Published on February 9th, 2022 | by HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada | Full size image6
Who is Lord Caitanya?
The word caitanya means “living force,” carita means “character,” and amrta 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.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the pioneer of a great social and religious movement that began in India about five hundred years ago and that has directly and indirectly influenced the subsequent course of religious and philosophical thinking not only in India but throughout the world.
That Sri Krsna Caitanya’s influence has spread so far is due in large part to the efforts of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the present work’s translator and commentator and the founder and acarya (spiritual guide) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu is thus a figure of great historical significance. However, our conventional method of historical analysis-that of seeing a man as a product of his times-fails here, for Sri Krsna Caitanya is a personality who transcends the limited scope of historical settings.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, by Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, is the principal work on the life and teachings of Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
(Originally delivered as five morning lectures on the Caitanya-caritamrta—the authoritative biography of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu by Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami—before the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, New York City, April 10–14, 1967.)
The word caitanya means “living force,” carita means “character,” and amrta 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 amrta, immortal. The words caitanya-caritamrta, 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 Katha Upanisad 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 (maya) any more than the sun is subject to fall beneath the clouds. Impersonalist philosophers (Mayavadis) maintain that both the living entity and God Himself are under the control of maya when they come into this material world. This is the fallacy of their philosophy.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu should therefore not be considered one of us. He is Krsna Himself, the supreme living entity, and as such He never comes under the cloud of maya. Krsna, His expansions and even His higher devotees never fall into the clutches of illusion. Lord Caitanya came to earth simply to preach krsna-bhakti, love of Krsna. In other words, He is Lord Krsna Himself teaching the living entities the proper way to approach Krsna. 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 Krsna (God) Himself teaching us how to become Krsna conscious, and we must study Him in that light.
In the Bhagavad-gita (18.66) Lord Krsna 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 maya, 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 maya, 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.
Maya 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 Krsna’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 Mahaprabhu 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 brahmana and was not rich, He took sannyasa, the renounced order of life, and thus extricated Himself from family entanglement.
If we wish to become fully Krsna conscious, we have to give up the shackles of maya. Or, if we remain with maya, 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 Haridasa, an important kirtana 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 Haridasa, 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-caritamrta we learn how Lord Caitanya taught people to break the shackles of maya 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-gita He is addressed as Acyuta, which means “He who never falls down.” This name is appropriate because in the Bhagavad-gita Arjuna falls into illusion but Krsna does not. Krsna 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 Krsna is overpowered by the material potency when He is in the material world. Neither Krsna nor His incarnations ever come under the control of material nature. They are totally free. Indeed, in Srimad-Bhagavatam 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? Srila Rupa Gosvami explains that we can remain uncontaminated while in the world if we simply make it our ambition to serve Krsna. 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 Krsna. In such work, we should leave no resource unused. Whatever is there, whatever we have, should be used for Krsna. We can use everything—typewriters, automobiles, airplanes, missiles. If we simply speak to people about Krsna consciousness, we are also rendering service. If our mind, senses, speech, money and energies are thus engaged in the service of Krsna, then we are no longer in material nature. By virtue of spiritual consciousness, or Krsna consciousness, we transcend the platform of material nature. It is a fact that Krsna, 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-caritamrta teaches that the spirit soul is immortal and that our activities in the spiritual world are also immortal. The Mayavadis, who hold the view that the Absolute is impersonal and formless, contend that a realized soul has no need to talk. But the Vaisnavas, devotees of Krsna, contend that when one reaches the stage of realization, he really begins to talk. “Previously we only talked of nonsense,” the Vaisnava says. “Now let us begin our real talks, talks of Krsna.” In support of their view that the self-realized remain silent, the Mayavadis 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 Krsna, 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-caritamrta shows that there are many wonderful things to discover by glorifying the Supreme.
In the beginning of the Caitanya-caritamrta, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami 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 parampara, the chain of disciplic succession beginning with Lord Krsna 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 Krsna’s internal energy. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu (sometimes called Krsna Caitanya) is the embodiment of all of these: He is God, guru, devotee, incarnation, internal energy and expansion of God. As His associate Nityananda, He is the first expansion of God; as Advaita, He is an incarnation; as Gadadhara, He is the internal potency; and as Srivasa, He is the marginal living entity in the role of a devotee. Thus Krsna should not be thought of as being alone but should be considered as eternally existing with all His manifestations, as described by Ramanujacarya. In the Visistadvaita 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-caritamrta is not intended for the novice, for it is the postgraduate study of spiritual knowledge. Ideally, one begins with the Bhagavad-gita and advances through Srimad-Bhagavatam to the Caitanya-caritamrta. Although all these great scriptures are on the same absolute level, for the sake of comparative study the Caitanya-caritamrta is considered to be on the highest platform. Every verse in it is perfectly composed.
