Raghunatha dasa Goswami has glorified Sanatana Goswami as follows in his Vilapa Kusumanjali (6) "I was unwilling to drink the nectar of devotional service possessed of renunciation, but Sanatana Goswami, out of his causeless mercy, made me drink it, even though I was unable to do so. Therefore he is an ocean of mercy. He is very much compassionate to fallen souls like me, and thus it is my duty to offer my respectful obeisances unto his lotus feet and take shelter of him."
The transcendental position of Sanatana Goswami is glorified in the Gaura-Ganodesha-Dipika of Sri Kavi Karnapura (181):
Sanatana Goswami's literary contribution to the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya is paralleled only by Rupa and Raghunatha Dasa Goswami. The most important of the scriptures he compiled are the Hari-bhakti-Vilasa, the Brihad-Bhagavatamrita, his Dasama-Tippani commentary on Srimad-Bhagvatam, also known as the Brihad-Vaishanva-Toshani, and the Dashama-charita.
Sri Jiva Goswami gives the following account of the ancestorial line of his uncle, Sanatana Goswami in the conclusion of his Laghu-Vaishnava-Toshani, a commentary on the Bhagavata:
Sarvajna was a Yajur Vedik brahmana descended from the dynasty of the sage Bharadvaja Muni, and as such was the most respectable brahmana of Karnataka. He became the king of the region in 1381 A.D. He was so learned that he was known as "Jagad-guru" or world-teacher. His son was Aniruddha, who became king in 1416 A.D. Aniruddha had two queens and two sons, Rupeshvara and Harihara. Rupeshvara was expert in all the branches of the sacred shastra. His brother Harihara was expert in the scriptures concerning royal politics and was also highly educated. Rupeshvara left Karnataka for Paurastya with his wife. He was well-versed in many branches of learning. There, he became the friend of the king, Raja Sri Shekhareshvar. Rupeshvara's son was Padmanabha, who was a great pandit in the Vedic scriptures. Padmanabha settled at Navahatta, (Naihatti) on the banks of the Ganges in Bengal. He had eight daughters and five sons. All his sons were expert in the scriptures. The names of his sons were Purushottama, Jagannatha, Narayana, Murari, and Mukundadeva. His youngest son, Mukunda, moved to Fateyabada near Jessore in Bakla Chandradwip Paragana. Sri Mukunda deva's son was Sri Kumara Deva. He had many children. In their midst were Sri Rupa, Sri Sanatana and Sri Anupama or Vallabha. They were all great Mahabhagavata devotees of the Lord."
Sri Sanatana Goswami was born in 1488. Rupa Goswami was born in 1493.
Rupa and Vallabha (Anupama) were educated in a village called Sakurma near the capital of Gauda (Bengal) and lived in their maternal uncle's house when their father died. Sanatana was Kumaradeva's eldest son. Rupa was his second son. Vallabha was his youngest son. Jiva was Vallabha's only son. Sanatana and Rupa were the names given by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to the two brothers when they later became his disciples. Their former names are not known. Some say that their original names were Amara and Santosha respectively.
The ruler of Bengal, Hussain Shah, heard from pious men about the qualifications of Rupa and Sanatana. Having heard their glories, the Shah wanted to appoint them to positions in his regime. Out of fear of the Yavana king, they were forced to accept.
At that time it was not unusual for Hindus to accept posts in the government of the Muslim king. Among those Hindus who had accepted posts in the government of the Shah were many great devotees. Among them were Keshava Vasu Khan, who served the Shah as a City Magistrate or Police Commisioner in Bengal. Gopinatha Vasu and Purandara Khan served as Prime Ministers. Sri Mukunda Kaviraja was a doctor. Keshava Chatri was a Royal Diplomat and Counsel to the King. Sanatana became known as Sakara Mallik and was appointed Private Secretary. Mullik means "Lord" and was a title often given by the Muslims to respectable and wealthy families with intimate government ties. Rupa became known as Dabir Khas, and was appointed Revenue Officer and Secretary of Treasury by Hussain Shah, the king of Gauda. Sri Vallabha, or Anupama was Chief Superintendent of the Royal Mint. They were well-rewarded by the Shah for their services, who saw to it that they were given great riches.
