Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya
The author of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta has described Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu as the ocean of transcendental knowledge and Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya as the cloud which is produced from that ocean. Rāmānanda Rāya was a greatly advanced scholar in devotional service, and by the grace of Lord Caitanya he gathered all transcendental conclusions just as a cloud gathers water from the ocean. As clouds appear from the ocean and then go all over the world to distribute water, which then returns to the ocean, so by the grace of Lord Caitanya, Rāmānanda Rāya attained his higher knowledge of devotional service and again, after retiring from service, went to join Lord Caitanya in Purī.
When Lord Caitanya visited the southern part of India, He first went to the great temple known as Jiyaḍa-nṛsiṁha-kṣetra. This temple is situated in a place known as Siṁhācala, five miles from Visakhapatnam. The temple is situated on the top of a hill. There are many temples in that area, but the Jiyaḍa-nṛsiṁha-kṣetra temple is the largest of all. This temple is filled with beautiful sculpture, of interest to many students, and due to its popularity it is a very rich temple. An inscription in the temple states that the King of Vijayanagara formerly decorated this temple with gold and even covered the body of the Deity with gold plate. To facilitate attendance at the temple, there are free apartments for visitors. The temple is managed by priests of the Rāmānujācārya sect.
When Lord Caitanya visited this temple, He praised the Deity and quoted a verse from Śrīdhara Svāmī’s commentary on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (7.9.1):
“Although Lord Nṛsiṁha is very severe to demons and nondevotees, He is very kind to His submissive devotees like Prahlāda.” Lord Nṛsiṁha appeared as a half-man, half-lion incarnation of Kṛṣṇa when Prahlāda, a boy devotee of the Lord, was harassed by his demoniac father Hiraṇyakaśipu. Just as a lion is very ferocious to other animals but very kind and submissive to his cubs, so Lord Nṛsiṁha appeared ferocious to Hiraṇyakaśipu and very kind to His devotee Prahlāda.
After visiting the temple of Jiyaḍa-nṛsiṁha, the Lord proceeded further into South India and ultimately reached Vidyānagara, on the bank of the Godāvarī. While on the bank of this river, the Lord remembered the Yamunā River in Vṛndāvana, and He considered the trees on the bank to be the forest of Vṛndāvana. Thus He was in ecstasy there. After taking a bath in the Godāvarī, the Lord sat near the bank and began chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. While sitting and chanting, the Lord saw that the governor of the province, Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya, had reached the banks of the river accompanied by his associates, which included a musical band and many brāhmaṇas. Previously the Lord had been asked by Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya to visit the great devotee Rāmānanda Rāya at Kabur. The Lord could understand that the man approaching the riverbank was Rāmānanda Rāya, and He desired to see him immediately. But because He was in the renounced order of life, He restrained Himself from going to see a person involved in political affairs. Being a great devotee, Rāmānanda Rāya was attracted by the features of Lord Caitanya, who appeared as a sannyāsī, and he himself came to see the Lord. Upon reaching Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Rāmānanda Rāya prostrated himself to offer his obeisances and respects. Lord Caitanya received him by vibrating Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare.
When Rāmānanda Rāya presented his credentials, Lord Caitanya embraced him, and both of them were overwhelmed with ecstasy. The brāhmaṇas who accompanied Rāmānanda Rāya were surprised to see them embracing in transcendental ecstasy. The brāhmaṇas were all stalwart followers of the rituals, and they could not understand the meaning of such devotional symptoms. Indeed, they were rather surprised to see such a great sannyāsī touch a śūdra, and they were also surprised to see Rāmānanda Rāya, who was a great governor and practically king of that province, crying simply by touching a sannyāsī. Lord Caitanya understood the brāhmaṇas’ thoughts and, considering the unfavorable situation, He pacified Himself.
After this, Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya sat down together. “Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya has spoken very highly of you,” Lord Caitanya informed him. “So I have come to see you.”
“Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya considers me one of his devotees,” Rāmānanda Rāya replied. “Therefore he has kindly recommended that You see me.”
Rāmānanda Rāya very much appreciated the Lord’s touching a man of wealth. Generally a king, governor or any politician is always absorbed in thoughts of political affairs and pounds-shillings-pence; therefore such persons are avoided by sannyāsīs. Lord Caitanya, however, knew Rāmānanda Rāya to be a great devotee, and so He did not hesitate to touch and embrace him. Rāmānanda Rāya was surprised by Lord Caitanya’s behavior, and he cited a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.8.4): “Great personalities and sages appear in the homes of worldly men just to show them mercy.”
