(translated from the original Bengali by Sriman Gopiparanadhana dasa Brahmacari)
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838-1914) was a pioneer in the distribution of Krishna consciousness to the English-speaking world. He dedicated much of his life to this effort, writing and speaking extensively in English and encouraging other devotees to do the same. His mission has been continued and greatly expanded by, his son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, and by his son’s disciple, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Published in 1886, Sri Caitanya-siksamrta (The Nectarean Teachings of Sri Caitanya) systematically and. uncompromisingly establishes the basic principles of devotional practice. Its subject matter is based largely on the conversations between Sri Caitanya , Mahaprabhu and Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis, as recorded in Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s classic biography, Caitanya-caritamrta. The present article comprises the second half of the first chapter.
The nature of love is that it accepts something as its subject and something as its object. Without a subject and an object, love is impossible. In pure spiritual love, the heart of the living entity is the subject, and LordKrishna alone is the object. Since Krishna is the Supreme Absolute Truth, once pure, unadulterated love for Him awakens, all subordinate worshipable objects become summed up in His original form. Therefore only love for Krishna is actually pure love. While reading this book in its entirety, one will directly experience that pure love to the extent that he is actually searching for it. If, however, simply upon hearing the name of Krishna, the reader becomes argumentative, he will be cheated of any factual realization of the Absolute Truth. To argue about the holy name of the Lord is futile The object indicated by the holy name Krishna is the supreme goal of every living entity. The nectarean pastimes of Lord Krishna described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of all Vedic literatures, were directly perceived in trance by Srila Vyasadeva, the best of sages. Following the advice of Sri Narada, Vyasadeva entered into devotional service to the Lord, the natural form of samadhi; and then was able to see the original form of Krishna. Later he described Lord Krishna’s pastimes with His devotees, who exhibit devotion free from all material designations. This pure love destroys the living entity’s distress, illusion, and fear.
According to their different qualifications, people who read or hear the pastimes of Krishna perceive them either intelligently or ignorantly. At the time of Lord Krishna’s appearance, when His pastimes are manifested to material vision, they stimulate increased intelligent perception by the wise class of men, but only more foolish understanding by those whose intelligence is absorbed in matter. Perception arising under the influence of the Lord’s knowledge potency is intelligent perception, but perception that develops in ignorance is unintelligent.
When one tries to understand the nectarean pastimes of Lord Krishna foolishly, one may present many argumentative objections. No such objections are raised, however, if one perceives the Lord’s pastimes with intelligence. If one hopes to achieve the supreme goal of life, he should quickly develop this intelligent perception. Why should one choose to understand things in a foolish way and thus, by creating arguments, allow one’s best interest to be ruined?
Intelligent perception of Lord Krishna’s pastimes is briefly summarized as follows. Those who can rise above thinking of material things, and who can thus become actually thoughtful, can see things intelligently. They see the form of Krishna with spiritual vision, hear the pastimes of Krishna with spiritual hearing, and fully relish Krishna with their spiritual sense of taste. All the pastimes of Krishna are nonmaterial—i.e., they are transcendental to this material world. Therefore, by themselves, one’s material eyes and other material senses cannot perceive their presence. Only by the inconceivable potency of Krishna can these pastimes be perceived with material senses. When, at the time of His appearance the Lord makes His pastimes accessible to gross senses, He grants direct participation in them only to those with intelligent perception. Thus the general mass of people perceive His pastimes unintelligently. They foolishly consider Krishna to be something impermanent, thinking that His body, like ours, is born, grows old, and dies. Because of unintelligent perception, some people also believe that formlessness is the ultimate reality and that form can exist only in the material sphere. Therefore, since Krishna has a form, they conclude that He is material.
No one can ascertain the nature of the Absolute Truth by argument. How can human reason, which is limited, deal with the unlimited subject of the Absolute Truth? If one wishes to understand and directly experience the Absolute Truth, he must engage in devotional service to the Lord. This process of devotional service, which is called bhakti, isthe preliminary stage of what we have previously referred to as pure love of God. One can develop intelligent perception only by receiving the mercy of Krishna, and one can receive the mercy of Krishna only by acting in devotional service, not simply by acquiring knowledge.
