For the suffering man, tired with the constant striving for sensual gratification, pricked by the arrows of desire, the only source of peace is to immerse himself in the ocean of stories narrating the spiritual adventures of Lord Krishna. Indeed the Shrimad Bhagavatam says: ‘True speech is only the one that sings the glory of Krishna. Only those hands can be called hands which arise in the service of God. Only that mind is worthy of its name which contemplates on Him who abides in the hearts of all creatures. Only those ears are ears which listen to the sacred stories of Krishna. The head justifies its name only when it bows before both the moving and the unmoving forms of the Lord. Only those can be truly called eyes which see God everywhere.’ (X.80.3-4)
One such story is that of Sudama, a friend of Lord Krishna. The Sanskrit word for friend is ‘sakha’ which holds a deeper meaning. It is composed of two words sa and kha. Sa means ‘together’ and kha means ‘renown’, suggesting a pair of friends who are renowned together; for example Rama-Lakshmana, Krishna-Arjuna, Krishna-Balarama and also Krishna-Sudama.
Sudama was a wise Brahmin who not only had a deep theoretical knowledge of the Vedas but also lived according to Vedic principles. Though he was a householder he made do with whatever came his way and never made any efforts to acquire anything. He never asked anybody for anything. He would eat whatever anyone gave him and go hungry if no food came his way. Very often he would have to go hungry for long stretches of time. Consequently, he became so thin that his veins started showing up prominently. He never had anything decent to wear and dressed in rags. He was a true avadhuta. His wife, extremely devoted to her husband, lived in the same condition. Whenever anyone gave them a little rice, she would cook and serve it to him at times going hungry herself. This was how they lived.
A time came when they had to go without food for several days. His wife, not anxious for her own personal self but extremely concerned about her husband, requested him in a sweet voice, even though her own body was trembling with weakness: "Lord, I have heard that Krishna, the husband of Goddess Lakshmi, is your friend. Please go to Him for help. He is the only refuge of saints. When He will come to know that you are a householder but still struggling for a few grains, He will definitely give you sufficient money to make your ends meet. He is living in nearby Dwarka only. He is so generous that He gives away even Himself to devotees who remember His lotus feet. Will not He, who is the father of the whole world, confer worldly necessities on His devotees, which are negligible compared to the spiritual boons He blesses them with (and hence easily given)?"
Sudama was disinclined to go to Krishna for any material gain. He was convinced that the Lord was omniscient, all-powerful and supremely compassionate. "My condition is not hidden from Him," though Sudama. "He must be feeling that this is the proper condition for me, so we should be pleased with what pleases Him. We have no need to make any direct efforts."
However, along those thoughts it also occurred to him: "I don’t have to ask for, nor take anything from Him, but if I go to Dwarka I will have the good fortune of seeing the Lord. What bigger gain can there be?"
He said to his wife: "O blessed lady! Since you wish me to do so I will go. However get something for me to present to Lord Krishna. It is not proper to go empty handed." His wife was happy to hear this, but from where was she going to get something for her husband to take as a present? She went to four houses and brought back from each a fistful of pounded rice flakes. They were respectively red, white, small and big. Four fistfuls of four kinds of rice. However, there was no option. She tied them in a tattered piece of cloth and gave the bundle to her husband. The great Brahmin Sudama set out to Dwarka with the gift in his hands. His only thought on the way was: ‘How will I receive the darshan of Lord Krishna?"
When Sudama reached Dwarka, he was amazed to see the grandeur and luxury of the city. Krishna’s palace was protected by three layers of garrisons. However there was no restriction on saints and Brahmins who had free access to Krishna’s residence, which was surrounded by palaces belonging to his sixteen thousand wives. While entering Krishna’s inner chambers, Sudama felt supreme bliss (Brahmananda) as if he was merging his individual soul into the Supreme Soul.
At that moment Lord Krishna was seated on the bed of His wife Rukmini, who was none other than Goddess Lakshmi. As soon as Krishna caught sight of Sudama He put Rukmini aside, jumped off the bed and came running towards His friend. He caught Sudama warmly, embraced him and said: "Friend! I’m meeting you after ages! Where were you all these days?"
Lord Krishna, who is the reservoir of all the pleasure in the world, Himself experienced great pleasure on embracing His friend!
