When I was eight or nine years old, my parents took me to the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. After meandering through myriad halls and galleries, we came across an exhibit of valuable gemstones in the Museum of Natural History. I remember being particularly struck by the famous Hope Diamond, a large bluish diamond pendant surrounded by small white diamonds. I was surprised that something could be so beautiful and so valuable. Although I’ve forgotten most of what I saw during my weeklong visit to the Smithsonian, I vividly remember my sense of wonder upon seeing such a unique jewel.
Lord Krishna likes jewels too. Scriptures explain that He adorns His body with jewelry. He is famous as the wearer of the Kaustubha gem, and scriptures describe other forms or incarnations of the Lord as decorated with exquisite valuable jewels. But these ornaments are not like those within the Smithsonian display cases, because everything directly related with the Lord His clothing, paraphernalia, associates, abode, name, activities possesses the same spiritual potency as the Lord Himself. In other words, the Lord’s ornaments are ex- pansions of His personal energy. Although they appear to be material, they are not different from the Supreme Lord Himself.
The Supreme Lord is called Bhagavan, which indicates that He possesses six primary opulences (beauty, strength, fame, wealth, knowledge, and renunciation) to an unlimited degree. He possesses these qualities eternally, but sometimes one or more remain hidden from ordinary view so that He can achieve specific purposes. Five hundred years ago, Lord Krishna appeared in Navadvipa, West Bengal, in the form of His own devotee, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He came to relish being a devotee and to teach the process of devotional service so that we can achieve the highest spiritual treasure, pure love of God (Krishna-prema). Mahaprabhu personally inaugurated the sankirtana movement (the congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names) to uplift the sinful souls of the current Age of Kali, the Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy.
Balarama As Nityananda
Lord Balarama, Krishna’s first spiritual expansion, plays the role of Krishna’s elder brother. Lord Balarama appeared with Caitanya Mahaprabhu as Nityananda Prabhu. He assisted Lord Caitanya with His mission to spread Krishna consciousness freely, distributing pure love of God without regard to caste, color, or creed. In the second half of His life, Caitanya Mahaprabhu entered the renounced order of life (sannyasa). He decided to live in Jagannatha Puri, Orissa, and He ordered Lord Nityananda to preach in Bengal.
Lord Nityananda enjoyed an especially opulent mood. In Sri Caitanya-bhagavata, Srila Vrndavana Dasa Thakura, a disciple of Nityananda Prabhu, vividly describes how Lord Nityananda adorned His body with beautiful blue silk garments, valuable jewels, and many flower garlands. Once, He sat upon a golden throne while His followers offered Him abhiseka, bathing His body with milk, yogurt, juices, and other paraphernalia as described in scriptures pertaining to deity worship. By demonstrating His opulence and grandeur, He revealed His divinity and attracted many souls to pure devotional service.
Lord Nityananda is visnu-tattva, that is, He is God and not an ordinary living entity (jiva-tattva). But the chief purpose of His appearance was not to showcase His wealth and beauty, but rather to distribute His inconceivable mercy to the suffering souls in material bondage. Out of His supreme compassion, He traveled from door to door to ask everyone to chant the holy names of the Lord and thus achieve spiritual perfection. Lord Nityananda did not distinguish between qualified and unqualified souls, and delivered the most degraded and sinful. Once, when a gang of thieves wanted to rob Him of His ornaments, Lord Nityananda not only purified them of their sins, but ultimately awarded them pure love of God.
A Greedy Gang of Thieves
Srila Vrndavana Dasa Thakura has narrated this astonishing pastime in Caitanya-bhagavata (Antya-khanda 5.527–706). The leader of the gang, who had been born in a brahmana family, had rejected religious principles to associate with wicked, materialistic people and led a sinful life of cheating, stealing, and even murder. Fortunately for him, he dwelled in the holy land of Navadvipa when Lord Nityananda was performing His pastimes there.
Lord Nityananda was residing with a devotee named Hiranya Pandita. Although Hiranya Pandita was poor, his heart was rich with pure love of God, and Lord Nityananda appreciated his company so much that He left His other associates to stay in Hiranya Pandita’s home. Unlike Hiranya Pandita, the thief lacked such appreciation for the spiritual wealth of Lord Nityananda’s company. He simply coveted others’ material assets under the illusion that these would somehow make him happy.
