Sri Sanatana Gosvami appeared in 1488, five years before Sri Rupa Gosvami, in a Sarasvata brahmana family in Bengal. Sanatana and his two brothers, Rupa and Anupama, were always absorbed in bhakti from early childhood.
In his youth, Sri Sanatana dreamt that a beautiful brahmana boy gave him a Srimad Bhagavatam. Feeling ecstatic he awoke. But seeing neither the boy nor the Bhagavatam he felt sad. When Sanatana began his puja that morning, however, Krishna Himself, disguised as a beautiful brahmana boy, came and said, “Take this Srimad Bhagavatam from Me, always study it, and you will attain perfection.”
In Krishna-lila-stava, Sri Sanatana Gosvami glorifies the Srimad Bhagavatam: “O holy Bhagavata, you are my only company, my only friend, and my guru. You are my greatest treasure and my personal saviour. You are the emblem of my highest fortune and the very form of ecstasy. I offer my obeisances unto you.”
Forced to submit to the ruling Muslim government, Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana became ministers and lived at Ramakeli. But their real engagement was teaching sastras which they learned from Vidyavacaspati, brother of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya. Pandits and brahmanas from all over India came to study under the two brothers. Sri Rupa and Sanatana were acclaimed as the “crest jewels of the Gaudiya Vaisnava scholars.” After the Lord visited Ramakeli and freed them, they renounced everything for Lord Gauranga’s service.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu ordered Sri Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis to move to Vrndavana and perform four services:
(1) Uncover Sri Krishna’s pastime places.
(2) Install Deities, arrange for Their puja.
(3) Compile bhakti scriptures.
(4) Propagate the rules of devotional life.
“Entering Lord Caitanya’s service, they resolutely gave up power, riches, and position to live in Vrndavana as humble beggars absorbed in bhajana. One cannot properly perform Krishna bhajana until one renounces all attachments both internally and externally, and adopts a life of simplicity and humility.” (Sri Vraja Mandala Parikrama).
They travelled extensively through Vraja mandala discovering many pastime places of Radha-Madhava. Having no fixed residence, they would catch a few winks of sleep (no more than one and a-half hours per day) under a tree or bush. Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana Gosvamis spent all their time writing, discussing Krishna’s pastimes, and chanting Krishna’s holy names.
To maintain himself Sanatana would beg some wheat flour, roll it into a ball by adding a touch of Yamuna water, and drop it in smoldering coals to cook. He would offer this bati (salt-free, baked bread ball) to his Deity of Madana Mohana. Giving up all kinds of material enjoyment, the Gosvamis accepted the poorest way of life as mendicants. They ate just enough to maintain their bodies.
The Radha-Madana Mohana mandir established by Sanatana Gosvami was the first one opened in Vrndavana by the six Gosvamis.
Described as “the personal extension of the body of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu,” Sri Sanatana is the ideal spiritual master because he gives one shelter at the lotus feet of Madana Mohana. The three Vrindavana Deities (Madana Mohana, Govindaji and Gopinatha) are the life and soul of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas. The Deity of Madana Mohana has the specific quality of helping the neophyte devotees understand their eternal relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna.
“Madana Mohana” means Krishna who is so indescribably beautiful that He even attracts Cupid, Kamadeva. Sanatana Gosvami is the sambandha acarya who gives us knowledge of our proper relationship with Krishna, And his Deity, Madana Mohana, helps us overcome our attraction for material sense gratification (Cupid) and fix our minds on devotional service.
Sri Sanatana Gosvami spent forty-three years wandering from village to village in Vrndavana. The Vrajavasis would affectionately care for him treating him like their father. With patience and concern he listened to their problems. Then he would please all the villagers by his preaching and practical advice on everything from increasing crop yields to solving family quarrels.
“Renouncing all worldly pleasures, Sanatana Gosvami was humble, detached, always absorbed in study. Mahaprabhu often said that Sanatana Gosvami was His favourite devotee. As an ocean of love and mercy, Sanatana excelled all other devotees in his compassion toward the suffering souls.” (Bhakti-ratnakar)
In his last years, he left his beloved Deity of Madana Mohana with Krishna Dasa brahmacari, his disciple. He did bhajana on the banks of Manasi Ganga next to Cakalesvara Mahadeva at Govardhana.
At that place there were many mosquitos, which was a great disturbance. When he was one day being harassed by these insects, Sanatana remarked, “I won’t stay here anymore. It is impossible to concentrate on anything. Neither can I write, nor chant.”
