For me, one of the great attractions of Krsna consciousness is the richness of its offerings in both philosophy and "nectar," or the sweet pastimes of the Lord. In this issue, Amala-bhakta Dasa has retold some of the early activities of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krsna Himself appearing in this age. Amala-bhakta's main sources were Sri Caitanya Bhagavata and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, both written shortly after Lord Caitanya's time here. These masterpieces delight us with accounts of Lord Caitanya's life as well as His teachings.
Of the two books, Sri Caitanya-caritamrta contains the more detailed, in-depth philosophical presentation of Krsna consciousness. It is an astounding blend of philosophy and nectar. I sometimes think that if I were for some reason allowed only one book, I'd choose Caitanya-caritamrta. I could relish the life and teachings of both Lord Caitanya and Lord Krsna. Because Lord Caitanya is Krsna in the role of His own devotee, Caitanya-caritamrta overflows with krsna-katha, or topics about Krsna.
Like the Srimad-Bhagavatam another gem of Vaisnava literature Caitanya-caritamrta is a perfect picture of the essence of Krsna conscious life: It shows pure spiritual pleasure on a foundation of solid philosophy.
Our lives as aspiring devotees of the Lord involve both the heart and the intellect. Study of the philosophy of Krsna consciousness helps us reach our goal: pure love for Krsna.
First-time readers of Caitanya-caritamrta might be expecting to dive right into the nectar of Lord Caitanya's pastimes. But the author, Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, begins the book with deep philosophy. He explains why after presenting some philosophical points in the second chapter: "By such conclusive studies I know the glories of Lord Caitanya. Only by knowing these glories can one become strong and fixed in attachment to Him."
Although any respectful hearing of Lord Caitanya's activities purifies us, philosophical conviction about His identity and teachings increases the value of the hearing. Devotion doesn't mean sentimentality. Srila Prabhupada expressed deep concern that his disciples learn the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, not only as a foundation for their ongoing spiritual progress, but also as a defense against arguments from atheists and others with what he called "a poor fund of knowledge."
Prabhupada wanted to fill our fund of knowledge. Knowing that his time with us would be short, he carefully chose the books that would guide us best. For example, one of his first was Teachings of Lord Caitanya. Drawing from Caitanya-caritamrta, it presents Lord Caitanya's philosophical discussions with His disciples and others. And before he published the full Caitanya-caritamrta, he separately published a chapter that focuses on an important discussion between Lord Caitanya and Prakasananda Sarasvati, leader of thousands of impersonalists in Benares. In that exchange, Lord Caitanya solidly established devotion to Lord Krsna as the conclusion of the Vedic literature.
Srila Prabhupada was known among his God-brothers for his learning and devotion, and they awarded him the title "Bhaktivedanta." He was the emblem of both love for Krsna (bhakti) and thorough knowledge of the Vedic scriptures (vedanta). He said that he wanted his disciples to inherit his title by mastering the teachings of Lord Krsna and Lord Caitanya. Fortunately, all readers of his books have the ideal means to do that. We can take advantage of Prabhupada's gift to us in the form of his exquisite presentation of Caitanya-caritamrta.