In Shanti Parva 326.42-43 Krishna, talking to Narada about His nature, says that even though Narada can see Him it doesn’t mean that Krishna assumes a form. In fact, Krishna can dissolve it at any moment. What Narada sees as Krishna’s form has been created by Krishna’s own illusion and is unrelated to the elements of creation. He is not connected to the creation (sarva-bhuta-gunair-yuktam-NA).
Here we have to remind ourselves that all other forms we see in this world belong to the world and are controlled by the world. We have DNA of our parents, language of our mothers, education of our countries, moral values of our communities and so on. We do not own any of these, rather we are owned by them and they make our behavior very predictable. My next sentence will be in English, for example – I can’t help it, because that’s what the readers expect and I’m obliged to fulfill this expectation. Plus my keyboard is set to English, too, and so I couldn’t type in Swahili even if I wanted to.
What I mean to say is that we declare ownership over a small part of the universal body – on this planet, in this country, in this community, in this city, in this house, on top of this chair, and we claim that it’s “ME”, but the behavior of this “me” is controlled by the superior entities in the hierarchy, and this “me” also aims to fulfill desires of other “mes” in this world.
Or think of it in the language of elements – 98% of this “me” is made of water, which is drinking water available where I live. Some of it form the tap, some of it from the bottles. I breath air of where I live, too, and eat food that grows nearby. Even imported stuff comes from this planet and we don’t get Soma from the Moon in our supermarkets.
All these creations – names, bodies, places, countries, planets – they are products of maya or of material nature. Krishna’s form is not like that – He creates it by His own illusory potency, and this form is independent of creations of Maya and doesn’t have to work according to Maya’s laws.
It also means that it has to work according to its own laws – Krishna’s senses follow Krishna’s mind just like ours do, and Krishna’s body depends on Krishna’s prana, just like our body does. It’s up to Krishna whether to “descend” into this world or not, and how far down He would choose to come. This is related more to Lord Caitanya, however, because it’s Lord Caitanya who controls our ISKCON movement. He might decide to appear in person and become visible to the eyes of His selected devotees, or He might decide to descend only to the level of mind (and tell us what to do), or only to the level of intelligence (and tell us what’s right and what’s wrong), or to the level of sense perceptions (and manifest ecstatic emotions). Or He could decide to stay in our hearts and let us do the rest ourselves. Under His gentle supervision, of course.
Avatara means “cross down” – cross down from one level of “reality” to the next below, making it “more real” with each successive step, until the descending personality becomes a sense object perceptible by our senses – that’s our level of reality – “bhu”.
What is common to all these levels of Lord Caitanya’s descend is that they are not controlled by events of this world, their behavior and appearance cannot be dictated, though they can reciprocate with our material minds, senses, bodies etc. When we see Him it’s an exchange between His form and our eyes, for example.
This understanding naturally leads to us creating a litmus BS test – whenever someone speaks about KC and we can see how his ideas follow progressions and developments based on and dictated by the norms of this world we can be sure it’s not Lord Caitanya speaking. It might look attractive and persuasive, it may be very rational and very compelling, but Lord Caitanya’s presence is fundamentally different and follows a fundamentally different logic and rationality. You know it when you see it, as they famously said about “adult content”.
There are people who are better than us in one, two, three, or even in every aspect we can think of, but we can still sense if they are people “of this world”. Lord Caitanya isn’t, and that was also the impression left by Srila Prabhupada on many many others. “Not of this world”. Throughout history people noticed this feature in many many saints and sadhu’s, too.
So, if someone presents Krishna Consciousness we should expect nothing less as “not of this world” as well, and we should not settle for anything less either.
“Do you mean to say that Lord Caitanya was an ordinary saint and we elevated Him to the status of God ourselves?” No. I mean He was Krishna, devotees figured this out very early on, but then they started ascribing Him various ideas that reflected THEIR understanding of what God is and what God should do. In other words, instead of accepting Him as He is we make Him into what we think He should be. We deify Him into OUR image of God.
Come to think of it, we don’t have any other choice. Everything we perceive in the world is a reflection of our own consciousness. We ALWAYS ascribe our own ideas to all and any information coming to us from the outside. We ALWAYS color it in our own colors. We can’t perceive the world as it is, and so our perception of Lord Caitanya is no exception. Same happened when Krishna entered the fighting arena in Mathura, too – everybody saw Him according to their own capacity – as a yogi, as a king, as a charming prince, as a ferocious fighter and so on.
When Lord Caitanya first revealed His divinity everyone was blown away, it was the time of discovery and everyday devotees learned something new about Him. Caitanya Bhagavata is full of these descriptions and I will not repeat them here. When devotees got used to the idea and when the Lord took sannyasa and left Mayapur, however, things started to change. When Bengali devotees came to see the Lord in Puri it was like good old times but outside of that everyone was learning about the Lord from somebody else, not by directly observing Him.
In Puri no one knew who He was and first announcement came when He was carried over to the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. Sarvabhauma didn’t take is seriously at first but later he came around to accepting the idea – and that was due to prolonged personal association. Everyone else accepted it on Sarvabhauma’s authority, and it’s at this step that people start imposing their own ideas of what God is. Lord Caitanya didn’t do Navadvipa style reveal there. He didn’t do twenty one hour prakasas or any of those wonderful things. He didn’t do private kirtans where people were left wondering what had just happened to them either. Rather kirtans became a spectator sport during Ratha Yatras, and the performers were visiting Bengali devotees. At no point did Lord Caitanya behaved as God in Jagannatha Prui so there was simply no point of reference for devotees there – “You know what God is? Well, Caitanya Mahaprabhu is God. He doesn’t behave like it but you better believe it.”
There are plenty of examples of devotees misconceptions about Mahaprabhu in Caitanya Caritamrita. How about that devotee who drank water that washed His feet? Elsewhere it’s a perfectly appropriate thing to do, but Lord Caitanya wasn’t that kind of God. He was the kind of God who is very close to His devotees and displays of reverence, like drinking footwater, did not belong there. So, appropriately, that devotee was sent out of the assembly to revere Lord Caitanya from the distance, as it should be with reverence. The episode with Chota Haridasa I discussed in the previous post, and the gist of it was that devotees, including very senior ones, have decided that Lord Caitanya should forgive him. Why did they think so? I can think of a few reasons.
First, they might have thought that it’s not a big deal. In the same way some of our devotees think that watching a movie or eating chocolate is no big deal. “Relax”, they say, “don’t be a fanatic.” Immediate objection to this is that they might not know what they are doing to their spiritual lives. Lord Caitanya, for example, demanded Mother Saci to follow ekadasi, which shouldn’t be a big deal for God’s own mother, one would think. This reason displays incomplete understanding of tattva.
Another reason could be that devotees thought that God is very forgiving and if He acted in momentarily anger then it will subside, God will cool off and come around. This was actually mentioned in CC – it was an advice given to Chota Haridas to just wait a little and Lord Caitanya would rescind the ban. There are a couple of problems with this line of thinking, and the main one is that one assumes he knows God’s temperament and nature. Well, Lord Caitanya wasn’t like that and the assumption was wrong. He was not that kind of God, again.
Third reason, perhaps the most serious one, would have relied on “mahavadanyaya” feature of Lord Caitanya Himself. It wasn’t about generic God but about Lord Caitanya personally. It wasn’t declared by the Lord but it was devotees who have figured it out – the term is attributed to Rupa Goswami, if I’m not mistaken, and Lord Caitanya still goes by this epithet, five hundred years later, but the scope of this generosity of spirit is determined solely by us ourselves. I think it’s more serious because it’s enduring and so we can still make exactly the same mistakes again, as if we have learned nothing. What if He is not as mahavadanyaya as we think? Or not in the same way we think. WE deified Him into being that, remember?
