śrī śrī guru gaurāṅga jayataḥ!
Year 15, Special Issue
Posted: 29 October 2022
nitya-līlā praviṣṭa oṁ viṣṇupāda
Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja
Inspired by and under the guidance of
Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja
Special Online Edition for the disappearance day of
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda
Ethical Problems on Gopanna’s Devotion
by Abhay Charan Bhaktivedanta
(Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda)
The following English article by Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda about the famous Kancherla Gopanna (also known as Bhakta Ramadasu or Bhadrachala Ramadasu), a 17th century Vaiṣṇava devoted to Lord Rāmacandra, was recently found in the archives of Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja, in the magazine Śrī Sajjana-toṣaṇi Patrikā, Volume 1, September 1955. To our knowledge, it has not previously been shared with the world-wide community of devotees.
Śrīla Prabhupāda presents the article in two parts: (1) an excerpt from the article “Bhadradri Ramdas” by Sri N. Chandrashekhara Aiyar published in the daily Hindustan Times, followed by Sri N. Chandrashekhara Aiyar’s commentary on Gopanna’s devotion, and (2) Śrīla Prabhupāda’s penetrating commentary on both.
To preserve the flavour of the original article, written ten years before Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda journeyed to Western shores, we have retained his spelling of certain Sanskrit words and have only lightly edited the article, including the newspaper excerpt, for clarity. The ślokas within the article are written in Devanagari script, so herein, we are presenting them in the standard way, with diacritics.
You can view a PDF of the original article here.
Aspiring to serve Śrī Guru and the Vaiṣṇavas
The Rays of The Harmonist team
Gaudiya Vedanta Publications
An interesting story under the heading “Bhadradri Ramdas” has appeared in the Hindustan Times. Extracts from the story that are presented as follows will be read with interest by persons engaged in the transcendental loving service of God.
“There is a temple on the hill dedicated to Rama, Laksmana and Sita. The images [deities] have laid concealed in the earth for ages. In the course of time, a pious lady called Damakka, who was a devotee of Rama, had a dream in which she was told the exact whereabouts of the images and was asked to unearth them, install them, and offer them worship until the time came that a great Rama Bhakta would appear on the scene and give the images his attention. Damakka carried out the behest
“Bhadrachalam, which was a Jagir1 under Moghul rule, became subject to the Golconda2 Nawabs3 about the middle of the 17th century. One of the Golconda rulers was a man called Abdulla who had two Hindu ministers named Akanna and Madanna. Their sister’s son was called Gopanna. From the time of Gopanna’s infancy, he was lost in the worship of Sri Rama and in repeating His name. In course of time and of course due to the court influence of his uncles, he was appointed the Tahsildar4 of Bhadrachalam.
1 Jagir: Land granted to an appointee of the state, who would then become the jagirdar (landlord) with powers to govern and collect tax from the land’s tenants.
2 Golconda Sultanate (also called the Qutb Shahi dynasty) was a Persianate Shia Islam dynasty that ruled the sultanate of Golconda in southern India from 1518 till 1687.
3 Nawab: A native governor during the time of the Moghul Empire; a Moghul nobleman or person of high status.
4 Tahsildar: a tax collector or official of the department of revenue of an administrative area under his charge.
“It is this Gopanna who subsequently became known as the great Ramdas of Bhadrachalam.“The lesson to be drawn from the history of his life is a bit complicated. We have something of a riddle in regard to ethical properties and standards of public virtues. In short, the story is this.
“Gopanna was prepared to do anything for his God. He wanted to renovate the temple in Bhadrachalam, bedecking the permanent images and propitiating those images with costly and dazzling jewels of precious stones, performing festivals galore and, on every holy occasion, feeding the public, without distinction of caste and creed, to their heart’s content. He utilised the revenue of the tehsil [the administrative area under his charge ] for these purposes, and though the temple became prosperous and beautiful, the Nawab’s treasury fell short of six lakhs5 of Varahas, or gold mohurs6.
5 Six lakhs equals six hundred thousand.
6 Gold mohurs: Gold coins of India that were introduced in the 16th century by various Moghul princes and later used by the British as the standard gold coin of India. One gold mohur was generally equivalent to 15 silver rupees.
“When the accounts were taken [calculated] Gopanna was brought to Golconda as a prisoner and incarcerated. He was subjected to every kind of torture. Gopanna did not mind the torments inflicted on him, as sometimes, they did not affect him very much.
“Nearly 12 years passed in this manner before actual orders were issued by the Nawab for his decapitation.
“The Tenesha [Tana Shah] was sleeping with his queen in the harem when he had a dream. Two resplendent young men asked him to hasten to receive all the moneys due from Gopanna and issue him a receipt, so that he may be released forthwith. The Tenesha was dazed at the sight of the young men, and when he asked them for the money, the two people poured the amount in front of him on the floor. He asked them who they were and they said they belonged to the Surya Vamsa, or Solar race, and were known as Ramojee [Śrī Rāmacandra] and Lakhsmonojee [Lakṣmaṇa] and were friends and adherents of Ramdas (Gopanna).
