Who is Sri Caitanya?
What devout Hindu does not have faith in the texts of the ancient Vedas? What religious person has not heard the glories of Lord Narayana, Lord Mahadeva or Brahman from its pages? Which person of Indian heritage has not heard the names of Rama, Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Laksmi, Sarasvati or Hanuman?
But let me ask you all, who knows about that divine personality Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared in Bengal 530 years ago? Worshipped in Bengal and Odisha as the Supreme Bhagavan, known by religious scholars as the instigator of the 16th century Krishna-bhakti renaissance, known in the Western countries as the original founder of the Hare Krishna movement, the real identity of Sri Caitanya still remains hidden to millions of Indians today.
Sri Veda Vyasadeva has written in the Atharva Veda and the Sama Veda these three verses:
vedānta-vedyaṁ puruṣaṁ purāṇaṁ
caitanyātmānaṁ viśvayoniṁ mahāntam
tameva viditvā’timṛtyum eti nānyaḥ
(Śrī Caitanya Upaniṣad, from the Śrī Atharva-veda)
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavān (who is known by Vedānta), the Supersoul, primeval Lord and original cause of the universe, is Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. The jīva who understands this fact becomes liberated from death. It is not possible for those without an understanding of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s position to attain their worshipable Lord since there is not even the slightest difference between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya-deva.”
ito’haṁ kṛta-sannyāso’vatariṣyāmi saguṇo nirvedo niṣkāmo bhūgīrvāṇas
tīra-stho’lakanandāyaḥ kalau catuḥ-sahasrābdopari pancasahasrābhyantare
gaura-varṇo dīrghāṅgaḥ sarva-lakṣaṇa-yukta īśvaraprārthito
nija-rasāsvādo bhakta-rūpo miśrākhyo vidita-yogaḥ
(Brahma-vibhāga, in the Tṛtīya-khāṇḍa of the Śrī Atharva-veda)
When the demigods prayed to Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa, requesting Him to incarnate on the Earth, He said, “I will appear on the bank of the Ganges between the fourth and fifth millennia of the age of Kali. My heart having been satisfied by the prayers of the incarnation of Śaṅkara, Śrī Advaita Ācārya, I will manifest Myself as a virtuous and renounced brāhmaṇa sannyāsī, devoid of material desires and possessing all transcendental qualities. At that time, My complexion will be golden, I will be called Miśra and My eyes and arms will be long. With all the symptoms described in Samudrikā of a mahā-puruṣa, I will taste My own sweetness in the form of a devotee. Only qualified persons will know who I am.”
tathā’haṁ kṛta-sannyaso bhū-gīrvāṇo’vatariṣye tīre’lakanandāyāḥ
punaḥ punar īśvara-prārthitaḥ sa-parivaro nirālambo
(Brahma-bhāga of Śrī Caitanya-rahasya, Sama-veda)
“Because of Śrī Advaita Ācārya’s continuous appeals, I (the Supreme Lord) will appear on the bank of the Ganges in Navadvīpa. I, the fully independent Lord in the form of a brāhmaṇa, will accept the renounced order and without taking assistance from anyone I will adopt the attire of an avadhūta (one who is above all rules and regulations). I will descend, along with My eternal associates, in order to save the jīvas entrapped by the sins of Kali-yuga.”
So why does this golden avatar of Bhagavan remain hidden to Vedic scholars? Vyasadeva answers this question himself in the Ādi & Bṛhan-nāradīya Puran:
aham eva dvija-śreśtho nityaṁ prachanna-vigrahaḥ
bhagavad-bhakta-rūpeṇa lokaṁ rakṣāmi sarvadā
(Śrī Ādi Purāṇa and Śrī Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa)
The Lord says, “I always protect My devotees in My eternal, hidden form as a devotee and the best of brāhmaṇas.”
