By Swami Harshananda
Gosthipurṇa belonged to 11th cent. A. D.
Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017-1137) was one of the most important teachers of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. He was one of the most prominent religious leaders of Srīvaiṣṇava cult. After taking sanyāsa by himself before Lord Varadarāja, the deity of the temple in Kāñcipuram (in Tamil Nadu), he left for Srīraṅgam (also in Tamil Nadu) to grace the pontificate, lying vacant due to the death of the previous incumbent, Yāmunācārya (10th cent. A. D.).
Rāmānuja was advised by Mahāpurṇa, the senior most disciple of Yāmunācārya, to get initiation into the Vaiṣṇava cult from another, highly respected, teacher of the times, Goṣṭhīpurṇa. When Rāmānuja approached him, he is said to have postponed the event 18 times, just to test the earnestness of the disciple. However, Rāmānuja rose to the expectations and Goṣṭhīpurṇa had to yield at last.
When the great teacher imparted the well-known Aṣṭākṣarī-mantra, he commanded Rāmānuja to keep it an absolute secret since those who heard it would be liberated whereas those who imparted it to unworthy persons would go to hell. Rāmānuja hastened to a nearby temple, quickly climbed to the top of its gopuram (gateway tower), called out to the people to assemble there and loudly imparted the mantra to everyone.
When Goṣṭhīpurṇa got the news, he was furious and called for his errant disciple immediately. Rāmānuja, however, expressed his willingness to go to eternal hell, with great joy in his heart, since so many ordinary people who, otherwise might not have got the opportunity for liberation, would now surely get it. Goṣṭhīpurṇa realized the magnanimity of Rāmānuja and fell at his feet.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore