Bhagavan Acharya was said to be Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s expansion.
acaryam bhagavantam tu tejomaya-kalevaram
yasya smarana-matrena gaura-prema prajayate
[I offer obeisances to] Bhagavan Acharya, whose powerful body is filled with effulgence. Just by remembering him, one will develop love for Gauranga Mahaprabhu.
Bhagavan Acharya was originally from the town of Halisahar, which is in the 24 Pargana district. Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami writes that he is considered to be Chaitanya’s branch along with Brahmananda Bharati, Shikhi Mahiti and Murari Mahiti.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.10.136)
It is written in the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana that Bhagavan Acharya appeared in Sri Dham Nabadwip, but left to live in Halisahar. His father Shatananda Khan was a wealthy materialist, while he himself was a scholar and a great Vaishnava who worshiped in the mood of friendship. Bhagavan Acharya was a householder. His son was named Raghunath Acharya. Both he and his son accompanied Jahnava Mata to Kheturi.
The following further information is found in the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana: "Bhagavan Acharya was particularly advanced in the study of logic, so much so that he received the title of Nyayacharya. When his father saw that he was developing the renounced spirit at a young age, he arranged for his marriage with the daughter of Nabadwip’s Madhusudana Ghataka. Despite this, Bhagavan Acharya overcame the entanglements of his householder life to go to live in Puri with the Lord. Mahaprabhu enjoined him to return to his wife, however, and so he came back to Bengal. He had two sons Raghunath and Ramanatha. Nevertheless, Bhagavan Acharya was unable to remain for long in householder life and he ultimately gave the responsibility for his wife and children to his brother-in-law and disciples. He then took the renounced order and returned to Puri to live with the Lord."
Bhagavan Acharya in Puri
When the Devotees heard that Mahaprabhu had returned from South India, they rushed to see Him. Bhagavan Acharya renounced everything and came to live there near the Lord.
Ramabhadra Acharya and Bhagavan Acharya came to live near the Lord, giving up all other duties.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 2.10.184)
Bhagavan Acharya was a great Devotee, a scholar and a man of refined habits. He came to Purushottam to be with the Lord. He was an incarnation of a cowherd who served Krishna in the mood of friendship. His dealings with Svarupa Damodar were also those of a close friend. He was completely surrendered to the Lord’s lotus feet, and he occasionally invited him to eat at his residence. He made various vegetable preparations which he personally served to the Lord.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.2.84-7)
Bhagavan Acharya would not brook any materialistic conversation, only listening to Krishna’s name, form, qualities and pastimes (Chaitanya Bhagavat 3.3.188). He was one of the many Devotees who came to meet Mahaprabhu in Puri after the Lord delivered Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya.
The great personality Bhagavan Acharya arrived. Mundane topics never entered his ears.
(Chaitanya Bhagavat 3.3.188)
He was present when Mahaprabhu went to greet Advaita Acharya, along with Kashishvara Pandit, Pradyumna Mishra and others. He was also present when Mahaprabhu went into an ecstatic trance and fell into the ocean, after taking the dunes on the beach to be Govardhana.
Paramananda Puri, Brahmananda Bharati and others ran to the beach while Bhagavana Acharya, being lame, followed them as quickly as he could.
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.14.90)
One day Bhagavan Acharya wanted to feed Mahaprabhu nicely and sent Chota Hari Das to beg for fine rice from Madhavi Devi. While eating, Mahaprabhu learned of this and became angry and ostracized Chota Hari Das. He said that for a renunciate to talk to a woman is worse than drinking poison.
prabhu kahe – vairagi kare prakriti sambhashana
dekhite na paron ami tahara vadana
The Lord said, "I cannot look upon the face of a someone who after taking the vows of renunciation continues to converse with women."
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.2.117)
Bhagavan Acharya’s Brother, Gopal
Bhagavan Acharya was a generous and unpretentious Vaishnava. Because of these qualities he was particularly dear to Mahaprabhu. The following account of his simplicity is given in the Chaitanya Charitamrita:
Bhagavan Acharya’s younger brother, Gopal Bhattacharya, had been to Kashi where he had studied Vedanta. After finishing his studies, he came to Puri to see his older brother who was quite pleased to hear that he had become learned in the field. With great enthusiasm, Bhagavan Acharya to introduce him to Mahaprabhu. The Lord, being the indweller of all beings, knew that Gopal was a mayavadi, so he was not delighted to meet Him. Even so, he formally showed a polite affection.
