April 2, 2020 is Rāma Navamī, the appearance day of Maryādā-puruṣottama Lord Rāmacandra, in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt of a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja for the same tithi on April 18-19, 2017. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
Today is a special day; it is the appearance day of Maryādā-puruṣottama Lord Rāmacandra. It is also the disappearance day of Śrīla Bhakti Saudha Āśrama Mahārāja, one of the last among our śikṣā guru-varga, and the appearance day of Śrīla Bhakti Vallabha Tīrtha Mahārāja, our presiding ācārya of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha.
WHY OBSERVE THE LORD’S APPEARANCE DAY?
The question may arise, why is it necessary to observe these special days? The reason is: by observing tithis such as the appearance day of the Supreme Lord, one attains bhakti. And it is through bhakti alone that the Lord can be attained. The Lord Himself confirms this to His intimate devotee Uddhava in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam:
na sādhayati māṁ yogo
na sāṅkhyaṁ dharma uddhava
na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo
yathā bhaktir mamorjitā
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.14.20)
[My dear Uddhava, the unalloyed devotional service rendered to Me by My devotees brings Me under their control. I cannot be thus controlled by those engaged in mystic yoga, Sāṅkhya philosophy, pious work, Vedic study, austerity or renunciation.]
Thus He says, I can be achieved neither by the practice of yoga; nor by following one’s dharma as per varṇa and āśrama; nor by the study of scriptures; nor by performing penances; nor by accepting the renounced order of life. I can only be achieved by devotion (ūrjita-bhakti).
By observing the appearance day of the Lord as well as by following tithis like Ekādaśī one attains bhakti. Therefore it is said, "mādhava-tithi, bhakti-jananī' – Mādhava tithi or Ekādaśī tithi is the mother of bhakti".
All FORMS OF THE LORD ARE TRANSCENDENTAL AND ALL-AUSPICIOUS
The appearance day of the Lord is all-auspicious. The Lord appears for the eternal welfare of the living entities and on His appearance days He is especially inclined to offer boons. Even in the material world there is a practice to offer something in charity whenever a child is born. Even atheists follow this practice. Those who are well-read in history would be aware that Humāyun distributed kastūrī (pure musk) when his son was born, with a desire that his son's fame spread far and wide just like the scent of musk.
As Bhagavān, He assumes so many forms. When the Lord assumes the form of a boar or a tortoise, is there any fault? When He incarnates as Kūrma, He is the same omnipotent Lord. As Kūrma, He effortlessly held the Mandara Mountain on His back which the forces of the demigods and demons combined could not even move. As Varāha, He saved Mother Earth by lifting her on His tusks. As Nṛsiṁhadeva He slayed Hiraṇyakaśipu; this is no ordinary feat. Hiraṇyakaśipu’s skin had become so tough [due to performing austerities] that even Indra’s weapon, vajra, could not leave a mark on it, what to speak of killing him. However, he was effortlessly killed, merely by the nails of Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva. Nṛsiṁhadeva’s form was so ferocious that even the demigods could not imagine approaching Him. On the other hand, the forms of Rāma or Kṛṣṇa are very beautiful to behold. But whether He appears as Nṛsiṁha, Varāha, Kūrma, Rāma or Kṛṣṇa, all these forms are most auspicious and transcendental.
Rāvaṇa had descended from Vaikuṇṭha [He was originally Jaya, the gatekeeper of Viṣṇu in Vaikuṇṭha], after being cursed by Sanaka, Sanātana, Sananda and Sanat-kumāra to become a demon, when they became angry for being denied entrance into Vaikuṇṭha. Although he prayed to be relieved of this curse, they said, when you are killed at the hands of Bhagavān you will be freed. So the first appearance of Jaya and Vijaya in the material universe was as Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu, next was Rāvaṇa and Kumbhakarṇa, and later Śiśupāla and Dantavakra. All of them were personally killed by the Lord in His various incarnations. But Bhagavān is all-auspicious (maṅgalamaya), so no inauspiciousness can ever happen to any living entity due to Him. [By His killing, they were delivered.] The only cause for inauspiciousness is one's own karma, by which some become unhappy and others become happy.
