled in the transcendental service of the Lord, they desire neither material objects nor material sense pleasures. As stated by the Six Gosvāmīs: “Persons whose senses are fixed in the service of the Supreme Lord can be called peaceful.”
Thus the word ātmārāma indicates that even birds, beasts and fools—in short, everyone—can become attracted by the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa, engage in His service and become liberated.
Still another meaning of ātmā is “intelligence.” One who has special intelligence is also called ātmārāma. The ātmārāmas with special intelligence are of two kinds. One is the learned sage, and the other is the fool without book knowledge. Both of these can have an opportunity to associate with a pure devotee. Even the foolish ātmārāmas can give up everything and engage in Kṛṣṇa consciousness in pure devotional service. In Bhagavad-gītā (10.8) it is said that the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa is the origin of everything—that everything emanates from Him—and that anyone who is actually intelligent understands this and engages in His service. A verse in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.7.46) states: “To say nothing of persons who are intelligent enough to study the Vedas, even less intelligent persons like women, laborers, Hūṇas and Śabaras, as well as the birds and beasts, can achieve the highest perfectional stage of life by engaging in the devotional service of the Lord.” As previously quoted, Bhagavad-gītā (10.10) also indicates that when a person becomes highly intelligent and engages in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Kṛṣṇa reciprocates by giving him the intelligence by which he can be promoted to the abode of the Supreme Lord.
The Lord then told Sanātana Gosvāmī that the association of good devotees, engagement in the transcendental service of the Lord, the understanding of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the chanting of the holy name of the Lord, and residence in a holy place like Vṛndāvana or Mathurā are all very important for elevation to the transcendental plane. One need not practice all five of these items; if one is expert in just one of them, he will, without fail, be elevated to the stage of love of Godhead. One who is actually intelligent gives up all material desires and engages in the transcendental service of Kṛṣṇa. The influence of devotional service is such that a person who engages in it gives up all material desires and becomes fully attached to Kṛṣṇa, being inspired by the transcendental qualities of the Lord. Such is the beauty of the Lord in the eyes of His devotee.
Another meaning of the word ātmā is “nature.” In this case the word ātmārāma indicates that everyone is enjoying the particular nature he has acquired. But the ultimate nature, the eternal nature of the living entity, is to serve the Supreme Lord. One who attains to the perfection of understanding his real nature—as eternal servant of the Lord—gives up his designative (material, or bodily) conception of life. That is real knowledge. Those who are in pursuit of knowledge and who get the opportunity to associate with a pure devotee also engage in the devotional service of the Lord. Sages like the Four Kumāras, as well as fools and birds, can engage in the Lord’s transcendental service. By being favored with Kṛṣṇa’s causeless mercy, anyone can be elevated to the platform of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
One who becomes attracted by the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa begins devotional service. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.15.8) Kṛṣṇa glorifies the land of Vṛndāvana as He addresses Balarāma in this way:
- dhanyeyam adya dharaṇī tṛṇa-vīrudhas tvat-
- pāda-spṛśo druma-latāḥ karajābhimṛṣṭāḥ
- nadyo ’drayaḥ khaga-mṛgāḥ sadayāvalokair
- gopyo ’ntareṇa bhujayor api yat-spṛhāśrīḥ
“This land of Vrajabhūmi is made glorious by the touch of Your feet. Being touched by Your fingers, the creepers have also become glorious. When You look on the hills, rivers and lower animals, they too are all made glorious, and the gopīs, being embraced by Your transcendental arms, are also made glorious.” The gopīs glorified Vṛndāvana in the following words: “Dear friends, all these inhabitants of Vrajabhūmi—everyone, including the birds, beasts and trees—are glorified when they see Lord Kṛṣṇa and Lord Balarāma singing on Their flutes as They go to the pasturing ground with Their friends.”
