by Mathuresha Dasa
An elaborate description of Lord Krishna, His expansions, and the spiritual world.
The brothers Dabhir Kas and Sakara Mallik were trusted ministers in the government of Nawab Hussain Shah, the ruler of Bengal in the early sixteenth century. After meeting Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, they resigned their lucrative posts to join the Lord’s Hare Krishna movement, shaving their heads and changing their names to Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami. The Nawab as well as many Hindu leaders were astounded. What had caused the brothers to resign, and why were so many other Hare Krishna devotees appearing in nearly every town and village of Bengal with their chanting and dancing? What was Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu teaching?
Previous articles in this series have described the Lord’s teachings to Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami’s escape from the Nawab’s prison.
The Viraja river marks the border between the material and spiritual worlds. Vast and beautiful, its spiritual waters ornamented with brilliant waves churned by mighty storms of transcendental effulgence, it is also known as the Viraja Ocean or the Causal Ocean. On one shore the countless universes of the material nature, with all their planets and solar systems, arise and dissolve in the moments granted them within the jurisdiction of devastating time. On the other shore, time presides without its devastating feature, invigorating the spiritual planets and their denizens, cities, and civilizations with eternal, blissful life in the ever- expanding service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna.
Lord Krishna said little of His spiritual kingdom when He spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna at Kurukshetra. He said that His abode beyond the material creation is self- effulgent, with no need of sunlight, moonlight, or electricity. And He offered the clue that all beautiful and glorious features of this temporary world spring from only a spark of His splendor. With a single fragment of Himself, He proclaimed, He pervades and supports the entire creation. These hints help us begin to comprehend the spiritual world, where Krishna displays His full opulences, but we have few details. Nor would details necessarily help us, since to the untrained, accounts of the spiritual world sound like so much mythology.
Lord Krishna’s Gita instead details our predicament in the material creation and the means for extricating ourselves from the stranglehold of material time. Krishna explains that the living beings in the material world are eternal fragments of Him. These eternal souls inhabit temporary bodies, struggling hard against material nature. Because we are minute parts of Krishna, our eternal constitution is to surrender to Him and serve Him. Surrender to Krishna frees us from the lethal grip of material time and sets us on our return journey to the spiritual world. At the end of the Gita, therefore, after describing various systems of religion and philosophy, Krishna demands surrender.
To those who are constantly surrendered and worship Krishna with love, He gives knowledge of Himself, of the spiritual world, and of how to return to Him there. To show special mercy to His devotees, He enlightens them from within their hearts, and from without also. Just as we acquire knowledge of a distant land by hearing from travelers, the devotees realize Krishna and His spiritual world by hearing with love from Him and His representatives.
In the spring of 1514, Sanatana Goswami arrived at Varanasi to surrender to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and join the Lord’s Hare Krishna movement. Sanatana had renounced his affluent position as prime minister of Bengal, escaped from the prison of his former employer, the Nawab Hussain Shah, and completed a dangerous trek through the jungles and hills of Bihar province.
Like Arjuna at Kurukshetra, Sanatana presented himself to the Lord as a man in distress, uncertain of his duty and identity despite wealth, fame, and learning. Like Arjuna, in other words, Sanatana portrayed the plight of the materialist. The greatest leaders and intellects of the material world cannot say with any scientific certaintly what the living energy in their bodies is. So while introducing themselves as Ms. this or Mr. that, Senator this or Professor that, they in fact do not know who they are.
Illustrating this discrepancy, Sanatana confessed to the Lord, “People believe that I am a great learned man, and I am so foolish that I believe it myself. But what to speak of being learned, I don’t even know who I am. Who am I? And why do I suffer in material life?”
“The living entity’s constitutional position,” the Lord replied, “is to be an eternal servant of Krishna, because he is the energy of Krishna, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire.”
With this concise and eloquent statement Lord Chaitanya effectively summarized the Gita’s final message of surrender, while forgoing the Gita’s elaborate analysis of the spiritual living entity. Lord Chaitanya is Krishna Himself playing the part of His own devotee. From the point where He ended His instructions to Arjuna at Kurukshetra, He began His teachings to Sanatana Goswami at Varanasi. While Lord Chaitanya’s teachings and Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Gita are the same, Lord Chaitanya did not demand surrender. Instead He demonstrated the life of surrender to Krishna in His own activities and freely distributed knowledge of Krishna and love of Krishna.
With the Gita’s message affirmed, Lord Chaitanya broke new ground, describing for Sanatana Goswami the transcendental form of Krishna, who is the origin of both material and spiritual worlds, and whose body is made not of perishable blood and bones, but of eternity, bliss, and knowledge. The ordinary living entity in the material world is different from his body, which is a covering of the real self. But Krishna’s transcendental form and Krishna Himself are the same, whether He is in His eternal abode or visiting His material creation. The Brahma-samhita states:
ishvarah paramah krishnah
anadir adir govindah
“Krishna, who is known as Govinda, is the supreme controller. He has a spiritual body of eternity, knowledge, and bliss. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin, for He is the prime cause of all causes.”
Although Krishna is the original person and therefore the oldest of all, He appears as a youth, the son of Maharaja Nanda, never more than sixteen years of age. And although Krishna is one, He expands Himself into innumerable forms. Krishna’s expansion is inconceivable, but within our current experience we know that an individual person exhibits many features. When someone is especially happy or especially angry in a particular situation, we may even say, as a manner of speaking, that he or she is a “different person.” In our own minds, too, we may think of ourselves in various ways according to our roles as, say, parent, child, spouse, employee, or student, and in each of these roles we further show ourselves in various aspects to different people in the course of our activities and occupations. We may also create imaginary or aspirational roles, dreaming of being a conquering hero or a celebrated actress. In all these ways, while we each remain one person, we expand and discover and enjoy ourselves.
We possess the tendency to expand and enjoy and discover because these tendencies are present in Krishna, the original person. The difference is that since Krishna is the Supreme, His expansions are unique and all-powerful. Krishna’s personal expansions, though one and the same personality, are different individuals, not as a manner of speaking but in fact. They are individuals fully endowed with independent action, character, and thought.
Krishna’s innumerable forms are known as plenary expansions because they all have the full power of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Though each of these expansions has activities, bodily features, and other attributes slightly different from the original form of Krishna, they are all identical with Krishna. They are one and the same supreme personality. The Brahma-samhita explains that as one candle can light many other candles, each with the same power of illumination, so Lord Krishna expands Himself into unlimited forms of Godhead.
Lord Chaitanya explained to Sanatana that describing Krishna’s forms is like describing the moon by saying it is in the branches of a tree. To point out the moon in the night sky, we might use the branches of a tree as a reference point, though we understand that the moon is far away. Similarly, descriptions of the Lord provide an indication of Him, although He is otherwise far beyond our experience and powers to fully comprehend.
Krishna’s transcendental form is not compartmentalized like our material bodies. Our mental and physical activities are different. We can think of being a hero or an actress, but our dreams may not come true. For Krishna, however, thinking and doing are the same. When the Lord thinks of Himself as a cowherd boy or as a warrior prince, these “thoughts” of Krishna’s are pastimes performed by His plenary expansions, who also have the power to expand. Thus one transcendental expansion embodies Lord Krishna’s anger, another His abilities as a perfect king, another His literary abilities, and still another His omnipotent capacity for material creation.
While Krishna’s plenary expansions possess His full power and opulence, Krishna’s own attributes are nevertheless more pleasant, so much so that as an ultimate expression of Their individuality, the plenary expansions are attracted to and worship Krishna. When Krishna appeared as Lord Chaitanya, two of His plenary expansions appeared with Him as Advaita Acarya and Nityananda Prabhu and lived as His devotees, rendering loving service.
Krishna’s Home and His Kingdom
Lord Chaitanya informed Sanatana Goswami that a plenary expansion of Krishna presides over each of the innumerable planets in the spiritual sky. These expansions, which have four arms, are called Narayana expansions, and the spiritual sky is known as Narayanaloka.
“The breadth of each spiritual planet,” Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu explained, “is eight miles multiplied by one hundred, by one thousand, by ten thousand, by one hundred thousand, and by ten million. In other words each spiritual planet is beyond our ability to measure.”
Despite their infinite size and number, the planets of Narayanaloka surround Krishna’s personal abode, Krishnaloka, as petals surround the whorl of a lotus. Devotees of the Lord in Narayanaloka worship the majestic, omnipotent Narayana forms with the ceremony and personal distance mandated by their mood of awe and reverence, while on Krishnaloka Krishna enjoys the loving devotion and familiarity of His most intimate devotees and friends. At work, a high-court judge wears the garb and receives the respect appropriate to his or her office, while at home the same judge’s rank and prestige take a back seat or are completely forgotten in the atmospheres of comraderie, affection, and romance created by the presence of friends, lovers, and children. Krishnaloka is Krishna’s home, while Narayanaloka is His kingdom, where in His official capacity as the Supreme Lord He promininently displays His opulences and powers.
All the expansions of Lord Krishna have their residences eternally in the spiritual sky, but when They descend into the material world they are called avataras, or incarnations. Avatara means “one who descends.” The incarnations of Godhead are either expansions of Krishna or expansions of His expansions, but Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.
“O learned scholars,” the Bhagavatam declares, “just as hundreds and thousands of small ponds issue from great reservoirs of water, innumerable incarnations flow from Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the reservoir of all power.”
Lord Krishna’s primary motivation for both His expansion and His descent is to please His devotees. Devotees long to see and serve Krishna in particular ways according to their individual preferences and moods, and the Lord obliges. Krishna sends His expansions to the material creation, and He comes Himself as well, bringing Krishnaloka and its residents with Him.
Although the pastimes of Krishna and His expansions in the material creation are historical events recorded in Vedic literature, with historical beginnings and ends, these pastimes are eternal. When Lord Krishna Himself appeared on earth five thousand years ago, He stayed for 125 years, performing pastimes beginning with His birth, or appearance, and proceeding through His childhood pastimes, up to the battle of Kurukshetra, and finally to His disappearance. These pastimes are no longer visible here, yet they continue eternally.
To explain, Lord Chaitanya gave the example of the sun, which to our eyes appears and disappears each day, though it is always shining somewhere on earth. Using the regular movements of the sun, we divide the day and night into hours, minutes, seconds, and fractions of seconds, and each of these divisions occurs continuously. That is, it is exactly noon somewhere on earth at any given moment, exactly noon plus a nanosecond somewhere else, and so on. Like the sun, Krishna’s pastimes have an orbit through the material universes, with each pastime in the sequence appearing somewhere at any given moment, and with His pastimes gradually returning to every universe just as the sun returns to noon at each point on earth. The sun of Krishna’s eternal pastimes is continuously visible in Krishnaloka. In the material creation these same pastimes, as well as the pastimes of Krishna’s uncountable incarnations, though still eternal, manifest and disappear in each universe at regular intervals.
Krishna and His plenary expansions display Their pastimes in the material creation to attract us back to the spiritual world, back to Godhead. Their purpose here is transcendental. It is impossible for Them to come under the control of the material nature, because the material nature is Their energy. Though we too are expansions of Krishna, we are not plenary expansions. We are eternally minute individual particles of the Lord, endowed by Him with minute powers. We do fall under the control of matter. Or we can. We are free to either live as servants of the Lord and His expansions on the eternal, blissful spiritual planets or to transfer across the Viraja River into the service of this miserable material creation, thus creating our own suffering.
Whether we reside in the material or spiritual world, however, our unalterable nature as minute souls is service. Just as sugar is unalterably sweet, water unalterably wet, we are by nature servants. To serve our current rebellious desires to expand our lives without Krishna, we use our minute powers to build temporary homes, communities, and civilizations from the elements of material nature provided by the Lord. The same intensity of service, when employed to reawaken our devotion and love for Krishna, lifts us to the spiritual nature, where the opportunities and inspiration for service to the Lord expand eternally in an exhilaration of transcendental bliss and knowledge.
Using an earlier example for emphasis, Lord Chaitanya again asserted that it is not possible to adequately describe Krishna’s transcendental forms and pastimes.
“Whatever I have explained is simply a little glimpse,” He told Sanatana Goswami. “It is like showing the moon through the branches of a tree.”
The Lord’s instructions to Sanatana in Varnasi continued for two months, covering the many categories of avataras, the spiritual planets, devotional behavior, and other spiritual topics almost too numerous to list. Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, a contemporary of Lord Chaitanya, devotes several chapters of his Sri Chaitanya- caritamrita to the Lord’s teachings to Sanatana. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s remarkable multi-volume translation of Chaitanya- caritamrita, along with the additional intimate insights of his earlier summary study, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, awaits readers eager to absorb themselves in the life and precepts of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
At the end of two months, Lord Chaitanya sent Sanatana on to Vrindavana and returned to Jagannatha Puri on the Bay of Bengal, following His previous route through the forests of Madhya Pradesh. Before long both Sanatana and his younger brother Rupa Goswami were themselves traveling to Puri to meet again with the Lord.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spent His final years on earth at Jagannath Puri, experiencing uncommon spiritual emotions in His role as an ecstatic devotee of Krishna. During that time, He composed the following eight verses ("Sikshastaka") extolling the virtues of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra:
“‘Let there be all victory for the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krishna, which can cleanse the mirror of the heart and stop the miseries of the blazing fire of material existence. That chanting is the waxing moon that spreads the white lotus of good fortune for all living entities. It is the life and soul of all education. The chanting of the holy name of Krishna expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life. It gives a cooling effect to everyone and enables one to taste full nectar at every step.’
“‘My Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name there is all good fortune for the living entity, and therefore You have many names, such as “Krishna” and “Govinda,” by which You expand Yourself. You have invested all Your potencies in those names, and there are no hard and fast rules for remembering them. My dear Lord, although You bestow such mercy upon the fallen, conditioned souls by liberally teaching Your holy names, I am so unfortunate that I commit offenses while chanting the holy name, and therefore I do not achieve attachment for chanting.’
“‘One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.’