Chota Haridas story follows by a story of a young son of a single mother. It’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about as well – Damodara Pundit thought that associating with this boy was not appropriate for Lord Caitanya and told the Lord about it directly. He gave an apparently valid reason but the underlying logic was the same – we know how you should behave, according to our conception of you, and you are not living up to our expectations, so you should change your behavior. Lord Caitanya listened, thought about it for a day, and then sent Damodara Pandit to enforce laws of dharma on devotees in Bengal, far away from Jagannatha Puri. He thought it was necessary there so that devotees didn’t develop any svatantriya attitude, which is translated as “independence”.
In that story we can add a little speculation that Damodara Pundit did not appreciate the spiritual value of Lord Caitanya’s association with that boy. Where Damodara Pundit saw a possible compromise in sannyasi’s behavior, because boy’s mother was young and attractive and endearing yourself to someone’s child is a sure way to their heart as well, or, as they say today, into woman’s pants, and we can say that they could have been talking about spiritual matters and Damodara Pundit projected his own ideas on their conversations. Not so, according to one verse in CC where Lord Caitanya inquired the boy about latest news, ie latest gossip, not about the latest verse he memorized from Bhagavad Gita. Damodara Pundit was right – the talks were mundane, and this might be a big revelation to us as well.
We have grown up with the rule to avoid gramya katha and the last person we expect to engage in it is Lord Caitanya. And yet the Lord didn’t see anything particularly wrong with it. Neither as a sannyasi, neither as incarnation of Krishna, neither as an exemplary devotee for everyone else to follow. How to make sense of it? Well, for starters – all these conceptions of Lord Caitanya are our own. He Himself did not commit to strictly following any of these roles, except sannyasa, of course, but even on that one there was some leeway, as evidenced by his reaction to criticism of His eating habits coming from Amogha, Sarvabhauma’s son-in-law. On that occasion Lord Caitanya admitted that He shouldn’t have eaten so much. That episode, btw, is another example of how people had their own expectations of how Mahaprabhu should have behaved, as well as an example of not everybody accepting His divinity.
Speaking of divinity – at that time there was no concept of Panca Tattva yet, which has become fundamental to our understanding of the Lord now. The concept was first expressed by Krishnadasa Kaviraja many years later, and it didn’t take root in Bengali community until maybe fifty years after Lord Caitanya’s departure. It was first introduced during Kheturi festival and dates on that are unclear. This means that during that same time – when Lord Caitanya stayed in Puri, devotees had very different conceptions of Lord Nityananda and Advaita Acharya (also Vishnu-tattva). Now we hope that our current conception is correct, and there is no reason to doubt Krishnadasa Kaviraja on this, but we should remember that it’s not a matter of revelation on the Lord’s part, and our current conception might be different from how Krishnadasa Kaviraja saw it, too – on the strength of Lord Caitanya indulging in gramya katha and not thinking much about it. Krishnadasa Kaviraja was well aware of it, otherwise he wouldn’t have worded that CC verse this way, but for us it’s currently unthinkable – we expect Lord Caitanya to be fully absorbed in pastimes of Radha Krishna, and leaving His place only to visit the temple and Haridasa Thakura afterwards.
So my argument repeats itself – Lord Caitanya didn’t behave like God. We accept that, but then we say that we know how He behaved Himself as God playing a part of the servant, to which I reply – sometimes He didn’t behave like that either. We deified Him for our own convenience instead of trying to find out His true nature. In His true nature all these things are reconciled but it’s difficult for us so we go for an easy explanation instead. And there is a bonus point that we get to think ourselves to be great devotees who know Lord Caitanya’s heart.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja wasn’t so sure about himself, as evidenced by these two verses concluding “young boy” pastime (CC Antya.3):
Text 47: The pastimes of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu are deeper than millions of seas and oceans. Therefore no one can understand what He does or why He does it. Text 48: I do not know the deep meaning of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s activities. As far as possible I shall try to explain them externally.
And for the curious, the “news” verse is translated as:
Text 9: One day when the boy came to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the Lord very affectionately inquired from him about all kinds of news.
Bengali word is vārtā — news.
Final point – if we substitute Lord Caitanya with our own version of Him, deifying Him into something He was not, what are the chances of us finding Him now? We are looking for a different personality, not for the Lord “as he is”. How can we connect?
I assume everyone knows the story and our canonical interpretation of it. We’ve heard it in our lectures and there is Caitanya Caritamrita where Srila Prabhupada gives various explanations, including a seven point summary lessons from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. However, there is another side to this story that is interesting to explore. It doesn’t contradict anything said before, as far as I can see, and it could be an interesting addition to what we already know. The point is that sometimes we take these stories and put them into our situations, which then colors our conclusions, but the same stories can remain equally true in a different context and if our conclusions don’t match then it’s on us and rethinking is probably required.
The quest to truly know the story then becomes determining the exact context first, and then distilling the very essence of the story so that we can apply it to our lives correctly, without being swayed by our situation and without dragging extraneous things from the past that don’t really belong. Plus there are multiple aspects to each story as well and the same process should be applied to them, too. So let’s look at what interesting things we can extract from this one.
Facts of the matter were that one day Lord Caitanya was having lunch at Bhagavat Acarya’s house and asked about rice. He was told that it was Chota Haridas who brought this rice from Madhavi Devi’s house. Mahaprabhu didn’t say anything and continued eating, and only when he returned to His place that He told Govinda that He doesn’t want to see Chota Haridas again. When pressed for an explanation He said that He didn’t want to associate with those who have private conversations with women.
It was up to the devotees then to investigate what happened and connect the dots between Chota Haridas asking Madhavi Devi for rice and Lord Caitanya’s words. Maybe they did it right, maybe their investigation was incomplete. Srila Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami was pretty confident in Caitanya Caritamrita that this was what happened but Narayana Maharaj and even Srila Prabhupada on several occasions, notably in Teachings of Lord Caitanya, offered another version where Chota Haridas was eager to meet with a young servant girl in the house of Madhavi Devi, and this obviously goes way beyond begging for rice from an eighty year old woman. Everybody would understand that, but sexual connotations in regards to Madhavi Devi? It’s hard to imagine. Nevertheless, at the time Krishnadas Kaviraj was writing it down he either didn’t hear about it or didn’t think it was solid enough to commit to paper. The point is that we don’t really know what happened. We can only guess that it was during that episode of begging rice. Even Caitanya Caritamrita does not commit itself to stating it with full confidence.
The discussions about Lord Caitanya’s decision went on for several days and nobody could understand why He was so serious about it. Devotees came to see Him several times, they sent high profile negotiators, too, but Lord Caitanya wouldn’t budge and He wouldn’t offer any other explanations beyond what He told the devotees already. His final argument was that “I’m not in control of my mind and my mind does not want to associate with Chota Haridasa”. It sounds like a rhetorical device of shifting responsibility from oneself to something else but what if it wasn’t? What if it sounds like an excuse to us but Lord Caitanya was quite serious?
There have been many other occasions when Lord Caitanya restricted His association based on how He felt about it. He always offered explanations, sure, but the deciding factor always was that it didn’t feel right. When Srivas Pandit sneaked in a brahmacari to a nightly kirtan Lord Caitanya didn’t even know someone was there but He felt that something was not right. He felt it first, explanation came later. On another occasion He refused to see a devotee and no one knew why until Lord Caitanya said that this devotee was listening to Yoga Vasistha. This devotee wasn’t an impersonalist and Lord Caitanya reversed His decision in a very short time but the fact of enjoying Yoga Vasistha spoiled His mood nevertheless. When Advaita Acarya was preaching impersonalism there was no ban, however.
