[May 10, 2023 is the disappearance day of Rāmānanda Rāya, in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt from a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on the same tithi on May 19, 2014 and May 26, 2016. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
Today is a special day. It is the disappearance day of Rāmānanda Rāya, an eternal associate of the Lord. By worldly considerations, he appeared in the village of Benṭāpura, near Alārnātha, Odisha. While approaching Alārnātha from Purī, it is just off the main road, to the right. His father was Bhavānanda Rāya, who had five sons.
Rāmānanda Rāya was the Governor of Rajahmundry during the reign of Mahārāja Pratāparudra, whose kingdom stretched to the banks of Godāvarī in Andhra Pradesh. Unlike the governors of today, he had much power.
At that time, Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya was the topmost scholar in India in the field of nyāya and Vedānta śāstra. That is why Mahārāja Pratāparudra had invited him to Odisha from Navadvīpa to become the chief scholar of his court. Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya pursued smārta ideals [the belief that the supreme reality is ultimately impersonal (Brahman) and enlightenment means to realize that the soul is one with Brahman]. He was a follower of Śaṅkarācārya and harbored the conception – Jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ [The individual is none other than God].
Knowing Rāmānanda Rāya to be a Vaiṣṇava, Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya considered him a mere sentimentalist and did not hold him in high regard. In fact, he disliked him. Sārvabhauma couldn’t gauge the true glory of Rāmānanda Raya, until Mahāprabhu bestowed His mercy upon him. But by the mercy of Mahāprabhu, Sārvabhauma eventually turned to Vaiṣṇavism and understood the glories of Vaiṣṇavas. When Mahāprabhu was setting out on a tour of South India to spread His mercy under the pretext of searching for His brother, Viśvarūpa, Sārvabhauma said, “When You visit South India, there is only one person worthy of Your meeting - Rāmānanda Rāya.”
After Mahāprabhu reached the banks of Godāvarī, Rāmānanda Rāya also arrived there in a palanquin to take a bath, accompanied by brāhmaṇas and a band of musicians. After bathing as per the scriptural injunctions, Rāmānanda Rāya noticed Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and was taken aback, witnessing a sannyāsī, as effulgent as a hundred suns! Upon noticing him, Mahāprabhu enquired, “Are you Rāmānanda Rāya?” He then very humbly responded, “Yes, I am Your very low servant, and I belong to the śūdra community.” Despite hearing this, Mahāprabhu embraced him, for he was a devotee. The Vedic brāhmaṇas [the stereotype ritualistic brāhmaṇas] who had accompanied Rāmānanda Rāya to help him chant the mantras, were disconcerted – ‘Although this sannyāsī has so much effulgence, he is embracing a śūdra! And even though Rāmānanda Rāya is a very grave, aristocrat, his dealings with the sannyāsī are perplexing!’ Caitanya-deva, realizing that the brāhmaṇas being vijātīya (outsiders) would misinterpret the symptoms of hari-bhakti, restrained His transcendental emotions. He requested Rāmānanda Rāya to meet with Him alone. That night, dressed in ordinary clothes and bringing only one servant along with him, Rāmānanda Rāya met Caitanya-deva in a solitary place.
UNIQUE FEATURE OF CAITANYA-DEVA’S TEACHINGS
Śrī Caitanya-deva always taught according to time, place and person – this is the unique feature of His teachings. The first time Mahāprabhu met Sanātana Gosvāmī, the latter did not ask, “Who am I.”
Only when Sanātana Gosvāmī met Mahāprabhu at Kāśi, did he ask the question. [ke āmi', 'kene āmāya jāre tāpa-traya'ihā nāhi jāni--'kemane hita haya' - "Who am I? Why do the threefold miseries always give me trouble? If I do not know this, how can I be benefited?” Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 20.102]
Why? Because Kāśi is a place of Māyāvādīs. There everybody says, ‘ahaṁ brahmāsmi – I am Brahman’; ‘jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ - The individual is none other than God’. That is why Mahāprabhu inspired Sanātana Gosvāmī to pose such a question at Kāśi. And in response to the query, Mahāprabhu extolled the siddhānta that the constitutional position of the living entity is to be an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa. Māyāvādīs say ‘ahaṁ brahmāsmi’, but Mahāprabhu said ‘kṛṣṇera nitya-dāsa’, not Brahman.
