The word caitanya means “living force,” carita means “character,” and amṛta means “immortal.” As living entities we can move, but a table cannot because it does not possess living force. Movement and activity may be considered signs or symptoms of the living force. Indeed, it may be said that there can be no activity without the living force. Although the living force is present in the material condition, this condition is not amṛta, immortal. The words Caitanya-caritāmṛta, then, may be translated as “the character of the living force in immortality.”
But how is this living force displayed immortally? It is not displayed by man or any other creature in this material universe, for none of us are immortal in these bodies. We possess the living force, we perform activities, and we are immortal by our nature and constitution, but the material condition into which we have been put does not allow our immortality to be displayed. It is stated in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad that eternality and the living force belong to both ourselves and God. Although this is true in that both God and ourselves are immortal, there is a difference. As living entities, we perform many activities, but we have a tendency to fall down into material nature. God has no such tendency. Being all-powerful, He never comes under the control of material nature. Indeed, material nature is but one display of His inconceivable energies.
An analogy will help us understand the distincion between ourselves and God. From the ground we may see only clouds in the sky, but if we fly above the clouds we can see the sun shining. From the sky, skyscrapers and cities seem very tiny; similarly, from God’s position this entire material creation is insignificant. The tendency of the living entity is to come down from the heights, where everything can be seen in perspective. God, however, does not have this tendency. The Supreme Lord is not subject to fall down into illusion (māyā) any more than the sun is subject to fall beneath the clouds. Impersonalist philosophers (Māyāvādīs) maintain that both the living entity and God Himself are under the control of māyā when they come into this material world. This is the fallacy of their philosophy.
Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu should therefore not be considered one of us. He is Kṛṣṇa Himself, the supreme living entity, and as such He never comes under the cloud of māyā. Kṛṣṇa, His expansions and even His higher devotees never fall into the clutches of illusion. Lord Caitanya came to earth simply to preach kṛṣṇa-bhakti, love of Kṛṣṇa. In other words, He is Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself teaching the living entities the proper way to approach Kṛṣṇa. He is like a teacher who, seeing a student doing poorly, takes up a pencil and writes, saying, “Do it like this: A, B, C.” From this one should not foolishly think that the teacher is learning his ABC’s. Similarly, although Lord Caitanya appears in the guise of a devotee, we should not foolishly think He is an ordinary human being; we should always remember that Lord Caitanya is Kṛṣṇa (God) Himself teaching us how to become Kṛṣṇa conscious, and we must study Him in that light.
In the Bhagavad-gītā (BG 18.66) Lord Kṛṣṇa says, “Give up all your nonsense and surrender to Me. I will protect you.”
We say, “Oh, surrender? But I have so many responsibilities.”
And māyā, illusion, says to us, “Don’t do it, or you’ll be out of my clutches. Just stay in my clutches, and I’ll kick you.”
It is a fact that we are constantly being kicked by māyā, just as the male ass is kicked in the face by the she-ass when he comes for sex. Similarly, cats and dogs are always fighting and whining when they have sex. Even an elephant in the jungle is caught by the use of a trained she-elephant who leads him into a pit. We should learn by observing these tricks of nature.
Māyā has many ways to entrap us, and her strongest shackle is the female. Of course, in actuality we are neither male nor female, for these designations refer only to the outer dress, the body. We are all actually Kṛṣṇa’s servants. But in conditioned life we are shackled by iron chains in the form of beautiful women. Thus every male is bound by sex, and therefore one who wishes to gain liberation from the material clutches must first learn to control the sex urge. Unrestricted sex puts one fully in the clutches of illusion. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu officially renounced this illusion at the age of twenty-four, although His wife was sixteen and His mother seventy and He was the only male in the family. Although He was a brāhmaṇa and was not rich, He took sannyāsa, the renounced order of life, and thus extricated Himself from family entanglement.
If we wish to become fully Kṛṣṇa conscious, we have to give up the shackles of māyā. Or, if we remain with māyā, we should live in such a way that we will not be subject to illusion, as did the many householders among Lord Caitanya’s closest devotees. With His followers in the renounced order, however, Lord Caitanya was very strict. He even banished Junior Haridāsa, an important kīrtana leader, for glancing lustfully at a woman. The Lord told him, “You are living with Me in the renounced order, and yet you are looking at a woman with lust.” Other devotees of the Lord had appealed to Him to forgive Haridāsa, but He replied, “All of you can forgive him and live with him. I shall live alone.” On the other hand, when the Lord learned that the wife of one of His householder devotees was pregnant, He asked that the baby be given a certain auspicious name. So while the Lord approved of householders having regulated sex, He was like a thunderbolt with those in the renounced order who tried to cheat by the method known as “drinking water under water while bathing on a fast day.” In other words, He tolerated no hypocrisy among His followers.