It is now, after five hundred years have passed, we see these episodes as a matter of tattva, as a matter of infallible logical arguments – if someone has done that then the consequence must be this, and the consequence must be enforced, but why? Why not see it as a matter of rasa – Lord Caitanya didn’t feel right about something and sometimes He offered a reasonable explanation for His feelings and sometimes He didn’t. Apart from Chota Haridasa story, Lord Caitanya also refused to see Kala Krishnadasa even as Lord Nityananda Himself was advocating on his behalf. Even to Lord Nityananda the rationale for the ban didn’t make sense, so why should we elevate it to the status of tattva, to the status of “it must be this way”?
The simple answer could be – because it makes sense to us and because we don’t want to rely on our feelings when conducting our affairs, especially when managing ISKCON. This is another aspect, however, and I get to it shortly. First, however, if we take it as a matter of tattva, then if someone in ISKCON was preaching impersonal ideas what should be the consequence? Same as Advaita Acarya’s case? And what would be consequence for the members of the audience? Heavier than the punishment of the preacher? This tattva based approach wouldn’t work, we would have to be selective, and this goes against the very principle of tattva and objectivity.
More importantly, Lord Caitanya wasn’t managing a society. Sometimes He would give advice and all the devotees would make it into a rule, like in case of associating with mayavadis, but in case of Chota Haridasa Lord Caitanya spoke only for Himself. He didn’t tell anyone what THEY should do about him. He didn’t warn them that if they keep his company there would be consequences for them. It was rather the opposite – Lord Caitanya warned the devotees what would happen if THEY try to force HIM to behave they wanted. He told them that if they force Chota Haridasa’s company on Him then He would leave and go somewhere where He could practice His bhajan in peace.
Do you get this point? Rather than trying to institutionalize some rule Lord Caitanya’s reaction was to avoid following the rule imposed by the institution. Okay, not a formal institution but devotee sanga, which was speaking in unison about the need for Lord Caitanya to accept Chota Haridasa back. And His given reason was “My mind doesn’t feel right about it,” as I mentioned.
This aspect doesn’t mean that privately associating with women is alright. Worrying about this means worrying about institutional rules on the level of tattva. My point is that regardless of what the correct tattva was, Lord Caitanya went with “rasa” consideration first. If someone disrupts the flow of devotion then it must be rejected. One cannot allow his bhajan to be disrupted for the sake of institutionalized rules. In this case it’s not the rule about female association but the rule that one must accept collective decision and follow it that was rejected. Both aspects coexisted in Lord Caitanya’s behavior in that story.
The only possible contradiction I see is in one of the lessons cited by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati – the one about standards for the “heads of institutions propagating the Caitanya cult”, as Srila Prabhupada puts it in the purport. It does sound like some rules need to be enforced institutionally, doesn’t it? But the reading is ambiguous – it could equally be about standards expected FROM our leaders, not standards imposed by leaders on everybody else. The sentence continues with the comma: “, and for all actual devotees.” This, again, reads as a standard expected from the devotees rather than a standard imposed on the devotees by the leaders. To put it simply – it doesn’t mean that anyone not living up to this standard should be institutionally punished. This is a very important distinction – standards expected from the leaders (and from rank and file devotees), and standards enforced by the institution.
One other thing – Srila Prabhupada writes that Chota Haridasa returned to Puri in his spiritual body and continued singing for Lord Caitanya’s pleasure, which is shown in the picture at the top. The exact words, however, were “gandarhva dehe – in the body of a gandharva”. This is how it stands in word-for-word translation of CC Antya.2.149. Gandharva body would suit the whole narrative better. Lord Caitanya spoke of Chota Haridas as accepting the result of his activities – sva-karma-phala-bhuk (from CC. Antya.2.163), and singing for Lord Caitanya as a gandarva, for whom female company is allowed, sounds like a nice resolution to the problem of duplicity highlighted by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, as Chota Haridas otherwise behaved like a renunciate.
Maybe Chota Haridas was in a spiritual body, I’m not going to argue against Srila Prabhupada (“In a spiritual body resembling that of a Gandharva”), but his name is not mentioned among Lord Caitanya’s associates from Krishna lila in Gaura Ganoddesa Dipika. A similar argument is used against counting Kala Krishnadasa among Lord Caitanya’s eternal associates in the debate about jiva falldown. If he was in a gandharva body it would also explain why other devotees could sometimes hear his singing – gandharvas live within this universe while fully spiritual bodies are not a part of this world at all.
Lastly, when Chota Haridasa got into this new body, his singing became totally acceptable and Lord Caitanya personally called for him to be brought back. Except it was too late and he committed suicide already, and Lord Caitanya behaved as if it was news to Him. He said that suicide was a proper atonement, too, which we don’t mean to apply to us, as evidenced by Srila Prabhupada’s discussions about it involving Vishujana Swami.
All in all, it’s very hard to line up all the ducks together properly in this story. Something somewhere always doesn’t fit and something always sounds inconclusive, if we are being truly honest about it.
I was listening to my music on shuffle and suddenly a non-devotional song from many years ago came up. Why was it there? Because it’s non-devotional only in a literal sense, the song is actually very cryptic and no one knows its true meaning, which becomes self-evident to anyone who knows about the mission of Lord Caitanya. I remember I was going to write about it all those years ago but it never happened until now, when I feel the urgent need to put everything else on hold.
The (Russian) title translates as “Secret Uzbek”, which doesn’t sound grammatically correct in both languages but that doesn’t matter because his identity is totally mysterious. From reading fan explanations on the internet I think Secret Uzbek is a code word for “Inner Mongol” – someone from Inner Mongolia, and in that singer’s mythology it could mean any Eastern Messiah coming to liberate the West. The singer is more into Buddhism, Tibetan mysticism etc but he used to sing Hare Krishna on stages and thirty years ago he was as popular in Russia as George Harrison.
Speaking of “Inner Mongols” – there’s a Russian book, mentioned by fans, and in that book “Inner Mongolia” is described not as a geographical place but it is located inside of everyone’s heart as a state of consciousness free from all material designations and in which a person sees his spiritual nature and the opulence of the spiritual world. And it’s not really “inner” because “inner” means something in relationship to “outer” world but they mean something categorically different – not here, not there, not inside or outside of anything. And they use “Mongolia” because it’s a play on words – if it’s “inner” it must be “Mongolia”, and in relation to real Mongolia “Inner Mongolia” is actually “outer” – it’s a region in China surrounding the country of Mongolia.
Anyway, please disregard the visuals, especially in the beginning – I’m not sure who the made the video and the images mostly serve to connect present day reality (some anti-government protests of 2011) to the message of the song itself. Keep in mind that it’s poetry and so you supposed to feel the message, the emotion, the import behind the words, especially when translation is done by a non-poetical person such as myself. I kept Russian lyrics as well.
Мы держались так долго, как только могли,
Но туда и сюда – напрочь забыли пин-код.
И теперь мы скользим, не касаясь земли,
И бьемся в стену, хотя с рождения знали, где вход.
“We held on as long as we could but, this way or that way, we completely forgot PIN to our lives. Now we just slide down with nothing to grab on to and we ram our heads into the wall even if we know where the door is.”
People of my age and older still remember the times of old morals – loyalty, chastity, honesty, modesty etc. It’s hard to stand against times, though, and even as devotees we are forced to accept the new norms where words like “infidelity” do not exist, where taking selfies absorbs most of people’s free time, and it’s perfectly okay to scroll through Instagram feed during a conversation with another person. We still strive for meaningful relationships and we do know how they should work, ie where the door is, but in real life we still do everything just the opposite. It’s the same thing with any other goal as well. We know how to learn things in depth but always study just enough to pass exams or prepare presentations. We know what a proper diet should be but we still indulge in ice creams and snacks. Or we know that we are not supposed to watch TV or movies but… These days every devotional video is put to some carefully chosen Hollywood soundtrack and I wonder how many movies they had to watch to find these tunes. There was a Janmashtami invitation with soundtrack from Call of Duty video game – I “shazamed” it and it was recognized instantly by the app. There’s a new dedication to yesterday’s Prabhupada’s Vyasapuja with movie soundtrack as well. It’s all pervasive now and we know we are not supposed to do any of those things but we still doing them and in this way our lives glide down to hell and we have nothing to hold on to anymore. Especially non-devotees – no dharma left for them whatsoever. Dharma means that which sustains so, in a way, we have to grab onto it to survive so it makes sense.
