Nothing is known about Subuddi Raya’s birthplace or his parents. His life is memorable because he received Mahaprabhu’s association and special blessings. In the first part of his life, he became the king of Gaudadesha. According to Ashutosha Deva’s Bengali dictionary, Gauda was the name of the ancient capital of Bengal in Malda district, from which the entire Bengali kingdom took its name. On the other hand, Hari Das writes in his Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana that, according to the Skanda Purana, there were five Gaudas, by which were meant the kingdoms of Sarasvata, Kanyakubja, Utkala (Orissa), Maithila, and Bengal, but that the name was primarily used for the region lying between East Bengal (Banga) and Mithila. Vijaya Sena of Karnataka came and became the king of Gauda and his descendants were known as Gaudeshvara. Vijaya Sena’s son Ballala Sena established the city of Gauda on the banks of the Ganges. The course of the Ganges has since moved. Previously, all Bengalis were known as Gaudiyas, but the name has become synonymous with Vaishnavas who follow Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Subuddhi Raya was born in a Brahmin family and was well-known for his scholarship. While he was king of Gauda, Hussein Shah was his protégé. Previously, Subuddhi was the master of Bengal and Hussein Khan Sayyid worked for him. (Chaitanya-charitamrita 2.25.180).
Subuddhi put Hussein Khan in charge of digging a big tank, but because of mistakes made by the latter, punished him by having him whipped. Subsequently, Hussein Khan himself became the king of Gauda. Nevertheless, because of the help which Subuddhi had given him in the past, continued to treat him with a great deal of respect. The scars of the flogging he had received from Subuddhi remained on his body, however, and one day Hussein Shah’s queen asked where they came from. When the King told his wife the story, she became angry and incited her husband to punish Subuddhi by putting him to death. Hussein Shah refused to go to such extremes, and so his wife suggested that he punish him by bringing about his caste falldown. The King refused to do this because he knew that doing so would be tantamount to killing him. His wife insisted, however, even threatening to kill herself if he did not do something. Finally, he was obliged to give in to his wife and he gave water to Subuddhi to drink, which according to the Hindu rules of the time meant that he lost his caste status.
Even prior to these events Subuddhi had become completely detached from material life. He took this opportunity to leave his home and family and go to live in Varanasi. There he inquired from the Smarta Brahmanas how to go about atoning for the loss of caste status. They told him that he should commit suicide by drinking boiling ghee. In the Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana, it is said that it was common to be told to atone by jumping into a fire of chaff, i.e., a fire which is not easily extinguished. Others, however, objected that such a heavy punishment did not fit the minor nature of the offense. As a result of this difference of opinion amongst the Brahmins, Subuddhi Raya hesitated.
When Mahaprabhu came to Varanasi, Subuddhi came to see Him and recounted the whole story from beginning to end. The Lord recommended to him that he go to Vrindavan and chant the names of Krishna. The Lord said, Leave here and go to Vrindavan. Chant the Holy Names of Krishna constantly. The shadow of the Name will destroy any sins you may have committed. If you go on chanting, you will attain Krishna’s lotus feet. (Chaitanya-charitamrita 2.25.191-3)
On the Lord’s order, Subuddhi Raya set off for Vrindavan, stopping in Prayag, Ayodhya and Naimisharanya, where he stayed for some time. When he finally arrived in Mathura, he learned that the Lord had already left for Prayag and that he had thus missed Him. In distress and separation, Subuddhi became very renounced. He made his living by gather dry wood from the jungle and selling it in Mathura. He subsisted on the little money that he made from this work, eating only dried chick peas to keep body and soul together. Even so, he was able to put some money aside which he used for serving the Bengali Vaishnavas, feeding them with rice and yogurt.
Subuddhi Raya gathered dry wood and sold it in Mathura, receiving five or six paisa for each load. He spent only one paisa for food, eating dried chick peas. The rest of the money was kept with a businessman. Whenever he saw Vaishnavas in distress, he would feed them and when Gaudiya Vaishnavas arrived in town, he would provide them with rice, yogurt and mustard oil for rubbing on the body. (Chaitanya-charitamrita Madhya 25.197-9)
Rupa Goswami was extremely happy when he saw Subuddhi Raya’s renunciation and service to the Vaishnavas. Subuddhi took Rupa with him to visit all the holy sites in Vraja-mandala. (Chaitanya-charitamrita 2.25.200) It is clear from this that service to the Vaishnavas is not restricted to the very rich. Even a poor person will find the means to serve Vishnu and the Vaishnavas if he has a sincere desire to do so. By the will of the Lord, he will never have any shortage. This is the example set by Subuddhi Raya’s holy life.
When Sanatana Goswami was walking from Varanasi to Mathura, he took the main road from Prayag on the Lord’s order. In the meantime, Rupa and Anupama had taken the road along the banks of the Ganges in order to meet Mahaprabhu in Prayag. When Sanatana met Subuddhi in Mathura, he learned from him that he had missed Rupa and Anupama. Subuddhi showed a great deal of affection for Sanatana as he had known him in his previous life as a government minister. He wanted to serve him, but Sanatana did not wish to accept his service.
Subuddhi Raya spent the rest of his life in Vrindavan worshiping the Lord by chanting the Holy Names in great renunciation. In this way he followed the order of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The date of his death is unknown.
[Excerpted from “Shri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates” by Shrila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]