From the Caitanya-caritāmṛta we learn how Lord Caitanya taught people to break the shackles of māyā and become immortal. Thus, as mentioned above, the title may be properly translated as “the character of the living force in immortality.” The supreme living force is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is also the supreme entity. There are innumerable living entities, and all of them are individuals. This is very easy to understand: We are all individual in our thoughts and desires, and the Supreme Lord is also an individual person. He is different, though, in that He is the leader, the one whom no one can excel. Among the minute living entities, one being can excel another in one capacity or another. Like each of these living entities, the Lord is an individual, but He is different in that He is the supreme individual. God is also infallible, and thus in the Bhagavad-gītā He is addressed as Acyuta, which means “He who never falls down.” This name is appropriate because in the Bhagavad-gītā Arjuna falls into illusion but Kṛṣṇa does not. Kṛṣṇa Himself reveals His infallibility when he says to Arjuna, “When I appear in this world, I do so by My own internal potency.” (BG 4.6)
Thus we should not think that Kṛṣṇa is overpowered by the material potency when He is in the material world. Neither Kṛṣṇa nor His incarnations ever come under the control of material nature. They are totally free. Indeed, in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam one who has a godly nature is actually defined as one who is not affected by the modes of material nature although in material nature. If even a devotee can attain this freedom, then what to speak of the Supreme Lord?
The real question is, How can we remain unpolluted by material contamination while in the material world? Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī explains that we can remain uncontaminated while in the world if we simply make it our ambition to serve Kṛṣṇa. One may then justifiably ask, “How can I serve?” It is not simply a matter of meditation, which is just an activity of the mind, but of performing practical work for Kṛṣṇa. In such work, we should leave no resource unused. Whatever is there, whatever we have, should be used for Kṛṣṇa. We can use everything—typewriters, automobiles, airplanes, missiles. If we simply speak to people about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we are also rendering service. If our mind, senses, speech, money and energies are thus engaged in the service of Kṛṣṇa, then we are no longer in material nature. By virtue of spiritual consciousness, or Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we transcend the platform of material nature. It is a fact that Kṛṣṇa, His expansions and His devotees—that is, those who work for Him—are not in material nature, although people with a poor fund of knowledge think that they are.
The Caitanya-caritāmṛta teaches that the spirit soul is immortal and that our activities in the spiritual world are also immortal. The Māyāvādīs, who hold the view that the Absolute is impersonal and formless, contend that a realized soul has no need to talk. But the Vaiṣṇavas, devotees of Kṛṣṇa, contend that when one reaches the stage of realization, he really begins to talk. “Previously we only talked of nonsense,” the Vaiṣṇava says. “Now let us begin our real talks, talks of Kṛṣṇa.” In support of their view that the self-realized remain silent, the Māyāvādīs are fond of using the example of the water pot, maintaining that when a pot is not filled with water it makes a sound, but that when it is filled it makes no sound. But are we waterpots? How can we be compared to them? A good analogy utilizes as many similarities between two objects as possible. A waterpot is not an active living force, but we are. Ever-silent meditation may be adequate for a waterpot, but not for us. Indeed, when a devotee realizes how much he has to say about Kṛṣṇa, twenty-four hours in a day are not sufficient. It is the fool who is celebrated as long as he does not speak, for when he breaks his silence his lack of knowledge is exposed. The Caitanya-caritāmṛta shows that there are many wonderful things to discover by glorifying the Supreme.
In the beginning of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī writes, “I offer my respects to my spiritual masters.” He uses the plural here to indicate the disciplic succession. He offers obeisances not to his spiritual master alone but to the whole paramparā, the chain of disciplic succession beginning with Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself. Thus the author addresses the guru in the plural to show the highest respect for all his predecessor spiritual masters. After offering obeisances to the disciplic succession, the author pays obeisances to all other devotees, to the Lord Himself, to His incarnations, to the expansions of Godhead and to the manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s internal energy. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu (sometimes called Kṛṣṇa Caitanya) is the embodiment of all of these: He is God, guru, devotee, incarnation, internal energy and expansion of God. As His associate Nityānanda, He is the first expansion of God; as Advaita, He is an incarnation; as Gadādhara, He is the internal potency; and as Śrīvāsa, He is the marginal living entity in the role of a devotee. Thus Kṛṣṇa should not be thought of as being alone but should be considered as eternally existing with all His manifestations, as described by Rāmānujācārya. In the Viśiṣṭādvaita philosophy, God’s energies, expansions and incarnations are considered to be oneness in diversity. In other words, God is not separate from all of these: everything together is God.
Actually, the Caitanya-caritāmṛta is not intended for the novice, for it is the postgraduate study of spiritual knowledge. Ideally, one begins with the Bhagavad-gītā and advances through Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to the Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Although all these great scriptures are on the same absolute level, for the sake of comparative study the Caitanya-caritāmṛta is considered to be on the highest platform. Every verse in it is perfectly composed.
In the second verse of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, the author offers his obeisances to Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityānanda. He compares Them to the sun and the moon because They dissipate the darkness of the material world. In this instance the sun and the moon have risen together.
