WHEN I FIRST HEARD the name of Lord Caitanya, I pictured a tall gentleman in Wellingtons, riding whip in hand your turn-of-the-century British lord.
Had it not been for Srila Prabhupada, most likely I'd never even have heard Lord Caitanya's name. Nor, certainly, would I have come to recognize Lord Caitanya to be identical with Krsna Himself. Nor, for that matter, would I have known who Krsna is.
But because of Srila Prabhupada I came to know Krsna as the Absolute, the Godhead, the source of everything. I came to hear how Krsna deploys His all-pervasive energies. I came to know of Krsna's form as a cowherd boy, decorated with ornaments and peacock feather, bearing a flute, and sporting with the cows and cowherd people of Vrndavana. And I came to learn how the qualities, abode, and pastimes of Krsna could be specific and tangible and at the same time transcendent.
This science of Krsna, brought to us by Srila Prabhupada, had been taught five centuries ago in India by Lord Caitanya. Far from being a mere lord of Britain, Lord Caitanya, though appearing as a Bengali teacher and saint, was Krsna Himself, the Lord of everything, in the form of His own devotee. And this was not merely Srila Prabhupada's opinion; it was confirmed by Vedic scripture.
Lord Caitanya taught the chanting of the holy names Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Chant and be happy. Chant and be purified. Chant and attain love of Krsna. This was the message of Lord Caitanya.
One time, some twenty years ago, a senior Hare Krsna devotee told me a story. He had heard from another devotee something unusual that Srila Prabhupada had said: The devotees of the Hare Krsna movement were all eternal associates of Lord Caitanya.
Like Lord Krsna Himself, when Lord Caitanya comes to earth He brings with Him from the spiritual world some liberated souls who eternally share in His pastimes. Or sometimes, even when the Lord Himself doesn't come, He sends some of His eternal associates on a mission to the material world.
So Srila Prabhupada had supposedly said that we members of the Hare Krsna movement were in fact such eternal associates.
Some time later, this devotee was sitting in Srila Prabhupada's presence and decided to ask a question: "Srila Prabhupada, is it true the devotees in ISKCON are eternal associates of Lord Caitanya?"
In a characteristic accent, drawing the word out quite beyond its usual length, Srila Prabhupada answered: Yes.
It was a mystical moment. The devotee could only sit there in ecstasy. We we! that small band of ISKCON devotees were actually Lord Caitanya's eternal associates.
Then, after a moment, Srila Prabhupada added, "Everybody is."
The meaning was clear. Every living being is by nature an eternal associate of the Lord. Now, having forgotten Krsna, we are conditioned souls, lost in matter. But by reviving our Krsna consciousness we can return to our natural, liberated state and go back home, back to Godhead, back to the Lord's eternal association. Lord Caitanya showed how to do it. And Srila Prabhupada brought Lord Caitanya's teachings to the world.