“The Tenesha could not restrain his surprise. He went to the prison house himself, accompanied by the young men, acknowledged receipt of the moneys, and directed Gopanna’s immediate release. Ramojee and Laksmonojee disappeared, but the Tenesha found himself in bed once again, and woke up as if from a dream. The gold coins were there. He directed Gopanna to be brought to him, and when Gopanna appeared before him, He praised to the skies his good fortune and devotion to God. He then sent him back to Bhadrachalam as Tehsildar, with six lakhs of varahas to be spent by him for the temple as he pleased. He also proclaimed that from that day forth, the pious Tehsildar was to be known as Ramdas, or the devotee of Sri Ram.”
* * *
The writer of the above narration, Sri N. Chandrashekhara Aiyar, has raised some ethical problems in regard to the above history. They are as follows :—
“However intense the devotion of Ramdas [Gopanna] to his Lord might have been, however pure and selfless his motives were, was it proper on his part to appropriate the public revenue in this manner and divert it to purposes for which it was never intended? It is not as though Ramdas was not warned about the impropriety. Some of his friends, according to the story, appear to have informed him, but he did not pay any heed. This makes the offence more serious.
“The answer that may be attempted but which is unconvincing is that as it is the duty of the king to take care, maintain, protect, and renovate temples and tanks and objects of public utility – within the limits of his state. It was up to the Tenesha to have done this himself, and therefore, there was nothing wrong in a [government] representative like Ramdas undertaking this duty on his shoulders, in the performance of which the royal patron was silent.
“But was it not the duty of Ramdas to ask the King’s permission to divert the funds? Why was Ramdas subjected to so much suffering and misery? The answer given in the [complete] story is that in his previous birth, he had taken hold of a parrot and caged it. In his subsequent birth, he had to pay retribution for that act of cruelty, by undergoing imprisonment.
“Is it necessary, however, to go to a previous birth at all? Good or evil deeds done intensively and in large scale bear fruit immediately, and the results are not delayed till future births. Was such colossal appropriation of state revenue for another purpose, however legitimate, not sufficient in itself to entail such punishment? Five questions about the absence of mens rea7 do not arise in such matters. Judging by the standard of public duty, the conduct of Ramdas was not justified, but in the supermundane fields, where faith and intuitional, God’s mercy and justice, have their place, our poor judgement is more often likely to be more wrong than right.
7 Mens rea – Latin for “guilty mind”. It refers to the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, as opposed to the action or conduct of the accused. It is classified variously of being of 3, 4, 5 or more types.
“It may be asked why all these questions of conduct and moral propriety should be raised when the Tenesha himself was not only satisfied with what had happened but praised Gopanna for what he had done. This is no doubt one aspect. It is a consoling thought, but it is by no means an argument in defence of Gopanna. Whatever one’s judgement may be, there is no doubt that Gopanna, as Bhakta Ramdas, is adored by thousands as a prince among devotees.”
* * *
[Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda’s commentary]
In the above statement on the story of Gopanna, many intricate questions have been raised, and we shall try to answer them one by one, in accordance with the verdict of the scriptures. No amount of imaginative judgement will help us unless we refer to the matter in terms of Shastras.
We will first deal with the point, “What is the real position of a devotee of God, in this mundane world?” A devotee’s position is not relative. Because he is fixed in the service of the Absolute, in all his activities he does not live in the relative world, although apparently, he seems to remain among us. Being situated in the Absolute, a devotee is not to be conditioned by the laws of physical world.
īhā yasya harer dāsye / karmaṇā manasā girā
nikhilāsv apy avasthāsu / jīvan-muktaḥ sa ucyate
[This means that] a person who is in all respects and in all conditions of life engaged cent per cent in the service of the Lord is to be considered a liberated soul.
A liberated soul cannot be judged by a conditioned soul. Since the position held by Gopanna in his dealings with the State service or in respect to his crossing the threshold of ethical principles as conceived by conditioned souls, were beyond the conception of human power, it is better to conclude [understand] the actions of Gopanna in the manner that Mr. Chandrashekhar has done in the following words, namely, “our poor judgement is often likely to be more wrong than right.”
