Yada yada hi dharmasya/glanir bhavati bharata/abhyutanam adharmasya/tadatmanam srijami aham 

‘Whenever and wherever there is a decline in relgious practice, O scion of Bharata, and aa predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend myself’ (Bg. 4.7)

This verse is well-know to Hindus and followers of sanatana dharma.  You often see the original Devanagari script, with a picture of Arjuna and Krishna riding upon a chariot, in the homes of Hindus.  The word glanir means that there is a need for re-spiritualization, for Krishna consciousness, in this godless world.  The Lord, therefore, appears from to time to revive religion or dharma. He appeared in His original form in Vrindavan 5,000 years ago.  Five hundred years ago, on this auspicious day, Sri Gaura Purnima, He appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  You might be wondering, ‘Who is Caitanya Mahaprabhu?’ This was the question I first posed to a Hare Krishna devotee outside the Standard Bank in Rondebosch, in Cape Town, some 17 years ago. I asked, ‘Who is Kaitanya Mahaprabhu?’ (I wasn’t sure of the pronunciation).

We all have different conceptions of God.  There is the analogy of a mountain.  The mountain is seen in different ways according to where you are standing.  Some see the Supreme Personality of Godhead as all-pervasive spirit, or Brahman; some see Him as the Holy Spirit within all living beings, Paramatma; and others see Him in His personal feature, Bhagavan.  It is challenging for us to hear things like, ‘Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead’ or ‘the Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared in this world as a renunciate.’  This is because we live in a world that favours impersonal conceptions of the Absolute Truth over the personal. We do not see the chairman of Anglo American, yet we accept his existence – even though there are branches of Anglo American all over the world! The word avatara is the Sanskrit word which describes the appearance of the Lord within the material world.  Avatara literally means ‘one who descends’, ie. ‘one who descends from the spiritual world to the material world.’  Krishna is avatari.  He is the source of all avataras or incarnations.  The Brahma-samhita uses the analogy of a candle.  Many incarnations emanate from Krishna, just like many candles can be lit from an original candle. It may appear confusing to us that the Lord appears in various forms such as Lord Ramachandra (with a bow and arrow), Lord Narasimhadeva (with the upper body of a lion), Kurmadeva (in the form of a tortoise) and so on.  We only have difficulty understanding personal conceptions of God because of our western conditioning.  If we have faith, however, that everything comes from God and that God has unlimited powers, then we can accept that God can appear in whatever form He likes.  God can steal, because He owns everything.  God can have unlimited wives, because He is not only capable of expanding Himself unlimitedly, but because everything emanates from Him – janmady yasya dehe.  Avatara hi asankhyaya/harer sattva-nidher dvija.  The Lord appears in different incarnations, like unlimited waves appear in the sea. On the one hand he can appear as Lord Krishna, the Supreme Enjoyer; and on the other, He can appear as Lord Gauranga, the Supremely renounced.  As Lord Gauranga, He is the ideal devotee, who seeks to serve rather than enjoy.  He comes in the mood of Sri Radha (but we’ll say something about this later).  As Krishna, He gives love in return for the highest level of surrender; and as Gaura, He gives love of God to those who do not even want it – like a drunk king giving out his jewels to loiters on the street.  Namo maha vadanyaya/Krsna prema-pradayate/Krsnaya krsna caitanya/namne gaura tvise namah.  These were Rupa Goswami’s words on meeting Lord Caitanya for the first time at Dasasvamedha Ghata in Prayaga.

The Transcendental Appearance Of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu

Our story begins 528 years ago in the town of Navadvipa in the Nadia District of West Bengal. The story of the transcendental appearance and activities of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  The Bhagavad-gita says janma karma ca me divyam/evam yo vetti tattvata/tyaktva deha purna janma/naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna.