In the Western world, where the glories of Lord Caitanya are relatively unknown, one may inquire, “Who is Kṛṣṇa Caitanya?” The author of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, answers that question in the third verse of his book. Generally, in the Upaniṣads the Supreme Absolute Truth is described in an impersonal way, but the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth is mentioned in the Īśopaniṣad, where we find the following verse:
- hiraṇmayena pātreṇa satyasyāpihitaṁ mukham
- tat tvaṁ pūṣann apāvṛṇu satya-dharmāya dṛṣṭaye
“O my Lord, sustainer of all that lives, Your real face is covered by Your dazzling effulgence. Kindly remove that covering and exhibit Yourself to Your pure devotee.” (Śrī Īśopaniṣad 15) The impersonalists do not have the power to go beyond the effulgence of God and arrive at the Personality of Godhead, from whom this effulgence is emanating. The Īśopaniṣad is a hymn to that Personality of Godhead. It is not that the impersonal Brahman is denied; it is also described, but that Brahman is revealed to be the glaring effulgence of the body of Lord Kṛṣṇa. And in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta we learn that Lord Caitanya is Kṛṣṇa Himself. In other words, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya is the basis of the impersonal Brahman. The Paramātmā, or Supersoul, who is present within the heart of every living entity and within every atom of the universe, is but the partial representation of Lord Caitanya. Therefore Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, being the basis of both Brahman and the all-pervading Paramātmā as well, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As such, He is full in six opulences: wealth, fame, strength, beauty, knowledge and renunciation. In short, we should know that He is Kṛṣṇa, God, and that nothing is equal to or greater than Him. There is nothing superior to be conceived. He is the Supreme Person.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, a confidential devotee taught for more than ten days continually by Lord Caitanya, wrote:
- namo mahā-vadānyāya kṛṣṇa-prema-pradāya te
- kṛṣṇāya kṛṣṇa-caitanya-nāmne gaura-tviṣe namaḥ
- (CC Madhya 19.53)
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, who is more magnanimous than any other avatāra, even Kṛṣṇa Himself, because He is bestowing freely what no one else has ever given—pure love of Kṛṣṇa.”
Lord Caitanya’s teachings begin from the point of surrender to Kṛṣṇa. He does not pursue the paths of karma-yoga or jñāna-yoga or haṭha-yoga but begins at the end of material existence, at the point where one gives up all material attachment. In the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa begins His teachings by distinguishing the soul from matter, and in the Eighteenth Chapter He concludes at the point where the soul surrenders to Him in devotion. The Māyāvādīs would have all talk cease there, but at that point the real discussion only begins. As the Vedānta-sūtra says at the very beginning, athāto brahma jijñāsā: “Now let us begin to inquire about the Supreme Absolute Truth.” Rūpa Gosvāmī thus praises Lord Caitanya as the most munificent incarnation of all, for He gives the greatest gift by teaching the highest form of devotional service. In other words, He answers the most important inquiries that anyone can make.
There are different stages of devotional service and God realization. Strictly speaking, anyone who accepts the existence of God is situated in devotional service. To acknowledge that God is great is something, but not much. Lord Caitanya, preaching as an ācārya, a great teacher, taught that we can enter into a relationship with God and actually become God’s friend, parent or lover. In the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa showed Arjuna His universal form because Arjuna was His very dear friend. Upon seeing Kṛṣṇa as the Lord of the universes, however, Arjuna asked Kṛṣṇa to forgive the familiarity of his friendship. Lord Caitanya goes beyond this point. Through Lord Caitanya we can become friends with Kṛṣṇa, and there will be no limit to this friendship. We can become friends of Kṛṣṇa not in awe or adoration but in complete freedom. We can even relate to God as His father or mother. This is the philosophy not only of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta but of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as well. There are no other scriptures in the world in which God is treated as the son of a devotee. Usually God is seen as the almighty father who supplies the demands of His sons. The great devotees, however, sometimes treat God as a son in their execution of devotional service. The son demands, and the father and mother supply, and in supplying Kṛṣṇa the devotee becomes like a father or mother. Instead of taking from God, we give to God. It was in this relationship that Kṛṣṇa’s mother, Yaśodā, told the Lord, “Here, eat this or You’ll die. Eat nicely.” In this way Kṛṣṇa, although the proprietor of everything, depends on the mercy of His devotee. This is a uniquely high level of friendship, in which the devotee actually believes himself to be the father or mother of Kṛṣṇa.
However, Lord Caitanya’s greatest gift was His teaching that Kṛṣṇa can be treated as one’s lover. In this relationship the Lord becomes so much attached to His devotee that He expresses His inability to reciprocate. Kṛṣṇa was so obliged to the gopīs, the cowherd girls of Vṛndāvana, that He felt unable to return their love. “I cannot repay your love,” He told them. “I have no more assets to give.” Devotional service on this highest, most excellent platform of lover and beloved, which had never been given by any previous incarnation or ācārya, was given by Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Therefore Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, quoting Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, writes in the fourth verse of his book, “Lord Caitanya is Kṛṣṇa in a yellow complexion, and He is Śacīnandana, the son of mother Śacī. He is the most charitable personality because He came to deliver kṛṣṇa-prema, unalloyed love for Kṛṣṇa, to everyone. May you always keep Him in your hearts. It will be easy to understand Kṛṣṇa through Him.”
