Service to the Guru (IV) : Sudama Vipra, Ishwara Puri and Narottam Das

This is the last portion of the Service to Guru series, which is taken from a collection of articles by Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj, originally published in Chaitanya Vani, the magazine of the Chaitanya Gaudiya Math.

4. Sudama Vipra at the ashram of Sandipani Muni

The glories of service to the spiritual master have been sung in all the scriptures—in both the Upanishads and the Puranas. The disciple who is indifferent to service to the spiritual master will never get the mercy of Krishna. The Bhagavatam recounts that even Krishna himself set the example of how to serve the spiritual master.

We see in the Bhagavatam that the Supreme Lord Krishna himself set the example of service to the spiritual master. After Krishna had returned to Mathura and killed Kamsa, he was reunited with his parents, Vasudeva and Devaki. Since he and Balaram had spent their childhood in the cowherd community, they had not received an education befitting the princely life they were now to lead. Not only that, but they had not received the sacred thread, as was befitting young men of their caste. Vasudeva sent the two boys to Avantipur, where the renowned teacher Sandipani Muni lived. In a very short time the two brothers mastered all that Sandipani could teach them.

Later in the Bhagavatam, the story is told of Sudama Vipra, who had been a student with Krishna at the Avantipur school. Sudama was afflicted by poverty and his wife told him to take advantage of his childhood friendship with Krishna to get some material benefit. When Sudama came to Dwaraka and met with the Lord, the two spent some time reminiscing about their days at their guru’s ashram, or gurukula.

Krishna remembered one experience that the two of them had shared. Once Sandipani had asked Krishna and Sudama to fetch wood for fuel to be used in the sacrificial fire, which would be left burning constantly. The two boys had gathered large bundles of wood an were carrying them on their heads when a heavy thunderstorm broke, leaving them stranded in the forest. The two were forced to spend the entire night in the rain without shelter, setting an unparalleled example of service to the guru. In the Upanishads, it is said that the wind blows out of fear of the Lord, the sun shines, Indra sends the rains, and fire does its work of burning. Even time itself fears the Lord, and yet, here the Supreme Master of the fourteen spheres, the most worshipable Deity himself demonstrated how the path of religion is to be trod.

Krishna’s own words show the lesson that his own behavior was meant to demonstrate—

nāham ijyā-prajātibhyāṁ
tapasopaśamena ca
tuṣyeyaṁ sarva-bhūtātmā
guru-śuśrūṣayā yathā

I, the soul of all beings, am not as pleased by the performance of the prescribed duties of the four ashrams, i.e., sacrifices, service to the family, austerities and renunciation, as I am by service to the guru. (SB 10.80.34)

When the morning came and the rain had stopped, Sandipani Muni and all his disciples went into the woods to look for Sudama and Krishna. When the two students were found, they were in a pitiable state. Sandipani showed his appreciation after finding them the following morning and his words stand as a testimonial to the value of selfless service to the spiritual master.

“My children! Every living creature takes care of its body as its most dear possession. Out of love for me, however, you two have ignored your desire for ease and comfort. Such behavior is verily the duty of a good disciple who seeks to repay his debt of gratitude to his guru. O best of the twice-born! You have pleased me, and so I bless you that all your desires will be fulfilled and that all you have learned will never be forgotten, in either this life or the next.” (SB 10.80.41-42)

This then is how a disciple who has taken the Bhagavata’s instruction to make the guru his personal worshipable deity (gurv-ātma-daivataḥ) attains all perfections through the mercy of the spiritual master.

sa vai sat-karmaṇāṁ sākṣād
dvijāter iha sambhavaḥ
ādyo’ṅga yatrāśramiṇāṁ
yathāhaṁ jñānado guruḥ

The father who gives us birth is our first guru. The second guru is the one who gives second birth through initiation and instructs him in his specific duties in the Varnashram dharma. Such a guru is as worshippable as I. But the giver of knowledge to everyone in the world, in other words, the giver of universal and transcendental spiritual knowledge, is directly a manifestation of me. (10.80.32)

nanv artha-kovidā brahman
varṇāśramavatām iha
ye mayā guruṇā vācā
taranty añjo bhavārṇavam

O Brahmin! Assuredly, those persons are the most clever who even within the Varnashram system cross over the ocean of material suffering by hearing the guru’s words, for I am the Guru. (10.80.33)

5. Madhavendra Puri and Ishwara Puri

In chapter eight of the Chaitanya Charitamrita’s Antya-lila, Krishna Das Kaviraj tells another story that is most instructive, for it compares the results of two disciples of the same guru—one who received the grace of his master, the other who incurred his displeasure. This story is most salutary, and gives pause to think for all those who have taken shelter of a divine preceptor as to how they should behave with him.