To those who have faith in the best of Puranas, Maha-Purana Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Sukadeva Gosvami reveals these verses:
lokān vibhāvayasi hansi jagat-pratīpān
dharma mahā-puruṣa pāsi yugānuvṛttaṁ
channaḥ kalau yad abhavas tri-yugo’tha sa tvam
The best of devotees, Prahlāda Mahārāja, prayed to Śrī Nṛsiṁhadeva, “O Supreme Person! You appear in different incarnations as a human being, an animal, a bird, a saint, a demigod and a fish, thus maintaining the different planetary systems and annihilating those who cause havoc within this world. You appear in these incarnations in every age (yuga) to protect religious principles, but in the age of Kali You conceal Yourself by appearing in a hidden form. You are therefore known as Tri-yuga, or the Lord who appears in three yugas.
iti dvāpara urvīśa stuvanti jagad-īśvaram
nānā tantra-vidhānena kalāvapi tathā śṛṇu
As explained earlier, the people of Dvāpara-yuga prayed to Jagadīśvara, the Lord of the Universe. Now I will tell you how the people in Kali-yuga worship that Supreme Lord. Listen carefully.
kṛṣṇa-varṇa tviṣā’kṛṣṇa sāṅgopāṅgāstra-pārṣadam
yajnaiḥ saṅkīrtana-prāyair yajanti hi sumedhasaḥ
He constantly performs kīrtana of the two syllables kṛṣ and ṇa and instructs others to do the same. He is always eagerly engaged in searching after Śrī Kṛṣṇa through that kīrtana. His bodily limbs or aṅgas are Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu and Śrī Advaita Prabhu. His upāṅgas are His surrendered, pure devotees, like Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita. The holy name is His weapon (astra), and His eternal associates (pārṣada) are Gadādhara Paṇḍita, Svarūpa Dāmodara, Rāya Rāmānanda, Sanātana Gosvāmī and Rūpa Gosvāmī and so on. His complexion is not black (akṛṣṇa) but golden. That golden Lord is endowed with the emotions and complexion of Śrīmatī Rādhikā. In the age of Kali, the sacrifice, or yajna, by which intelligent persons worship Śrī Gaurasundara is predominated by the congregational chanting of the holy name.
What is the essential teaching of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu? This is explained by Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami (1896-1977), who, for the first time in history, spread the knowledge of this hidden avatar all around the world: “Please chant: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare, Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. This is the great chanting for peace. It means: O my Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service. This is the one true universal and eternal religion: service to the Lord, who is known as Kṛṣṇa, Rāma, Jehovah, Allah, and many other names. We must become conscious of our relation with that Supreme Person, call Him as you will – this religion is preached by all prophets, in all scriptures, in all lands.”
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, 1974.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura (1838 –1914) predicted the day that Westerners would also embrace the teachings of Lord Caitanya. In one of his articles written for Sajjana-toṣanī and published in 1885, he had not only predicted it, but prayed for it and invoked it, in the same mood as Advaita Ācārya praying for Lord Caitanya’s descent: “Lord Caitanya did not advent Himself to liberate only a few men of India. Rather, His main objective was to emancipate all living entities of all countries throughout the entire universe and preach the Eternal Religion. Lord Caitanya says in the Caitanya-bhāgavata: ‘In every town, country and village, My name will be sung.’ There is no doubt that this unquestionable order will come to pass … Very soon the unparalleled path of Harināma-saṅkīrtana will be propagated all over the world. Already we are seeing the symptoms … Oh, for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German and American people will take up banners, mṛdaṇgas and karatālas and raise kīrtana through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh, for the day when the fair-skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of ‘jaya śacīnandana, jaya śacīnandana ki jaya’ and join with the Bengali devotees. When will that day be? On such a day they will say, ‘Our dear Brothers, we have taken shelter of the ocean of Lord Caitanya’s Love; kindly embrace us.’ When will that day come? That day will witness the holy transcendental ecstasy of the Vaiṣṇava-dharma to be the only dharma, and all the sects and religions will flow like rivers into the ocean of Vaiṣṇava-dharma. When will that day come?”
While the Word, or teachings of God, have enormous power to transform and uplift our lives, just as important are the actual names of God, which are sometimes praised aloud in song or quietly meditated upon. Since God is fully spiritual and absolute, the Vedic scriptures inform us that His holy names are invested with the Lord’s full spiritual potencies. God and His name are the same. The Padma Purana states, “There is no difference between the holy name of the Lord and the Lord Himself. As such, the holy name is as perfect as the Lord Himself.” The philosopher Maximus noted, “There is one supreme God who is, as it were, the God and mighty father of all.” “It is Him,” he said, “whom we worship under many names.”
