Sanatana was born in Jessore, now in Bangladesh, in 1488 as the son of Mukunda, the private secretary of the Sultan of Bengal, Jalaluddin Fateh Shah (ruled 1481–1487). Sanatana was the eldest son of Mukunda, and his younger brothers were Rupa and Vallabha (Anupama). Rupa Goswami's nephew, Jiva Goswami has explained in his Laghu Tosani that Rupa's ancestors were of the Bharadvaja gotra (Rajshahi) from Kedarnath and used to live in Jessore.
Alternatively, as mentioned in Sri Navadvip dham Parikrama by Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja, Śrī Rūpa, Śrī Sanātana and their youngest brother Anupama who were Yajurvedīya Bhāradvāja Gotrīya brāhmaṇas, whose forefathers supposedly hailed from Karnāṭaka, South India. Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī’s previous name was Amara and Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s name was Santoṣa.
Sanatana and his brothers studied Nyaya (rhetortic) and Vedanta from the famous logician Vasudeva Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. They also studied under Sarvabhauma's brother, Madhusudana Vidyavacaspati, from whom Sanatana took initiation in his childhood.
On the death of his father, Sanatana was forced to take up the post of Sakara Mallik (treasurer) to the new ruler of Bengal, Alauddin Hussein Shah (ruled 1493–1519), while his brother Rupa was given the post of Dabir-i-khas (private secretary).
Sanatana and Rupa received land from the government for their personal use in Fatehabad, where they built a huge palace. They also built several mansions at Ramakeli. It was at Ramakeli in 1513 that Sanatana and his two brothers met Chaitanya Mahaprabhu for the first time. After meeting them, Chaitanya gave them the names Rupa, Sanatana and Anupama. Due to this meeting, the brothers decided to renounce the world and join Chaitanya and his entourage. Rupa resigned from his post, but Sanatana’s resignation was refused by the Sultan. Sanatana stopped coming to court and feigned sickness. But when the Sultan sent his personal physicians to treat Sanatana they returned and reported that Sanatana was in perfectly good health. The Sultan personally visited Sanatana and tried to convince him to continue to render his governmental duties and accompany him on a military campaign against the neighbouring state of Odisha. Upon Sanatana’s refusal, Hussein Shah had him thrown into prison.
While in prison, Sanatana received a letter from his brother Rupa telling him that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had left Puri to go to Vrindavan and that Rupa and Anupama had decided to meet him there. Sanatana managed to bribe the jailer with money Rupa had sent him for emergencies. Sanatana then crossed the Ganges River and made his way towards Vrindavan.
As Sanatana made his way to Vrindavan he learned that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had already left Vrindavan and was then residing in Varanasi. There Sanatana met Chaitanya, who imparted to him instructions pertaining to sambandha-jnana (knowledge of the self and one's relationship with God). Chaitanya taught that the constitutional identity of each soul is to be an eternal servant of God. Chaitanya explained his teachings to Sanatana by summarizing them in three categories: sambandha (one's relationship with Godhead), abhidheya (the method for reviving that relationship), and prayojana (the ultimate attainment of the supreme goal of life). After instructing Sanatana in the sambandha aspect of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology, Chaitanya instructed him to go to Vrindavan, where Sanatana visited the sites connected to Krishna’s pastimes.
When Sanatana later went to Puri and met Chaitanya once more, Chaitanya gave him four direct instructions:
- To write books teaching Bhakti yoga, the process of devotion to Krishna
- To discover and excavate the places in Vrindavan where Krishna had his pastimes
- To establish the service of the deity (murthis) of Krishna in Vrindavan
- To compile a book establishing the proper behavior for devotees of Krishna in order to create the foundations of a Vaishnava society.
Sanatana Goswami returned to Vrindavan, where he located various lost holy places. He also established the worship of the deity of Madana-mohana. Soon after Sanatana discovered the deity, a rich officer in the Moghul army named Krishna Dasa Kapura built a temple for Madana-mohan. This later became one of the seven principal temples of Vrindavan.