One day, the thief spied Nityananda Prabhu near Hiranya Pandita’s house. He saw that the Lord wore golden bracelets, armlets, and earrings set with pearls. Necklaces made of gold, coral, jewels, and pearls adorned His beautiful body. Enchanted by such dazzling splendor, the thief craved the Lord’s wealth. He stealthily followed the Lord to ascertain His residence, and informed his companions of his great discovery.
“My dear brothers,” the thief announced. “Our days of suffering are about to end. I have seen the most valuable jewels all together in one place, on the body of Nityananda. He is staying alone in the house of Hiranya Pandita, so tonight let us go there and rob everything.”
Equipped with daggers, swords, and tridents, the thieves gathered near Hiranya Pandita’s house that evening. They were blinded by boundless materialistic ambition, and their minds were overpowered by an insatiable greed. Because of their demoniac mentality, they did not consider Nityananda Prabhu’s true identity as the Supreme Personality of Godhead or His jewelry as an expansion of His spiritual energy. Instead, they considered Him an ordinary man and His ornaments merely matter to be conquered.
The thieves camped near Hiranya Pandita’s house and sent a spy to investigate the feasibility of their plan. The scout returned and informed the others that Nityananda was eating and His associates were awake. He could not comprehend the activities of the Lord’s associates, who were intensely engaged in sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord. They exhibited symptoms of deep spiritual ecstasy, such as shivering, crying, rolling on the ground, and standing up of the bodily hairs. The spy could see these activities only as a momentary impediment to his sense gratification.
The thieves decided to wait a few hours and approach the house later, when they presumed the Lord would be asleep. In the meantime, they dreamed of the wealth they expected to attain, each claiming a different ornament as his own.
The Thieves Fall Asleep
Lord Nityananda, being the Supreme Personality of Godhead Balarama, is fully endowed with spiritual strength (bala). As the first expansion of Krishna’s spiritual energy, Nityananda has all of Krishna’s potencies, and so He perfectly understood the thieves’ sinful intentions. Through His mystic power, He caused them to fall asleep, and they slept deeply through the night. When they awakened suddenly to the squawking of crows, the sun was already high in the sky.
The thieves furtively returned to their homes and then quarreled, each accusing the other of falling asleep and ruining their plan. Then their leader pacified them, attributing everything to the will of Goddess Durga, the demigoddess in control of the material nature. He conjectured that Durga had bewildered them because they neglected to worship her. Thus, the thieves offered meat and wine to Durga and then again set out to rob Lord Nityananda, unaware that Mother Durga is merely an agent of the Supreme Lord.
When the thieves approached Hiranya Pandita’s house, they saw fierce giant soldiers guarding the four directions and loudly chanting the holy names of the Lord: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The thieves observed that each soldier wielded many weapons and was powerful enough to kill a hundred people in an instant. Utterly mystified, they quickly left the vicinity and sat down together to discuss this strange sight.
“Where have these giant soldiers come from?” the thieves wondered. Someone suggested that Nityananda might have arranged for His own protection, since many people said that He was very wise. Their leader scoffed at the idea and determined that the guards must be the entourage of an influential government official, and he decided to wait a few days before making another attempt.
After ten days, the thieves gathered together for a third time, each carrying five or ten weapons. As soon as they approached Hiranya Pandita’s house, they went blind which seems appropriate when one considers that they were already spiritually blind. Then they fell into various situations that made them cry out of agony and fear. Some of the thieves fell into a ditch and were bitten by leeches, mosquitoes, and bees. Others fell into a heap of garbage and were stung by swarms of scorpions. Others fell on thorns, which pierced their bodies so that they couldn’t move, while others fell into a hole and broke their limbs.
Then Indra, the king of the demigods, sent a fierce storm with heavy rains, lightning, and sharp hailstones, and the thieves shivered with extreme cold. Although Indra holds a high post as a universal administrator, he is but a servant of the Supreme Lord. He realized that the thieves had come to rob Nityananda, and punished them out of anger.
A Change of Heart
Suddenly, in the midst of this terrifying storm, the leader of the thieves experienced a change of heart. He understood that Nityananda Prabhu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and regretted his plans to harm Him. He prayed for forgiveness and took complete shelter of the Lord’s lotus feet.
“Who can protect me from this great danger?” the thief prayed. “I have no shelter other than Nityananda.”
He declared that his only desire was to become the servant of the Lord, whether he lived or died. Upon seeing the thief’s sincerity, Lord Nityananda relieved the gang from their suffering and restored their eyesight.