The word ātmā also means “this body.” The yogīs who practice bodily exercises, considering the body to be the self, are also elevated to the transcendental service of the Lord if they associate with pure devotees. There are many people who believe the body to be the self, and they are engaged in many fruitive activities, including bathing rituals and ordinary worldly activities. But when they come in contact with a pure devotee, they also engage in the transcendental service of the Lord.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.18.12) it is stated: “O my dear Sūta Gosvāmī, we have become darkened by the sacrificial smoke of fruitive activities, but you have given us the nectar of Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet.” It is also stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (4.21.31): “The waters of the Ganges flow from the tip of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, and by bathing in that water, everyone—including fruitive actors and all sages—can wash dirty things from the mind.”
Even those who believe that the body is the self, or those who are full of material desires, are also, in a sense, ātmārāma. When they associate with the pure devotees of the Lord, they give up their material desires and become perfect in the service of the Lord. The best example of this is found in the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (7.28), wherein Dhruva Mahārāja said:
- sthānābhilāṣī tapasi sthito ’haṁ
- tvāṁ prāptavān deva-munīndra-guhyam
- kācaṁ vicinvann api divya-ratnaṁ
- svāmin kṛtārtho ’smi varaṁ na yāce
“My dear Lord, I came to worship You because I desired some land on this earth, but fortunately I have attained You, who are beyond even the perception of great sages and saintly persons. I came to search out some particles of colored glass, but instead I found a very valuable gem like You. I am satisfied, and I do not desire to ask anything of You.”
There is also another meaning to the word nirgrantha. The word can also mean “foolish hunter,” or “wretched poor man.” There is an instance of such a hunter who attained salvation and engaged himself in the devotional service of the Lord simply by associating with the pure devotee Nārada. Indeed, Lord Caitanya told Sanātana Gosvāmī the following story of the hunter’s meeting with Nārada.
Once there was a hunter in the forest of Prayāga who was fortunate enough to meet Nārada Muni when the great sage was returning from Vaikuṇṭha after visiting Lord Nārāyaṇa. Nārada came to Prayāga to bathe in the confluence of the Ganges and Yamunā. While passing through the forest, Nārada saw a bird lying on the ground. The bird was half-killed, having been pierced by an arrow, and it was chirping piteously. Further on, Nārada saw a deer flopping about in agony. Further, he saw that a boar was also suffering, and, in another place, he saw a rabbit twitching in pain. All this made him feel very compassionate, and he began to think, “Who is the foolish man who has committed such sins?” In general, devotees of the Lord are compassionate toward the suffering living entities, and so what to speak of the great sage Nārada? He became very much aggrieved by this scene, and after proceeding a few steps he saw the hunter engaged in hunting with bow and arrows. The hunter’s complexion was very black, and his eyes were red. It appeared to be dangerous just to see him standing there with his bow and arrows, looking just like an associate of Yamarāja, death. Seeing him, Nārada Muni entered deeper into the forest to approach him. As Nārada Muni passed through the forest, all the animals who were caught in the hunter’s traps fled away. The hunter became very angry at this, and he was just about to call Nārada vile names, but, due to the influence of saintly Nārada, the hunter could not utter such blasphemies. Rather, with gentle behavior he asked Nārada: “My dear sir, why have you come here while I am hunting? Have you strayed from the general path? Because you have come here, all the animals in my traps have fled.”
“Yes, I am sorry,” Nārada replied. “I have come to you to find my own path and to inquire from you. While on the path I have seen that there are many boars, deer and rabbits lying on the forest floor half-dead and flopping about. Who has committed these sinful acts?”
“What you have seen is all right,” the hunter replied. “It was done by me.”
“If you are hunting all these poor animals, why don’t you kill them at once?” Nārada asked. “You half-kill them, and they are writhing in their death pangs. This is a great sin. If you want to kill an animal, why don’t you kill it completely? Why do you leave it half-killed and allow it to die flopping around?”
