Friday, March 18, 2011

Gaura Purnima 2011

Lord Chaitanya “I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna Chaitanya, who is more magnanimous than any other avatara, even Krishna Himself, because He is bestowing freely what no one else has ever given - pure love of Krishna.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami)

The glories of Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu can never be fully enumerated, but occasions such as Gaura Purnima, the celebration of His divine appearance, bring an added emphasis on remembering His transcendental activities and, more than anything else, another opportunity to bask in the light emanating from the golden sun of spiritual potency, the only hope for those otherwise blinded by the darkness of the age of Kali. Lord Chaitanya is an ocean of mercy that is full of transcendental nectar capable of deluging the entire earth with spiritual bliss by crossing any and all boundaries erected through nationalism, dogmatic insistence, and traditions based on narrow-mindedness or flat out ignorance. Indeed, there is no other form of Godhead more merciful, and proof of His divine nature and undying compassion is seen in His instructions, His pastimes and the glorious dedication to transcendental service instilled in His followers, who to this day carry the holy name of Shri Hari across the world to those who are desperately searching for ananda, or real bliss.

Lord ChaitanyaIt is the nature of the spirit soul to crave supreme satisfaction; otherwise there would be no purpose to any activity. Every action is undertaken with a specific purpose, and upon careful observation a commonality is seen in all desires: ananda. Even something as simple as the removal of distress is rooted in the quest for pure bliss. Say, for example, that we own a car that is giving us trouble. Every week there seems to be a new problem. First the tires go bad, the next week the oil needs to be changed, and the week after that the transmission starts acting up. For those who have established a fixed routine for their daily activities, just one small slip up can cause a tremendous amount of distress. Taking the car into the repair shop results in being late to work and falling behind on the rest of the day’s responsibilities. Owning a car also involves constant worry, as the solutions to problems aren’t always readily available. As such, even when the car gets fixed, there is no guarantee that the issues will cease there.

The frustrated owner longs for the day when the automobile is either removed from their life or when it starts functioning properly on a regular basis. Though the impetus for activity, when viewed on an abstract level, seeks a remedy to a problem, the real driving force is the cherished desire for a peaceful existence. A worry-free life is one where ananda remains at high levels for extended periods of time. If we take the example of the car and expand it out to all activities, we’ll see that bliss is at the core of every action in every form of life, even outside of the human form. Knowing that bliss is the central point of interest, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find that one engagement related to a singular entity who can provide us more bliss than we’ve ever felt? Not surprisingly, the Supreme Lord, the fountainhead of all religious practice and the ideal beneficiary of every dedicated action, is meant to serve that very purpose.

ShyamasundaraWhen seeking out pleasure, the first instinct is to take service from another entity or object. “I want to satisfy my taste buds, so I’ll go to a restaurant where a nice meal will be served up. I want to listen to some music, so I’ll fire up a CD or an mp3 player filled with songs capable of bringing me tremendous, though albeit temporary, pleasure.“ But the most ideal relationship of a loving connection with the Supreme Lord actually works in the reverse way. God, who is known as Krishna in His original form, is all-blissful. In the imperishable land situated in the transcendental sky the source of all incarnations and everything spiritual and material simply plays His flute all day and does whatever He wants. This isn’t to say that the only form of Godhead is Krishna, but rather, the most complete in terms of features and abilities is indeed Shyamasundara, the beautiful Lord having a blackish complexion.

Shri Krishna is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, so His ananda never runs out. The individual fragments emanating from the Lord, we living entities, can tap into that storehouse of spiritual energy by engaging in Krishna’s service. It is not that we have to approach the Lord and simply ask Him to share some of His blissful feelings with us. Rather, the sentiments towards performing unmotivated and uninterrupted service are naturally aroused from within when we adopt divine love, which manifests through activities such as chanting, hearing, remembering and worshiping. More than any other engagement, constant recitation of the holy names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, brings the pleasure of Krishna’s association in the quickest amount of time. The chanting of Krishna’s names also has the strongest effect on the consciousness, which needs to be purified in order to feel happiness at all times. The key to success is to regularly keep the divine vision, along with His names, attributes and pastimes, within the mind. Just as Krishna is all-attractive and always playing His flute, He also takes part in divine sports. If we have a penchant for activity, why should this behavior be absent in the most wonderful person the world has ever known?