India is sometimes called punya-bhumi or ‘the land of piety.’  We may associate India with cricket or cheating businessmen or poverty and squalor; but, even in spite of these perceptions, India is perenially famous for its highly developed spiritual culture.  You can assess this statement by the number of holidays and fasting days on the Indian religious calendar.  In ISKCON it is determined by the number of feasts. Indian spirituality may be a little hard for westerners to understand because of its highly personal nature.  Some Temples worship Visnu, the Personality of Godhead – the “head God.”  While others worship His expansions, like lord Siva, or Siva’s son, Ganesha.  One thing that struck me on my first visit to India was the number of Temples I saw.  Your typical western city has pubs, Macdonalds and restaurants on every corner.  India has Temples.  Navadvipa was such a place.  It was a great centre for learning in Medieval India.  There were many schools of Vedic culture.  Great scholars resided there.  This wonderful spiritual capital, however, had become quite materialistic by the time of Lord Caitanyas advent in 1486.  The residents of Navadvipa began to place emphasis on the worship of Durga and were performing irreligious ceremonies in the name of religion.  For example, they would marry dogs or cats in very grand ceremonies.  Caste-conscious priests called smarta brahmanas - something like the pharisees of Christ’s time – claimed a monopoly on religion.  The chanting of the Holy Names of God, in whatever form, such as Govinda and Pundarikaksha, could be chanted by hereditary brahmanas - and even then only under special circumstances!  Navadvipa was degraded and religious principles perverted.

Seeing this, Advaita Acarya, a very powerful brahmana, offered sacred tulasi plants and Ganges water to the Lord, and prayed with tears in his eyes that the Lord would appear to deliver the wretched souls of Kali Yuga.  Sometime later, on the full moon night of Phalguna, the Lord appeared.  His appearance was not ordinary, for on that full moon night there was a solar eclipse.  Now, in Vedic culture solar eclipses are considered highly inauspicious.  It is said that if a pregnant woman sees the moon on a solar eclipse she can miscarry.  If she cuts cloth on a solar eclipse, her child can be born with a hair-lip.  The rays of the moon are considered contaminating on the night of a solar eclipse.  On such days, it is the custom, even now in India, to close all the curtains, to fast and to chant the Holy Names of Krishna – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama/Rama Rama, Hare Hare.  The other custom is immerse oneself in a holy river, like the Ganges, and to chant until the eclipse elapses.  As we have described, the general mass of people were not allowed to chant the Holy Names of the Lord, except under certain circumstances – such as solar eclipses.  When the Lord appeared, therefore, most of the residents of the town of Navadvipa immersed themselves in the Ganges river and loudly chanted, ‘Hari! Hari!’ and ‘Govinda!’  In this way, Lord Caitanya introduced the yuga-dharma of harinama-sankirtana from the time of His appearance.

Sri Vrindavan Das Thakura’s biography of Lord Caitanya, the Caitanya-Bhagavata, describes the Advent of the Lord.  The Lord’s childhood pastimes are also described in Sri Caitanya Mangala.  His later pastimes and more philosophical understandings (or tattvas) are described in the great poet Krsnadas Kaviraja Goswami’s Caitanya-caritamrita.  This book has been translated with commentaries by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.  Vrindavan Das Thakur explains how Lord Nityananda appears before Lord Caitanya.  We celebrated Sri Nityananda Trayodasi about a month ago.  There is a secret meaning behind this.  Lord Nityananda, a form of Krishna Himself, represents the guru principle.  Since Lord Caitanya appears after Lord Nityananda, we obtain Lord Caitanya’s  mercy via Lord Nityananda or the guru.  Vande sri krishna caitanya/nityanandau suhoditau/gaudadaye puspavantau/citro-samdau tamo nudau.