Srila Madhavendra Puripada was the greatest spiritual leader of his time, able to give guidance to the entire universe and an ocean of love for Krishna. But despite this, his disciple Ramachandra Puri was unable to take advantage of his exalted status. Rather, by causing his guru distress, he displeased him and was deprived of his mercy and became known as a great faultfinder and backbiter.

When Madhavendra Puri was approaching the end of his sojourn in the world of mortals, he displayed the ecstatic pastime of divine separation. The separation of the devotee from the Lord, though it appears to the ordinary eye as suffering is in fact a sublime joy for the devotee, whose awareness of Krishna’s presence and consciousness of his form, pastimes, virtues and qualities is heightened by his sense of unworthiness and deprivation.

At that time, Ramachandra Puri was present. He saw his guru chanting the Holy Name and weeping, crying out, “I could not attain Mathura.” Saraswati Thakur here comments:

Ramachandra Puri was unable to comprehend the flashes of divine separation that his guru was experiencing. Seeing his tears and cries superficially, he took them for the pain felt by conditioned souls when overpowered by grief, regret or other sense of material lack. Being nañve about his guru’s emotional and theological sophistication, Ramachandra thought he could relieve his suffering by instructing him in knowledge of Brahman. Madhavendra took this as evidence of his disciple’s stupidity and furthermore as deliberate insolence. The result was that he stopped feeling benevolent toward him and rejected him. (Anubhāṣya 3.8.20)

Krishna Das tells the story as follows—

Previously, when Madhavendra Puri was preparing to leave this world, then Ramachandra Puri came to his hermitage. Madhavendra was chanting the names of the Lord and crying out, “Alas, I have not attained the land of Mathura.” Ramachandra then started to instruct him—though a disciple he shamelessly gave his guru advice without any fear. “You are one with the universal spirit,” he said. “By nature you are complete in yourself, full of joy. You should know this, so why are you crying?”

When he heard this, Madhavendra lashed out at him. “Get away from me, you sinful creature!” he said angrily. “I have been deprived of Krishna’s grace and unable to attain his abode. I am about to die and I am suffering from my failure to attain Krishna, and you have come here to add to my suffering? Don’t show your face to me again. Go wherever you like, but if I see you at the time of death, my next birth will surely be inauspicious. I am dying from the distress of not having attained Krishna and this cursed fool is giving me lessons about Brahman.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.8.16-23)

In this way, Madhavendra Puri was induced to withholding his blessings from Ramachandra Puri. In fact, Ramachandra’s offense resulted in various material desires awakening in him. The word Kaviraja Goswami uses for mateial desire is vāsanā, which refers to latent desires in our subconscious that are the result of deep conditioning. Bhaktivinoda Thakur explains that in Ramachandra’s case this was a desire for liberation and knowledge of Brahman, which led him to despise the devotees. Thinking himself superior to them, he engaged in constant criticism, looking for every sign he could find of sensuality or falldown.

In the Bhakti-sandarbha (121), Jiva Goswami quotes two verses from the Bhagavat-pariśiṣṭa that supports the possibility of this kind of falldown—

jīvan-muktā api punar bandhanaṁ yānti karmabhiḥ
yady acintya-mahā-śaktau bhagavaty aparādhinaḥ
jīvan-muktāḥ prapadyante kvacit saṁsāra-vāsanām
yogino vai no lipyante karmabhir bhagavat-parāḥ

Those who have attained the liberated state while still in this world may still become entangled again as a result of their actions. This can happen if they commit offenses to the inconceivably powerful Supreme Lord. Those who have attained the liberated state while still in this world sometimes have desires. True yogis, however, are never affected by karma if they are fixed in devotion to the Lord.

Such persons may either become dry philosophers and engage in criticism of the devotees, while others may become out and out materialists, addicted to sex life and material enjoyments. In this particular case, Ramachandra Puri became addicted to the dry practice of philosophical speculation and a critic of all and sundry. He became so attached to faultfinding that he cultivated it like a kind of art. Wherever he went, he would find something to criticize in Vishnu and the Vaishnavas. Of such persons it is said,

śata śata guṇa ache tāhā nā kare grahaṇa
guṇa-madhye-o chale kare doṣa āropaṇa

Though someone may have hundreds and hundreds of virtues, they do not accept them, but rather find ways of turning their virtues into faults.

