Sri Chaitanya or Lord Gauranga may be regarded as the greatest Vaishnava teacher of the North. He gave a new form to the Vaishnava faith. He was born in 1486 A.D., in Bengal.
Chaitanya had a very large heart. He accepted converts from Islam freely. His disciple Haridas was a Muslim Fakir. Nityananda spread far and wide the Chaitanya movement. Rupa and Sanatana who descended from a prince of Karnataka and settled in Bengal, and their nephew Jiva Goswami, were great Sanskrit scholars and were really the fathers of the Chaitanya movement. Jiva Goswami and Baladeva furnished the philosophical basis for the school. The philosophical classics of the school are Jiva’s Satsandarbha, and his own commentary on it, Sarva-Samvadini, and Baladeva’s Govindabhashya on the Brahma Sutras. Baladeva’s Prameyaratnavali is also another popular book. Jiva and Baladeva were greatly influenced by the views of Ramanuja and Madhva. They admit God, souls, Maya or Prakriti, Suddha Sattva and Kala or time.
The world and souls depend on God, though they are separate and distinct from Him. They are neither one with God nor different from Him. There is an incomprehensible difference—non-difference (Achintya Bhedabheda).
Chaitanya insisted on the unity of Godhead which underlies the multitude of idols of popular worship.
The Ultimate Reality
The Ultimate reality is Vishnu. He is the God of love and grace. He is one without a second. He is Sat-Chit-Ananda. He is Nirguna in the sense that He is free from the qualities of Maya. He is Saguna as He is endowed with the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience. He is the material and the efficient cause of the world. He is the source, support and end of this universe. He is the efficient cause through His higher energy (Para-Sakti). He is the material cause through His other energies (Apara-Sakti and Adya-Sakti).
Mysterious and Incomprehensible Saktis of the Lord
Just as the sun has its light and the fire its heat, so the supreme God, Krishna, has naturally His energies or Saktis which are mysterious and incomprehensible. These Saktis have no independent existence. They depend upon God. God and His powers are either identical or different.
These energies are of three kinds, viz., Chit-Sakti, Jiva-Sakti and Maya-Sakti. They are also called Antaranga, Tatastha and Bahiranga, respectively. Jiva-Sakti is called Tatastha, because it occupies an intermediate place between Chit-Sakti and Maya-Sakti.
The Process of Creation
Chit-Sakti created Vaikuntha. There is only pure Sattva in Vaikuntha. Maya has no access here. Kala (Time) cannot execute its destructive power.
The souls are created by the Tatastha Sakti or Jiva-Sakti of the Lord. The Lord’s Svarupa-Sakti supports His Jiva-Sakti.
The Lord creates the universe from the great principle of Mahat. He manifests the Vedas and communicates them to Brahma. The work of creating other stages of creation is given to Brahma. The souls and matter are the manifestations of God’s energy according to Jiva Goswami and Baladeva. Maya is set in vibration by the mere gazing of the Lord.
The Lord Who Appears in Different Forms
The Supreme Lord Krishna manifests Himself as Brahman to Jnanins; as Paramatman to Yogins; and as Bhagavan full of all glories, all beauties, all sweetness and all attributes, to Bhaktas. Lord Krishna is the Soul of all souls and the Lord of all that is. A Bhakta only has full knowledge of the Supreme Personal God with all His divine attributes. Krishna’s form is unique. He assumes endless forms.
Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Rama, Krishna, etc., are Lila-Avataras. There are Gunavataras and Manvantaravataras. The four Sanakas, Narada, Prithu, Parasurama, Brahma, Sesha in Vaikuntha and Ananta who supports the earth are the chief Avestavataras of the major type who have direct power from God. In Sanaka, Jnana-Sakti; in Narada, Bhakti-Sakti; in Brahma, creative Sakti; in Ananta, the earth-supporting Sakti; in Sesha, God-serving Sakti; in Prithu, the power of preserving people; and in Parasurama, the power of destroying the wicked prevailed.
The Avataras are one with the Supreme. They are not parts like the individual souls. God assumes infinite forms of which the chief is that of Krishna. Radha is the essence of the delight-giving power of Lord Krishna (Hladini). The Lord is the ruler of all souls. He is omnipresent or all-pervading.
The Jiva is of atomic size. He is the eternal servant of God. He bears the same relation to God as the sun’s rays bear to the sun and as a spark bears to the mass of fire from which it flits out. The ray, although it radiates from the sun and is part and parcel of the sun, is not the sun. So also, the Jiva, who is partly similar to God in respect of his spirituality or Chaitanya and partly dissimilar on account of his animal nature and susceptibility to the influence of Maya, is not God Himself.
The soul is bound by the power of Maya. Maya makes him forget his real, essential, divine nature. The Jiva, illumined and infatuated by Maya, can naturally have no knowledge of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna has, therefore, out of His infinite mercy, created the Vedas; and reveals Himself to the Jive through the media of scriptures, Guru and intuition. Then the Jiva is convinced that Lord Krishna is his Lord and saviour.