In the second verse of the Caitanya-caritamrta, the author offers his obeisances to Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda. 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 Krsna Caitanya?” The author of the Caitanya-caritamrta, Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja, answers that question in the third verse of his book. Generally, in the Upanisads the Supreme Absolute Truth is described in an impersonal way, but the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth is mentioned in the Isopanisad, where we find the following verse:
hiranmayena patrena satyasyapihitam mukham
tat tvam pusann apavrnu satya-dharmaya drstaye
“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.” (Sri Isopanisad 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 Isopanisad 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 Krsna. And in the Caitanya-caritamrta we learn that Lord Caitanya is Krsna Himself. In other words, Sri Krsna Caitanya is the basis of the impersonal Brahman. The Paramatma, 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 Sri Krsna Caitanya, being the basis of both Brahman and the all-pervading Paramatma 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 Krsna, God, and that nothing is equal to or greater than Him. There is nothing superior to be conceived. He is the Supreme Person.
Srila Rupa Gosvami, a confidential devotee taught for more than ten days continually by Lord Caitanya, wrote:
namo maha-vadanyaya krsna-prema-pradaya te
krsnaya krsna-caitanya-namne gaura-tvise namah
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya, who is more magnanimous than any other avatara, even Krsna Himself, because He is bestowing freely what no one else has ever given—pure love of Krsna.”
Lord Caitanya’s teachings begin from the point of surrender to Krsna. He does not pursue the paths of karma-yoga or jnana-yoga or hatha-yoga but begins at the end of material existence, at the point where one gives up all material attachment. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna 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 Mayavadis would have all talk cease there, but at that point the real discussion only begins. As the Vedanta-sutra says at the very beginning, athato brahma jijnasa: “Now let us begin to inquire about the Supreme Absolute Truth.” Rupa Gosvami 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 acarya, 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-gita Krsna showed Arjuna His universal form because Arjuna was His very dear friend. Upon seeing Krsna as the Lord of the universes, however, Arjuna asked Krsna to forgive the familiarity of his friendship. Lord Caitanya goes beyond this point. Through Lord Caitanya we can become friends with Krsna, and there will be no limit to this friendship. We can become friends of Krsna 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-caritamrta but of Srimad-Bhagavatam 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 Krsna the devotee becomes like a father or mother. Instead of taking from God, we give to God. It was in this relationship that Krsna’s mother, Yasoda, told the Lord, “Here, eat this or You’ll die. Eat nicely.” In this way Krsna, 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 Krsna.
However, Lord Caitanya’s greatest gift was His teaching that Krsna 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. Krsna was so obliged to the gopis, the cowherd girls of Vrndavana, 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 acarya, was given by Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Therefore Krsnadasa Kaviraja, quoting Srila Rupa Gosvami, writes in the fourth verse of his book, “Lord Caitanya is Krsna in a yellow complexion, and He is Sacinandana, the son of mother Saci. He is the most charitable personality because He came to deliver krsna-prema, unalloyed love for Krsna, to everyone. May you always keep Him in your hearts. It will be easy to understand Krsna 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 Vaisnava 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 Vaisnava literatures. It is the unique and highest development of love of God that is given by Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
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—Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the basic principle of Krsna 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 Krsna consciousness is so nice that it makes no distincition between man and woman. In the Bhagavad-gita (9.32), Lord Krsna says, “Anyone who takes shelter of Me—whether a woman, sudra, vaisya or anyone else of low birth—is sure to achieve My association.” This is Krsna’s guarantee.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu 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 Mahaprabhu gives a practical demonstration of how to love God in a conjugal relationship. Taking the part of Srimati Radharani, Caitanya Mahaprabhu tried to love Krsna as Radharani loved Him. Krsna was always amazed by Radharani’s love. “How does Radharani give Me such pleasure?” He would ask. In order to study Radharani, Krsna lived in Her role and tried to understand Himself. This is the secret of Lord Caitanya’s incarnation. Caitanya Mahaparbhu is Krsna, but He has taken the mood and role of Radharani to show us how to love Krsna. Thus the author writes in the fifth verse, “I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord, who is absorbed in Radharani’s thoughts.”
