When Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī met Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu in Prayāga in 1516 CE, Mahāprabhu directly entrusted the most essential teachings of rasa-tattva (divine mellows) to him and as such, made him the ācārya of abhidheya-tattva (the ācārya who delineates the methodology of bhakti) and the head of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava sampradāya. Due to this, the Gauḍīyas are known as rūpānugas, or followers of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī.
Empowered by Śrīman Mahāprabhu, Śrī Rūpa wrote many works on bhakti-tattva such as Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, Lalita-mādhava, Vidagdha-mādhava, Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta, Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā etc. All these books fully encapsulate the teachings of Śrī Caitanya, thus Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura has written the following śloka about Śrī Rūpa:
śrī caitanya-mano’bhīṣṭaṁ sthāpitaṁ yena bhūtale
svayaṁ rūpaḥ kadā mahyaṁ dadāti sva-padāntikam
When will Rūpa Gosvāmī, who has established within this world the mission to fulfil the desires of Śrī Caitanya, give me shelter at his feet? (Śrī Prema-bhakti-candrikā)
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Upadeśāmṛta is meant for all practitioners of bhakti. This work begins with the most fundamental principles of sādhana (control of the mind, senses etc.) and ends with the highest aspiration for a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava, namely rādhā-dāsyam – divine service unto Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi at Rādhā-kuṇḍa in Vṛndāvana.
In Upadeśāmṛta Śrī Rūpa first outlines the preliminary hurdles that a sādhaka experiences, then describes those elements that are favourable and unfavourable for the cultivation of bhakti. He then explains what kind of association assists one’s devotion and how one should behave with the three levels of devotees (kaniṣṭhas, madhyamas and uttamas). Next, he instructs the sādhaka how to perceive a Vaiṣṇava, and how one should chant the Holy Name, despite the fact that one may have no taste initially. When one eventually gains a taste for chanting hari-nāma, Śrī Rūpa advises that one should engage constantly in that process under the guidance of a resident of Vraja. He then systematically describes the various holy places of Vraja-dhāma in accordance with rasa, and who is the topmost servitor of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, namely Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Finally, he explains the attainment of those fortunate souls who take shelter of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī at Rādhā-kuṇḍa.
The importance of Upadeśāmṛta cannot be overstated. After the disappearance of Śrī Caitanyadeva, various pseudo-Vaiṣṇava sects appeared in India proclaiming to be followers of Mahāprabhu. However, such apa-sampradāyas only brought infamy to the name ‘Vaiṣṇava’ by engaging in abominable activities and propagating misleading doctrines in the guise of Gauḍīya siddhānta. Since that time, the banner of Mahāprabhu has crossed the ocean and many fortunate jīvas around the world have taken shelter of Him. However, wherever the preaching campaign of Śrī Caitanya and His eternal associates has gone, Kali is not far behind. After Mahāprabhu, thirteen apa-sampradāyas sprung up in Gaura-maṇḍala and Vraja-maṇḍala to wreak havoc. Now, in the Mahā-maṇḍala, many more versions of these apa-sampradāyas have appeared to defile the pristine philosophy of Mahāprabhu. Leaping over the preparatory stages of bhakti, certain persons neglect anartha–nivṛtti (the stage of removing unwanted desires and habits), imagining that they can invade the realm of bhāva and prema. However, without the prerequisite purification, such ‘gate-crashers’ are voluntarily placing their own heads into the wood-chipper of spiritual suicide. Thus, the preliminary teachings found in the beginning of Upadeśāmṛta are there to establish a foundation for all aspiring sādhakas. Indeed, the words of Upadeśāmṛta are significant for all Vaiṣṇavas at every stage of spiritual advancement.
The Origins of Śrī Upadeśāmṛta
At the end of his Anuvṛtti commentary to Upadeśāmṛta, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda has explained something of the origins of Śrī Rūpa’s composition:
govinda-vacane jāni, ihāi gaurāṅga-vāṇī
nīlācale sindhu-tīre śrī-gaurāṅga dhīre dhīre
balila śunila bhakta tathā
I accept the statements of Govinda to be the words of Gaurāṅga which were His essential teachings at the time of His departure. Śrī Gaurāṅga calmly spoke these on the seashore at Nīlācala, while the devotees there listened.
gaura-mukha-upadeśa, sarva amṛtera śeṣa
karṇa-dvārā pāna kari’ lekhanite tāhā dhari’
kali-jīve dila bhara-hara
The instructions that issued from the mouth of Gaura are the essence of all nectar. The great master, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, drank this through his ears and then wrote them down, presenting them to the jīvas of Kali-yuga in order to remove their burden.
The name Govinda in this first śloka refers to Govindadeva Kavi, an Oriyan Vaiṣṇava poet in the disciplic line of Śrī Vakreśvara Paṇḍita. In 1758 CE, he composed Śrī Śrī Gaura-kṛṣṇodaya, a Sanskrit poem describing the līlā of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. In the final chapter of this work, Govindadeva Kavi writes how the Lord sat on the seashore with the devotees and discussed five verses. These are verses 5-8 found within the Upadeśāmṛta.
From these words of Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura we can understand that the essence of the Upadeśāmṛta was originally spoken by Śrīman Mahāprabhu, and later, Śrī Rūpa compiled the instructions he had heard.