Caitanya Mahaprabhu took birth from the womb of Mother Saci at the Yoga Pitha, in the village of Mayapur.  Yoga Pitha means means the place where spirit and matter blend and a Temple stands there today.  This Temple is not very far from our ISKCON Headquarters in Mayapur.  Lord Caitanya’s father was a humble brahmana named Jagannath Misra. His mother, Sacidevi, called him Nimai, since he was born under a holy neem tree.  She also called him Nimai because she thought the name would ward off snakes and other inauspicious creatures from her child.  As is the custom in Bengal, Mother Saci worshipped the Goddess Sashti to further protect baby Nimai. At the time of His appearance, the child’s grandfather, Nilambara Cakravarti Thakur, read His horoscope.  Everyone was pleased with the chart.  There was every indication that the child was going to be a great personality (part of the mystery and beauty of the Lord’s pastimes is that those close to Him are not always aware that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead).  Jagannatha Misra, his father, called him Gauranga. Gaura means ‘golden’ and anga means ‘limbs.’  His grandfather called him Visvambhara, which means the ‘sustainer of the Universe.’  The Lord is also known, amongst other names, as Sacinandana, the beloved son of Saci Devi; Gaurasundara, the beautiful golden Lord; and Mahaprabhu, the great Lord. In this way the Lord appeared to bring light to a world that had become darkened by the influence of Kali.  Tatas-canu-dinam-dharma/satyam saucam ksama daya/kalena balena rajann/nanksyaty alur balam smrti.

The Transcendental Activities of Nimai Pandit

Caitanya Mahaprabhu explained to His own followers that there are three kinds of devotees.  There is someone to takes the Holy Name of Krishna once.  Though he has taken the name of Krishna, he is the best in a crowd of people.  Then there is the devotee who chants the name of the Lord constantly.  He is known as a madhyama-adhikari or second-class devotee.  Finally, there is the uttama-adhikari, or first-class devotee, who just by His presence makes others chant the Holy name.  Nimai Pandit exhibited the qualities of the first-class devotee, as we have seen, from the time of his birth.  Since He was so attractive, the ladies of village were always visiting Mother Saci’s house.  He would cry and they would try everything to pacify Him.  But only one thing worked.  The chanting of the Holy Names of Krishna – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama/Rama Rama, Hare Hare.  Little Nimai Pandit would go into the streets of Navadvipa and would induce the people of Navadvipa to chant, rewarding them with Mother Saci’s sandesh and other sweetmeats.  In this way, Nimai pandita delighted the residents of Navadvipa with His childhood pastimes.  The most important thing to note is how the chanting of the Holy Names of Krishna was always a feature in Lord Caitanya’s life.

Reasons For Lord Caitanya’s Appearance

We were reading this morning how Lord Caitanya appears every 1,000 Kali Yugas.  It is therefore our good fortune that we are living on this planet so soon after the appearance of Krishna and Gaura-Nitai,  We have already discussed how the Lord appears to re-establish dharma.  The dharma which Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu re-establishes is the sankirtan yajna.  Kali kale nama rupa krishna avatara.  ‘In the Kali Yuga, Krishna appears as the Holy Names.’  He is, therefore, also called Kali Yuga Pavana or the Yugavatara.  He is the recipient of all sacrifices and is also known as Yajnapurusa.  In the Age of Kali there is no need for elaborate sacrifices or expensive offerings to the Deity.  All that is required is the chanting of the Holy Names.  After taking sannyasa (the renounced order of life), Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu travelled to many Holy Places in India.  It is described that when His sankirtan party passed through the villages, the people would become addicted to the Holy Names.  He would leave and they would just be chanting the maha-mantra incessantly.  There are also confidential reasons for the Lord’s appearance.  These are described by Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami in the Caitanya-caritamrita.  When Krishna saw His own reflection in a pillar in Dwaraka, He saw what Srimati Radharani sees within her own heart.  He wondered, ‘Who is this beautiful person?’ Krishna is bewildered by His own beauty!  The Lord was intrigued by His eternal consort Srimati Radharani’s love.  ‘Why is She so in love with me’, He thought.  ‘What is it about Me that attracts Her?  And what does She experience when She loves Me?’  Krishna appeared as Lord Caitanya in order to experience Sri Radha’s love. Sri krishna caitanya/ radha-krishna nahi anya.