We have often heard the phrase “love of Godhead.” How far this love of Godhead can actually be developed can be learned from the Vaiṣṇava philosophy. Theoretical knowledge of love of God can be found in many places and in many scriptures, but what that love of Godhead actually is and how it is developed can be found in the Vaiṣṇava literatures. It is the unique and highest development of love of God that is given by Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
Even in this material world we can have a little sense of love. How is this possible? It is due to the presence of our original love of God. Whatever we find within our experience within this conditioned life is situated in the Supreme Lord, who is the ultimate source of everything. In our original relationship with the Supreme Lord there is real love, and that love is reflected pervertedly through material conditions. Our real love is continuous and unending, but because that love is reflected pervertedly in this material world, it lacks continuity and is inebriating. If we want real, transcendental love, we have to transfer our love to the supreme lovable object—Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the basic principle of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
In material consciousness we are trying to love that which is not at all lovable. We give our love to cats and dogs, running the risk that at the time of death we may think of them and consequently take birth in a family of cats or dogs. Our consciousness at the time of death determines our next life. That is one reason why the Vedic scriptures stress the chastity of women: If a woman is very much attached to her husband, at the time of death she will think of him, and in the next life she will be promoted to a man’s body. Generally a man’s life is better than a woman’s because a man usually has better facilities for understanding the spiritual science.
But Kṛṣṇa consciousness is so nice that it makes no distincition between man and woman. In the Bhagavad-gītā (BG 9.32), Lord Kṛṣṇa says, “Anyone who takes shelter of Me—whether a woman, śūdra, vaiśya or anyone else of low birth—is sure to achieve My association.” This is Kṛṣṇa’s guarantee.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu informs us that in every country and in every scripture there is some hint of love of Godhead. But no one knows what love of Godhead actually is. The Vedic scriptures, however, are different in that they can direct the individual in the proper way to love God. Other scriptures do not give information on how one can love God, nor do they actually define or describe what or who the Godhead actually is. Although they officially promote love of Godhead, they have no idea how to execute it. But Caitanya Mahāprabhu gives a practical demonstration of how to love God in a conjugal relationship. Taking the part of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, Caitanya Mahāprabhu tried to love Kṛṣṇa as Rādhārāṇī loved Him. Kṛṣṇa was always amazed by Rādhārāṇī’s love. “How does Rādhārāṇī give Me such pleasure?” He would ask. In order to study Rādhārāṇī, Kṛṣṇa lived in Her role and tried to understand Himself. This is the secret of Lord Caitanya’s incarnation. Caitanya Mahāprabhu is Kṛṣṇa, but He has taken the mood and role of Rādhārāṇī to show us how to love Kṛṣṇa. Thus the author writes in the fifth verse, “I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord, who is absorbed in Rādhārāṇī’s thoughts.”
This brings up the question of who Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is and what Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa is. Actually Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa is the exchange of love—but not ordinary love. Kṛṣṇa has immense potencies, of which three are principal: the internal, the external and the marginal potencies. In the internal potency there are three divisions: samvit, hlādinī and sandhinī. The hlādinī potency is Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure potency. All living entities have this pleasure-seeking potency, for all beings are trying to have pleasure. This is the very nature of the living entity. At present we are trying to enjoy our pleasure potency by means of the body in the material condition. By bodily contact we are attempting to derive pleasure from material sense objects. But we should not entertain the nonsensical idea that Kṛṣṇa, who is always spiritual, also tries to seek pleasure on this material plane. In the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa describes the material universe as a nonpermanent place full of miseries. Why, then, would He seek pleasure in matter? He is the Supersoul, the supreme spirit, and His pleasure is beyond the material conception.
To learn how Kṛṣṇa enjoys pleasure, we must study the first nine cantos of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and then we should study the Tenth Canto, in which Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure potency is displayed in His pastimes with Rādhārāṇī and the damsels of Vraja. Unfortunately, unintelligent people turn at once to the sports of Kṛṣṇa in the Daśama-skandha, the Tenth Canto. Kṛṣṇa’s embracing Rādhārāṇī or His dancing with the cowherd girls in the rāsa dance are generally not understood by ordinary men, because they consider these pastimes in the light of mundane lust. They foolishly think that Kṛṣṇa is like themselves and that He embraces the gopīs just as an ordinary man embraces a young girl. Some people thus become interested in Kṛṣṇa because they think that His religion allows indulgence in sex. This is not kṛṣṇa-bhakti, love of Kṛṣṇa, but prākṛta-sahajiyā—materialistic lust.
To avoid such errors, we should understand what Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa actually is. Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa display Their pastimes through Kṛṣṇa’s internal energy. The pleasure potency of Kṛṣṇa’s internal energy is a most difficult subject matter, and unless one understands what Kṛṣṇa is, one cannot understand it. Kṛṣṇa does not take any pleasure in this material world, but He has a pleasure potency. Because we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, the pleasure potency is within us also, but we are trying to exhibit that pleasure potency in matter. Kṛṣṇa, however, does not make such a vain attempt. The object of Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure potency is Rādhārāṇī; Kṛṣṇa exhibits His potency as Rādhārāṇī and then engages in loving affairs with Her. In other words, Kṛṣṇa does not take pleasure in this external energy but exhibits His internal energy, His pleasure potency, as Rādhārāṇī and then enjoys with Her. Thus Kṛṣṇa manifests Himself as Rādhārāṇī in order to enjoy His internal pleasure potency. Of the many extensions, expansions and incarnations of the Lord, this pleasure potency is the foremost and chief.