This brings up the question of who Srimati Radharani is and what Radha-Krsna is. Actually Radha-Krsna is the exchange of love—but not ordinary love. Krsna 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, hladini and sandhini. The hladini potency is Krsna’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 Krsna, who is always spiritual, also tries to seek pleasure on this material plane. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna 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 Krsna enjoys pleasure, we must study the first nine cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and then we should study the Tenth Canto, in which Krsna’s pleasure potency is displayed in His pastimes with Radharani and the damsels of Vraja. Unfortunately, unintelligent people turn at once to the sports of Krsna in the Dasama-skandha, the Tenth Canto. Krsna’s embracing Radharani or His dancing with the cowherd girls in the rasa dance are generally not understood by ordinary men, because they consider these pastimes in the light of mundane lust. They foolishly think that Krsna is like themselves and that He embraces the gopis just as an ordinary man embraces a young girl. Some people thus become interested in Krsna because they think that His religion allows indulgence in sex. This is not krsna-bhakti, love of Krsna, but prakrta-sahajiya—materialistic lust.
To avoid such errors, we should understand what Radha-Krsna actually is. Radha and Krsna display Their pastimes through Krsna’s internal energy. The pleasure potency of Krsna’s internal energy is a most difficult subject matter, and unless one understands what Krsna is, one cannot understand it. Krsna does not take any pleasure in this material world, but He has a pleasure potency. Because we are part and parcel of Krsna, the pleasure potency is within us also, but we are trying to exhibit that pleasure potency in matter. Krsna, however, does not make such a vain attempt. The object of Krsna’s pleasure potency is Radharani; Krsna exhibits His potency as Radharani and then engages in loving affairs with Her. In other words, Krsna does not take pleasure in this external energy but exhibits His internal energy, His pleasure potency, as Radharani and then enjoys with Her. Thus Krsna manifests Himself as Radharani 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 Radharani is separate from Krsna. Radharani is also Krsna, 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 Radha there is no meaning to Krsna, and without Krsna there is no meaning to Radha. Because of this, the Vaisnava 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 Radha-Krsna. Similarly, those who worship Narayana first of all utter the name of Laksmi, as Laksmi-Narayana. Similarly, those who worship Lord Rama first of all utter the name of Sita. In any case—Sita-Rama, Radha-Krsna, Laksmi-Narayana—the potency always comes first.
Radha and Krsna are one, and when Krsna desires to enjoy pleasure, He manifests Himself as Radharani. The spiritual exchange of love between Radha and Krsna is the actual display of Krsna’s internal pleasure potency. Although we speak of “when” Krsna 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 Radha and Krsna are one and that They also become divided, the question “When?” automatically comes to mind. When Krsna desired to enjoy His pleasure potency, He manifested Himself in the separate form of Radharani, and when He wanted to understand Himself through the agency of Radha, He united with Radharani, and that unification is called Lord Caitanya. This is all explained by Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja in the fifth verse of the Caitanya-caritamrta.
In the next verse the author further explains why Krsna assumed the form of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Krsna desired to know the glory of Radha’s love. “Why is She so much in love with Me?” Krsna 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 Krsna, 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 Krsna, who is full in Himself. Thus Krsna expressed surprise: “Why am I attracted by Radharani? And when Radharani feels My love, what is She actually feeling?” To taste the essence of that loving exchange, Krsna 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 Mahaprabhu 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 Mahaprabhu. The full significance of His appearance will be explained in later chapters.
After offering respects to Lord Caitanya, Krsnadasa Kaviraja begins offering them to Lord Nityananda in the seventh verse of the Caitanya-caritamrta. The author explains that Lord Nityananda is Balarama, who is the origin of Maha-Visnu. Krsna’s first expansion is Balarama, a portion of whom is manifested as Sankarsana, who then expands as Pradyumna. In this way so many expansions take place. Although there are many expansions, Lord Sri Krsna is the origin, as confirmed in the Brahma-samhita. 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 Krsna expands Himself into so many forms, and all these expansions are called visnu-tattva. Visnu is a large light, and we are small lights, but all are expansions of Krsna.
When it is necessary to create the material universes, Visnu expands Himself as Maha-Visnu. Maha-Visnu lies down in the Causal Ocean and breathes all the universes from His nostrils. Thus from Maha-Visnu 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 Vamana, 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 Visnu and is worshiped by all Hindus, from the Himalayas down to the Bay of Bengal.