“‘O Lord of the universe, I do not desire material wealth, materialistic followers, a beautiful wife or fruitive activities described in flowery language. All I want, life after life, is unmotivated devotional service to You.’
“‘O My Lord, O Krishna, son of Maharaja Nanda, I am Your eternal servant, but because of My own fruitive acts I have fallen into this horrible ocean of nescience. Now please be causelessly merciful to Me. Consider Me a particle of dust at Your lotus feet.’
“‘My dear Lord, when will My eyes be beautified by filling with tears that constantly glide down as I chant Your holy name? When will My voice falter and all the hairs on My body stand erect in transcendental happiness as I chant Your holy name?’
“‘My Lord Govinda, because of separation from You, I consider even a moment a great millennium. Tears flow from My eyes like torrents of rain, and I see the entire world as void.’
“Let Krishna tightly embrace this maidservant who has fallen at His lotus feet, or let Him trample Me or break My heart by never being visible to Me. He is a debauchee, after all, and can do whatever He likes, but still He alone, and no one else, is the worshipable Lord of My heart.
Listen to Siksastaka recited, along with poeticized English translation on ISKCON News.
While Europe, as if weary of its medieval concepts of God, turned with new interest toward man and the mundane, a spiritual revolution in India—destined to spread worldwide—was revealing the dynamic nature of the Absolute Truth.
Europe in the fifteenth century was undergoing that awesome social and cultural transformation that the historian Jules Michelet, looking back in reverence, named the Renaissance, the “rebirth.” That long medieval period, with its vision so entranced by splendid images of the eternal that it could hardly spare a glance for this fleeting world, with its mind so obsessed by last things—Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell—that it endured this life only as a hard trial and preparation, with its social body constructed of rigid hierarchies and maintained by a plodding economy—all that was finished. Like a man awakening from sleep and shaking fuzzy images of dreams from his head, Europe came alive to the senses and beheld as if for the first time the whole vast world that lay so enchantingly before it, rich with mysterious promise, beckoning with limitless possibilities.
Pico della Mirandola composed an Oration on the Dignity of Man. Still depicting pious subjects, Michelangelo carved in rock the grace and strength of a perfectly proportioned, smoothly muscled David and shaped a hymn in glorification of the male body, while everywhere painters adorned walls with the supple limbs and lustrous complexions of ripely rounded, exquisitely charming Madonnas. Bold navigators turned their prows into uncharted seas and found new worlds for exploration and exploitation. In the grip of a relentless fascination, Leonardo da Vinci limned in notebooks painstaking studies that delved into the intricacies of human anatomy and the mechanics of birds in flight. Based on a new, man-made kind of wealth, a new, self-made aristocracy arose—“merchant princes” who created far-flung empires of trade, banking, and manufacture. And so it happened that in a great shift of human vision from God to man and matter, the modern world was born.
India in the fifteenth century was also undergoing a renaissance—of a quite different sort. It was indeed almost the opposite of the European one; scholars have called it the “bhakti renaissance,” a great rebirth of devotion to God. The preeminent figure of this powerful religious upsurge was Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
When modern researchers explain historical changes, they, of course, consider only mundane causes—social, political, economic, and other such factors. However, I want to explore here another kind of cause: the divine. The Bhagavad-gita explains briefly how and why God periodically intervenes in human history: “Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice,” Krishna declares, “and a predominant rise of irreligion—at that time I manifest Myself. To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium” (Bg. 4.7-8).
As an introductory text, the Bhagavad-gita succinctly presents general principles. More advanced texts, like the Srimad-Bhagavatam, furnish further information. Drawing on such works, Srila Prabhupada comments on the statement of the Bhagavad-gita: “It is not a fact that the Lord appears only on Indian soil. He can manifest Himself anywhere and everywhere, and whenever He desires to appear. In each and every incarnation, He speaks as much about religion as can be understood by the particular people under their particular circumstances. But the mission is the same—to lead people to God consciousness and obedience to the principles of religion. Sometimes He descends personally, and sometimes He sends His bona fide representative in the form of His son, or servant, or Himself in some disguised form.”
Why should God have to appear over and over again? After all, if God is perfect, shouldn’t He be able to establish religion perfectly? Shouldn’t once suffice for all? It is, however, the nature of the material world that all things decay in time, and while God is infallible, the human beings who receive and transmit God’s instructions are fallible. Consequently, the religious traditions God establishes become compromised and undermined by a worldly spirit, and so in time they disintegrate. When religion thus declines, and irreligion consequently rises, God descends to rectify the imbalance and restore the principles of righteousness. God’s periodic intervention is crucial. Krishna notes in the Bhagavad-gita that if He did not act in this way, “all these worlds would be put to ruination” (Bg. 3.24),
The Renaissance in Europe offers a clear instance of the decline of religion. Fifteen hundred years earlier, Jesus Christ, the son of God, had appeared in a remote corner of the Roman Empire and had taught, as far as possible, the principles of religion. His followers, adopting and transforming the philosophical heritage of the Greeks and the practical and material legacy of the Romans, had eventually created in Europe a God-centered civilization. But the Renaissance, as a great movement of secularization, signaled the destruction of that civilization. Priestly worldliness and corruption had vitiated the spiritual power of the Church (as anyone familiar with the history of the Renaissance popes can attest). Although Martin Luther and other reformers attempted to restore the purity of Christianity, they unintentionally provided the means for European rulers to break loose from religious control. Thus the Reformation greatly contributed to the dismantling of the medieval God-centered civilization.
If Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries illustrates the sort of religious decline described in the Bhagavad-gita, India in the same period illustrates the divine restoration. The transcendental agent in this case was Sri Caitanya, who appeared in what is now West Bengal in 1486, just four years after Luther’s birth in Germany.
A person should be accepted as an incarnation of God only if He is referred to in scriptures. Many scriptures foretell the advent of Lord Caitanya. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.32) says: “In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the name of Krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krishna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, His servants, His weapons, and His confidential companions.”
This verse identifies Lord Caitanya as a special kind of incarnation called a “yuga-avatara.” Vedic literature describes history as cyclical, progressing through repeated revolutions of four great ages called yugas. The first age of the cycle, satya- yuga, is a golden age of immense spiritual and material well-being; each subsequent age ushers in a decline. We are now five thousand years into Kali-yuga, the final and most debased age. “In this iron age of Kali,” the Bhagavatam says, “men have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky, and, above all, always disturbed” (Bhag. 1.1.10).
Religious practice has to be tailored to fit the particular characteristics of each of the yugas. The meditational practices suitable for Satya-yuga, for example, will be ineffective in the Kali-yuga. People no longer have the time, the determination, and the peace of mind to meditate properly. The Lord therefore descends in each yuga—as the yuga-avatara—in order to establish the appropriate form of religion. According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Lord Caitanya is the yuga-avatara for this age of Kali.
The Bhagavatam also notes the specific religious practice Lord Caitanya will propagate: sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the name of God. Sankirtana is especially suitable for Kali-yuga, because it is both easy to do and extremely powerful. In this age we are in such a morbid condition of soul that only the strongest of remedies can heal us. And we will refuse the medicine unless it is sweet and easy to take. Therefore, Lord Caitanya disseminated the holy name. No matter how quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky, and disturbed we may be, we can easily chant Hare Krishna with perceptible spiritual results. We will at once have a taste of transcendental bliss and feel lust, greed, and anger diminish. The immeasurable potency of the divine name will rid even the most polluted mind of the putrefaction of material existence.
Lord Caitanya possessed such immense spiritual power that waves of devotion spread out from Him and inundated all of India with love of God. His life and teachings have been expertly recounted by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, universally recognized as a classic of Bengali literature. We can get some idea of Lord Caitanya’s potency from this description of the Lord’s impact on people during His tour of South India:
Whenever Lord Caitanya met anyone, Krishnadasa Kaviraja says, He would ask them to chant Hare Krishna. “Whoever heard Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu chant ‘Hari, Hari,’ also chanted the holy name of Lord Hari and Krishna. In this way, they all followed the Lord, very eager to see Him. After some time, the Lord would embrace these people and bid them to return home, after investing them with spiritual potency. Being thus empowered, they would return to their own villages, always chanting the holy name of Krishna and sometimes laughing, crying, and dancing. These empowered people used to request everyone and anyone—whomever they saw—to chant the holy name of Krishna. In this way all the villagers would also become devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And simply by seeing such empowered individuals, people from different villages would become like them by the mercy of their glance. When these individuals returned to their villages, they also converted others into devotees. When others came to see them, they were also converted. In this way, as those men went from one village to another, all the people of South India became devotees. Thus many hundreds of people became Vaishnavas [devotees of Krishna] when they passed the Lord on the way and were embraced by Him” (Cc. Madhya 7.98-105).
A unique feature of Krishna’s appearing as Lord Caitanya is that although Lord Caitanya is Krishna Himself, He does not appear as God but rather as a devotee of God. There are two reasons why God assumes the role of His own devotee, one of them external and public, the other internal and private.
The public reason God comes as a devotee is to teach the chanting of the names of God in the most attractive and powerful way. By playing the part of His own devotee—the greatest devotee of all—Krishna is able to show by His own peerless example the splendor of pure devotional service. Since Lord Caitanya is God Himself revealing to us how He wishes to be served, the teachings of Lord Caitanya are most authorized.
God’s private reason for descending as Lord Caitanya is more difficult to grasp, and to understand it we will have to enter into some of God’s confidential, internal affairs. Indeed, it is principally through Lord Caitanya that these matters have become known to us at all. (They are, to be sure. described in ancient scriptures, but Lord Caitanya illuminated the meaning of those texts and made their importance shine forth.)
Krishna’s appearance as Lord Caitanya is really Krishna’s own tribute and testament to the overwhelming attractiveness of pure devotional service and, especially, of His pure devotee. Moreover, when Krishna assumes the features of His own greatest devotee, He has, in fact, a particular devotee in mind: His highest and most intimate devotee. Srimati Radharani.
You may have seen paintings that depict Radha and Krishna together; Lord Krishna appears as a beautiful young man with a dark-blue complexion that glows like a newly formed rain cloud illuminated within by lightning. Srimati Radharani is an equally beautiful young girl; Her complexion is lustrous like molten gold. Krishna plays on His flute, and Radharani, Her hand resting lightly on Krishna’s shoulder, listens in enchantment. It is clear from Their posture and from the way They glance at each other that They are deeply in love.
Westerners often misunderstand Radha and Krishna. An earlier, puritanical generation was appalled at the notion that God should have a consort and enter into a conjugal relationship. Nowadays, one encounters people from a younger generation who are very much “into” sex and are delighted to think that God is too. Both groups radically misunderstand Radha and Krishna, because both share in a common error: that the relationship between Radharani and Krishna is like a mundane sexual relationship.
Male and female and the attraction between them are found in this world only because sexual polarity and attraction exist originally in God, in Radha-Krishna. As above, so here below. But there is a difference also. Worldly sexual relationships are merely perverted reflections of the original and transcendental conjugal relationship between Radha and Krishna, which is pure and spiritual and devoid of any tinge of lust. As long as Our materially besmirched minds are conditioned by worldly desire, we are unable to conceive of the immaculate love between Radha and Krishna. We project our own unwholesome relationships and unholy loves onto God. This is surely a mistake. A person can understand the conjugal love of Radha and Krishna as it is only if he himself becomes free from lust. Lord Caitanya was able to make an unprecedented disclosure of the confidential relationship between Radharani and Krishna because He also taught the chanting of Hare Krishna, which destroys lust and other material impurities with unrivaled efficacy.
We can understand the position of Srimati Radharani by means of the ideas of “potency” (shakti) and the “potent” (shaktiman), that is, of power or energy, on the one hand, and of the possessor of the power, the energetic source, on the other. To use an illustration, fire is the potent, and heat and light are the fire’s potency. But the supremely potent, the ultimate source of all energies, is Krishna; everything else, material or spiritual, is His potency, emanating from Him as heat and light emanate from a fire. (Heat and light are potency in relation to the potent fire; fire, potency in relation to the potent sun; the sun, potency in relation to Krishna, the supremely potent.) The entire content of what is can be exhaustively described as Krishna and His energies.
Three of Krishna’s multitudinous potencies are prominent. One of them manifests the whole material world; another, the innumerable spiritual souls. The third—called the internal potency—manifests the transcendental kingdom of God. This internal potency has three further subdivisions. By one of these transcendental potencies, Krishna maintains His existence and that of the eternal kingdom of God; by another, He knows Himself and causes others to know Him. And by the third internal potency He enjoys transcendental bliss and causes His devotees to feel bliss.
This internal potency of bliss, called hladini- shakti, is Srimati Radharani. As the embodiment of Krishna’s transcendental pleasure-giving potency, Srimati Radharani is Krishna’s most perfect devotee; She lives only for satisfying Him with Her pure devotional love. All devotional service falls under the auspices of Srimati Radharani, and only by Her mercy and care are the devotees able to please Her beloved Krishna. She is the ideal devotee, the exemplar of unconditioned love.
Krishna and Radha are simultaneously one and yet different, just as a fire and its light are one and yet different at the same time. Thus, although Radharani and Krishna are one in Their identity, They have separated Themselves eternally. Radha and Krishna together exemplify the simultaneous oneness and difference of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His energy, constituting the whole of the Absolute Truth. Thus they illustrate the most profound metaphysical principle.
Radharani and Krishna show that the ultimate nature of God contains internal varieties, and Their endless reciprocation of love is the basis of an internal transcendental dynamic by which Krishna is eternally increasing in beauty and bliss. Although Radha has no desire for her own enjoyment, when She sees Krishna, Her joy increases without bound. Because Her joy increases, Her sweetness and beauty also increase. When Krishna sees Radha becoming more and more beautiful, His joy also becomes greater, making His beauty and His sweetness grow. When Radha sees that She has pleased Krishna, She becomes overjoyed, and as Her joy multiplies, She becomes even more beautiful and sweet. This again increases Krishna’s own joy, beauty, and sweetness… . And so the reciprocation goes on and on, without limit or end.
