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Teachings of Lord Caitanya — Book Review

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Teachings Of Lord Chaitanya

by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami; 292 pp., ISKCON Books, $5.95.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, foremost teacher of the Vedic science of spiritual realization in the world today, was born Abhay Charan De on Sept. 1, 1896 in Calcutta. He attended the University of Calcutta, majoring in philosophy, English and economics, and after finishing his education took up the management of a large chemical firm. It was in 1922 that he met his spiritual master, His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj. From the beginning Srila Bhaktisiddhanta instructed him to bring the message of Lord Chaitanya to the Western World. In 1933, Abhay Charan De was initiated by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, and in 1944 he began Back To Godhead, a semi-monthly magazine in the English language, as a first step toward fulfilling his spiritual master’s order. He was recognized as Bhaktivedanta in 1947, and in 1954 he became Vanaprastha, retired from family life. In 1959 he entered the renounced order of spiritual life, sannyasa, and now he is known as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.

It was in September of 1965 that His Divine Grace arrived in the United States, seeking further to fulfill the mission given him by his Guru Maharaj. By July of 1966 he had gathered some disciples to him, and he began the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Now this society has branches in the major cities of the U.S., Canada, Britain and Germany. His Divine Grace is the author of a number of other books, including “Srimad Bhagwatam” (complete in 60 volumes), “Nectar of Devotion,” and the recently published “Bhagavad Gita As It Is.” He has also made two LP record albums—”Krishna Consciousness” and “Govinda.”

The Swami writes out of his daily experiences with the authority of a master, so that his books are both learned and practical, instructive as well as deeply moving. The present volume is a study of the sublime philosophy of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Chaitanya advented Himself in Mayapur in the town of Nadia on February 18, 1486, and from the time of His appearance He made everyone chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Lord Chaitanya is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, advented in the present age of Kali Yuga in the garb of a devotee in order to experience the bliss of devotional service and to spread love of Godhead to everyone. TEACHINGS OF LORD CHAITANYA is based on the “Chaitanya Charitamrita” by Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami. Chaitanya Charitamrita, the topmost book in the field of spiritual science, deals with the life and precepts of Lord Chaitanya.

TEACHINGS OF LORD CHAITANYA begins with the Lord’s instructions to Rupa Goswami on the bank of the Ganges at Prayag. He began His teaching as follows: “My dear Rupa, the science of devotional service is just like a great ocean, and it is not possible to show you all the length and breadth of the great ocean. But I shall simply try to explain about the nature of the ocean by just taking a drop of it; and you can thus taste it and understand what is that ocean of devotional service.”

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu went on to teach that the human form of life is a very rare thing, and that it should not be wasted in the animal propensities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. It should rather be utilized for spiritual realization. In order to do this one must receive the mercy of a bona fide spiritual master who imparts the science of devotional service to the student. The student receives this knowledge through submissive aural reception, and then it is his duty to faithfully carry out his master’s instructions. In doing this one must be careful to avoid all offenses and obstacles on the path to pure devotion.

Sriman Mahaprabhu has explained the symptoms of pure devotion, the stages of devotional service and the development of the various “rasas,” or mellows (flavors) existing between the devotee and Krishna.

Lord Chaitanya gave all this information to Rupa so that he could write books on the subject, and one of his principal works is “Bhakti-Rasamrita Sindbu” (literally, “The Ocean of the Pure Nectar of Devotional Service”), which A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami is very kindly preparing for us now under the title “Nectar of Devotion,” soon to be published.

Both Rupa and his elder brother Sanatan were important government ministers, but after meeting Lord Chaitanya they both retired from government service and became His followers. Sanatan had great difficulty in doing so, because his service was very valuable to his Moslem ruler. He was thrown in jail, but while the governor was off fighting in a neighboring province Sanatan escaped and made his way through the jungles to Benares, where he joined the Lord.

The Lord instructed Sanatan in the process of devotional service, explaining that the living entity is of superior spiritual energy, but is in a marginal position. That is, sometimes he is controlled by spiritual nature and sometimes by material. If the living entity maintains his natural relationship of eternal part and parcel servitor to the Lord, he remains under the control of the spiritual potency of the Lord. And if he forgets his relationship and tries to be independent of the Lord, he is put under the control of the inferior material potency. The only way for the materially conditioned souls to achieve perfection, therefore, is through devotional service or Krishna Consciousness.

There are three features of the Absolute—the impersonal Brahman effulgence, the localized Paramatman (Supersoul) manifestation and the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is the origin of all these forms, and He has an infinite number of personal forms, such as Vishnu, which are eternally existent in the spiritual sky. These forms are also found on this planet and within this universe. Lord Chaitanya described His various types of “avataras,” or incarnations, to Sanatan Goswami, and the account of this teaching in A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s book will come as a distinct contribution to man’s understanding of the varieties exhibited by the Absolute Truth in relation to the material world.