The head thief returned to Hiranya Pandita’s house. When he saw the glorious form of Nityananda Prabhu, he cried out to the Lord for protection and fell at His feet. Because Lord Nityananda had blessed him with ecstatic love of God, the hairs of his body stood on end, and he laughed, cried, and rolled on the ground, unable to speak. Eventually, he came to external consciousness and confessed everything to Lord Nityananda. He marveled how the Lord had delivered all the thieves from their suffering, and then acknowledged that the real benefit of remembering the Lord was not relief from physical pain but liberation from a materialistic mentality.
Lord Nityananda blessed the thief and promised to nullify all his sins if he agreed to renounce all sinful activities from then onward. The Lord commanded the thief to preach among the criminals, showing them the path of Krishna consciousness. Then the Lord gave His own flower garland to the thief and placed His lotus feet on the thief’s head. The thief was purified of all sinful reactions and empowered to influence other criminals to take up Krishna consciousness. Ultimately, by Lord Nityananda’s mercy, the thief and all of his followers became intoxicated with pure love of God.
The Original Spiritual Master
Lord Nityananda’s mercy defies description. He delivered the notorious sinners Jagai and Madhai, who were so degraded and offensive that even Lord Caitanya the most charitable form of the Lord refused to save them after Madhai injured Nityananda’s forehead. When Lord Nityananda pleaded on their behalf, however, Lord Caitanya saved both brothers and awarded them pure love of God; therefore, Nityananda is the protector of the devotees and their intercessor. He is the original spiritual master, and through His mercy one can get the mercy of Lord Caitanya and achieve the ultimate goal of life: pure love of God.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, the author of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, praises Lord Nityananda’s great compassion toward the fallen:
Who in this world but Nityananda could show His mercy to such an abominable person as me? Because He is intoxicated by ecstatic love and is an incarnation of mercy, He does not distinguish between the good and the bad. He delivers all those who fall down before Him. Therefore He has delivered such a sinful and fallen person as me. (Caitanyacaritam rta, adi 5.207–209)
Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami is a pure devotee of Krishna, and so he embodies true humility. Out of such feeling, he considered himself sinful and fallen, completely reliant on the Lord’s mercy. We cannot imitate such a great soul, but his words teach us how to approach Lord Nityananda: with a mood of sincere gratitude, cognizant of our utter dependence on His mercy.
The pastime with the thieves demonstrates Lord Nityananda’s inconceivable compassion and readiness to deliver the most fallen and sinful souls. Even though the thieves’ original intention was to harm the Lord, He nonetheless accepted them as soon as their leader surrendered. He mitigated their suffering at once and, more important, awarded them the highest spiritual perfection of Krishna-prema. In an instant the thieves’ initial greed for material wealth became spiritual yearning for the Lord’s mercy.
The critical turning point in this pastime is the moment of the thief’s surrender. By Lord Nityananda’s mercy, the thief realized the Lord’s position and his relationship with Him. He regretted his attempts to plunder the Lord’s wealth and decided his only recourse was to take shelter of the Lord’s lotus feet. The thief’s decision indicates the necessity of surrendering to the spiritual master (guru), who represents the Lord and makes His mercy accessible. The thief’s surrender to Lord Nityananda not only saved him (and his companions) from immediate danger, but also nullified the results of his heinous sins and granted him pure love of God. Additionally, he was empowered to be a spiritual master in his own right by becoming the dispensary of Nityananda Prabhu’s mercy to countless criminals.
By following the thieves’ example and surrendering to Lord Nityananda, we can get the mercy of Lord Caitanya and thus easily gain the most elevated spiritual treasure of pure love of God. As Srila Vrndavana Dasa Êhakura states, “The shelter of the Supreme Lord was not easily attainable in other incarnations, but Nityananda always induced everyone to surrender to Lord Caitanya.” (Caitanyabhagavata, Antya 5.700) We must approach Krishna through the merciful form of Lord Caitanya, and we must approach Lord Caitanya through the even more merciful form of Lord Nityananda. The (misnamed) Hope Diamond in the Smithsonian can only increase our materialistic desire and greed, but Lord Nityananda and His enchanting jewelry offers us actual hope for true, everlasting bliss. Are we ready?
Mohini Radha Devi Dasi, a disciple of His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami, lives in India with her husband, Narada Rsi Dasa.