Kaviraja Goswami then contrasts Ramachandra’s behavior with that of Madhavendra’s other disciple, Ishwar Puri, who later became the spiritual master of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself.

Ishwar Puri served his spiritual master’s lotus feet, cleaning his stools and urine with his own hand. He constantly helped him to remember Krishna’s name, talking about Krishna’s pastimes and singing Krishna’s names unceasingly. Madhavendra Puri was so pleased that he embraced him and gave him a benediction, “May you have divine love for Krishna.” Thenceforward, Ishwar Puri was an ocean of prema, while Ramachandra Puri became a fountain of blasphemy. For the edification of the world, these two served as examples of the guru’s blessings and his punishment. (CC 3.8.27-31)

Madhavendra Puri was the root of the tree of prema. The verse on his lips at the time he left this world, though simple, is still a perfect example of his intense mood of divine separation.

ayi dīnadayārdra nātha he
mathurānātha kadāvalokyase
hṛdayaṁ tvad-aloka-kātaraṁ
dayita bhrāmyati kiṁ karomy aham

O Lord, whose heart softens at seeing the condition of the unfortunate! Oh Lord of Mathura, when will I ever see you? My heart is filled with pain from not seeing you, my love, and am confused. What can I do? (Padyāvalī 330, CC 3.8.32)

In the Madhya-lila of Chaitanya Charitamrita, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself sang this verse. In fact, Krishna Das Kaviraja says that only Srimati Radharani, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Madhavendra Puri have the capacity to relish this verse—

ei sloka kahiyāchena rādhā ṭhākurāṇī
tāṅra kṛpāya sphuriyāche mādhavendra purī
kibā gauracandra ihā kare āsvādana
ihā āsvādite āra nāhi cauṭha jana

This verse was spoken by Srimati Radharani, by whose mercy it appeared on the tongue of Madhavendra Puri. Gaurachandra then relished these words, but other than these three, no one else can truly understand them. (CC 2.4.194-195)

The idea behind this verse is explained by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur as follows,

Those who follow the path of pure devotion and adhere to the Vedanta are divided into four disciplic families. Of these four, Madhavendra Puri accepted the authenticity of the line of Madhva by taking sannyasa in this line. From Madhva to Lakshmipati (Madhavendra Puri's guru) this disciplic line lacked the mood of śṛṅgāra rasa or erotic love. This is evident from the conversation Mahaprabhu had with the Tattvavadis (the followers of Madhva’s line) during his tour of South India. Until Mahaprabhu's time the popular conception of the Absolute Truth was Vishnu bhakti, worshipping the Lord in the mood of awe and reverence.

With this beautiful verse, Madhavendra Puri sowed the seed of bhakti in śṛṅgāra rasa. He became one with the mood of Sri Radhika as she experienced intense separation from Krishna after he had left Vrindavan to become a prince in Mathura. To cultivate her feelings is the highest mood of devotion. A devotee immersed in this rasa or mood considers himself very poor and humble, and always begs Krishna to be kind to them. This is why Madhavendra addresses the Lord as dīna-dayārdra-nātha, “one who is kind to the poor.”

Inasmuch as we are separated from Krishna, this mood is the most natural way to feel while performing acts of devotion. After Krishna departs for Mathura, Sri Radhika's heart is trembling with anxiety from not being able to see him. Yearning to behold his beautiful face, she laments, “My love, my heart is sorrowful and agitated because I can't see you. What do I have to do to see you again? You know that I am helpless, please be kind to me!”

It can easily be seen that the mood expressed here by Madhavendra Puri resembles that of Mahaprabhu in the mood of Sri Radha in Vrindavan, especially when she saw Uddhava. Our preceptors have said that the root of the tree of śṛṅgāra rasa is Madhavendra Puri; Ishvara Puri is its sapling, Mahaprabhu is its trunk, and his followers are its branches. (Amṛta-pravāha-bhāṣya, 2.4.197)

This mood particularly awakened in Mahaprabhu on his passage through Remuna. Those pure-hearted disciples who follow in the line of disciplic succession from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, who was particularly dear to Sri Chaitanya and the foremost follower of Srila Rupa Goswami, can experience the same intensity of feeling. The fact of the matter is that by taking sincere shelter of genuine spiritual masters who are expert in the devotional service in this rich emotional spirit of separation, by following in the spirit described in the Bhagavatam—guru-daivatātmā—making the spiritual master one’s personal deity, will be able to dive into this ocean of transcendental devotional nectar and have the good fortune of tasting this ambrosia.

