RECENTLY I HAVE BEEN reading both the Caitanya-caritamrta and the earlier cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Srila Prabhupada once said that the Bhagavatam contains many things: Joan of Arc is in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and the sound of devotees hammering an altar together is the sound of the Bhagavatam. He also told us that the higher planets have millions of Bhagavatam verses. What we have here is only a condensed version.
Prabhupada's main instruction about approaching his books is tat srnu, simply hear. We also find this phrase spoken by Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita (7.1): "The Supreme Personality of Godhead said, 'Now hear, O son of Prtha [Arjuna], how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.' " Simply hear.
Krsnadasa Kaviraja, the author of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, explains that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krsna Himself mixed with the mood and complexion of Srimati Radharani. No one else can imitate Him. We can aspire to become vrajavasis,residents of Vrndavana, after millions of life-times, but we cannot become Srimati Radharani or fully enter Her mood as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu did. Because Krsna wanted to know the love She felt for Him, Krsna stole Her position. By this we can understand a little how glorious Srimati Radharani is.
From Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu we can learn of the deep sentiments experienced by a lover of Krsna. In the Gambhira, the room in Puri where Lord Caitanya stayed, Lord Caitanya felt the separation from Krsna that Radharani felt after Krsna went to Mathura. "By the ropes of His good qualities, Krsna, who is so unkind, has bound My neck and hands, and I am unable to get relief" (Cc. Madhya 2.1).
Are we willing to accept such deep unhappiness? Are we ready for such intense emotions in love of God? Are we ready to be constantly near death due to separation from Krsna? Where is the brahma-bhutah prasannatma we were promised, the sheer joy of spiritual life? Even Uddhava, an admirer of the gopis and an intimate friend of Krsna's, didn't want to enter that mood of intense grief but left Vrndavana and returned to Krsna's side in Dvaraka.
The meaning of Lord Caitanya's ecstatic manifestations is beyond us. Actually, the Lord chose to share them with only a few devotees. His moods are confidential. But Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami recorded them, and Srila Prabhupada translated them into English and asked that they be widely distributed.
"Topics about Krsna are like waves of nectar. If such nectar does not enter our ears, the ear is no better than the hole of a damaged conch shell. Such an ear has no purpose" (Cc. Madhya 2.31). Therefore, tat srnu. Just hear, free from distractions, free from doubt. Just hear submissively. Don't waste a minute in mundane talk. Time is so precious; though it separates us from our final destination at the lotus feet of Krsna, when we use our time to hear about Krsna time can also bring us closer. We hanker for the day when we can enter the spiritual world and leave time behind forever. Krsna can appear in the mind of anyone who hears submissively.
There are many benefits to reading Prabhupada's books, but I would like to point out this one: if we read of Lord Caitanya's ecstatic expressions or the service of the vrajavasis, our reading can serve to cut away any self-image we have of ourselves as advanced devotees. We become humble before the love of God expressed by Lord Caitanya and the gopis. The gopis aren't buoyant because they are anticipating lunch or because something good has come to them in this world. They are wholly absorbed in Syamasundara, Krsna. When He is not with them, their hearts catch fire; they change color and dry up. Where is our love? Where is our Krsna consciousness? At least we should know about this pinnacle of devotional love. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu quotes Srimati Radharani: "If by chance such a moment comes when I can once again see Krsna, then I shall worship those seconds, moments, and hours with flower garlands and pulp of sandalwood and decorate them with all kinds of jewels and ornaments" (Cc. Madhya 2.38).
In the stage of love of God expressed by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the slightest absence of that love is as noticeable as a spot of ink on a white cloth. When a devotee detects the absence of love, he at once condemns his whole expression of love of God as a lie. We cannot really understand the mind of a pure devotee. The Caitanya-caritamrta says, "Externally there appeared severe tribulation, as if Lord Caitanya were suffering from poisonous effects, but internally He was experiencing bliss" (Cc. Madhya 2.50).
As I read these verses, I'm trying to get above the pewee's cry in the trees around me, above the rustle of paper in the breeze, above the hum of Interstate 80, above the many other voices in my head. I just want to hear how Lord Caitanya saw the Deity of Jagannatha as Krsna in Vrndavana with a flute and charming smile. When Lord Caitanya returned to the Gambhira, He entered the mood of separation: "Where is Sri Krsna, whose form is curved in three places? Where is the sweet song of His flute; and where is the bank of the Yamuna? Where is the rasa dance? Where is that dancing, singing, and laughing? Where is My Lord, Madana-mohana, the enchanter of Cupid?" (Cc. Madhya 2.56).
Every person is looking for Krsna. We may seek Him in the pleasures of this world (anna-maya) or in the ideal of a long, healthy life (prana-maya). Some search for Him by culturing knowledge (jnana-maya). But all of us are seeking the same supreme bliss (ananda-maya) that can be reached only by those willing to serve Him. Peace in Krsna consciousness can be attained only when all material desires are burnt up in full-hearted service to Krsna. Until then, we will always be striving, always be restless, always be dutiful only for the sake of duty, always be marking time. We won't be decorating the moments of our lives with flower garlands and sandalwood paste.
Tat srnu, just hear. As Narada Muni told Vyasadeva, "Whatever you desire to describe that is separate in vision from the Lord simply reacts, with different forms, names and results, to agitate the mind as the wind agitates a boat which has no resting place" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.5.14). Even Vyasadeva felt despondent because he had not glorified Krsna directly. His spiritual master, Narada Muni, analyzed the cause of that despondency and prescribed this cure: Vyasadeva should write of the Lord's inconceivable nature, explain that the living entities are His parts and parcels, and tell how they are meant only to serve Him. Without this understanding, there can be no peace in the world.
Vyasadeva composed the Bhagavatam on the order of his spiritual master. Now all we have to do is hear it submissively, with faith. Srila Prabhupada says, "The simplest thing for human beings is to follow their predecessors. Whatever is awakened by attachment to one's predecessor is the way of devotional service…." (Cc. Madhya 2.86, purport).
"This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krsna to His abode…. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the Age of Kali shall get light from this Purana"(Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.43).
Every follower of Prabhupada has to find the brilliance shining in his books. We cannot neglect them. They are not irrelevant to our lives. Even the descriptions of Lord Caitanya's deepest ecstasies are relevant if we hear of them submissively. Srila Prabhupada has worked so hard to save us. Now all we have to do is follow what Krsna says: tat srnu, simply hear.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.