SOME YEARS AGO, when I was the treasurer of our temple outside Washington, D.C., I went to the bank one Friday afternoon as usual, only to find it closed. Puzzled, I asked a woman standing nearby why it wasn't open.
"Are you living in a hole out there at that Hare Krsna place?" she replied. "Don't you know today's Good Friday?"
I didn't say anything, but I thought, "Well, I'm sure you don't know that last Friday was Gaura Purnima, the appearance anniversary Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu!"
Gaura Purnima, along with Janmastami, should be the most important day on anyone's calendar. The greatest misfortune for people today is that they don't know Lord Caitanya, who came to give them love of God.
Lord Caitanya appeared five hundred years ago to declare that in the present age chanting God's names is the best way to attain love for God. Today, awakening our God consciousness without reference to Caitanya Mahaprabhu is difficult. Why? Because Lord Caitanya is Krsna, or God Himself, the evidence of which can be found throughout the Vedic literature. No doubt that evidence is a little hard to find, and that's because Krsna wanted to protect the secret of His descent: in this age He comes disguised as His own devotee. Still, learned contemporaries of Lord Caitanya discovered many scriptural passages that prove His identity as Krsna, and those can be found in authoritative biographies about Him.
Srila Prabhupada points out that in our time, following Caitanya Mahaprabhu can be said to be more important than following Krsna. Of course, since They're the same person, Their instructions are the same. Krsna says, "Surrender to Me," and Lord Caitanya says, "Surrender to Krsna." But Lord Caitanya came to show us exactly how to surrender to Krsna. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna asked everyone to surrender to Him, but people either misunderstood the order or failed to execute it. So Krsna came as Caitanya Mahaprabhu to show us exactly how to surrender.
The essence of Lord Caitanya's method of surrender is the chanting of Krsna's names. As important for us as chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is chanting the names of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His chief associates with the mantra jaya sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu nityananda sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda. Worshiping the Lord as He appears in the current age is appropriate—or, rather, imperative—because He has come specifically for us.
People in the West hardly know anything about Krsna, what to speak of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, but even the people of India, who all know something about Krsna, know little or nothing about Lord Caitanya. Many believe He was a sixteenth-century Bengali saint, but He is much more than that.
Lord Caitanya mostly hid His identity as Krsna because He had taken on the mood of a devotee of Krsna. He showed that love of Krsna is so wonderful that Krsna becomes His own devotee to taste it. By worshiping Caitanya Mahaprabhu and accepting His teachings, we too can taste the only love that can fully satisfy us.