6. Narottam Das and Lokanath Goswami

The same example of devotion to the spiritual master can be found in our disciplic succession in the person of Narottam Das Thakur. His life is like the Bhagavatam, in that it is perfectly representative of the spiritual life of the sadhaka. Though Narottam was the son of a landowner so rich they called him a Raja, he did not hesitate to clean Lokanath Goswami’s toilet area in order to gain his compassionate glance.

This story is told in the Prema-vilāsa. Narottam was the son of a rich landowner in Rajshahi, now in Bangla Desh. He was devoted to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Krishna from an early age, but his parents wished to see him take responsibility for the family’s holdings. Narottam, however, had another idea and ran away to Vrindavan when still a teenager. In Vrindavan, he studied under Jiva Goswami, who told him to take initiation from one of the many exalted Vaishnavas living there at the time. Jiva himself, though he was the principal authority on the Vaishnava scriptures at the most respected member of the Gaudiya community in Vrindavan, had vowed not to give initiation to anyone.

Narottam had visited nearly all the great Vaishnavas in Vrindavan, but no one impressed him more than Lokanath Goswami, who was not only the very embodiment of renunciation, but unequalled in his devotion to Radhavinoda, his deity. Lokanath was so renounced that he never stayed in the same place two nights in a row, remaining under a different tree each night. One day, however, the Lord came personally to give Lokanath a deity, telling him that its name was Radhavinoda.

Lokanath wondered where he would keep his deity, as he was constantly wandering through the land of Vraja. Finally he decided to make a large bag, which he made into Radhavinoda’s temple. Wearing the bag around his neck, he was able to keep his worshipable close to his heart like a necklace. When the people of Vraja saw the affectionate relationship between Lokanath and his Lord, they were attracted to him and asked if they could build a house for him and Radhavinoda, but Lokanath refused. His spirit of renunciation was so strong that he declined to accept anything but what he absolutely needed for the deity’s service.

Lokanath had also made a vow not to accept any disciples. But Narottam Das was equally determined to take initiation from no one other than Lokanath. Narottam repeatedly asked Lokanath to give him initiation, but the saint was firm in his refusal. So finally, Narottam that even if he would not give him initiation, he would serve him in some special way in order to get Krishna’s favor, and if he could win his favor, so much the better.

That night, he started cleaning the area Lokanath used as a toilet. Narottam went to the place where the Goswami performed his bodily functions and did a special job of cleaning it. He sifted the soil to make a fine, clean earth with which Lokanath could clean his hands. He would sweep the place clean each night, his heart filled with joy. He considered it most fortunate that he could do this service, indeed, that it made his body worthwhile. He would hold the broom to his chest, repeating, “This is where I will get the strength to attain my lord’s lotus feet.” As he said these words, torrents of tears washed over his chest.

Lokanath was so surprised to see that the place was being kept clean that he became curious to to find out who was doing this service. One evening, he went and hid behind some bushes, chanting japa the entire night while waiting for his anonymous servant to come.

At midnight, Lokanath saw someone come and begin cleaning the place. When he saw who it was, Lokanath was astonished that Narottam, the son of a raja, was engaged in doing such a filthy task. He felt embarrassed and asked him what his purpose was in doing it. Narottam immediately began to cry. He fell at Lokanath’s feet and said, “My life is useless unless I obtain your mercy.” When Lokanath saw Narottam’s humility and pain, his resolve to never give anyone initiation softened and he imparted the mantras to him.

Lokanath was astonished to see that his toilet area was daily being kept clean. He became curious to to find out who was doing it and so, one evening, he went and hid in the jungle, chanting japa the entire night in wait for the anonymous benefactor. At midnight, he saw someone engaged in cleaning the place and asked him who he was. When he found out that Narottam, the son of a raja, was doing this filthy task, he felt embarrassed and told him to desist. Narottam, however, immediately fell at Lokanath’s feet and began to cry. When Lokanath saw Narottam’s humility and pain, his resolve softened and he finally gave him initiation. Thus Narottam Das gave an outstanding example to the world of how one should behave in the service of one’s spiritual master.

