Lord Chaitanya’s Teachings to Rupa Goswami
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.)