“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the full-moon evening in the month of Phalguna, an auspicious time full of auspicious symptoms, when Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu advented Himself with the chanting of the holy name, Hare Krishna.” (Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 13.19)
Gaura Purnima celebrates the appearance day anniversary of Lord Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the most recent incarnation of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to appear on earth. Lord Chaitanya’s most lasting contribution to humanity was His distribution of Krishna-prema, or love for God, to everyone He encountered. He spread Krishna consciousness throughout India at a time when most transcendentalists were dedicated to the monist philosophy of Shankaracharya.
The Vedas tell us that God can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. God’s original feature is that of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God then takes various incarnations and expansions in order to perform various tasks. The avatara, or incarnation of God, is a concept that the people of India are very familiar with. In olden times India was known as Bharatavarsha since it was ruled by King Bharata. Bharatavarsha actually referred to the entire world, for everyone lived in India during the early stages of creation. For this reason God’s past incarnations usually appeared in India. This isn’t to say that God, or Krishna, is the exclusive property of Indians. In fact the Shrimad Bhagavatam tells us that God’s incarnations are too many to count, therefore the Vedas give reference to only the primary avataras.
Since God has an unlimited number of incarnations, we have seen many people appear in India over the past five thousand years who claimed to be expansions of Vishnu or Krishna. If they personally didn’t declare they were God, then their followers did. Not only were great personalities declared to be incarnations of God, but many were also taken to be incarnations of great personalities of the past. Whether these people were bona fide incarnations or not is up for debate, but one thing we do know is that most of them expounded a philosophy other than devotional service, or bhakti yoga. All great historical personalities appear for a specific purpose based on time and circumstance. Shankaracharya, for example, appeared during a time when the atheist Buddhist philosophy was very popular in India. Shankaracharya preached an imperersonalist philosophy, whereby man was taken to be part of Brahman, and therefore considered to be equal to God. Later on, great Vaishnavas like Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya appeared to reestablish the supremacy of Lord Vishnu and to teach mankind that there is a difference between man and God.
We certainly owe a debt of gratitude to these great saints, for they helped to clear up misconceptions that existed at the time. Yet there was still something missing in all these philosophies. To finally add the missing piece to the puzzle, Lord Krishna Himself had to appear on earth. As Lord Chaitanya, God came to firmly establish the discipline of bhakti yoga, or devotional service, as the most bona fide method for transcendental realization. The quintessential teaching of the Vedas is that we are not this body. Our identity comes from the soul inside of us, and our body is a sort of temporary residence for the soul. Similar to how we can change apartments or houses based on our desires, our souls also can transmigrate between different bodies that can span many lifetimes. Throughout these changes, our identities don’t change, but our outward appearance and material qualities do.
The soul’s natural home is in the spiritual world. Temporary bodies can only exist in the material world. For a soul to remain here, it must accept a material body composed of gross and subtle elements. In the spiritual world, every person has a spiritual body which is full of bliss and knowledge. This is because God Himself is completely pure. Since the spiritual world is His home, it inherits all of His pure qualities. In order for our soul to return to its natural home, we must change our desires. Currently most of us have material desires which manifest through hankering and lamenting. Our mind is always hankering after things it wants and lamenting over things it doesn’t have. Material life means always accepting or rejecting things. “I like this. I’m happy doing that. I hate this. I never want to suffer through that again.” If we analyze the conversations that we have with others, we’d see that our statements usually fall into one of these categories. Spiritual perfection can be achieved when we no longer hanker nor lament.
“One who is thus transcendentally situated (brahma-bhutah) at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.54)
This elevated state of mind is referred to as brahma-bhutah. Brahma refers to Brahman, or the impersonal energy expansion of God. Everything, both matter and spirit, is Brahman. Brahma-bhutah is the stage where one realizes that everything is Brahman, meaning that we are all equal constitutionally. This is true because no matter the type of body we currently possess, we are all spirit souls at our core. Our souls are actually separated expansions of Krishna. Krishna is the great soul, or Paramatma, and we are minute souls, jivatma. There is no difference in quality or quantity between jivatmas, meaning that all living entities are equal on a spiritual level. People who reach the brahma-bhutah platform of knowledge understand this non-duality that exists between living entities.
So how do we reach this elevated level of thinking? The Vedas give us several different methods which are all classified as yoga. Achieving union of the soul with God is known as yoga. All the great personalities that appeared in India over the past five thousand years propounded some version of yoga. Some proposed that people should analytically study the difference between matter and spirit, and use that knowledge to reach the brahma-bhutah platform. Others recommended the mystic yoga process, where one practices various breathing exercises and sitting postures as way of mitigating the effects of the senses.