According to the Vedic customs, if one associates with Muslim he becomes contaminated and must perform purificatory rituals. Sanatana Goswami always associated with Muslims without paying much attention to the customs of the day, and as such considered himself to be fallen from his high brahmana caste. He therefore always presented himself as fallen, although this was only a display of his great Vaishnava humility for which he was celebrated in the Caitanya Caritamrita and praised by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu himself.
Sri Rupa and Sanatana made their headquarters in Ramakeli, which had been established as the Capitol of Bengal in 1486 by Sultan Barbak. At present, Ramkeli is located in the Maldah district of West Bengal, near the border of Bengal on the Ganges, and is about five miles from the Maldah railway station. Ramkeli was also the home of many famous devotees, including Sri Nrishinga, the son of Advaita Acharya.
From within and without Bengal many greatly learned scholars and brahmanas used to come to see Rupa and Sanatana in their homes. From Karnataka came many brahmanas who settled near the house of Rupa and Sanatana. Their residential home was near the banks of the Ganges near a town calld Bhattavari. From Nabadwipa Dham many brahmanas and pandits also came to Ramakeli to serve Rupa and Sanatana in different ways.
Sri Rupa and Sanatana were accomplished scholars - they were the crest jewels of the Gaudiya Vaishnava scholars. Their teacher in philosophy and scripture had been the brother of the great Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya - Vidyavachaspati, who taught Sanatana Goswami all the Vedic scriptures. His devotion to Vidyavachaspati cannot be described. Vidyavachaspati would often stay in Ramakeli.
The three brothers, Sanatana, Rupa, and Anupama were absorbed in Bhava-bhakti from early childhood. Remembering Vrindavana they used to play in the forest of Tamal, Keli-Kadamba, and Tulsi trees that surrounded their childhood home. In the midst of this were ponds they named after Radha Kunda and Shyama Kunda. In this way they were constantly absorbed in rendering service to Sri Madana Mohana. Hearing of the wonderful pastimes of Sri Gaurasundara in nearby Nabadwipa, they were anxious to one day have his darshan. But they were told by their inner voice, "You must be patient. Soon you will have darshan of that great Lord who is the savior of the fallen."
When Sri Sanatana was still young he had an unusual dream. In his dream he saw a brahmana. The brahmana gave him a Srimad-Bhagavatam. Upon receiving the Bhagavata, Sanatana's hair stood up in ecstasy. His dream broke. When he awoke and saw that the brahmana and the Bhagavata had gone, he became very depressed. The next morning, after he had bathed, while he was seated for worshiping the Lord, a brahmana appeared, carrying the Bhagavata. Standing near Sanatana, the brahmana said, "Take this Bhagavata. Always study it and all perfection will be yours." Saying this, the brahmana gave him the Bhagavata and went away.
Upon receiving the treasure of the holy Bhagavata, Sri Sanatana's ecstasy knew no bounds. From that day on, Sri Sanatana would only study the Bhagavata, leaving aside other scriptures, knowing the Bhagavata to be the essence of all scriptures. In his Krishna-lila-stava, he has written,
Sanatana Goswami offers his respects to the Bhagavata, by saying: "O holy Bhagavata, you are my only company, my only friend, and my guru. You are my greatest treasure, my personal savior, the emblem of my highest fortune, the very form of ecstasy. I offer my obeisances to you."
When they heard the news that Sri Caitanya, the life and treasure of Nadia, had taken sannyasa and gone to Puri, Rupa and Sanatana fainted. Having never seen Mahaprabhu in Navadwipa, Rupa and Sanatana were despondent upon hearing that he was leaving Bengal forever. At this time they heard a divine voice saying, "Do not be in anxiety. The merciful Sri Gauranga will soon come here." Hearing this divine voice, they were consoled.
