Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared as a devotee of Krishna in Mayapur, West Bengal, India in the late fifteenth century. He introduced sankirtan, widespread congregational chanting of the Supreme Person's names, as the most effective means by which anyone can achieve spiritual perfection. By His influence, many of India's leading religious scholars and their followers became devotees of Krishna themselves.
In His youth, Mahaprabhu started a Sanskrit academy in Navadvipa—one of India's top centers of learning at the time—and earned a reputation as an excellent scholar. But at age twenty-four he renounced everything to travel the subcontinent, encouraging everyone he met to chant the Hare Krishna mantra.
He is considered by disciples, scholars and followers to be the latest avatar of Krishna Himself, based on extensive evidence found in Vedic literature. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, ISKCON, is a continuation of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's sankirtan movement.
Image shows Chaitanya Mahaprabhu chanting in sankirtan with His associates.
by Vishakha Devi dasi
To the casual visitor, this holy land is much like the rest of rural India. To the devotee of Lord Chaitanya it is a transcendental paradise.
First a long and tedious flight. Then retrieving baggage and waiting in long lines to clear Indian immigration and customs. Then four hours on a bus bumping through Calcutta’s teeming streets and on through dozens of timeless, dusty villages. Finally the pilgrims sight the temple domes that stand high above the treetops in the holy land of Navadvipa. They feel relieved and alert with transcendental expectation. Navadvipa’s “skyline,” now a familiar sight to thousands of devotees throughout the world, is like a homecoming beacon that announces the journey’s end to weary travelers.
To the uninformed, this spacious flat farming area near the junction of the Ganges and Jalangi rivers may seem like the rest of rural India. The heavy bulls turning clods of earth with hefty plows, the thatch-roofed mud houses, the ancient- looking riverboats, and the slight, wide-eyed people make the customary sights and conveniences of the West no more significant or relevant than a faint memory.
Navadvipa—literally “Nine Islands”—is a sacred tract of land in West Bengal. The nine islands, sculpted by the fingers of the Ganges as she reaches down to the Bay of Bengal, are dotted with numerous towns and villages and checkered with plots of farmland—wheat, rice, beans, sugar cane—and occasional groves of bananas, coconuts, or papayas.
But Navadvipa is much more than a quaint, picturesque area where time has all but stopped. It is the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya. It is transcendental.
Lord Chaitanya is Krishna Himself in the role of His own devotee. He appeared in India in 1486 A.D., and His birth was predicted in revealed scriptures like the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Mahabharata. But unlike other incarnations, He presented Himself not as God but as a devotee of God. He did this for two reasons:
He wanted to fully relish the sweetness and depth of a devotee’s love, and He wanted to show people how to best evoke their dormant love of God. Because Lord Chaitanya benevolently distributed that transcendent love to everyone, He is known as the most munificent incarnation. His method was sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the names of God. This, He taught, is the most expedient way to become self-realized in this age.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual guide of the Hare Krishna movement, referred to Lord Chaitanya innumerable times in his writings and lectures, and he trained his international family of disciples to follow in the footsteps of Lord Chaitanya by chanting Hare Krishna, dancing, and enjoying krishna-prasadam (food offered to Krishna). In the introduction to his book Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Prabhupada wrote,
Lord Chaitanya is the ideal teacher of life’s prime necessities. He is the complete reservoir of all mercies and good fortune, and He is worshipable by everyone in this age of disagreement. Everyone can join in His sankirtana movement. No previous qualification is necessary. Just by following His teachings, anyone can become a perfect human being.... I sincerely hope that by understanding the teachings of Lord Chaitanya, human society will experience a new light of spiritual life that will open the field of activity for the pure soul.
The bus rumbles along the narrow winding road, looking incongruous among the bullock carts, rickshas, cows, goats, and pedestrians. The pilgrims peer out the windows. Five centuries ago. Lord Chaitanya used to tread this very land daily, and the white-steepled temple that the bus passes marks the place where, on February 18, 1486, the Lord appeared.
The funds to purchase the land and build this temple were raised by the great forefather of the Hare Krishna movement, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. A century ago Srila Bhaktivinoda researched extensively to discover the exact site of Lord Chaitanya’s birth. After his findings were confirmed by his spiritual master, he personally arranged for the construction of the sacred shrine that still stands today.
Srila Bhaktivinoda also published a book revealing the importance of Navadvipa, and before he passed on, he instructed his son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, to continue his work. It’s because of the service of these great devotees and of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s disciple Srila Prabhupada that Navadvipa’s significance was established.
At Srila Prabhupada’s temple, Mayapur Candrodaya Mandir, just one mile from Lord Chaitanya’s birthplace, the bus finally stops. Each year since 1972 Srila Prabhupada’s disciples from all over the world have joined together in Navadvipa to celebrate the appearance day of Lord Chaitanya. And this year—1986—will be the largest and grandest celebration—the quincentennial.
What Srila Prabhupada and his predecessors and followers have done in broadcasting the glories of Navadvipa is similar to what Lord Chaitanya and His followers did five hundred years ago to broadcast the glories of Vrindavana.
Vrindavana is a beautiful area not far from Delhi (but seven hundred miles from Navadvipa) where Lord Krishna passed His childhood and youth during His appearance fifty centuries ago. Forty-five centuries later, when Lord Chaitanya visited Vrindavana, it was a miniscule, relatively unheard-of and undeveloped farming village. Lord Chaitanya requested six of His leading disciples to live there, establish temples, excavate the holy places of Krishna’s pastimes, and write books about Krishna consciousness. As a result, Vrindavana today is famous among all Hindus and devotees. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims regularly visit the thousands of temples and holy places of Vrindavana.
In Navadvipa, Srila Bhaktivinoda, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, and Srila Prabhupada have also founded temples, excavated the holy places of Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes, and written books on Krishna consciousness. In one sense Vrindavana and Navadvipa are one, as much as Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya are one, being the same Supreme Person in different features. But in another sense, although one, Vrindavana and Navadvipa are simultaneously different, as are Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura describes the difference in his book Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmya:
Navadvipa is the crest jewel of all holy places, being the most merciful of all. In other places of pilgrimage (like Vrindavana), an offender is severely punished, but in Navadvipa the offender is not only forgiven, he is purified and receives the treasure of love of God.
To illustrate this point, Srila Bhaktivinoda cites the example of the brothers Jagai and Madhai, who were born in a good family but became drunkards and debauchees. When Madhai injured a devotee who had requested him to chant the holy names of God, Lord Chaitanya was immediately ready to kill him. But when the Lord saw that Jagai and Madhai were repentant and willing to reform. He forgave them. Later they became renowned for their devotion. Srila Bhaktivinoda continues,
One who lives in Navadvipa is very fortunate, for he attains ecstatic love for Krishna birth after birth. One who happens to go there becomes freed from all offenses. What one attains by traveling to all other holy places is attained just by remembering Navadvipa, and what yogis attain after ten years is attained in Navadvipa in three nights. The impersonal liberation one gets after arduous endeavor at other holy places you can get simply by bathing in the Ganges at Navadvipa. In fact, all material enjoyments and liberation remain as obedient servants to the pure devotees in Navadvipa.
Therefore, give up all other desires and attractions and simply fix your mind intently on Navadvipa.
However, reading this and experiencing Navadvipa may make one doubtful. Sometimes a pilgrim hears mundane cinema songs drift over the Ganges while he’s taking his sacred bath. Locals with not-so-innocent stares may inquire about his camera, watch, and tape recorder. And anyone who goes to the city of Navadvipa, on the western bank of the Ganges, will surely be struck by the lack of cleanliness and organization.
At the end of his book, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains these apparent incongruities:
Since no material thing or person is ever situated in Navadvipa, a film of dull matter has been spread over it to keep it covered from the materialist. The people who have no relationship with Lord Chaitanya simply live on top of that covering, blind to the real truth. Though one is thinking, “I am in Navadvipa,” maya [illusion] happily keeps Navadvipa far away from that person.
In other words, it takes more than a rattling, grumbling bus to bring a pilgrim to Navadvipa. For Navadvipa cannot be reached simply by buying a ticket and going there. It is a transcendental place where Lord Chaitanya eternally resides, just as Krishna eternally resides in Vrindavana. Pure devotees see Lord Chaitanya in Navadvipa today, chanting and dancing with His associates. Srila Bhaktivinoda explains this in a song:
When the eastern horizon becomes tinged with the redness of sunrise, Lord Chaitanya, taking His devotees with Him, journeys through the towns and villages of Navadvipa.
The mridangas resound and the hand cymbals play in time, and Lord Chaitanya calls to the sleeping people, “Wake up, sleeping souls! Wake up, sleeping souls! You have slept so long on the lap of the witch Maya. I have brought the medicine for destroying the illusion of Maya. Chant this maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Navadvipa can be reached by chanting the holy names of God with faith and conviction. In this mood a pilgrim can begin his journey to Navadvipa, and before long he will surely arrive in that holy land.
Alone in an alien country, with no money or place of his own—but fifty centuries of spiritual tradition stood behind him.
The freezing wind blasting off the river becomes merciless when funneled between the walls of the city’s chartered canyons. The wind hurtles a birdshot of cinder and sleet; it sends trash skimming over the icy pavement and lifts it in sudden dizzying spirals high up the face of the blank, impassive towers. A dull unending roar, as though the buildings moaned under a drugged sleep, fills the chasms.
This most densely crowded city of America is also its most desolate waste, and nothing seems more inhospitable to man than the world where everything is man-made. This is New York, in the grip of an iron winter, in the middle of an iron age.
We see now a figure making its way along the bottom of one of the empty iron-rimmed abysses. Leaning forward into the wind, a cane in his left hand, he moves steadfastly on. Look at him closely: the saffron robes of an Indian mendicant priest flap below his overcoat, and his forehead bears the parallel clay lines of the devotee of Krishna. His face has an expression both indomitable and serene, as though he were not really walking this bitter wasteland, and indeed he appears so out of place here that a magnolia tree in full fragrant bloom on these hard and frigid streets would seem no less incongruous. This is Srila Prabhupada in the winter of 1966. He is alone, he has no money; and he is seventy years old. His small figure is dwarfed by the towers in icy reserve, whose stern, impervious faces turn all human effort on the streets below into tableaux of defeat. But Srila Prabhupada’s effort is not merely human, and the seed he brings with him from another world does indeed incredibly, miraculously take root in this barren and uninviting soil and flourish. Soon hundreds of saffron-robed devotees will blossom out into these streets, their American faces marked with the twin clay lines, and the sound of the Hare Krishna mantra will echo and re-echo against the hard high walls.
We should remind ourselves that what we see is not all there is; we never know what unseen presences hover over some lonely and modest endeavor, nor what invisible efforts cooperate to bring great results from meager beginnings. We believe that in nature no effect exceeds its cause, why should it be different in other affairs? Chance or luck are merely words to cover our ignorance.
Behind Srila Prabhupada’s appearance on the alien Manhattan streets stand five millennia of planning and effort. The story of it opens one sunrise fifty centuries ago in the Himalayas, where the sage Krishna-Dvaipayana Vyasa sits in trance on the bank of the Sarasvati. In his meditation, Vyasa sees a future of unrelieved horror unfold before him. He sees Kaliyuga, the age of iron, begin and bring with it universal deterioration. The decay is so deep-rooted that matter itself diminishes in potency, and all our food progressively decreases in quality as well as quantity. Vyasa sees the effects of chronic malnutrition on generation after generation; he watches it gradually diminish their span of life along with their brain power; no one can escape the progressive drop in intelligence and ability to remember.