Lord Caitanya’s special treatment of Rāmānanda Rāya indicated that although Rāmānanda Rāya was born in a nonbrahminical family he was far, far advanced in spiritual knowledge and activity. Therefore he was more respectable than one who simply happens to be born in a brahminical family. Although Rāmānanda, out of his meek and gentle nature, considered himself to be born in a lower, śūdra family, Lord Caitanya nonetheless considered him to be situated in the highest transcendental stage of devotion. Devotees never advertise themselves as great, but the Lord is very eager to advertise the glory of His devotees. After meeting for the first time that morning on the bank of the Godāvarī, Rāmānanda Rāya and Lord Caitanya separated with the understanding that Rāmānanda Rāya would come in the evening to see the Lord.
That evening, after the Lord had taken His bath and seated Himself, Rāmānanda Rāya came to see Him with a servant. He offered his respects and sat down before the Lord. Before Rāmānanda Rāya could even ask the Lord a question about the advancement of spiritual knowledge, the Lord said, “Please quote some verses from scripture about the ultimate goal of human life.”
Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya at once replied: “A person who is sincere in performing his occupational duty will gradually develop a sense of God consciousness.” In this connection he quoted a verse from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (3.8.9) which states that one worships the Supreme Lord by following the principles of one’s occupational duty and that there is no alternative for satisfying Him. The purport is that human life is meant for understanding one’s relationship with the Supreme Lord and acting in that relationship. Any human being can do this by dovetailing himself in the service of the Lord while discharging his prescribed duties. For this purpose human society is divided into four classes: the intellectuals (brāhmaṇas), the administrators (kṣatriyas), the merchants (vaiśyas), and the laborers (śūdras). For each class there are prescribed rules and regulations, as well as occupational functions. The prescribed duties and qualities of the four classes are described in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.41–44). A civilized society should be organized so that people follow the prescribed rules and regulations for their particular class. At the same time, for spiritual advancement they should follow the four stages of āśrama, namely, student life (brahmacarya), householder life (gṛhastha), retired life (vānaprastha) and renounced life (sannyāsa).
Rāmānanda Rāya stated that those who strictly follow the rules and regulations of these eight social divisions can actually satisfy the Supreme Lord, and one who does not follow them certainly spoils his human form of life and glides down toward hell. One can peacefully achieve the goal of human life simply by following the rules and regulations which apply to oneself. The character of a particular person develops when he follows the regulative principles in accordance with his birth, association and education. The divisions of society are so designed that many people with different characteristics can be regulated under those divisions for the peaceful administration of society and for spiritual advancement as well. The social classes can be further characterized as follows: (1) One whose aim is to understand the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, and who has thus devoted himself to learning the Vedas and similar literatures is called a brāhmaṇa. (2) A person whose occupation involves displaying force and administering the government is called a kṣatriya. (3) One who is engaged in agriculture, herding cows and doing business is called a vaiśya. (4) One who has no special knowledge but is satisfied by serving the other three classes is called a śūdra. If one faithfully discharges his prescribed duties, he is sure to advance toward perfection. Thus regulated life is the source of perfection for everyone. One who leads a regulated life centered around devotional service to the Lord attains perfection. Otherwise such a regulated life is simply a useless waste of time.
After hearing Rāmānanda Rāya expound upon the proper execution of a regulated life, Lord Caitanya said that such a life is simply external. Indirectly He asked Rāmānanda to describe something superior to such an external exhibition. Formal execution of rituals and religion is useless unless aimed at attaining the perfection of devotional service. Lord Viṣṇu is not satisfied simply by a ritualistic adherence to Vedic instructions; He is actually pleased when one attains the stage of devotional service.
According to the verse cited by Rāmānanda Rāya, one can rise to the point of devotional service by ritualistic performance. In the Bhagavad-gītā (18.45–46), Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who appeared in order to deliver all classes of people, states:
saṁsiddhiṁ labhate naraḥ
yathā vindati tac chṛṇu
yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
sva-karmaṇā tam abhyarcya
siddhiṁ vindati mānavaḥ
“A human being can attain the highest perfectional stage of life by worshiping the Supreme Lord, from whom everything has emanated, through his occupational duties.” This perfectional process was followed by great devotees like Bodhāyana, Ṭaṅka, Dramiḍa, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Bhāruci. All these great personalities followed this particular path of perfection. The Vedic injunctions also aim in this direction. Rāmānanda Rāya wanted to present these facts before the Lord, but apparently mere discharge of ritualistic duties is not perfection. Therefore Lord Caitanya said that it was external, indicating that if a man has a material conception of life he cannot attain the highest perfection, even if he follows all the ritualistic regulations.