The name Krishna means “all-attractive,” and knowing the reciprocation of ever-increasing love between Radha and Krishna allows us to appreciate how attractive God is—much more attractive than anything in this world. When God is misconceived as static and without variegatedness, it makes the material world seem more interesting and alluring by comparison. Just this sort of static conception was borrowed by Christian philosophers from Aristotle and enshrined in medieval theology; and this is one reason why the Renaissance turned to the material world for a sense of promise, adventure, and expanding possibilities. For God was philosophically understood as actus purus, which meant that He was everything that He could ever be; He was entirely static, a kind of crystalized, frozen perfection.
It was thought that if God possesses the fullness of infinite perfection, then the divine perfection would be at an absolute maximum and could not increase. But Krishnadasa Kaviraja says that although God is at the fullness of perfection, He still does increase. The apparent paradox may be easier to accept if you consider a similar “paradox” discovered by modern mathematicians in their investigation of the properties of infinite sets. Let us consider, for example, a hotel with infinite rooms, all of which are occupied. Although the hotel is full, you can always add more guests—in fact, an infinite number of guests. Let us imagine that the desk clerk wants to check in a new guest. He blows a whistle, and all the doors open. The occupant of room 1 moves to room 2, of 2 to room 3, … and so on, ad infinitum. The new guest enters the now- empty room 1. Similarly, even though an infinite number of guests check out of the hotel, it will retain full occupancy. The Ishopanishad makes a similar point about the Supreme Personality of Godhead: He is so complete that even though countless energies emanate from Him, He remains complete and wholly undiminished. And although Krishna is full and complete, yet, through His loving reciprocation with Radha, He eternally increases without limit.
Lord Caitanya also embodies another phase in the transcendental psychology of the loving reciprocation between Radha and Krishna. We have already seen how Krishna is ceaselessly fascinated and attracted by Radha. He finds Her love for Him equally amazing. Its selfless purity and its intensity fill Him with wonder. Krishnadasa Kaviraja tells us that Krishna thinks to Himself, “Whatever pleasure I get from tasting My love for Srimati Radharani, She tastes ten million times more than Me by Her love” (Cc. Adi 4.126). Krishna is the supreme enjoyer, but He realizes that Srimati Radharani, by Her love for Him, enjoys even more bliss than He does. Thus Krishna becomes eager to experience for Himself the flavor of Srimati Radharani’s love for Him.
Krishna’s beauty and sweetness are so limitless that they attract the whole universe. Krishnadasa Kaviraja says: “The beauty of Krishna has one natural strength: it thrills the hearts of all men and women, beginning with Lord Krishna Himself. All minds are attracted by hearing his sweet voice and flute, or by seeing His beauty. Even Lord Krishna Himself makes efforts to taste that sweetness” (Cc. Adi 4.147-48). But the one who relishes Krishna’s beauty and sweetness the most is Srimati Radharani. Her immaculate love is like a flawless mirror, and in that mirror Krishna’s own beauty and sweetness shine with ever greater brightness. Thus Krishna desires to experience His own attractiveness in the way that Srimati Radharani does.
For these reasons, then, Krishna desires to take the position of Srimati Radharani. That desire is eternally fulfilled in the person of Lord Caitanya. In His form as Lord Caitanya, Krishna assumes the golden complexion and the devotional feelings of Radha, and tastes for Himself the unlimited bliss of devotional service.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja sets down two verses in which he summarizes the nature of Lord Caitanya: “The loving affairs of Sri Radha and Krishna are transcendental manifestations of the Lord’s internal pleasure-giving potency. Although Radha and Krishna are one in Their identity, They separated Themselves eternally. Now these two transcendental identities have again united in the form of Sri Krishna Caitanya. I bow down to Him, who has manifested Himself with the sentiment and complexion of Srimati Radharani although He is Krishna Himself. Desiring to understand the glory of Radharani’s love, the wonderful qualities in Him that She alone relishes through Her love, and the happiness She feels when She realizes the sweetness of His love, the Supreme Lord Hari, richly endowed with Her emotions, appeared from the womb of Srimati Sacidevi, as the moon appeared from the ocean” (Cc. Adi 1.5-6).
The three transcendental personalities of Radha, Krishna, and Caitanya together manifest the eternal dialectics of divine love, the timeless dynamics of the ever-expanding ocean of transcendental bliss. Lord Caitanya descended to flood the world with that ocean of love by distributing to everyone the chanting of the names of God. Simply by chanting Hare Krishna, anyone can enter into that limitless ocean of the nectar of devotion.
Lord Caitanya inaugurated a bhakti renaissance and turned people’s vision to God at the same time that the Renaissance in Europe turned people’s vision to man and the world. Men like da Vinci, fascinated by the marvelous and cunning complexities of material nature, began to delve into her secrets with an insatiable curiosity and were rewarded with discovery. At the same time, as if in counterbalance, Lord Caitanya, through the renaissance of bhakti, gave to the world an unprecedented view into the inner dynamics of infinite love in the all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just as men of the Renaissance tried to open up the world and unlock the secrets of nature, Lord Caitanya and His associates opened up the kingdom of God and unlocked the secrets of love of God.
To the people of the Renaissance, the world and man seemed imbued with limitless possibility and promise. Western civilization to the present day has been following up on that vision, and it becomes more and more apparent that the world and man have not lived up to their promise. The Renaissance shift of vision from God to man and matter has cut people off from any transcendent source of meaning and value, and the resultant relativism and nihilism—the ripened fruit of the Renaissance—have released demonic energies that have devastated the earth in our time. And there is more to come.
Therefore, Lord Caitanya’s appearance was most timely. The civilization born in Europe during the Renaissance has grown to straddle the earth. But there has been a most fortunate counterflux, as the sankirtana movement of Lord Caitanya has also spread over the globe, in fulfillment of Lord Caitanya’s own prophecy. By showing how Krishna is supremely loving and all-attractive, and by making Krishna easily accessible through the chanting of His names. Lord Caitanya has made it possible for us to shift our vision back to God once more. This is necessary. Man and the world cannot answer to the demand we have placed upon them. Only Krishna and His transcendental kingdom, where He eternally revels in pastimes of love, can do that. This alone is the realm that is rich with infinite promise, beckoning to us with limitless possibilities.
Lord Chaitanya clarifies, among other things, the origin and evolution of the species.
As related in the last issue, Rupa Goswami and his brother Sanatana Goswami have resigned their ministerial posts in the Muslim government of sixteenth-century Bengal, having decided to dedicate their lives to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission. Now we follow Rupa Goswami as he travels to meet Lord Chaitanya in Allahabad and then learns from Him the science of Krishna consciousness.
After giving away his fortune at Bakla Chandradvipa in the district of Yashohara, Bengal, where he and his brothers had grown up, Rupa Goswami sent two messengers to Jagannatha Puri to find out when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu planned to leave for Vrindavana. By the time the messengers returned to inform Rupa that the Lord had already started for Vrindavana through the forest of Madhya Pradesh, Rupa’s older brother Sanatana had been imprisoned by the Nawab (governor). Rupa sent Sanatana a letter, informing him of Lord Chaitanya’s whereabouts and encouraging him to buy his release with ten thousand gold coins on deposit with a local business. Rupa wrote that he was leaving with their younger brother, Anupama, to join Lord Chaitanya.
“You must also somehow or other get released and come meet us in Vrindavana,” he urged Sanatana.
Vrindavana is in north central India, about one hundred miles south of modern Delhi. Both Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Rupa Goswami were traveling on foot from the eastern side of the Indian subcontinent, Lord Chaitanya from Puri on the Bay of Bengal, Rupa Goswami from an area of Bengal that today is about a day’s drive northeast of Puri. Lord Chaitanya, setting out with one assistant in early autumn of the year 1513, had a head start. Leaving late at night to escape notice, the Lord avoided the better-known public roads, passed just to the south of present-day Cuttack, and entered on a forest path. After much traveling, He stopped briefly at Varanasi on the bank of the Ganges, then moved on to Prayaga, near Allahabad, and finally reached Vrindavana.
After Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Vrindavana sojourn, when He returned to Prayaga in February of 1514, Rupa and Anupama, having followed the path of the Ganges from Bengal, caught up with the Lord. When Rupa and Anupama arrived, Lord Chaitanya was on His way to visit Prayaga’s temple of Bindu Madhava, followed by many hundreds and thousands of people eager to meet Him. As the Lord proceeded, loudly chanting Hare Krishna and dancing, the people following Him joyously laughed, danced, and chanted along with Him, creating an ecstatic uproar.
The brothers watched the wonderful scene from an uncrowded place and later went to meet the Lord at the home of a brahmana. Seeing Rupa and Anupama bowing down to Him at a distance, Lord Chaitanya welcomed and embraced them. The brothers offered many prayers to the Lord, culminating with, “O most munificent incarnation! You are Krishna Himself appearing as Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden color of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You.”
As Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna adopts the mood of His greatest devotee, Srimati Radharani, to understand and relish Her feelings towards Him and to teach by His own example the exalted position of devotional service.
Eager to learn from the Lord, Rupa Goswami followed Him and stayed with Him wherever He moved around Prayaga. To avoid crowds, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu went to Dashashvame-dha Ghat on the bank of the Ganges and there for ten days instructed Rupa Goswami on the science of devotional service.
Life is Everywhere
“My dear Rupa, the science of devotional service to Krishna is like a great ocean of nectar,” Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu began. “It is impossible to show you this entire ocean, but to give you an idea of its length and breadth, I will try to describe just one drop.”
The universe, Lord Chaitanya informed Rupa Goswami, is filled with countless living beings in 8,400,000 species of life. The Vishnu Purana confirms the Lord’s statement, elaborating that there are 900,000 species of aquatics, 2,000,000 species of plants and trees, 1,100,000 species of insects and reptiles, 1,000,000 species of birds, 3,000,000 species of four-legged animals, and 400,000 species of human beings. These 8,400,000 species are not all present on the earth but are spread throughout the universe, as every planet is inhabited. As on this planet living creatures have bodies adapted to living on land or in the water, in tropical heat or in arctic cold, so all over the universe the bodies of the living entities are suitable for the planets on which they reside.
According to the Bhagavad-gita, five categories of material elements make up the universe: earth, water, fire, air, and ether (or space). Since we find living entities all over this planet, in all kinds of elements, there is no logic to denying the statement of the Vedic literature that living entities live on all planets in the universe, whatever the arrangements of the elements on a particular planet. We human beings on earth are like a colony of ants occupying one tiny point on a vast continent. We possess little capacity to understand on our own the extent of life in the universe. We have to take assistance from the Lord and the Vedic texts to learn that what may look to us like barren space is in truth a universe teeming with varieties of life, both human and nonhuman.
Our bodies may not survive elsewhere in the universe, but other bodies do, and in any case the living entity is only the proprietor of a particular body, not the body itself. The living entity is an indestructible individual particle of spirit seated in the body as driver of the bodily machine.
“The size of the living entity is one ten-thousandth the size of the tip of a hair,” Lord Chaitanya continued. The Lord quoted a commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam: “If we divide the tip of a hair into a hundred parts and then take one of these parts and divide it again into a hundred parts, that very fine particle is the size of but one of the numberless living entities. They are particles of spirit, not matter.”
As the sun spreads its light throughout the sky, so the minute living entity spreads its consciousness throughout a particular body. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna states that the numberless living entities within the universe are eternally fragments of Him. He is the supreme, all- pervading spirit, and we are all tiny particles of spirit, in quality one with Him. If we were one with God in all respects—if we were all-pervading and all- powerful—there would be no question of our being caged as we are in the material elements, forced to do battle against material nature. When we give up trying to be lord of the universe and submit ourselves as servants of the Supreme Lord, material nature begins to release us from the hard struggle for existence and we become happy.
Evolution of Consciousness
In the 8,000,000 species of life below the human species there is an evolution not of bodies or of species, as the Darwinians say, but of the consciousness of the minute particles of spirit. At the creation of the universe, Krishna creates all 8,400,000 species to accommodate 8,400,000 varieties of desires and qualifications of the minute spiritual sparks who want to imitate Him as Lord. From the species of plants and trees where consciousness is very covered and dim, up through the millions of species of birds and quadrupeds, material nature automatically promotes us as we transmigrate from one body to another, one planet to another, in the cycle of repeated birth and death. Consciousness gradually emerges from the covering of matter, until upon reaching the human form of life we have the capacity to question our existence: Who am I? Why am I suffering? What is this universe? What is life?
This inquisitive human being is only a tiny portion of the universal population. Lord Chaitanya explained to Rupa Goswami that the population can be divided in two: those that can move and those that cannot. Trees and plants are nonmoving living entities, while aquatics, birds, and animals move in the water, in the air, and on land. Among the millions and trillions of living beings moving on land, human beings are a numerically minuscule section. Then in this small human community, most members are completely ignorant of spiritual life and have no faith in the existence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Among those few who do have faith in God and the scriptures, at least half give only lip service while engaging in all kinds of activities against religious principles, or even against basic moral standards. The activities of the faithless and the lip servers eventually degrade to the point where they fully resemble the activities of animals or worse, and these living entities, their consciousness again covered by their own will, descend again to the lower species in their next lives to start over in the evolutionary cycle.
Above the lip servers, among the sincere followers of religious principles, most people aspire to profit from the business of piety. These people are called fruitive workers, because they want to enjoy the results, or fruits, of their good work. They want something back for their devotion: wealth, fame, a comfortable life for themselves and for those they love, either here or in heaven. Out of millions of fruitive workers one is wise enough to see that no matter how rich the results of our piety, we continue suffering birth and death in the material universe without any true satisfaction of the soul.