The harassment of hard times upon an increasingly witless populace hastens its moral and spiritual decline. People begin to slaughter animals for food; they become more and more enslaved by drugs; they lose all sexual restraint. These habits further their physical and mental deterioration. Vyasa watches them sink deeper and deeper into sensuality and ignorance. Families break up, and women and children are abandoned. Increasingly degraded generations, conceived accidentally in lust and growing up wild, swarm over the earth. Leadership falls into the hands of unprincipled criminals who use their power to loot the people. The world teems with ideologues, mystagogues, fanatics, and spiritual bunko artists who win huge followings among a people dazed by social and moral anarchy. Unspeakable depravities and atrocities flourish under a rhetoric of high ideals.
Vyasa sees horror piled upon horror; he sees the end of everything human; he sees the gathering darkness engulf the world.
This is Vyasa’s prophetic vision on the eve of Kali- yuga, five thousand years ago. It spurs him into action. For Vyasa’s appearance on the brink of this temporal decline is not fortuitous. Vyasa is an avatara, the empowered literary incarnation of God, sent by Krishna specifically to prepare the knowledge of Vedic civilization for transmission through the coming millennia of darkness.
Without such an undertaking, the erosion of human intelligence by the force of time would insure that all future generations would be completely cut off from their own cultural heritage and the matchless spiritual attainment of their forebears. Once the iron age began, they would not even realize that at one time the whole world had been governed by a single, supremely enlightened civilization: the Vedic culture.
In that Vedic culture, everything was organized to further self-realization. Self-realization marks the ultimate development of human potential, in which a person knows himself directly as an eternal spiritual being, infrangibly bound to the supreme spiritual being, and without intrinsic relation to a temporarily inhabited material body. By cultivating self-realization, the Vedic civilization brought off this unparalleled achievement: it was able to eliminate completely the evils of birth, old age, disease, and death, securing for its members an eternal existence of knowledge and ever-increasing bliss. The Vedic culture recognized that not all souls who took human birth after transmigrating up through the animal forms would be able to make direct progress toward the supreme goal. Owing to different histories, people are born with different qualities and abilities. Nevertheless, Vedic culture enabled everyone to make some advancement, and there were many arrangements for the gradual elevation of materialistic people. In any case, Vedic culture organized life so that everyone could satisfy the basic necessities in the simplest and most sensible way, leaving most of human energy free for the higher task.
Vyasa saw that all this would disappear in Kali-yuga, since the focus of civilization would shift from self- realization to sense gratification. Yet even though Kali-yuga could not be stopped, he would be able to mitigate its effects and keep alive the tradition of spiritual culture, in the way that emissaries of a higher civilization can preserve their heritage among barbarians, or that a well provisioned village can survive a raging winter.
Vyasa had mastered all the knowledge of Vedic culture- social, scientific, economic, political, ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual. This knowledge was gathered in a comprehensive canon called the Veda,a word that means, simply, “knowledge.” Until the time of Vyasa, the Veda was not written, because writing had been unnecessary. Far from being a sign of intellectual advancement, the appearance of writing is a testimony of decline, a device seized upon to compensate for that mental deterioration which includes the loss of the ability to remember.
It is interesting, by the way, that the Vedic date assigned to the advent of Kaliyuga (c. 3000 B.C.) corresponds closely to the date set by modern historians for the rise of civilized life, an event signaled by the appearance of literacy and the emergence of complex urban societies. All that historians recognize as recorded human history is, in fact, only human history in Kali-yuga. The academic historians’ ignorance of the earlier and incalculably higher Vedic civilization is what we have to expect from people suffering from the mental retardation imposed by the times. We see symptoms of this intellectual degradation of modern thinkers in their avowal that sense perception is the only source of knowledge and in their obliviousness to the dependence of knowledge upon goodness. Inverted values warp their ideas, such as the conviction that human progress resides in the proliferation of complex urban societies and increasingly sophisticated technology. They are unaware that simple living is the best basis for high thinking, and that a truly advanced civilization minimizes exploitation of nature and social complexity. They do not know that the real standard of progress is the caliber of people society produces. If we pursue material advancement at the expense of self- realization, measuring our standard of living only by the gratification of our senses, then we will only get a spiritually and morally debilitated people in control of an intricate and powerful technology -a terrifying combination that leads to horrors on a scale we are just be-ginning to experience.
To give us access to an alternative, Vyasa divided the Veda into four and wrote it down. Yet he knew that we would still be unable to understand the Vedas,and so he composed a number of supplementary works in which he spelled out the intentions of Vedic thought explicitly.
In this Vyasa was aided by Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Himself. Acting in tandem with Vyasa’s effort, Krishna had descended personally onto this planet and, as a member of the royal order, had played a significant role in recent political events. Vyasa took advantage of Krishna’s activities and chronicled those times in a vast epic narrative called the Mahabharata.In this sprawling dynastic tale of love, ambition, intrigue, and war, of fidelity and treachery, heroism and cowardice, transcendence and ignominy, Vyasa imparted Vedic thought in a way even unphilosophical people would find engrossing. Krishna’s presence, surcharged history with transcendental significance. Moreover, in the middle of this sweeping narrative, like a jewel placed in a gorgeous setting, Vyasa set the Bhagavad-gita; Krishna’s discourse to Arjuna before the climactic battle at Kurukshetra.
In a laconic seven hundred verses, Krishna gives Arjuna what He calls “the most confidential knowledge” of the Vedas.Like Vyasa, Krishna Himself is preparing Vedic knowledge for Kali-yuga. This entails taking the highest knowledge of the Vedas,so sublime and pure that, as Krishna says, even great souls rarely attain it, and laying it out explicitly, openly—available to everyone. So that there would be no question about the validity of this daring exposition, Krishna, the highest possible authority, delivers it Himself.
You may question why the most advanced knowledge in the Vedas is “confidential.” If it is so important for us to know it, then why is it hidden in the first place? The answer is that knowledge is available only to those qualified to apprehend it. Education is progressive, and higher knowledge can be approached only by graduates from the lower, In particular, the qualification necessary to comprehend the mysteries concerning the ultimate source of everything is purity. Only those whose senses are under complete control and who are free from all material desires have the requisite purity to understand and directly perceive the Absolute Truth. Because people are characterized by a variety of material desires, the Vedas offer many religious paths (called dharmas). These are gradated so that people in different statuses of material contamination can ascend step by step to higher states of purity and correspondingly higher disclosures of the divine.
In the Gita,Krishna systematically surveys the major Vedic dharmas and shows how each directs a person toward the ultimate conclusion, that “most confidential of all knowledge.” Krishna analyzes the performance of sacrifices and the worship of demigods; he discusses the yogas of work, meditation, and knowledge. In each case, Krishna shows how it leads to the “most secret of all secrets,” pure loving devotional service to God. “Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me.” This, Krishna says, is “the most confidential part of knowledge.” Since all the Vedic dharmas lead to this one “supreme secret,” Krishna can offer us this final instruction: “Just abandon all varieties of dharmas and surrender to Me.” In other words, we need not bother with any of the different paths; we can at once come to their common goal, surrender to Krishna.
But if this supreme end is so difficult to reach, requiring the ultimate in purity, how is Krishna able to offer it directly to everyone? The answer is simple. Krishna says that if one begins devotional service, He will personally purify the devotee. “To those who are constantly devoted and who worship Me with love,” Krishna says, “I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” A person can circumvent all the Vedic dharmas and come directly to Krishna because Krishna will kindly help him. This is an extremely important point. As Kali-yuga progresses, all the dharmas become increasingly difficult to pursue. Our intelligence, our memory, and our stamina have all decreased, but Krishna is willing to compensate for all our infirmities by His personal effort. In essence, by opening up through divine kindness direct devotional service, the Bhagavad-gita renders every other Vedic dharma obsolete.
Vyasa made this message the centerpiece of the Mahabharata.Vyasa also expanded upon the Vedic teachings in eighteen Puranas,and he compiled an outline of the philosophical conclusions of the Vedas in the Vedanta-sutra,a collection of extremely compressed, aphoristic utterances; later thinkers would present their understandings of Vedic thought in the form of commentaries on these satras.
After Vyasa completed his immense labor, he was surprised to find himself dissatisfied. As he reviewed his efforts to discover what deficiency could be at the root of his discontent, his guru, Narada Muni, arrived at his ashrama. Vyasa placed the matter before Narada.
Narada praised Vyasa’s brilliant work, but then told him that his labor was still incomplete. In the Mahabharata and the Puranas,Narada said, Vyasa had not sufficiently described the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. In faithfully transcribing the Vedic teaching, Vyasa had dutifully set forth all those materially motivated dharmas, those teachings which allow restricted sense gratification for people who cannot come directly to the highest level of realization. In Kali-yuga such dharmas will become especially dangerous, Narada warned, because people will seize upon such allowances to sanction indulgence. “They will accept such activities in the name of religion,” Narada said, “and will hardly care for prohibitions.”
Narada wanted Vyasa to describe more completely the transcendental qualities and activities of Krishna because, he said, by hearing them people would be able to relish their extraordinary spiritual flavor; people’s natural attraction to the Lord would be revived, and as a matter of course they would lose their taste for mundane pleasures. Narada counseled Vyasa about the spiritual potency of words that glorify Krishna: when spoken in pure devotion, those words enter into the hearts of the listeners and destroy almost completely the impurities of passion and ignorance.
With Narada’s blessings, Vyasa then completed his masterpiece, the “ripened fruit of the tree of Vedic knowledge,” Srimad-Bhagavatam.The Bhagavatam picks up where the Gita leaves off, for Vyasa explicitly states that it is intended for those who have already abandoned materially motivated dharmas.Here Vyasa discloses the inviolable mysteries of the personal life of the Supreme Lord Krishna, His eternal loving affairs with His most confidential and intimate devotees. Here we have spiritual life revealed at its most intense and personal, at the absolute summit of love of God. We see from the cooperative efforts of Krishna and Vyasa at the beginning of Kali-yuga that there was a move to make the esoteric knowledge of the Vedas,the highest truths concerning the nature of God and our relations to Him, open and potentially available to everyone. This unprecedented disclosure had its dangers, and neither Krishna nor Vyasa could circumvent the stricture that these confidential truths could be understood only by those utterly pure in heart. They could not waive the requirement of purity, but what they did do was make available a correspondingly more powerful process of purification—in the Gita Krishna offers personally to help anyone sincerely engaged in devotional service, and in the Bhagavatam Vyasa offers the most potent of all purifying processes—the chanting and hearing of the glories of Krishna Himself.
