“He who reads this beautiful ashtakam of the sweet pastimes of Kunja-vihari receives the best fortune of attachment to the worship of the lotus feet of the Lord.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 9)
krīḍayā paṭhati yaḥ kila hāri
sa prayāti vilasat-para-bhāgaḿ
The living organ donor kindly offers an essential part of their material body to someone else so that they can continue to live. It is not an easy transfer by any means, but to the donor the risk is worth the reward. To see someone else continue to live when they otherwise would die is a tremendous gift. This is but one example of a generous donor, but transcending life and death is the soul. If there were a way to give someone a gift to last beyond the current lifetime, that gift would have to be considered superior. In addition, the person granting that gift would have to be considered the greatest donor. Both of these conditions are met by Shrila Rupa Gosvami and his wonderful gift of devotion to the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
You see a destitute person on the street and offer them a few dollars since that’s what they’re asking for. Can’t hurt, right? They need money, and you have no problem sparing a few dollars. Ah, but what will they do with that money? If your response is, “I don’t care,” you should know that you are immediately implicated in the resultant reaction as soon as you interfere with your donation. Think about it for a second. If a thief wants to commit a crime and comes to me for a weapon, should I give him one? Should I lend him my rifle and then say, “Go ahead, do what you want with this”? Of course I would be partially at fault for the resultant crime, even if I was totally ignorant of the situation beforehand.
“And charity performed at an improper place and time and given to unworthy persons without respect and with contempt is charity in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.22)
In the Bhagavad-gita, the different kinds of charity are covered. The material universe consists of three modes of nature, and there are many combinations of these modes. There are 8,400,000 species of life, with each one possessing a unique combination of the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. Goodness is knowledge, passion fruitive work that leads to a neutral state, and ignorance stupidity, i.e. doing things the wrong way. The animals are mostly in ignorance, while the heavenly beings are mostly in goodness. The human species has a combination of the three modes.
Charity in the mode of goodness is giving to the proper recipient, at the right time, and not expecting a payback. The proper recipient is the brahmana, or a person in the mode of goodness. As they are in knowledge, they don’t have the time to engage in fruitive activity as much as those in passion and ignorance do. Therefore charity to them never goes to waste. The true brahmana, by quality and work, uses the charity they accept to continue their worship of the Supreme Lord, which then benefits society.
How does this work exactly? The brahmana is not just a receiver. He is a donor too. Shrila Rupa Gosvami is an example of this fact. He roamed this earth during the medieval period in India, and in his early life he was a government minister. Due to the influence of Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu he accepted the renounced order of life. Living on practically nothing, taking shelter underneath a tree, he and his associates revived a dormant spiritual culture in the holy land of Vrindavana. Part of that culture is hearing the glories of the Supreme Lord, and in order to hear there has to be material available to consult.
The original Vedas and their supplements like the Ramayana and Puranas take care of this need, but the saints also take pleasure in describing God through their own lens. It is not that they change the conclusion. The Supreme Lord is still a person, and His original form is Krishna, the beautiful youth with a dark complexion. Each of us has a unique life experience, and that can be used in further describing God, which has the added benefit of purifying us in the process.
Rupa Gosvami’s Shri Kunja-vihary-ashtakam is an example of a description of God added on after the composition of the original Vedas and Puranas. It is a short work of eight verses, which are concise and beautifully sequenced. They specifically reference Krishna’s affinity for the Vrindavana forest, where He happily plays about in transcendental sweetness. There are family and friends in Vrindavana as well, and they are equally worthy of contemplation by the spiritualist.
In the concluding verse to his short poem, Rupa Gosvami says that by hearing these sweet verses one gets attachment to the lotus feet of Krishna, which is the greatest fortune. Can we get such a gift just by hearing? Actually, we can, provided the attitude is right. Attitude is ultimately determined by consciousness, and so when consciousness is cleared of distractions like doubt, envy, pride, and attachment to temporary things, it can create the attitude necessary to relish the sound vibrations that describe God, who is a figure universally worthy of worship. Whatever spiritual tradition you inherit, whether you are religious or not, to hear about Krishna in a humble attitude is a wonderful experience, one that eventually gives the fruit of your existence.
And that fruit is attachment to Krishna’s feet, which are His servants. Attachment to His feet is devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. This is the greatest reward because it is like a wish-fulfilling tree that can be accessed at any time. Whether you are in trouble or in peaceful comfort, chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can make you even happier. Chanting and hearing go hand in hand, and they foster remembrance, which is the function of consciousness. Consciousness follows us in each life, like the air carrying aromas.
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.8)
The gift Rupa Gosvami gives the listeners of his poem is a purified consciousness that is permanent. In this respect he is the greatest donor, a brahmana who requires only sincerity in humble submission as alms. He then gives back a thousand times what others offer him. And since it is the greatest gift, there is no way to properly repay him other than to try to spread that same gift to as many as possible, following his example.
That which eternally your spirits to lift,
Will be considered the greatest gift.
He who such a benediction gives,
Known as the greatest donor who lives.
If we have devotion to Lord’s lotus feet,
In humble service His pleasure we’ll seek.
Earn this gift just from Rupa’s poem hearing,
Such a wonderful servant to God so endearing.