It is interesting to note that the first four ślokas of Upadeśāmṛta seem to have their origins in other literary sources. Verse one (vāco vegam…) appears twice in a slightly altered form in the Mahābhārata:
vāco vegaṁ manasaḥ krodha-vegaṁ
vivitsā vegam udaropastha vegam
etān vegān vinaye dvai tapasvī
nindā cāsya hṛdayaṁ nopahanyāt
One who performs austerities must tolerate the impulses of speech, the mind, anger, the senses, and the urges of the stomach and genitals. Criticism should not contaminate his heart. (Mahābhārata, Śānti-parva 12.269.15)
vāco vegaṁ manasaḥ krodha-vegaṁ
vivitsā vegam udaropastha vegam
etān vegān yo viṣahatyudīrṇāṁs
taṁ manye’haṁ brāhmaṇaḥ vai muniṁ ca
I consider one who is able to tolerate the impulses of speech, the mind, anger, the senses, and the urges of the stomach and genitals to be a brāhmaṇa and a sage. (Mahābhārata, Śānti-parva 12.288.14)
Modified versions of Verses 2 (atyāhāraḥ prayāsaś ca...) and verse 3 (utsāhān-niścayād-dhairyāt…) of Upadeśāmṛta can be found in Svātmarāma Svāmī’s Haṭha-yoga Pradīpikā (1.15-16) written in the 15th Century:
atyāhāraḥ prayāsaś ca prajalpo niyamāgrahaḥ
jana-saṅgaś ca laulyaṁ ca ṣaḍbhir yogo vinaśyati
Eating too much or collecting more than necessary, performing extraneous endeavours, speaking about mundane subject matters, neglecting the injunctions of the scriptures or blindly following scriptural injunctions, associating with mundane people and mental restlessness – these six things destroy yoga.
utsāhāt sāhasād dhairyāt tattva-jñānāś ca niścayāt
jana-saṅga-parityāgāt ṣaḍbhir yogaḥ prasiddhyati
Eagerness, courage, forbearance, knowledge, confidence, abandoning the company of materialists – these six enhance yoga.
It should be noted however that scholars opine that Svātmarāma Svāmī used quotations from earlier sources, thus it is most likely that these verses predate the Haṭha-yoga Pradīpikā.
The fourth verse of Upadeśāmṛta (dadāti pratigṛhṇāti...) occurs twice in the second and fourth chapters of Viṣṇuśarma’s Pañcatantra without any modification.
The fact that either Śrīman Mahāprabhu or Śrī Rūpa may have drawn inspiration from other literary sources when composing Upadeśāmṛta does not diminish its importance or beauty. It is a common practice amongst authors to refer to other sources when composing a work. Śrī Rūpa’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Padyāvalī, and Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta quote extensively from other texts. It is also worth bearing in mind that the aforementioned four verses, which have been adjusted in order to fit the necessities of practitioners of sādhana-bhakti, are concerned with the most rudimentary aspects of abhidheya-tattva. The remainder of the verses pertaining to the higher principles of abhidheya-tattva, vaiṣṇava-tattva and prayojana–tattva are unique compositions.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Upadeśāmṛta
Prior to its propagation by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Upadeśāmṛta was practically unknown amongst Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. In 1940 Śrī Vanamālī-lāla Gosvāmī of Rādhā-Ramaṇa Temple recounted to the followers of Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura how Bhaktivinoda had visited him in Vṛndāvana and found a copy of Upadeśāmṛta in his library. With Vanamālī Gosvāmī’s permission, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura copied the manuscript and serialised it in the 9th volume of Sajjana Toṣaṇi magazine in 1898, along with his own commentary, the Pīyuṣa-varṣiṇī Ṭikā.
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura further propagated the glories of Upadeśāmṛta by writing twelve articles based upon verses 2 and 3 – these were later compiled into a book called Bhaktyāloka. He also composed the Bhajana–lālasā section in his songbook Śaraṇāgati based upon the verses of Upadeśāmṛta.
Thus the Vaiṣṇava world owes a great debt of gratitude to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura for his discovery and dissemination of Upadeśāmṛta.
There have been several important commentaries written on the Upadeśāmṛta. The first known commentary was the Upadeśāmṛta Prakāśikā by Śrī Rādhā-ramaṇa Dāsa Gosvāmī, who was in the disciplic succession of Śrīla Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī. This short Sanskrit commentary was published by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura along with his own commentary in Sajjana Toṣaṇī in 1898.
In 1915, following in the footsteps of Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura wrote the Anuvṛtti commentary to Upadeśāmṛta. He also composed a poem in Bengali prose called the Upadeśāmṛta Bhāṣā based upon each of the eleven verses of Upadeśāmṛta. This poem has been included as an appendix in our book.
In 1975, the illustrious world preacher, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda wrote a commentary to Upadeśāmṛta (which was published under the title ‘The Nectar of Instruction’). At present, this is perhaps the most widely read commentary on Upadeśāmṛta.
Illuminations by Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja
This edition of Śrī Upadeśāmṛta contains ‘illuminations’ by Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja, one of the principle disciples of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. These commentaries have been gathered from informal talks given in the 1980’s where he spoke extensively to disciples and followers on the topics and verses found within Upadeśāmṛta. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was revered for his unparalleled Vaiṣṇava qualities, śāstrika knowledge, and his clear explanations of the deepest aspects of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava siddhānta. Thus, we are confident that his illuminations on Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Upadeśāmṛta will bring joy to the hearts of all those traversing the sweet path of bhakti, inspiring them to continue in their service to Śrī Śrī Guru and Gaurāṅga.
In closing, we offer our most profound respects unto our guru-varga, and in particular to our Gurudeva, Śrīla Bhakti Gaurava Narasiṅgha Mahārāja and his beloved godbrother, Śrīpāda Bhakti Kiśora Āraṇya Mahārāja who are constant sources of inspiration. Falling at the feet of the Vaiṣṇavas, we pray that we may please them with this humble offering.
Svāmī Bhakti Vijñāna Giri