Vyasa and Krishna completed their activity, and with the disappearance of Krishna from the earth, Kali-yuga set firmly in. The ensuing degeneration was so strong, however, that in a short time it threatened to destroy all Vyasa’s efforts to preserve Vedic culture. The words of Narada—“they will hardly care for your prohibitions”—proved horribly accurate. A particular perversion arose which was so dangerous that Krishna had to take emergency measures. This is what happened:
A few thousand years after the onset of Kali-yuga, the followers of the Vedas—now restricted geographically to India—began more and more to slaughter animals for food. Meat eating is so polluting to human consciousness that indulgence in it makes any sort of spiritual realization virtually impossible. Therefore, the Vedas had always instructed against it. At the same time, it was recognized that some people, in spite of all prohibitions, will eat flesh anyway. Accordingly, for them the Vedas enjoin that if someone wants to eat flesh. he may sacrifice a goat (no other animal) on the night of the dark moon (no other time) to the goddess Kali. The sacrificer, furthermore, must whisper into the goat’s ear a mantra that says, “Iam killing you now, but in my next life you will have the opportunity to kill me.” By sanctioning meat-eating in this way, the Vedic culture at least kept it under control: only a goat, only once a month, and only in the unpleasant consciousness of its karmic price—all very discouraging conditions.
However, as the brahmanas, the Vedic priests, in Kali-yuga became degraded, they began to proliferate animal sacrifices—to meet popular demand—by explaining away or ignoring the restrictions. Temples were transmogrified into slaughterhouses, and killing as an organized daily business flourished. If anyone objected to this unprecedented evil, the priests would reply that it was, after all, sanctioned in the Vedas.
Therefore, to stop the animal killing, Krishna descended as Lord Buddha (c. 500 B.C.). Because the Vedas were being perversely used to justify the slaughter, Krishna, as Lord Buddha, denied the authority of the Vedas—thesame Vedas He had so carefully arranged and explicated to save the people in Kali- yuga. But it was an emergency, and there was no alternative. Lord Buddha rejected the Vedas and preached the ethic of ahimsa, of noninjury to all living beings.
The Buddha also taught that our material existence is suffering, that our material desires cause our suffering, and that by extirpating these desires we can attain nirvana, release from material existence. Lord Buddha refused to deal with any question concerning God, the soul, life after salvation, and so on. When asked about such things, he would reply, “the Tathagata [the Buddha] is free from all theories.” Later, some of his followers spread the doctrines of shunya, voidism, and anatma, no soul, but these were mundane interpretations of the Buddha’s silence on transcendental topics. The simple fact is that Buddha had denied the Vedas, yet he remained faithful to them by refusing to make “theories,” that is, to discuss God or the soul independently of the Vedic teachings; so he said nothing.
Their consciousness polluted by meat-eating, the people had become atheists. But Lord Buddha, who never said anything about God, won their devotion. Thus Krishna tricked the atheists into worshiping Him in His incarnation as the Buddha. Lord Buddha’s mission was successful. All of India eventually took up his teaching, and animal slaughter ceased. Lord Buddha exemplifies the transcendental cleverness of Krishna. Yet while Lord Buddha’s success averted the immediate danger, it left India without respect for the Vedas and in the grip of a philosophy that denied God and the soul.
The Buddha’s palliative was incomplete; it was only a first step toward a complete Vedic restoration. Krishna’s next move was to send an incarnation of Lord Siva to execute the second step. This was Sripada Sankaracarya, who appeared in A.D. 788. In a life of only thirty-two years, Sankara drove the Buddhists out of India and reestablished the authority of the Vedas. A member of the renounced order, a sannyasi, Sankara was a thinker of immense power, and he dedicated his formidable ability to persuading the followers of Buddhism to accept the Vedas. To do this effectively, Sankara had to make the transition between the two easy, so he devised a philosophy called advaita-vedanta, or absolute nondualism, a kind of crypto-Buddhism that he ingeniously expounded in Vedic language and supported with Vedic texts. Sankara denied the Buddhist doctrine that the ultimate truth is void; the truth, Sankara argued, as the Vedas declare, is Brahman, spirit. Sankara likewise confuted the Buddhist doctrine of no soul or self, and reestablished the Vedic truth of the atma, the individual soul. However, Sankara asserted the identity of atma and Brahman as an undifferentiated spiritual reality without any qualities, varieties, or relations. Obviously, there is no cognitive difference between “void” and “Brahman” without qualities or distinctions. Sankara’s Brahman is an intellectual clone of the Buddhist “void.” Thus, Sankara eased the way for acceptance of the Vedas.
Sankara’s philosophy of impersonal oneness has some basis in the Vedas. For neophyte spiritualists, whose residual material contamination prevents them from understanding the transcendental nature of Krishna, the Vedas gave instruction for salvation by merging into the impersonal Brahman, Krishna’s spiritual effulgence. Associated with those instructions are texts that emphasize the qualitative oneness of atma and Brahman. The Vedas contain other, equally important texts that say that the atmas are numerically distinct and quantitatively different from the supreme atma. Krishna, but Sankara stressed the oneness. He presented transcendent reality in an abstract form and so made the Vedas palatable to the Buddhists.
Sankara restored Vedic culture; he founded monasteries, organized the brahminical community, and reestablished the worship of Vedic deities. The Vedas were recognized again, although necessarily in a distorted fashion.
Buddhism is an advancement over gross materialism, and impersonal monism over Buddhism; but the personal theism of the Vedas, as set out by Vyasa and Krishna, had yet to be restored. After Sankara, that work began. As people returned to Vedic study in earnest, many began to recognize the deficiencies in Sankara’s monistic interpretation. Several powerful teachers arose—most notably Ramanuja (1017-1137) and Madhva (1239-1319)—whose cogent commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra and the Bhagavad-gita seriously challenged the Sankarite hegemony and gained theism a wide following. But the impersonalists retained civic control. Then about five hundred years ago Krishna descended once again, this time to complete the restoration of Vedic culture. This is Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Chaitanya is Krishna in the guise of His own devotee, teaching by His example the supreme form of worship. Chaitanya’s mission had two sides. On the one, He even more fully disclosed the nature of the highest love between Krishna and His most intimate devotees, and Chaitanya was continually merged in the ecstasy of that love. On the other side, Chaitanya accompanied this revelation with a correspondingly more powerful means of God realization—the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha- mantra. This mantra is part of the original Vedas, but because it was chanted by Sri Chaitanya, its power increased multifold, and Chaitanya taught His followers the practices by which the power of the mantra could work unimpeded.
With Chaitanya, the trend of delivering progressively more open disclosures of the Vedic secrets along with a correspondingly more powerful means to realize them reached its culmination. A more potent means of deliverance naturally entails the spiritual enfranchisement of greater numbers of people. Krishna had already declared in the Gita that people traditionally excluded from spiritual realization—women, merchants, and laborers—could by taking shelter of Him approach the supreme destination. And in the Bhagavatam Vyasa had asserted that even members of carnivorous and aboriginal communities—completely beyond the pale of spiritual culture—could be purified by the association of a pure devotee of Krishna. Sri Chaitanya demonstrated in practice that this is so. As the most merciful of all avataras, Chaitanya initiated a spiritual democracy, and by the power of His chanting He turned people of vile habits into pure devotees. The brahmanas claimed exclusive right to spiritual knowledge, but Chaitanya showed that the potency of devotional service could elevate even the most baseborn to the brahminical platform. Chaitanya recognized everyone as a candidate for devotional service, and He wanted His movement of congregational chanting to spread over the globe. “One day,” He said, “My names will be chanted in every town and village in the world.”
Chaitanya also delivered the most comprehensive understanding of Vedic theism. He confronted, in person, the two greatest impersonalists of His time—Prakashananda Sarasvati and Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya—and presented such a powerful theistic exposition of the Vedanta-sutra that both acknowledged devotion to Krishna to be the goal of the Vedas, and they danced and chanted with Chaitanya.
All the work of Krishna, Vyasa, Buddha, and Sankara to establish Vedic culture in Kali-yuga reaches its fulfillment in the appearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In the original Vedas, the Kali-santarana Upanishad had disclosed, “One cannot find a method of religion more sublime in the Kali-yuga than the chanting of Hare Krishna.” And looking forward to the coming of Chaitanya, Vyasa had recorded in the Bhagavatam:“In the Age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation 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 [i.e., the Hare Krishna mantra], and confidential companions.” Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, then, is the long-awaited deliverer of the means of spiritual realization for this age.
Ten spiritual masters in succession have passed Sri Chaitanya’s teachings down to Srila Prabhupada, and it is only appropriate that we should find him, in the winter of 1966, far from his native India on the wind-racked streets of New York, center of the global technological civilization, heartland of Kali-yuga. It is the best place for him to carry the seed of Vedic culture. It is here that the work of Krishna, Vyasa, Buddha, Sankara, and Chaitanya, in the care of their empowered servant Prabhupada, flowers and bears fruit.
This festival celebrates the appearance of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It is observed annually (in February - March) by Krishna devotees all over the world—especially in the area of Mayapur, India, the place where Mahaprabhu appeared in the year 1486.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the Supreme Person, Krishna Himself, appearing as His own devotee, to teach us that we can gain full enlightenment simply by chanting the holy names of the Lord:
Those who witnessed Mahaprabhu's pastimes saw Him dance and chant with ecstatic love for God, the likes of which had never been seen before. He encouraged everyone to follow this same process. He taught that anyone—regardless of background or spiritual qualification—could develop their innate love of God and experience great spiritual pleasure by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.
The present-day International Society for Krishna Consciousness continues the work begun by Lord Chaitanya, who predicted that the chanting of the holy names of Krishna would spread all over the world.
Gaura Purnima means "golden full moon," signifying that:
1) Lord Chaitanya was “born” during a full moon, and
2) The Lord blesses everyone with the soothing, moonlike rays of His sublime teachings.
His followers generally observe this festival by fasting and chanting the holy names all day. At moonrise, a vegetarian feast is offered to the Lord and then enjoyed by all.
More About Chaitanya Mahaprabhu:
- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
- Lord Chaitanya's Teachings
- Sri Chaitanya's Life and Mission
- Lord Chaitanya and the Renaissance of Devotion
- Sri Chaitanya in the Vedas
- Lord Chaitanya at Ratha-yatra
- Audio: The Golden Avatar Backstory
- Video: The First Ever Gaura Purnima Festival
- Srila Prabhupada speaks about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
- More Lectures on the subject of Gaura Purnima
- Food: Gaura Purnima festival menu - Cooking for Gaura Purnima? Here are some recipes to try.
- Video: Aindra and his 24 hour Kirtan band perform at the 2008 Mayapur Gaura Purnima festival
- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 11, 5.32
by Mathuresha Dasa
One of the original leaders of the Hare Krishna movement uses his diplomatic skills to free himself for the Lord’s service.
Sanatana Goswami resigned his ministerial post in the Muslim government of sixteenth-century Bengal, having decided to dedicate his life to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission. The Nawab, or governor, imprisoned Sanatana, angered by his resignation. We now hear how Sanatana met Lord Chaitanya in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and told of his escape from prison and journey out of Bengal.
Sanatana Goswami entered the city of Varanasi early in the spring of 1514. Having journeyed on back roads and jungle paths through Bengal and Bihar, he was dressed in torn and dirty clothes. His long hair, beard, and mustache were unkempt, and he carried a beggar’s pot in his hand. Pleased to hear that Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had arrived by boat from Allahabad, Sanatana went to Candrashekhara’s house, where the Lord was staying, and sat down by the door.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu could understand that Sanatana was outside.
“Candrashekhara,” He said, “there’s a Vaishnava, a Hare Krishna devotee, at your door. Please go call him in.”
Candrashekhara went out to look and, seeing no Vaishnava, came back.
“Is there anyone at your door at all?” the Lord asked.