These rare wise persons have a preliminary understanding that they are eternal spirit, not matter, and they desire liberation from material suffering by losing themselves in eternal spiritual existence. With their rudimentary knowledge, these spiritualists are inclined towards monism, or merging with the Absolute Truth. There is an eternal distinction between ourselves, our knowledge of the Absolute Truth, and the Absolute Truth itself. The monist makes futile attempts to dissolve this distinction in favor of oneness, then falls back in frustration to activities for material enjoyment.
Out of millions of wise persons, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu informed Rupa Goswami, it is difficult to find one who has avoided the trap of monism to become a pure devotee of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the origin of both material and spiritual existence. A primary quality of pure devotees is that they are peaceful. They are not agitated by desires for material enjoyment or by the desire to merge with the Supreme. Their only wish is to serve Krishna. Depending on Krishna as a small child depends on its parents, without expecting assistance but always feeling protected, the devotee is personally desireless.
The Creeper of Devotion
The platform of desireless devotion, the summit of evolution, is the gift of Krishna and His devotees. Lord Chaitanya informed Rupa Goswami that after wandering in the evolutionary cycle from planet to planet all around the universe, from animal and plant life up to the stage of human wisdom and back down over and over again, a living entity by good fortune gets the chance to meet a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. Lord Krishna is situated in everyone’s heart, and when He sees that the living entity desires to return to Him, He sends His empowered representative to offer the living entity instruction in devotional service. The Supreme can be known only by devotional service cultivated under the guidance of an expert and authorized devotee. By the mercy of Krishna one gets a bona fide spiritual master, and by the mercy of the spiritual master one gets Krishna.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu likened devotional service to a vine, or a creeper. Training under the spiritual master in the methods and regulations of devotional service is the seed of this creeper. When one associates with devotees, hears from one’s devotee spiritual master, and chants the Hare Krishna mantra, the seed of devotion sprouts in one’s heart. As one waters the creeper of devotion by faithfully serving the spiritual master and hearing about Krishna from him, the creeper expands so vigorously that it grows out of the material universe into the spiritual sky, reaching the planets of the transcendental kingdom of God. On the topmost spiritual planet the creeper takes shelter of the lotus feet of Krishna and produces fruits of love of God.
Sitting with Rupa Goswami on the bank of the Ganges at Dashashvamedha Ghat, Lord Chaitanya described in detail how with watering, care, and protection the living entity’s devotional creeper continues to expand in the spiritual world. Having surpassed the material sky with its evolution of consciousness in 8,400,00 species, the eternal living entity undergoes a blissful transcendental evolution through the many ecstatic stages of love of God.
An Ocean of Nectar
After these detailed instructions Lord Chaitanya concluded, “My dear Rupa, I have simply given a general description of the science of devotion. You can consider how to adjust and expand upon this. When one thinks of Krishna constantly, one can reach the shore of the ocean of transcendental love by Lord Krishna’s mercy.”
Rupa Goswami absorbed the elaborate descriptions of transcendental love from Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu by His mercy, and twenty-eight years later, in the year 1542, completed his definitive work on spiritual evolution entitled Bhakti- rasamrita-sindhu, or “The Ocean of the Nectar of Devotional Service.” This great work remained little known and far less understood, in India or the West, until His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada published a summary study of the work in 1970 as The Nectar of Devotion.
The morning after completing His teachings to Rupa Goswami, Lord Chaitanya rose and prepared to leave Prayaga and return to the city of Varanasi. Rupa Goswami begged to go with Him, but the Lord ordered him to continue on to Vrindavana.
“Later,” the Lord promised, “you can travel from Vrindavana to Jagannatha Puri by way of Bengal and meet Me again.”
Extremely distressed at losing the Lord’s company, but eager to carry out His mission, Rupa Goswami watched as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu boarded the boat taking Him to Varanasi.
As Rupa and Anupama resumed their journey to Vrindavana and Lord Chaitanya traveled down the Ganges towards Varanasi, Sanatana Goswami too was nearing Varanasi, having escaped from prison in Bengal.
(In an upcoming issue we’ll hear about Lord Chaitanya’s teachings to Sanatana Goswami.)
At the great chariot festival in the holy city of Puri, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu danced in ecstasy before the chariot of Lord Jagannatha, revealing a most intimate pastime of the Supreme Lord.
These days you might see Lord Jagannatha parade majestically through Trafalgar Square in London or along the sun-drenched beaches of Los Angeles; or you might watch the dome of His chariot float past the skyscrapers of New York or the mountains that rim Denver; or you might gaze at the massive wheels as they turn in Toronto, Guadalajara, or Florence. All around the globe. Lord Jagannatha boards His stately chariot and, escorted by dancing and chanting devotees, goes out to see and be seen by all the people of His domain.
The festival is not new. Since time beyond memory, the celebrated Deity of Krishna known as Jagannatha (“Lord of the Universe”) has been honored with a great chariot parade at Jagannatha Puri, a city in Orissa on the Bay of Bengal. Every summer pilgrims gather from all over India to join in the awesome and magnificent celebration, in which the Supreme Personality of Godhead graces everyone—highborn or low, pure or impure, rich or poor—with His presence when He leaves His palatial temple and travels in state to His peaceful summer retreat.
Long before you reach the city you can see the temple’s majestic parabolic dome, topped by a golden chakra—the discus that symbolizes the all- pervading power of God. On first sight of the gleaming chakra pilgrims fall prostrate in obeisance on the road. The awe-inspiring grandeur of the temple at Puri is entirely apposite, for the Deity of Jagannatha memorializes Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as He manifest Himself at Dvaraka fifty centuries ago.
There, as part of His personal pastimes on earth, Lord Krishna reigned as king in dazzling splendor and revealed the unsurpassable opulence and majesty of His Godhood. In Dvaraka, Lord Krishna kept close company with Lord Balarama, His brother, and Srimati Subhadra, His sister. Balarama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s first expansion; Subhadra, one of His internal spiritual energies. Since the three divine persons were always together at Dvaraka, the form of Jagannatha at Puri is worshiped with those of Balarama and Subhadra.
It is important to understand the Deity form of God properly. God appears in this form out of His supreme kindness. The eternal spiritual form of the Lord cannot be apprehended by our materially contaminated senses; therefore He graciously condescends to take a form we can directly perceive and serve. God is not stone or wood, but by His omnipotence He can appear as stone or wood and be perceptible even to our dulled and constricted vision. Therefore, Lord Jagannatha is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.
Even though God so kindly makes Himself available to us, there is still a problem. Knowledge of the Lord’s personal form is revealed at the height of spiritual attainment, and worship of the form as the Deity in the temple is a most exalted mode of devotional service. People who are degraded by culture and habit, who are not purified by reformatory practices, who are not enlightened by transcendental knowledge, cannot understand the personal form of God or appreciate the Deity incarnation of the Lord. Such people are likely to mistake the bona fide Deity for an idol fabricated by human imagination. Therefore, to prevent the ignorant from committing offenses to the Lord, people without the benefits of spiritual culture have been traditionally excluded from temples in India.
Yet this exclusiveness contrasts markedly with that divine spirit of liberality which moves God to make Himself available in the Deity form. He wants to extend His mercy to everyone. Exclusiveness and inclusiveness are thus in tension. The Ratha-yatra chariot festival helps resolve the difficulty. For on this occasion Lord Jagannatha goes out into the streets and discloses Himself to those from whom He is normally hidden. Lord Jagannatha is accordingly celebrated for being the most merciful even to the degraded and spiritually backward people.
Yet Jagannatha’s liberal self-disclosure sometimes produced the feared result. In the Middle Ages, Christian missionaries began occasionally showing up at the chariot festival. Around 1320 one Friar Odoric brought the first report of the celebration back to Europe. The misinformation and misunderstanding he conveyed became part of a standard account that endured in Europe for centuries.
This account described Jagannatha as a bloodthirsty idol who demanded—and received—human sacrifice. During the chariot festival—the occasion fixed for this bloody sacrifice—frenzied devotees flung themselves by the score under the huge turning wheels of the chariot to be crushed in self-immolation. Thus the ravening bloodlust of the god was satisfied. Although scholars agree that the calumnious image of Jagannatha and His festival was wholly spurious, it became solidly entrenched, so much so that it gave the English the word “juggernaut,” meaning an overwhelming force that crushes everything in its path.
Now that Lord Jagannatha’s Ratha-yatra is witnessed in cities all over the world, people are surprised by its old European reputation as a horrible and gory spectacle. The world has learned to appreciate the festival as a splendid and happy celebration of notable beneficence.
At the same time, Ratha-yatra has a profound inner spiritual significance few have yet realized. We can best grasp that deep meaning by looking back in history—back in fact to the same period that saw a perverted conception of the festival take root in Europe. During those days certain marvelous deeds were manifest at Jagannatha Puri. These deeds were so extraordinary that they disclosed the most profound and rare spiritual truths at the heart of Jagannatha’s festival, so momentous that they eventually changed the religious topography of the world. They were all enacted by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
To save the conditioned souls languishing miserably in material existence, the Supreme Lord periodically descends to this earth. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is one of these divine incarnations, but this appearance of the Lord is unique. It bears a very special significance. To understand this, we have to see the Lord’s descent as Sri Chaitanya in connection with His immediately preceding descent five thousand years ago.
This appearance was also special. Although God manifests Himself many times, He hardly ever reveals His highest and most confidential feature. Almost always God shows Himself in His full transcendental majesty, power, and opulence; and we His creatures naturally respond to this awesome numinous majesty with fear and reverence. Our love for God is united to a powerful awareness of our own creatureliness, our radical inferiority, and we therefore worship the Lord with great awe and veneration. In the spiritual literature of India, God in this majestic aspect is known by the name of Vishnu (“the all-pervading”) or Narayana (“the resting place of all beings”). In His Narayana feature. God is manifest as the Lord of creation, the almighty controller and maintainer of all beings.
At the same time, God is the supreme enjoyer, the infinite relisher of loving relations. But reverential worship, appropriate though it may be, holds love at the distance mandated by respect and keeps it under the constraints of formality. Religions usually teach nothing higher than reverential devotion; although such devotion is certainly laudable, by its own nature it is limited in intimacy, intensity, and spontaneity. It does not come near to satisfying the divine capacity for enjoying relationships of love.
Therefore we can understand that devotional service to God must go further than awe and reverence, and that the majestic aspect of God, which elicits such awe and reverence, cannot be the last word in divinity. There is even more to God than that, and to our great good fortune, God disclosed this highest personal feature of Himself when He descended five thousand years ago as Krishna. The great Vedic text Srimad- Bhagavatam explains that Krishna is the highest and original Personality of Godhead, and He expands Himself into uncountable plenary portions, known as Vishnu or Narayana. The difference between Narayana and Krishna can be understood like this: as Narayana, God’s majesty overwhelms His beauty; as Krishna, God’s beauty overwhelms His majesty. The name Krishna in fact means “all-attractive,” and Krishna is the last word in divinity.
The Vedic texts go further: they describe the kingdom of God as an infinite and self-effulgent sky, filled with innumerable spiritual abodes or planets called Vaikunthas. On each Vaikuntha planet dwells a majestic Narayana expansion of God in the midst of liberated devotees who perpetually worship Him in reverence. But higher than all the Vaikunthas is the supreme abode known as Goloka Vrindavana. In the Vaikunthas, the Lord is present in regal opulence, with all the trappings and appurtenances of the divine majesty. But in Goloka Vrindavana all that is put aside, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead appears as Krishna—a simple cowherd boy; He does not dwell in a palatial estate but in an unpretentious rural village, tucked away among verdant forests and blossoming meadows. Yet there is no greater abode.
The residents of Vrindavana worship Krishna with direct and unceremonious spontaneity. So that He may enjoy intimate relationships, Krishna causes His devotees to see Him as their equal or even their inferior, and He plays the part of close friend or playmate, of son, grandson, or nephew, or, most intimately, of youthful paramour. By Krishna’s arrangement, the residents of Vrindavana do not even know that Krishna is God—or, if they know, they are not interested. Awareness of the Lord’s power and majesty would simply get in the way of their love. These are God’s supreme devotees.
God is reluctant to reveal His private affairs to the world because the souls here are envious of Him and first of all need to acquiesce to His categorical supremacy. Therefore, the Lord almost always reveals Himself in full majesty. In doing that, He must necessarily withhold His most attractive feature. But once in a great while He descends directly as Krishna.
When Krishna descends, He brings all Vrindavana—including all its supremely devoted residents—with Him. Thus for a time the highest transcendental abode miraculously unfolds without limit within the confines of mundane geography. The world can see for once the highest and most confidential life of God.
Krishna’s personal appearance is rare, but whenever He does come. He is always followed by another very special divine incarnation: Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Chaitanya is Krishna Himself, but in this case, Krishna does not appear as Krishna but as the supreme devotee of Krishna. Krishna becomes His own devotee for two reasons. He is so attracted and amazed by the intensity and purity of the devotional love of the foremost Vrindavana devotee, Srimati Radharani, that He wants to experience Her ecstatic love for Himself. So Krishna assumes the feelings and golden complexion of Radharani and thus appears as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This is Krishna’s internal, or personal, reason.
Here is the other—the external or public—reason: In disclosing Himself as the cowherd boy of Vrindavana—as the best companion, the most darling child, the most enchanting lover—Krishna revealed the supreme feature of the Absolute Truth. It quite exceeds the range of ordinary spiritual practice. So even though Krishna showed Himself in Vrindavana, He still remains inaccessible to even very devout religious observation. Therefore, Krishna descends again, in the role of His own devotee, to give the world the most powerful process of devotional service. Thus, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu makes Krishna available.
In 1510, having entered the renounced order of life, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu quit His home and relatives in Bengal and journeyed to Jagannatha Puri. He immediately amazed the whole city: a twenty-four-year-old sannyasi, He turned its greatest resident, the renowned logician and scholar Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, into His ardent follower and advocate. Sri Chaitanya did not stay to enjoy His fame: He left almost at once to tour the holy places of South India. He returned just as preparations were underway for the Ratha- yatra festival of 1512.
