Toddlers have no safer place to learn about outside world then from behind their mother’s skirt, and that seems like the best place for us, too, except the skirt in this case is Lord Caitanya’s dhoti, figuratively speaking.
The relationship between Kṛṣna and Lord Caitanya and our place in it is complex. We can easily say that Lord Caitanya is “rādha-kṛṣṇa nahe anya” or that Kṛṣṇa took the form of Srīmatī Rādhārāṇī in order to experience her inexplicable pleasure but where does it leave us? We can also say that by the mercy of Lord Caitanya we can obtain love of Kṛṣṇa, but then what? Where does it leave Mahāprabhu?
Right from the start Śrīla Prabhupāda told us that our original position is to serve Kṛṣṇa in one of the five rasas in Vṛndāvana and we accept it as the default goal of life without thinking, but where does that leave Lord Caitanya? He doesn’t have a place in this vision.
Those who wonder about this can get a simple answer in Māyāpura where they say that Navadvīpa has a special place in Goloka meant just for the devotees of Lord Caitanya who can switch between pastimes with Kṛṣṇa and Gaurāṅga at will. This sounds like an interesting solution but, to my embarrassment, I’ve never looked for the śāstric support for it.
Nine islands of Navadvīpa map to twelve forests of Vṛndāvana and in that sense they are non-different from Vraja, so how can you be in one but not the other? Is Navadvīpa present in Goloka in the same sense that all tīrthas are present there? Some say that Navadvīpa is one of the six divisions in the spiritual sky (the others are Vaikuṇṭha, Ayodhyā, Dvārakā, Mathurā, and at the top Goloka itself). Others say that Navadvīpa is a subdivision of Goloka, and yet others introduce Śvetadvīpa in the mix.
This last one comes straight from Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and it divides Kṛṣṇa’s abode in three parts – for parakīyā, svakīyā, and all other kinds of bhāvas – that’s where Śvetadvīpa comes in, it’s not the same place that Lord Brahmā goes to when he calls for Viṣṇu’s help. This division makes sense but it’s just one way to look at it and it doesn’t easily answer questions posed from a different angle.
The main difficulty is this – Lord Caitanya and His devotees do not participate in Kṛṣṇa līlā directly but through saṅkīrtana. They relish the relationships between Kṛṣṇa and His devotees but they do not engage in these relationships between themselves. Vast majority of Lord Caitanya’s devotees are His servants regardless of their spiritual form and role in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.
This arrangement definitely needs a special accommodation and its exact nature seems to be hidden from our material abilities to model the world. I hope that somehow or other it works and, perhaps, devotees find more pleasure in serving Kṛṣṇa in separation.
Kṛṣṇa, of course, left Vṛndāvana and we assume that love in separation means physical separation but I’m not sure it even exists in the spiritual world, I’d rather speculate that in order to fully experience that rasa devotees need to step out and join Lord Caitanya in Navadvīpa.
The bigger problem is our eternal relationships with Mahāprabhu. If they are eternal we should never ever leave His side but going to enjoy with Kṛṣṇa means leaving Mahāprabhu behind. I mean taken straightforward this is the path – worship Lord Caitanya, by His mercy obtain Kṛṣṇa, then go worship Kṛṣṇa. I don’t believe it really works like that and we’ll have to leave Lord Caitanya’s feet forever.
The argument could be that Lord Caitanya’s form itself isn’t eternal – he really is Kṛṣṇa, not a separate entity, so He doesn’t exist separately from Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world, too, so our relationships with Him aren’t special or eternal.
Is it atheistic of me to see Him as separate from Kṛṣṇa or is it atheistic to imply that He doesn’t have a separate, eternal existence?
The model that I imagine in my head is the simplest one in this sense – Navadvīpa really is a special place in Goloka, devotees there engage in eternal kīrtanas led by Lord Caitanya, and they can directly enter into Kṛṣṇa līlā whenever they want to, in fact they can probably be in two places at once, and if it’s all about rasa then their relationships with Kṛṣṇa can be enhanced through their saṅkīrtana with Mahāprabhu.
Navadvīpa then would be our entrance point to Kṛṣṇa līlā and that’s where holding on our mother’s skirt metaphor is handy – we’ll get previews, short glimpses first, and they will be overwhelming, especially to those coming from the material world, and we wouldn’t know what to do and say and that’s why we should firmly hold onto the mercy and protection of Mahāprabhu. Let Him guide us and teach us and gently introduce us to Kṛṣṇa, otherwise it will surely be too much.
At least we know and we have practical experiences of kīrtanas. We know what to do, where to stand, when to sit and when to dance, it can’t be that different in the spiritual Navadvīpa. We got it. Being suddenly thrust in front of Kṛṣṇa is a completely different challenge and we’ll surely need some time to get used to it and find our place there. We’ll need training, we’ll need to learn the language, we’ll need to learn names of people and our relationships to them – the whole ekadaśī bhāva thing. We are just not ready for it yet, but we are all ready and primed for Navadvīpa, with minimum adjustments. Leave your body, go straight there, and you are all set.
I particularly like the image of seeing something in Kṛṣṇa līlā and then darting for safety of Mahāprabhu for explanations and advice. It might not be Lord Caitanya personally, in fact most probably it won’t be, but His senior associates who will act as our guides.
In fact, we don’t even have to wait to be born in Navadvīpa to have this kind of experience, we just have to become perfect in our chanting and, theoretically, it’s the ability available to everyone.
Hmm, all of this presents another dilemma – some say that our next births will be with Kṛṣṇa somewhere in the material world, which won’t exactly be material but we’ll get the opportunity to perfect our devotion before finally being taken to the spiritual Vraja. This makes sense, but what about being born closer to Lord Caitanya instead to perfect our chanting and eventually enter Vraja through Navadvīpa?
I guess we’ll have to find out for ourselves, by Lord Caitanya’s mercy it will all be taken care of one way or another.