Similarly, at Prayāga, Daśāśvamedha Ghāṭa, where sacrifices (yajñas) are performed [as a means to fulfill desires], Mahāprabhu used Rūpa Gosvāmī as an instrument and taught the process of devotional service. What does ‘daśa-aśvamedha’ stand for? It means controlling our ten senses [represented by ten (daśa) horses (aśva)]. This can be done by engaging the senses in the service of the Lord, by bhakti.
sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 19.170)
[“‘Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. One is freed from all material designations, and one’s senses are purified simply by being employed in the service of the Lord.’]
Mahāprabhu taught this lesson. This is real daśāśvamedha. It is not the killing of ten horses. Your senses are the horses. Your senses run faster than horses. While sitting here, your senses will travel to America, can a horse do this? Controlling this is aśvamedha.
What lesson did Mahāprabhu teach on the banks of Godāvarī? The people there are more karma-kāṇḍī [orientated towards performing ritualistic, fruitive activities]. They understand only karma. So there, Mahāprabhu established the siddhānta of prema-bhakti.
Generally, devotees enquire and the Lord replies. But here, the Lord is enquiring and the devotee is answering. Kavirāja Gosvāmī has explained this in the first śloka itself (Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 8.1) –
gaurābdhir etair amunā vitīrṇais
[Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who is known as Gaurāṅga, is the ocean of all conclusive knowledge in devotional service. He empowered Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya, who may be likened to a cloud of devotional service. This cloud was filled with the water of all the conclusive purports of devotional service and was empowered by the ocean to spread this water over the sea of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu Himself. Thus the ocean of Caitanya Mahāprabhu became filled with the jewels of the knowledge of pure devotional service.]
Caitanya-deva empowered and provided water to the cloud personified by Rāmānanda Rāya. And the same cloud rained over Caitanya-deva, who represented the ocean; just like the ocean water evaporates to form a cloud and then it rains over the ocean itself. Actually, the same ocean water is coming back in another form. Is there any advantage in this? Yes there is. The rain water is sweet, unlike the salty ocean water. Besides, it produces conch shells, pearls and so on within the ocean, which is not possible otherwise. Similarly, when the devotee, likened to a cloud, showers upon the sea, represented by the Lord, the [jewels of] siddhānta [knowledge] are produced. Thus, through Rāmānanda Rāya, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu established the siddhānta of prema-bhakti.
WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF OUR SĀDHANA
Mahāprabhu started by asking Rāmānanda Rāya, ‘paḍa śloka sādhyera nirṇaya’ (Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 8.57). “What is the ultimate goal of life (sādhya)? Please respond based on evidence from the scriptures.” Sādhya is what we attain by performing sādhana. In other words, Mahāprabhu asked - What is the object of our sādhana?
Rāmānanda Rāya replied – ‘sva-dharmācaraṇe viṣṇu-bhakti haya’. This means only by sva dharmācarana [by performing prescribed duties as per varṇa and āśrama], we get viṣṇu-bhakti. Rāmānanda Rāya gave evidence from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (3.8.9):
puruṣena paraḥ pumān
visṇur ārādhyate panthā
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya, 8.58)
[“ ‘The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Viṣṇu, is worshiped by the proper execution of prescribed duties in the system of varṇa and āśrama. There is no other way to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One must be situated in the institution of the four varṇas and āśramas.’ ”]
In other words, the sādhya or goal is viṣṇu-bhakti and the sādhana or process is to perform the prescribed duties as per varṇa and āśrama. This indicates that without varṇa and āśrama, one cannot perform hari-bhakti! But did Caitanya-deva give precedence to this? No. Instead, He said, “eho bāhya, āge kaha āra - This is just external, it is not the essence, tell Me some other means.”
Although, in one sense, this is also sādhana, but it is just like external fencing. It should be noted that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu didn’t state that Rāmānanda Rāya’s suggestion or the evidence provided was erroneous. He simply said – “This is external.” Just like a sapling is initially covered with a fence for protection, but when it grows into a strong tree, the fencing is no longer required.
Eho bāhya. Similarly, while constructing a building, scaffolding is set up. However when the construction is complete, the scaffolding is no longer required and the builder insists on removing the scaffolding as it disrupts the overall look. But while the construction is in progress, he would never demand such a thing because at that time it is necessary. I experienced this practically while constructing the puṣpa-samādhi of Guru Mahārāja in Vṛndāvana. When the marble was fixed and the support was applied on top of it, many advised me to remove the scaffolding as it would obstruct the beauty of the samādhi structure. They said, “It doesn’t look good in the photos!” But since the marble was just laid the day before, the support was necessary for it to get set properly. Similarly, varṇāśrama dharma is essential to keep one regulated.