Every action of a devotee is considered to be good, because it is targeted towards the service of the All-good. God is all-good. He is Absolute knowledge. There is no difference between Him, His pure devotee, and all devotional activities. Gopanna was a pure devotee of God, and therefore, all his activities were good. That is the verdict of the Shastras. That is the reason that ultimately, Gopanna was adored even by the Tenesha, although, in the eyes of the mundaners, he committed a criminal act of misappropriation of public money. There are many instances where not only the devotee but also God himself has committed this so-called criminal act of theft for the pleasure of the devotee. Sree Gopinathjee at Remuna (in the district of Balasore, Orissa) is still famous as “Gopinathjee [Kṣīracorā Gopinātha] who committed theft for Sree Madhavendra Puri, His pure devotee”. The thief Gopinathjee is adored by His devotees as much as Ramdas of Bhadrachalam is adored. Therefore, these acts of criminality by God or His devotees are not the subject matter of material jurisprudence [law]. This is confirmed in the Bhagwat by the following sloka:
yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā
sarvair guṇais tatra samāsate surāḥ
harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇā
mano-rathenāsati dhāvato bahiḥ
[This means that] if a person has unflinching faith in and devotion to the Personality of Godhead, then all the good qualities of the Suras (the most enlightened living beings) do overtake him. But a non-devotee cannot have any good quality whatsoever, because he is sustained in the subtler activities of physical nature, which is always inferior to the spiritual nature.
A house made of iron, however decorated with workmanship, is always much more inferior in quality than a grain of gold. Mundane ethical and moral codes, which are manufactured in the laws of physical nature, are certainly always inferior in quality than the spiritual act of theft. Since the spiritual world is Absolute, there is no difference between such acts of theft and honesty. Everything coincides in the act of transcendental loving service to Godhead.
In the Bhagwat Geeta, the difference between the qualities of spiritual and material nature is defined as follows:
bhūmir āpo ’nalo vāyuḥ / khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca
ahaṅkāra itīyaṁ me / bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
[This means that] earth, water, fire, air, sky, mind intelligence and false ego – all these eight gross and subtle elements of physical nature – are different separated energies of Godhead.
All of them are insentient matter and therefore inferior in quality to the other, spiritual, nature of which the living entity is an infinitesimal fragment. Being superior in nature, the living entity, although a small particle, can partially lord it over the inferior material nature. Such being the difference between the above two natures, the superior action of the spiritual nature cannot be judged from the level of the physical nature.
God is all spirit, and all the living entities are of a spiritual nature. Both of them are eternally related in the spiritual plane as the eternal servitor and served. Impersonal monists are unable to realise the significance of this eternal spiritual nature. The reciprocal activities of God and His devotees are all spiritual. The physical nature is controlled by the spiritual nature and not vice versa. As such, the laws of physical nature stop acting when the spiritual nature begins to work.
tribhir guṇa-mayair bhāvair / ebhiḥ sarvam idaṁ jagat
mohitaṁ nābhijānāti / mām ebhyaḥ param avyayam
daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī / mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante / māyām etāṁ taranti te
[Deluded by the three modes [goodness, passion and ignorance], the whole world does not know Me, who am above the modes and inexhaustible.
This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it. (Translation © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Intl.)]
Everyone is illusioned by the captivating energy of the physical nature, and thus nobody is able to know how the spiritual nature works. It is very difficult to surmount the laws of physical nature, undoubtedly, but for one who puts himself in the actions of spiritual nature, the physical nature stops acting upon him. Gopanna was a self-surrendered soul, and thus he was above the laws of the physical world.
The seeming diversion of [not giving money to] the State funds was never an unlawful act for Gopanna, although for others it was certainly unlawful. When, in his previous birth, Gopanna was an ordinary person, he was certainly bound by the finer laws of the physical world. As such, he was incarcerated, not for this act of so called misappropriation but actually, he was lightly punished for his sinful acts in his past life, which was mentioned in the [complete] story.
Ordinary persons who are not in the service of God may take note of how much suffering is awaiting them in their future births for all their known and unknown sinful actions. When an action is performed, the seed is sown, and in due course, the [result of the] action will mature, to result in accordance with the law of Karma. Nobody is free from the stringent laws of Karma, as stated in the Brahma Samheeta.
yas tv indra-gopam athavendram aho sva-karma-
karmāṇi nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhājāṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
[This means that] beginning from the great King Indra of Heaven down to the ant named Indragopa, all are bound up by the laws of physical nature and are subjected to the reaction of one’s own actions. But Govinda, the Personality of Godhead, relieves His devotees from the actions of the law of Karma. The actions of a devotee do not accrue future reactions.Gopanna was not therefore punished for his so-called action of misappropriation, but he was lightly punished for his past actions, and that, too, was in order to raise him in the estimation of all other men.
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin / nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ’yaṁ purāṇo / na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya / navāni gṛhṇāti naro ’parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny / anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī
[This means that] the living being is eternal. He changes his body as a man changes his shirts and coats. His gross body, made of earth, fire, air, and sky, constitutes his outward coat, and his mind intelligence and false ego constitute his internal body, likened to the shirt. The living being changes his gross body when he is said to have died, but the subtle body, which is compared with the shirt, is carried with him, in order to avail a suitable gross body in the womb of the 84 lakh species of life, according to his state of mind at the time of his death.