It is not that Rādhārāṇī is separate from Kṛṣṇa. Rādhārāṇī is also Kṛṣṇa, for there is no difference between the energy and the energetic. Without energy, there is no meaning to the energetic, and without the energetic, there is no energy. Similarly, without Rādhā there is no meaning to Kṛṣṇa, and without Kṛṣṇa there is no meaning to Rādhā. Because of this, the Vaiṣṇava philosophy first of all pays obeisances to and worships the internal pleasure potency of the Supreme Lord. Thus the Lord and His potency are always referred to as Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. Similarly, those who worship Nārāyaṇa first of all utter the name of Lakṣmī, as Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa. Similarly, those who worship Lord Rāma first of all utter the name of Sītā. In any case—Sītā-Rāma, Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa—the potency always comes first.
Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are one, and when Kṛṣṇa desires to enjoy pleasure, He manifests Himself as Rādhārāṇī. The spiritual exchange of love between Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa is the actual display of Kṛṣṇa’s internal pleasure potency. Although we speak of “when” Kṛṣṇa desires, just when He did desire we cannot say. We only speak in this way because in conditioned life we take it that everything has a beginning; however, in spiritual life everything is absolute, and so there is neither beginning nor end. Yet in order to understand that Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are one and that They also become divided, the question “When?” automatically comes to mind. When Kṛṣṇa desired to enjoy His pleasure potency, He manifested Himself in the separate form of Rādhārāṇī, and when He wanted to understand Himself through the agency of Rādhā, He united with Rādhārāṇī, and that unification is called Lord Caitanya. This is all explained by Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja in the fifth verse of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta.
In the next verse the author further explains why Kṛṣṇa assumed the form of Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Kṛṣṇa desired to know the glory of Rādhā’s love. “Why is She so much in love with Me?” Kṛṣṇa asked. “What is My special qualification that attracts Her so? And what is the actual way in which She loves Me?” It seems strange that Kṛṣṇa, as the Supreme, should be attracted by anyone’s love. A man searches after the love of a woman because he is imperfect—he lacks something. The love of a woman, that potency and pleasure, is absent in man, and therefore a man wants a woman. But this is not the case with Kṛṣṇa, who is full in Himself. Thus Kṛṣṇa expressed surprise: “Why am I attracted by Rādhārāṇī? And when Rādhārāṇī feels My love, what is She actually feeling?” To taste the essence of that loving exchange, Kṛṣṇa made His appearance in the same way that the moon appears on the horizon of the sea. Just as the moon was produced by the churning of the sea, by the churning of spiritual loving affairs the moon of Caitanya Mahāprabhu appeared. Indeed, Lord Caitanya’s complexion was golden, just like the luster of the moon. Although this is figurative language, it conveys the meaning behind the appearance of Caitanya Mahāprabhu. The full significance of His appearance will be explained in later chapters.
After offering respects to Lord Caitanya, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja begins offering them to Lord Nityānanda in the seventh verse of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta. The author explains that Lord Nityānanda is Balarāma, who is the origin of Mahā-Viṣṇu. Kṛṣṇa’s first expansion is Balarāma, a portion of whom is manifested as Saṅkarṣaṇa, who then expands as Pradyumna. In this way so many expansions take place. Although there are many expansions, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the origin, as confirmed in the Brahma-saṁhitā. He is like the original candle, from which many thousands and millions of candles are lit. Although any number of candles can be lit, the original candle still retains its identity as the origin. In this way Kṛṣṇa expands Himself into so many forms, and all these expansions are called viṣṇu-tattva. Viṣṇu is a large light, and we are small lights, but all are expansions of Kṛṣṇa.
When it is necessary to create the material universes, Viṣṇu expands Himself as Mahā-Viṣṇu. Mahā-Viṣṇu lies down in the Causal Ocean and breathes all the universes from His nostrils. Thus from Mahā-Viṣṇu and the Causal Ocean spring all the universes, and all these universes, including ours, float in the Causal Ocean. In this regard there is the story of Vāmana, who, when He took three steps, stuck His foot through the covering of this universe. Water from the Causal Ocean flowed through the hole that His foot made, and it is said that that water became the river Ganges. Therefore the Ganges is accepted as the most sacred water of Viṣṇu and is worshiped by all Hindus, from the Himalayas down to the Bay of Bengal.
Mahā-Viṣṇu is actually an expansion of Balarāma, who is Kṛṣṇa’s first expansion and, in the Vṛndāvana pastimes, His brother. In the mahā-mantra—Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare—the word “Rāma” refers to Balarāma. Since Lord Nityānanda is Balarāma, “Rāma” also refers to Lord Nityānanda. Thus Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Rāma addresses not only Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma but Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityānanda as well.