THE LORD IS ONLY HUNGRY FOR HIS DEVOTEES’ LOVE
The Lord requested Mādhavendra Purī, who did not have even a hut where an altar could be placed, for help. The Lord called upon the one who had nothing to call his own, disregarding the wealthy who could have served him with opulence. What is the reason? In reality, the Lord has no hunger. He is Pūrṇa-vastu, He is complete in Himself. He is not in need of anything. He is only hungry for the love residing deep within the hearts of His devotees.
premṇaiva bhakta-hṛdayaṁ sukha-vidrutaṁ syāt
yāvat kṣud asti jaṭhare jaraṭhā pipāsā
tāvat sukhāya bhavato nanu bhakṣya-peye
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 8.69)
[Rāmānanda Rāya continued, "'As long as there is hunger and thirst within the stomach, varieties of food and drink make one feel very happy. Similarly, when the Lord is worshiped with pure love, the various activities performed in the course of that worship awaken transcendental bliss in the heart of the devotee.']
Food and drink will give happiness as long as hunger and thirst remain. If there is no hunger and thirst and one has eaten to the brim, can they eat any more even upon being requested? I witnessed one such instance while in school. During Navarātra, people are fed sumptuously. Brāhmaṇa boys are called and trained to serve food. The training was – the first serving should be done with a small ladle and the next, with a big ladle. First, each of the preparations were to be served to all, and thereafter according to the individual's preferred tastes, those specific preparations were supposed to be immediately replenished, this time with the help of the big ladle. This was done to prevent anyone from feeling: “I wish I was served more of that preparation I liked.” Whichever preparation was not found on the leaf plate would be served automatically, without even asking. This was the training.
At last, a man would come with a basket full of one rupee silver coins. In those days most coins were made of silver. That man would announce, "I will not see what remains uneaten on any one’s plate as of now, but for every rasagullā one eats now, I will give him a silver coin each. This is over and above what one gets as dakṣiṇā." In those days one rupee had great value. In fact, that old one rupee coin is almost worth hundred rupees today. Some took one rasagullā and others took two. After a while he would announce, "Now those who take a rasagullā will receive five rupees." However, by this point, no one would be able to consume anymore, so they would lament, ‘Had I not accepted this rasagullā earlier I could have profited more now. But what can I do?’ Later he said to us, “By doing this I am assured that no one is leaving without being completely satisfied with a full stomach.”
As a child I could not understand this. I thought that people ate nicely and hence, they weren’t accepting more rasagullās out of formality, even though they were being offered five rupees. But the reality was that they were so full that they had no space to eat any more, even when tempted by money.
Similarly the Lord is Pūrṇa-vastu. He is complete in Himself. He does not experience the pangs of hunger, then why does He say He is hungry? Why did the Lord confess to Mādhavendra Purī that He was suffering and hungry? Did He lie? No. Premṇaiva bhakta-hṛdayaṁ sukha-vidrutaṁ syāt - He is hungry for the love that resides within the hearts of His devotees for Him.
Bhagavān has no birth. [He is Aja, unborn.] Yet He appears as the son of Daśaratha [and Kauśalyā]; as the son of Vasudeva and Devakī; as the son of Nanda and Yaśodā. Why? It is only to bestow happiness upon His devotees and to enjoy being subjugated by their love for Him.
When Daśaratha accidentally killed Śravaṇa Kumar, he was cursed by Śravaṇa Kumar’s father, 'You too will die out of grief in separation from your son.” Upon being told by Daśaratha, 'O! Best among the Ṛṣis! I do not even have a son.” Śravaṇa Kumar’s father asserted, “You will have a son and you will die out of grief in separation from him.” Later Ṛṣyasṛṇga, the son of Mṛgī Ṛṣi, performed a fire sacrifice and gave Daśaratha the prasādam, which he distributed among his three queens. As a result of this, Bhagavān appeared in four forms Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Bharata and Śatrughna.
Later, while in exile, Maryādā-puruṣottama Rāma broke His maryādā (principle) when He visited the tribal woman Śabarī. Śabarī was a disciple of Maṭaṇga Muni. She had served him since her childhood thinking that Maṭaṇga Muni was old and would need fire wood to burn and keep himself warm during winters, and to cook. She would collect firewood from the forest and leave it in heaps near his kuṭīra for his use. Observing this, Maṭaṇga Muni thought “This little girl is serving me so much. What shall I give her in return as I do not have anything with me?” So he told her, “Take bath and come, and I will give you one mantra, chanting which will award you darśana of Śrī Rāmacandra.”