Many of these processes certainly are bona fide forms of yoga, but they are still subordinate to the highest discipline which is bhakti yoga, also known as bhagavata-dharma or devotional service. Bhagavata refers to Bhagavan, or God, and dharma means occupational duty. Bhagavata-dharma, though classified as a religious system, is actually the natural occupation of the soul. Since spirit souls are personal expansions of God, it would make sense that any discipline that seeks to reconnect with the origin of the soul would be superior to any other religious system. Believing in God and wanting to serve Him is the natural inclination of all living entities. The other yoga systems, such as impersonal mental speculation and mystic meditation, are actually unnatural and thus it is so rare to see people achieve perfection with these methods.
“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.21)
It is the natural inclination of man to believe in God and to love Him. Even young children take to God very easily, for they know that there is a higher power who is much stronger than they are. Though mankind has a natural affinity for devotional service, we still see that most people don’t take to it as a way of life. This is because we need leaders to guide us. Most of us aren’t trailblazers, meaning we won’t go against the flow of society. If every person is occupied in karmic activity, it will be hard for those religiously inclined to take to devotional service. A strong leader is required who can set a path that can be followed by everyone else. This is precisely what Lord Chaitanya did. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells us that He appears on earth from time to time to reinstitute dharma, or the principles of religion. In His appearance as Lord Chaitanya, God firmly established the supremacy of bhakti yoga, or devotional service to God. Appearing in Mayapur, Lord Chaitanya was a great scholar in His youth. His name was Nimai Pandita, and He was so smart that He regularly defeated the great scholars of His time. Later on in life, however, He gave up mundane scholarship and took to the chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
It wasn’t that Lord Chaitanya gave up critical thinking or analytical study, but rather, He preached that logic and argument have limits. In a conversation He had with Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, and then later on with Sanatana Goswami, Lord Chaitanya expounded sixty-one different meanings to the famous atmarama verse in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Lord Chaitanya’s point was that the material world is full of dualities and that everything can be argued in a multitude of ways. What one person considers good, another person may consider bad, and vice versa. Instead of arguing things on the material level, Lord Chaitanya would explain everything in terms of Krishna, or God. Since one of Krishna’s names is Achyuta, meaning the infallible one, it makes sense that any argument formed on the basis of Krishna’s supremacy and infinite glories would also inherit the quality of infallibility.
Devotees like to visit temples, chant God’s names, and read books about Him. Yet most societal leaders tell us that happiness in life comes through other activities such as economic development, sense gratification, or even philanthropy. Some spiritual leaders tell us that real perfection only comes through impersonal mental speculation or the performance of mystic yoga. Lord Chaitanya told us that not only is it okay to engage in devotional service, but that it should be our primary activity. It’s okay to think about God all the time and to want to talk about Him with others.
Lord Chaitanya made it cool to be a devotee. We see that famous celebrities and musicians of today get the “rock star treatment” when they are in public. This refers to the large and raucous crowds that follow these celebrities around in public. In this regard, Lord Chaitanya was one of the greatest rock stars of all-time. He took to the renounced order of life, sannyasa, at only twenty-four years of age. Sannyasa is the last of the four Vedic ashramas, so those in the order are typically older than fifty years of age. Lord Chaitanya was very young, and usually younger people have a harder time being taken seriously. This wasn’t the case with the Lord. He had a huge following of devotees wherever He went. People would marvel at the spontaneous display of affection and love He showed for Krishna, His name, forms, pastimes, and songs.
India has so many great temples that have existed for thousands of years. The events of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are known to almost all the citizens, thus there is a great religious tradition that exists in the country. Lord Chaitanya tapped into the immense love for Krishna that existed naturally within all the citizens. Wherever He went, He asked people to simply chant Krishna’s names, and to induce other people to chant. This simple formula led to a movement that swept through the country. Lord Chaitanya passed down the imperishable science of devotional service to His closest disciples, including the famous brothers Rupa and Sanatana Goswami. They both excavated Krishna’s holy land of Vrindavana and erected many great temples there. The spiritual leaders descending from Lord Chaitanya have produced volumes upon volumes of literature praising Lord Krishna and teaching others how to become pure devotees. These teachings have benefitted millions of people throughout the world.
Devotees can worship Lord Chaitanya and very quickly achieve liberation through His mercy. He is the same Krishna who appeared in Mathura some five thousand years ago. Devotees of any form of Lord Vishnu can take shelter of Lord Chaitanya, for He is the foremost teacher of vishnu-bhakti. Anyone who has ever chanted Hare Krishna in a pure way certainly has received the mercy of Lord Chaitanya, for He specifically recommended the chanting of this mantra in this age. On the auspicious occasion of Gaura Purnima, we remember the Lord and thank Him for all that He has done for us.