That night, Lord Siva came to Sanatana and told him, “Sanatana! Please continue your service here in a happy frame of mind. From tomorrow there will be no more disturbances from mosquitos.”
After that there were no more mosquitos and Sanatana continued his bhajan free from disturbance.
Daily he walked the twenty-four mile parikrama (original longer route) of Govardhana Hill. Although he was sixty-five years old, he kept his daily vow of offering 1,008 obeisances to Govardhana Hill and to any Vaisnava whom he met.
Understanding the difficulty of His pure devotee, Sri Madana Mohana appeared one day and said, “Baba! you are too old. Don’t take so much trouble to walk around Govardhana Hill everyday.”
Sanatana replied, “This is one of the daily activities of my bhajana: I must maintain it.”
“Since you are old,” said Madana Mohana, “you may now give up this vow.”
Starting to walk again, Sanatana replied, “I will never give up my religious principles.”
Sanatana Gosvami’s firm determination to complete his daily devotional vow pleased Sri Madana Mohana (Krishna). But in the loving dealings between the Lord and His pure devotee, Krishna’s desire to please His devotee often defeats the devotee’s desire to please Him. So out of loving compassion for His devotee, Sri Krishna stood on a large flat stone (Govardhana sila) taken from Giriraja. He played His irresistible flute. The Govardhana sila melted in ecstasy, capturing the impression of Krishna’s lotus feet.
Presenting this to Sanatana, Krishna said, “If you circumambulate this sila everyday it will be the same as going around Govardhana Hill everyday. You will keep your vow intact and not compromise your religious principles.” Seeing that Giriraja Himself (Sri Krishna) had given the sila, Sanatana Gosvami gratefully accepted. One can still see that Govardhana sila in the Radha Damodara temple.
Sri Bhaktivinoda Thakura said in Jaiva Dharma: “Sanatana Gosvami was empowered to explain the esoteric aspects of Krishna’s manifest and unmanifest Vraja lilas.” Sanatana Gosvami made a significant literary contribution to the Gauidya sampradaya with his Hari-bhakti-vilasa and its Dig-darsani-tika, Brhad-Bhagavatamrta, and Brhad-Vaisnava-tosani.
His disappearance was on the full moon day of Ashadha in the year 1558 (Christian calendar). In the form of Labanga manjari Sanatana Gosvami serves Srimati Visakha-sakhi in Radha-Madhava’s nitya nikunja-lila. Sanatana Gosvami’s samadhi is behind Radha Madana Mohana’s temple.
Sri Sanatana Goswami and the touch stone
Once, a poor brahmana worshiped Lord Siva to get the best benediction, hoping for the solution to all his problems. Lord Siva is known as midhushtama, the best of the benedictors, and many materialistic people approach him to fulfil their desires. But for this brahmana, Lord Siva granted the best benediction for his spiritual life. He directed the brahmana to see Sanatana Goswami, a direct disciple and close associate of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, for only Sanatana could award the best benediction.
When the brahmana approached Sanatana Goswami, he noticed that Sanatana had a touchstone that he kept with the garbage. This powerful gem could turn iron into gold simply by contact. Upon the brahmana’s request, Sanatana gave him the touchstone, which seemed like the greatest blessing to the brahmana, who went away gratified by the assurance of immense financial success.
As the brahmana left Sanatana’s company, however, a doubt nagged his mind: If the touchstone were truly the greatest benediction, then why did Sanatana Goswami keep it with the garbage, as if it had no value at all? Surely, he realized, this could not be what he was seeking; Sanatana Goswami must have an even greater treasure.
The brahmana returned to Sanatana Goswami and inquired, “Sir, if this is the best benediction, why did you keep it with the garbage?”
Sanatana Goswami replied that the touchstone was not the best benediction.
“But,” Sanatana asked, “are you prepared to take the best benediction from me?”
The brahmana eagerly assented, and Sanatana then told him to throw the touchstone into the nearby Yamuna River.
When the brahmana returned, Sanatana Goswami initiated him with the Hare Krishna maha–mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By Lord Siva’s mercy, the brahmana achieved the best benediction of all: the chanting of the holy names of the Lord in the association of a pure devotee.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, one of the previous spiritual masters in our disciplic succession, points out that the holy name of the Lord is the real touchstone (the Sanskrit word is chintamani). In his book Harinama Chintamani, he mentions that the Lord’s holy names are “a touchstone yielding all desires.” Through the simple process of hearing and chanting the Lord’s names, we can directly achieve the highest treasure—krishna–prema, pure love of God, the ultimate goal of life.