“My dear Lord,” the hunter replied, “my name is Mṛgāri, enemy of the animals. I am simply following the teachings of my father, who taught me to half-kill animals and leave them flopping about. When a half-dead animal suffers, I take great pleasure in it.”
“I beg only one thing from you,” Nārada implored. “Please accept it.”
“Oh, yes sir, I shall give you whatever you like,” the hunter said. “If you want some animal skins, come to my house. I have many skins of animals, including tigers and deer. I shall give you whatever you like.”
“I do not want such things,” Nārada replied. “But I do want something else. Since you kindly agreed to grant it to me, I shall tell you. Please, henceforth from tomorrow, whenever you kill an animal, please kill it completely. Don’t leave it half dead.”
“My dear sir, what are you asking of me? What is the difference between half-killing an animal and killing it completely?”
“If you half-kill the animals, they suffer great pain,” Nārada explained. “And if you give too much pain to other living entities, you commit great sin. There is a great offense committed when you kill an animal completely, but the offense is much greater when you half-kill it. Indeed, the pain which you give half-dead animals will have to be accepted by you in a future birth.”
Although the hunter was very sinful, his heart became softened, and he became afraid of his sins by virtue of his association with a great devotee like Nārada. Those who are grossly sinful are not at all afraid of committing sins, but here we can see that because his purification began in the association of a great devotee like Nārada, the hunter became afraid of his sinful activities. The hunter therefore replied: “My dear sir, from my very childhood I have been taught to kill animals in this way. Please tell me how I can counteract all the offenses and sinful activities I have committed. I am surrendering unto your feet. Please save me from all the reactions to the sinful activities I have committed in the past, and please direct me to the proper path so that I can be free.”
“If you actually want to follow my directions, I can tell you the real path by which you can be freed from these sinful reactions.”
“I shall follow whatever you say without hesitation,” the hunter agreed.
Nārada then told him to first break his bow; only then would Nārada disclose the path of liberation.
“You are asking me to break my bow,” the hunter protested, “but if I break it, what will be the means of my livelihood?”
“Don’t worry about your livelihood,” Nārada said. “I shall send you sufficient grains so you can live.”
The hunter then broke his bow and fell down at the feet of Nārada. Nārada got him to stand up, and he instructed him: “Just go to your home and distribute whatever money and valuables you have to the devotees and the brāhmaṇas. Then come out and follow me wearing only one cloth. Construct a small thatched house on the riverbank and sow a tulasī plant by that house. Just circumambulate the tulasī tree, and every day taste one fallen leaf. Above all, always chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. As far as your livelihood is concerned, I shall send you the grains you need, but you must accept only as much grain as you require for yourself and your wife.”
Nārada then revived the half-dead animals, and, getting freed from their dreadful condition, they fled away. Upon seeing Nārada execute this miracle, the black hunter was struck with wonder. After taking Nārada to his home, he bowed down again at his feet.
Nārada returned to his place, and the hunter, after returning home, began to execute the instructions Nārada had given him. In the meantime, news spread among all the villages that the hunter had become a devotee. Consequently the residents of the villages came to see the new Vaiṣṇava. It is the Vedic custom to bring grains or fruits whenever one goes to see a saintly person, and since all the villagers saw that the hunter had turned into a great devotee, they brought eatables with them. Thus every day he was offered grains and fruit, so much so that no less than ten to twenty people could have eaten there. But following Nārada’s instructions, he did not accept more than what he and his wife required to live on..
After some days had passed, Nārada told his friend Parvata Muni: “I have a disciple. Let us go visit him and see if he is doing well.”
When the two great sages, Nārada and Parvata, went to the hunter’s home, the hunter saw his spiritual master coming from a distance and began to approach him with great respect. On his way to greet the great sages, the hunter saw that there were ants on the ground before him, and they were hindering his passage. When he reached the sages, he wanted to bow down before them, but before he did so he carefully cleared away the ants with his cloth. When Nārada saw that the hunter was trying to save the lives of the ants in this way, he was reminded of a verse from the Skanda Purāṇa: “Is it not wonderful that a devotee of the Lord is not inclined to give any sort of pain to anyone, not even an ant?” Although formerly the hunter had taken great pleasure in half-killing animals, since he had become a great devotee of the Lord he was not prepared to give pain even to an ant.