Upon receiving the mantra, she began to chant it, from her childhood to youth to old age, with great faith that the words of her guru would come true. She would collect forest berries daily and taste them individually and retain the sweet ones in anticipation of Śrī Rāmacandra’s arrival, thinking all the time, ‘To make the words of my guru come true, one day Śrī Rāmacandra will come to give me darśana and I shall offer these berries to Him in welcome.’ And when Rāmacandra came, she offered those berries she had tasted. Did Rāmacandra eat them or not? Did he even think before accepting that offering? He accepted them lovingly. Did He embrace Guhaka-caṇḍāla or not? Where did He keep His maryādā then? Because devotion has the power to subdue even the Lord. It is the force that makes Him break His vows.
That is why in the Bhagavad-gītā (9:31) Kṛṣṇa said, “kaunteya, pratijānīhi, na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati –– O son of Kuntī, You should declare that My devotee never perishes.” Arjuna replied, “Prabhu, if You Yourself declare, it will be good, why are You involving me?” The Lord explained, “I may break or change My vow, but I would never allow My devotees' vows to be broken. Hence I am asking you to declare it.”
WHY SHOULD WE OBSERVE VAIṢṆAVA TITHIS?
If one doesn’t serve such a magnanimous Lord, then who else is worthy of service? And the devotees, whose words the Lord Himself protects; such devotees’ glories are more glorious than even those of the Lord.
This is the reason why we observe the appearance and disappearance days of Vaiṣṇavas. Bhakti is attainable only by the association of pure devotees of the Lord, ‘bhaktis tu bhagavad bhakta saṇgena parijāyate'. In the Caitanya-bhāgavata, Ṭhākura Vṛndāvana Dāsa says, 'je vaiṣṇava sevile acintya kṛṣṇa payi – we can attain that unattainable and inconceivable Kṛṣṇa, by serving the Vaiṣṇavas.’ Therefore there is nothing superior than service to the Vaiṣṇavas, as a result of which one attains Kṛṣṇa.
There was one devotee called Kālidāsa, who had deep faith in the Vaiṣṇavas. 'vaiṣṇavera ucchiṣṭa khāite teṅho haila buḍā '. (Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta Antya, 16.8) Kālidāsa ate the remnants of Vaiṣṇavas [his regard for Vaiṣṇavas being undeterred by considerations such as caste, creed or bodily designations] throughout his life, even in his old age. He would offer nice food stuffs to Vaiṣṇavas, and after they would offer them to their Lordships, consume them and throw the remnants into the dustbin, Kālidāsa would collect those remnants, go to a solitary place and eat them, unnoticed by anyone. But the Lord is the all-seer (sarva-darśī) and witness to everything (sarva-sākṣī). He saw Kālidāsa, while the people in general were unaware.
When Kālidāsa came to Jagannātha Purī, he got unprecedented mercy of Caitanya-deva, which took everyone by surprise. Earlier, during the Guṇḍīcā-mārjana-līlā, one Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava had washed the lotus feet of Mahāprabhu and drank the water. This had upset Mahāprabhu very much. But when Kālidāsa drank the water that had bathed Mahāprabhu’s feet, not once but three times, he did not face any objection from Mahāprabhu. So, is the Lord partial?
[sarvajña-śiromaṇi caitanya īśvara
vaiṣṇave tāṅhāra viśvāsa, jānena antara
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya 16.48)
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is the most exalted, omniscient Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore He knew that Kālidāsa, in the core of his heart, had full faith in Vaiṣṇavas.
sei-guṇa lañā prabhu tāṅre tuṣṭa ha-ilā
anyera durlabha prasāda tāṅhāre karilā
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya 16.49)
Because of this quality, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu satisfied him with mercy not attainable by anyone else.
Thus, we can attain that unattainable and inconceivable Kṛṣṇa, by serving the Vaiṣṇavas. Simply remembering the name of a Vaiṣṇava constitutes as service unto him.
That is why it is an offense not to glorify them on their tithis.]