After happily spending five years headquartered in Puri, Mahaprabhu wanted to return to Bengal to take darshan of the Ganges and to see his mother, and so he set out for Nabadwipa. The joy of the devotees was boundless; getting the opportunity to see her son after such a long time Sacidevi completely forgot herself. For many days she cooked and Gaurasundara enjoyed her cooking. Mahaprabhu stayed at the house of Advaita in Shantipura for some days and then continued on to Ramkeli Gram.
This is recorded in Sri Caitanya Caritamrita:
When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu began to proceed from Kuliya toward Vrindavana, thousands of men were with him and all of them were devotees. Wherever the Lord visited, crowds of innumerable people came to see Him. When they saw Him, all their unhappiness and lamentation disappeared. Wherever the Lord touched the ground with His lotus feet, people immediately came and gathered the dirt. Indeed they gathered so much that many holes were created in the road.
The Lord eventually arrived at a village named Ramkeli. This village is situated on the border of Bengal and is very exquisite. While performing Sankirtan in Ramakeli grama, the Lord danced and sometimes lost consciousness due to love of God. While he was at Ramkeli-grama, an unlimited number of people came to see His lotus feet. When the Mohammedan King of Bengal heard of Mahaprabhu's influence in attracting innumerable people, he became very astonished and began to speak as follows: "Such a person, who is followed by so many people without giving them charity, must be a prophet. I can surely understand this fact."
The Mohammedan King ordered the magistrate: "Do not disturb this Hindu prophet out of jealousy. Let Him do His own will wherever He likes."
Mahaprabhu's auspicious visit was welcomed in Ramkeli, where all the devotees became overwhelmed by ecstasy. From all directions came thousands of people to see Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. When the King became a little concerned about this phenomenon and began asking questions about Mahaprabhu, his counselor, Keshava Chatri, who was a devotee, told him, "Yes, I have heard about this mendicant sannyasi. He is begging here and there with three or four followers."
The king said, "What are you saying! Thousands and thousands of people follow him wherever he goes."
When he heard this, Keshava Chatri smiled a little and intimated that this was a great exaggeration. Hearing the words of Keshava Chatri, the Shah's mind was not pacified. He asked Rupa Goswami about all this. Rupa Goswami said, "Why are you questioning me? Better that you question your own mind. Because you are king of the people, you are the representative of the Supreme Lord. Therefore you can understand better than I who Caitanya Mahaprabhu is." After hearing this, the Shah was pacified.
Beneath a tree on the banks of the Ganges, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu stopped to rest. He was accompanied only by his most intimate associates. In the evening, Sanatana Goswami and Rupa Goswami arrived there. They met Nityananda and Haridasa Thakura who informed Mahaprabhu of their arrival. In great humility, the two of them took bunches of straw between their teeth, and, each binding a cloth around his neck, they fell down like rods before the Lord.
Upon seeing Mahaprabhu, Rupa and Sanatana were overjoyed and began to weep out of humility. The Lord asked them to get up and blessed them. They arose and, taking a straw between their teeth, they humbly offered their prayers with folded hands. They said, "All glories to Sri Krishna Caitanya, the most merciful savior of the fallen souls. All glories to the Lord."
Then they submitted themselves, saying, "Sir, we belong to the lowest class of men, and our association and occupation are also of the lowest type. Therefore we cannot introduce ourselves to you. We feel very much ashamed standing here before you. Dear Lord, you have incarnated to deliver the fallen souls. You should consider that in this world there is none so fallen as us. You have delivered the two brothers Jagai and Madhai, but to deliver them You did not have to exert yourself much. The brothers Jagai and Madhai belonged to the brahmana caste, and their residence was in the holy place of Nabadwipa. They never served low-class persons, nor were they accesories to abominable persons. Jagai and Madhai had but one fault - they were addicted to sin. However heaps of sin are burned to ashes simply by Namabhasa: the dim reflection of the holy name. Jagai and Madhai uttered your name in blasphemy, but their utterance of the divine name delivered them. We are millions of times inferior to Jagai and Madhai. We are more degraded, fallen ad sinful than they. Actually, we belong to the caste of meat-eaters, for we are servants of meat-eaters. Because we associate with them we have become the enemy of cows and brahmanas."