The hunter received the two great sages at his home and offered them a sitting place, brought water, and washed their feet. Then the hunter and his wife took some of the water and drank it, and finally they both sprinkled the water on their heads. After this they felt ecstasy and began to dance while singing Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. They raised their hands and danced with their clothes flying. When the two great sages saw this ecstasy of love of Godhead manifest in the body of the hunter, Parvata Muni told Nārada: “You are a touchstone, for by your association even a great hunter has turned into a great devotee.”
There is a verse in the Skanda Purāṇa which states: “My dear Devarṣi [Nārada], you are glorious, and by your mercy even the lowest creature, a hunter of animals, also became elevated to the path of devotion and attained transcendental attachment for Kṛṣṇa.”
At length, Nārada inquired of the hunter-devotee: “Are you getting your foodstuffs regularly?”
“You send so many people,” the hunter replied, “and they bring so much food that we cannot eat it all.”
“That’s all right,” Nārada replied. “Whatever you are getting is all right. Now just continue your devotional service in that way.”
After Nārada had spoken this, both he and Parvata Muni disappeared from the hunter’s home. Lord Caitanya recited this story to show that even a hunter can be engaged in the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa by the influence of pure devotees.
Continuing to explain the ātmārāma verse, Lord Caitanya pointed out that the word ātmā also indicates all varieties of the Personality of Godhead. Generally the Personality of Godhead Himself, Kṛṣṇa, and His different expansions are all known as the Personality of Godhead.
Anyone who is engaged in the devotional service of any form or expansion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is also called ātmārāma. All such devotees engage either in the regulative principles of devotional service or in devotional service in transcendental love. These two groups of devotees are each divided into three categories: eternal associates, those perfected in devotional service, and those newly engaged in devotional service. Newly engaged devotees can be divided into two groups: those who have already attained attachment for the Lord and those who have not attained such attachment. When considered according to the two divisions of devotional service (namely due to attachment in transcendental love, and under regulation) these classes of devotees become eight in number. By following the regulative principles of devotion, the perfect associates of the Lord are further divided into four classes: the servants, the friends, the parental superiors and the fiancees.
Just as some devotees are perfected by the execution of devotional service, so some are eternally perfect. Of those following the regulative principles of devotional service, there are the advanced and the beginners, totaling sixteen categories; and in the transcendental loving service of the Lord, there are also sixteen types of devotees. Thus the ātmārāmas can be considered to exist in thirty-two divisions. If the words muni, nirgrantha, ca and api are applied to the thirty-two classes, then there are fifty-eight different types of devotees. All these devotees can be described by one word: ātmārāma. There may be many different kinds of trees standing in the forest, but the word “tree” describes them all.
Thus the Lord gave sixty different meanings to the ātmārāma verse. In addition, He said that ātmā means “any embodied living entity, from the first living creature, Brahmā, down to the ant.” He cited a verse from the Sixth Chapter of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa in which it is stated that all the energies of the Lord are spiritual. Although this is the case, the energy which is known as the source of the living entity is called spiritual, but the other energy, which is full of ignorance and is manifested in material activities, is called material nature. Even in the material creation, the living entities are innumerable. If by chance a living entity in the material world can associate with a pure devotee, he can engage in the pure devotional service of Kṛṣṇa. “Formerly I thought of sixty different meanings for the ātmārāma verse,” the Lord told Sanātana Gosvāmī, “but here another meaning has come to My mind by your association.”