“Only a Muslim mendicant,” Candrashekhara replied.
“Please bring him here,” the Lord said.
Hurrying back to the door, Candrashekhara spoke to Sanatana.
“O Muslim mendicant,” he said, “kindly come in. The Lord is calling you.”
Pleased with this invitation, Sanatana entered the house, where Lord Chaitanya rose with haste to embrace and welcome him and to give him a seat by His side. Lord Chaitanya is the Supreme Personality of Godhead playing the part of His own devotee. In both capacities, as Lord and devotee, He was eager to welcome His Vaishnava guest. Over Sanatana’s protests, He extolled Sanatana’s saintly influence upon even sacred places of pilgrimage like Varanasi. The Lord quoted a verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.13.10): “Saints of your caliber are themselves places of pilgrimage. Because of their purity, they are constant companions of the Lord, and therefore they can purify even the places of pilgrimage.”
Only a few weeks before, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had met Sanatana’s brother, Rupa Goswami, in Allahabad. The Lord had enlightened Rupa about the soul’s evolution, first through the species of material life in this universe and then, upon reentering the spiritual sky, through the transcendental stages of life in the spiritual creation. For the next two months in Varanasi, Lord Chaitanya would elaborate on these and other topics in His teachings to Sanatana Goswami. He would describe how the Supreme Lord expands Himself to individually preside over the innumerable spiritual planets and to create and govern the material universes. He would inform Sanatana about the location and dimensions of the spiritual planets and about the identity and activities of their denizens as precisely as one might describe the continents and nations of this earth. And He would delineate the direct route through the dark and temporary material cosmos to these effulgent and deathless spiritual destinations with as much clarity and detail as the best modern road maps and travel guides.
Despite the exalted, revolutionary nature of these pending transcendental topics, however, Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was Himself curious to know about Sanatana’s recent travels and adventures.
“How did you escape from prison?” the Lord eagerly asked, and Sanatana happily told his story from beginning to end.
Fortunate Jail Keeper
Sanatana recounted how, bound with iron chains at the Chika Mosjud prison near Ramakeli, Bengal, he had received a note from his younger brother Rupa.
“My dear Sanatana,” Rupa Goswami had written, “I have left a deposit of ten thousand gold coins with a local merchant. Use that money to get out of prison and come meet Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Mathura and Vrindavana.”
To further encourage Sanatana, Rupa had included in his note a beautiful and mysterious Sanskrit verse:
yadu-pateh kva gata mathura-puri
raghu-pateh kva gatottara- koshala
iti vicintya kurusva manah sthiram
na sad idam jagad ity avadharaya
“Where has the Mathura City of Yadupati gone? Where has the northern Koshala province of Raghupati gone? By reflection, make the mind steady, thinking, ‘This universe is not eternal.’ ”
Yadupati is a name for Lord Krishna, and Raghupati a name for Lord Ramacandra. Long ago They had appeared on earth and played as human beings, displaying Their eternal pastimes in the city of Mathura and the province of Koshala respectively. Now They had appeared again as Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to entice mankind from the prison of material life in this temporary universe, and Lord Chaitanya was currently on His way to Mathura, followed by Rupa Goswami.
Delighted with the note, Sanatana went to the Muslim jail keeper, an acquaintance from his government days, a simple man with little education or spiritual training. Summoning the diplomatic skills honed during his years as the Nawab’s prime minister, Sanatana began to satisfy the humble warden with praise.
“Dear sir,” Sanatana began, “you are a very fortunate person, a living saint, and a scholar steeped in knowledge of the Koran and similar books. So you must know that if you release a prisoner in accordance with your religious principles then you are blessed by the Supreme Lord.”
Flattered by the compliments from his fellow government servant, the jail keeper could not deny he was indeed a learned scholar and saintly person. He was all ears as Sanatana continued, stressing their long-standing friendship and requesting release as a personal favor.
“Previously I have done much for you,” Sanatana said. “Now I am in difficulty. Please return my goodwill by releasing me.”
Sanatana sweetened their friendship with an offer of five thousand gold coins. By taking the gold and releasing an innocent prisoner, Sanatana explained, his friend the jail keeper would accumulate both piety and material wealth. He would get the best of both worlds.
“Please hear me, dear sir,” the jail keeper replied nervously. “Of course I want to let you go, because you have done much for me and are a fellow public servant. I know that, but I am afraid of the Nawab when he hears you are free. I’ll have to explain. What will I say?”
Sanatana had just the alibi.
“There is no danger,” he assured his friend. “The Nawab has gone south to conquer Orissa. If he returns, tell him that Sanatana went to answer the call of nature near the bank of the Ganges and that as soon as he saw the Ganges, he jumped in. Tell him, ‘I looked for a long time, but I could not find any trace of him. He jumped in with his shackles and drowned, washed away by the current.’
“And don’t worry,” Sanatana added. “No one will find me. I shall become a mendicant and go to the holy city of Mecca.”
The jail keeper now had a forensic alibi for the Nawab, a religious alibi for his own conscience, and a promise of five thousand gold coins. He was still torn and wavering when Sanatana upped the offer to seven thousand coins and carefully stacked the money before him while he watched. Seeing the gleaming pile of gold growing, the jail keeper finally caved in. That night he broke Sanatana’s shackles and let him escape across the Ganges.
Though he now had three thousand coins remaining and hundreds of miles to traverse from Bengal west towards Mathura and Vrindavana, Sanatana left all the gold behind and set out on foot, looking the part of a beggar. The money had bought him release for Lord Chaitanya’s service, but he had no interest in spending for a comfortable journey, nor was carrying gold safe for a lone traveler. As an escaped prisoner, too, and a famous man, Sanatana had to avoid notice. Using back roads and footpaths, he stayed off the highways known as “the way of the ramparts,” which the Nawab had fortified against invasion.
A servant named Ishana followed Sanatana, and despite all his master’s evident precautions, Ishana secretly carried eight gold coins. Crossing what is now Bihar province, Sanatana and Ishana came to a hilly area known as Patada and stopped at a small hotel, where the gold proved nearly fatal. The hotel owner learned of the eight coins through an expert palmist and planned to rob and kill his two guests. In the meantime, he went out of his way to be respectful and attentive to their needs, providing them with food to cook and promising to personally guide them through the hills.
Sanatana went to the river to bathe, and as he had not eaten for two days, he cooked and had his meal. But he was suspicious. As a minister of the Nawab, he had faced many diplomats and sycophants. Here was a hotel owner, a stranger, giving him the royal treatment, though he and Ishana looked like paupers.
“Ishana,” Sanatana inquired, “I think you must have something valuable with you.”
“Yes, I have seven gold coins,” Ishana admitted, partially revealing his cache.
Sanatana became angry and berated his servant.
“Why do you carry this death knell on the road?”
Taking the seven coins, Sanatana went to the hotel owner, holding the coins before him.
“Please take these seven coins,” Sanatana requested, “and help us to cross these hills. I am an escaped political prisoner and cannot go along the way of the ramparts. It will be very pious of you to take this money and get me through the hills.”
The combination of gold and religious sentiments again proved effective. The hotel keeper confessed that he knew that Ishana had eight coins in his pocket and that he had planned to kill both Ishana and Sanatana. Now refusing the coins with embarrassment and chagrin, as an apology he offered to guide Sanatana through the hills for free.
“No,” Sanatana replied. “If you don’t accept these coins, someone else will kill me for them. Better you save me from the danger.”
With this settlement made, the hotel keeper hired four watchmen who through that entire night escorted Sanatana and Ishana across the hills on a jungle path. Sanatana then sent Ishana home with the gold coin Ishana had tried to conceal and traveled on alone, wearing torn clothing, carrying a beggar’s pot, and losing his worries with every step he took.
Walking on and on, Sanatana came one evening to a town named Hajipura and sat down in a garden park. By coincidence a gentleman named Srikanta, the husband of Sanatana’s sister, was in Hajipura on government business. The Nawab had given Srikanta 300,000 gold coins to buy horses. Sitting in an elevated place transacting this business, Srikanta caught a glimpse of Sanatana and later that evening went to see him. The two old friends talked long into the night, and Srikanta heard all about Sanatana’s arrest and escape. Seeing Sanatana, formerly the prime minister, in such a ragged condition distressed Srikanta and got him thinking. With a fortune in gold at his disposal, certainly he could help his wife’s brother get a new start in life.
“Why don’t you stay here with me for a couple of days,” Srikanta urged Sanatana. “You can get rid of these dirty clothes and dress like a gentleman again.”
Sanatana had already foiled a greedy jail keeper and a murderous hotel owner, all the while avoiding the Nawab’s soldiers and agents on his way to meet Lord Chaitanya. Now here was a more formidable obstacle: a loving friend and close relative with money to spare. Sanatana thanked Srikanta but declined his offer.
“I cannot stay any longer,” Sanatana said. “Please help me across the Ganges so that I can leave right away.”
Insisting that Sanatana at least take a valuable woolen blanket, Srikanta helped him across the Ganges and with affection saw him on his way again.
Sanatana had left Srikanta in Hajipura only a few days before. Now, sitting with Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu at Candrashekhara’s house in Varanasi, he was feeling boundless happiness. After hearing about Sanatana’s adventures, Lord Chaitanya in turn recounted His recent meeting with Sanatana’s brothers in Allahabad. Then He asked Sanatana to clean up and get a shave before lunch, and He requested Candrashekhara to provide Sanatana with fresh clothing.
Sanatana’s ragged, unkempt appearance was understandable considering the circumstances of his long journey, but Lord Chaitanya wanted His followers looking like gentlemen. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, writing in the early 1970s, explains: “Due to his long hair, mustache, and beard, Sanatana Goswami looked like a hippie. Since Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did not like Sanatana Goswami’s hippie features, he asked Candrashekhara to get him shaved clean. If anyone with long hair or a beard wants to join this Krishna consciousness movement and live with us, he must similarly shave himself clean.”
Though offered new garments by Candrashekhara, Sanatana requested a used dhoti cloth instead, then proceeded to rip the cloth in pieces to make two sets of clothing. As for meals, a Maharastriyan brahmana who would later host Lord Chaitanya’s lunch with the sannyasis of Varanasi invited Sanatana to take all his meals with him. Again Sanatana politely declined, preferring to avoid full meals and humbly beg a little food from door to door. Sanatana’s renunciation was extraordinary and cannot as a rule be imitated. He was determined to give up material opulence. Even Srikanta’s new woolen blanket had to go. Sanatana went to the bank of the Ganges and persuaded a surprised Bengali mendicant to take the blanket in exchange for the mendicant’s torn quilt.
Observing all these changes, and at last seeing even the valuable blanket gone, Lord Chaitanya became unlimitedly happy and told Sanatana Goswami, “Lord Krishna has mercifully nullified your attachment for material things. So why would He allow you to maintain that valuable blanket, your last bit of material attachment? After vanquishing a disease, a good physician does not allow any of the disease to remain.”
In the days that followed, Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, being pleased with Sanatana Goswami, began to tell him about Lord Krishna’s real identity, transcendental qualities, and eternal activities. Sanatana, freed from his last piece of material attraction, was fully prepared to listen.
(Next issue: Lord Chaitanya’s teachings to Sanatana Goswami.)
by Mathuresha Dasa
In the year 1513, the Festival of the Chariots held a special meaning for Maharaja Prataparudra, the king of Jagannatha Puri.
