Who is Shri Nityananda Rama--and Should You Be Interested?
We just celebrated Shri Nityananda Rama’s holy appearance day, and I thought of the question, “Who is Sri Nityananda Rama, and why should you be interested?” This is a great question for a devotee of Lord Krishna or Shri Chaitanya, and one would hope to share this knowledge with others. But which persons might want to know the answer? If we went up to someone on the street and told them that today was the appearance of Shri Nityananda Rama we might get ignored, or told they didn’t care. Perhaps a few might actually ask ok, who is he and so on, but not with much real interest. And without interest, what will a person really hear, and how much will they be benefited? Pure souls can actually attract others to bhakti. However, though we may not be such an advanced devotee, if we are personally very attracted and excited our words will have power.
In many places in the world a secular Christmas or “Xmas” is celebrated. Although most people know it has something to do with Christ, few really ponder what it means and who Christ was and is. At least I never did. I read some of the Bible and attended church for years, but incredibly I never really, truly, intensely, was all that interested in Christ and what he was all about. I was bored in the sermon, and it all seemed irrelevant to my life.
There are many religious people, though there are very few who are really that interested in making God a study or going beyond religious form or the externals of their particular sect. They are content to delegating God to a very distant part of their life (and the Universe), and to hold those ideas preached at their particular church. Religion can be a Sunday affair. God is seen as the huge order supplier to provide desired things, relationships or position, or to pray to in difficulty. When things go wrong people tend to blame God.
And sometimes we see on the world stage that if a person is intent on their religion they do so in a very external, fanatical way. There is still little knowledge of God, one’s relationship to him, the nature of the world, or a spiritual purpose to life—just intense religious fervor, and condemnation and intolerance of other beliefs or religion. Shrila Prabhupada has taught us to be thoughtful and broadminded spiritual people: “So religion without philosophy is sentiment, and philosophy without religion is mental speculation. Both must be combined. Then it is perfect. You cannot have religion without philosophy. That is sentiment, fanaticism. And if you simply take philosophy without religion, without sense of God, this is mental speculation. So religion must be on the basis of science and logic. That is first-class religion.”
In any religion there is the exoteric aspects or externals/form, and the esoteric or inner meaning. It takes a spiritual seeker to go beyond the form which most people take as what the religion is about. When people are aware of deep, esoteric knowledge they find much agreement in different religions. If studying one’s own traditions is so rare, imagine how rare is the person who studies other traditions, and with sympathy! The British became great Sanskrit scholars with the sole purpose of discrediting the Vedas! They didn’t think they had anything to learn, having the perfect religion. Such fanaticism has brought about many wars and irresolvable differences and prevented people from making spiritual progress.
My point is that not only are people more focused on the externals of religion and material piety, but even what they know of God is from a hazy perspective, or a more distant, infinite, unknowable lens. God is great we are taught in every religion so people get a sense of respect and awe. Sometimes we see that when people become scholars of their own or all religions they lose their reverence toward God, or cover him with material conceptions on doubt, so that they lose God in the process. This is perhaps why many descriptions of God are not very specific--since in his highest aspect, he is a person. Without a lot of philosophical understanding this can be easily misunderstood.
In the Christian traditions some peoples say that no one can see the face of God and live. Certain interpretations of the Koran declare that any image of God is sacrilegious. Or from the Jewish perspective the name of God is too sacred to be uttered. Although some names of God are confidential, there is not just one name of God!
There are also many Vedic texts that emphasize God’s greatness in an impersonal, mystical way, for instance, that “The Absolute Truth is unknown and unknowable.” Or verses like this from the Gita, “The Supreme Truth exists outside and inside of all living beings, the moving and the nonmoving. Because He is subtle, He is beyond the power of the material senses to see or to know. Although far, far away, He is also near to all.” So God becomes so great that he is beyond us completely, and may seem intangible or not relevant to our life.
For some people who may pride themselves in not being “religious” but “spiritual”, any face of God or specifics about him is imaginary and invented by human beings. They see religious people as naive or uneducated at best, or at worse, as dangerously deluded. God appearing as a burning bush is fine, or a voice in the sky, but not a blue cowherd boy—that, according to them, is religious invention, or anthropomorphism! This same tendency seems to be promoted by certain Vedic texts, though it may be understood that the Vedas are like a desire tree giving whatever anyone wants. Krishna says in the Gita that he will be known according to the heart of the inquirer. Thus we see many conceptions of God in the religions of the world and also apparently in the Vedas.