Но тяжелое время сомнений пришло и ушло,
Рука славы сгорела, и пепел рассыпан, и смесь.
Вылита. И тому, кто тут держит весло,
Сообщите, что Тайный Узбек уже здесь.
“Yet hard times of doubts have come and gone. The hand holding a cup of vanity has burned, its ashes are scattered and the drink is spilled. Please inform the skipper that the Secret Uzbek has already arrived.”
In the US and pretty much the rest of the western world there’s a serious crisis of leadership and it appears that no one is in charge but in Russia “the man holding the rudder” is still the same – Putin. The protests shown in the video were protests against his election, too. In Russian narrative drinking from the cup of vanity is their obsession with all things American. After the break of the Soviet Union they all thought that joining the democratic world will bring them peace, happiness, and prosperity, but after bombing of Yugoslavia, western support for Chechen terrorists, invasion of Iraq, and 2008 economic crisis that dream was shuttered and their leaders realized that a new course was needed. So the singer delivers the message – do not worry, the Secret Uzbek is already here.
If we turn to actual mythology then what I translated as “hand holding a cup” is “hand of glory” used in black magic, there’s a wikipedia page about it – it’s a severed and pickled hand of a hanged murderer. From his fat they made candles and from his hair they made candle wicks, and then inserted these candles between fingers of this “hand of glory”. Using it as a torch during robberies or burglaries was supposed to render people immobile, sleepy, and otherwise unable to resist. When this torch-hand burns out its effects are gone, too, and suddenly robbers are exposed and unable to hide themselves anymore.
See how this meaning is the same meaning I translated first – it’s something illusory used to fool people but eventually you realize you have been cheated. Magic or politics or history – same meaning can be expressed through different words, or same words can be interpreted in different ways to elicit the same understanding.
Skipper, “man holding a paddle” in the song, is probably Charon, the Greek god who takes the souls of newly deceased across the river Styx into the underworld. This meaning also fits if we consider it to refer to Yamaraja – Lord Caitanya’s arrival means Yamaraja’s jurisdiction over the world gets suspended.
Три старухи в подвале, закутанные в тряпье,
Но прядущие драгоценную нить.
Знают, как знает тот, кто пьет, опершись на копье,
И как знают все те, кому нечем и незачем пить.
“Three hags in the basement, wrapped in rags but spinning a golden thread, know it just as the one who drinks leaning on spear knows it and just those who don’t drink or have no mouths know it.”
Three women here represent fate, they are Moiras of Greek mythology and at birth they give each soul his life, determine how long it will last, and the third one would cut it at death. They know Lord Caitanya’s time has come. The man drinking off a spear is Jesus Christ who was given a vinegar soaked sponge on the tip of the spear when he was crucified. He knows Lord Caitanya’s time has come, too. The other two categories are spirits or angels who have no interest in drinking – no interest in sense enjoyment in this world. They also know that Lord Caitanya’s time has come.
Так раструбите на всю бесконечную степь,
Сквозь горящий туман и мутно-зеленую взвесь.
Добывающим соль и ласково сеющим хлеб,
Шепните им, что Тайный Узбек уже здесь.
“So go an announce to every corner of the Earth, go through burning forest fires or poisonous smog. Tell those who mine coal and those who tenderly plant wheat – whisper in their ears that Lord Caitanya is already here”.
Of course the song doesn’t say “Lord Caitanya” but “Secret Uzbek” but His identity is unmistakable to us.
Он не – “за”, он не – “против”, он занят другим, как Басе,
Он не распоряжается ничьей судьбой.
Просто там, где он появляется, все,
Происходит словно само собой.
“He is not pro nor against, He’s concerned with something else, like Bashō. He doesn’t control anyone’s life. It’s just that wherever He appears everything happens automatically.”
Bashō is the greatest Haiku poet and Haiku poetry sees the world in a different way. Lord Caitanya doesn’t take sides, He has no friends or enemies, and He is not here to fix our problems – a point hard even for us to understand because, dyed-in-the-wool materialists as we are, we expect that chanting Hare Krishna will bring us material prosperity of all kinds. Nope, Hare Krishna mantra was not given to us for that and Lord Caitanya has no interest in that either.
However, when the Lord arrives in one’s heart all the problems automatically disappear and everything naturally falls into place and everything becomes glorious. These are the benefits of bhakti mentioned right in the beginning of Nectar of Devotion.
Так передайте всем тем, кто долго был выгнут дугой,
Что нет смысла скрывать больше тупость и жадность и спесь.
И бессмысленно делать вид, что ты кто-то другой,
Когда Тайный Узбек уже здесь.
“So please inform all those who have been twisting themselves into pretzels that there’s no point in hiding their ignorance, greed, and arrogance, that there’s no sense in pretending to be someone else – when Lord Caitanya is here.”
И даже если нам всем запереться в глухую тюрьму,
Сжечь самолеты, расформировать поезда.
Это вовсе не помешает ему,
Перебраться из там-где-он-есть к нам сюда.
“Even if we lock ourselves into the deepest jail. If we burn the airplanes and dismantle railways it won’t stop Him from coming into our hearts”.
Lord Caitanya’s mercy is unconditioned, we can’t hide our faults but we also can’t hide ourselves from receiving it. There’s no place His mercy won’t reach. He comes to even the most fallen.
И повторяю, что это не повод рыдать и кричать,
Все останется точно таким, как все есть.
А те, кто знают в чем дело, знают, и будут молчать,
Потому что Тайный Узбек уже здесь.
“I’ll say it again – this not the reason to scream and cry. Everything will go on as usual, but those who know it will keep silence because Lord Caitanya is already here”.
This is not anti-sankirtana call, as it appears on the surface, but it’s rather a call to stop arguing about irrelevant things like presidents, Muslims, or climate change. We are not here to fix the world, we are here to deliver SOULS, not bodies. Perhaps I need a separate article on the meaning of silence. In short, silence means silence about non-devotional matters. It means that no material sounds escape from one’s tongue. So we are not going to argue about elections and wars and whatever. Let all those things follow their prescribed Kali Yuga course. They deserved their time in history, let them have their moment, and we’ll keep silent about them and immerse ourselves in Krishna consciousness instead.
The song already implored us to preach this message far and wide – it’s not anti-sankirtana. But at the same time we should not disclose the glory of the Holy Name to non-devotees. That’s why earlier qualifications for the receivers were mentioned – those who mine and those who grow grains – those who hold on to their dharma. People are able to appreciate the gift of the yuga dharma only when they have appreciation for dharma in general. This way they can recognize it as the best of all dharmas – they need to know what to compare it to first.
It also doesn’t mean that there are people who should be excluded because of their moral degradation. No, it’s not an obstacle, but it rather means we should appeal to “dharma” side of people’s lives, however small it might be. If it’s gay marriage then we should appeal to their appreciation for loyalty and dedication, for example. There’s at least SOME dharma in everybody’s life. They treasure it and we should treasure it, too, and then we can give them the perfection of that dharma – the Holy Name. And then they are saved and Yamaraja can take a nap for the next ten thousand years.
In other words, we have to learn to see potential devotees in people. It’s easy to say “potential devotee” but we actually have to see their budding appreciation for dharma and only then we add yuga-dharma to that. Not that we see a degraded sinner and tell him to chant Hare Krishna. No, first we have to see dharma in that person, not his sins.
