This issue of BACK TO GODHEAD commemorates the five-hundredth anniversary of the appearance of Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the incarnation of Godhead who appeared in West Bengal in 1486 to propagate the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Most of our readers will agree that Lord Caitanya, as the founder and original propagator of the sankirtana movement, deserves a place in religious history. Yet some may feel that Lord Caitanya is of interest only to His followers. He may be important to those who chant Hare Krsna, they say, but what interest is He to everyone else?"
But Lord Caitanya's pastimes and teachings are relevant to everyone. He is not a sectarian religionist. Rather, He offers a welfare program that can resolve all the anomalies we face in the modern age. By hearing of Him and following His teachings, anyone can solve all life's problems.
The Caitanya-caritamrta, a voluminous biography of Lord Caitanya composed in the sixteenth century by Krsnadasa Kaviraja, invites us to compare Lord Caitanya's work with that of any other religionist or altruist: "If you are indeed interested in logic and argument, kindly apply them to Sri Caitanya's mercy. If you do, you will find it strikingly wonderful" (Adi-lila, 8.45). Unlike the welfare performed by others, Lord Caitanya's gives eternal benefits.
We are all eternal, spiritual beings, originally full of bliss and knowledge, part and parcel of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In our unpolluted, liberated status, we eternally live with Krsna in the spiritual world, where we render the Lord transcendental loving service. But when a soul tries to enjoy independently of Krsna's desires, he must accept a material body and take birth in the material world, where he is always subject to the miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death. No material adjustment can give us ultimate shelter from these miseries.
Because the body is temporary, all efforts to preserve and protect it fail. Those who work to alleviate suffering and to improve the quality of life are certainly well-motivated. But if one has no knowledge of the spirit soul and his relationship with Krsna, one's efforts to help others will prove to be ineffective. Such an ignorant philanthropist may be compared to a rescue worker who attempts to save a drowning man but only pulls the victim's coat out of the water. Ultimately, there are no material solutions to the problems of this world. Only by cultivating scientific knowledge of spiritual truth can one really help others.
To love God is the essence of life and the heart of religion. Every true religionist, regardless of sect or custom, will acknowledge that love of God is the greatest good and the final goal of all. In the course of His lifetime, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu demonstrated this love of God, or krsna-prema, to the highest degree, and He distributed this love to everyone without regard to race, culture, or other material circumstances.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna explains how human society is divided into four orders: brahmanas, or priests and teachers; ksatriyas, or soldiers and administrators; vaisyas, or businessmen and farmers; and sudras, or laborers. In this naturalvarnasrama system of social organization, one's position in society is determined by one's characteristics. When society is organized according to this varnasrama system and Krsna is in the center, everyone advances in spiritual life.
In India today varnasrama exists in a perverted form. In this system, a person is artificially restricted by birth to a particular societal role, regardless of his characteristics. The caste system impedes spiritual advancement and burdens the citizens with false ideas of social prestige. Lord Caitanya saw that the Hindu caste system was false, and so He accepted among His most intimate associates people from the lowest caste. Indeed, He even accepted Muslims among His most confidential followers, although the Muslim and Hindu communities were in contention.
Not everyone appreciated Sri Caitanya's liberality. At one point in His preaching mission, envious caste-conscious Hindus complained to the Muslim government about Lord Caitanya's chanting and dancing, and the Muslim governor sent men to break up the Lord's chanting party. In response to this opposition, Lord Caitanya Himself led one hundred thousand of His followers to the governor's home. At first the governor was afraid of the Lord and His followers, but after the governor and Caitanya Mahaprabhu sat together and discussed the benefits that come through chanting the holy name of Krsna, the governor had a change of heart and became an active supporter of Lord Caitanya's sankirtana movement.
Lord Caitanya's benevolence transcends all sectarian divisiveness. Through the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, anyone can develop his innate love of God and elevate himself to the transcendental position, beyond all bodily designation. And chanting Hare Krsna is easy. A person who even once utters Krsna's holy name immediately advances toward life's ultimate goal, and his chanting will stand to his eternal credit, regardless of his other activities. But to make the most rapid advancement in spiritual life, one should chant Hare Krsna in the association of devotees while abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life eating meat, gambling, taking intoxicants, and engaging in illicit sex. By living purely and chanting Hare Krsna, one can return to the spiritual world in this very lifetime.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu prophesied that the chanting of Hare Krsna would be heard in every town and village in the world. In March of this year, followers of Lord Caitanya from every corner of the globe are gathering in holy Mayapur, West Bengal, the place of Lord Caitanya's birth, and there chant Hare Krsna in celebration of Lord Caitanya's appearance five hundred years ago. By chanting Hare Krsna, blacks and whites, Russians and Americans, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics all stand united in the universal, nonsectarian knowledge that while the material body and its designations are temporary, the spirit soul is transcendental and eternally related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. Only by becoming situated in the eternal truth of our relation with Krsna can we transcend our separatist mentalities and realize our original, global brotherhood and unity. That so many people from all over the world and from every culture can congregate in peace and with a single mind glorify the holy names of God is proof of Lord Caitanya's munificence. SDG