In this way, the two brothers humbly submitted that because of their abominable activities they were now bound by the neck and hands by sin and wallowing in the filthy ditch of sense gratification.
They continued their appeal to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: "No one in the universe is powerful enough to deliver us. You are the savior of lost souls. Only you can save us. If you deliver such fallen sinners as ourselves, the strength of your mercy will become famous throughout the world. You have come to save the most fallen. We are the most fallen. If you show your mercy to us, then, the power of your mercy will be witnessed by everyone and your mission to save the most fallen will be a great success. Although we are unqualified to receive your mercy, still it is our heart's desire."
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "My dear Dabhir Khasa and Sakara Mallika: you two are my old servants. From this day on your names will be Rupa and Sanatana. Now please give up this display of humility, for it breaks my heart. You have written me many kind and humble letters, from which I could understand all about you. In order to instruct you I sent you a verse that read: ³If a woman has a paramour she will perform her household duties even more carefully before, so that no one will know, all the while thinking of her paramour and relishing that mellow within her heart.² My only business in coming to Bengal was to see the two of you. Everyone asks why I have come to Ramakeli. No one knows that I have come here only to see you. It is well that you have come to visit me. Now you may return to your homes. Have no fear of anything: birth after birth you have been my eternal servants. I am sure that Krishna shall soon deliver you."
The Lord then blessed them by placing his hands on their heads. Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana then touched the Lord's lotus feet to their heads. When all the devotees saw the Lord's mercy upon Rupa and Sanatana they became joyful and began chanting the holy name of Hari. Many of the Lord's personal associates were there, including Nityananda, Haridasa Thakura, Srivasa Thakura, Gadadhara Pandit, Mukunda, Jagadananda, Murari, and Vakreshvara Pandit. Following the Lord's instructions, Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana touched the holy feet of all these great devotees, who became exceedingly happy and congratulated the two brothers for attaining the Lord's mercy. At this time Sri Vallabha also received the mercy of the Lord and became known as Anupama. After taking permission from the devotees there, Sri Rupa and Sanatana prepared to depart, but before doing so submitted a proposal before the Lord's lotus feet.
They said, "O Lord, although the Ruler of Bengal, Hussein Shah, has some regard for you, your mission here is now complete; thus we humbly request you to depart, lest some misfortune befall you and the devotees. The king may have some respect for you, but he is a meat-eater and a muslim and as such is naturally inimical to the cows and brahmanas. He cannot be trusted for long. It is our humble consideration that there is no need to go to Vrindavana with such a great crowd. Vrindavana is a place of simplicity and rustic beauty, not pomp and grandeur. We submit that it is best not to make a pilgrimage there with hundreds and thousands of followers. "
After speaking in this way, Sri Rupa and Sanatana offered their respects at the Lord's lotus feet and went home. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then made up his mind to leave that village. The following morning he left for Kanai Natashala, where he saw many of the paintings of Krishna's pastimes that were kept on display there.
That night he considered Sanatana's proposal not to go to Vrindavana with a big crowd. He thought, "If I go to Vrindavana with so many people, its mellow ambience of simplicity and rustic beauty will be ruined. I should go alone or with one other person to Vrindavana. In that way, my pilgrimage to Vrindavana will be very beautiful." Thinking in this way, the Lord returned to Jagannatha Puri.
The Caitanya Caritamrita (M.L. 19) describes how Sanatan Goswami managed to free himself from his government duties and escape from prison to join Sri Rupa in Vrindavana. On the plea of illness he left his post to study the Bhagavata with devotees and brahmanas at his home. When a doctor brought this to the Shah's attention, he went to Sanatana and demanded that he accompany him to Orissa. When Sanatana refused he was imprisoned. Sanatana Goswami made use of some money sent by Rupa Goswami and escaped by bribing his jailer. He then left for Benares to meet Caitanya Mahaprabhu. On the way Sanatana stopped at a hotel with his servant Ishan, and after realizing that the hotel keeper planned to kill them for gold in Ishan's possession, Sanatana made Ishan pay the hotel keeper his last coin, and begged his help to pass through the jungle. The hotel keeper was moved and, being the leader of the local dacoits, helped them through the jungle and over the Hazaribag mountains. Parting company with Ishan, he went on to meet his brother-in-law, Sri Kanta. Seeing that his brother had become a fugitive and a mendicant, Sri Kanta asked Sanatana to stay with him, but Sanatana refused. Upon the departure of Sanatana Goswami, Sri Kanta gave his brother-in-law a fine woolen blanket.
