Shri Nityananda as more Merciful than Shri Chaitanya
Wednesday, February 16th will be the observance of Lord Nityananda’s holy appearance day. I have been blessed to be able to give class to the devotees on that day. I am sharing with you part of what I have prepared for that talk. On the one hand, I appreciate the special mercy that comes to one who is able to speak to the devotees about Krishna and the philosophy of devotion, while on the other, I also find it very humbling to realize that I really don’t know much about the philosophy. It is like an ocean, and I can only share a few drops. However, I do so for my own purification, with the prayer and intention to inspire and inform the devotees. Besides this, Krishna appreciates our taking risks in his service, assuring us in the Gita, that he carries what we lack and preserves what we have.
It is interesting how Spring is associated with Shri Chaitanya and his associations. First Shri Advaita Acharya, who prayed for the Lord’s appearance, then Shri Nityananda Prabhu, the expansion of Lord Chaitanya and his most merciful aspect, and finally the crescendo, next month, on the full moon day, Lord Chaitanya’s appearance. Although Shri Chaitanya is widely known as the “most munificent” avatar, freely giving Krishna prema (ecstatic love for Krishna), Shri Nityananda is considered even more merciful, since he gives prema to the most unqualified persons.
Lord Chaitanya describes Lord Nitai (as Nityananda is also called) as non-different from himself, so in that sense Lord Nitai is an expansion of Shri Chaitanya’s mercy. We have learned that the more we give Krishna consciousness to others the more it grows! So Nityananda—who is considered to be Balarama (Krishna’s brother) and Anantasesha (the thousand headed cobra bedstead of Lord Vishnu)—is the extreme mercy of Shri Chaitanya.
Lord Nityananda is the originator of the “extreme makeover”, since when we come in contact with his mercy, our life changes and we become mad to obtain Krishna prema! Through Vaishnava (Krishna devotee) association and service, along with the holy name, our lives become transformed as our soul gradually awakens! We loose taste for material things to the degree that we hanker for service to Krishna and his devotees.
At heart, bhakti is very simple: serve and remember Krishna in love. At the same time, there is a very deep esoteric philosophy which is meant to give support to our faith, and soften our heart. We are meant to use the full extent of our intelligence to realize its limitation. Ultimately Krishna and his various energies and expansions will only be revealed to us with the proper service attitude and intensity of love. In love of Krishna, there is a supreme kind of knowledge and reasoning by which everything can be known and explained.
As if Shri Chaitanya wasn’t sufficiently mysterious and difficult for ordinary people to understand—the combined form of Radha and Krishna—Shri Nityananda may also be difficult to appreciate. He is called avadhuta, which means, “mad saint” or one with unconventional activities. Lord Chaitanya’s lila or life activities are called, “acharya lila” or the life of a perfect example, in his case, of a sannyasi renunciate. Lord Nitai, on the other hand, is very unpredictable, inconceivable to mundane moralists or religionists.
Thus Chaitanya cautions us to not see Nityananda from the material perspective. This requires serious study of the bhakti scriptures under good guidance, and learning about the heart of Lord Chaitanya and Nitai from our spiritual practice and ardent prayers. We do our best to understand, but ultimately we are dependent on grace. Though for a time known as a renunciate, Shri Nitai never the less, dressed in beautiful silks in bright colors, wore opulent gold bangles and precious jeweled ornaments, and had delicious scents and sandalwood paste smeared on his body. Like Lord Chaitanya, Nitai’s ecstatic symptoms were extraordinary, and sometimes even shocking for the devotees to behold.
We have to see Shri Chaitanya and Nitai and their associates to be like a transcendental team, who have come together to give the highest attainment—Krishna prema—to the most unqualified persons—our humble selves. Lord Chaitanya is famous for his deliverance of some of the greatest material and spiritual luminaries of his day—the guru of the king and chief advaitin (Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya), then the king himself (Maharaja Prataprudra), and many others. Lord Nityananda was sent to Bengal by Shri Chaitanya, to deliver the most fallen, unqualified persons. It is said that Lord Chaitanya gave prema to those who wanted it, while Nitai gave it to those we refused it!
I have given you a few hints as to the spiritual identity of Lord Nityananda, yet whatever I say will be incomplete. Still, we can finish up by saying that Lord Chaitanya and Nitai, as Krishna-Balarama, are considered by Gaudiya Vaishnava’s to be the original supreme personalities of Godhead. There is One God who expands into multiple forms for his pleasure and divine purpose. Sometime we call Nitai, Nityananada-rama to remind us of his being non-different from Balarama and Sesha. Many verses elaborate this in the Vaishnava scriptures, Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavat.
For the purposes of this blog, let us focus on one aspect of Shri Nityananda which is most important. As Shri Balarama is considered the original guru, so is Shri Nitai. One’s guru is said to represent Shrimati Radharana, and also Nityananda. Therefore, on the day celebrating Shri Nityananda, we can endeavor to appreciate the value of the appearance of good guidance in our life by the grace of Shri Guru, in his many manifestations. Whether one is initiated or not, if one has some attraction for the Krishna consciousness philosophy it is due to the words of some devotee—either Shrila Prabhupada’s books or someone coming in his line, or the general line of Lord Chaitanya.
Our need for good guidance and association is never ending. We see in the prayers of the great devotees—who we would consider to be superlative association—that they feel the loss of great devotee association. Even after serving our gurus for many years, after his or her disappearance—or especially at that time—we still have a huge need for inspiring association. Although I have read this many times, it wasn’t until some years ago, when I met some really advanced devotees, that I realized what I had been missing!
On the appearance day of Lord Nityananda, let us study about his life and charming pastimes, the philosophy concerning his spiritual position, and also appreciate the value of associating with those sadhus (saints) who have come before us on the path. They share with us their spiritual faith and realizations and their association and service is a principle way we make spiritual advancement. One moment of real association with them can change our life. The scriptures teach us this, and I have practical experience. Shri Nityananda kijaya!