Sri Suklambara Brahmacari
In general, we like to identify the Krsna lila connection with an acarya at the end of their bio, yet here it is appropriate to start with this as will become clear.
Kavi Karnapura, the gold standard of making these identifications states that Suklambara Brahmacari was the wife of one of the yajnic brahmanas during that famous pastimes of the Lord. He also notes that others, whom he does not identify, believe him to a the yajnic brahmana himself.
Yajnic brahmana’s in general live at the mercy of the other members of society as they are busy performing various ceremony. Although a life of poverty may be implied, it is not always the case. At any rate, during Mahaprabhua’s lila, Suklambara Brahmacari did indeed live the life of a poverty-stricken person. It is noted in many places that an ordinary person cannot detect the devotee of the Lord by external circumstances alone. While to such persons in the town of Navadwip, where he resided, Suklambara Brahmacari did indeed appear as a poor brahmana with no wealth. However, the transcendental eyes of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu knew otherwise.
Indeed, as noted in the Chaitanya Caritamrita by Suklamabara himself:
“If I have no wealth of love of God, then yes indeed, my life is poverty stricken and of no value. Therefore my Lord, if you desire to make me a wealthy man then make me your servant and pay me with love of God.” The original Bengali uses the word, “prema-dhana” twice in this verse.
Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur gives Mahaprabhua’s response to Suklamabara Brahmacari as presented in Chaitanya Bhagavat:
“Suklambara, you are my poor servant lifetime after lifetime. You have not entered into this world to become the head of a household. Rather, you prefer to remain as a strict brahmacari performing madhukari from home to home. Even your vow of celibacy is unbreakable. In this way, you are just as a sannyasi who gives mind, body and speech over to the Lord’s service. I pray constantly for your humble offering as opposed to the glorious offerings of wealthy proud householders. It is for this reason that I have shown my power and taken everything from you.”
This last sentence well reminds us of the verse Srila Prabhupada would regularly repeat in regards to his own later years. “SB 10.88.8—”The Personality of Godhead said: If I especially favor someone, I gradually deprive him of his wealth.”
This impact on his life will come to be shown later.
Suklamabara was also very favored by the Lord in another way. When Mahaprabhu returned from Gaya He announced that that first night, He would meet all the devotees at the home of Suklamabara Brahmacari. Now there were any number of places the Lord could have chosen to meet his followers, but He chose the humble residence of Suklamabara. Many devotees gathered hoping to hear some Krsna katha in that assembly. Suddenly, Visvamabara appeared on the scene and all present witnessed the ecstatic transformations of the Lord’s nature and personality there in the home of Suklamabara Brahmacari.
As noted, Suklamabara collected food by madhukari, humbling going door to door and accepting whatever was given—or not. Once again, being perceived by ordinary people as poor they could not understand the real joy and pleasure he enjoyed being absorbed in the name and pastimes of the Lord.
Once, as Mahaprabhu was sitting in a solitary place Suklamabara proceeded in that direction with his begging bag “flung” over his shoulder. This is telling. The word “flung” in its use here indicates an unattached manner of carrying. Not a mood of possiveness, but a more carefree way of carrying this bag of his very sustenance. Seeing the Lord sitting there, Suklamabara began to dance in great ecstasy and joy. Seeing his devotional mood, the Lord began to appreciate and glorify Suklamabara. To this point, the Lord reached into Suklamabara’s begging bag and grabbed a handful of rice, in a mood reminiscent of Sudama lila, and popped it into his mouth. This act greatly bothered Siklamabara as one might imagine, but for less obvious reasons.
It was the general custom of the time that a beggar was offered par-boiled rice as opposed to the higher quality more pure, sundried rice. So, to have the Lord eat this lower class rice from his begging bag, which he had not even washed and cleaned or prepared in a palatable manner gave Suklamabara much anxiety. Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur notes however that vaisnavas hold that rice received from begging par-boiled or otherwise, as the highest due to it being obtained only by the mercy of the Lord during one’s begging.
Mahaprabhu had an eloquent response in addressing Suklambara’s anxiety that speaks volumes to the devotional mood of a devotee. He calmed Suklamabara and said to him, “My devotee, I always eat the food of my devotees with great enthusiasm, but I have no interest and find no joy in the so-called offerings of wealthy millionaires who put forth the finest of foods but lack sincere devotion. My Suklambara, I reside permanently in your heart. Therefore, when you eat, I eat. When you go on your begging rounds, I go with you. I have descended to distribute love of God and as you are my servant lifetime after lifetime, I hereby bestow prema bhakti, which is my very soul, to you.”
Such a every present mood of the Lords company is not a cheap thing. I am reminded of a regular guest at the temple Sunday feast when I was a young brahmacari. He was a debauchee who would bring different girls to the temple for a flower garland and free meal. Once, when speaking with us, he shocked us by saying that he offered his food to the Lord. We quickly recovered from our surprise when he added, “yes as it passes the Lord in the heart I let Him enjoy it.” This is not how such great devotees as Suklamabara thought of the Lord being ever present in their lives.
The above pastimes with the Lord is told in both Chaitanaya Bhagavat and Bhakti-ratna-kara.
On another occasion the Lord announced to Suklamabara that he desired to eat His lunch that day at Suklamabara’s own home. Suklamabara was very nervous and afraid that he would not be able to make a meal or presentation suitable of the Lord. He consulted with friends. It was recommended that he cook the rice but not touch it beforehand. In preparation, Suklamabara bathed and dressed in fresh cloth. He lit the fire, boiled the water and without directly touching the rice, poured it into the water. He added a cluster of plaintain leaves to the preparation. All the time he was overcome in devotional emotion and chanted nonstop the names, “Jaya Krsna Gopal, Govinda, Vanamali.” So impressed was Laksmi Devi with Suklamabara’s mood, that she came during the cooking and personally blessed the food by glancing upon it. Her glance alone can turn anything into nectar. As Mahaprabhu and his associates arrived, Suklambara offered this to his Visnu deity, presumably a Salagrama. When Mahaprabhu tasted the prasad He proclaimed. “In my entire life I have never eaten anything so tasty and delicious as this!” Again, the devotees were amazed at the Lord’s mercy on Suklamabara.
The Chaitanya Bhagavat author, Vrindavana dasa Thakur, proclaims to all: “May all the rich millionaire non devotees observe the mercy received by Suklamabara Brahmacari. No one can attain the Lord’s mercy through wealth, high birth or scholarship. The scriptures repeatedly tell us that this mercy can only be received when the Lord is attracted by the taste of one’s devotion.”
Thus, the path of purity of a bhakta’s heart not the material value of someone’s offering is the most important ingredient in maha prasad. Suklamabara may have no doubt been poverty-stricken but the Lord gladly accepted his offering due to its being saturated with love for the Lord. Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur adds that the “sinful and devotionally challenged cannot understand this principle or this pastime.”