Krishna is the greatest of the great. No one can surpass His opulence. He possesses all fame, all beauty, all strength, all knowledge, all wealth and all renunciation. He is manifesting the material and spiritual universes simply through His energy. Lord Brahma, the topmost demigod in the universe, admits that he cannot conceive how great Krishna is. And it is the verdict of all Vedic literature that devotional service to this Supreme Personality of Godhead is the only thing worthwhile. In order to achieve such a state of perfection, one must be favored by a great soul, a pure devotee of the Lord.

Lord Chaitanya described to Sanatan some of the godly qualities of a devotee, as well as his behavior. The Lord also enunciated the devotional practices by which one reaches perfection. There are sixty-four items of devotional practice, and by their adoption one’s devotional service gradually becomes pure. Lord Chaitanya explained devotional service according to the regulative principles, and He also described devotional service in attachment, which is a higher stage. The ecstasy of the Lord and His devotees, which is enjoyed according to their particular relationships on the transcendental plane. is described by the Lord to Sanatan, as well as the transcendental qualities of Radha and Krishna. All this and more is to be found in TEACHINGS OF LORD CHAITANYA, and the book therefore offers us a most unique insight into the very highest principles and concepts of transcendental existence. It is unlikely that any other work in the English language can approach this sublime achievement.

When the Lord finished His instructions, Sanatan offered his most humble prayers and asked for the Lord’s benediction so that His teachings might fully evolve within his heart.

Lord Chaitanya next explained the famous “Atmarama” verse from Srimad Bhagwatam. He had previously explained it to Sarbabhouma Bhattacharya, but at Sanatan’s request He explained it again, and the Lord gave 61 different explanations of the verse. The Lord has complete knowledge which far surpasses that of any mundane scholar, no matter how great he may be. Sanatan could understand that Lord Chaitanya was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, and he fell down at His feet and offered Him praise.

“The Lord then replied to Sanatan Goswami, ‘Do not try to eulogize Me in that way. Just try to understand the real nature of Srimad Bhagwatam.'” In this way, Lord Chaitanya did not like to be called God. His role was to act as a devotee of the Lord and to set the example of pure devotional service. He empowered Sanatan Goswami to write many books on the subject of devotional service, and Sanatan kindly carried out His order. We who are the benefactors of such sublime gifts must offer all glory to Sanatan Goswami and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu !

While the Lord was staying at Benares He was strongly criticized by the mayavadi (impersonalist) sannyasis who resided there. According to their principles, “Singing, dancing, and playing on musical instruments are strictly prohibited; they are called three kinds of sinful activities. The mayavadi sannyasi is supposed to engage his valuable time in the matter of Vedanta study. When the mayavadi sannyasis in Benares saw that Lord Chaitanya was indulging in singing, dancing and playing musical instruments, and was always chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, they concluded that this sannyasi was not educated and, out of sentiment, He was misleading some of the followers. Shankaracharya has said that a sannyasi should always be engaged in studying Vedanta, and should be satisfied simply having one cloth and nothing more. Lord Chaitanya was neither studying Vedanta in formality, nor did He cease from singing and dancing, and so He was criticized by all the sannyasis at Benares, as well as by their householder followers.”

While two of the Lord’s followers were discussing the mayavadis’ criticism of Him, a brahmin came and invited Lord Chaitanya to his place, where he had also invited all the other sannyasis. The Lord accepted the invitation, taking the opportunity to meet the mayavadi sannyasis, and the next day went to the house of the brahmin. He offered His respects to all the sannyasis assembled there and they returned His respects, as was usual. The Lord then had a conversation with Prakasananda Saraswati who was the chief amongst the impersonalist sannyasis.

Lord Chaitanya humbly explained His chanting of the Holy Name—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—which had been instructed to Him by His spiritual master. The Lord also gave the true explanation of the Vedanta Sutra, and refuted the impersonalist philosophy which tries to draw some concocted meaning of its own from Vedanta Sutra. Lord Chaitanya said that Srimad Bhagwatam by Srila Vyasadeva, who also authored Vedanta Sutra, is the real commentary on the Vedanta. And Bhagwatam is the all-glorious description of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Chaitanya refused to attempt any indirect interpretation of the Vedanta Sutra, and then put forth the direct interpretation of each of the verses. Prakasananda and his students admitted the defect of Shankaracharya’s indirect interpretation, and accepted the teaching of Lord Chaitanya to be correct.