Anyway, I’ve gotten a bit of track. I just seem to be incapable of verbally expressing gratitude for Lord Caitanya’s merciful appearance in our lives. Maybe talking about mythology bumped me off track, can’t be helped now.
We think Lord Caitanya descended and then disappeared some five hundred years ago. On one hand it’s an undeniable fact, on the other hand it betrays our materialistic way of thinking about these things – in this version He gets born and dies as an ordinary human, we only use different words like “descended”, “appeared”, or “disappeared” for the sake of etiquette. What we mean, what we perceive in our minds, is actions of “birth” and “death”, so using more respectful terms doesn’t help very much. I think there’s a way to expand our understanding of what’s going on here.
In the introduction to Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the meaning of Caitanya as “living force”. In the first few chapters Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja explains the mission of Lord Caitanya in various ways and one aspect of it is to propagate chanting of the Holy Name and to purify the whole world through this chanting. In the introduction Śrīla Prabhupāda explains it in terms of “living force in immortality” or “character of the living force in immortality” and how the Lord makes it happen for the souls born in Kali yuga. Why not take it as the actual definition?
I mean under materialistic way of thinking “Lord Caitanya” means a person who was born and died five hundred years ago, that’s the main definition, and then we add the details with information about His divinity, mercy and so on. What I propose is to take “giver of immortality to the living force” as primary definition instead and THEN start filling it with details about when He was visible, what He looked like etc.
In relation to our gradual awakening from the dreams of māyā Lord Caitanya appears as He who gives the sound of the Holy Name and fills it with spiritual realizations. Prior to Him chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra was absent from this world and without His mercy it does not produce desired effects. Technically, the mantra itself was known, of course, but no one paid much attention to it, and now, when everybody is aware of its existence and benefits of its chanting, hardly anyone actually becomes a devotee – without Lord Caitanya’s mercy it’s not possible.
Lord Caitanya was also Kṛṣṇa Himself who appeared in the mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī but I can’t personally relate to it (yet), what I do know is that chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra effects changes in myself. I won’t argue if to other people Lord Caitanya means Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa nahe anya, but I would argue that to me it means gradual spiritual awakening, which is a legitimate part of His mission and He and His mission are non-different.
If I accept that this is how Lord Caitanya appears in my life then I can’t say “He disappeared in 1534” because that doesn’t make sense now. In fact, He NEVER disappears because His presence as “immortality of the living force” which fills the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra with spiritual potency does not go away, ever. Well, I can commit offences and stop chanting as a result or chanting would become ineffective but something tells me it would only be temporary and Lord Caitanya’s mercy would reach me even at my own worst.
Lord Caitanya is addressed as mahā-vadānyāya and kṛṣṇa-prema-pradāya in his praṇāma mantra. At this stage prema-pradāya practically means “giver of devotion”, exactly what I’m talking about, and mahā-vadānyāya means supremely merciful and magnanimous so there’s no way to avoid Him, means in this aspect of His personality He never disappears.
I remember this when I chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, my mind gets absorbed in mundane thoughts, and suddenly I wake up and purge them from my consciousness – it’s the appearance and mercy of Lord Caitanya. I might think it’s my own effort but it isn’t, I falsely appropriate it. Why do I remember to stop thinking nonsense things? Because of Lord Caitanya, who is ever present, ever ready to help, ever putting meaning in words “Hare” and “Kṛṣṇa” and “Rāma”, ever filling them and myself with living force and immortality. He didn’t disappear five hundred years ago, He is always here, with me, even if I don’t fully appreciate it yet.
Okay, but what to do with the fact of Him taking birth in Navadvīpa and then living for forty eight years “on Earth”, in materialistic speak? First of all, accepting materialistic worldview means accepting a timeline, which is also linear, not cyclical like in Vedic science, so let’s distance ourselves from that first. Lord Caitanya’s existence and appearances are not restricted by time, place, or circumstances, only by our readiness, devotion, and His mercy. If we accept ourselves as parts of the materialistic community based on science and history then we can’t see Him because that time has passed. If we realize that we are not a part of that world then we might pray for Lord Caitanya’s full appearance right now, subject to our readiness, devotion, and His mercy.
In one place, I can’t find it right now, Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja describes Lord Caitanya as mercy personified, which I take to mean that mahā-vadānyāya aspect has a form and that form is of a tall, large man with lotus eyes, long arms, and golden complexion. It might take a while for us to realize that feelings like mercy can have forms but we can start with the fact that we recognize things like “look of compassion” or “manifestation of mercy”. Mercy isn’t impersonal, in relation to our beings it takes forms suitable to us so that we at least recognize it as “mercy” and not as “malice”. Like a crying baby who perceives mother’s mercy first as sound of her saying “Coming!”, then adds a perception of her figure appearing in his view, then the gentle touch of her arms and warmth of her body, then a sensation of nipple in his mouth, and then the taste of mother’s milk, so Lord’s appearance in our lives is also gradual. It starts with the sound of the Holy Name and graduates in Goloka, just have patience and keep crying for Him. His mercy WILL take more perceptible forms, we just have to start somewhere and keep going.
Engrossed in materialistic thinking we do not recognize that the power which shakes off our distractions as we chant the Holy Name IS Lord Caitanya Himself, we take it for granted. There’s a similar situation with our thinking about atoms I heard many many years ago. We think that atoms have nucleus and there are orbiting electrons (not entirely correct but the most common model) but Vedic science would look at the same atom and say “it occupies space – either, there’s movement – air, there’s energy – fire, there’s bondage between parts of nucleus – water, and there subatomic particles themselves – earth”. Same thing, different perspective, different science. Materialists take existence of space or movement for granted but in Vedic science those are fundamental elements making matter, not protons and electrons.
Materialistic worldview and their understanding of the universe or history do not have any independent sources of existence, they are not objective reality. It’s a degraded “Vedic culture”, in the simplest terms, and periodic decline of religion was mentioned by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gīta, so every now and then the Lord appears even before the eyes of the degraded population so that some of us get to see Him “for real”. On average, I’m removed by about twenty five generation from Lord Caitanya and my ancestors were nowhere near India at the time. They didn’t see Him, how can I expect this body produced by them to see the Lord? They weren’t even among those who only heard of Lord Caitanya, or even heard of the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa. Those events, however, were recorded and accepted as “real” even by atheists. My ancestors were not qualified for that particular manifestation of Lord’s mercy, there were nowhere near it, so I get this mercy in the form of chanting that only begins to make sense, which is a solid start. What’s there to complain?
I know devotees who had a much better perception of Lord Caitanya’s mercy that me so I can see a gradient, which means it’s real and progress can be actually made.
The main point is to appreciate Lord Caitanya in the form we can perceive rather than raise our expectations in line with our materialistic upbringing where it’s all or nothing – you can either see God or He doesn’t exist. No, He DOES exists, and there ways to sense His presence other than “seeing”, we just not paying attention.
My last speculation about the Lord keeping historical accuracy of our relationships with him birth after birth might go against some most basic principles of spiritual progress. Given the 666 in the number of today’s post, however, some devilish entertainment is only natural so let me indulge for the moment, something good might come out of it anyway.
The idea is that we were not randomly plucked out of a crowd of faceless materialists but were placed in our current position according to our previous karma and, more importantly, our previous service to the Lord. In this case to Lord Caitanya. Considering how little progress we make in our present life it’s not such an outrageous idea. With all our chanting we should have made giant strides but it doesn’t happen. Why? Maybe we expect progress in the wrong area.