Finally Sanatana reached Benares and met Sri Caitanya at the house of Chandreshekhara. The Lord ordered him to shave his beard and long hair, and so Sanatana shaved his head and adopted the dress of a babaji, accepting some old cloth from Tapan Mishra. When he could understand that the Lord disapproved of a babaji in the dress of a mendicant wearing a fine and expensive woolen blanket, he traded the blanket to a brahman he met at the Ganges in exchange for a torn quilt. The Lord was pleased by Sanatana's humility and submission and instructed him for some time on the science of devotion.
At that time, he elaborated on the position of the soul in the material world and the soul's constitutional nature as an eternal servant of Krishna. He explained the different energies of Krishna - svarupa-shakti, maya-shakti, and tatastha-shakti. He described the relative positions of karma, jnana and bhakti by relating the parable of Sarvajna, the astrologer. He showed how that all scriptures have Krishna and his service as their aim.
At that time Sri Caitanya described the consitutional position of Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He discussed all the different forms, features, plenary expansions, and avatars of the Lord. He explained the spiritual worlds of Goloka and Vaikuntha, and described the Lord's opulence in Vaikutha and his sweetness in Vrindavana. The illusion of Brahma was discussed. After this Caitanya Mahaprabhu described the means of attaining Krishna Prema. He described the two kinds of jivas and explained how karma, jnana, and yoga divorced from bhakti are useless. He described the six kinds of surrender and showed the worthlessness of Varnashram devoid of Krishna. He spoke of the divine mercy of Krishna and explained how Krishna appears as diskha-guru, shiksha-guru, and chaitya-guru in order to enlighten the surrendered souls. He explained the development of faith, the three gradations of devotees, the twenty-six qualities of a pure Vaishnava and the three characteristic features of a true Vaishnava. Kindess as a primary feature of Vaishnavas was described, using the examples of Haridasa Thakura and Vasudeva Datta.
Mahaprabhu explained that association with sadhus is indispensable to Krsihna-bhakti and Krishna-prema, where bad association is detrimental to the growth of divine love. The meaning of surrender and self-abnegation were discussed, as were the characteristic features of a liberated soul.
At that time Mahaprabhu explained the two divisions of sadhana-bhakti: Vaidhi-Sadhana-Bhakti and Raganuga-Sadhana-Bhakti. The sixty-four branches of sadhana-bhakti were described with special emphasis on the five most important: association with devotees, chanting of the holy name, hearing Srimad-Bhagvatam, deity worship, and living in a holy place.
The nine different methods of devotion and the devotees who attained perfection in each of them were discussed. After this the internal and external development of raganuga-sadhana-bhakti was explained. After this bhava-bhakti and prema-bhakti were discussed along with the nine stages of sadhana, the characteristics of a bhava-bhakta and the characteristics of a prema-bhakta.
At this time, the Lord explained the Sixty-four qualities of Krishna, the meaning of true and false renunciation. He explained the essential importance of associating with saints and, by way of illustration, told the story of Narada and the hunter.
In this way, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu explained the transcendental position of Krishna, the nature of the jiva, the nature of devotional service, and the ultimate perfection of love of Godhead. He also explained the atmarama verse of Srimad Bhagavatam in sixty-one different ways.
After enlightening Sanatana in all the truths of bhakti, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu ordered him to write books on devotional service, to establish the proper practices and behavior for devotees, to install deities and reveal the proper methods of deity worship, and to excavate the lost holy places of pilgrimage in Vrindavana.