The events that transpired next have been skillfully recounted by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami in Sri Chaitanya- charitamrita, his biography of the Lord. To understand the import of these events we have to consider the significance of Jagannatha Puri and its festival in light of the Lord’s purposes in coming as Sri Chaitanya. His public purpose was to deliver Krishna freely to everybody. The highest feature of the Godhead, Krishna, is rarely attained. But Sri Chaitanya is so merciful that He makes what is most sublime and rare easily obtainable by all. As the very personification of divine mercy, Sri Chaitanya naturally chose to worship at Puri, for Lord Jagannatha, who leaves His temple to appear personally before even the most fallen, is the perfect embodiment of God’s unrestrained kindness.
Moreover, when Lord Jagannatha takes His journey, devotees congregate by the thousands and join together in exuberantly chanting the names of the Lord. This is also significant, for Sri Chaitanya specifically descended to teach and spread nama-sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy names of God. Chanting God’s transcendental names is so spiritually powerful that it can transmute even the most base people into the most exalted and radiant lovers of God. Thus Jagannatha’s chariot festival is practically the image of Sri Chaitanya’s own mission.
As the day of the festival drew near, Sri Chaitanya personally took part in the preparations.
Two miles up the coast from the great temple of Jagannatha stands a modest but very attractive temple with milk-white walls and a russet roof, nestled among tropical gardens. A steady ocean breeze playing through the gardens surrounds the temple with a soothing sururrus and bathes it in cool and refreshing currents of air. The temple’s name is Gundica. Here the chariot parade ends, and in the restful atmosphere of this still country place, Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra remain for a week of leisure. The rest of the time the temple stands empty.
All year long the vacant temple collects dirt, sand, and straw; cleaners are sent just before the festival. It is considered a menial’s job, so Lord Chaitanya surprised everybody when He set out with hundreds of devotees, brooms, and waterpots to clean Gundica temple for the arrival of Jagannatha.
In great jubilation, the Lord swept every surface of the temple—floors, walls, ceilings—chanting Hare Krishna all the time, and His followers swept and chanted with Him. He swept so energetically His entire body became coated with dirt and dust. Sometimes the Lord shed tears of devotional ecstasy, and with those tears He washed the temple. Finally, He gathered all His sweepings into a single pile, throwing it outside. The others did the same. Sri Chaitanya’s pile was by far the largest.
Again they swept the whole temple, meticulously removing the tiniest bits of dust, grit, and straw. Then a hundred devotees came in with brimming water-pots, and Sri Chaitanya began vigorously throwing water on all the floors, walls, and ceilings. Devotees crowded about a lake and a well nearby filling pots; others rushed back and forth in lines with full or emptied pots. In the temple, water flew in great arcs and every surface was washed and scrubbed again and again. Everyone in the temple, in the water lines, in the filling places, ecstatically chanted the names of Krishna. Lord Chaitanya got down on His hands and knees and mopped the floor of the temple and polished the throne of Jagannatha with His own robes.
Then it was finished. The temple shone. It was cool, radiant, immaculate—as cool and bright, Krishnadasa Kaviraja says, as Sri Chaitanya’s own heart. It was fit to receive Lord Jagannatha.
In cleaning the Gundica temple. Lord Chaitanya vividly demonstrated how one should diligently clean his own heart to make it fit to receive the Lord. In the material world we have closed our hearts to Krishna, and for many lifetimes our empty hearts have been collecting all the dirt and debris of material desires. If we wish Krishna to return, we must thoroughly wash all that contamination out of the heart, just as Lord Chaitanya swept every speck of straw and grit from Gundica temple. If we use the cleaning process given by Lord Chaitanya and regularly chant the Hare Krishna mantra, our hearts will soon become bright and clean and cool and peaceful. Lord Krishna will then joyfully take up residence in that purified place.
Gundica was prepared, and two days later the three huge chariots stood in the morning sun before the gates of the Puri temple, awaiting their transcendental passengers. A vast crowd packed the streets. Inside the gates, Sri Chaitanya watched Lord Jagannatha, surrounded by powerfully built bearers, proceed from His throne to His chariot. Stout cushions led across the courtyard like steppingstones, and the bearers, muscles and veins bulging, lifted the large and heavy form of Jagannatha from cushion to cushion. Sometimes a cushion would split open with a heavy cracking report, and clouds of cotton wadding would fill the air. As Lord Jagannatha moved toward His chariot, Lord Chaitanya loudly called out to Him, “Manima! Manima!”—“My Lord! My Lord!” But the tumultuous din of musical instruments drowned out His words.
As Lord Jagannatha drew near His cart, Sri Chaitanya saw Maharaja Prataparudra, the King of Orissa. The King was bending over with a gold-handled broom, carefully sweeping the road in front of Lord Jagannatha. The King had long desired to have an audience with Sri Chaitanya, and the Lord had steadfastly refused. As a member of the renounced order, Sri Chaitanya was forbidden to have any connection with worldly men. But when Lord Chaitanya saw the crowned head of state personally performing this menial service for Lord Jagannatha, He became very pleased and resolved to show the king all mercy.
As Lord Jagannatha prepared to depart for Gundica temple, Lord Chaitanya organized His close followers into seven groups for sankirtana, congregational chanting. Each group had two drummers, a dancer, a lead chanter and five others to respond. Sri Chaitanya placed four chanting parties in front of the chariot, one on each side, and one in the rear.
The thick ropes that draw the chariots stretched tight, and as the crowd shouted in joy, the ponderous wheels began to turn. As the three huge chariots started to inch forward, the hundreds of mirrors that decorated the chariots flashed in the sun. Festoons of bright silken cloth billowed and shimmered. Scores of white yak-tail whisks hanging in rows swayed back and forth in unison, and bells and gongs of all shapes and sizes clanged, chimed, and tinkled. The chariots’ cloth canopies, shaped just like the great stone dome of the Puri temple, moved stately and majestically; each vehicle was a temple in motion.
As the wheels of Jagannatha’s car started to turn, fourteen drums began pounding together. Nearby, the king stood with his confidant Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, and together they watched as Sri Chaitanya began to dance before Lord Jagannatha in ecstasy, chanting the names of Krishna. Sometimes He flung His long arms high over His head and chanted, “Jaya Jagannatha! Jaya Jagannatha!” (“All glories to Lord Jagannatha!”).
As Lord Chaitanya danced. He remained facing the steadily advancing chariot and kept His eyes fixed upon the large-eyed, smiling countenance of Lord Jagannatha, riding above and always moving toward Him. And Sri Chaitanya began to sink deeper and deeper into a specific emotional ecstasy elicited by this Ratha-yatra journey of the Lord.
The chariot ride of Lord Jagannatha commemorates a particular incident in the pastimes Lord Krishna displayed on earth. Sri Krishna had spent His childhood and youth in the rural simplicity of Vrindavana, enjoying fully His intimate affairs with His boyhood friends, with his parents, and with the gopis—the cowherd girls. But the Lord had descended for an external purpose as well—to rid the earth of the burden of violent, demonic kings who were at that time oppressing the people and destroying religious principles. So when Krishna reached maturity, He left Vrindavana to fulfill that purpose. And so He ruled as King of Dvaraka, His kingdom by the sea, and led His armies against the demonic oppressors and, one after another, defeated them, thus restoring the reign of righteousness to the world.
When Krishna left Vrindavana, He broke the hearts of all the residents. Their grief was beyond bearing, and no one’s grief was greater than Srimati Radharani’s. She had lost the Lord of Her heart, the Master of Her life. For love of Him She had sacrificed everything, loving Him, finally, without caution or restraint, allowing Her reputation to be destroyed, Her very life to be taken over and possessed by Him. And then—He had left. He had never returned. Now Her days and nights were spent in tears. Time became stultified. Each minute widened into an aeon, yawned into an endless gulf of grief. The whole universe was vacant. The anguish of Her separation became so intense at times that it seemed to plunge Her into madness.
Srimati Radharani’s intense feelings of separation are transcendental, just as Her conjugal relationship with Krishna is transcendental. The prototypes of all relationships and the feelings are found in Krishna. These are original, while those we experience in this material world are merely their perverted reflections. The conjugal relation in this world, for example, is based on lust—that is, the desire to use the other to satisfy one’s own senses. But the original conjugal relationship between Radharani and Krishna is based on love. Love is the desire to satisfy the other, giving no thought to one’s own enjoyment. A person in love enjoys solely by seeing the satisfaction of the beloved. Thus love has no tinge of selfishness. So the spiritual love between Radha and Krishna is quite the opposite of what passes for love in this world. Moreover, material feelings, like the relations that evoke them, are fleeting and impermanent. But the feelings aroused in relation to Krishna are endless. They never fade, but ever increase in intensity.
Although Srimati Radharani appeared to be suffering in separation, in truth She was neither suffering nor separated from Krishna. In the spiritual realm there is no suffering, for all emotions are varieties of ecstasy. Nor is there any separation as in this world. In Her transcendental separation, Radharani was more intimately united with Krishna than ever. In Her transcendental grief, She was actually experiencing the highest bliss.
Separation intensifies love—that is true even in this world. Separate a mother from her child, and see how her material affection blazes up. Pure devotees desire only to increase their love for Krishna, and Krishna satisfies their desire by arranging for them to love Him with strong feelings of separation. Here love of God reaches its peak, and Sri Chaitanya, as the embodiment of Radharani’s love, spent His days and nights consumed by this highest and most intense mode of devotional feelings.
The Ratha-yatra festival brought these feelings to their highest pitch. For the festival commemorates the single occasion on which Srimati Radharani again met Krishna. For many years Krishna had ruled as King of Dvaraka exhibiting in the splendor of His capital, the power of His army, the brilliance of His court, and the beauty and refinement of His queens all the opulence of Godhead.
Then, on the occasion of a solar eclipse, Krishna left Dvaraka. Riding with Balarama and Subhadra at the head of endless columns of chariots, elephants, and palanquins, Krishna led His whole royal dynasty to a holy pilgrimage site called Kurukshetra. From all directions, many other royal households converged in state upon the place of pilgrimage. And finally, a small plodding caravan of bullock carts carried all the residents of the obscure cowherd village of Vrindavana, hoping to see their Krishna, who had left them long ago.
And so Srimati Radharani came once more to behold the lover of Her youth. She first saw Him surrounded by His courtiers, riding in regal splendor. Later, They met in a secluded place. Now, after so many endless years apart. She was together again with the same Krishna of long ago. Her ecstasy was boundless. Yet, strange to say, the joy of meeting did not vanquish the feelings of separation that had possessed Her for years. On the contrary, those feelings became even more intense, even though Krishna—the same Krishna as before—was there. For now He was in royal garb, and all around Them were warriors and their horses, elephants, and the rattling of their chariots. As She looked at Krishna, She longed to see Him as the simple cowherd boy, carrying His flute, decorated with the forest flowers of Vrindavana. She yearned to see Him in the old places—by the bank of the river there, under the tree where They used to meet. Thus Srimati Radharani merged into the most powerful of ecstatic emotions, paradoxically uniting the ecstasy of union with the ecstasy of separation; the two were felt simultaneously, and they perpetually intensified each other. So although Her joy at having Krishna again knew no bounds, Her heart was breaking in separation. She yearned to take Krishna back to Vrindavana.
The Ratha-yatra celebration, commemorating this event, is really the emotional process of bringing Krishna back to Vrindavana. Puri itself, with its majestic temple, is Dvaraka, and Gundica, set in rural gardens, is Vrindavana. And as Lord Chaitanya danced before Lord Jagannatha’s chariot on the way to Gundica, He merged deeper and. deeper into the feelings of Radharani. He lived through all Her feelings for Krishna, and expressed all of them in His ecstatic dancing.
As Sri Chaitanya danced, Lord Jagannatha watched with great pleasure. King Prataparudra, together with Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, was also intently watching, and the king became stunned with ecstatic love. Then it happened by the mercy of Lord Chaitanya that the king could clearly see the mystery of the Lord’s activities. He saw that Lord Chaitanya, the dancer, and Lord Jagannatha, who watched the dancer, were the same Personality of Godhead. The king directly beheld the mystery of the Lord: how the one Lord manifests Himself in transcendental variegatedness for the enjoyment of His pastimes.
As the procession moved forward, Lord Chaitanya moved from one sankirtana group to another, now dancing in the midst of one, now the other. And then the king and Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya saw another mystery, witnessed only by the confidential associates of Sri Chaitanya: They saw Lord Chaitanya dancing in the center of all seven groups at once. The chanters in each group, not realizing that the Lord had expanded Himself by His spiritual potency to be in all seven groups, thought that the Lord had come to favor them. Sometimes as seven, sometimes as one, the Lord danced before the chariot. And sometimes all the groups would come together in front of the chariot to form a circle around Lord Chaitanya.
Then Lord Chaitanya would dance with greater and greater energy. Roaring like thunder, leaping higher and higher, He hurled Himself in a circle so swiftly that He looked like the single incandescent ring formed by a whirling firebrand. Everyone became astonished, even Lord Jagannatha. The chariot came to a complete standstill and remained immobile while Lord Jagannatha watched with unblinking eyes the dancing of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
All throughout the parade, the chariot would stop and start, go slow or fast, as if it had a will of its own. Sometimes the car would stop and refuse to budge, even though the ropes were pulled with much force. Then, inexplicably, it would start to go forward again. Devotees have experienced the same thing in modern Ratha-yatras in Europe and America. The truth of the matter is that the chariot moves by the will of Lord Jagannatha, and not by any human agency.
As the Lord danced before the motionless chariot, physical transformations induced by ecstasy appeared on His body. His skin erupted with goose pimples, and the hairs of His body stood on end: His body resembled a silk cotton tree, all covered with thorns. His teeth chattered so violently that people became afraid they would fall out. His body flowed with perspiration and sometimes oozed blood. His voice became so choked with ecstasy that when he tried to shout “Jagannatha!” He could utter only “jaja gaga, jaja gaga.” Tears sprang from His eyes as though expressed from a syringe, and people all around Him became wet. Sometimes He became stunned, crashing suddenly to the ground and lying immobile, scarcely breathing. His limbs hard as wood. Then He would suddenly leap up again, and tears, perspiration, and foam would fly from His golden body.