CLASSIFICATION IS ESSENTIAL
Classifications based on varṇāśrama are necessary in society. Consider hospitals for instance - they have a systematic structure - general ward, orthopedic ward, surgical ward, cardiac ward; everything is organized into sections which makes it convenient for the patients and doctors as well as the visitors and staff. The patients receive specialized treatment in specialized wards, while the doctors are assigned only the patients afflicted by illnesses in their field of specialization. So such classification is very much helpful.
In Hyderabad, one brahmacārī was admitted in the orthopedic department of a local hospital, so we had to arrange for prasāda as per his prescribed diet to be delivered to him from our maṭha. Although I was also unwell at the same time, I wanted to ensure that the devotees were taking good care of him and that the prasāda was being delivered punctually. Upon enquiring, I found out that someone had gone to the hospital but could not find the brahmacārī and so had to return without delivering the prasāda. I was surprised that it was difficult to find him in an ordinary hospital. So, I went. By enquiry, I could easily find out where the orthopedic department was. Upon arriving, I noticed that while everybody was eating, our brahmacārī was just sitting there, waiting. So then I gave him the prasāda. The point is – I could easily find him in his ward. So isn’t there benefit for the patient as well as visitors because of this systematic classification?
Similarly, the varṇāśrama dharma is for the benefit of all. Now, taking the same instance forward, once the disease is cured, is it required for the patient to remain in any hospital ward? In the same way, when our disease is removed... and what is our disease? When we think of this body and all the things related to this body as ours, then we are diseased.
That is why it is said that I am not a brāhmaṇa, I am not a kṣatriya, I am not a vaiśya nor a śūdra. Who am I? I identify myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa. We are the Lord’s dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ. [Endnote 1] This is called bhūta-śuddhī [purificatory prayers]. As long as we don’t have this bhūta śuddhī, we are unfit to offer even a leaf or a flower to the Lord.
When we are established in one philosophy, then we give more precedence to the practices related to that conception. That is why Sārvabhauma, who was established in varṇāśrama dharma, gave more precedence to following the prescribed duties as per varṇa and āśrama. But by the mercy of Caitanya-deva and by the desire of a devotee, Sārvabhauma got convinced about ātma-tattva.
THE NEXT QUESTION
Going further, Rāmānanda Rāya quoted–
yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
Śrī Krsna says - Whatever you do, whatever you eat (aśnāsi), whatever you offer (juhoṣi) in tarpaṇa, whatever you give (dadāsi) in charity, and whatever austerities (tapasyasi) you perform, do it as an offering unto Me.
Rāmānanda Rāya stated Bhagavad-gītā as the pramāṇa. How did Caitanya-deva react? ‘eho bāhya, āge kaha āra’. This is also external. In response, Rāmānanda Rāya stated the final instruction of Bhagavad-gītā (18.66) –
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
Lord Kṛṣṇa said “Give up all dharma and surrender unto Me. Then I will relieve you from all of your sins. Don’t worry, I give My guarantee for this.”
But Caitanya-deva said this is also external. Because this kind of surrender is conditional. What is the condition? I will surrender because You will relieve me from all my sins. This means there is a lack of conviction in the Lord’s divinity (bhagavatatā). That is why he needs a guarantee. If he had complete faith in the Lord, then would this guarantee be necessary? The guarantee is needed to build faith. This means that complete, unwavering faith is still lacking.
WHO IS THE REAL WITNESS?
Our gross body is short-lived. The subtle body - made up of mind, intelligence and ego - sustains longer. But our soul, the ātmā, is eternal. Just by introspecting a little we can understand this.
Just like we are sitting here and talking; we are fully awake and alert. This is one condition. When we rest, we experience either deep sleep or light sleep. In the case of the latter, we dream. In one such dream, upon seeing a tiger or a thief we may scream, but externally our mouth may remain shut, because this is not the act of the gross body. Sometimes we experience that someone even shouts at night and awakens others. So who actually shouted? Has anyone thought about this? When a person experiences a deep state of dreamless sleep, he confirms upon awaking, “I have never before experienced such deep sleep!” In this case, who is the witness? The individual was oblivious, in a deep state of sleep, so how could he experience anything? Actually, the soul experienced the deep sleep. The phenomenon of a dream takes place at the level of the subtle body and is witnessed by the soul.
When one is established in this conception of the soul, then all these considerations on the bodily platform dissipate. This is called ātma-tattva. When we are not established in ātma-tattva, then everything is external. So, when Rāmānanda Rāya said sarva-dharmān paritajya, Caitanya-deva did not accept it.