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Rāmānuja Biography | Part 9

INITIATION FROM GOSTHIPURNA

After coming to Śrī Rangam, Rāmānuja was very pleased to resume his role as the disciple of Mahāpūrṇa: through this relationship he felt relief from the sadness that had afflicted him since the disappearance of Yamunacharya.

By his behavior toward Mahāpūrṇa, he set the example for all disciples to follow in rendering service to their spiritual master. Under the expert guidance of Mahāpūrṇa, he resumed his study of the revealed scriptures.

Mahāpūrṇa was so impressed by the incomparable genius and Vaiṣṇava qualities of his disciple that he gave his son, Pundarikaksa, to be the disciple of Rāmānuja.

One evening, when they had completed their studies for the day, Mahāpūrṇa said to Rāmānuja:

"Not far from here is a prosperous town known as Tirukkotiyur. Living there is a great scholar and devotee, Gosthipurna by name, who was born in the Pandya country. It is no exaggeration to say that there is no other Vaiṣṇava like him in this part of the country.

If you desire to fully learn the meaning and significance of the Vedic mantras, then there is none but he who is qualified to teach you. I advise you to go to Tirukkotiyur without delay and receive the mantra from Gosthipurna."

Having received this instruction from his guru, Rāmānuja went to Tirukkotiyur a few days later to see Gosthipurna. In the presence of that famous devotee, he offered his prostrated obeisances and begged for the Vaiṣṇava mantra to be bestowed upon him.

Gosthipurna, however, was very reluctant to impart the secret of the mantra and replied:

 "You may come here some other day, and I will consider your request."

Rāmānuja felt very dejected at this reply, and with a heavy heart he returned to Śrī Rangam.

A few days later a big festival was held in honor of Lord Ranganātha, and Gosthipurna came there to take part in the worship.

At that time one of the priests in the temple was inspired by Lord Ranganātha, and he spoke as follows to Gosthipurna, "You should bestow the mantra on My devotee, Rāmānuja, who is most worthy to receive it."

Realizing that the Lord was speaking to him through His servant, Gosthipurna replied:

"But my Lord, is it not true that the mantra may only be given to one who has completely purified his mind by long austerities? How can the mantra, which is non-different from Yourself, reside in the mind of one who is not pure?"

To this the priest replied, "You do not understand the purity of this devotee. He is able to deliver all of humanity."

After this incident, Gosthipurna began to consider the matter deeply, but still he was unwilling to give the mantra to any other person.

Time and again Rāmānuja approached him, but repeatedly Gosthipurna refused his request.

When his appeals had been denied on eighteen separate occasions, Rāmānuja began to feel that there must be some great impurity in his heart and that it was for this reason that Gosthipurna would not bestow his mercy upon him.

In this state of dejection, Rāmānuja began to shed tears of despair.

When some people informed Gosthipurna of Rāmānuja's condition, he was moved by pity for the young devotee. Therefore, when Rāmānuja came before him again, he spoke to him in a kind way:

"Only Lord Viṣṇu Himself is aware of the glories of this mantra. Now I know that you are worthy to receive it, for you are pure and firmly fixed in devotion to the lotus feet of the Lord.

At the present time I can find no one but yourself who is fit to receive the mantra, for whoever chants it is certain to go to Vaikuṇṭha at the time of death.

Because this mantra is so pure and sacred, it must not be touched by the lips of anyone who has material desires. Therefore, you must not disclose the mantra to any other person"

Having thus instructed Rāmānuja, Gosthipurna initiated him into the chanting of the mantra of eight syllables.

Rāmānuja was filled with ecstasy to chant this wonderful vibration, and his face began to glow with spiritual effulgence. He considered himself the most blessed of all beings and bowed again and again at the feet of his guru.

REVEALING THE SECRET MANTRA

Having taken leave of Śrī Gosthipurna, Rāmānuja, in a joyful mood, began to return to Śrī Rangam. But as he was walking, he began to think about the potency of the mantra that had been given to him. While thinking in this way, he became filled with feelings of compassion for the sufferings of all living beings in this material world.

Then, as he was walking near the walls of the Viṣṇu temple in Tirukkotiyur, he began to call out to all the people who were passing by, "Please, all of you, come near to Lord Viṣṇu's temple, and I will give you a priceless jewel!"