Maha-Visnu is actually an expansion of Balarama, who is Krsna’s first expansion and, in the Vrndavana pastimes, His brother. In the maha-mantra—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—the word “Rama” refers to Balarama. Since Lord Nityananda is Balarama, “Rama” also refers to Lord Nityananda. Thus Hare Krsna, Hare Rama addresses not only Krsna and Balarama but Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda as well.
The subject matter of the Caitanya-caritamrta primarily deals with what is beyond this material creation. The cosmic material expansion is called maya, 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-gita (8.20):
paras tasmat tu bhavo ’nyo ’vyakto ’vyaktat sanatanah
yah sa sarvesu bhutesu nasyatsu na vinasyati
“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 Krsna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita, where Krsna tells Arjuna at the beginning of the Fourth Chapter:
imam vivasvate yogam proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha manur iksvakave ’bravit
“I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.” (Bg. 4.1) This is the method of parampara, or disciplic succession. Similarly, Srimad-Bhagavatam explains that Krsna imparted knowledge into the heart of Brahma, the first created being within the universe. Brahma imparted those lessons to his disciple Narada, and Narada imparted that knowledge to his disciple Vyasadeva. Vyasadeva imparted it to Madhvacarya, and from Madhvacarya the knowledge came down to Madhavendra Puri and then to Isvara Puri, and from him to Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
One may ask that if Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krsna 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 acarya (one who teaches by example), He accepted a spiritual master. Even Krsna 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 Srimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that Krsna, the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, transmitted transcendental knowledge into the heart of Brahma. 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 Krsna. Thus Krsna 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 Srimad-Bhagavatam there is a great deal of information given about the Vaikuntha planetary systems, which are beyond the material universe. Similarly, a great deal of inconceivable information is given in the Caitanya-caritamrta. Any attempt to arrive at this information through experimental knowledge will fail. The knowledge simply has to be accepted. According to the Vedic method, sabda, 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 Vaikunthalokas. In every Vaikunthaloka, Narayana presides with His four expansions: Sankarsana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha and Vasudeva. This Sankarsana, states Krsnadasa Kaviraja in the eighth verse of the Caitanya-caritamrta, is Lord Nityananda.
As stated before, the material universes are manifested by the Lord in the form of Maha-Visnu. Just as a husband and wife combine to beget offspring, Maha-Visnu combines with His wife maya, or material nature. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (14.4), where Krsna states:
sarva-yonisu kaunteya murtayah sambhavanti yah
tasam brahma mahad yonir aham bija-pradah pita
“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” Visnu impregnates maya, 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, Krsna or Maha-Visnu, can impregnate by any part. Simply by glancing the Lord can conceive countless living entities in the womb of material nature. The Brahma-samhita 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 Krsna can touch just by glancing. We can see only with our eyes; we cannot touch or smell with them. Krsna, however, can smell and also eat with His eyes. When food is offered to Krsna, 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 Krsna 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.
Visnu does not require anything in order to create. He does not require the goddess Laksmi in order to give birth to Brahma, for Brahma is born from a lotus flower that grows from the navel of Visnu. The goddess Laksmi sits at the feet of Visnu 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 Brahma’s birth from the navel of Visnu 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 Maha-Visnu, 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 Maha-Visnu, for within one breath all the universes are created and annihilated. This is stated in the Brahma-samhita. Lord Brahma lives only for the duration of one breath, and according to our time scale 4,320,000,000 years constitute only twelve hours for Brahma, and Brahma lives one hundred of his years. Yet the whole life of Brahma is contained within one breath of Maha-Visnu. Thus it is not possible for us to imagine the breathing power of Maha-Visnu, who is but a partial manifestation of Lord Nityananda. This the author of the Caitanya-caritamrta explains in the ninth verse.
In the tenth and eleventh verses Krsnadasa Kaviraja describes Garbhodakasayi Visnu and Ksirodakasayi Visnu, successive plenary expansions of Maha-Visnu. Brahma appears upon a lotus growing from the navel of Garbhodakasayi Visnu, and within the stem of that lotus are so many planetary systems. Then Brahma creates the whole of human society, animal society—everything. Ksirodakasayi Visnu lies on the milk ocean within the universe, of which He is the controller and maintainer. Thus Brahma is the creator, Visnu is the maintainer, and when the time for annihilation arrives, Siva will finish everything.