Then His ecstatic mood changed. Svarupa Damodara, the Lord’s secretary, could instantly read the feelings of Sri Chaitanya, and he began to sing a particular verse repeatedly. In this verse, Srimati Radharani expresses Her feelings at meeting Krishna at Kurukshetra. Srimati Radharani says, “That very person who stole away My heart during My youth is now again My master. These are the same moonlit nights in the month of Caitra. The same fragrance of malati flowers is there. In Our intimate relationship, I am also the same lover, yet still My mind is not happy here. I am eager to go back to that place on the bank of the Reva, under the Vetasi tree. That is My desire.”
Now Sri Chaitanya, fully merged into the highest ecstasy of Srimati Radharani at Kurukshetra, began to dance rhythmically. Gradually He moved further and further out in front of Lord Jagannatha’s chariot, and then, in response, the chariot also began moving slowly forward. As Lord Chaitanya danced. He mimed in gesture the drama of the meeting at Kurukshetra, with all its tragic and exalted emotions. Lord Jagannatha and Lord Chaitanya again enacted that sublime pastime of transcendental love on the road to Gundica. Sometimes Lord Chaitanya danced out in front of the chariot, and so, in the role of Radharani, tried to lead Krishna back to Vrindavana. Out of her love for Radha, Jagannatha moved forward.
Sometimes Lord Chaitanya would fall behind the chariot, thereby indicating that Krishna had forgotten the residents of Vrindavana, had put away the love of His youth, forsaking Her and all the others. Whenever Lord Chaitanya dropped in back of the chariot, the chariot would come to a stop. In this way Krishna—Lord Jagannatha—responded that He had not forgotten. Srimati Radharani—all of Vrindavana—remained dear to Him above all else. The chariot would stand immobile until Lord Chaitanya again came in front to dance, moving further and further ahead of the car. Then Lord Jagannatha again began to move slowly forward. In this way, Krishna admitted that He could not live without Radharani, that He could never be satisfied outside of Vrindavana. And in this way, Lord Chaitanya led Lord Jagannatha to Gundica, and satisfied Him fully.
By His extraordinary pastimes with Lord Jagannatha during the Ratha-yatra festival, Lord Chaitanya manifested the most confidential ecstasies of divinity. People are wasting away in this material world, trying vainly to squeeze a few drops of happiness out of dead, dry matter. Lord Chaitanya disclosed these innermost pastimes of Krishna, opening this incalculable treasure of spiritual feelings, to show that nothing in this world can compare to Krishna.
For a long time, the world has heard of God’s power and majesty, but it is not much attracted. Therefore, Lord Chaitanya also revealed God’s sweetness and beauty. The all-attractive feature of God was actually revealed when Krishna descended five thousand years ago. But Lord Chaitanya revealed it more completely and more openly by showing through His own ecstatic attraction how attractive Krishna is. We know how lovable Krishna is because in Sri Chaitanya we see how much love He evokes. And just as Lord Chaitanya at the Ratha-yatra disclosed the highest love of God, He also showed the way to attain it.
He did this by organizing a powerful exhibition of sankirtana—congregational chanting of the holy names of God. This simple and natural practice possesses such immense spiritual potency that people with no spiritual qualifications at all can come to the highest level of spiritual realization. For the regular chanting of Hare Krishna destroys material desires—as Lord Chaitanya wrote: it “cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for years.” All kinds of material desires, gross and subtle; all the misconceptions of pride and egoism; all the furies of anger and hatred; all of these gradually fade and then utterly vanish if one chants the holy name with the same care and attention with which Lord Chaitanya cleansed Gundica temple. Then Sri Krishna will appear within your heart, and all of Vrindavana with Him.
Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana movement was revolutionary in that it offered everyone spiritual enfranchisement. Some of Lord Chaitanya’s followers were born as Muslims, others were outcasts because they had worked for the Muslim government. None of them was allowed to enter Jagannatha’s temple, yet they were the most advanced devotees of Lord Jagannatha. In worshiping intimately with these devotees, Lord Chaitanya showed that spiritual elevation is not a matter of birth or social status, but of purity. And since the chanting of Hare Krishna can purify even the most fallen, no one on earth is excluded from worshiping Lord Jagannatha.
Thus Lord Chaitanya made Sri Krishna available to everyone. For twenty years He worshiped Lord Jagannatha at Puri, and every year He danced and chanted before the Lord’s chariot. As a result, Lord Jagannatha, ever merciful to the most fallen, now rides on His chariot in cities all around the globe, smiling on the whole world.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #20-01, 1985
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
The first in a special series of articles commemorating the five-hundredth anniversary of the appearance of Lord Chaitanya. By His life and teachings. He inaugurated the Krishna consciousness movement.
As we begin to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the appearance of Sri Krishna Chaitanya (in March 1986), many people who have never heard the name Chaitanya (and perhaps even some who have never heard the name Krishna) will ask, “Who is Krishna Chaitanya, and what is His significance?”
If we turn to academic sources for an answer, we will find considerable historical data. A New History of India, by Stanley Wolpert, states, “In Bengal the most popular of all bhakti Hindu preachers was the teacher Chaitanya.” In A History of Indian Philosophy, the respected Surendranath Dasgupta writes, “The religious life of Chaitanya unfolds unique psychological symptoms of devotion which are perhaps unparalleled in … history… .” And the Encyclopaedia Brittannica refers to Lord Chaitanya’s “profound and continuing effect on the religious sentiments of his Bengali countrymen.” The Brittanica also states that Lord Chaitanya propagated “the community celebration [sankirtana] of Krishna as the most powerful means of bringing about the proper bhakti attitude.”
From the historical records about Lord Chaitanya, we certainly see a picture of a God-conscious saint who appeared in India during the sixteenth century. But we have to seek further—into the devotional Vedic literature—to understand the full, spiritual significance of Lord Chaitanya and the bhakti movement that He inaugurated.
We should consult the biographies of Lord Chaitanya, especially the Chaitanya-bhagavata, by Vrindavana dasa Thakura, and the Chaitanya-charitamrita, by Krishnadasa Kaviraja. Both of these works were compiled in the sixteenth century and are filled with first-hand accounts of Lord Chaitanya’s acts and teachings. They also give us an accurate picture of the social and religious setting in which Lord Chaitanya lived. The Chaitanya-charitamrita is especially valuable, because the author quotes extensively from the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures to authoritatively and logically establish the divinity of Lord Chaitanya.
One of the opening verses of Chaitanya-charitamrita boldly asserts that Lord Chaitanya is none other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna Himself:
What the Upanishads describe as the impersonal Brahman is but the effulgence of His body, and the Lord known as the Supersoul (Paramatma) is but His localized plenary portion. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, full with six opulences [wealth, fame, strength, beauty, knowledge, and renunciation]. He is the Absolute Truth, and no other truth is greater than or equal to Him.
The author of Chaitanya-charitamrita does not expect us to accept this statement without proof; therefore, he carefully argues on the basis of guru, shastra, and sadhu to support his assertion about Lord Chaitanya. (According to Vedic knowledge. spiritual truth is revealed through three harmonious sources: the scriptures [shastra], the disciplic succession of previous saints and teachers [sadhu], and one’s own spiritual master [guru]. When these three authorized sources agree, then information is conclusive.)
As a follower of Lord Chaitanya, I accept the statement of Chaitanya-charitamrita that Lord Chaitanya is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I, along with many thousands of other Westerners, have come to accept this conclusion from the great spiritual master of the Krishna consciousness movement in the modern age, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who has done more than anyone else to spread the teachings of Lord Chaitanya all over the world. It is, therefore, by Srila Prabhupada’s grace that I attempt to demonstrate that Lord Chaitanya’s teachings are a nonsectarian, spiritual science and can be accepted by serious thinkers regardless of nationality, race, or religion.
The verse I have quoted from Chaitanya-charitamrita, which asserts that Lord Chaitanya is the Supreme Lord, contains two important Sanskrit terms. Brahman and Paramatma. According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the Absolute Truth is manifest in three features. The impersonal feature is called Brahman, or the formless, eternal existence beyond the dualities of this temporary world. Brahman is the highest truth for the speculative, Vedanta philosophers and for certain mystic yogis.
Paramatma refers to the Supersoul, the personal form of God as He appears in the heart of every living being. This expansion of God grants liberation from birth and death to those highly elevated yogis rapt in meditation on Him.
The third feature of the Absolute described in Vedic literature is Bhagavan, or the original, personal form of Godhead as He eternally exists in His own spiritual abode. This form of the Absolute is the cause of both Brahman and Paramatma and is the highest truth of eternity, bliss, and knowledge. Bhagavan, or the Personality of Godhead, can be realized, however, not by philosophy or good works or yoga, but only by pure devotion.
The conception of Bhagavan is the pure monotheistic idea described (though not very clearly) in Biblical references to the loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Father in heaven, the creator. In other words, God is more than an eternal force or law. Ultimately He is a loving person, and the goal of human life is to know Him, serve and love Him, and attain to eternal lifein His blissful spiritual kingdom.
According to Vedic literature, Bhagavan, or the Personality of Godhead, appears in this world in various incarnations foretold in the scriptures. The Srimad-Bhagavatam gives a comprehensive list of the prominent incarnations and then concludes: ete camsha-kala pumsah krishnas tu bhagavan svayam. This means that all of the listed incarnations are parts of the Godhead , but the appearance of Lord Krishna is special because Krishna is bhagavan svayam, the original Personality of Godhead from whom all incarnations emanate.
This is the conclusion of all the Vedic literatures—the Upanishads, the Puranas, and the Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita. In the Gita Arjuna refers to the great authorities who accept Lord Krishna as the Supreme: “You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Narada, Asita, Devala, and Vyasa confirm the truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me.”
In accepting Krishna as the Supreme Lord, the author of Chaitanya-charitamrita is one among many millions, but when he asserts that Lord Chaitanya is the same Lord Krishna, he reveals a more confidential understanding of the Absolute Truth. Commenting on Chaitanya-charitamrita, Srila Prabhupada describes the progressive logic of the Chaitanya- charitamrita’s author, Krishnadasa Kaviraja: “The author wants to establish first that the essence of the Vedas is vishnu-tattva [or Bhagavan], of which the highest category is Lord Krishna. It is also the conclusion of the Vedic literatures that there is no difference between Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This the author will prove. If it is thus proved that Sri Krishna is the origin of all tattvas, namely, Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan, and there is no difference between Sri Krishna and Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, it will not be difficult to understand that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is also the same origin of all tattvas.”
Although Lord Chaitanya Himself never declared that He was Krishna, the Vedic literature reveals that He was. The Bhagavatam, for instance, not only identifies Lord Chaitanya but also describes His mission:
yajanti hi sumedhasah
“In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the name of Krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krishna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons, and confidential companions.” [SB 11.5.32]
Still, even if we grant that Lord Chaitanya is Krishna, we may ask, “Why did Lord Krishna appear in this form?” The answer: Lord Krishna in His form of Lord Chaitanya most generously distributes love of God to the fallen people of the age of Kali. When Lord Krishna appeared on earth five thousand years ago, He blessed the world with His loving pastimes in Vrindavana and with His teachings in the Bhagavad- gita. But with the passage of time, it became more and more difficult for people to fully appreciate and take advantage of that blessing. The present age, the age of Kali, is characterized by the deterioration of spiritual values and understanding. In the course of time, therefore, people became confused about Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Gita. Also, the unfortunate people of this age are unable to practice austerities for self-purification in spiritual life. To rescue these fallen souls, therefore, Lord Krishna has again appeared, but this time as His own pure devotee. Lord Chaitanya.
The specific mission of Lord Chaitanya was, by both example and precept, to distribute the religion (dharma) specifically ordained for this age, the chanting of the holy names of God. Historically Lord Chaitanya may be described as a Bengali saint, but His mercy is not intended merely for the Bengalis. It is for the entire world. He even predicted that the chanting of the name of Krishna would one day be known in every city, town, and village in the world.
The chanting of the holy names of God as delivered by Lord Chaitanya is not only an easy practice, but it is also the topmost method for achieving spiritual perfection. No one but the Supreme Lord Himself could distribute the highest form of devotional service, and thus Lord Krishna Himself appeared as a devotee. That is Lord Chaitanya.
Lord Chaitanya is Lord Krishna in His most merciful feature. Therefore, even if one doesn’t understand Lord Chaitanya’s identity as the Supreme Lord, but accepts Him as a saintly person or as a social reformer and philosopher, one can still derive the highest benefit by chanting the names of God. Without knowing anything at all about Lord Chaitanya, people throughout the world have enthusiastically participated in Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana movement of chanting, dancing, and partaking of spiritual food (prasadam). Through the growing Hare Krishna movement, Lord Chaitanya’s prediction is quickly coming to pass, and the holy name of Krishna is known everywhere. The day will soon come when knowledge and appreciation of Lord Chaitanya will also become widespread, because whoever chants Hare Krishna becomes Lord Chaitanya’s follower, and He then enlightens the devotee from within, revealing the highest transcendental knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna Chaitanya.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #23-12, 1988
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Lord Chaitanya convinced a group of religious scholars that beyond all speculation, three—and only three—principles emerge as the eternal truths of religion.
Five hundred years ago. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who Vedic scriptures tell us is Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, addressed a gathering of philosopher-scholars in the Indian city of Varanasi. This place, now called Benares, has long been known as a center for philosophers who hold that the Absolute Truth is impersonal.
Lord Caitanya had been challenged by these philosophers, and He agreed to attend their meeting to discuss doctrine. He pointed out that their founder, Sankara, had taken the direct meaning of the Vedanta scripture and changed it to suit his own philosophy. Lord Caitanya’s presentation w as very strong and learned: the impersonalists were moved and convinced.