Attracted by his pure expression and unusual words, a large crowd of men, women, and children began to follow him. A rumor began to spread all over the town that a prophet had appeared who could fulfill all of one's desires. Within a short time a huge crowd had assembled outside of the temple.

On seeing this mass of humanity, Yatiraja's heart swelled with joy. He embraced the two disciples who had accompanied him, Dāsarathī and Kureśa, and then climbed up the tower of the temple.

In a loud voice he began to address the gathering:

"All of you are more dear to me than my own life. Therefore I have a strong desire to deliver you from the torments and sufferings all of us must undergo in this temporary world. Please recite this mantra which I have obtained for you. Do this, and the Lord's mercy will be upon you."

When they heard Rāmānuja's words, all the people in the crowd called out, "Please tell us the mantra. Shower the Lord's blessings upon us!"

Then Yatiraja called out in a deep resounding voice the mantra he had just received from Gosthipurna:

Om Namo Nārāyaṇāya.

Immediately the crowd responded, everyone calling out the sacred words together, producing a sound like thunder. Twice more Rāmānuja called out the mantra, and twice more the thunderous response resounded from the crowd.

Every person became silent and looked at one another with feelings of deep ecstasy in their hearts. At that time it seemed that the earth had become Vaikuṇṭha.

The faces of the men, women and children were flushed with joy and it seemed that all miseries were gone from the earth.

Those who had come running to the temple hoping to receive gold or jewels, immediately forgot their worldly desires, feeling as if they had been given a diamond in place of a piece of broken glass.

As the joyful crowd melted away, men and women came and prostrated themselves before Yatiraja, considering themselves most blessed to have received such a benediction from that great soul.

Rāmānuja then climbed down from the tower and began walking towards Gosthipurna's residence to worship the feet of his guru.

GOSTHIPURNA'S ANGER

By this time Gosthipurna had come to hear in detail of everything that had taken place outside the temple and was extremely angry, feeling Rāmānuja had betrayed his trust.

When Rāmānuja approached him with his two disciples, the aged ācārya addressed him in a voice that trembled with rage:

‘Get out of my sight, O lowest of men! I have committed a great sin by entrusting the most precious gem to such an untrustworthily person as yourself. Why have you come here again, forcing me to commit the sin of looking at your face? Surely you are destined to live in hell for countless lifetimes.’’

Without any sign of remorse, Rāmānuja replied to his guru in a most humble manner, saying:

‘It was only because I am prepared to suffer in hell that I dared to go against your order.

You told me that whoever chanted the mantra of eight syllables was certain to be liberated. Thus, according to your words, so many people are now destined to find shelter at Lord Nārāyaṇa’s lotus feet.

If an insignificant person like me has go to hell, it is of no great importance if so many others thereby attain the mercy of Lord Nārāyaṇa.’’

On hearing these words, which fully revealed the depth of the devotee’s compassion, Gosthipurna was completely stunned and filled with great wonder.

All his fierce anger disappeared in an instant, like the passing of violent storm, and he embraced Rāmānuja with profound affection. Everyone who was able to witness this transformation was filled with joy and astonishment.

Gosthipurna then addressed Rāmānuja with folded palms:

‘My child, I have never known anyone so magnanimous as yourself. From this day you are my guru, and I am your disciple.

There is no doubt that you are a most intimate associate of the Lord, whereas I am nothing but a common man. How can I comprehend your greatness? Please forgive all of my offenses.’’

Rāmānuja fell to his knees and clasped the feet of his guru. With his head bowed in humility, he said:

‘You are my eternal guru. The perfect mantra has become even more potent because it has emanated from your lips. Thus today it has burnt to ashes the miseries of so many thousands of people.

Although I committed the offense of transgressing the order of my guru, I have become eternally fortunate by receiving your embrace, which is desired even by the gods.

My prayer is that, regarding me as your son and servant, you will eternally bestow your mercy upon me.’’

Being highly pleased by Rāmānuja’s humility and gentle behaviour, Gosthipurna asked him to accept his son, Saumya-Nārāyaṇa, as his disciple. Then, with permission of his spiritual master, Rāmānuja returned to Śrī Rangam. After this incident Yatiraja’s fame expanded even further, and for several weeks it seemed the local people could speak of nothing but this great devotee who had come into their midst.