For a materialist traveling through eight million species of life each new birth is progress, it gives him new abilities, new opportunities, new modes of sense enjoyment, everything looks new and improved. This is the kind of progress we expect from our spiritual life, too – we want to perceive the holy name better or see the deities as God and not as brass dolls on the altar, for example. And I mean actually see the Lord standing there because our eyes only perceive inanimate matter when we look. We might also expect penetrating insights into the workings of material energy, the ability to see past, present, and future, the ability to immediately judge one’s spiritual position and give appropriate advice etc. That last one is what happens to our gurus in ISKCON, we assume. They start off as fresh bhaktas, get shaved up, taught to chant and preach, get initiated, and then voila – ten-twenty years later they are promoted to sannyāsa and allowed to initiate. These days it’s not so easy but that was the general path for Prabhupāda disciples. We assume that because of their guru status they possess some superhuman powers, at least in spiritual matters. Our gurvaṣṭaka prayers are pretty explicit about out assumptions of what to expect from our guru, too, so no one can really blame us.
This kind of progress is still materialistic because it’s materially visible and materially measurable. We can’t see how the guru is serving the feet of Rāḍha and Kṛṣṇa in private groves of Vṛndāvana but we can see that he was declared a guru so it must be there – there’s still a materially perceptible designation to make him qualified. When we define our spiritual progress in such terms we can easily imagine what kind of birth would be a step up in the next life. We also have Kṛṣṇa’s assurances in Bhagavad Gītā that even if we fail to return to Him at the end of this life we’ll be placed in favorable conditions in the next and those conditions are defined materially – a family of a brāhmaṇa, for example.
So, how can I propose anything different? Because chanting of the holy name already granted us liberation even if it might not look so to our material eyes. We still suffer and enjoy and our minds are still attracted to material objects and they are still very very hard to control, where is liberation here? To counter this I’d say that we are liberated from the clutches of material energy and everything that happens to us now is lovingly controlled by the Lord Himself. But what about material desires? He recognizes our material desires and He arranges for their fulfillment in the most spiritually harmless way, it is not dictated by cold karma anymore. There’s another discussion to be had on whether law of karma is actually cold and impersonal but let’s leave it for now.
The point is that we are fully in the hands of the Lord, in every conceivable aspect of our lives, and if we don’t see unicorns and rainbows that’s because we don’t love Him in return yet, we are just coming around to realization that it would be a great idea but we are still attached to our “freedom”.
And that is why might need to disassociate our expectations of progress from materialistic perspective. We don’t need to get a better birth, we are perfectly capable of chanting where we are now. There might be relatively more or less material obstacles but they cannot override the irrevocable fact – we’ve been given the holy name and we can chant it. If it’s more difficult than for others then it could be so that we appreciate it more. One name uttered in the state of helplessness could be more spiritually valuable than sixty four rounds chanted in comfort of our home, who knows?
Material obstacles can’t hinder our spiritual progress but they might encourage us to give up our attachments to safety and comfort. We might think that in the next life we need better arrangements for our chanting but do we really? What’s stopping us from achieving perfection in chanting right where we are now? It’s the desire for better arrangements, that’s what. One split second of perfect association can grant us full spiritual perfection and it’s freely available, what better arrangements do we need? So what if we might spend years waiting for this moment to finally come? Kṛṣṇa, or rather Lord Caitanya, who is in charge of our progress, sees the bigger picture and He is infinitely patient. Waiting is not a problem for Him and it shouldn’t be a problem for us either. The state of kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ is tested precisely by the ability to chant patiently regardless of all kinds of obstacles and the desire to remove those obstacles goes against this principle. When we want better conditions in the next life, even if ostensibly for chanting, it means we still have material hankerings.
How will the Lord deal with them? I’d say He doesn’t need to place us into these better conditions. Judging by the state of our knowledge of philosophy and currently present spiritual opportunities we should be ready to achieve perfection right where we are, we just need more practice in service and detachment.
There’s also the issue of yukta-vairāgya where we must learn to engage everything we see in the service of the Lord. In this spirit we shouldn’t be asking for more stuff when we can’t deal with what we already have. Why would we need a “better” birth when we can’t fully utilize the present one? I’d say that it’s far better to discover connection to Kṛṣṇa where we don’t see it yet rather than demand advancement to the next level.
That’s why we might be born again and again precisely in these conditions, five hundred years after the appearance of Lord Caitanya. We still have plenty of spiritual progress to make here and this work shouldn’t be visible to the materialistic eyes anyway because they can’t see devotion and devotion does not have to manifest externally either.
But what about visible spiritual progress of the kind we can see in our ISKCON? What about it? I’d say it’s no different from a baby learning to walk and talk. We can replay it life after life, this external recognition of our externally visible efforts doesn’t matter, it’s just striving for fame and glory and it would eventually go away once we lived this life a few times.
It’s a fascinating topic, maybe I’ll continue it later.
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.
Thinking about somewhat mundane aspect of Lord Caitanya’s appearance reminded me about grief He gave to His wives. Of course there’s nothing mundane about Lord’s pastimes but let me explain what I mean.
We can celebrate Lord’s birthday as the appearance of our savior but we can also look at it in the context of His pre-conversion Navadvīpa pastimes. He was a channa avatāra, hidden from view of everyone, including His closest future devotees, for many many years. They all saw Him, they all knew Him, yet no one suspected He was a devotee, let alone the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.
First, He was an ordinary boy, and quite naughty at that. After His father’s disappearance He became even more “difficult”, one day practically destroying His house out of anger. Then He became a proud scholar, trolling everyone for a fight about Sanskrit grammar. Then He got married and, after losing His first wife, He got married again. Interestingly, He spend several months working closely with his future spiritual master, Īśvara Purī, on editing his book but didn’t display any visible signs of future surrender.
So it’s this context that I called “mundane”, because it doesn’t explicitly manifest Lord Caitanya’s own nature and the purpose of His appearance. It doesn’t mean that it was actually mundane, it only appeared so externally. Demigods knew what was going on and showed up at important junctions in Lord’s life dressed as ordinary people, and there were cases when the Lord ‘s identity was revealed privately but under strict non-disclosure agreements. Spiritually, Lord’s association was just as beneficial to those around Him even if they didn’t know about it. People were constantly induced to chant the names of Hari even if only to pacify the Lord in moments of His apparent distress. More or less, it was just like with Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana where no one knew His actual position but loved Him unconditionally anyway.
We have no problems with discussing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes on this external level, keeping in mind that He was not simply a little boy and that all His devotees were perfect in their love even if they didn’t know He was God. I suppose we can discuss Lord Caitanya’s pastimes in the similar vein, too.
So, the grief.
The Lord appeared as an ordinary boy and lived an ordinary life. Everybody was happy when He was born and everybody was happy when He got married. There was nothing unusual about that. But, Lord’s principal reason for appearance was preaching the Holy Name and immersing Himself into the ocean of unalloyed bhakti. Marriage had no place in this plan so Lord’s wives got probably the worst of it, not to take anything away from pain caused to Mother Śacī. In fact, the Lord had to adjust His post-renunciation life to somewhat relieve the suffering He caused to His family, which at that time had only two defenseless women. The Lord left no children to take care of them, His father had passed away long time ago, there was no one to look after His aging mother, and His young wife who was condemned to a life time of being a widow.
Just think about it – a twenty year old woman who could never had sex for the rest of her life. Who would agree to it in this day and age? Whose heart won’t turn against the Lord for causing such suffering? It’s like taking away the very purpose of woman’s life. Not just sex, obviously, but children, too.
I don’t know who got it worse, Śrī Viṣṇupriyā, His second wife, or Śrī Lakṣmīdevī who left her body in pain of separation.
Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta doesn’t shed much light on the nature of these two personalities. There’s more in Caitanya Bhāgavata but their spiritual position is not immediately clear. In Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā it is said that Lakṣmīpriyā was previously Rukmiṇī while Viṣṇupryā was Bhū-śakti, which is another to say “mother of the entire universe”.