The seed of action is sure to fructify in due course. The result of all actions passes through different stages of development. Such stages of development are known as the stage of Kutastha (nascent), ‘Aprarabdha (accruing), Prarabdha (mature) etc. It is not necessary that the result of one action is reached [takes place] in one’s very same body. It takes a long time for the real result to fructify. Just by sowing a seed of a tree, we cannot immediately get a full grown tree and the fruits thereof. Similarly, the result of a Karma, or action, is exhibited in due course of time.
Gopanna’s punishment was due to his past deed of encaging a parrot. His act of performing unalloyed service to the Personality of Godhead Rama was properly recognized by Rama, who would not have come otherwise, to support an ordinary culprit who had misappropriated public money. That is not God’s business. He is neutral in all matters, and nobody is His enemy or friend. Only those who love Him and therefore worship Him spontaneously are His actual friends. That is the verdict of Bhagwat Geeta. Shri Ramchandra approached the Tenesha to release a devotee and not a culprit. God has nothing to do with the actions of an ordinary man. An ordinary man is responsible for his own action, but in the case of a devotee, the whole thing has to be viewed from a different angle of vision.
yajñārthāt karmaṇo ’nyatra / loko ’yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya / mukta-saṅgaḥ samācara
Yajna means Vishnu. Anything done for and on behalf of Vishnu, the Supreme Being, is free from the law of Karma and therefore not bound by the laws of physical nature. In this sloka of Bhagwat Geeta, Kaunteya [the son of Kuntī] is advised to do everything for Him (the personality of Godhead), which will make him absolutely free from physical infection.
Perfection in human life is standardized in the intensified loving service of God. That is the natural function of all living beings. The highest form of intensified love for God was exhibited by the damsels of Braja in their quest for the amorous love of God Sri Krishna. In that way of intense love for Sri Krishna, they appeared to have broken the established moral codes of family life, but they are held still in the highest estimation by all pure devotees. Prahlad Maharaj caused to kill [caused the death of] his own father, which is certainly improper in the eyes of the mundaners, but yet Prahlad Maharaj is counted as one of the twelve authorities in the science of devotion. So, also, Bali Maharaj. He cut off his connection to his spiritual master, Sukracharya, because the latter checked him in the service of God. To disconnect one’s relation with the spiritual master is an act of sin in the eyes of the mundaner, but Bali Maharaj is also one of the authorities.
There are innumerable examples of the Personality of Godhead having such dealings with His devotees, and those incidents instruct us that everything done by a pure devotee for the satisfaction of Godhead is an act of devotional service that is properly recognized by the Personality of Godhead. The impersonalist, hovering in the speculative plane of the mind, cannot understand all this, and as they do not believe in the Person of Godhead, they cannot conceive of His Absolute power.
Even a neophyte devotee who may be used to [previously performing] so many nefarious acts by long practice is also esteemed as a Sadhu in the language of the Bhagwat Geeta. The only qualification of a pure devotee is that he serves God for His satisfaction. This is called spontaneous love of Godhead. Such a devotee also cannot prolong his bad habits for a long period. Simultaneously, with the beginning of his unalloyed service, liquidation of his bad habits also begins, and very soon, all the qualities of the gods overtake him.
yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi / yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya / tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
śubhāśubha-phalair evaṁ / mokṣyase karma-bandhanaiḥ
sannyāsa-yoga-yuktātmā / vimukto mām upaiṣyasi
samo ’haṁ sarva-bhūteṣu / na me dveṣyo ’sti na priyaḥ
ye bhajanti tu māṁ bhaktyā / mayi te teṣu cāpy aham
api cet su-durācāro / bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ / samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā / śaśvac-chāntiṁ nigacchati
kaunteya pratijānīhi / na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati
[Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform—do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me. In this way you will be freed from bondage to work and its auspicious and inauspicious results. With your mind fixed on Me in this principle of renunciation, you will be liberated and come to Me. I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him. Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination. He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kuntī, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes. (Translation © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Intl.)]
A pure devotee is therefore not bound up by any law of the physical world. He is completely free to serve the Personality of Godhead without any care for manmade moral principles. But a devotee never violates any moral codes for his own self-gratification. In rare cases only, he does so for the service of Godhead. And in doing so, he is not at all bound by man-made laws. Gopanna’s intensive love for God and God’s reciprocation and recognition of his service is confirmed in the following way.
ye yathā māṁ prapadyante
tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
[As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. (Translation © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Intl.)]
Shri Sajjanatoshani Patrika
Editor in Chief: Shri Bhakti Sarang Gosvami
Vol.1. September 1955
The Rays of The Harmonist team
Gaudiya Vedanta Publications