The subject matter of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta primarily deals with what is beyond this material creation. The cosmic material expansion is called māyā, illusion, because it has no eternal existence. Because it is sometimes manifested and sometimes not, it is regarded as illusory. But beyond this temporary manifestation is a higher nature, as indicated in the Bhagavad-gītā (BG 8.20):
- paras tasmāt tu bhāvo ’nyo ’vyakto ’vyaktāt sanātanaḥ
- yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu naśyatsu na vinaśyati
“Yet there is another unmanifested nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.” The material world has a manifested state (vyakta) and a potential, unmanifested state (avyakta). The supreme nature is beyond both the manifested and the unmanifested material nature. This superior nature can be understood as the living force, which is present in the bodies of all living creatures. The body itself is composed of inferior nature, matter, but it is the superior nature that is moving the body. The symptom of that superior nature is consciousness. Thus in the spiritual world, where everything is composed of the superior nature, everything is conscious. In the material world there are inanimate objects that are not conscious, but in the spiritual world nothing is inanimate. There a table is conscious, the land is conscious, the trees are conscious—everything is conscious.
It is not possible to imagine how far this material manifestation extends. In the material world everything is calculated by imagination or by some imperfect method, but the Vedic literatures give real information of what lies beyond the material universe. Since it is not possible to obtain information of anything beyond this material nature by experimental means, those who believe only in experimental knowledge may doubt the Vedic conclusions, for such people cannot even calculate how far this universe extends, nor can they reach far into the universe itself. That which is beyond our power of conception is called acintya, inconceivable. It is useless to argue or speculate about the inconceivable. If something is truly inconceivable, it is not subject to speculation or experimentation. Our energy is limited, and our sense perception is limited; therefore we must rely on the Vedic conclusions regarding that subject matter which is inconceivable. Knowledge of the superior nature must simply be accepted without argument. How is it possible to argue about something to which we have no access? The method for understanding transcendental subject matter is given by Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself in the Bhagavad-gītā, where Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna at the beginning of the Fourth Chapter:
- imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ proktavān aham avyayam
- vivasvān manave prāha manur ikṣvākave ’bravīt
“I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvān, and Vivasvān instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikṣvāku.” (BG 4.1) This is the method of paramparā, or disciplic succession. Similarly, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam explains that Kṛṣṇa imparted knowledge into the heart of Brahmā, the first created being within the universe. Brahmā imparted those lessons to his disciple Nārada, and Nārada imparted that knowledge to his disciple Vyāsadeva. Vyāsadeva imparted it to Madhvācārya, and from Madhvācārya the knowledge came down to Mādhavendra Purī and then to Īśvara Purī, and from him to Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
One may ask that if Caitanya Mahāprabhu is Kṛṣṇa Himself, then why did He need a spiritual master? Of course He did not need a spiritual master, but because He was playing the role of ācārya (one who teaches by example), He accepted a spiritual master. Even Kṛṣṇa Himself accepted a spiritual master, for that is the system. In this way the Lord sets the example for men. We should not think, however, that the Lord takes a spiritual master because He is in want of knowledge. He is simply stressing the importance of accepting the disciplic succession. The knowledge of that disciplic succession actually comes from the Lord Himself, and if the knowledge descends unbroken, it is perfect. Although we may not be in touch with the original personality who first imparted the knowledge, we may receive the same knowledge through this process of transmission. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is stated that Kṛṣṇa, the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, transmitted transcendental knowledge into the heart of Brahmā. This, then, is one way knowledge is received—through the heart. Thus there are two processes by which one may receive knowledge: One depends directly upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is situated as the Supersoul within the heart of all living entities, and the other depends upon the guru, or spiritual master, who is an expansion of Kṛṣṇa. Thus Kṛṣṇa transmits information both from within and from without. We simply have to receive it. If knowledge is received in this way, it doesn’t matter whether it is inconceivable or not.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there is a great deal of information given about the Vaikuṇṭha planetary systems, which are beyond the material universe. Similarly, a great deal of inconceivable information is given in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Any attempt to arrive at this information through experimental knowledge will fail. The knowledge simply has to be accepted. According to the Vedic method, śabda, or transcendental sound, is regarded as evidence. Sound is very important in Vedic understanding, for, if it is pure, it is accepted as authoritative. Even in the material world we accept a great deal of information sent thousands of miles by telephone or radio. In this way we also accept sound as evidence in our daily lives. Although we cannot see the informant, we accept his information as valid on the basis of sound. Sound vibration, then, is very important in the transmission of Vedic knowledge.
The Vedas inform us that beyond this cosmic manifestation there are extensive planets in the spiritual sky. This material manifestation is regarded as only a small portion of the total creation. The material manifestation includes not only this universe but innumerable others as well, but all the material universes combined constitute only one fourth of the total creation. The remaining three fourths is situated in the spiritual sky. In that sky innumerable planets float, and these are called Vaikuṇṭhalokas. In every Vaikuṇṭhaloka, Nārāyaṇa presides with His four expansions: Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna, Aniruddha and Vāsudeva. This Saṅkarṣaṇa, states Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja in the eighth verse of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, is Lord Nityānanda.