After hearing the different explanations of the ātmārāma verse, Sanātana Gosvāmī was struck with wonder, and he fell down in devotion at the feet of Lord Caitanya. “I understand that You are personally the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa,” Sanātana said, “and by Your breathing have come many manifestations of Vedic literature. You are the teacher of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and You best know the meanings of the verses of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. It is not possible for others to understand the confidential meanings of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam without Your mercy.”
“Do not try to eulogize Me in that way,” the Lord told Sanātana. “Just try to understand the real nature of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the sound representation of the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa; therefore Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is not different from Kṛṣṇa. As Kṛṣṇa is unlimited, so each word and each syllable of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam has unlimited meanings. One can understand these meanings through the association of devotees. Don’t, then, say that Bhāgavatam is simply a collection of answers to questions.”
There were six questions put by the sages of Naimiṣāraṇya to Sūta Gosvāmī, and Sūta Gosvāmī answered the six questions in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. There is a verse in the Vedic literature in which Lord Śiva says, “As far as the Bhāgavatam is concerned, I may know it, or Śukadeva or Vyāsadeva may know it, or we may not know it—but actually Bhāgavatam is to be understood by devotional service and from a devotee, and not by one’s own intelligence or by academic commentaries.” At the beginning of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.1.23) the sages of Naimiṣāraṇya asked Sūta Gosvāmī:
- brūhi yogeśvare kṛṣṇe brahmaṇye dharma-varmaṇi
- svāṁ kāṣṭhām adhunopete dharmaḥ kaṁśaraṇaṁ gataḥ
“My dear sir, now that the Lord has departed for His own abode, kindly tell us whether the principles of religion have gone with Him. How can we find such principles after His departure?”
The reply was given in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.3.43):
- kṛṣṇe sva-dhāmopagate dharma-jñānādibhiḥ saha
- kalau naṣṭa-dṛśām eṣa purāṇārko ’dhunoditaḥ
“After Kṛṣṇa departed to His abode with all religious principles, His representation, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the Mahā-Purāṇa, remains as the blazing, illuminating sun.”
Lord Caitanya then told Sanātana Gosvāmī: “I was just like a madman in describing this ātmārāma verse in so many ways. Do not mind if I have said something mad. But if someone becomes a madman like Me, he can understand the real meaning of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as I have explained it.”
Then Sanātana Gosvāmī, with folded hands, fell at the feet of Lord Caitanya and prayed as follows: “My dear Lord, You have asked me to prepare a book on the regulative principles of devotional service, but I belong to the lowest caste. I have no knowledge. I do not know how such an important task can be finished by me. If You will kindly give me some hints about the preparation of such a book on devotional service, it may be that I shall be qualified to write it.”
The Lord then blessed him, saying, “By the grace of Kṛṣṇa, whatever you write will come out of your heart and be accepted. As you have requested, I will now give you some notes that you can take down. The first and foremost point is that one should accept a bona fide spiritual master. That is the beginning of spiritual life.” Lord Caitanya then requested Sanātana Gosvāmī to write down the symptoms of a true guru and the symptoms of a true disciple. The symptoms of a guru are described in the Padma Purāṇa: “A person who is a qualified brāhmaṇa and at the same time has all the symptoms of a devotee can become a spiritual master for all classes of men. Such a devotee and spiritual master must be respected as God Himself. Even though a person may be born in a very respectable brāhmaṇa family, he cannot become a bona fide spiritual master if he is not a devotee of the Lord.” One should not mistakenly think that a bona fide spiritual master has to be born in a so-called brāhmaṇa family. The idea is that a spiritual master must be a qualified brāhmaṇa; that is, he must be qualified by his activities.
This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, when Nārada speaks of the different symptoms characterizing the four divisions of social life. Nārada therein states that brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras should be selected by their individual qualifications. In his commentary, Śrīdhara Svāmī has noted that birth in a family of brāhmaṇas does not necessarily mean that one is a brāhmaṇa. One must be qualified with a brāhmaṇa’s symptoms, which are described in the śāstras. In the disciplic succession of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava sampradāya, there are two great ācāryas (Ṭhākura Narottama and Śyāmānanda Gosvāmī) who were not born in brāhmaṇa families but were accepted as spiritual masters by many famous brāhmaṇas, including Gaṅgānārāyaṇa and Rāmakṛṣṇa.