The King’s Aspiration
ON Ratha-yatra day in the summer of A.D. 1513, Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates rose in the dark and bathed. The predawn streets were busy with last-minute festival preparations as the Lord and His party hurried to the temple of Lord Jagannatha (Krishna as “the Lord of the universe”). For weeks carpenters and craftsmen had been at work building the festival’s three colossal wooden carts and decorating them with brightly colored canopies, with silk banners and flags, with mirrors, pictures, gongs, bells, camara whisks, and flower garlands.
Hundreds and thousands of pilgrims had arrived in Puri to see massive wooden deities of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balarama, and Subhadra Devi ride through the streets on these festival chariots. The entire town of Puri, residents and guests alike, joyously prepared to serve and glorify the deities, incarnations of the Supreme Lord, during the Jagannatha Rathayatra parade.
Maharaja Prataparudra, the king of Jagannatha Puri, was up early too, his mind occupied with the coming events. The king took a personal interest in the Jagannatha temple and in all the details of this annual celebration. The sheltering and feeding of the pilgrim throngs reflected upon him and was his pleasure. Friends and subordinate rulers attended as his guests, not to mention his own queens, children, and retinue.
The regular duties of administering a sprawling kingdom up and down the coast of the Bay of Bengal pressed upon him as well. But most of all, for the first time Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would be attending Rathayatra, and Maharaja Prataparudra had the promise of a private audience with the Lord. Along with his festival functions, King Prataparudra could think of little else.
When Lord Chaitanya and His party arrived at the Jagannatha Temple, the king and his entourage were waiting to let Him through the crowds and give Him an honored vantage point to watch Lord Jagannatha emerge from the temple.
To the tumultuous sounds of various musical instruments, devotees specially chosen for their strength, carried the heavy deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra from the temple to Their festival chariots. Before crowds of his subjects and visitors, King Prataparudra took the part of a lowly street sweeper, using a broom with a golden handle to sweep the road in front of Lord Jagannatha as the deity moved toward His chariot. The king also sprinkled the road with sandalwood-scented water. Seeing this humble public example set by King Prataparudra, Lord Chaitanya became very happy.
A king and a street sweeper may be at opposite ends of the social spectrum, but in a society dedicated to the service of Lord Jagannatha everyone equally becomes a menial servant of the deity. We are kings or sweepers temporarily. Our permanent and exalted position is as humble servants of Krishna. Lord Chaitanya Himself had made it clear that He wished most of all to be a servant of a servant of the servants of Krishna, to serve Krishna holding all other servants as superiors.
In the two years since Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had first passed through Puri on His way to southern India, King Prataparudra had aspired to meet the Lord and had steadily served Lord Chaitanya’s followers. The king had released Ramananda Raya from government duties and provided him with a generous stipend for Lord Chaitanya’s service. He had respectfully approached Lord Chaitanya’s disciples in Puri and asked them to arrange a meeting with the Lord. And in the past several weeks he had eagerly provided lodging for two hundred of Lord Chaitanya’s followers from Bengal and had enjoyed learning their names and hearing of their exceptional qualities.
Now Maharaja Prataparudra had eagerly rendered menial service to Lord Jagannatha. As a humble servant both of Krishna and of Lord Chaitanya’s followers, King Prataparudra greatly satisfied Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the universal guru, and became a sure candidate for Lord Chaitanya’s mercy. While the Lord continued to outwardly regard King Prataparudra as a sensual materialist and to avoid him, He prepared to bless the king during the Rathayatra parade.
As the chariots rolled forward, drawn by sturdy servants of Lord Jagannatha tugging on thick ropes, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu wandered through seven chanting parties. He chanted the holy names and shouted “All glories to Lord Jagannatha! All glories to Lord Jagannatha!” Inspired by Lord Chaitanya’s participation, the devotees chanted and danced with all their hearts, forgetting all fatigue while the hours passed. In every direction the sound of the holy names and the music of sankirtana filled the air as Lord Chaitanya, to further raise the blissful atmosphere, displayed His inconceivable potency as the Supreme Personality of Godhead by expanding Himself into seven transcendental forms, dancing and chanting in all seven parties simultaneously. Everyone was thinking, “Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stays with my group, showing us special favor. He does not go anywhere else.” Only the most confidential devotees, those absorbed in pure devotion, could see and understand that seven forms of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu danced and chanted.
One of those devotees, standing motionless in stunned astonishment, breathless with the vision before him, was King Prataparudra. Still externally singled out by the Lord as a dangerous worldly man, still refused a personal audience, Maharaja Prataparudra became an intimate devotee of the Lord by the Lord’s mercy, privy to the Lord’s confidential mystic powers. In all the crowds of celebrating pilgrims and among all the assembled followers of Lord Chaitanya, only Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya joined the king in observing and relishing the Lord’s seven-fold transcendental performance.
Catching his breath, Prataparudra informed Kashi Mishra of Lord Chaitanya’s feat, and Kashi Mishra replied with heartfelt congratulation, “O king, your fortune has no limit!”
Meeting At Last
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s expansive powers as the Supreme Lord were not all that had transfixed Maharaja Prataparudra. Lord Chaitanya’s demeanor as a devotee of the Supreme transformed the king as well. The Festival of the Chariots is a grand display of opulent worship commemorating the grandeur at Kurukshetra during Lord Krishna’s pilgrimage there with the royalty of the Yadu dynasty. Lord Chaitanya, with His first Rathayatra in this historic summer of 1513, sweetened the joyously opulent celebration of Lord Jagannatha’s glories with ecstatic remembrance of the residents of Vrindavana, who came to the Kurukshetra gathering to see Lord Krishna for the first time in many years. While many kings and devotees at Kurukshetra took satisfaction in observing Lord Krishna’s opulence and in glorifying His position as the Supreme, the villagers of Vrindavana saw Krishna as their fellow villager and prayed that He return home with them. Lord Chaitanya’s absorption in the mood of the residents of Vrindavana shone through in His performance of sankirtana with His devoted Bengali followers. This too entranced King Prataparudra.
When the procession reached a place called Balagandi, the carts stopped and from all sides pilgrims as well as local devotees offered their best cooked foods to Lord Jagannatha. King Prataparudra, his queens, ministers, friends, and all other residents of Jagannatha Puri made offerings wherever they could.
Taking advantage of this interlude, Lord Chaitanya and His followers went to rest in a nearby garden. Exhausted from hours of dancing and chanting, they lay down on the ground beneath the garden trees and enjoyed the cool, fragrant breezes.
King Prataparudra too, setting aside his royal apparel, entered the garden dressed in simple cloth like a devotee of Krishna. Humbly taking permission from Lord Chaitanya’s followers, the king bowed down before the Lord, who was lying on the ground with His eyes closed, and began to expertly massage the Lord’s legs. The king also recited verses from the Srimad- Bhagavatam about Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis.
Hearing this, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said again and again, “Go on reciting, go on reciting.”
As the king happily continued his recitation, Lord Chaitanya embraced him and cried, “You are most kind! You are most kind!”
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was in ecstasy and did not seem to recognize the king.
“Who are you?” the Lord asked. “You are doing so much for me. All of a sudden you have come here and made me drink the nectar of Lord Krishna’s pastimes.”
“My Lord,” King Prataparudra replied, “I am the most obedient servant of Your servants. It is my ambition that You will accept me as such.”
The devotees resting in the garden praised Maharaja Prataparudra’s good fortune in receiving Lord Chaitanya’s mercy, and in doing so their minds became open and blissful. As pure devotees, they were happy to see another servant elevated in devotional service. King Prataparudra replied by offering prayers to the devotees with folded hands. Then he bowed again before Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and humbly left the garden.
The king’s service to Lord Sri Chaitanya’s followers brought him a meeting with the Lord, and that meeting confirmed his desire to serve the devotees. Srila Prabhupada writes (Madhya-lila 14.8): “The greatest achievement for a devotee is to become a servant of the servants. Actually no one should desire to become the direct servant of the Lord. That is not a very good idea. ... Being the servant of the servants of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the highest benediction one can desire.”
by Mathuresha Dasa
One of the greatest scholars of his day is about to meet the source of all knowledge.
The city of Varanasi lies four hundred miles northwest of Calcutta on the northern bank of the Ganges River. Terraced stone landings, or ghats, leading down to water’s edge extend for four miles along the riverbank. Throngs of pilgrims descend to bathe in the sacred water or climb to explore narrow, winding streets and visit the city’s more than 1,500 temples. While there are historical records of pilgrimages to Varanasi dating back to the seventh century, to the faithful this most sacred of destinations has existed as a bustling holy city for much longer. Many of Varanasi’s temples were destroyed in the seventeenth century during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, yet today the view from across the Ganges at Ramnagar suggests timeless splendor.
The preeminent scholar in Varanasi at the beginning of the sixteenth century was Prakashananda Saraswati, a renounced priest, or sannyasi, in the line of Sripada Sankaracharya. Prakashananda and his colleagues were masters of the Vedas, the Sanskrit literature that includes extensive writings in every basic field of knowledge. There are Vedic texts on law, art, medicine, mathematics, and other worldly sciences, as well as on yoga, religion, philosophy, and mysticism. Veda means “knowledge,” and in the broadest sense all knowledge is part of the Vedas.
Prakashananda Saraswati was particularly adept at analyzing the codes of the highly philosophical Vedanta-sutra. The Vedic texts, divided by Srila Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of God, culminate in the Vedanta-sutra, in which Vyasadeva expounds upon the eternal nature, origin, and purpose of existence. Anta means “end,” so the Vedanta-sutra establishes that all fields of knowledge are meant to reach the end, or goal, of knowledge by understanding the meaning of life.
During a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968 Srila Prabhupada challenged his audience to explain why, with all the fields of knowledge at their university, they didn’t have a department to study the difference between a living body and a dead body. We study medicine to keep our bodies healthy, politics and sociology to keep them organized, psychology to manage our minds. All these departments benefit living bodies and minds, but what is that life, that living energy we so attentively serve? Where is that knowledge? Or in other words, where is Vedanta? Lacking a Vedanta department, the other departments are incomplete.
There was no such lack at Varanasi. As a peerless commentator on the Vedanta-sutra, Prakashananda Saraswati was dean of the Varanasi scholars, who as professors of the Vedas were not mere dogmatists spouting creeds but genuine researchers, writers, and teachers drawn to essential truth. The city of Varanasi had long been a great center of learning and culture. With students arriving from all over India to obtain a comprehensive education in the Vedic wisdom, Varanasi was a hotbed of enlightenment. Prakashananda and his associates presided, enjoying their intellectual pursuits, their followings, and their tenure as leaders of an academic and cultural mecca.
The only disturbance to the peaceful academic atmosphere—a disturbance that has also surfaced today in modern college towns and other centers of enlightenment—was a noisy, enthusiastic band of Hare Krishnas chanting and dancing through the streets. With no apparent respect for even minimal academic decorum, these apparent fanatics, beating on drums and clashing hand cymbals, were gathering a following, Prakashananda noticed, among some of the simpler students and townspeople. Their twenty-eight- year-old leader, Sri Krishna Chaitanya, who lived in Bengal, had a golden complexion and a thundering voice. Like Prakashananda and his colleagues, He was a sannyasi in the disciplic line of Sripada Sankaracharya. But Sankaracharya had taught his followers to give up worldly pleasures like singing and dancing and to instead always study the Vedanta- sutra. So who did this Krishna Chaitanya think He was, and what did He think He was doing?