It is natural to expect Lord’s wives from the previous incarnations to join Him in His pastimes as Gaurasundara, too. How could they not? Everybody else went, Kṛṣṇa’s friends, parents, even gopīs. Gopīs, however, wisely appeared in male forms so that their association with the Lord wouldn’t be interrupted. Still, someone had to appear as Lord’s wives, and so Rukmiṇī obliged, and then the Lord left her.
In Lakṣmīdevī’s case the Lord went on a tour of East Bengal and was gone only for a couple of months but Lakṣmīdevī took it very seriously. Her usual service to the Lord was absolutely remarkable. She had absolutely no other interests or hobbies but to serve the Lord and Lord’s mother. She cooked and cleaned, and when the Lord came home she would massage His feet and just be there in complete silence and deference.
Lord Caitanya didn’t lead what is usually accepted as a model household life. He had no interest in any kind of material pleasures, save for trouncing His opponents in grammar debates. When I said that Lakṣmīdevī cooked I didn’t mean she cooked for three people only – the Lord, His mother, and herself. She cooked for all the guests Lord Caitanya would constantly invite to his home, regardless of how much foodstuff was there.
In that sense He was a model householder. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s father was the same way, always inviting various sādhus and feeding them. Sometimes the order to prepare food for a dozen or so people would come completely unexpected and there was no stuff to cook. It must have been unbelieveably annoying. Somehow or other, by His mystic potency, the Lord always arranged someone to drop by and bring ingredients but if one wanted to be in control and plan the feasts himself he was going to be disappointed. I wouldn’t last a week under such conditions.
When not cooking, Śrī Lakṣmīdevī was busy attending to the family shrine, decorating the temple room, cleaning the paraphernalia and so on. There was no entertainment whatsoever, there was no shopping, there was no traveling, no honeymoon, nothing, just cooking, cleaning, decorating, and massaging Lord’s lotus feet. I don’t even think they had proper sex, the śāstra doesn’t say but they were both young and healthy, they must have had conceived if they did.
So, considering such dedication to nothing but thankless service to the Lord, Śrī Lakṣmīpriyā couldn’t survive the separation from the object of her worship. Traditionally, when husband leaves on a trip his wife should wear plain clothes and stop putting makeup on her face but Śrī Lakṣmīdevī went a step further – she stopped eating. There was no point in sustaining her life if her body wasn’t used in Lord’s service. There was no point in living her life at all, and so she left this world while meditating on the banks of the Ganga.
I don’t think “snake of separation” mentioned in Caitanya Caritāmṛita should be taken as a literal, physical snake. He body wasn’t material, she was non-different from the Lord, and no material snake could have killed her.
The story of her life is remarkable. Modern women won’t even think about following her footsteps and even some of our female devotees would demand a better treatment and equal rights. No one would, of course, declare to be ready to follow her example, but at least we should know the standard of dedication displayed by Lakṣmīdevī. That’s what we all should aspire to, and it has nothing to do with our gender. I don’t mean to use it as an example for our marital relationships only. Her devotion transcends such mundane interests.
Still, Her path might be difficult to follow but it also has amazing clarity and simplicity about it. In that sense women’s dharma appears to be very straightforward, one only has to have devotion and dedication. Men, otoh, are always torn between different choices and, invariably, always make the wrong ones. When entering household life we ought to act as controllers and enjoyers and providers and protectors – all the things that lead us into deep illusion, and that’s what we HAVE TO do, forget about developing attachment for sex. It’s what we must do when on our best behavior. How can we develop the service attitude under such conditions? In this sense women have it much easier.
Anyway, my point was that, externally, Lord’s pastimes were not always ecstatic and there was plenty of unbearable suffering to go around, too. Real devotees, however, should not focus on that but rather direct their consciousness only towards the service of the Lord, considering pain and separation as punishment for their identification with their material bodies.
After all, renunciation is our only treasure in this world which is appreciated by Lord Caitanya (Kṛṣṇa premā does not count, it’s purely spiritual). The more we externally suffer in our service the more it pleases the Lord and that alone should be enough to keep us always happy and enthusiastic, no matter how life feels for our false egos.
PS. If one brings a familiar argument like “you wish your wife was like that while you…” I would immediately cut it off with “I wish *I* was a wife like that”.
To be honest, my latest posts were all gloomy, doubting prospects of our reunion with Kṛṣṇa. I still stand by them and consider them factually correct, we just have to approach this problem from a different angle.
First, there’s always the possibility that whatever we did to cause our departure from the spiritual world is all forgotten and does not go on our permanent record there. This means our return won’t be saddled by the need for explanations and clarifications, we’ll just get back into the service and that will be the end of it.
Secondly, our CURRENT prospects of reuniting with Kṛṣṇa should indeed be non-existent – we are still conditioned, firmly in the grasp of the illusion. We do not see our original selves yet, only our false egos, and our false identity is unsuitable for pure devotional service. Fact is, no matter how hard I might look in the mirror I will always see only something totally worthless to Kṛṣṇa – my material body. Why should I be surprised that this honest self-assessment concludes that I have no prospects whatsoever? Let’s talk again when our hearts are pure and we see reflections of our original spiritual identities.
Then there’s service in the material world. There’s nothing wrong with it if we are not ready for anything better. There’s a LOT we can do here to make Kṛṣṇa happy, especially if we engage in saṅkīrtana. Don’t we have examples of ācāryas praying for a chance to be born as a fly in a house of a vaiṣṇava? I can’t find the exact quote at the moment, haven’t heard it in a long time, but there is definitely a school of humble thought that being born in the material world for a chance of even the most insignificant service is a glorious birth.
Even if we do deserve “better” conditions – whatever Kṛṣṇa and His agents want us to do should be taken with great enthusiasm and appreciation. Remember that famous story about devotees being asked to donate foot dust to relieve Kṛṣṇa’s headache? Everybody refused, His queens, Akrūra, everybody in Dvārāka. They argued that giving foot dust to their husband, master, and God Himself would be against the rules and they would go to hell. Only gopīs volunteered their foot dust without any hesitation. When Kṛṣṇa is in pain a pure devotee has no concerns about his personal sins and possibility of going to hell.
The story usually stops there but do you ever wonder what happened to the gopīs in the end? Did they really go to hell? Obviously not, Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t allow it, but this answer is incomplete. He wouldn’t allow going to hell, okay, but what if karmic reactions for helping Kṛṣṇa weren’t so severe, wouldn’t they manifest for the gopīs? What if they were asked to do jumping jacks for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure? Wouldn’t their heart rate go up? Wouldn’t they be tired and sweaty? Yes? So karma still comes, right?
So, what if karma for giving Kṛṣṇa foot dust or some similar request leads devotees to be born in the material world, in the movement of Lord Caitanya? It is surely somewhere in between getting sweaty and going to hell, so why not? Aren’t these differences immaterial for pure devotees who are eternally liberated anyway?
I’m saying that our imminent return to the material world can be attributed not only to our impurities but to our sacrifices for Kṛṣṇa, too. Next time we are supposed to be born during Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in one of the material universes – is it a reward or a punishment? Wrong question – pure hearted devotees do not see any difference and are not concerned with how each particular birth feels or how it is judged by our standards. It’s only us down here who want liberation and dream of pleasures of Vṛndāvana.
Apart from all the possibilities above, we are saved by Lord Caitanya. Whatever we had done to deserve our material existence becomes irrelevant when He extends us shelter of His lotus feet. We might have been imperfect servants back there but with Lord Caitanya we get a new spiritual birth. His mercy is unlimited, He holds no grudges, He brings everyone to Kṛṣṇa’s service.
So what if we are not qualified to serve in Vṛndāvana itself – serving lotus feet of Lord Caitanya is perfectly enough.