Their leader said. “You have pointed out our wrong interpretation of Vedanta. Would you please explain to us Your understanding of the actual meaning of Vedanta?”
Lord Caitanya then summarized the philosophy in this way:
sambandha, abhidheya, prayojana nama
ei tina artha sarva-sure paryavasana
“One’s relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, activities in terms of that relationship, and the ultimate goal of life [to develop love of God]—these three subjects are explained in every code of the Vedanta-sutra, for they form the culmination of the entire Vedanta philosophy.” (Cc. Adi 7.146)
These three principles—to come to know the Supreme Being, to learn how to serve Him, and to develop love for Him—are central to every religion. As presented by Lord Caitanya, they are simple, nondogmatic. and comprehensive. Unfortunately, most people will not take the first step, which is to inquire about their relationship with the Supreme.
The philosopher Sankara said that in observing people. we see the young playing sports and games, the grown-ups running after sex and money, and the elderly reminiscing. No one is seriously inquiring into the Absolute Truth.
Although the materialist claims that no truth exists beyond what we can perceive with our senses, questions about the Absolute Truth must arise in the heart of a real human being. Such a person is not satisfied with the proposition that the universe and all the arrangements in it have come about by accident. He wants to know something beyond just living and dying in this temporary world. As he sees the suffering brought on by material conditions, he is impelled to ask. “Is there liberation from this? Do I have to suffer? Do I have to die?” When a person has the inclination to inquire whether there is knowledge or a consciousness higher than material consciousness, if he is fortunate he will go to qualified teachers for answers.
Not everyone is qualified to give us information about the Absolute Truth, yet a great wealth of information is available, especially in the Vedic literature, which contains the world’s oldest knowledge. To inquire from standard books of knowledge, like Bhagavad-gita, one must have a little faith. It should not be blind faith, but one should have enough faith to inquire and try to learn.
This then is the first stage: inquiry. One learns that yes, there is a source of all life manifested in this universe. There is a supreme being, a supreme intelligence from whom it has all come. This stage can be called the awakening of God consciousness. To know God, however, one must know his own identity. You are not your body: the body is a covering of the spirit self And you, the spirit soul, have an eternal relationship with the supreme being—God, or Krishna.
Step Two—Taking Up a Relationship
A person might well ask, “What good does it do me to understand intellectually or philosophically that there is God and that I have an eternal relationship with Him?” Therefore he has to come to the next stage, which is to take up activities of that relationship; otherwise the so-called knowledge of God is only theoretical.
For example, a man may claim to have a relationship with his country, and we may ask him what are his activities as a citizen. Does he vote? Does he pay taxes? What is his position with regard to the government? Or a man may claim a woman as his wife, but if he has no activities in that relationship, how can he claim to be a husband? In each relationship there are specific activities that define that relationship, and a relationship with God is no different. Activities in relation to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are called bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and the relationship of service begins by hearing about Him and, especially, by chanting His names.
For this age the scriptures recommend chanting the mantra of the names of Krishna: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This mantra serves as a direct link with God, for as we chant His names, we associate with Him and become purified. Under the guidance of a spiritual master, we can learn how to offer our occupational work to the Supreme. The performance of our job then becomes purifying. It has a transforming effect in that it clears up doubt and misconception.
Gradually, God begins to reveal Himself through the activities of service to Him, and as we draw closer to God, we become liberated. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita (3.9) yajnarthat karmano ’nyatra: “You should render your work as a sacrifice to God; otherwise work will bind you to this material world. Therefore do not give up your duties, but do them as sacrifice to the Supreme.”
Similarly, our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, would always instruct those he met to continue in whatever they were doing but to do it for Krishna. In the Srimad- Bhagavatam we are advised, “Remain in your social position, but stop speculating about God. Hear about Krishna from realized sources, and you can develop the perfection of human life.” This applies to anyone in any situation. In fact, any activity we may think of as material can be rendered as devotional service to Krishna. And again, the easiest way to establish one’s relationship with Krishna is to add to one’s regular activities the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra,
A person cannot practice other forms of yoga seriously and correctly unless he gives up his social position. He has to live in seclusion and renounce all activities associated with civilized life. Even Arjuna, a great disciple of Lord Krishna. said he could not do it. So Lord Krishna teaches bhakti-yoga, by which a person can remain in the world and become the best yogi.
Step Three—The Goal: Loving Exchanges
The third stage outlined by Lord Caitanya is the goal, the perfection of life. By performing devotional activities under rules and regulations, one gradually reaches a stage of spontaneous love of God. In the beginning a person agrees to work under the order of the spiritual master, and he takes it as an obligation. But automatically, by rendering service, the love of God dormant within comes out The activities of bhakti-yoga can be compared to the churning of milk into butter. The butter is already present in the milk; it comes out when the milk is worked.
Similarly, devotional service brings out our love of God because we are all spirit souls, each with a loving relationship with the Supreme. Through continued devotional service, one becomes more advanced in love of God, until one sees Krishna. or God, everywhere in everything.
Krishna is not just an impersonal spirit—He is a person, as much an individual as each of us. The devotee sees the individual person Krishna in all things. When he sees the sun or trees, he understands that these are the energy of God. Because he now has spontaneous affection for God, just by seeing God’s energy he thinks of his beloved. Similarly, when he thinks specifically of the Personality of Godhead in His name or His form, he appreciates and worships Him as such, knowing Krishna to be the source of all things in the universe. Krishna says that in His heart He is always thinking of those devotees who are thinking of Him. In Bhagavad-gita (6.30). He says. “For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me. I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” Although this describes an advanced stage, it is the right of every living being to attain it.
In Srila Prabhupada’s purport to the verse Lord Caitanya spoke to the impersonalist philosophers, he writes that if one speculates that the Absolute is impersonal, all his efforts will be wasted. Therefore, Lord Caitanya’s threefold explanation is the only subject matter of all the different branches of Vedic knowledge. Whatever is discussed therein—whether yoga or karma or meditation or Vedanta—is some aspect of this threefold knowledge: to awaken our relationship with God, to take up activities in that relationship, and to enjoy the result of eternal love of God, the highest stage of existence.
On hearing Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s explanation of Vedanta-sutra, with its three steps to God, the impersonalist scholars were completely satisfied and changed their views. Through the Krishna consciousness movement Srila Prabhupada brought the teachings of Lord Caitanya to the West and thus the threefold process described by Lord Caitanya is available to everyone.
of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
by Mathuresha Dasa
The seemingly ordinary activities of Lord Chaitanya as a child are entirely transcendental. Who would have thought that a child at play could topple the bastions of monism and pantheism?
One day shortly after He learned to walk Lord Chaitanya was playing with other small neighborhood children when His mother, Srimati Sacidevi, brought Him a dish filled with rice and sweets. After asking her child to sit down and eat, mother Saci went about her household duties. But as soon as she left, Lord Chaitanya began to eat dirt instead of the lovingly prepared food. Upon returning, mother Saci was greatly surprised. “What is this!” she exclaimed.
This was one of Lord Chaitanya’s childhood pastimes when He appeared on earth five hundred years ago. Yet at first hearing, it hardly seems to confirm Lord Chaitanya as the same Supreme Personality of Godhead described in the ancient Vedic literature. The Bhagavad-gita does assert that to establish universal religious principles the Supreme Lord regularly appears within the material creation, playing the part of a human being. Thus, although He is the oldest of all, He exhibits many uncommon pastimes as a child.
But what’s so uncommon or divine about eating dirt? Every one-year-old tends to think that anything visible is also edible. How is Lord Chaitanya’s dirt-eating any different? And how does it serve to establish universal religious principles? Let’s return to the scene of the Lord’s childhood misdemeanor and find out.
Upon being asked by mother Saci to account for His behavior, the Lord replied in a surprisingly philosophical way. “Why are you angry?” He said. “You gave Me dirt, so how am I to blame? Rice and sweets, or anything edible, is all but a transformation of dirt. You gave Me dirt—and I ate dirt. Why do you object?” Lord Chaitanya argued that since all food comes originally from the earth, it is but a transformation of dirt. So eating sweets or eating dirt, what’s the difference?
Lord Chaitanya’s childish reply parodies the philosophy of monism espoused by the Mayavada philosophers, who hold that the one and only reality is all-pervading, eternal, undifferentiated spiritual existence, or Brahman. Thus, as the popular Mayavada slogan goes, “All is one.” In other words, despite appearances, you and I are not separate individuals, but we are one in all respects with the impersonal Brahman. Or, to get right down to it, each of us is God-if we could only realize it. And this material universe—with all its variety—is, they say, false, an illusion.
In eating dirt Lord Chaitanya was taking the “All is one” philosophy to its logical conclusion. “Dirt is illusion, and sweets are illusion,” He was implying. “So what’s the difference between eating dirt and eating sweets?”
Mother Saci was no pundit, yet her stern reply to Lord Chaitanya shatters the foolish subterfuge of Mayavada scholars. “Who taught You this philosophy that justifies eating dirt?” she asked. “If everything is one, why do people in general eat not dirt but the food grains produced from the dirt?”
Thus mother Saci exposed the impracticality of Mayavada philosophy and showed the commonsense Vaishnava viewpoint. (A Vaishnava is a devotee of Lord Vishnu, or Krishna.) “My dear boy,” she said, “if we eat dirt transformed into grains, our body is nourished, and it becomes strong. But if we eat dirt in its crude state, the body becomes diseased instead of nourished, and thus it unfortunately is soon destroyed.
“In a waterpot, which is a transformation of dirt, I can bring water very easily. But if I poured water on a lump of dirt, the lump would soak up the water, and my labor would be useless.”
Unlike the Mayavadis, Vaishnavas, as mother Saci explained, have a very practical, workable realization of spiritual truth. They accept that all is one, but only in the sense that everything is the energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This material world, being His inferior energy, is one with Him. But the varieties within that energy, although temporary, are not illusion. And as for ourselves, we are eternal, individual manifestations of the Lord’s superior, spiritual energy. Thus we are one with God in quality. But to argue, as the Mayavadis do, that we are all God would be a gross oversimplification.
The Vaishnava knows material varieties have practical value in devotional service to the Supreme Person. With a waterpot we can bring water to wash the Lord’s temple, church, or mosque (or in mother Saci’s case, to bathe the Lord Himself). And with rice and other foods we can prepare varieties of dishes, offer them to the Lord, and use the spiritualized remnants of those offerings to nourish our bodies and thus strengthen them for engaging in the unlimited variety of pure devotional activities.
Mayavadis, on the other hand, consider devotional service to be an occupation only for the ignorant. “Why serve God?” they say. “You are God.” To them water, earth, food, our physical bodies, and all other material manifestations are illusion and therefore of no practical value. Since they see all form and personality as illusion, they consider the Supreme Lord Himself to be illusion. Everything is illusion, they claim, except their own idiot philosophy.
In the simple childish act of eating dirt—and defending it—Lord Chaitanya parodied, and allowed His mother to defeat, a philosophical doctrine of monism that poses a serious threat to anyone of any religious faith who aspires for a loving relationship with God. Mayavada philosophy, Lord Chaitanya would later teach, is worse than atheism, because in the guise of a spiritual teaching it denies the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the eternal value of devotion to Him.
All of Lord Chaitanya’s childhood pastimes have similar deep imports. When He was a little older, He would go to the nearby bank of the Ganges and tease the young girls assembled there. According to Vedic custom, girls ten to twelve years old worship Lord Siva, praying that in the future they’ll have good husbands. Lord Siva is the powerful demigod in charge of the ultimate dissolution of the universe, yet he is also a peaceful devotee of the Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. So the girls on the bank of the Ganges were praying to Lord Siva for a husband who was, like him, both peaceful and powerful.
Lord Chaitanya would sit down with the girls and interrupt their worship, snatching up the flower garlands, sandalwood pulp, fruits, and sweets they were offering to Lord Siva. “Worship Me,” He demanded, “and I will give you good husbands and other benedictions. Lord Siva and his wife, the goddess Durga, are My menial servants.”
In His youthful playfulness Lord Chaitanya was making an important point. There is a misconception among some students of Eastern religions that the Vedic tradition is polytheistic and therefore that followers of the Krishna consciousness movement worship many gods. But this is not a fact. According to the Vedic literature, everyone is a servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Within the universe, some of the Lord’s most elevated servants have been empowered to look after the universal administration, and these powerful living entities are known as demigods. Lord Siva, as we have already mentioned, is in charge of destruction, Lord Brahma directs the creation, and millions of other demigods manage such universal resources as sunlight, water, fire, wind, and rain. The demigods are all great devotees of the Lord, working under His supervision. They are controllers, just as we are all to some degree, but they aren’t equal to the supreme controller.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna asserts that those who worship the demigods have lost their intelligence. Although it is a fact that the demigods can award material benedictions to their worshipers—Lord Siva, for example, can be worshiped for a good husband—these benedictions must ultimately be sanctioned by Krishna Himself. So why not worship Krishna directly? That is the intelligent thing to do. That is what the Vedic literatures direct us to do, and that is what the Supreme Lord Himself was demanding, not only of the young girls on the bank of the Ganges, but of all of us.
All living entities, including the demigods, are part and parcel of Krishna, and therefore it is our constitutional position to serve and worship Him. By doing so, we gradually attain eternal, blissful life in Krishna’s transcendental abode. That is a benediction even the demigods aspire for, and one they cannot award their own worshipers.
In comparison to the demigods, who control important aspects of the cosmic manifestation, human beings are insignificant and powerless, and therefore it is in one sense natural for men to worship demigods. We worship powerful and wealthy personalities even on this planet, so why not the demigods? But in comparison to Lord Krishna, even great demigods like Lord Siva are insignificant, since they derive all their power from Him. If you have only one dollar, a thousand dollars seems like a lot of money, but to a multimillionaire a thousand dollars is small change. Similarly, in comparison to Lord Krishna, the demigods, what to speak of powerful men on this planet, are small change.