Prakashananda began to openly criticize: “Krishna Chaitanya, although a sannyasi, does not take interest in the study of Vedanta but instead always engages in congregational chanting and dancing. He is illiterate and therefore does not know his real function. Guided only by his sentiments, he wanders about in the company of other sentimentalists.” (Sri Chaitanya-caritamrita, Adi- lila 7.41-42)
It may have disturbed Prakashananda more to know that Krishna Chaitanya was far from illiterate. Before accepting the sannyasa order at the age of twenty-four, He had been known as Nimai Pandita and had run a popular Sanskrit academy of His own at Navadvipa, in what is now West Bengal. Navadvipa was an even more important center of learning than Varanasi. At this time in India, as in previous ages, scholarship had some of the flavor of modern sports events, with learned panditas challenging each other to compete in displays of erudition. While still a schoolboy, Nimai Pandita defeated many champion scholars, including Keshava Kashmiri, a brahmana from Kashmir who had won titles all over India. When Keshava Kashmiri came to Navadvipa looking for some action, the local scholars hid in fear, leaving the contest to Nimai.
After several years of showing His intellectual prowess, Nimai Pandita focused His energies on promoting sankirtana, public congregational chanting and dancing in glorification of God. In Navadvipa the loud chanting of Krishna’s names had provoked the local Muslims to complain to Navadvipa’s magistrate, or Kazi. The Kazi descended upon a chanting party one evening, broke a sankirtana drum, and forbid further chanting on the streets of the city. In response Nimai Pandita organized a nonviolent protest, surrounding the Kazi’s house with thousands of chanting, dancing demonstrators. The Kazi was intimidated by the crowd, but Nimai’s demeanor was peaceful. In a friendly exchange He convinced the Kazi of the importance of chanting the Lord’s names.
Like Prakashananda Saraswati, Nimai Pandita was highly learned in the Vedanta-sutra, but not for scholarship’s sake. He knew well the many statements in the Vedas declaring that in the Kali-yuga, this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the means of self-realization (the goal of Vedanta) is to chant the names of God. A verse in the Brihan-naradiya Purana emphasizes this point by repetition: “Chant the holy names, chant the holy names, chant the holy names. In this age of quarrel there is no other way, no other way, no other way to achieve the goal of human life.”
Although Nimai chanted the Hare Krishna mantra in particular, He taught that this “no other way” applies to any place and time, and to any recognized name of the Lord. A verse in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Vyasadeva’s own commentary on his Vedanta- sutra, states that in previous ages meditation, religious rituals, or worshiping in the temple may have sufficed, but in this age these methods are effective only in conjunction with regular chanting. And again in the Bhagavatam, Vyasadeva writes that Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults with one saving quality: simply by chanting the glories of the Lord we can free ourselves of the material miseries and attain the highest perfection of spiritual life.
The Kali-santarana Upanishad is even more specific, citing the full Hare Krishna mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—and then asserting, “These sixteen words destroy the faults of the Age of Kali. After searching through all the Vedas, you will not find a better means of self-realization for this age.”
With these and other verses on His lips and with the assistance of His many associates, Nimai spread his sankirtana movement throughout Navadvipa and into East Bengal. He married at an early age, but as a householder traveled frequently, leaving His young wife and elderly mother at home. Sankirtana so absorbed him that He introduced a system of Sanskrit grammar based on Krishna’s names. Every word from His mouth was either chanting or glorification of the chanting.
On a pilgrimage to Gaya, Nimai became a disciple of Ishvara Puri, a great devotee of Krishna in the line of Srila Vyasadeva, and when Nimai returned to Navadvipa, his enthusiasm for the holy names grew ecstatic. It appears that Nimai had a familiar youthful bent for loudness and all-nighters, so much so that this time it was the Hindus who complained to the Kazi:
Nimai Pandita was previously a very good boy, but since He has returned from Gaya He conducts Himself differently. Now He loudly sings all kinds of Krishna songs, clapping, playing drums and hand bells, and making a tumultuous sound that deafens our ears. We do not know what He eats that makes him so crazy. He has made all the people practically mad by always performing congregational chanting. At night we cannot get any sleep; we are always kept awake. (Adi 17.206-9)
Even Nimai Pandita’s students began to criticize what they considered His excessive absorption in the holy names. Although not personally bothered by the criticism, Nimai took seriously His sankirtana movement. He ambitiously desired to spread sankirtana to every town and village of the world, giving everyone, whether educated or illiterate, access to Vedanta and to the perfection of life through the chanting of the holy names. If even His own students took Him lightly, how could He expand His mission?
So in the year 1510, at the age of twenty-four, leaving home for good, Nimai traveled to the village of Katwa and accepted the sannyasa order from Keshava Bharati, a sannyasi of the Sankarite school. It is still the custom in India to offer respect to a sannyasi, and this was even more the case five hundred years ago. Nimai wanted that public respect and attention for the benefit of the sankirtana movement, which was, in turn, for the public’s highest benefit. Although Nimai abhorred Sankaracharya’s quasi-Buddhist philosophy, Sankaracharya’s influence was so strong that people thought one could accept sannyasa only in the Sankarite disciplic succession. So in pursuance of His mission, Nimai took sannyasa from Keshava Bharati, receiving the name Sri Krishna Chaitanya.
Prakashananda Saraswati might have collected some of these details about the tall, golden sannyasi now dancing and chanting through Varanasi’s narrow streets had he asked around town. As dean of Varanasi’s scholars he might have thus avoided his criticism of Krishna Chaitanya.
The Identity of Sri Krishna Chaitanya
The fuller answer to “Who is Krishna Chaitanya, and what is He doing here in this center of quiet scholarship?” lay right under Prakashananda’s nose in his rightly esteemed Vedic literature. In the Mahabharata, the Vishnu-sahasra-nama-stotra (“The Thousand Names of Vishnu”) describes the Supreme Lord appearing as a householder with a golden complexion and an attitude of peaceful devotion and later accepting the sannyasa order. The Bhagavatam confirms that the Lord appears in different ages in different colors—white, red, black, and yellow. White, red, and black having been accounted for in previous ages, the incarnation for the Age of Kali is yellow, or golden. The Bhagavatam also states that in Kali- yuga the incarnation of God inaugurates the sankirtana movement, always chants the name of Krishna, and is in fact Krishna Himself with a golden complexion:
yajanti hi su-medhasah
“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, and confidential companions.”
Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya is known as the channa avatara, or “hidden incarnation,” because He never presented Himself as God or allowed anyone to call Him God. He always acted as God’s servant and as the servant of the Lord’s devotees. This age is so full of incarnation wannabes, so ridden with philosophies asserting that in the end we are all God, that God Himself demonstrates and relishes devotional service to Himself through the chanting of His names. As a grade-school teacher, to teach her students how to learn, sometimes pretends to be learning her ABC’s, so in the form of Sri Krishna Chaitanya the Lord takes the role of His own devotee and demonstrates the art of His own devotional service.
Hearing of Prakashananda’s criticism, Lord Chaitanya demonstrated how members of the sankirtana movement should be unconcerned with their own prestige. To further sankirtana the Lord had planned a trip to the holy city of Vrindavana, just south of present-day Delhi, and didn’t see any reason to alter His itinerary to defend His reputation by crossing swords with Varanasi’s elite. Intellectual tournaments were a thing of His past, of His heady school days. There was no need to interrupt His preaching for a debate. Better to push on the chanting of the holy names. There were plenty of receptive ears and many followers who needed His personal attention and instructions.
But Lord Chaitanya’s followers in Varanasi were upset by Prakashananda’s remarks. It broke their hearts to hear their beloved Lord labeled an illiterate fool. At the same time they weren’t confident enough to confront Prakashananda themselves. What were they in comparison to this celebrated leader of Varanasi’s many faculties and academic departments? How could they present their case for the divinity of Sri Krishna Chaitanya and for the transcendental stature of sankirtana to a critic who could so expertly quote the Vedic scriptures, brandishing his learning and credentials?
When Lord Chaitanya returned to Varanasi from Vrindavana, He stayed at the house of Chandrashekhara, took His meals at the home of Tapana Mishra, and spent two months instructing Sanatana Gosvami, the former prime minister of Bengal’s ruler, Nawab Hussein Shah, on the science of devotional service.
While Lord Chaitanya in this way remained peacefully absorbed in building His sankirtana movement, His two hosts grew increasingly unhappy, until one day both Chandrashekhara and Tapana Mishra appealed to Him: “How long can we tolerate the blasphemy of Your critics against Your conduct? We should give up our lives rather than hear such blasphemy. The local sannyasis are all criticizing Your Holiness. We cannot tolerate hearing such criticism, for this blasphemy breaks our hearts.”
Hearing this plea, Lord Chaitanya remained indifferent to the criticism of Himself, but felt compassion for His hosts and other followers, understanding their distress. At that moment a brahmana came to the Lord with another appeal, this one an invitation.
“My dear Lord,” the brahmana said, “I have invited all the sannyasis of Varanasi to my home for lunch. My desires will be fulfilled if You also accept my invitation. My dear Lord, I know that You never mix with other sannyasis, but please be merciful unto me and accept my invitation.”
It was a long-standing custom for the brahmanas of Varanasi to take turns inviting the local sannyasis to their homes. In this way there was a daily gathering of sannyasis, a moveable faculty lunch. Lord Chaitanya had always been absent, declining all invitations until this one, which He gracefully accepted to please Chandrashekhara, Tapana Mishra, and the brahmana. Here was a timely opportunity, made possible by His own omnipotent arrangement, to meet Prakashananda Saraswati in a congenial setting as fellow guests at a brahmana’s home.
Tapana Mishra and Chandrashekhara were overjoyed. They didn’t know how to answer Prakashananda themselves. They didn’t yet have confidence in their own learning or debating skills. But they had firm faith that their spiritual master, Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya, was the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He was Krishna Himself, the author and final authority on Vedanta-sutra, acting as His own devotee. In Bhagavad-gita (15.15) Krishna declares, “I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.”
As faithful servants of Lord Chaitanya, Chandrashekhara and Tapana Mishra aspired to become expert preachers of His mission who knew perfectly and could teach that Vedanta, the end of knowledge, is loving service to Krishna, the supreme person, through the chanting of His names. For now, however, what they knew, giving them joy and relief in anticipation, was that Lord Chaitanya, their own teacher, had agreed to meet Prakashananda Saraswati, head of Varanasi’s intellectual elite, for lunch.
by Mathuresha Dasa
In visiting Varanasi, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu chose a city that had historically played a key role in the gradual unveiling of Vedanta, the perfection of knowledge.
Early in the year 1514, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was staying at the home of Chandrashekara Vaidya in Varanasi, India, then a great center of learning. Lord Chaitanya's associates heard that one of the chief scholars of Varanasi, a sannyasi named Prakashananda Sarasvati, was complaining to his followers that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, or Sri Krishna Chaitanya, as He was known, was a sentimenalist who engaged in chanting the names of the Lord rather than in studying Vedanta, the proper duty of a sannyasi. Greatly disturbed by Prakashananda Sarasvati's criticism, Sri Chaitanya's associates were pleased when the Lord accepted an invitation for lunch at the home of a brahmana. Prakashananda Sarasvati and his followers would also be there, so Prakashananda Sarasvati could see for himself the ideal character of Sri Krishna Chaitanya.
The day after accepting the brahmana's invitation to lunch with Prakashananda Sarasvati, Lord Chaitanya took His noon bath at Pancanada-ghat as usual, silently chanted the Gayatri mantra, and set off on foot for the brahmana's house. He walked barefoot, as customary for a sannyasi, and wore simple saffron cloth. His head was cleanly shaven, He had marked His forehead with tilaka (clay), and as He walked He chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. 'O Lord Krishna, O energy of the Lord! Please engage me in Your loving devotional service.'
Lord Chaitanya wanted to freely distribute the highest knowledge of devotional service to Krishna, knowledge available through the chanting of Krishna's holy names. In visiting Varanasi He had chosen a city that had historically played a key role in the gradual unveiling of Vedanta, the perfection of knowledge. Two thousand years earlier Lord Buddha had given His first sermon only six miles away at Saranatha, where there are still many Buddhist stupas and where many followers of the Buddhist philosophy live. And Sripada Sankaracharya, the incarnation of Lord Siva who toppled Buddhism from its dominant position in India, had come to Varanasi in A.D. 695, shortly after taking sannyasa at the age of eight. After four years at Badarikasrama in the Himalayas, where he wrote his famous commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, Sankaracharya returned to Varanasi, which remains a stronghold for his followers and for the worship of Lord Siva.
From the transcendental perspective of Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates, the teachings of Lord Buddha and those of Sankaracharya, though superficially at odds, are pieces of a well-planned evolution in spiritual realization, as close to each other philosophically as Saranatha and Varanasi on the map. Lord Buddha is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, and Lord Siva's teachings as Sankaracharya were directly ordered by the Supreme Lord. Thus there is a unified purpose to their missions.
To prevent belligerent misuse of scripture by zealots, Lord Buddha as an emergency measure had rejected the Vedas and denied the existence of God and the eternal soul. He maintained that life and consciousness are products of matter. Stressing the misery and impermanence of material life, Buddha proposed only a void after death and infused His followers with tolerance, detachment, simplicity, and nonviolence. By tactical use of atheism, in other words, He replaced zealotry with the stirrings of intelligent, civilized behavior.
Building upon Lord Buddha's foundation of intelligent detachment, Sankaracharya brought back the Vedas and with them knowledge of God as the supreme soul. But since Sankaracharya was confronting a long tradition of Buddhist atheism, he avoided fully revealing the Vedic conclusion that the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Person, Lord Krishna, and that we are all Krishna's eternal individual parts and servants. Creating indirect meanings for the Vedic texts, Sankaracharya instead asserted, for the upliftment of his materialistic Buddhist audiences, that consciousness and all living symptoms originate not in matter but in Brahman, the supreme, eternal, all-pervading soul.
Brahman is blissful, omniscient, and impersonal, but acquires, when in contact with maya, the illusory material energy, a temporary existence characterized by misery, ignorance, and individuality. The life and consciousness animating our temporary material bodies are eternal, Sankaracharya taught, but both our individuality and our concepts of God as the supreme individual are illusory products of Brahman's contact with matter. When we are free from matter, we lose our miserable individuality and become one with the blissful Supreme, just as the air in an empty pot becomes one with the sky when the pot is broken. In other words, we are all Brahman, or God, the Supreme Soul. We have just forgotten.
Sankaracharya's offering of impersonal oneness is a partial revelation of Vedanta that awakens voidists to eternal consciousness without upsetting their atheistic demeanor. Thinking oneself God is at least as atheistic as denying He exists. But Sankar-acharya's followers paid a heavy price philosophically for accepting this impersonal pitch. In one breath they must say that we are all the Supreme, and in the next they must imply that the Supreme, since it can be conquered by illusion, is not Supreme. Asserting that the Supreme is overcome by illusion or forgetfulness, they inadvertantly propose that illusion, or maya, is supreme.
Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates therefore refer to the bewildered followers of Sankaracharya and to all 'you are God' philosophers by using the derogatory term Mayavadi, or 'one who accepts illusion as the highest truth.' The Buddhists too are Mayavadis, because they believe that maya, the temporary material nature, generates individual consciousness and the living symptoms. Although the Buddhists do not accept an eternal all-pervading soul, they essentially agree with the Sankarites that matter is superior to the living force.
Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu intended to deliver the entire world from these two kinds of Mayavadis, represented by the Buddhists of Saranatha and the impersonalist Sankarites of Varanasi. As part of that mission, He was on His way to lunch with Prakashananda Sarasvati, current chief of the Varanasi Mayavadis. By Lord Krishna's will elements of Vedanta had been available through the teachings of Lord Buddha and Sripada Sankaracharya. But for a long time Lord Krishna had not bestowed upon the inhabitants of the world the full import of Vedanta. Lord Chaitanya is Krishna Himself appearing in the role of His own devotee, and while we cannot know His exact thoughts or plan as He made His way through Varanasi's ancient streets, we do have a broader record of His thinking. Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, one of Lord Chaitanya's principal biographers, explains:
Lord Krishna enjoys His transcendental pastimes [on earth] as long as He wishes, and then He disappears. After disappearing, however, He thinks thus:
'For a long time I have not bestowed unalloyed loving service to Me upon the inhabitants of the world. Without such loving attachment, the existence of the material world is useless. I shall personally inaugurate the religion of the age'nama sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy name. I shall accept the role of a devotee, and I shall teach devotional service by practicing it Myself. In the company of My devotees I shall appear on earth and perform various colorful pastimes.'
Thinking thus, the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna Himself, descended at Navadvipa early in the Age of Kali.
The Lord Attracts the Sannyasis
Lord Chaitanya had a large and well-built body, a complexion like molten gold, and a face as beautiful as the moon. Arriving at the brahmana’s house and seeing that all the sannyasis of Varanasi had gathered there, He humbly bowed to them and, as was customary, went to wash His feet before entering the assembly. Then, instead of joining the other sannyasis, who had taken seats according to title and rank, Lord Chaitanya sat on the ground near the washing area, His transcendental body glowing with the effulgence of millions of suns.
Unsettled by the Lord’s humility and attracted by the brilliant illumination of His body, the entire assembly rose to receive Him. Prakashananda Sarasvati stepped forward and, mistaking the Lord’s meekness for bereavement, spoke to Him with affection and concern.
“Please come here, Your Holiness,” Prakashananda requested. “Why do You sit in that filthy place' What has caused Your lamentation'”
“Oh, I belong to an inferior order of sannyasis,” Lord Chaitanya replied. “Therefore I am not qualified to sit with you. Let Me sit down here.”
In the line of Sripada Sankaracharya ten titles are awarded to sannyasis, with Sarasvati, Tirtha,and Ashrama being the most coveted. Chaitanya is an inferior, brahmacari title, a name for a student or servant of a Bharati sannyasi. When Nimai Pandita had first approached Kesava Bharati in Katwa, He had received the name Sri Krishna Chaitanya Brahmacari. After accepting the sannyasa order from Keshava Bharati, it would have been the traditional course for Sri Krishna Chaitanya to accept the Bharati title Himself. Instead the Lord kept the name Chaitanya to show that we are eternally servants of our spiritual masters and God. Mayavadis think that by earning a sannyasa title they become God, the supreme authority, and therefore need serve no one. While speaking respectfully to Prakashananda and other Mayavadis, Lord Chaitanya was teaching by example that if titles or degrees spawn such arrogance it is better to keep your undergraduate designation.
Surprised to see Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu reluctant to join the other sannyasis, Prakashananda Sarasvati caught Him by the hand and seated Him with great respect in the midst of the assembly.
“Well, sir, I think Your name is Sri Krishna Chaitanya,” Prakashananda said, “and I understand that You belong to our sect. You are living here in Varanasi. Why don’t You mix with us' You are a sannyasi. You are supposed to engage Your time simply in Vedanta study. But we see that You are always chanting, dancing, and playing on musical instruments. Why' These things are for emotional and sentimental people. By Your effulgence it appears to us that You are just like Narayana, the Supreme Person, but Your low-class behavior speaks otherwise.”
Putting his foot into his mouth in a genteel scholarly manner, Prakashananda Sarasvati challenged Lord Chaitanya, the author of Vedanta, to account for neglecting His studies. What to speak of neglect, it is the Lord’s position to determine who is a qualified candidate for admission to the study of Vedanta philosophy. To kindly inform Prakashananda of the qualifications he would need, Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Vedanta’s dean of admissions, replied:
“My dear sir, I may inform you that My spiritual master considered Me a great fool and told Me I had no qualification to study Vedanta. He kindly gave Me the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. My spiritual master told Me, ‘Go on chanting this Krishna mantra, and it will make You perfect in understanding Vedanta.’ ”
The Lord had already demonstrated three times the importance of humility: by offering obeisances to the entire assembly of sannyasis, by taking a seat near the washing area, and by retaining the name Chaitanya. In His Sikshashtaka verses Lord Chaitanya writes that one should always feel lower than straw in the street, more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respect to others. Only in such a humble state of mind, Lord Chaitanya taught, can one constantly savor Vedanta philosophy or the holy names of God. Now the Lord, the spiritual master of everyone, was showing Prakashananda by His own example that the test of genuine humility is whether one can submit oneself as an ignorant fool before a qualified spiritual master. That is the Lord’s entrance exam for the study of Vedanta.
The Importance of Disciplic Succession
Qualified spiritual masters are those who have themselves heard submissively from a bona fide teacher in a disciplic succession descending from the Lord Himself, and who have carefully followed their spiritual master’s orders. Without receiving knowledge through disciplic succession, one can never fully understand either one’s eternal self or God, the supreme self, since both are beyond the limited and faulty jurisdiction of our material senses, minds, and intellects. Research with our defective material faculties distorts even our understanding of material subjects, so that our “knowledge,” full of mistakes, always requires revision. This shifting nature of materialistic knowledge provokes in ordinary researchers a state of frustration that makes the conception of an ultimate void, Buddhist or otherwise, look very attractive.
Lord Krishna therefore provides, in the form of the Vedas, libraries of conclusive writings in all branches of knowledge, both material and spiritual, and entrusts each branch to learned scholars to carry through the ages in a disciplic succession. According to Vedic historians, all knowledge, however embellished or distorted by empirics, has its origin in the Vedas. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes: “Any knowledge you accept is veda, for the teachings of the Vedas are the original knowledge. There are no branches of knowledge, either mundane or transcendental, which do not belong to the original text of the Vedas. They have simply been developed into different branches. They were originally rendered by great, respectable and learned professors. In other words, the Vedic knowledge, broken into different branches by disciplic successions, has been distributed all over the world. No one, therefore, can claim independent knowledge beyond the Vedas.”
In reestablishing the primal position of the Vedic knowledge, Sankaracharya had given the voidists of his time access to preliminary spiritual understanding. But in imagining indirect, impersonal meanings to the Vedanta- sutra to attract his voidist audiences, Sankaracharya had concealed the principle of disciplic succession and opened the door for use of our same defective, material faculties in the study of Vedanta.