In the first eleven verses of the Caitanya-caritamrta, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami thus discusses Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu as Sri Krsna Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Lord Nityananda as Balarama, the first expansion of Krsna. Then in the twelfth and thirteenth verses he describes Advaitacarya, who is another principal associate of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s and an incarnation of Maha-Visnu. Thus Advaitacarya 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 acarya, teacher, because He disseminated Krsna consciousness. In this way He is just like Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Although Lord Caitanya is Sri Krsna Himself, He appeared as a devotee to teach people in general how to love Krsna. Similarly, although Advaitacarya is the Lord, He appeared just to distribute the knowledge of Krsna consciousness. Thus He is also the Lord incarnated as a devotee.
In the pastimes of Lord Caitanya, Krsna is manifested in five different features, known as the panca-tattva, to whom Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja offers his obeisances in the fourteenth verse of the Caitanya-caritamrta. Krsna and His associates appear as devotees of the Supreme Lord in the form of Sri Krsna Caitanya, Sri Nityananda Prabhu, Sri Advaitacarya, Sri Gadadhara Prabhu and Srivasa Prabhu. In all cases, Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the source of energy for all His devotees. Since this is the case, if we take shelter of Caitanya Mahaprabhu for the successful execution of Krsna consciousness, we are sure to make progress. In a devotional song, Narottama dasa Thakura 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, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami begins offering his obeisances directly to Krsna Himself. Krsnadasa Kaviraja was an inhabitant of Vrndavana 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 Radha-Krsna with his family, and once when there was some misunderstanding among his family members about devotional service, he was advised by Nityananda Prabhu in a dream to leave home and go to Vrndavana. Although he was very old, he started out that very night and went to live in Vrndavana. While he was there, he met some of the Gosvamis, principal disciples of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He was requested to write the Caitanya-caritamrta by the devotees of Vrndavana. 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 Mahaprabhu’s philosophy and life.
When Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami was living in Vrndavana, there were not very many temples. At that time the three principal temples were those of Madana-mohana, Govindaji and Gopinatha. As a resident of Vrndavana, Krsnadasa Kaviraja 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-caritamrta, Krsnadasa offers his obeisances to the Madana-mohana vigraha, the Deity who can help us progress in Krsna consciousness. In the execution of Krsna consciousness, our first business is to know Krsna and our relationship with Him. To know Krsna is to know one’s self, and to know one’s self is to know one’s relationship with Krsna. Since this relationship can be learned by worshiping the Madana-mohana vigraha, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami first establishes his relationship with Him.
When this is established, in the sixteenth verse Krsnadasa offers his obeisances to the functional Deity, Govinda. The Govinda Deity is called the functional Deity because He shows us how to serve Radha and Krsna. 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 Vrndavana. In the spiritual world of Vrndavana 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 Vrndavana Krsna herds the surabhi cows, and He is worshiped by hundreds and thousands of gopis, cowherd girls, who are all goddesses of fortune. When Krsna descends to the material world, this same Vrndavana descends with Him, just as an entourage accompanies an important personage. Because when Krsna comes His land also comes, Vrndavana is considered to exist beyond the material world. Therefore devotees take shelter of the Vrndavana in India, for it is considered to be a replica of the original Vrndavana. Although one may complain that no kalpa-vrksa, wish-fulfilling trees, exist there, when the Gosvamis were there, kalpa-vrksa were present. It is not that one can simply go to such a tree and make demands; one must first become a devotee. The Gosvamis 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.
Vrndavana 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 Vrndavana?” one great devotee asks. The more Krsna conscious we become and the more we advance, the more everything is revealed as spiritual. Thus Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami considered the Vrndavana in India to be as good as the Vrndavana in the spiritual sky, and in the sixteenth verse of the Caitanya-caritamrta he describes Radharani and Krsna as seated beneath a wish-fulfilling tree in Vrndavana, on a throne decorated with valuable jewels. There Krsna’s dear gopi friends serve Radha and Krsna 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 Vrndavana to offer their respects to the Deities there.
Finally Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami offers his blessings to his readers in the name of the Gopinatha Deity, who is Krsna as master and proprietor of the gopis. When Krsna played upon his flute, all the gopis, 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 Srimad-Bhagavatam. These gopis were childhood friends of Krsna, 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 Krsna, 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 rasa-lila dance, and it is the most elevated of all the Vrndavana pastimes. Krsna is therefore called Gopinatha because He is the beloved master of the gopis.
Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami petitions the blessings of Lord Gopinatha: “May that Gopinatha, the master of the gopis, Krsna, bless you. May you become blessed by Gopinatha.” The author of the Caitanya-caritamrta prays that just as Krsna attracted the gopis by the sweet sound of His flute, He will also attract the reader’s mind by that transcendental vibration