Sanatana Gosvami and I
Posted January 20, 2005
Clickity clack . . . Clickity clack . . . Clickity clack. . . .
Rhythmic sounds of a train in India during the late 1970s. I brought out my newly purchased version of Sanatana Gosvami's Brihad Bhagavatamrta and settled into my berth to give it a read.
Prior to my purchase I'd come across the ripened fruit of Vedic knowledge in the Srimad Bhagavatam, the Purana as brilliant as the sun, passed down through disciplic succession and made ever sweeter by the lips of Srila Sukadeva Gosvami. I settled more comfortably into my seat as the scent of someone nearby opening a tiffin passed through the air, sounds of "Chai, Gharam Chai!!" got louder and louder.
I soon travelled beyond my train surroundings, however, and entered the world of Maharaja Pariksit just after he completed hearing the Srimad Bhagavatam. While he was preparing himself for death by the bite of a snakebird, Pariksit's mother, Uttara, stepped forward in the midst of the gathered sages and approached her son. She humbly submitted that because she was a woman she had not clearly heard what Sukadeva was speaking the previous seven days. I considered that due to cultural etiquette during those times, she must have remained out of hearing range, staying quite a distance from the assembled sadhus. Uttara inquired from her son, "As nectar was churned from the Ocean of Milk, please extract for me the essence of what Sukadeva has taught you."
I was awed! Tears came to my eyes. What exquisite literature had I come across? Santanata Gosvami had successfully taken me beyond my wildest expectations. How was it possible to take the ripened fruit of Vedic knowledge, sweetened by Sukadeva's lips, and condense it? Ah, those revelations that lead us to higher levels are so intoxicating and pleasing to the heart!
On Guru Purnima, Sanatana Gosvami's Disappearance day, 1981, I performed my first Govardhana Parikrama. It was a mid-summer full-moon evening, and I'd heard from local Brijbasis that thousands of devotees would be walking around the hill.
I caught the bus to Govardhana late in the afternoon. I also knew Sanatana Gosvami had performed Govardhana Parikrama even in his elderly years, and that Krsna Himself had appeared before him and given him a Govardhana-shila with His lotus footprint imbedded within. He lovingly told Sanatana, "You can circumambulate this stone, and that will equal an entire Govardhana Parikrama." That same shila was now at the Radha Damodara Temple, and I could have just circumambulated there, but I wanted to circumambulate the actual hill that Krsna lifted on His lotus hand for seven days, to see what it was like. What atmosphere do Radha and Krsna enjoy on mid-summer full-moon evenings? Oh! How can I describe following in the footsteps of Santana Gosvami that night? More than twenty years later, I still envision the soft moonlight reflecting off Govardhana, and the distinct scent of night-blooming flowers mixed with footdust from thousands of Vaisnava pilgrims.
Shortly after my Govardhana parikrama, I humbly approached Sri Sri Radha Madan-mohan, the presiding Deities of sambandha-jnana, and prayed that we enter deeper and deeper into our relationship. I went daily to the Madan-mohan temple, established by Sanatana Gosvami, and offered my supplications. I chanted japa before the Deities, on top of Dvadasaditya Hill, and at Sanatana Gosvami's samadhi. While doing so, I naturally came across many of the same people each day, and gradually made acquaintances with the Temple management. On Radhastami of 1981, I offered an outfit to the Deities, and received some of Their maha-prasadam.
Panchu Gosvami, the mahant of the Madan-mohan Temple, gave me a leaf plate with one particular item I'd never seen before. It was a simple dough ball roasted on an open fire. We all know the story of Sanatana Gosvami and the Deity requesting salt. This is how he used to cook his offering. Sanatana would simply roll dough into a ball and throw it onto a fire. The dough cooked into a bread-like preparation, with hard, burnt crust outside, but soft inside. Simple living, very high thinking, Once again my heart shuddered, inspired by Srila Sanatana Gosvami. What renunciation! This very man was previously the Finance Minister for the Government of Bengal, and now, of his own volition, he was eating burnt bread rolls. But, oooh, was it tasty!
Last year I purchased some software, an interface and a microphone and thus turned my computer into a recording studio, and began recording books written by various sadhus (now available at www.sadhusanga.com). Once again while living in Vrndavana, I began reading the Brihad Bhagavatamrta. This time, however, because I was recording, I was forced to read it over and over and over again — at least most of it — in order to get it right. This was almost like editing the book, but without changing it. Thus every word became most important, which in turn took me deeper into the text.
Part One is the story of Narada Muni searching for devotees who have received the mercy of Krsna. The narration takes us progressively from Prayag to South India, Indraloka, Brahmaloka, Sivaloka, to Prahlada, Hanuman, the Pandavas, Yadus and finally to Krsna's palace in Dvaraka. While reading the book this time I was far more familiar with the characters, and even realized as I recorded that I knew their moods more thoroughly, which in turn allowed me to taste a sweeter rasa than I had previously tasted while reading years before. (One proof that the process of Krishna consciousness is working!)
While discussing his own writings, Srila Prabhupada is said to have commented, "My ecstasies are in my purports." For most of his later life, Srila Prabhupada remained awake into the wee hours of the morning compiling his purports. Just imagine the intimate ideas and emotions that must have evolved each night as he sat alone with various literatures as his association. "Everything I wanted to say is in my books."
The same truth is there for Santana Gosvami, Rupa Gosvami, Raghunatha dasa Gosvami, and other devotees in our disciplic succession. They live in their books! Each of them put extreme love and attention into their literatures, and share with us their love for Radha, Krsna, and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
"I offer my respectful obeisances unto the six Govamis, namely Sri Rupa Gosvami, Sri Sanatana Gosvami, Sri Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami, Sri Raghunatha dasa Gosvami, Sri Jiva Gosvami, and Sri Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, who are very expert in scrutinizingly studying all the revealed scriptures with the aim of establishing eternal religious principles for the benefit of all human beings. Thus they are honored all over the three worlds, and they are worth taking shelter of because they are absorbed in the mood of the gopis and are engaged in the transcendental loving service of Radha and Krsna."