The Astrologer and the Poor Man
Once, an astrologer named Sarvajna came to the house of a poor man. Surprised at the man’s wretched condition, he asked him why he was so unhappy and why he languished in such poverty even though his wealthy father had left him a large treasure. Unfortunately, the man’s father died in a foreign place and did not disclose the location of his assets; thus, the man suffered the distress of poverty because he was ignorant of his rightful inheritance. Only the astrologer, whose name means “the omniscient one,” had the power to identify the hidden treasure and, just as important, the knowledge of the proper procedure to uncover it.Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu explained to Sanatana Goswami that the astrologer represents Vedic literature, which is meant to guide people toward the ultimate treasure of love of Godhead. Just as the astrologer’s good news solved the poor man’s problems, the Vedic scriptures can solve our greatest problem: our spiritual poverty, the cause of our suffering in the temporary material world. The Vedic scriptures (and their representatives, the pure devotees) advise us to take to the path of Krishna consciousness so that we can reestablish our relationship with our spiritual father, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. Just as the astrologer’s words established the poor man’s connection with his hidden treasure, the Vedic scriptures establish our connection with Krishna, the supreme treasure.
For that connection to be established, we must first recognize our degraded condition, in which we are forced to suffer the “kicks of material nature,” to use Prabhupada’s phrase. Lifetime after lifetime, we repeatedly accept different kinds of bodies and suffer birth, old age, disease, and death in the material world. Our desire to end our distressed condition serves as an impetus for spiritual inquiry, just as the poor man’s impoverished condition led him to welcome the astrologer into his home. His curiosity to find out if his future promised any relief drove his inquiry. If we, too, become curious about our own suffering in the material world, then we can seek knowledge about our constitutional position, which is free from suffering. The revealed scriptures and liberated souls can help us understand that our true identity is spiritual, not material. We are not these temporary bodies, but eternal souls, and our ultimate happiness lies in understanding our eternal loving relationship with the Supreme Soul, Sri Krishna.
The man in the parable suffered due to his ignorance of his father and his father’s property. Likewise, we are suffering due to our ignorance of our Supreme Father, Krishna. As tiny spiritual particles, we are part of Krishna, just as sparks are part of a fire. The Lord is sat, cit, and ananda, eternally full of knowledge and bliss, and so are we; however, we have falsely identified ourselves with the temporary material nature and have forgotten who we really are. We are sons and daughters of the wealthiest person (wealth is one of His six primary opulences), but we have accepted repeated birth and death, pain and suffering, out of ignorance of our constitutional position as inheritors of Krishna’s unlimited blessings. But what is our actual hidden treasure, and how do we uncover it?
In Bhagavad-gita, Krishna declares that He is the ultimate goal (9.18) and the object of all religion and scriptures (15.15). Srila Prabhupada tells us that pure Krishna consciousness (knowledge of Krishna and devotion to Him) is our “birthright” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.1.5, Purport). So our ultimate treasure is Lord Krishna and pure devotional service to Him, but just knowing that does not help us; we not only need to identify our goal, but we must know how to reach it. Thus, the astrologer not only informed the poor man about his inheritance, but also provided a “map” to uncover it. He significantly cautioned against certain pathways that might appear promising but would ultimately lead to catastrophe. The poor man’s treasure was buried under his house, but he would not reach it by digging on the southern, western, or northern sides of the house. Those locations would prove disastrous for the eager treasure-hunter, but a slight attempt made on the eastern side of the house would uncover the unimaginable reward.
South: Karma-kandaIn His teachings to Sanatana Goswami, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu clearly explained the meaning of these injunctions to emphasize their importance. The astrologer told the poor man that the southern (dakshina) side of the house was full of angry wasps and drones. In Bengali, the language in which Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was speaking, the word dakshina is used to denote “south” as well as the practice of giving charity to priests after performing religious rituals. In the context of the parable, the southern side represents ritualistic performances with the expectation of material benefits. This means that mere attachment to ritualistic procedures cannot yield the ultimate spiritual goal. If we try to understand the Absolute Truth by the method of fruitive activity (karma-kanda), we will be figuratively bitten by poisonous insects and will not be able to dig for the ultimate treasure.
The bites of poisonous insects represent the suffering brought on by fruitive activities. When we follow the path of fruitive activities, we are subject to the law of karma, which, simply put, means that every action causes some kind of reaction. When we commit sins, we are liable to be punished. The stings of wasps and drones aptly represent those punishments. But even if we perform pious activities and earn relatively pleasant karmic results (such as promotion to higher planets for greater enjoyment and longevity), we are still not freed of materialistic desires, and we will be forced to suffer material existence birth after birth. Our ultimate treasure will remain unreachable.
