In the eleventh Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, we find the instructive story of the brahmana of Avantipura who had previously been a miserly businessman. He was so cantankerous and prone to anger that his wife, children, relatives and servants all despised him. In due course, the avariciousness of the brahmana bore its fateful fruit. All his wealth and possessions were stolen by thieves and covetous relatives. Seeing his impoverished position, his wife and children also abandoned him. Soon a genuine feeling of renunciation awoke in the brahmana and he meditated on the temporary nature of wealth and the unnecessary problems in accumulating it such as fear, theft, violence, lying, lust, deception, anger, distrust, etc. He then concluded that he was, in fact, the fortunate recipient of the Lord's mercy and thus formally accepted the renounced order of tridandi-sannyasa.
In his 'Bhiksu-gita' (The Song of the Mendicant), the brahmana chanted the following verse:
etam sa asthaya paratma-nistham adhyasitam purvamatair maharsibhih
aham tarisyami duranta param tamo mukundanghri nisevayaiva
"I shall cross over the insurmountable ocean of material existence by being fixed in rendering devotional service unto the lotus feet of Lord Mukunda and by taking complete refuge in Him. This path has been approved by the great sages who were steady in devotion to the Supreme Lord." (Bhag.11.23.57).
This verse was chanted continuously by Sriman Mahaprabhu immediately after accepting sannyasa from Sri Kesava Bharati. With the intention of going to Vrndavana, the Lord ran from Katwa while chanting this verse in divine ecstasy over and over again. So intense was the mood of Mahaprabhu that it has been explained by Srila Kavi Karnapura in his Caitanya-candrodaya Natakam that while reciting this verse the Lord's body became like a ball (pinda-bhavam). In other words, out of divine love for Sri Krsna, the Lord's limbs contracted into His body.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu greatly approved of this verse, as has been explained by Srila Kaviraja Gosvami.
prabhu kahe - sadhu ei bhiksura vacana
mukunda sevana-vrata kaila nirdharana
mukunda-sevaya haya samsara-tarana
sei vesa kaila, ebe vrndavana giya
krsna-nisevana kari nibhrte vasiya
"Sri Caitanya approved of the purport of the verse (etam sa asthaya) due to the determination of the sannyasi to engage in the service of Lord Mukunda. He approved of the verse saying that it was excellent. The actual purpose of sannyasa is to dedicate one's life in the service of the lotus feet of Mukunda and by serving Him one will be liberated from the bondage of the material world." (Cc. Madhya 3.7-9)
To dedicate one's life completely in the service of Mukunda is the ultimate goal of all Gaudiya Vaisnavas. In particular it is the goal of the tridandi-sannyasis who completely surrendered their mind, body and words in the service of the Lord. In fact, the tridanda (triple staff) that is awarded to the Gaudiya Vaisnava sannyasis, signifies the subjugation and surrender of these three faculties.
vagdado'tha mano-dandah kaya-danda-stathaiva ca
yasyaite nihita-buddhau tridanditi sa ucyate
"One who accepts in his mind the rod of chastisement for his speech, body and mind is known as a tridandi - one who has accepted the triple staff of chastisement." (Manu-samhita 12.10)
tridandinam etan niksipya sarva-bhutesu manavah
kama-krodhau tu samyamya tatah siddhim niyacchati
"One who disciplines the mind, speech and body and controls his lust and anger towards other living creatures and thus gives up those bad qualities is a tridandi and attains liberation." (Manu-samhita 12.11)
In this regard Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada writes as follows:
"About the tridandi sannyasa accepted by the brahmana of Avantipura. Indirectly He (Sri Caitanya) declared that within the eka-danda, four dandas existed as one. Accepting eka-danda sannyasa without paratma-nistha (devotional service to Krsna) is not acceptable to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. In addition, according to the exact regulative principles, one should add the jiva-danda to the tridanda. These four dandas, bound together as one, are symbolic of unalloyed devotional service to the Lord. Because the eka-danda sannyasis of the Mayavada school are not devoted to the service of Krsna, they try to merge into the Brahman effulgence, which is a marginal position between material and spiritual existence. They accept impersonal position as liberation. Mayavada sannyasis not knowing that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was a tridandi think of Him as an eka-dandi sannyasi. This is due to their vivarta, bewilderment. In Srimad Bhagavatam, there is no such thing as ekadandi sannyasa; indeed, the tridandi sannyasi is accepted as the symbolic representation of the sannyasa order. By citing this verse from Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu accepted the sannyasa order recommended in Srimad Bhagavatam. The mayavadi sannyasis, who are enamored of the external energy of the Lord, cannot understand the mind of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu." (Cc. Madhya 3.6)
It is significant that after accepting sannyasa, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu chanted this verse as He ran towards Vrndavana. In order to actually enter the realm of Vrndavana, one must surrender cent-per-cent to Lord Mukunda. This is the meaning of sannyasa and this is the meaning of paratma-nistham, or being fixed in devotional service to the Supreme Lord. When one is firmly situated in one's resolve to take refuge in Krsna and serve Him, one's attention cannot be diverted by any material temptation of this mundane world. This is also known as ekagrata, or one-pointed determination to engage in devotional service to Vrajendra-nandana Krsna.