Then Lord Krishna washed Sudama’s hands and feet with His tears. Shri Krishna is a staunch devotee of Brahmins, who are often referred to as ‘gods of the earth (bhu-devata). Indeed luxuries and wealth are appreciable only when used in the service of the poor and the learned. Actually, both the poor and the learned are forms of the Lord only, but the learned person has the ability to create thousands of other learned persons; therefore, service to the learned is of special importance. Hence, we too should seek out learned Brahmins and facilitate the protection of Dharma in whatever way we can.
Krishna then arranged for Sudama’s bath and wrapped His own pitambara (yellow cloth) around his shoulders. He gave the Brahmin a new sacred thread, applied sandal paste on his forehead, and served a delicious meal. Then the Lord made Sudama sit on His own bed and worshipped him. The goddess of fortune Rukmini herself personally began to fan him. The other women of the palace wondered why Krishna was so eagerly serving this poor Brahmin who was neither neat nor clean nor dressed properly; but with the grace of Krishna they immediately understood that the Brahmin was not an ordinary being and must have performed great pious austerities which had earned him the special affection of Lord Krishna.
Later on at night, Sudama and Krishna held each other’s hands and began to talk about their early life at their guru’s ashram where they had lived and studied together. They sang praises of their common venerable guru who had imparted both knowledge and wisdom to them. They felt supremely blessed on having shared those precious and enriching moments together at that hermitage of learning. Thus they passed away the night in reminiscences.
Next morning, when it was time for Sudama to leave, Shri Krishna thought to Himself: "I must respect the detachment of My Brahmin friend. He is an ascetic who desires nothing. He has never worshipped Me with a desire for material benefit. Nonetheless, his wife hopes to get relief from their extreme poverty and it is my duty to look after those who are the dependent of those who depend upon Me."
With this in mind Krishna asked his friend: "Brahmin Devata, have you brought any gift for Me?" Sudama felt acutely embarrassed. He tried to hide the small bundle of four kinds of rice flakes because it screamed aloud the entire history of his poverty. How could he open it and offer such stuff to the Supreme Lord?
Bhagawan Krishna abides in every heart and knows what goes on there. He snatched the little bundle, dug into it and put a fistful of the rice into His mouth. He was about to eat more when Rukmini Ji caught His hand saying: "Won’t you let us also have this Brahmin’s Prasad? By accepting one fistful you have already given him all possible wealth in this world. If you eat a second fistful we will all have to go to his house to serve him." This indicates that when food is offered to Lord Krishna with love and devotion, He is pleased with it and accepts it even though it may entail an effort on His own part. In the process goddess Lakshmi becomes so obliged that she has to go personally to the devotee’s home to take care of him and his circumstances.
Despite all this, Shri Krishna sent Sudama off empty handed. During the journey home Sudama began to think joyously: "How much respect Lord Krishna has for Brahmins. He embraced a sinful and poor person like myself and allowed me to touch His heart – the same heart which is the abode of Lakshmi. Not only that, he made me sleep on the very bed that goddess Lakshmi sleeps on. He pressed my feet with His own hands to serve me! I thank Krishna for not giving me any wealth. This he did for my own benefit. He knows that when a man gets material wealth he becomes intoxicated and forgets the real wealth which is devotion towards God."
Sudama walked on towards his village, blissfully engrossed in such thoughts. However when he reached near, nowhere could he see the poor village he had left behind. Instead he saw a fabulous city with big houses and opulent palaces. He thought that he had lost his way and mistakenly drifted back towards Dwarka. He was trying to sort out his thoughts when he saw his dutiful wife, beautifully dressed, coming out to welcome him. She was laden with ornaments from head to toe and was accompanied by a band of musicians.
Sudama understood that it was the lila of his beloved Krishna and thought out aloud: "Just as the clouds shower rain while we sleep, and depart silently, so also my dear Krishna does not allow anyone to see that it is He who gives."
This actually the proper method for doing dana. The more secret it is kept the stronger will be its effect upon the inner self of the donor.
Sudama remained immersed in the supreme bliss he had always experienced. He remained detached all his life, and used all his possessions as if actually belonging to God. In the end as a result of his Bhakti he attained the Lord.
References & Further Reading:
- G. P. Bhatt & J. L. Shastri (tr). The Bhagavata Purana (5 Volumes): Delhi, 2002.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Bhagwatamrit: The Elixir of the Bhagawat: Mumbai, 2005.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Bhagavata Darshan (Collection of Discourses in Two Volumes): Mumbai, 2003.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes): Gorakhpur, 2004.
- Swami Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta. Srimad Bhagavatam (47 Volumes): Mumbai.