West: Jnana-kandaThe astrologer also cautioned the man against digging on the western side of the house, where his hands would not even touch the treasure because ghosts fiercely guarded it. Ghosts represent mental disturbances that bewilder our concentration and shake our resolve. The western side of the house represents jnana-kanda, philosophical speculation, which not only fails to grant the ultimate treasure, but causes us to deviate from its pursuit. No amount of scholarly research can help us understand Krishna, because He is transcendental to all mundane knowledge. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, once lamented, “The self-luminous path of pure devotion is completely covered by millions of thorns in the shape of foolish arguments and wordy wrangling.” (Lecture in Vrindavan, 1928) Here, these “foolish arguments” and “wordy wrangling” take the shape of ghosts who eclipse the real treasure of pure devotional service.
North: Impersonal YogaThe astrologer also warned the poor man that a big black serpent would devour him if he dug on the northern side. Perhaps the most dangerous of all, this direction represents impersonal mystic meditation or yoga. The gaping mouth of the black snake of impersonalism sits like a trap, ready to swallow anyone who treads too closely. The philosophy of impersonalism imagines God to be a formless void and proposes that anyone can become God by merging into Him. This false logic runs directly opposite the principle of devotional service, which is based on loving reciprocation between the Lord and His devotees. Without such a reciprocal relationship, there can be no exchange of love, nor any bliss. Impersonalism, which is actually atheism thinly disguised as spiritual practice, results in spiritual suicide and is the greatest enemy to devotional service.
East: The TreasureReal yoga means to link ourselves with the Supreme Lord, not to merge into His existence; it means to establish an eternal link of reciprocal love between the Lord and His devotee. Thus, the astrologer finally revealed the true path to success: “If you dig up a small quantity of dirt on the eastern side, your hands will immediately touch the pot of treasure.” The eastern side represents bhakti-yoga, the path of devotional service, whereby a slight effort will yield the ultimate treasure. Srila Prabhupada confirms, “It is only the eastern side, devotional service, that enables one to attain life’s real goal . . . devotional service to Krishna is the real treasure house for the living entity.” As Krishna declares in Bhagavad-gita (18.55), one can understand Him as He is, and thereby become eligible to enter His spiritual abode, only through devotional service.
After finishing the parable, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu quoted from the Eleventh Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.14.20–21), in which Krishna tells His friend Uddhava about the supremacy of devotional service:
My dear Uddhava, neither through ashtanga-yoga [the mystic yoga system to control the senses], nor through impersonal monism or an analytical study of the Absolute Truth, nor through study of the Vedas, nor through austerities, charity, or acceptance of sannyasa can one satisfy Me as much as by developing unalloyed devotional service unto Me. Being very dear to the devotees and sadhus, I am attained through unflinching devotional service. This bhakti-yoga system, which gradually increases attachment for Me, purifies even a human being born among the dog-eaters. That is to say, everyone can be elevated to the spiritual platform by the process of bhakti-yoga.
The Most Effective Bhakti PracticesMahaprabhu’s parable shows us that simply by the process of devotional service, we can rediscover the secret treasure that has been concealed for so long. In Kali-yuga, the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy (the last and most degraded of the four ages), the only means to attain—or revive—our pure love of God is through the chanting of His holy names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Of the nine chief processes of devotional service mentioned in the scriptures, shravanam and kirtanam, or hearing and chanting, are the most effective in this age.
As Chaitanya Mahaprabhu promises in the first line of His Sikshashtaka (eight teachings glorifying the chanting of the Lord’s holy names), “The chanting of the Lord’s holy names cleanses the mirror of the heart of all the dust accumulated for years together and thus extinguishes the blazing fire of conditional life, of repeated birth and death.” By chanting the Lord’s holy names, which are identical to Him, we can cleanse the mirror of our heart and finally perceive our true identities as His eternal loving servants. Thus, we can uncover our natural property: our hidden treasure, pure love of God.
We can attain that ultimate treasure only by the mercy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He descended to this world because He wanted to relish the sweetness of devotional service to Krishna (Himself), and so He acted as Krishna’s perfect devotee to show all of us how to achieve the ultimate goal of life. He is ready to give us the greatest treasure, because He is its very source.
As Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya 2.81) proclaims, Lord Chaitanya “is a wealthy capitalist possessing the touchstone of love of God. Not considering whether one is a proper or improper recipient, He gives His treasure to anyone and everyone. Thus He is the most munificent.” Thus, by the mercy of the Lord and His pure devotees, we can also attain the ultimate fortune of pure, loving devotion to Krishna. Then, like the astrologer, we can tell everyone else how to find their hidden treasure.
Back To Godhead :: By Mohini Radha Devi Dasi
May/June 2011 Issue