So yes, followers of the Krishna consciousness movement believe in the demigods. and they offer the demigods due respect. In fact, they offer respect to all living beings, seeing them all as servants of Lord Krishna. But they worship and love only the Supreme Person, following His instructions in the Bhagavad-gita to give up all varieties of worship and just surrender to Him.
As with His pastime of eating dirt, Lord Chaitanya, by teasing the young girls, established a religious principle that applies to everyone who desires to please the Supreme Lord and develop a loving relationship with Him. Lord Chaitanya did not favor one religion over another; rather, He taught the eternal nonsectarian science of God realization. As the study of ordinary sciences is open to any person, regardless of his or her nationality or religious upbringing, so the science of Krishna consciousness taught by Lord Chaitanya and His followers is open to anyone. And it can work for anyone. Two plus two equals four, no matter what your geographical, philosophical, or religious background.
Lord Chaitanya is not, therefore, a sectarian figure. He is, as the Vedic literatures indicate, the Supreme Personality of Godhead playing the part of His own devotee, to teach us love of God. He is like the elementary-school teacher, who, to instruct new students, sits down with them and pretends to be learning to write the letters of the alphabet.
Perhaps the easiest way to understand the nonsectarian nature of Lord Chaitanya’s teachings is to examine His primary teaching, that the most effective way to worship God in this age of confusion and quarrel is to chant His holy names. Lord Chaitanya especially chanted the Hare Krishna mantra, but He taught that all of the Lord’s names mentioned in the world’s great scriptures will have the same purifying and liberating effect on the sincere chanter. Who could object to such a sublime, nonsectarian instruction? Persons of any religious faith, even while executing their ordinary house-hold or business responsibilities, can perfect their human lives by constantly and steadfastly singing or chanting in devotion the particular names of God with which they are familiar.
As a child, Lord Chaitanya managed to teach this foremost principle to His family and neighbors, even before He could crawl or walk. Like all children, He would cry and have to be given constant attention. The attention the Lord demanded, however, was a little unusual. No matter what His mother or the other ladies of the neighborhood did to appease Him, He would continue to cry—until He heard the chanting of Krishna’s names. As soon as the ladies chanted, He would quiet down and look upon them pleasingly with His beautiful eyes. Taking this clue, the ladies were constantly chanting and clapping their hands, making the Lord’s house and the entire neighborhood the site of an ongoing festival of transcendental sounds like Lord Chaitanya’s neighbors, we can all take up the chanting of God’s holy names and relish the Lord’s pleasing glance upon us.
Lord Chaitanya’s Eight Teachings of Siksastaka
by Satyaraja Dasa
namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-shaktis
tatrarpita niyamitah smarane na kalah
etadrishi tava kripa bhagavan mamapi
durdaivam idrisham ihajani nanuragah
O my Lord, Your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of names, like Krishna and Govinda. In these transcendental names You have invested all Your transcendental energies, and there are no hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by chanting Your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.”
This verse begins with an affirmation of the fact that everything can be gotten from the holy name, since the holy name is herein revealed to be nondifferent from the Lord’s own nature. Lord Chaitanya expresses this by saying nija-sarva-shaktih: all of the Lord’s potencies exist in His holy name. In other words, the Lord and His name are nondifferent. That is the nature of absolute phenomena.
We, on the other hand, are accustomed to relative phenomena, and so we cannot conceive of an object and its name being nondifferent. In the relative world a name is just a symbol, an abstract representation. If I think of water, for example, the thought alone cannot quench my thirst. The substance water and the word water are two completely different phenomena. I can chant “water, water, water” until I’m blue in the face, but my thirst will not go away. That is the nature of the relative world.
The Absolute realm is just the opposite. There, a name and the thing it represents are identical. If I chant “Krishna, Krishna, Krishna,” I’m actually in contact with Him.
This principle was explained in complex theological terminology by the disciples of Lord Chaitanya known as the six Goswamis of Vrindavana. They called it nama-naminor- advaita, which means, “the nondifference between the named one and the name.” Jiva Goswami went so far as to say, bhagavat svarupam eva nama, or “the name is the essence of the Lord.” In fact, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught that the holy name is a type of avatar, varna-rupenavataro ‘yam: “the Lord in the form of syllables.”
If you study the Judaeo-Christian tradition, you will find that this principle was understood in ancient times. For example, there is great instruction in “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” Not only is this encouragement for chanting God’s name, but the word hallowed didn’t always mean what it means today. Today it means “sacred.” We say that the name of God is sacred. But originally the word hallowed meant “whole.” The name of God was considered complete. So “hallowed be Thy name” meant that God’s name was complete in itself, or full of God’s own potency, as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says.
This is true of all genuinely spiritual sound vibrations. It is a nonsectarian principle. Therefore, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says namnam akari bahudha: there are various kinds of names for the Lord. They are not restricted to Sanskrit or Bengali. Any name that describes God is totally spiritual and is thus nondifferent from His very essence. The names Krishna and Govinda are particularly special names, referring to God’s highest and original feature in the divine kingdom, in the spiritual world. For this reason, Prabhu-pada, the translator of this verse, has used these two names as prime examples. But all genuine names of God are accepted. Therefore it is said that He has hundreds and millions of names.
All religious traditions teach this principle and encourage adherents to chant God’s names, even if, in practice, the instruction is hardly followed. In fact, all religions emphasize the chanting process as the prime means for developing God consciousness. For example, King David, of the Bible, preached: “From the rising of the sun until its setting, the Lord’s name is to be praised.” (Psalms 113:3) Saint Paul said, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) In this way, the potency of the name is endorsed even in the Western religious traditions.
Not only can it be said that there are diverse names through which one can approach the Lord, but there are no hard and fast rules for chanting these names. No niyamitah, or “restrictions,” and no special time, kalah, as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says. Anytime. Anywhere. You see, certain Vedic mantras, and certain prayers within other religious traditions as well, have definite rules about chanting them, according to time, place, and circumstance. But the name of God is special and is to be chanted constantly, as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu again confirms in the next verse: kirtaniyah sada harih, which means that one should always chant the Lord’s name. This command is also in the Bible: “Pray ceaselessly.” (Thessalonians 5:17). Not vain repetition—the Bible warns us about that. But pure, sincere chanting, or prayerful chanting. Calling out to God with love and devotion. There are no rules and regulations to restrict that. That is beyond legislation. It is from the heart. Therefore, taking the position of the perfect devotee, teaching us how to pray in the proper mood, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu thanks the Lord for showing us this mercy in relation to the holy name.
But just because the Lord is merciful enough to give us an unlimited variety of names, and to excuse us for offenses, informing us that there are no hard and fast rules for this chanting, we should not become exploitative. We should not abuse His kindness by chanting in an insincere way. No. We should be respectful, grateful, and humble—always anxious to become more and more sincere or adept in our chanting. We should always remember that despite the Lord’s kindness, we are still so fallen that we continue to have no taste for the name. Lord Chaitanya, taking our position, teaches us exactly what our perceptions should be about our own relationship with the holy name. He says, durdaivam idrisham ihajani nanuragah: “It is my great misfortune that I was born without any attraction or attachment for the holy name.” Any questions?
Question: If chanting is an inherent feature of the soul—if it is natural to call out to God in love and devotion—why do we have no attraction? Why, as Lord Chaitanya says, do we not have any natural attachment to the chanting?
Satyaraja Dasa: That’s a very good question. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu answered it in His first verse: We’ve accumulated dust—conditioning—on the mirror of the consciousness. So we have no taste, or rather, we’ve developed perverted tastes, so to speak. We’ve developed attraction and attachment for things of this world, and we’ve lost, or let us say, we’ve covered our natural attraction and attachment for things of the spirit, at least to the degree that we are conditioned.
You see, externally it may appear as though our taste for chanting develops gradually, that it is an acquired taste. But actually it is our original taste, the taste of the soul. It is our current personality that is actually acquired—it is unnatural.
In this connection, the etymology of the word “personality” is interesting. It’s traced back to the root personna, which originally referred to the mask that an actor wore during a dramatic performance. It wasn’t his real identity. It was a part he played. Similarly we’ve developed materialistic personalities, colored by the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. And when we finally purify ourselves through certain reliable prescribed austerities, chief of which is the chanting of the holy name, we begin to remember our original personality. We begin to remember who we were before we adopted our external personna. That’s called self-realization.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great saint in Lord Chaitanya’s line, has commented on this verse, directly answering your question. He says that there are basically four obstacles to our attraction and attachment to the holy name. First, he points to svarupa-bhrama, or one’s “mistaken identity.” As soon as we are born into this world, we identify with the body and mind, totally oblivious of our real identity as the soul within. Still, an honest person will admit, “I don’t know where I came from. I don’t know where I’m going. Since this is true, I’ve got a deep suspicion that I don’t even really know who I am now.” [Laughter.] If a person can admit this much, that’s a good beginning for spiritual life.
Next, Bhaktivinoda mentions asad-trishna, or “evil propensities.” Because of our conditioning, we become selfish. Where there is self, there is selfinterest. That’s natural. But the more covered we get, the more our sense of self-interest becomes exaggerated, and we develop an exploitative mentality, especially if we are conditioned by a preponderance of passion and ignorance. These are the evil propensities that tend to make our heart very hard, and we then have no patience for chanting the holy name. We develop an aversion for supplicating some distant “Supreme Being,” and we lose whatever spiritual taste we may have had. Or the taste becomes covered, as I have mentioned earlier.
Hridaya-durbalya, or “weakness of heart,” the third obstacle mentioned by Bhaktivinoda, is closely related to the principle of evil propensities. It takes strength to overcome one’s conditioning, which is deep-rooted. And one must purify one’s consciousness before one can even really understand why it is ultimately in one’s own self-interest to become free from the misconceptions associated with mundane existence.
The fourth and final obstacle mentioned by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in this connection is aparadha, or “offenses.” I’ve made a list of the ten major offenses, and these can be circulated so you can get some idea.
You can see that it is a great science. And, in answer to your question, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas have an elaborate theology about why the conditioned living entity may feel he has no taste for the holy name.
Now on to the third verse:
trinad api sunicena
taror iva sahishnuna
kirtaniyah sada hari
“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.”
Here Chaitanya Mahaprabhu continues on the theme of humility. He ended the last verse by bemoaning His lack of taste for the holy name. A devotee will naturally develop such humility. In the third verse, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says that one must chant in a state of amanina: without being even slightly proud and arrogant. That’s no easy accomplishment. But that’s what it takes to enter into the mysteries of the holy name.
We must consider ourselves trinad api sunicena, “more down-trodden than the lowly grass.” And we must have taror iva sahishnuna—the full tolerance of a tree. Even if you hit a tree or treat it disrespectfully, it will still give you all the shade you want. It tolerates scorching heat and driving rain. Most of all, despite any inconvenience, it still gives shelter to others. That’s the main thing that one can learn from a tree.
Of course, it may be said that a tree has no choice and we do. But the tenor of this verse is that one must put oneself in that mood of selflessness: “I’m not so special.” Only if we feel ourselves to be in this lowly condition will we be ready to offer manadena, or respect to all living beings. That’s the mood of a devotee. Now, someone may say that this is too self-effacing. A devotee may lose self-esteem, integrity. And how can one be a productive person—or even serve the Lord, for that matter—if one is feeling oneself to be in a terrible, lowly position?
We should understand that we have to follow Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mood in a practical way. If I have a severe ego problem and feel totally useless, so much so that I can’t do any tangible service or even chant, I’d do well to take pride in being an aspiring devotee of Krishna. Because Krishna, God, is the greatest, that’s really a great position.
By recognizing that I’ve found the path of God consciousness in this life, I should be genuinely happy and grateful. I certainly shouldn’t be so self-indulgent that I spend all my time worrying about how useless I am.
Truth be told, though, people don’t generally suffer from this problem. People tend to lean in the other direction. We generally think we’re God’s gift to creation. This type of ego problem is much more prominent. In fact, religious or “spiritual” people, too—in some cases, religious people especially—can be guilty of a “holier than thou” attitude. So, to compensate, we’re asked to go in the other direction: “You’re puffed-up; you think you’re so great. So now try and realize how small you actually are!”
And in fact we are tiny. Out of all the countless universes, we’re in one small universe. Out of all the planets and stars in this universe, we’re on one particular planet. Given the limited dimensions of this planet, there are many countries. And of all those countries, I’m in one. This country is made up of many states, and those states of many cities. Of all these cities, I am in one particular city. In this city, there are many neighborhoods, and of them all, I’m in one particular neighborhood. In my neighborhood, there are many streets; I’m on only one street. Then, on this street there are many houses and apartment buildings. I happen to be in one particular apartment building. In this building there are many apartments of all shapes and sizes. I’m in one of them. And even in my one apartment, there are numerous living beings, such as insects and microbes. I’m one living being among all of these living beings. And I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m so important.”
So if we’re a little introspective, a little contemplative, we’ll see our miniscule place in the universe. It’s humbling. If we think about God’s greatness, especially, we’ll realize how small we actually are. And there are definite advantages to realizing our tiny position. We don’t become the loser. Think about it. To be more tolerant than a tree … hmmm. That would be quite useful. How often we lose our temper or get angry about petty little things. If we can develop tolerance, we can rise beyond these problems. If you think about it, most of our problems come from having an inflated conception of who we are. Just imagine. If we were genuinely humble, then we would not get angry every time something didn’t go our way. And we would be sincerely grateful every time it did.
If we could attain this level, we would have a peaceful mind and we could chant the holy name without any disturbance. Or as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says, kirtaniyah sada harih—we could chant constantly. Why? Because our mind would be free. Mantra means “mind freedom,” or “mind release.” So to properly chant a mantra one must have a free mind. Actually, there are two sides: one must have a basically free mind to at least begin chanting; otherwise one won’t even want to start. And then by chanting, one’s mind can go further, attaining new heights of freedom, spiritual freedom. This is alluded to in this verse.