A famous Vedic text championed by the great impersonalist teacher, Shakara says, “Tat tvam asi” which they translate as “Thou are that”, or we are all God, or a temporary individual manifestation of the one all-pervading Spirit or Brahman. Vaishnava Acharyas of the past have taken these statements and turned them on their head. They have translated, “Tat tvam asi” as “Thou art Thine”, or we are “one” with God in purpose, through service and love! Or the often quoted fifth sutra of the Vedanta-sutra: ikshater na shabdam or the Absolute Truth can not be known by words, so we can’t really say anything about it, is rendered that we can’t say “enough” about it, but we do so just to purify ourself. And so it goes.
Although you may laugh at the following story I share, it is a similar perspective to the hazy, impersonal ideas that people seem to think are more spiritual then details pictures or human-like forms. Many years ago I attended with a friend a lecture by Alan Ginsberg, a mystic poet of the 1960’s. After his talk, I said to my friend, “I didn’t really understand much of what he said. What about you?” My friend exclaimed, “Yeah man, I mean, it was really deep and spiritual.” In other words, the fact that we couldn’t understand Mr. Ginsberg’s talk implied in our minds that it must have been very deep and spiritual, and we were all meant to derive our own meaning. During this time in the hippy culture of American, sometimes gibberish was considered profound philosophy, and professing to understand was a sign of arrogance or ignorance! I mean how can you understand the infinite cosmos? So we could say that Lord Nityananda is too great to be understood. We can only sigh and be in awe—end of story!
Have I written 1200 words to say that we can’t really know? If that is true I could have saved a lot of time by saying four words, “We can’t really know”. But I won’t do that to you. Even if I could tell you everything that could be known about Lord Nityananda (or Nitai), you would still have to realize it, which would mean you would serve him, or rather by serving him you will realize the truth about him. If you have read this far you deserve some answers, but I will be brief in five paragraphs, and hopefully you can do some research yourself—if you are interested! :-)
So who is Shri Nityananda? If you Google Nityananda you will find a whole slew of men with that name—yogis, sages and the like. The name is attractive: nitya or eternal, and ananda or bliss, so the idea of eternal bliss is one goal of spiritual practitioners of the many different philosophical perspectives of the Vedic scriptures. But I am speaking not of a man who might think himself God, or even a devotee who is Nityananda DAS, but of the ADI, or original Nityananda of the nature or category of God. Nityananda is non-different from Balarama or Krishna’s expansion who appears as his older brother. Krishna and Balarama have appeared in Kali-yuga as Lord Chaitanya and Nitai to give the special mercy of the holy name of Krishna and to teach prema dharma, or the dharma or path of love of Krishna.
God is one but he expands for different purposes and to taste the bliss of loving relationships. That is really what Krishna is about—loving relationships. He is really not interested in being God. The position of being a servant of God is higher then being God. Being the center is not the highest, but loving the center is. So Krishna wants to taste the bliss of loving himself as experienced by his greatest devotee, Shri Radha, his female counter-whole--who is both our Deity and ideal of devotion.
So Krishna as Lord Chaitanya is in the compassionate mood of giving the highest conception of God and pure service to Krishna. Lord Chaitanya as a result is considered the most merciful incarnation of God. And Shri Nityananda is his chief person to assist in his distribution of love of Godhead. Thus Nitai is even more merciful, or the extension of Lord Chaitanya’s mercy. While Shri Chaitanya gives love of Godhead to the deserving, Lord Nitai gives even to the very unqualified, who don’t even want to have it!
We are devotees of Krishna, yet we have to be devotees of Lord Chaitanya to have access to Radha and Krishna, and to receive the favor of Mahaprabhu Shri Chaitanya, we have to receive the mercy and favor of Lord Nityananda Rama. Most importantly then, Nityananda or Balarama is the principle of "guru tattva" (the truth of the guru) and so all gurus represent Nityananda. That is one reason Prabhupada referred to the guru as Krishna's mercy incarnation.
Prabhupada himself was empowered to preach by Nityananda Prabhu, and we see that two of our greatest literatures about Lord Chaitanya--the Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavat were both inspired by Lord Nityananda. Therefore, to say that Shri Nityananda is important to us is an understatement! So on this day we offer many prayers to Shri Nityananda Rama and part of our prayer can be to make it our lifetime ambition to receive his favor by serving Lord Chaitanya and his devotees.