The Bible is replete with similar statements. In the Old Testament it is said, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it and is safe.” In Psalms, King David proclaims, “I will praise the name of God with a song.” Indeed, the Psalms contain countless references to the name of God: “All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord: and shall glorify Thy name. … O give thanks unto the Lord: call upon His name: make known His deeds among the people. Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him: talk ye of all His wondrous works. Glory ye in His holy name. … Praise Him with the timbrel and dance: praise Him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise Him upon the loud cymbals.”
Christ, when teaching his disciples how to pray, glorified the Lord’s holy name: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” And in his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul wrote, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Among the followers of Islam, the names of God (Allah) are held sacred and meditated upon. According to tradition, there are ninety-nine names of Allah, called “the Beautiful Names.” They are found inscribed on monuments such as the Taj Mahal and on the walls of mosques. These names are chanted on an Islamic rosary, which consists of three sets of thirty-three beads. Worshipers repeat the names to help them concentrate their minds upon Allah. The dual titles Al-Rahman, al-Rahim, meaning “God, the compassionate, the merciful,” are invoked at the beginning of each chapter of the Koran. Other Arabic names of God glorify Him as the creator, provider, and king.
In the Quran, verse 17:110, it is stated: “Say, “Call Him Allah, or call Him the Rahman (The Almighty); whichever name you use, to Him belongs the “Asma al-Husna” (most beautiful names).”
In India, the Sikhs place special emphasis on the name of God. Indeed, the Sikhs call God Näma-“the name.” Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, prayed, “In the ambrosial hours of the morn I meditate on the grace of the true name,” and says that he was instructed by the Lord in a vision to “Go and repeat My name, and cause others to do likewise.”
“Rosaries are widely used in Buddhism; says Geoffrey Parrinder, a professor of comparative religion at the University of London, in his book Worship in the World’s Religions. “They have 108 beads, the two halves representing the fifty-four stages of becoming a boddhi-sattva (enlightened one). The large bead in the middle stands for Buddha.”
Members of Japan’s largest Buddhist order, the Pure Land sect, practice repetition of the name of Buddha. The founder Shinran Shonin says, “The virtue of the Holy Name, the gift of him that is enlightened, is spread throughout the world.” This Buddhist teaching reveals that by chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha, the worshiper becomes liberated from the cycle of reincarnation and joins the Buddha of boundless light and life in the Pure Land of Sukhavati, the eternal spiritual world.
Srila Vyasadeva has made this message clear, the way to salvation in this age is to call upon the Holy Names of God:
harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā
“In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.”
Sri Caitanya himself explains the supreme benefit of chanting the holy names of the Lord:
ānandāmbudhi-vardhanaṁ prati-padaṁ pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanaṁ
sarvātma-snapanaṁ paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam
(Śrī Śikṣāṣṭaka 1)
“Let there be supreme victory for the chanting of the holy name of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, which cleanses the mirror of the heart and completely extinguishes the blazing forest fire of material existence. Śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana diffuses the moon rays of bhāva, which cause the white lotus of good fortune for the jīvas to bloom. The holy name is the life and soul of Divya Sarasvatī who bestows divine knowledge in the devotees’ hearts. It continuously expands the ocean of transcendental bliss, enabling one to taste complete nectar at every step, and thoroughly cleanses and cools everything, both internally and externally, including one’s body, heart, self (ātmā) and nature.”
“O most merciful and charitable incarnation! You are Sri Krishna Himself, the original Personallity of Godhead, appearing as Sri Krishna-Caitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden complexion of the Supreme Goddess, Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You.” Sri Rupa Goswami.
Jagannath Puri: The City of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (20 min documentary)
Nimai of Nadia (Sri Caitanya’s life story, part 1) [click button for subtitles]
Nilacala Mahaprabhu (Sri Caitanya’s life story, part 2)