In this way there are symptoms which both the prospective spiritual master and the prospective disciple must have, and both the disciple and the spiritual master must see whether the other is eligible to become either a bona fide spiritual master or a bona fide student. One should then know that the only worshipable object is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and one should learn the various mantras and sacred songs.
The Lord then instructed Sanātana to describe the symptoms of those persons who are eligible to accept the mantras and to describe how the mantras should be understood and perfected by ritualistic performances. Then the Lord instructed Sanātana to describe initiation, morning duties and duties of cleanliness—washing the face, brushing the teeth, and so on—the process of work and the prayers to be recited both in the morning and the evening. The Lord also told him to describe how one should worship the spiritual master, how to mark one’s body with gopī-candana, how to collect tulasī leaves, how to wash the room and temple of the Lord, and how to awaken Kṛṣṇa from sleep. Then Lord Caitanya instructed Sanātana to describe different methods for worshiping the Lord, with fivefold, sixteenfold or fiftyfold paraphernalia, how to worship the Lord by offering Him ārati five times a day, and how to offer food to Kṛṣṇa and lay Him down on His bed. Next Lord Caitanya instructed Sanātana to write about the characteristics of both the form of the Lord in the temple and the śālagrāma-śilā, and also to write about the effect of going to holy places where there are different temples of the Lord and seeing the form of God in the temple. Sanātana was also instructed to glorify the transcendental name of the Lord and to describe the different offenses one can commit while chanting the Lord’s name or worshiping the Deity. In the worship of the Lord certain paraphernalia are used, such as a conchshell, water, incense and fragrant flowers. The Lord instructed Sanātana to describe these, along with the chanting of prayers and hymns, circumambulation, and the offering of obeisances. Other topics for Sanātana to explain included following the regulative principles of puraścaraṇa, accepting kṛṣṇa-prasādam, rejecting foodstuff not offered to Kṛṣṇa, and not indulging in defaming a devotee who has the actual symptoms of a devotee.
Lord Caitanya also instructed Sanātana to describe the symptoms of a holy man, the process of satisfying the sages, and the value of rejecting the society of undesirable persons and hearing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam constantly. Also to be described were how to follow the daily, fortnightly and monthly duties, how to observe fasting on the Ekādaśī day, how to observe ceremonies like the birthday of the Lord, and how to observe fasting not only on Ekādaśī but also on Janmāṣṭamī, Vāmana-dvādaśī, Rāma-navamī and Nṛsiṁha-caturdaśī. Lord Caitanya also instructed Sanātana to explain that it is helpful in the advancement of devotional service to avoid fast days that overlap with other days (viddhā). Also to be explained were how to establish temples of the Lord, along with the general behavior, symptoms, duties and occupation of a Vaiṣṇava. And at every step, Lord Caitanya said, Sanātana Gosvāmī should give documentary evidence from the purāṇas. Thus the Lord gave a summary of all the topics Sanātana should include in his book on Vaiṣṇava regulative principles.
Sanātana Gosvāmī was a great devotee of the Lord, and he was directly instructed to spread the cult of bhakti by writing many books. There is a description of Sanātana in the Caitanya-candrodaya, where it is said that Sanātana Gosvāmī was one of the most important personalities in the government of Nawab Hussain Shah. Sanātana’s brother, Rūpa Gosvāmī, was also a minister in the government, but both of them gave up their lucrative government posts to become mendicants and serve the Supreme Lord. Externally the brothers became just like ordinary mendicants, but their hearts were filled with transcendental loving service and a great love for the cowherd boy of Vṛndāvana. Indeed, Sanātana Gosvāmī was dear to all pure devotees of his time.