uvacato gaura harir naitad ramasya karanam
jatila radhika-shvashruh karyato ‘vishad eva tam
ato mahaprabhur bhiksha-sankocaditato ‘karot
Ramachandra’s dear Devotee, Vibhishana, took birth as Ramachandra Puri. Radharani’s mother-in-law, Jatila, also entered into him for certain special purposes. On account of him, Mahaprabhu reduced his food consumption. (Gaura-ganoddesha-dipika 92-3)
tam vande krishna-caitanyam ramacandra-puri-bhayat
laukikaharatah svam yo bhikshannam samakocayat
I offer my prayers to Shri Krishna Chaitanya who out of fear of Ramachandra Puri reduced his eating in the eyes of the world. (Chaitanya-charitamrita 3.8.1)
Ramachandra Puri as Counter-Example
Before discussing the character of Ramachandra Puri, we must remember that the lessons of his life are taught as counter-examples. Anyone who seeks the perfection of his own life should bear in mind that the following lessons are to be learned from his actions:
(1) Faultfinding, especially finding fault in Vishnu and the Vaishnavas, is extremely detrimental to one’s spiritual advancement. A devotional practitioner should look at his own faults rather than at others’. By correcting his own faults, he will be able to make some advancement. Anyone who sincerely seeks to achieve pure devotional service should always remember the following verse from Mahaprabhu’s teachings to Rupa Goswami:
yadi vaishnava aparadha uthe hati mata
uparie va chinde tara shukhi jaya pata
If the maddened elephant of Vaishnava-aparadha enters the devotional garden, the creeper of bhakti will be uprooted and all its leaves will dry up. (Chaitanya-charitamrita 2.19.156)
(2) All the disciples who take initiation from the same guru are not to be considered equal. Though superficially all may have taken shelter of the spiritual master and received the mantra from him, they cannot all be considered true or sincere disciples. The spiritual master rewards the disciple who dedicates himself to affectionate service of the master; such a disciple is furthermore able to recognize the mercy of his spiritual master. A disciple seeking his own perfection will bear in mind that of the sixty-four limbs of devotional service, one of the most important is vishrambhena guroh seva, the service of the spiritual master in reverence and respect. The sincere disciple recognizes that the spiritual master’s instructions are beneficial both for himself and for others.
(3) To show disrespect to one’s spiritual master and to other Vaishnavas has a pernicious effect on one’s spiritual life. One should remember that the Lord cannot tolerate the transgression of the rules of etiquette. (Chaitanya-charitamrita 3.4.166). Due to whatever misfortune, some conditioned souls come under the influence of the illusory energy and are so bewildered by a pride in their own knowledge or self-worth that they arrogantly try to correct or to instruct the Vaishnava or the guru.
(4) Those who want to increase in devotion should associate with and serve other Devotees who are affectionate and who have similar spiritual goals. The tendency to serve Vishnu and the Vaishnavas is increased by associating with those who possess this tendency in greater quantities.
(5) Because of his relation to the guru, the guru’s godbrother is as worshipable as the guru himself. One must always show him the proper respect. Even if one thinks that his instructions are not correct, one should still maintain the outer decorum and not use direct critical speech with him. Mahaprabhu taught this kind of behavior by His own actions.
gorara ami, gorara ami mukhe balile nahi cale
gorara acara gorara vicara la+ile phala phale
Just to repeat 'I belong to Gaura, I belong to Gaura' is not in itself sufficient. One has to follow the practice and the teachings given by Gaura if one wishes to achieve the promised results. (Bhaktivinoda Thakur).
Ramachandra Criticizes Jagadananda Pandit
Ramachandra Puri’s family background and birthplace are unknown. It is well known that he took initiation from Madhavendra Puri. Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami has related the story of his relationship to his guru and to Mahaprabhu in the Antya-lila of Chaitanya-charitamrita. Because he was Madhavendra Puri’s initiated disciple, both the Lord and Paramananda Puri showed him respect. Nevertheless, despite his relationship to the distinguished master, Ramachandra Puri associated closely with those who followed the path of dry knowledge and was attracted to doctrines opposed to those of pure devotional service.