As stated before, the material universes are manifested by the Lord in the form of Mahā-Viṣṇu. Just as a husband and wife combine to beget offspring, Mahā-Viṣṇu combines with His wife māyā, or material nature. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā (BG 14.4), where Kṛṣṇa states:
- sarva-yoniṣu kaunteya mūrtayaḥ sambhavanti yāḥ
- tāsāṁ brahma mahad yonir ahaṁ bīja-pradaḥ pitā
“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kuntī, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” Viṣṇu impregnates māyā, the material nature, simply by glancing at her. This is the spiritual method. Materially we are limited to impregnating by only one particular part of our body, but the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa or Mahā-Viṣṇu, can impregnate by any part. Simply by glancing the Lord can conceive countless living entities in the womb of material nature. The Brahma-saṁhitā confirms that the spiritual body of the Supreme Lord is so powerful that any part of His body can perform the functions of any other part. We can touch only with our hands or skin, but Kṛṣṇa can touch just by glancing. We can see only with our eyes; we cannot touch or smell with them. Kṛṣṇa, however, can smell and also eat with His eyes. When food is offered to Kṛṣṇa, we do not see Him eating, but He eats simply by glancing at the food. We cannot imagine how things work in the spiritual world, where everything is spiritual. It is not that Kṛṣṇa does not eat or that we imagine that He eats; He actually eats, but His eating is different from ours. Our eating process will be similar to His when we are completely on the spiritual platform. On that platform every part of the body can act on behalf of any other part.
Viṣṇu does not require anything in order to create. He does not require the goddess Lakṣmī in order to give birth to Brahmā, for Brahmā is born from a lotus flower that grows from the navel of Viṣṇu. The goddess Lakṣmī sits at the feet of Viṣṇu and serves Him. In this material world sex is required to produce children, but in the spiritual world a man can produce as many children as he likes without having to take help from his wife. So there is no sex there. Because we have no experience with spiritual energy, we think that Brahmā’s birth from the navel of Viṣṇu is simply a fictional story. We are not aware that spiritual energy is so powerful that it can do anything and everything. Material energy is dependent on certain laws, but spiritual energy is fully independent.
Countless universes reside like seeds within the skin pores of Mahā-Viṣṇu, and when He exhales, they are all manifested. In the material world we have no experience of such a thing, but we do experience a perverted reflection in the phenomenon of perspiration. We cannot imagine, however, the duration of one breath of Mahā-Viṣṇu, for within one breath all the universes are created and annihilated. This is stated in the Brahma-saṁhitā. Lord Brahmā lives only for the duration of one breath, and according to our time scale 4,320,000,000 years constitute only twelve hours for Brahmā, and Brahmā lives one hundred of his years. Yet the whole life of Brahmā is contained within one breath of Mahā-Viṣṇu. Thus it is not possible for us to imagine the breathing power of Mahā-Viṣṇu, who is but a partial manifestation of Lord Nityānanda. This the author of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta explains in the ninth verse.
In the tenth and eleventh verses Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja describes Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu and Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, successive plenary expansions of Mahā-Viṣṇu. Brahmā appears upon a lotus growing from the navel of Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, and within the stem of that lotus are so many planetary systems. Then Brahmā creates the whole of human society, animal society—everything. Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu lies on the milk ocean within the universe, of which He is the controller and maintainer. Thus Brahmā is the creator, Viṣṇu is the maintainer, and when the time for annihilation arrives, Śiva will finish everything.
In the first eleven verses of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī thus discusses Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu as Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Lord Nityānanda as Balarāma, the first expansion of Kṛṣṇa. Then in the twelfth and thirteenth verses he describes Advaitācārya, who is another principal associate of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s and an incarnation of Mahā-Viṣṇu. Thus Advaitācārya is also the Lord, or, more precisely, an expansion of the Lord. The word advaita means “nondual,” and His name is such because He is nondifferent from the Supreme Lord. He is also called ācārya, teacher, because He disseminated Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In this way He is just like Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Although Lord Caitanya is Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself, He appeared as a devotee to teach people in general how to love Kṛṣṇa. Similarly, although Advaitācārya is the Lord, He appeared just to distribute the knowledge of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Thus He is also the Lord incarnated as a devotee.
In the pastimes of Lord Caitanya, Kṛṣṇa is manifested in five different features, known as the pañca-tattva, to whom Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja offers his obeisances in the fourteenth verse of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Kṛṣṇa and His associates appear as devotees of the Supreme Lord in the form of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu, Śrī Advaitācārya, Śrī Gadādhara Prabhu and Śrīvāsa Prabhu. In all cases, Caitanya Mahāprabhu is the source of energy for all His devotees. Since this is the case, if we take shelter of Caitanya Mahāprabhu for the successful execution of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we are sure to make progress. In a devotional song, Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura sings, “My dear Lord Caitanya, please have mercy upon me. There is no one who is as merciful as You. My plea is most urgent because Your mission is to deliver all fallen souls, and no one is more fallen than I. Therefore I beg priority.”