One could argue that we cannot enjoy any rasas but servitorship with Lord Caitanya but that is not entirely correct – by His mercy we can love Kṛṣṇa in ANY rasa through chanting of the Holy Names. When we with Him, we can do anything and everything for Kṛṣṇa, there are no limits.
One could say that we might not get Kṛṣṇa’s personal association but that is also not entirely correct – we get something even better – service in separation. Lord Caitanya Himself taught us that it is far superior and far more intense kind of love than enjoying Kṛṣṇa’s company. And it’s perfect for rejected rascals like us, too!
So what if we don’t deserve a place in Kṛṣṇa’s company for one reason or another? Under Lord Caitanya’s shelter we can still perfect our service and develop pure love for Kṛṣṇa, no matter how far we are removed from Him.
After all, all the above mentioned examples of devotional humility have been introduced to us by no one else but Lord Caitanya. Without Him we wouldn’t be able to appreciate them just as devotees of Dvārāka didn’t get the hint about foot dust.
In this sense Lord Caitanya’s mercy is multifaceted. He cleanses us from material contamination. He re-introduces us to Kṛṣṇa’s service and vouches for us. He gives us a place in His own entourage if we aren’t quite ready for Kṛṣṇa Himself. He teaches us value of love in separation and unparalleled sweetness of humility. He solves all our problems, all of them, real or imaginary, manifested or potential – His mercy is a perfect solution to everything. And He gives us pure love and devotion to Kṛṣṇa which is self-sufficient.
What more can we want? What have we got to worry about? What causes for pessimism we might have in our service? None whatsoever. Being picked up by Lord Caitanya is the best thing that can ever happen to conditioned souls like us.
For three days I’ve been painting gloomy scenarios and worrying about our return back to Kṛṣṇa, and those are legitimate concerns, but they are nothing when we have Lord Caitanya taking us under His wing. We are perfectly safe.
Pessimism about inadequacy of our own efforts dissipates under the light of Lord Caitanya’s mercy.
PS. I forgot about offenses in chanting the Holy Name – they do not count when we are doing it under Lord Caitanya’s supervision, so we are good there, too.
It’s easy for us to imagine Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Absolute Truth, full of knowledge and bliss. We don’t know Him any other way. Every time He comes into our minds we treat Him as omnipotent, omnipresent God. Every time we think of people interacting with Him we expect them to lose external consciousness and exhibit the same symptoms as Lord Caitanya did.
The reality might be very very different.
We think we know Kṛṣṇa but we don’t. Both in the sense we’ve never seen Him reveal Himself to us and in the sense that we can’t sense His presence in the Holy Name or in the Deity. We treat the Holy Name and the Deity as Kṛṣṇa Himself, and we treat our guru as Kṛṣṇa’s empowered representative and we think that this is enough. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
It should be enough for our current spiritual needs and our current stage of progress but I don’t think it’s enough to say “we know Kṛṣṇa”.
It’s easy to know and recognize Kṛṣṇa – He has a bluish body and He is a young boy, who else can we mistake Him for? Lord Viṣṇu? Viṣṇu has four arms. Lord Śiva? I don’t think so. Yet Kṛṣṇa, if He suddenly decided to appear before us, might not look like what we expect at all. There are plenty of cases where He became visible and interacted with His devotees and they didn’t realize they were talking to Him.
Kṛṣṇa appeared before Mādhavendra Purī as a cowherd boy and offered him some milk, for example (CC Madhya 4, from verse 24 onwards). Mādhavendra Purī thought they boy was beautiful but he had no idea who he was. He then saw the same boy in his dream, followed the instructions, and discovered the Deity of Gopāla.
That story is interesting for another reason – it explains how Kṛṣṇa supports His devotees. He said that in His village no one fasts and He encouraged Mādhavendra Purī to go and beg for food. Isn’t it nice? Kṛṣṇa wants His devotees to beg for food, He asks us to do at least that much for our maintenance, and if that doesn’t work, He said, if a person doesn’t ask anyone for food, Kṛṣṇa supplies Him with eatables Himself.
How many of us are prepared to support ourselves by begging? Of course the caveat might be that Kṛṣṇa was talking about HIS village, at the foot of the Govardhana Hill, not the abominable places we are forced to reside in by our karma. Still, the principle is clear – we need to make an effort and Kṛṣṇa will make sure we get the provisions. And if we don’t make an effort we’d be forced to accept His personal service. What devotee would agree to that?
I guess it means we are okay working for food, too. Whatever efforts we must make, we cannot decline because doing so would mean bothering Kṛṣṇa just out of laziness and false pride. He’ll cover us, sure, but why would we want to inconvenience Him like that?
Anyway, another big case study of devotees not being able to recognize the Lord is life of Lord Caitanya. No one knew who He was even though many suspected He was not an ordinary boy. His older brother figured it out, that brāhmaṇa I wrote a bunch of posts about last week knew who He was, but most had no idea whatsoever.
They saw Him everyday, they were attracted by His beauty, they knew He was crazy after the names of Hari, but they couldn’t put two and two together. They looked at Him, talked to Him, played with Him and they didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. They didn’t lose consciousness, they didn’t cry incessantly, their skin didn’t get covered with goose bumps and so on.
Yes, He was relatively more attractive then all the other babies but that was it. He once walked into a Kṛṣṇa kathā get together in the house of Advaita Ācārya to call His brother Viśvarūpa home for dinner. He was very young then, didn’t even wear clothes. So He stood there, butt naked, covered in dust, looking with great appreciation at the devotees who were just discussing His own glories, and no one recognized Him. He just didn’t look the part.
Now imagine you get to see the Lord like that day in and day out, just like an ordinary boy, snot on his face, dirt under his fingernails, stinky head, restless and always hungry. How are we going to accept him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead?
He might have adorable feet but all children his age are, how can we see them as “lotus”, as our life and soul, and as our only shelter? I’m afraid we can’t.
People who get to associate with the Lord like that do not see divine in Him. He looks very ordinary. It was true for Kṛṣṇa, it was true for Lord Caitanya, too.
Now with Kṛṣṇa it looked somewhat easier – everyone in Vṛndāvana is a pure devotee, everyone has a loving relationship with the Lord, we don’t have to worry about them. In Navadvīpa, however, it was different. The town was overrun by materialists who ridiculed vaiṣṇavas on every occasion. That’s why devotees flocked to Advaita Ācārya’s house – they had no other place to go, everyone everywhere else would laugh at them and their Lord. It was tough, really tough.
And when Kṛṣṇa appeared there as Gaurasundara they still didn’t recognize Him. Lacking the knowledge of Lord Gaurāṅga’s identity they tried to establish relationships with Kṛṣṇa, basically ignoring the Lord before their eyes.
And what about all the non-devotees there? They rejected serving Kṛṣṇa and didn’t appreciate Lord Caitanya very much. Even Mother Śacī got angry at Advaita Ācārya for preaching about Kṛṣṇa, which is a different story but makes a point here nevertheless.
The Lord just looked very very human, and familiarity, as we know, breeds contempt. Maybe not outright contempt but we can’t suddenly treat someone clearly human as God, we will always remember a million human like things about that person. AND we might be non-devotees to boot, too. I mean now we know about Kṛṣṇa but in our next life, which could be in the company of Lord Caitanya, we might be His childhood friends or neighbors He comes to pee on the floor every time no one is looking.
We might see Him as a naughty little boy or as an arrogant young man intoxicated with his own intellect and education. We might think of him as someone who broke his mother’s heart and took sannyāsa when she had no one to look after her, no husband, no other sons.
What I am saying is that knowing the Lord up close and personal might turn out very different from what we usually expect. He might not look “lordly” at all. How are we going to surrender then?
Ther’s also the case of Lord Nityānanda but I’ll leave that for some other time