One day, Jagadananda Pandit saw the Lord, Paramananda and Ramachandra paying obeisances to each other, embracing each other and engaging in conversation. He decided to invite the three of them to eat a meal together. He arranged for copious amounts of Jagannath Prasad to be brought for them and fed them very well. When they had finished, Ramachandra Puri himself told Jagadananda to sit down and take Prasad. He took special care of him, personally serving him with the Lord’s remnants. After Jagadananda had finished eating, however, he criticized Mahaprabhu’s followers saying:
I had heard that Chaitanya’s followers were big eaters. Now I have seen with my own eyes that this is true. To feed a sannyasi excessively leads to the destruction of religious principles. A renunciate who eats this much will find that his vows will dissipate. (*Chaitanya-charitamrita 3.8.15-16)
How Ramachandra Became a Fault Finder
This propensity to find fault with others, to criticize and to give instructions in dry philosophy was the result of offenses Ramachandra Puri had committed at the feet of his spiritual master. When Madhavendra Puri was on his death bed in Remuna, he was in the depth of separation from Krishna and was crying in the mood of Radha after Krishna’s departure for Mathura. He kept repeating the verse,
ayi dinadayardra natha he, mathuranatha kadavalokyase
hridayam tvad-aloka-kataram dayita bhramyati kim karomy aham
"O Lord, whose heart softens at seeing the condition of the unfortunate! Oh lord of Mathura, when will I see You? My heart is filled with pain from not seeing You, oh my love, and is confused. What can I do?"
Both Ishvara Puri and Ramachandra Puri were present at this time. Ramachandra had no understanding of his spiritual master’s mood and treating him like an ordinary human being, arrogantly began to give him instruction. He said, “Remember that you are completely full of the bliss of Brahman. Why are you crying like this despite being knowledgeable of your own Brahma-nature?”
When Madhavendra Puri heard these words so full of ignorance and effrontery, he became angry and began to rebuke Ramachandra, saying,
"Get away from me, you most sinful rascal! I am dying from the distress of not having received Krishna’s mercy, of not having attained Mathura, and you come to add to my misery! Don’t show your face to me again, go wherever you like! If I see you while I am dying I will take a lower birth. I am dying from the distress of not having attained Krishna and this lowly fool is teaching me about Brahman." (Chaitanya-charitamrita 3.8.22-5)
As a result of his offenses, Madhavendra Puri withdrew his blessings from Ramachandra Puri who thenceforth started to develop material desires. He became a dry philosopher without any interest in Krishna. Not only that but he became critical of everyone, exclusively devoting himself to faultfinding.
In this connection, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur has written, "Even though Ramachandra Puri saw his own guru suffering of separation from Krishna, he was incapable of recognizing the transcendental nature of this transport of emotions. He judged his guru to be an ordinary man and took his mood to be material, the result of some material insufficiency. As a result he tried to explain to him the value of experiencing the oneness of Brahman. Madhavendra Puri reacted to his disciple’s stupidity and disregard for his instructions and thus stopped wishing for his well-being. He abandoned him and drove him away."
On the other hand, Ishvara Puri not only adhered to his guru’s teaching but served him physically and thus received his mercy, so becoming immersed in love of Krishna.
"Ishvara Puri received his spiritual master’s mercy, while Ramachandra Puri received his enmity. For the edification of the world, these two served as examples of the guru’s blessings and his punishment." (Chaitanya-chritamrita 2.8.32)
Ramachandra Puri Finds Fault with the Lord Himself
Deprived of his spiritual master’s blessings, Ramachandra Puri sought out sannyasis to find out what their activities were, how much they ate, etc., all for the sake of discovering their faults. Mahaprabhu had the habit of taking lunch on the invitation of His various Devotees. If anyone was unable for whatever reason to invite the Lord to his house for a meal, he would give a donation of money to buy Jagannath Prasad. The customary amount at that time was four panas or strings (320) of cowries.
