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.