‘Radha’s love is all-pervading, leaving no room for expansion.  But still it is expanding constantly’ – CC 1.4.128.  In this world, men and women seek relationships with one another because they are imperfect.  The quality of Radharani’s love is so perfect and so sweet that the Lord Himself appears as a devotee, in the mood of Srimati Radharani, to taste that mellow or feeling of love.  Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is a complex personality.  He is none other than Shyamasundara Krishna, yet He is in the mood of Srimati Radharani.  He takes Her complexion – radha-bhava-dyuti suvalitam/krishna naumi svarupam.  Yet, while this intricate exchange is going on within Himself, He is externally a simple sannyasi!  The beautiful Nimai pandita with his long flowing locks, shaved His head and took the simple cloth of a sannyasi.  He was the husband of the Goddess of Fortune, Laxmidevi, yet he renounced all worldly enjoyment!  He did this to demonstrate the power of devotional service and the best way to worship Krishna.  All living entities are spiritual beings.  In this world they are covered by different bodily “dress.”  A learned devotee does not see the external dress of any particular living entity, rather he sees the presence of the soul and the Lord.  Caitanya Mahaprabhu exhibitted this perfectly.

Brahmacari Class by His Grace Jananivas Prabhu, ISKCON Chowpatty, 9 March 2007

Brahmacarya is not an external factor.  It is the first asrama (stage of life in spiritual society).  Thereafter, we progress through the others. We shouldn’t identify with these external designations (eg. student, householder and renunciate).  They are useful for social dealings.  The word asrama is from the Sanskrit word asraya which means ‘shelter’ – shelter according to one’s consciousness.  Brahmacari asrama is a very simple asrama for students.  You can remain brahmacari (celibate student) if you are tolerant.  In this way we can overcome material desire.  Of course, we have to be tolerant in all asramas, but here we are talking about brahmacarya.  

Today’s society is not Krishna Conscious.  Therefore, it is best to remain brahmacari.  By developing tolerance one can remain fixed.  Devotees have to face the material world.  They have to face Maya (illusion) directly.  It is, therefore, difficult to be a strict and true brahmacari.  Consciousness is, therefore, more important than varna and asrama.  We have to identify ourselves as eternal servants of Krishna and see that everything is the property of Krishna.  Over-identification with one’s asrama is also not healthy.  We act according to our asramas, but we identify ourselves as eternal servants of Krishna.

Our first business is to establish a relationship with Madan Mohan, the attractor of Cupid (or lust).  ‘We are trying, now, to turn our attraction from Cupid to Madan Mohanji.’  When Krishna and His devotees bestow this attraction upon us, we make advancement.  One is awarded by one’s devotional attitude.  Even Brahman (impersonal) realization is attractive.  The Bhagavad-gita mentions how, upon gaining this, one thinks there is no greater gain.  This comes after anartha-nivritti, when the dirty things in the heart are gone.  Brahman is so attractive that the jnanis and the mayavadis are prepared to sacrifice their own identity to achieve it.  Krishna is always attractive – in any of His features.  Unless you realize aham brahmasmi - ‘I am spirit’ – you cannot understand Krishna’s pastimes.

The Bhagavad-gita further explains that for one who has controlled his mind, the Paramatma (the Supersoul, the Lord within everyone’s heart) is attained.  Ceto darpanam marjanam.  This is where Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s Movement begins. Give up the dirty things in your heart and engage in Krishna’s service.  We must strictly follow the rules of sadhana bhakti so long as we have a material  body and so long as we identify with it.  First, get your spiritual legs.  Understand what is spiritual ground.  Then you can make progress.  Realization of nama (the Lord’s Holy Name) enables us to realize Krishna’s presence.  Later He will reveal His rupa (form), guna (qualities) and lila (pastimes).  Srila Prabhupada taught that we should just surrender to the sound vibration and depend on the Holy Name to reveal Himself.