Unable to appreciate the Lord’s glories and thinking of Him as an ordinary man, Ramachandra Puri concerned himself with gathering all sorts of information about His lodgings, His habits, how much He ate and slept and His comings and goings. He was interested only in finding faults and finally he found one. He criticized those in the renounced order for eating sweetmeats, saying that it made it difficult to control the senses. Though his only goal was to find fault with the Lord, Ramachandra Puri nevertheless he came regularly to see Him. When they met, the Lord would offer him respectful obeisances, considering him a godbrother of Hs spiritual master.
One day Ramachandra Puri came in the morning to Mahaprabhu’s residence. Seeing many ants in the Lord’s room, he began to criticize Him, saying, "Last night there was molasses made from sugar cane in here. This is why there are so many ants. Alas, how sad to see such an attachment to sense gratification amongst those in the renounced order of life!" After saying this, he got up and left.
Though ants quite naturally roam about everywhere, Mahaprabhu became apprehensive as a result of his accusations. He called Govinda and instructed him to reduce His daily consumption of Prasad to one-fourth of a pot and five gandas worth of vegetables. He warned him that if Govinda brought Him more than this amount, He would leave Puri.
When the Devotees heard about Mahaprabhu’s reduction in Prasad consumption, they were thunderstruck. They condemned Ramachandra Puri and themselves stopped eating. When Ramachandra Puri heard that Mahaprabhu and His Devotees had all reduced the amount of food they were taking, he went to see Him and impudently said:
"A sannyasi is not supposed to gratify his senses. He should fill his belly with the bare minimum. I see that You have become thin. Indeed, I have heard that You have cut your eating in half. But this kind of dry renunciation is not the religion of a sannyasi, either. A sannyasi eats as much as is necessary to maintain his body, but without engaging in sense gratification. By so doing, he becomes perfect in the discipline of knowledge."
natyashnato 'pi yogo 'sti na caikantam anashnatah
na cati-svapna-shilasya jagrato naiva carjuna
yuktahara-viharasya yukta-ceshtasya karmasu
yukta-svapnavabodhasya yogo bhavati duhkha-ha
"O Arjuna, yoga practice is impossible for anyone who overeats, under-eats, oversleeps, or under-sleeps. For a person who eats, relaxes and exerts himself in all duties in a regulated way, and who keeps regular hours in proper measure, the practice of yoga brings about the end of all worldly suffering." (Bhagavad-gita 6.16-17)
Mahaprabhu continued to show Ramachandra Puri the same respect as before, however, and humbly submitted, "I am just like an ignorant boy and it is My great fortune that you treat Me like your disciple and instruct Me. I will do My best to follow your instructions." Hearing this, Ramachandra Puri got up and left.
Paramananda Puri Tries to Intercede
In the meantime, Paramananda Puri heard that all the Devotees of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu were eating only half as much as usual. He and some other Devotees approached the Lord with great humility and submission and said, "Ramachandra Puri is by nature a slanderer. It is not wise to give up eating on his say-so. It is his wont to make someone eat far more than he wants. Then he reproaches that person for overeating. Two kinds of activity, though rejected in the revealed scriptures, constitute the substance of his daily affairs:
para-svabhava-karmani na prashamsen na garhayet
vishvam ekatmakam pashyan prakritya purushena ca
"One should neither praise nor criticize the activities of others which result from their nature, because everything in the universe is a combination of the material nature and the living souls, and is thus one sole entity. (SB 11.28.1)
"Of the two rules, Ramachandra Puri obeys the first by abandoning praise, but although he knows that the second is more prominent, he neglects it by criticizing others."
Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur comments on this verse by saying, "The above-mentioned verse from Shrimad Bhagavatam gives two injunctions. The first, called purva-vidhi, is that one should not praise, and the second, para-vidhi, is that one should not criticize. It is generally said that the rule which is given later takes precedence over previously given injunctions. From this we can understand that to praise someone is not so dangerous, while one should avoid calumny. Here, however, Ramachandra Puri observed the injunction to avoid praising others, but did not observe the prohibition against criticism. Thus he neglected the para-vidhi but strictly observed the purva-vidhi. This verse thus has an ironical meaning."
Paramananda Puri continued: "Ramachandra Puri does not praise even a person who has hundreds of good qualities; he rather finds some way of calling these qualities a fault. You should not give up eating properly because of his criticism; You should rather accept invitations as before."
Mahaprabhu replied, "There is no reason to get angry at Ramachandra Puri. A sannyasi should not be lusty after the pleasures of the tongue, but only eat in order to keep body and soul together."
When the Devotees continued to press the Lord to abandon His new principle, He would not do so. Finally, He responded to their request by accepting half of the original amount of Prasad (rather than a quarter as He was then doing). Thus the cost for the food needed to invite Him was fixed at two panas of cowries (160 conch shells), and that food would be taken by two men and sometimes three.
Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami writes:
"When a Brahmin at whose home an invitation could not be accepted invited the Lord, he would pay two panas of conch shells to purchase the Prasad. When a Brahmin at whose home an invitation could be accepted invited him, the Brahmin would purchase part of the Prasad and cook the rest at home. (Chaitanya-charitamrita 3.8.89-90)
Ramachandra Leaves Puri
If Gadadhara Pandit, Bhagavan Acharya or Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya invited the Lord on a day when He had already been invited to dine by someone else, He would break His previous engagement. Then He would eat as much as they served Him.
Mahaprabhu sometimes treated Ramachandra Puri according to worldly etiquette, and sometimes He would ignorer him as though he were of no more significance than straw. All the Lord’s activities are auspicious and beautiful, in all times and circumstances.
"Sometimes the Lord acted almost like a servant to Ramachandra Puri. At other times, He treated him like straw. The Lord’s activities are beyond human comprehension. Whatever He does, to whomever, is always enchanting." (Chaitanya-charitamrita 3.8.94-5)
Ramachandra Puri stayed in Jagannath Puri for a short while longer before leaving to visit various holy places of pilgrimage. When he left, the Devotees felt extremely happy, as if a great load of stones had suddenly fallen from their heads to the ground. Mahaprabhu once again began to accept invitations as before and the Devotees were able to serve Him without hindrance.
Thus, if one commits an offense to one’s spiritual master, that offense eventually arrives at the feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.
"This is the result of being rejected by one’s spiritual master. Eventually, the offense reaches as far as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Even though the Lord did not consider the offenses of Ramachandra Puri, considering him to be a senior, he instructed through His behavior about the result of offending the spiritual master." (Chaitanya-charitamrita 3.8.99-100)
Mahaprabhu Stays with Ramachandra Puri in Benares
Vrindavan Das Thakur has also written that Mahaprabhu hid in the house of Ramachandra Puri while in Benares.
Mahaprabhu remained hidden for two months in Ramachandra Puri’s matha. (Chaitanya Bhagavat 2.19.105)
Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur writes in his Gaudiya-bhashya, "Gaurasundara stayed in the house of Chandrashekhara while in Benares. Chandrashekhara was a shudra of the vaidya caste. Vrindavan Das Thakur says that He stayed with Ramachandra Puri, who is known as a pretentious disciple of Madhavendra Puri who had a strong preference for the Mayavada philosophy. He told people in Benares that He was staying with Ramachandra Puri while in fact He preferred to spend His time with Devotees. Ramachandra Puri was a sannyasi in one of the ten Shankarite orders, therefore Mahaprabhu stayed with him to avoid criticism from the non-devotees."
[Excerpted from “Shri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates” by Shrila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]