“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?