Radha and KrishnaThe living entity is eternally a servant of Krishna. As such, only through the transcendental loving attitude can the storehouse of ananda be tapped in to. Through any other mindset, the individual living being, remaining forgetful of Krishna and the glorious nature of service to Him, must produce its own form of bliss through service to itself, the surrounding nature, or other beings not equal to God. Since none of these entities is all-attractive, they cannot even come close to providing the same pleasure that Krishna can. Therefore, the formula for finding eternal peace and happiness is to simply engage in Shyamasundara’s service, in a mood tailored to the individual, without cessation.

The trouble is that not only is knowledge of the true mission of life unknown to most, but the very idea of God having a form and being ever worthy of worship through a loving attitude is not considered at all. If anything, the Almighty is viewed as an authority figure meant to be worshiped by those looking to acquire material rewards. Indeed, under this model, since the Lord is deemed to be angry and vengeful, neglect of His powerful position will bring about the severest of punishments. What gets overlooked in this belief system is that the living entity is already suffering, starting from the very moment that he searched for ananda in a realm bereft of Krishna’s personal presence. Whether the acknowledgement of God’s existence or a pledge of allegiance to a particular spiritual figure is made or not, the misery will continue for as long as consciousness remains unchanged.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide much detailed information about the nature of the Supreme Lord, His various forms, His pastimes and the need for the living entity to take to religion as a way of life, with the aim of steadily altering consciousness throughout the process. The thoughts of the mind at the time of death determine the nature of the next body assumed by the soul. If we think of God while quitting the body, we will attain a spiritual form in the next life. Any other consciousness brings about a renewed search for ananda that is doomed to suffer the same fate as that from the life just completed. Therefore, not wanting to risk rebirth and the renewal of the education process, sincere followers of the Vedic tradition follow strict rules and regulations aimed at purifying the thoughts of the mind. Aside from the assertive process of chanting the Lord’s names, there are restrictions on the most sinful activities such as meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex.

Yet giving up sinful behavior, engagements which maintain the thick cloud of ignorance around the consciousness, is not an easy thing at all, especially when a particular society may be wholly accustomed to unauthorized behavior that mimics the animal community. Therefore another regulation voluntarily enforced by the aspiring transcendentalist of the Vedic school relates to association. The devotees of Krishna try to remain in the company of other devotees, for that will bring about the quickest progress in terms of altering consciousness. This certainly isn’t a foreign concept. Young students attend school together, athletes train in groups, and businessmen meet at conventions and other formal gatherings to discuss ideas and to network. Spiritual life is the most intense of disciplines, so if bad association is maintained, the likelihood of remaining on the conditioned path, one that leads to the continuation of reincarnation, will increase.

“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)

Lord ChaitanyaWhen the recommended rules, regulations, and prohibitions on association are combined, there appears to be a stalemate, a seemingly insurmountable stumbling block towards achieving purification throughout a large section of society. If devotees are to avoid the association of the sinful, how will those not born into the Vedic tradition ever achieve purification? Should the Krishna bhaktas simply sit back and hope that others somehow figure out the right path in life? Maybe others will make advancement in their next birth, so there is no need to worry? These very concerns led to the advent of the greatest preacher the world has ever seen, a man who also happened to be non-different from Krishna Himself. Lord Chaitanya first graced this world with His divine presence on the auspicious occasion of Purnima in the month of Phalguna around five hundred years ago in the holy city of Navadvipa. The pastimes He would subsequently enact and the tradition of preaching He would leave behind would firmly establish Him as the most merciful entity this world has ever seen.