Lokanath was a very renounced Vaishnava, but he saw in Narottam someone who not only had a cultured background, but an enthusiasm and taste for dealing with people. As a result, he asked him to go back to his homeland to preach Krishna consciousness.

When one has taken full shelter of the Supreme Lord and is situated on the transcendental platform in full service to the Lord, then he usually has no enthusiasm for engaging in activities for the welfare of people on the bodily platform. When a devotee of Narottam Das’ caliber goes against this principle, then such welfare activities themselves are honored and they increase in prestige. So Narottam returned to Northern Bengal on the order of his spiritual master and began to preach pure devotional service and thus deliver the people of his homeland.

A humble disciple never thinks that he has finished his service to his spiritual master. In this respect, the following song by Narottam Das addressed to his guru is particularly worth remembering:

ki rūpe pāiba sevā mui durācār ?
śrī-guru-vaiṣṇave rati nā haila āmār
aśeṣa māyāte mana magana hailo
vaiṣṇavete leśa-mātra rati nā janmilo
viṣaye bhuliyā andha hainu divā-niśi
gale phāṅsa dite phire māyā se piśācī
māyāre kariyā jaya chāṛāno nā jāy
sādhu-kṛpā vinā āra nāhiko upāy
adoṣa-daraśi prabho patita-uddhār
ei bāra narottame koroho nistār

How can a wicked soul like me ever attain service to the Lord? I have no affection for the service of the spiritual master and the Vaishnavas. My mind has remained absorbed in this world of unlimited illusion and so been unable to develop even a drop of attachment for the association of devotees. I have totally forgotten myself in sense gratification and have become blind, both day and night. In the meantime, that witch Maya follows me around, looking for a chance to place a noose around my neck. There seems to be no way that I can get free of her. Other than the mercy of the saintly, there is nothing that can help me to conquer over Maya. O Gurudeva, you see no fault in anyone, you deliver even the most fallen. Please, O Gurudeva, it is now time to save Narottam Das.

Of course, Ishwar Puri, Narottam Das and other great souls in our disciplic succession are eternally perfect and so have no need for spiritual practices to attain perfection. These examples they give us are for our instruction and edification.

The ultimate object of service is the Supreme Person Krishna. He appears in the form of the spiritual master, also known as guru or acharya, who acts as a servant of God. Through this form he shows through both example and through precept how one is to cultivate devotional service to Krishna. He has done this throughout the past, and is doing so in the present, and will continue doing so in the future. Though the viṣaya-vigraha takes on the appearance of the āśraya-vigraha, it is essential to remember that both truths are simultaneously manifest in the spiritual master. If one fails to understand this, then he will surely slip into confusion and end up with unwanted results in his spiritual practice. It is Krishna’s divine compassion that takes form as a devotee in the person of the spiritual master. This is explained by Krishna Das Kaviraja Goswami as follows—

guru kṛṣṇa-rūpa hana śāstrera pramāṇe
guru-rūpe kṛṣṇa kṛpā kare bhakta-gaṇe

According to the scriptures, the spiritual master is a form of Krishna. Krishna takes the form of the guru to bestow his mercy on the devotees.” (CC 1.1.45)

It is not enough to simply make a show of taking shelter of the spiritual master. Even a slight deviation from the principle of loyalty to the spiritual master will result in suffering. The scriptures say—

tāṅra upadeśa-mantre māyā-piśācī palāya
kṛṣṇa-bhakti pāya kṛṣṇa nikaṭe jāya
tāte kṛṣṇa bhaje kare gurura sevana
māyā jāla chuṭe pāya kṛṣṇera caraṇa

The witch of material illusion flees at the utterance of the mantra the guru has given. Through his instructions one attains devotion to Krishna and goes to Krishna. So therefore, worship Krishna and serve the Guru. You will escape Maya’s net of illusion and attain Krishna’s lotus feet.

The guru is the knower of the subject of Krishna. He instructs us in the sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana tattvas. In order to attain this knowledge, we must approach him with humility, with a spirit of sincere inquiry and service.

tad viddhi praṇipātena
paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ

Try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire submissively and render service. Self-realized souls can impart knowledge because they are seers of the truth.

In this context, one should realize that it is not enough to bow down and ask questions, one must serve the spiritual master also, and one should do so from a basis of trust and affection. Service not done with this attitude is without merit. Therefore, Narottam Das prays, “How will I attain service to Krishna? I am so sinful that I have no affection for the guru and the Vaishnavas.”

In this series.


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