Srila Thakura Bhaktivinoda confirms this in Bhakti Tattva Viveka as follows:
"The danger of disease remains up until the tender Sraddha-devi becomes free from the influence of anarthas and transforms into nistha from being nurtured by the affectionate mother of the association of genuine devotees and from taking the medicine of bhajana. Once she has reached the stage of nistha, no anartha whatsoever can easily harm her."
As the verse of the Avantipura brahmana explains, "I shall cross over the insurmountable ocean of material existence and become fixed in rendering devotional service unto the lotus feet of Lord Mukunda and take complete refuge in Him." Other processes such as jnana, karma or yoga cannot help a sadhaka cross over the ocean of material nescience.
anyabhilasita sunyam, jnana-karmady-anavrtam
anukulyena krsnanu-silanam bhaktir uttamam
"Pure devotional service is the favorable cultivation of Krsna-consciousness free from all traces of ulterior motives, such as karma, jnana and so on."(Bhakti-rasmrta Sindhu 1.1.11)
anyabhilasa chadi, jnana-karma parihara
kayamane kariva bhajana
sadhu-sange krsna seva, na pujibo devi-deva,
ei bhakti parama-karana
"Rejecting all other desires and abandoning jnana and karma, in the company of devotees I will serve Krsna and never worship any demigoddess or demigod. Devotional service is my all in all." (Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura)
Devotional service diluted by philosophical speculation and fruitive activity (jnana-misra bhakti and karma-misra bhakti) are not accepted as real devotion. In other words, only by paratma-nistham in pure devotional service (uttama-bhakti) can one cross over the insurmountable ocean of material existence; and attain the lotus feet of the Lord of Vrndavana. This is the opinion of the previous acaryas and great sages who were 'fixed in devotion to the Supreme Lord.'
bhava-jaladhim agadham dustaram nistareyam
katham aham iti ceto ma sma-gah kataratvam
sarasvija-drsi deve taraki bhaktir eva
naraka-bhidi nisanna tarayisyaty-avasyam
"Dear mind, do not bewilder yourself by anxiously thinking, 'How can I cross this fathomless and impassable ocean of material existence?' There is one person who can save you - Devotion. If you offer Her to the lotus-eyed Lord, the killer of Narakasura, She will carry you across this ocean without fail." (Sri Kulasekhara Alvar, Mukunda-mala 12)
Although it can be said that the stage of paratma-nistha is not limited to the sannyasa-asrama alone, factually it is the members of the tridandi-sannyasa order of life that have actually dedicated their entire lives in serving the Supreme Lord. Paratma-nistha is the sole purpose of the sannyasa-asrama - not changing the color of one's cloth, over-endeavoring to become erudite in scriptural knowledge, or accumulating many disciples and followers. Such peripheral enterprises do not constitute the true meaning of sannyasa.
Those who truly wish to attain paratma-nistham must be devoid of any sense of duplicity and expectation of reward. One who is fully surrendered can make no demand and must be prepared to relinquish all rights. He must willingly become a slave to Mukunda - to accept whatever circumstances He places before him. In actuality, one who has genuinely sold himself fully to the Lord does not even care for any rights. This is the opinion of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the final verse of Sri Siksastaka.
aslisya va pada ratam pinastu mam
adarsanan marma-hatam karotu va
yatha tatha va vidadhatu lampato
mat-prana-nathas tu sa eva naparah
"Let that debauchee embrace me in love or trample me under His feet, He may break my heart by hiding Himself from me. Let Him do whatever He likes for He will always be the Lord of my life unconditionally." (Sri Siksastaka 8)
This verse is elaborated upon by Srila Thakura Bhaktivinoda in Gitavali:
bandhu-gana! sunoha vacana mora
bhavete vibhora, thakiye jakhana
dekha deya citta-cora
vicaksana kari', dekhite cahile
punah nahi dekhi', kandaye parava
duhkhera nahi thake ora
jagatera bandhu sei kabhu more laya satha
jatha tatha rakhu more amara sei prana-natha
darsana-ananda-dane, sukha deya mora prane
bole more pranaya-vacana
punah adarsana diya, dagdha kare mora hiya
prane mora mare prana-dhana
jahe ta'ra sukha haya sei sukha mama
nije sukhe duhkhe mora sarvadai sama
bhakativinoda, samyoge viyoge
tahe jane pranesvara
ta'ra sukhe sukhi, sei prana-natha
se kabhu na haya para
"O friends, please hear my words. When I am agitated with ecstatic love, the thief of my heart shows Himself to me. Suddenly my eyes see Him no longer. I yearn to see Him. I weep. I cannot keep this life of suffering. Will He who is the friend of the whole world ever accept me as one of His companions? He may do what He likes to me. He is always the master of my life. Allowing me to see Him, He brings bliss to my life. Then He speaks words of love. Then, becoming invisible again, He sets my heart on fire. In this way He who is the treasure of my life kills me. His happiness is my happiness. To me my own happiness and suffering are both the same. In meeting or in separation, Bhaktivinoda knows Krsna is the master of his life. Krsna's happiness is his happiness. Krsna is the master of his life. There will never be anyone else."
Such is the mentality of the devotee who is fixed in rendering devotional service to the Supreme Lord.