Mayavadis accept the Vedas as the source of transcendental knowledge, but at Sankaracharya’s behest they proudly think they can grasp Vedanta-sutra by their own intellectual efforts without referring to recognized experts in the Vedic tradition. This is a dangerous attitude even in material fields. Anyone, for example, can read books at a medical library, but without training under experienced surgeons, you cannot try your hand in an operating room without creating havoc. The Mayavadis have created havoc in the sphere of Vedanta, and have thereby polluted every field of knowledge.
by Mathuresha Dasa
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu points out Sankaracharya’s error in contradicting Vyasadeva.
Early in the year 1514, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was staying at the home of Chandrashekara Vaidya in Varanasi, India, then a great center of learning. Lord Chaitanya’s associates heard that one of the chief scholars of Varanasi, a sannyasi named Prakashananda Saraswati, was complaining to his followers that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a sentimenalist who engaged in chanting the names of the Lord rather than in studying Vedanta, the proper duty of a sannyasi. Greatly disturbed by Prakashananda Saraswati’s criticism, Sri Chaitanya’s associates were pleased when the Lord accepted an invitation for lunch at the home of the brahmana. Prakashananda Saraswati and his followers would also be there, so Prakashananda Saraswati could see for himself the ideal character of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Lord Chaitanya’s meeting with Prakashananda began with Prakashananda’s asking the Lord why He chanted Hare Krishna. Lord Chaitanya replied that He was doing so on the order of His spiritual master.
Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stressed to Prakashananda the importance of chanting the holy names under the guidance of a qualified spiritual master. The chanting of Hare Krishna cleanses Mayavada (impersonalist) pollution from the heart and mind and gives the chanter a taste of the nectar of devotional service to Krishna. Lord Chaitanya’s process of sankirtana, the chanting of the Lord’s names, is thus the most direct method for understanding Vedanta and the only method recommended for the present age, known as the Age of Quarrel. A disciple who hears the transcendental vibration of Hare Krishna from a spiritual master in disciplic succession and tries to chant with sincerity achieves the goal of Vedanta study: service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Perceiving the eternal happiness of love of God through devotional service, the disciple is naturally inclined to chant and dance, not caring for public opinion.
“I never chanted and danced to make an artificial show,” Lord Chaitanya explained to Prakashananda. “I dance and chant because I firmly believe in the words of my spiritual master. Compared to the ocean of transcendental bliss tasted by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, the pleasure derived from the impersonal Brahman realization touted by Sankaracarya is like the shallow water in a canal.”
Seated around Lord Chaitanya at the brahmana’s house, the Mayavadis were moved by His words. Their minds changed and they spoke pleasingly.
“Dear Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,” they began, “what You have said is true. Only a fortunate person attains love of Godhead. We have no objection to Your being a great devotee of Lord Krishna. But why do You avoid discussion of the Vedanta-sutra? What is the fault in it?”
While the Mayavadis appreciated Lord Chaitanya’s description of Krishna sankirtana as superior to the pleasure of impersonal Brahman realization, they were still under the impression that Vedanta-sutra was synonymous with Sankaracarya’s commentary on Vedanta- sutra, known as Sariraka-bhashya. There are in fact many definitive commentaries on the Vedanta- sutra written by great devotional scholars. The original commentary is Srimad-Bhagavatam, written by Srila Vyasadeva Himself, the author of Vedanta-sutra. Foreseeing the havoc created by perverted Mayavada commentaries, Vyasadeva compiled His own commentary. The Mayavadis recognize none of the devotional commentaries, and Sankaracarya even faulted Vyasadeva’s compilation of the Vedanta-sutra itself. So although Lord Chaitanya had been commenting on Vedanta all along, the assembled sannyasis requested Him to comment specifically on the verses of the Vedanta-sutra in relation to the Sariraka-bhashya.
“To tell You the truth,” the Mayavadi sannyasis continued, “we are greatly pleased to hear Your words and behold Your extraordinary beauty. We see that You are just like Narayana, God Himself. Whatever You say, we shall be very glad to hear patiently.”
With the Mayavadis eager to listen, the Lord began by indicating that Sankaracarya had no business correcting Srila Vyasadeva.
“Vedanta philosophy,” He said, “consists of words spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His literary incarnation as Srila Vyasadeva. The four material defects do not exist in the words of the Supreme Lord.”
The four defects of an ordinary person are (1) he must make mistakes, (2) he must fall into illusion, (3) he must have a tendency to cheat, and (4) his senses must be imperfect. These defects make our own knowledge unreliable, and their absence makes the Vedas authoritative. If we cannot accept, at least theoretically, that as an incarnation of God Vyasadeva is above the four defects, then there is no reason to give special attention to His Vedanta-sutra or any of the Vedic books. Certainly Sankaracarya, whose very mission was to reestablish the Vedic authority, weakened his position by correcting Vyasadeva. It is the Buddhists he was working to reform who believe that the Vedas were compiled by ordinary defective beings. Sankaracarya contradicted Vyasadeva only because the Vedas are clearly theistic and personal, something Sankaracarya’s Buddhist audiences would not have been able to swallow.
“Sankaracarya has misled the world,” Lord Chaitanya explained, “by commenting that Vyasadeva was mistaken. Thus he has raised great opposition to theism throughout the world.”
What, according to Sankaracarya, was Vyasadeva’s big mistake? The Vedanta-sutra begins by defining God or the Absolute Truth as the changeless origin of everything, the cause of all causes. Janmady asya yatah. That’s fine, the Mayavadis think. The Absolute is the origin of consciousness, of life, of spirit, the origin of everything eternal and real. But the Mayavadis balk at Vyasadeva’s assertion that the material creation also emanates from God. The material creation, with all its oceans, mountains, creatures, planets, and atomic and subatomic particles, is infinite, varied, and complete. If all this stuff is the energy of God, they reason, then He has either greatly depleted Himself in its creation, or has transformed Himself into the creation. In either case the changeless Absolute would have changed, making it a relative, illusory thing, like the material world itself. Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of God, was therefore obviously mistaken, the Mayavadis contend, in saying that the universe is composed of the energies of the Supreme.
To rectify God’s mistake, the Mayavadis say that the material world is false. Brahma satyam jagan mithya. Brahman, or eternal spirit, is truth, while the temporary material world is untruth. It is an unreal dream. It does not exist and so does not need to be accounted for. We ignorantly mistake the material universe as real just as in the dark we might mistake a rope for a snake. Absolutely everything here is illusion, the Mayavadis believe, with the one tiny exception of their own words.
Cut off from authorized disciplic succession, the Mayavadis are victims of their defective material reasoning. Material things change or dissipate as they give off energy. Your gas tank and your bank balance reduce to nothing as you spend money and drive your car. The original tree disappears as it is sawed into lumber and further transformed into furniture and houses. But the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is not material. The Upanishads describe Him as a transcendental person with unlimited, inexhaustible energies. Because He is infinite and complete, His creations, such as the phenomenal material world, are also infinite and complete.
om purnam adah purnam idam
purnat purnam udacyate
purnasya purnam adaya
“The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal material world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.”
Despite the vastness of His creations, Lord Krishna remains complete and unchanged. As a businessman spreads his limited financial and managerial assets to run a corporation, so the Supreme expands His unlimited potencies to create the material and spiritual worlds. That is what it means to say that God is omnipotent. The unlimited and inconceivable potencies of the Supreme is the central point of the Vaishnava, or personalist, philosophy taught by Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Like spirit, the material universe is also true, because it is composed of the energies of the Supreme Truth. This world is not false, as the Mayavadis say. Although temporary and in flux, the universe is real. We are eternal spiritual individuals, distinct from our temporary bodies, and part of Krishna’s superior spiritual energy. The material elements that make up our bodies and the rest of the universe are part of Krishna’s material energy. Nothing but these two categories of Krishna’s energy, spiritual and material, make up the universe. Both energies, both the rope and the snake, to use the Mayavadi example, are real. It is mistaking one for the other that is false. It is false to mistake our selves for our bodies, as the gross materialists do, because the bodies are temporary vehicles for our eternal selves. And it is false to think of our individuality as a product of the soul’s contact with the body, as the Mayavadis do, because we are eternally individual parts of the supreme individual, the Supreme Brahman, Krishna.
The Psychology of the Mayavadi
“In all the Vedic sutras [codes] and books, Lord Krishna is to be understood,” Lord Chaitanya explained to the assembled Mayavadis. “To prove their philosophy, the followers of Sankaracarya have covered the real meaning of the Vedas with indirect explanations based on their imaginative powers.”
Mayavadis, or materialists trying to imagine an eternal blissful life, have had a tough time in the material world. Things here are temporary and full of misery. Suffering comes from our own bodies and minds, from the forces of nature, and especially from other people, including loved ones. People here are full of faults and even the most picture-perfect storybook love affair must realistically end in old age, disease, and death. All the endless varieties of personalities and situations produce tiny bits of pleasure on a background of pain. So when we turn our imaginative powers to spiritual life, we imagine that it must be a life without people and without variety. We find comfort in the idea of losing our individuality and merging with an eternal impersonal spirit. No personality. No variety. No suffering.
A patient long suffering from a painful physical disease sometimes asks a doctor to end his life. He wants to destroy the disease, but out of hopelessness he thinks killing the body is the only solution. In the same way, because our material personalities give us pain, we want to commit spiritual suicide by ending our personalities, and the Mayavadis, the Dr. Kevorkians of spiritual life, are here to help with their imaginative impersonal interpretations of Vedanta.
Lord Chaitanya admonished the Kevorkian Vedantists of Varanasi.
“Brahman,” He said, “is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the reservoir of ultimate truth and absolute knowledge.”
Won Over by the Lord
Prakashananda and the other Mayavadis had always vigorously rejected such an explanation of Vedanta, but here was the Personality of Godhead Himself sitting before them and directly exhibiting His unlimited potencies, in particular His humility, His extraordinary beauty, His truthfulness, and His transcendental knowledge. Lord Chaitanya explained each sutra of the Vedanta-sutra in terms of devotion to Krishna, with the former Mayavadis pleased to hear everything He said. Before lunch they happily joined the Lord in the formerly scandalous activity of chanting Hare Krishna. Then, seating the Lord in their midst, they took their meal together.
After this incident, word spread that Prakashananda Saraswati and the other Mayavadis of Varanasi had embraced Lord Chaitanya’s path of chanting the holy names. Many scholars and curious people would come to see the Lord where He was staying. As all of them could not crowd into Chandrashekhara’s house, they used to line the streets as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu daily made His way to the temples of Vishvanatha and Bindhu Madhava.
One day shortly after the luncheon meeting, Prakashananda and his disciples joined a tumultuous crowd chanting and dancing with Lord Chaitanya in the courtyard of the Bindhu Madhava temple. Noticing Prakashananda, the Lord stopped the chanting to greet him affectionately, and at Prakashananda’s request they had further talks on the Vedanta-sutra. Not long after that, Lord Chaitanya returned to His headquarters in Jagannatha Puri, where He remained from then on.
Today in Varanasi there is a big banyan tree near the temple of Bindhu Madhava, the same tree in whose shade Lord Chaitanya used to rest after lunch. The old temple of Bindhu Madhava was dismantled by Emperor Aurangzeb and replaced by a mosque, but a new temple was built nearby. There is no sign of the houses of Chandrashekhara or Tapana Mishra, where Lord Chaitanya stayed, nor any sign of the fortunate and humble sannyasi Prakashananda Saraswati, who discussed Vedanta with the Supreme Brahman over lunch.
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.