We should not jump prematurely.  We should first approach Madana Mohana.  There is a progression that has been given by the acaryas.  We come to the point of Madana Mohana by strictly following sadhana (practical spiritual activities, particularly chanting God’s name),  This cleanses the heart.  We should remember that we can’t get Krishna by sadhana.  Persons who are part of the hladini-sakti (the Lord’s spiritual energy) like Rupa Goswami can give it.  Krishna is only achieved by love.

The following is a class from the Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 6, chapter 9, text 52, given by His Grace Jananivas Prabhu on the 9 March 2007 at Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha Mandir, Chowpatty, Mumbai.

Indra is probably the most desirable position in the material world.  The position of Indra affords the most material enjoyment because Indra is king of the heavenly planets.

The Hari Bhakti Vilas provides a beautiful meditation on Krishna.  It describes how His shark-shaped earrings reflect on His shiny cheeks; the masses of His black, curly hair; how He is lying on a couch, playing His flute.  The demigods appear before Krishna (in his majestic feature).  They are offering prayers to Him.  The Gandharvas are there also.

There are 8,400,000 different types of bodies in this world – all based on different combinations of material desires.

The bulls and the cows come and see Krishna.  That is called santa rasa (love of God in neutrality).  There are also the babies, with bells on their ankles, the cowherd boys and the elder gopis.  The gopis faces are half-covered and their eyes are half-closed.   They are trying to see Krishna.  They are trembling uncontrollably.  They try to suppress their trembling, so the bells around their waists and ankles won’t ring. 

These are meditations for pujaris (priests of the Deity).

The neophyte devotee’s objective is to see the Deity form of Krishna in the Temple.  Ideally, we should also see Krishna in everyone’s heart.

Srila Prabhupada was on Juhu beach with one of his disciples, Dravida Maharaja.  They were looking at the ocean.  Srila Prabhupada asked, ‘What do you see?’  Dravida replied, ‘Krishna.’  Srila Prabhupada asked, ‘How?’  Maharaja answered, ‘I am the taste of water.’  Prabhupada looked a the salty water, ‘See.  This is the energy of Krishna.’

Sometimes you look at Radha-Gopinath (the Deities at the Mumbai Temple) and you see it’s Krishna.  You don’t have to analyze.  The gopis see a black tamala tree.  Radharani embraces the tamala tree.  All Her friends laugh at Her.  It’s not that they don’t see a tree – but they see Krishna (the tamala tree is black like Him).  They see things, but they see Krishna present in them.

The demigiods are not pure, unalloyed devotees.  Even in Vaikuntha.  In Vaikuntha they are pure, but they are not unalloyed.  The residents of Goloka Vrindavan are unalloyed.  The devas or demigods are devotees, but they are thinking of their desires.  Pure, unalloyed devotees only want Krishna’s pleasure.  Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to teach that.

Indra will kill Vritrasura with the bones of Dadici.  Vritrasura knows this.  When Indra drops his weapon, Vritrasura says, ‘Pick up your weapon and kill me.  It is Vishnu’s will that you kill me.’

The demigods fear death because they do not want to lose their position.  Srila Prabhupada, ‘Do you believe in reincarnation?’  The devotees, ‘No.  We are going back to Godhead.’  Prabhupada, ‘Lord Caitanya’s waiting for the devotees with a Sankirtan party.’

The Srimad Bhagavatam will bring out the particular relationship we have with Krishna.  The Bhagavatam gives all the different relationships you can have with Krishna.

The devotees do not want anything.  For example, Hanuman.  If Lord Rama wants Hanuman to have liberation, he’ll take it.  But, if it interferes with his service, he’ll reject it.

Who has come to give this essence of what Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to give? Krishna came 5,000 years ago.  He performed divine pastimes.  He left instructions, sarva-dharman parityajya – just surrender unto Me.  People couldn’t follow such a high standard in the Age of Kali.  So, Caitanya Mahaprabhu came – with no demands.  Just giving.  Freely giving vraja-prema.  Mahaprabhu’s our hero.