With verse 15, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī begins offering his obeisances directly to Kṛṣṇa Himself. Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja was an inhabitant of Vṛndāvana and a great devotee. He had been living with his family in Katwa, a small town in the district of Burdwan, in Bengal. He worshiped Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa with his family, and once when there was some misunderstanding among his family members about devotional service, he was advised by Nityānanda Prabhu in a dream to leave home and go to Vṛndāvana. Although he was very old, he started out that very night and went to live in Vṛndāvana. While he was there, he met some of the Gosvāmīs, principal disciples of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He was requested to write the Caitanya-caritāmṛta by the devotees of Vṛndāvana. Although he began this work at a very old age, by the grace of Lord Caitanya he finished it. Today it remains the most authoritative book on Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s philosophy and life.
When Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī was living in Vṛndāvana, there were not very many temples. At that time the three principal temples were those of Madana-mohana, Govindajī and Gopīnātha. As a resident of Vṛndāvana, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja offers his respects to the Deities in these temples and requests God’s favor: “My progress in spiritual life is very slow, so I’m asking Your help.” In the fifteenth verse of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Kṛṣṇadāsa offers his obeisances to the Madana-mohana vigraha, the Deity who can help us progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In the execution of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, our first business is to know Kṛṣṇa and our relationship with Him. To know Kṛṣṇa is to know one’s self, and to know one’s self is to know one’s relationship with Kṛṣṇa. Since this relationship can be learned by worshiping the Madana-mohana vigraha, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī first establishes his relationship with Him.
When this is established, in the sixteenth verse Kṛṣṇadāsa offers his obeisances to the functional Deity, Govinda. The Govinda Deity is called the functional Deity because He shows us how to serve Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. The Madana-mohana Deity simply establishes that “I am Your eternal servant.” With Govinda, however, there is actual acceptance of service. Govinda resides eternally in Vṛndāvana. In the spiritual world of Vṛndāvana the buildings are made of touchstone, the cows are known as surabhi cows, givers of abundant milk, and the trees are known as wish-fulfilling trees, for they yield whatever one desires. In Vṛndāvana Kṛṣṇa herds the surabhi cows, and He is worshiped by hundreds and thousands of gopīs, cowherd girls, who are all goddesses of fortune. When Kṛṣṇa descends to the material world, this same Vṛndāvana descends with Him, just as an entourage accompanies an important personage. Because when Kṛṣṇa comes His land also comes, Vṛndāvana is considered to exist beyond the material world. Therefore devotees take shelter of the Vṛndāvana in India, for it is considered to be a replica of the original Vṛndāvana. Although one may complain that no kalpa-vṛkṣa, wish-fulfilling trees, exist there, when the Gosvāmīs were there, kalpa-vṛkṣa were present. It is not that one can simply go to such a tree and make demands; one must first become a devotee. The Gosvāmīs would live under a tree for one night only, and the trees would satisfy all their desires. For the common man this may all seem very wonderful, but as one makes progress in devotional service, all this can be realized.
Vṛndāvana is actually experienced as it is by persons who have stopped trying to derive pleasure from material enjoyment. “When will my mind become cleansed of all hankering for material enjoyment so I will be able to see Vṛndāvana?” one great devotee asks. The more Kṛṣṇa conscious we become and the more we advance, the more everything is revealed as spiritual. Thus Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī considered the Vṛndāvana in India to be as good as the Vṛndāvana in the spiritual sky, and in the sixteenth verse of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta he describes Rādhārāṇī and Kṛṣṇa as seated beneath a wish-fulfilling tree in Vṛndāvana, on a throne decorated with valuable jewels. There Kṛṣṇa’s dear gopī friends serve Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa by singing, dancing, offering betel nuts and refreshments, and decorating Their Lordships with flowers. Even today in India people decorate swinging thrones and re-create this scene during the month of July-August. Generally at that time people go to Vṛndāvana to offer their respects to the Deities there.
Finally Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī offers his blessings to his readers in the name of the Gopīnātha Deity, who is Kṛṣṇa as master and proprietor of the gopīs. When Kṛṣṇa played upon his flute, all the gopīs, or cowherd girls, were attracted by the sound and left their household duties, and when they came to Him, He danced with them. These activities are all described in the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. These gopīs were childhood friends of Kṛṣṇa, and many were married, for in India the girls are generally married by the age of twelve. The boys, however, are not married before eighteen, so Kṛṣṇa, who was fifteen or sixteen at the time, was not married. Nonetheless, He called these girls from their homes and invited them to dance with Him. That dance is called the rāsa-līlā dance, and it is the most elevated of all the Vṛndāvana pastimes. Kṛṣṇa is therefore called Gopīnātha because He is the beloved master of the gopīs.
Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī petitions the blessings of Lord Gopīnātha: “May that Gopīnātha, the master of the gopīs, Kṛṣṇa, bless you. May you become blessed by Gopīnātha.” The author of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta prays that just as Kṛṣṇa attracted the gopīs by the sweet sound of His flute, He will also attract the reader’s mind by that transcendental vibration.