Many kinds of sentiment for the Supreme Truth are seen in the world, but apart from all of them, the affection for the original form of Krishna is the only sentiment that meets the standard of pure, unalloyed love. For example, one cannot apply the term pure love to the feeling for Lord Allah presented in the Islamic scriptures. Even the prophet who was Lord Allah’s dearmost friend was unable to directly see His transcendental body, for although he entered into a relationship of friendship with the Lord, he was kept at a distance under the spell of His opulence. Likewise, the Christian conception of “God” is a very aloof phenomenon, and there are certainly no discussions of the pastimes of the impersonal Brahman. Nor is the magnificent form of Lord Narayana the most natural object for the soul’s ecstatic love. Therefore the only immediate object of pure ecstatic love is Krishna, whose original form is found in its eternal splendor in the transcendental abode of Vrndavana.
Krishna’s Vrndavana is by nature eternally full of sweetness and bliss. Although spiritual opulence is fully present there, its predominating aspect is not felt. Fruits, flowers, and young sprouts—these are the riches of Vrndavana. The domain’s subjects are the herds of cows, the friends are the cowherd boys, the consorts are the gopis, and the food is the milk products such as butter and yogurt. The River Yamuna and all the forests and gardens are full of love for Krishna. In fact, in Vrndavana all of nature acts in Krishna’s service. Krishna, who elsewhere receives the worship and reverence of everyone as the Supreme Absolute Truth, is in Vrndavana the sole treasure of life, sometimes known familiarly to the worshiper as his equal, and sometimes as his inferior.
How else could the insignificant living entity ecstatically love the Absolute Truth? The Supreme Truth has His own pastimes and His own desires, and He is anxious to have the living entity’s pure love. How can He who is by His nature supreme, who, like common men, hankers for worship but can never be fully satisfied by such worship, obtain His own happiness? By covering His opulences with the quality of sweetness and evoking the love of His devotees. Thus Lord Sri Krishna, the reservoir of the most wonderfully relishable pastimes, accepts equality with and inferiority to those living entities fit to relish the transcendental relationships of Vrndavana, and in this way He obtains His own pleasure.
For those who accept pure and complete love of God as the only goal in life, who else but Krishna could they choose as the object of that love? Furthermore, if the language were changed so that words such as Krishna, Vrndavana, gopa, gopi, go-dhana, govardhana, yamuna, kadamba, and so on could not be found anywhere, then devotees trying to develop pure ecstatic love would simply have to somehow pick other words for all the holy names, abodes, paraphernalia, forms, and pastimes of Krishna. Therefore, there is no object of pure love except Krishna.
After careful consideration, we can see that there are just two ways of achieving love for Krishna, namely, regulated devotional service and spontaneous service. Spontaneous devotion is rare. Regulations have no more power over a person whose spontaneous attraction for Krishna has developed, but as long as it has not developed, his prime business is to follow the rules of regulated devotional service. Until uncontaminated, spontaneous attraction becomes prominent, a candidate must accept as his duty both the essential and minor regulative principles of devotional service to Krishna. Thus the Vedic sastras mention two paths, known as vidhi-marga (regulated devotional service) and raga-marga (spontaneous devotional service). Since raga-marga is completely voluntary, it does not have specifically prescribed regulations. Only one who is especially fortunate and highly qualified can enter onto this path. I have consequently written here only about the process of devotional service on the platform of vidhi-marga.
Unfortunate persons cannot recognize the Supreme Lord. For the sake of carrying out their livelihood, they are forced to establish many rules of conduct known as niti, or morality. However, regardless of how excellent a code of morality may be, if it does not further the development of God consciousness, it cannot bring about the perfection of human life. Such morality is simply renegade morality. On the other hand, a set of moral codes that encourages belief in God and prescribes authorized activity on His behalf should be respected as a proper system of guidelines (vidhi) for the behavior of human beings.
