Love hurts

24 03 2021

A personal rough guide to the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta

In the Hare Krishna movement, the Founder Acharya A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has stated that, if the Bhagavad Gita is like a college education, and the Srimad Bhagavatam is like an advanced degree, the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta is post-graduate study of spiritual life. The Bhagavad Gita teaches basic ideas of the transmigration of the soul, the essence of karma and yoga, and the need to surrender to Krishna as the end of spiritual endeavor. The Bhagavata Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam goes in depth into who Krishna is and His manifestation as the unfolding of the Absolute Truth (vadanti tat tattva-vidas / tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam / brahmeti paramātmeti / bhagavān iti śabdyate SB 1.2.11). The final stop in the spiritual itinerary of the soul is to realize that the Absolute Truth is a Person, the First Person, Krishna in Vrindavan.

If that is the graduate degree, postgraduate study concerns the mood or feelings of that Person, evaluating His inner world. In order to fully grasp the purpose of the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, we have to realize the two aspects of spiritual reality. As I have mentioned elsewhere, in Hare Krishna thought, there is a material world and a spiritual world. Both are eternal, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is present and controls both, but they are two very distinct and often disparate realities. Sri Caitanya-caritamrta is about Krishna’s descent from the spiritual world into the material world, but in the hidden form of a devotee. In the Iron Age in which we find ourselves, the potential for godly activity is heavily curtailed by the general corruption of our condition. Human beings in this Age or yuga are full of vices and hypocrisy. Thus, Krishna descends in the fifteenth century of our era as Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in what is now West Bengal to teach us that, in this age, the only acceptable worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is chanting the Holy Names of the Lord (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare). In other ages, people might have to meditate for millions of years, offer lavish sacrifices, or perform extraordinary temple worship in order to be delivered from the vicious cycle of birth and death. In this age, all we have to do is chant the Mahamantra as mentioned above and we will be delivered. Lord Chaitanya is thus the most merciful incarnation: He has come to offer us the easiest path to liberation in this most corrupt age.

There is, however, an internal reason for the Lord’s descent in this yuga. In the celestial Vrindavan, where Krishna plays with His friends and pastures His cows, the only mood Krishna can’t experience is what it’s like to love Krishna, because He IS Krishna. What do people see in Him? Why do people love Him so much? Why do people feel like they are about to die when He’s is not around or if they think He might be in some possible danger or suffering some discomfort? Krishna wondered this so much that He finally decided to descend to the material world taking on the mood of His most devoted consort, Srimati Radharani. He even takes on Her color: instead of His blackish color of a rain cloud, Krishna descends in a golden color for His pastimes on earth: Gaura-lila. In a manner of speaking, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu isn’t just the most benevolent avatar coming to deliver the most mercy to the maximum number of people during the least auspicious time (a sort of “fire sale” of spiritual liberation), but the avatar is an “experiment” in which God learns more intimately about Himself. He learns what it means to love God with all your mind, with all your strength, and with all your might. He learns what it means to be apart from God, and to long for Him, in the mood of His most passionate devotee.

I won’t try to summarize all of the pastimes of Lord Chaitanya, as I would be hear all day and you wouldn’t read it. The current edition of the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta spans nine thick volumes and covers the three stages of His life: Adi lila or the youthful pastimes, Madhya lila or the adult pastimes, and Antya lila or last pastimes. What I prefer to do instead is present and then comment on a handful of episodes from Lord Chaitanya’s life in hope that you might tackle the entire work in depth. What I will say is that, in many ways, Lord Chaitanya is a very eccentric and mysterious figure from the 21st century Western perspective. No doubt many atheistic academics would have a field day psychoanalyzing Lord Chaitanya from a completely materialist perspective. Lord Chaitanya at times demonstrates pastimes in which He can come across as impulsive, moody, gluttonous, excitable, and unusually sensitive. He cross-dresses as the goddess Lakshmi, He dances to the point of falling into a trance where He can only mumble nonsense syllables, and He weeps incessantly at the thought of Krishna. Towards the end of His earthly course, when He disappears at the age of 46, He seems to be physically and psychologically falling apart, literally banging His head against the wall.

All of this is the “mood” of Srimati Radharani when separated from Krishna. As a married young woman in Vrindavan, Krishna isn’t Her husband, but Her paramour. She is thus more apart from Krishna than with Him. As I mentioned previously, the mood of gopi or cowherd girl longing for Krishna’s company, is that a thousand years with Krishna seem to pass in one second, whereas a second without Krishna’s company seems to last an interminable number of aeons. Srimati Radharani, the apex of the Feminine Aspect of God, the Supreme Goddess who is the manifestation of Krishna’s pleasure potency, embodies this mood to an unimaginable degree. That tumult of emotions and longing came down and embodied Herself in one seven foot, golden hued figure of a man in West Bengal, and the result is a story so unique it can barely be fathomed.

I thought about how I want to write about the Caitanya-caritamrta. At first I thought I should do a relatively brief essay highlighting some episodes and giving a conclusion. The more I thought about it, however, it seems more appropriate to do a series a brief essays about such episodes, but with a more personalized and eclectic slant. Mainly, I want to introduce my few readers to this text, or, if they know it, give a personal angle to it. So… to be continued…


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25 03 2021
David Collins

Lord Chaitanya cross-dressed as Lakshmi?! Hoo boy, what is about Bengalis? I’ve read Ramakrishna Paramahamsa did the same in the nineteenth century.

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