By Mohini Radha Devi Dasi
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s parable of the astrologer and the poor man shows us how to uncover the ultimate treasure hidden within our hearts.
Do you know that you are the heir to an immense fortune? The ultimate treasure lies buried within your heart, and you only need to know how to dig for it.
This surprising lesson is the essence of one of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings to Sanatana Goswami, as described in Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya-lila 20.127–135). Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna Himself, who appeared in Bengal about five hundred years ago to teach the science of devotion to Krishna (Himself) by His own example. In other words, He behaved just like a devotee to teach others how to become devotees so that they could be delivered from material bondage and achieve unending spiritual bliss. In the course of His pastimes, Lord Chaitanya imparted important teachings to His followers so that they could carry out His mission of spreading Krishna consciousness. Sanatana Goswami, one of the Lord’s direct disciples, had the great fortune of hearing the following parable from the Lord Himself.
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.
In 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.
The 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 Yoga
The 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 Treasure
Real 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.
Thus the Lord Himself (in the forms of both Krishna and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) glorifies pure devotional service as the only means to attain the Supreme Lord. Such devotional service must be unalloyed and unflinching, or unmixed and unending. Our goal is not material wealth, or even liberation from material existence, but the spiritual bliss of pure devotional service (see Cc. Madhya 20.142). As the pure devotee Prahlada Maharaja taught his friends, “The Lord is pleased only if one has unflinching, unalloyed devotion to Him. Without sincere devotional service, everything is simply a show.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.7.52)
Pure devotional service is not only the means to our ultimate goal, but is itself the greatest treasure. On the absolute platform, there is no difference between loving service to Krishna and Krishna Himself. As Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu explains, “In the Vedic literatures, Krishna is the central point of attraction, and His service is our activity. To attain the platform of love of Krishna is life’s ultimate goal. Therefore Krishna, Krishna’s service, and love of Krishna are the three great riches of life.” (Cc. Madhya 20.143)
Pure love of Godhead is the natural propensity of every living entity, but it becomes covered by ignorance just as clouds cover the brilliant sun. Pure devotional service can drive away those clouds and revive our dormant love of God with the sunlight of transcendental knowledge. The heart being the “house” for the soul, the poor man’s treasure buried beneath his house corresponds to the dormant love of God buried in our hearts. As Chaitanya Mahaprabhu explains: nitya-siddha krishna prema, “Pure love for Krishna is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities.” (Cc. Madhya 22.107) We are, almost literally, sitting on top of our hidden treasure. But why can’t we perceive it?
After millions of lifetimes in different species in the material world, our identification with matter has blinded us not only to the location of our treasure, but also to its very existence. Materialistic desires—chiefly, the desire to enjoy independently of Krishna, the supreme enjoyer—are just like dirt that fills our heart and buries our ultimate treasure beneath its filthy clutter. When we practice devotional service under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, our hearts are cleansed of the “dirt” of material contamination and our dormant love of God reawakens.
The Most Effective Bhakti Practices
Mahaprabhu’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.