There is a prediction.  All the different sampradayas (disciplic traditions in India) will fall under Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s Sankirtan mission.  Caitanya Mahaprabhu declared, ‘I will give them the opportunity to taste vraja-prema.  This is the maha-mantra.’

We are eternal.  We have an eternal relationship with Krishna.  Simultaneously, we have come from Krishna – aham sarvasya prabhavo.  ‘Make an eternal change!’   You can change your eternal relationship.  There is the example of Shymananda.  He had a relationship of friendship with Krishna, but obtained a relationship in the conjugal rasa.  He changed his attitude in the association of Jiva Goswami, Narrottama and Srinivas.  His guru beat him with a stick, ‘Why are you crying in ecstasy hearing the pastimes of Radha and Krishna?  You don’t know what pleasure you’re missing in sakhya rasa.  You’re taking something lower!’

You cannot change you eternal position as servant of God or Krishna – jivera svarupa haya krisnera nitya das.  Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains different relationships.  If you want material relationships – even with your own family.  When you’re realized, you can even have an eternal planet with your own family!  This is called satya sankalpa.  When you are pure, everything you desire becomes manifest. If you want to be a friend of Krishna, you can take birth in a family of gopas (cowherds), where their association will draw that relationship out.  You will get the association of nitya-siddhas (eternally perfect souls) and take birth as a gopi with gopis - if that is your pure desire.  The mood has to be empowered by devotees.  Thereafter, you go to the Spiritual World or the Kingdom of God.

You can change your body in the material world, so why not spiritually?

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in curs...

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in cursive script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Based, in part, on my discussions with a respected and prolific South African author.

It is best not to be too conscious about the process.  Don’t cripple yourself.  Don’t break your own mirror.

The writing of books is like a journey and, sometimes, you reach the end.

Go with the flow.  Let it come from the unconscious.

Don’t get diverted by interesting facts or ideas that are only indirectly related to the task at hand.  Don’t waste time.

Historical novels leave room for details, for example the way servants might kneel at the hearth in 18th century Dutch South Africa would be reasonable for an historical novel.  Such portraits from daily life add to the texture of a fiction or a description of the past.  They do not necessarily fit into a standard historical narrative.  On the other hand, a ‘standard’ historical narrative need not be embellished.

Read classics.

Be mindful of mistakes when reading languages that are not your first language.  You will avoid embarrassment and (possibly severe) criticism.  You will earn the respect of those proficient in those languages.

Get feedback from other writers, friends, acquaintances, the man in the street.

For historical novels, familiarize yourself with the historical setting.  Visit museums, historical places, look at books on costumes etc.  Speak to experts on the field.

Write with a pen or pencil or fountain pen.  Write on paper.  Computers tend to give writing a cut-and-paste effect.

‘Most history is written in prose; and the selection of the material, the organization into narrative and the choice of language show that it is a created form, an art’ – Phillipa Gregory

‘Fiction is not wholly the creation of an imaginary world, any more than history is the total description of a real one’ – Phillipa Gregory (Historical Novelist)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 15 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

There is a sense of justice and logic about reincarnation, the soul’s re-entry into material creation. God is not unfair.  Our present life is like a frame in a filmstrip of many lifetimes.  This is not our first material body.  It is the most recent and it is connected to our activities in previous lifetimes.  This principle of present actions affecting future lives is called karma.  Plato describes this in Republic: ‘God is blameless: man has chosen his own fate and this by his actions.  Reincarnation is a manifestation of God’s compassion.  It is an opportunity for us to improve ourselves and to learn the science of love of God.

What is life?  A newborn child displays the symptoms of life.  You can hear the sound of it and feel its warmth.  Sometimes a newborn baby is awake and sometimes alseep.  The child will grow, then die.  Where did its life force go?  What did its short stay in this world mean?  Do we have no choice in this world?

‘I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence’ – Socrates.

‘The soul comes from without into the human body, as into a temporary abode, and it goes out o it anew…it passes into other habitations, for the soul is immortal’ – Emerson

[From Steven Rosen, The Reincarnation Controversy]

 

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