Though Lord Chaitanya was born a brahmana, which is the highest order in the varnashrama-dharma system instituted by the Vedas, His purpose was to preach the gospel of bhakti to all members of society, irrespective of their family lineage. Though speaking about the eternal truths of spiritual life found in sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita to non-devotees is prohibited, Lord Chaitanya would not deny the mercy of Krishna bhakti to anyone. Rather than openly take to preaching amongst learned intelligentsia who were only interested in the intricacies of Vedanta philosophy, Shri Gaurahari approached the masses by travelling from village to village loudly reciting the holy names of the Lord. Through this sublime method, known as sankirtana, the mercy of Krishna and the holy name quickly spread throughout India.

SankirtanaSince devotees typically avoid situations and areas where the sinful element has a strong influence, areas bearing the opposite properties thus become places of pilgrimage. The banks of the holy river Ganges, or Ganga Devi, are filled with saintly people who always discuss the glories and pastimes of Shri Krishna and His other forms like Lord Rama, Vishnu and Narasimhadeva. But through Lord Chaitanya’s tireless efforts, new places of pilgrimage sprung up, some in areas which were previously considered contaminated, as many new devotees were made after being induced to chant the holy name.

Not only did Lord Chaitanya inspire others to chant, dance and sing the names of Krishna and Rama, but He singlehandedly instituted a tremendously potent tradition of preaching that continues to this very day. His dear associates like Nityananda Prabhu went all across India and literally begged people to simply recite Krishna’s name. It is not surprising to see the lengths of desperation that salesman will go to in order to make a sale of a car or insurance policy, for the benefit to them is financially related. After all, the man selling cars makes his living off getting others to purchase his product. But Nityananda Prabhu didn’t want any money, or even any followers. His tremendously persuasive sales pitch was aimed at liberating others from the clutches of maya, or illusion.

Lord Chaitanya is so kind that if He sees that someone is already inclined towards worshiping Rama, Vishnu, or some other non-different form of Godhead, He will give them the knowledge to further increase their love and attachment. Evidence of this mercy is seen in the behavior of His followers who originally come from religious backgrounds not rooted in Vedic traditions. It is seen that Christians who take to Krishna-bhakti subsequently have a deeper and more profound love and respect for Lord Jesus Christ. Lord Chaitanya was an expert scholar in His youth, but He understood the limits to logic and argument. Rather than focus on word jugglery and logical proofs, Lord Chaitanya explained everything in terms of its relation to Krishna. As such, it is not surprising to see those who take to bhakti gain a firm understanding of the purposes behind all religions and the traits they share in common.

Shri Gauranga creates shelter with His very activities and teachings. Offering instructions and repeating do’s and don’ts are one thing, but actually going out and rescuing those who are unaware of the true bliss to be found in bhakti represents a completely different level of benevolence and universal brotherhood. Lord Chaitanya and His associates drag those who are stuck in the mire of material existence into the light of bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. As payback for their kind efforts, all that Shachinandana and His associates ask is that we remain committed to the chanting process, to glorifying the Supreme Lord and the spiritual master, and to never forgetting Krishna for even a moment.

Gauranga On the wonderful occasion of Gaura Purnima, we remember Lord Chaitanya, who is the most merciful of teachers, the leader of the bhakti movement and the constructor of the sturdiest and most welcoming shelter this world has ever seen. May we worship Him for the rest of this lifetime and many more. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself, so whoever honors Him will soon taste the most blissful holy name, a delight to be savored every day. Though Lord Chaitanya humbly asked that we give all our attention in worship to Shri Shri Radha and Krishna, we will never neglect service to Him nor will we ever forget His kind mercy. He is the umbrella protecting us from the harmful influences of the present age, and His associates and those who follow in His disciplic succession help to maintain that protection for all of humanity.