One day after this incident, as He was on His way to visit the temple of Viswonath and Bindumadhav, Lord Chaitanya began charting and dancing in the streets. “Thousands of people were gathered around Him, and there was a roaring following the vibration of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This vibration was so tumultuous that Prakasananda Saraswati, who was sitting nearby, came immediately along with his disciples, and as soon as he saw the beautiful body of Lord Chaitanya and His nice dancing, along with His associates, he also joined and began to sing with Him: Hari! Hari! All the inhabitants of Benares were struck with wonder by seeing the dancing of Lord Chaitanya in ecstasy.” When Lord Chaitanya stopped His chanting and dancing, Prakasananda Saraswati immediately fell at His feet and offered humble prayers to the Lord, begging His mercy and forgiveness. In this way all of Benares took up the chanting of the Holy Name.

After taking sannyasa, Lord Chaitanya went to Jagannath Puri on the east coast of India. There He met with Sarbabhouma Bhattacharya, the greatest logician of that time. Sarbabhouma took compassion on the young sannyasi, and he wanted to teach the Lord Vedanta Sutra, feeling that, without such instruction, it would be difficult for the handsome young man to continue in sannyasa. The Lord agreed, and Sarbabhouma spoke to Him about Vedanta Sutra continually for seven days. Lord Chaitanya did not say anything during all this time, and on the eighth day the Bhattacharya enquired as to why He was so silent.

Lord Chaitanya then criticized the mayavadi sannyasis who hear Vedanta Sutra simply as a formality and without any understanding. He went on to say that He understood the codes of Vedanta Sutra, which are not very difficult, but that Bhattacharya’s explanations obscured the real meaning. This was because Bhattacharya was trying to expound some particular doctrine of his own through the codes. Therefore he was giving indirect meanings and hiding the true meanings of the Sutras.

All Vedic evidence affirms the Supreme Personality of Godhead to be the final concept of the Absolute Truth. Realization of the Supreme Person is higher than impersonal Brahman realization or localized Supersoul realization. Vedic literature, according to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, is meant for three things—telling us of our relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, showing us how to act according to that relationship and, finally, to achieve love of Godhead as the highest perfection of life. Lord Chaitanya showed many defects in the mayavadi philosophy. By the force of His arguments and His explanation of the Atmarama Sloka in 61 different ways, the Lord converted Sarbabhouma into a staunch and pure devotee. Lord Chaitanya showed His mercy to the Bhattacharya, and the Bhattacharya was melted by it.

While Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was on His tour of southern India, at the bank of the river Dudabundee, He met with Sri Ramananda Roy, who was the governor of that province. The Lord had been requested to see this great devotee by Sarbabhouma Bhattacharya, who had previously thought Roy rather mad.

Lord Chaitanya inquired of Ramananda Roy, “Please quote some verses from scripture about the ultimate goal of life for the human being.” Thus begins the most moving and ecstatic section of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s book, taking the reader step by step on a sublime journey to indescribable heights of transcendental consciousness. Ramananda Roy quoted several verses, which the Lord rejected. Then, “Ramananda Roy said that devotional service without any attempt at cultivation of knowledge or mental speculation is the highest stage of perfection,” and to confirm this, he gave evidence from the Srimad Bhagwatam, Tenth Canto, 14th Chapter.

Lord Chaitanya immediately accepted this prescription presented by Ramananda Roy, and asked him to go further in advanced devotional service. Ramananda Roy mentioned several stages of devotion, and finally concluded that love of Radha and Krishna is the highest attainment. Ramananda Roy described the Holy Rasa Dance and Radharani’s special attractiveness for Krishna. He also discussed the most confidential dealings of Radha and Krishna, and how to gain Their service and association.

These talks between Lord Chaitanya and Ramananda Roy are on the highest spiritual level, and in order to reach this level one must approach a bona fide spiritual master. A spiritual master is “a qualified person conversant with the science of Krishna.” One should approach such a spiritual master with an attitude of submissive hearing and service. Then one will be eligible to achieve perfection. One can only approach Krishna through His representative, the spiritual master. This is also the verdict of Lord Chaitanya.

After ten days of high level discussions with Ramananda Roy, Lord Chaitanya left that place, inviting Ramananda Roy to join Him at Jagannath Puri, where they could spend the rest of Their lives together discussing Krishna. “After the departure of Lord Chaitanya, Ramananda Roy became overwhelmed by separation from the Lord; and he decided to retire from service just to meet the Lord again at Jagannath Puri.”

Lord Chaitanya is the most magnanimous appearance of Godhead, and everyone should take advantage of His sublime instructions which are so nicely presented to us by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami in TEACHINGS OF LORD CHAITANYA. If one is fortunate enough, he can place his faith in this book, and can enter into the transcendental association of Radha and Krishna.

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