There are two types of this vidhi: major and minor. When one accepts the satisfaction of the Lord as the only goal in life, then the process that immediately fulfills this purpose is called mukhya (major) vidhi. In contrast, a process that more or less indirectly indicates the final goal of satisfying the Lord is known as gauna (minor) vidhi. For example, bathing early in the morning is one guideline of behavior. By bathing in the morning, the body is cleansed and made free from disease. Thus the mind becomes steady, and when the mind is steady, one is fit to worship the Lord. In this case, then, the goal of life (to worship the Supreme) is not realized directly, since the immediate result of bathing is merely a clean body. If one takes bodily cleanliness to be the ultimate goal of bathing, he will not get the fruit of devotional service. Therefore, except for the worship of the Lord, all other results of the moral principle of bathing are intermediate benefits, and when such secondary results are involved, interference with the final goal is always a possibility.
On the other hand, the immediate goal of mukhya-vidhi is service to the Supreme Lord. In this major process of activity, there is no intermediate result standing between the means of the regulative principles and the end of devotional service. Chanting the glories of Lord Krishna and hearing topics about Him are aspects of mukhya-vidhi, since the direct consequence of both is pure devotion. However, if one simply executes the main process of devotional practice in relation to Krishna but neglects secondary regulations, he will not be able to fulfill the needs of the body, and thus it will be impossible for him to maintain his life. How can one adopt the mukhya-vidhi (direct devotional service to the Lord) if he cannot even keep his body and soul together? The gist of gauna-vidhi, then, is that by diligent application of all types of education, art, industry, etiquette, and orderliness, which are prime assets of human life, and by also taking to heart bodily, mental, and social regulations, one can honestly maintain his livelihood and thus facilitate his service to the Lord’s lotus feet. When gauna-vidhi isactually carried to its complete fructification, it becomes the assistant of mukhya-vidhi and helps make human existence fully ecstatic with the nectar found at the Lord’s lotus feet.
There are many styles of human life: nomadic life, barely civilized life, civilized life enriched by material science, atheistic moral life, theistic moral life, devotional life in practice, and the life of a devotee in ecstatic love of God. Actually, human existence as such begins with religious morality. As long as one’s way of life is not centered around God (and by extension, as long as it remains uncivilized, unscientific, and immoral), it cannot be considered any better than animal life. Real human life must be governed by the rules and restrictions of theistic morality. Therefore the considerations of this discussion begin with God-conscious moral life.
Among the chief ornaments of a God-conscious way of life are material science, culture, and ethics. And when, along with these features, religious morality matures into devotional life, all one’s desires are satisfied.
The activities of the jiva (living entity) are known as jaiva-dharma, and on the human level, as human dharma. Human dharma has two aspects, gauna and mukhya, which are concerned with conditioned and purely spiritual activities respectively. Gauna, or conditional, dharma deals with the world of matter, its material modes, and the conditioned living entity’s relationship with them. Mukhya, or spiritual, dharma has as its subject the pure spirit soul and is therefore the actual jaiva-dharma. Gauna-dharma is in fact nothing more than mukhya-dharma affected by material nature and transformed according to the modes of matter—goodness, passion, and ignorance. As the living entity’s activities rise above these three modes and again become fully spiritual, gauna-dharma changes into mukhya-dharma. In other words, gauna-dharma is the soul’s natural propensities covered and perverted by material designations. When all false designations are eliminated from gauna-dharma, it becomes mukhya-dharma.
Gauna-dharma includes both the conditioned activities prescribed by the regulations of gauna-vidhi and those forbidden by its restrictions, or in other words, both pious and sinful activities. A person should not artificially renounce his conditioned activities; rather, in the advanced stage of his liberation from the material modes, these activities will automatically be transformed back into spiritual activities. Gauna-dharma comes about when the conditioned soul allows his spiritual activities to become perverted. These material activities can again become spiritualized if reconverted by the proper means. Therefore, in future chapters, we shall first discuss the rules and restrictions of gauna-vidhi, then those of mukhya-vidhi, and finally the perfection of jaiva-dharma: devotional service in ecstatic love of God.
GOPIPARANADHANA DASA joined ISKCON soon after graduating from Columbia University in 1972 with a B.A. in linguistics. Now a member of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Sanskrit department, he is continuing his translation of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sri Caitanya Siksamrta by the request of his spiritual master, HisDivine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.