The Jiva can have God-realisation through spiritual love or Prema to Lord Krishna. Bhakti overcomes the force of Karma. Bhakti is the way to the final emancipation. Through Bhakti the soul attains to a status of equality with God, but he is never absorbed in Him. He is freed from the round of births and deaths.
The Culture Of Bhakti
Chaitanya taught that God could be realised only by means of ardent and all-absorbing love. He wrote to a royal minister who had asked if there was any path of salvation for a man leading an active life: “As an immoral woman constantly thinks of her illicit lover while living in the midst of her family, so do thou silently and ceaselessly meditate on Hari while doing your worldly activities.”
According to Chaitanya, ardour is born from the culture of Bhakti and when ardour deepens, it is called love (Prema).
From taste (Ruchi) comes strong inclination (Aasakti) which generates the sprout of passion (Rati) for Krishna. When this emotion deepens, it becomes Prema. This is the permanent form of Bhakti in Krishna.
When love grows, it is successively called Sneha, Pranaya, Anuraga, Bhava and Mahabhava, just as we have successively cane-seed, sugar-cane juice, molasses, sugar and fine sugar-candy.
When the permanent emotion (Bhava) is mingled with Rasa, it is changed into Vibhava, Anubhava, Sattvika and Vyabhichari; just as curd, when being mixed with black sugar, black pepper and camphor, becomes a thing of extreme deliciousness named Rasala. Vibhava is of two kinds: (i) Alambana, which is kindled by Krishna, etc., and (ii) Uddipana, by the notes of His flute, etc. Anubhava is stimulated by smile, dance and song. Stupor and other sensations are included in Sattvika Anubhava. Vyabhichari is of thirty-three kinds, such as delight, rapture, etc.
Rasa is of five kinds—Santa, Dasya, Sakhya, Vatsalya and Madhurya. In the Santa Rasa, Rati advances to the stage of Prema and in the Dasya, to Raga. Sakhya and Vatsalya attain to the limit of Anuraga.
Krishna-Prema—The Supreme Attainment
That devotee who has developed Prema always communes with Lord Krishna. No mundane sorrow or affliction can perturb his mind. He has no attraction for earthly objects. He has no fear. He never cares for material success. He intensely longs for union with Lord Krishna.
Love of Krishna is the highest thing worth attaining. Bhakti is the means of attachment. Krishna-prema is, indeed, the highest achievement of life. This Prema makes the devotees serve Krishna in a selfless spirit and enjoy the Rasa or sweetness of the Lord. Bhakti is the only means of attaining Krishna and is, therefore, spoken of as Avidhaya or means. Just as wealth gives comforts, and with the enjoyment of comforts all worldly miseries disappear of their own accord, so also, Bhakti generates Krishna-prema, and with the enjoyment of Prema, the cycle of births and deaths comes to an end. Escape from the effects of privations and the stoppage of rebirths are not, however, the fruits of Prema. Beatitude or Moksha is Prema’s handmaid. Therefore, this Krishna-prema is regarded as the supreme attainment.
Other Teachings Of Sri Chaitanya
Veneration for the preceptor is a fundamental feature of Sri Chaitanya’s teachings. Study of the Vedas, the Bhagavata Purana, etc., is inculcated. Practice of ethics and development of ethical virtues such as mercy towards all creatures, humility, purity of heart, freedom from mundane desires, serenity and truthfulness are essential. The distinctions of caste have to be ignored. Anyone can obtain the grace of the Lord.
The following qualities makes a Vaishnava. He is compassionate, truthful, saintly, innocent, charitable, gentle, pure, spiteless, humble, serene, tender, friendly and silent. He is a universal benefactor. He solely depends upon Lord Krishna. He is desireless. He is abstemious in diet and self-controlled. He has mastery over the six enemies. He honours others and does not care for honour from others.
Sankirtana—The Supreme Healer
The supreme healer in this iron age is Sankirtana of the Name. It is equivalent to the Vedic sacrifice. The true sacrifice is rewarded with Krishna’s feet. Sankirtana enables you to conquer sin and the world. It creates purity of soul and all kinds of Bhakti. It is not restricted to a particular place or time. It works everywhere. It bears the name of Sarva-sakti (omnipotence).
Hari’s Name should always be chanted by him who must be humbler than a blade of grass (which is trodden upon); who is more patient, forbearing and charitable than a tree (which does not cry out even when it is cut down and which does not beg for water even when scorched to death, but on the contrary, offers its treasure to whosoever seeks it, bears the sun and rain itself, but protects those who take shelter under it from rain and sunshine); who, however worthy of esteem should, instead of claiming respect for himself, give respect to all (from a sense of God’s immanency in all beings). He who thus takes Krishna’s Name gets Divine Love (Prema). (Excerpts from “All About Hinduism” by Yogi Sri Swami Sivananda)