The simple, straightforward Bhagavan Acharya went to Svarupa Damodar and asked him to hear his brother speak on Shankara’s Vedanta-bhashya: "Gopal, my younger brother, has come here after finishing his study of Vedanta philosophy. Please come and hear the Vedanta commentary from him."
Svarupa Damodar Goswami, however, somewhat angry due to his love for Bhagavan Acharya, chastised him as follows:
"You have lost your intelligence in the association of Gopal, and now you are eager to hear the Mayavada philosophy. When a Vaishnava listens to the Shariraka-bhashya, the Mayavada commentary upon Vedanta-sutra, he gives up the attitude that the Lord is the master and the living entity is his servant. Instead, he considers himself to be the Supreme Lord. The Mayavada philosophy is so dangerous that even a highly elevated Devotee who has accepted Krishna as his life and soul changes his attitude if he studies it."
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.2.94-6)
Bhagavan Acharya continued, even though he had been chastised by Svarupa Damodar: "The Devotees are all fixed at the lotus feet of Krishna in heart and soul. Listening to the Shariraka-bhashya could not possibly have a negative effect on them."
Svarupa Damodar answered with a furhter warning about the dangerous effects of the Mayavada philosophy. He said, "When we hear the Mayavada philosophy, not only do we hear that Brahman is the only spiritual reality and that the universe of maya is false, but we gain no spiritual understanding. When a Devotee hears the Mayavadi say that the living entity is only imaginary and that the Supreme Lord is a manifestation of ignorance, it breaks his heart and soul."
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.2.98-99)
Svarupa Damodar’s remarks made Bhagavan Acharya ashamed and a little afraid, so sent his brother Gopal back to Bengal.
The poet from East Bengal
One day a poet came to Puri from eastern Bengal who wrote poetry according to his own whim. He had also written a play about Mahaprabhu. Since he knew Bhagavan Acharya personally, he read the play to him and afterwards to the other Devotees, all of whom praised his work. They felt that Mahaprabhu should hear his play, being under the impression that he would enjoy it. Svarupa Damodar would normally censor literary works before allowing them to be read to the Lord, however; he would examine them for improper presentation of devotional sentiment and doctrine. Only if he approved could any work of poetry be presented to Mahaprabhu for his enjoyment. Since his friend Bhagavan Acharya had praised the literary qualities of the play, Svarupa Damodar finally agreed to read it after repeated requests. As soon as the poet read the invocation verse and explained it, however, and even though all the Devotees were pleased, Svarupa Damodar pointed out two faults which had an offensive character.
The poet’s explanation was as follows:
"Lord Jagannath is a most beautiful body, and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is exceptionally grave, is the owner of that body. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has appeared here in Puri to spiritualize the entire dull material world."
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.5.114-5)
Hearing this glorification of the Lord, everyone present was delighted. Svarupa Damodar alone was not and he began to speak in great anger.
"You are a fool and have brought ill fortune upon yourself, for you have no faith in either of the two Lords, Jagannathdeva or Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Jagannath is completely spiritual and full of transcendental bliss, but you have said that he is nothing but a dull, destructible body composed of the inert, external energy. At the same time, you have said that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, full in six opulences, is an ordinary living being, a spark of spiritual energy rather than the supreme fire. You have committed offenses to both Lords. This is what happens when someone who knows no theology tries to glorify the Lord.
"Furthermore, you have made another great error. You have made a distinction between the Lord and His body. Such a distinction does not exist, for the Lord’s body and his identity are one. This is a great offense. At no time is there a distinction between the body and soul of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His personal identity and His body are made of blissful spiritual energy. There is no distinction between them."
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.5.117-122)
When he saw the poet’s distress at being criticized, Svarupa Damodar became compassionate and told him to take shelter of a pure Devotee,
jaho bhagavata pario vaishnavera sthane
ekanta ashraya karo caitanya-carane
caitanyera bhakta-ganera nitya karo sanga
tabe to janiba siddhanta-samudra-taranga
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.5.131-2)
Go and study the Bhagavat from a Vaishnava. Take exclusive shelter of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s lotus feet. Associate constantly with the devotees of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Only then will you be able to understand all the waves of the ocean of Vaishnava philosophy.
The Brahmin poet was amazed, ashamed and afraid, all at once. Svarupa Damodar was kind to him and showed him how his own verse could be reinterpreted to glorify Krishna. When he gave an elaborate explanation to the poet, he had a change of heart and surrendered to the Lord’s Devotees.
[Excerpted from “Sri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates” by Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]