Sanatana Goswami died in the year 1558 CE. His samādhi (tomb) is located next to the Madana-mohana temple.
Braj Leela: When Radha Rani brings sweet rice for Roop Goswami and Sanatan Goswami: One day Shri Rupa Goswami wanted to prepare some sweet rice for Sanatana Goswami, but didn't have the necessary provisions for making sweet rice in his kutir. At that time, she who brings about the fulfillment of the inner aspiration of devotees, Radha Rani, could understand everything. And so, in the dress of a young gopi girl she brought milk, rice, and sugar to Rupa Goswami, saying, "Swamiji! Swamiji! I have brought you a gift of uncooked rice. Please accept it. Hearing the words of the young girl, Shri Rupa Goswami opened the door to his hut and looked out. There he saw a beautiful young gopi maiden with some offerings of food. Rupa Goswami said, "Little girl! Whay have you come here?"
"Swamiji! I have only brought you some simple uncooked food."
"Why have you taken such trouble for me?"
"Baba! What trouble? I have only come to render a humble service to a saintly person."
Accepting the offering of milk, sugar and uncooked rice, Rupa Goswami said, "Young girl please take your seat, while I put these things away." The girl said, "I'm sorry, but I have some work to do." Saying this, the girl disappeared. When Rupa Goswami turned around and saw that she had gone, he was very bewildered by all this. At length, he prepared the sweet rice and offered the bhoga to his deity, Govindadeva. After some time, he gave the prasada to Sanatana Goswami, who had just arrived. While honoring prasada, Sanatana Goswami experienced an unusual and enchanting kind of joy. He asked Shri Rupa, "Where did you get this milk and rice from?" Rupa Goswami said, "A young gopi girl came by and gave it to me." Sanatana said, "A young girl just came by all of a sudden and gave you this milk and rice?" Rupa Goswami replied, "Yes, she just came by all of a sudden. The strange thing is, I was just thinking, 'how can I make some sweet rice for Sanatana,' and she just appeared, as if by magic, with this milk and rice and some sugar." hearing this, tears of prema began falling from the eyes of Sanatana Goswami. He said, "Can't you recognize something when it is right before your eyes? It was Shri Radha Thakurani Herself who has brought you milk and rice. By accepting service from Her we are ruined. Now we shall never attain our desired goal." And in this way, Sanatana Goswami out of extreme humbleness continually condemned himself again and again for having accepted service from that person whom he most aspired to serve: Shri Radha Thakurani. This pastime of Shri Sanatana Goswami is recorded in the Bhakti Ratnakara.
Sanatana Goswami wrote four important books in Sanskrit on Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy:Brihat-bhagavtamrita ("The Great Nectar of the Lord’s Devotees")
This work of 2,500 verses is divided into two parts. The first section explains the ontological hierarchy of the devotees of Krishna. The second section deals with the soul's journey to the eternal realm of Krishna. Narrated as stories, both sections explain many aspects of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy. Sanatana also wrote for this book his own commentary, called the Dig-darshini.Hari-bhakti-vilasa ("Performance of Devotion to Hari")
This book was a joint work between Sanatana Goswami and Gopala Bhatta Goswami. Compiled on the order of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the book deals with the rituals and conduct of Gaudiya Vaisnavas. Sanatana also wrote an auto-commentary on Hari-bhakti Vilasa.Krishna-lila-stava ("Glorification of the Pastimes of Krishna")
Krishna-lila-stava consists of 432 verses tracing Krishna’s pastimes as told in the Bhagavata Purana, from the beginning of the 10th Canto up through the vanquishing of Kamsa. Krishna-lila-stava is also sometimes referred to as the Dasama-charita.Brihad Vaishnava Toshani ("That which brings Great Joy to the Devotees of Krishna")
The Brihad Vaishnava Toshani is Sanatana’s extensive commentary on the Tenth Canto of the Bhagavata Purana. This commentary is also known as the Dasama-tipanni.