While traveling in India in the weeks leading up to the five-hundredth anniversary of Lord Caitanya's appearance, I noticed many newspaper articles and special programs in honor of Lord Caitanya. I was very inspired to see these notices (although their praise was sometimes inaccurate).
An Air India billboard proclaimed, "500 Years of Him" and praised Lord Caitanya as one of India's greatest saints. In a Trivandrum newspaper, The Hindu, I read a listing for a late TV broadcast from New Delhi, Caitanya Mahaprabhu. On the next page of the same newspaper were two different articles written in the spirit of "all saints are the same."
The headline for the first article read "Saints Belong to All Regions: President." The article described the inauguration of the Guru Nanak Deva Chair of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Gauhati University. Said the president of India, Dr. Zail Singh, "The great saints, gurus, and acaryas, including Guru Nanak and Saint Sankaradeva, have left us the message of universal brotherhood in their teachings." President Singh, of course, was seeking unity among Sikhs and Hindus, as is his duty.
In the second article, "Spiritual Teachings are Immortal," a Madrasi pandita was praising a collection of biographical poems by Saivite saints.
I was pleased to see these and other articles about saints and spiritual culture appearing regularly in the Indian newspapers. But I sensed a typical mentality: "All paths are the same." For people of this mentality, Lord Caitanya is simply another saint.
But what is a real saint? In India a man traditionally renounced his family life at a certain point and became a monk, either in seclusion or in preaching. Such a person was called a sannyasi, and he wore saffron-colored clothes. But in the corrupt society of today, people sometimes assume the dress of a sannyasi to receive alms or other favors. Although the public should be receptive to genuine saints, they should distinguish the saints from cheaters.
According to the Bhagavad-gita, a true saint is equipoised in all circumstances. He is completely free from desires for sense gratification, and he is always pure and irreproachable for his behavior. The true saint is full of knowledge of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By all bona fide criteria, Lord Caitanya is a true saint. Moreover, Vedic literature reveals that He is Himself the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam explains how, in this age of Kali, Krsna will appear as Lord Caitanya to propagate the chanting of the holy name of Krsna. This chanting of God's holy names is the yoga-dharma, the most recommended form of worship in this age. And because Lord Caitanya inaugurated this practice, He is the most prominent of all saintly personalities in this age. Those who teach other ways of worshiping God or other methods of yoga, or who engage in philosophical speculation, are not teaching what is actually prescribed in the scriptures for the present age of Kali. Serious students of sainthood should understand the special position of Lord Caitanya.
As I traveled from South India to Bengal prior to Gaura-purnima, the notices of Caitanya Mahaprabhu's appearance day celebration increased. A particularly notable article appeared in a Calcutta newspaper, Amrita Bazaar. The article was entitled "The Person I Miss Most" and was written by a minister of Parliament, Tarun Kanti Ghosh. The article included a photo of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and stated:
When we are all engaged in the stupendous task of making the five-hundredth anniversary of Lord Gauranga a grand success, the person whom I miss every moment is none other than Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. His presence amidst us today could have helped us fulfill our task a hundred times better by virtue of his deep devotion, sincerity and tremendous organizing capability. He was a host in himself.
Tarun Kanti Ghosh went on to give a little history of Prabhupada's wonderful achievements, starting with Prabhupada's journey to America in 1965.
A poor man going to the U.S.A. at the age of seventy could create all these in only twelve years by sheer virtue of his love and devotion and dedication to His principles…. Such an example of a new wave of religious consciousness growing entirely on the basis of devotion for Lord Krishna and Lord Gauranga can rarely be seen in the history of civilization…. I repeat that the void created by his demise is being greatly felt when we are celebrating the fivehundreth anniversary of the advent of Sri Caitanya. Were Prabhupada among us today, the celebration could have gained in spiritual magnitude and the dream of legions of devotees of Gauranga will come true.
Although he is an important minister in the central government of India, Tarun Kanti Ghosh was fortunate to be with Prabhupada during his years of preaching in India. He has great affection for Prabhupada, and he has rightly noted that of all of the followers of Lord Caitanya, Prabhupada is outstanding because he brought the message of Lord Caitanya out of India and spread it worldwide. Mr. Ghosh struck on the feelings of all the followers of Prabhupada, because Prabhupada is so intimately connected with Lord Caitanya, he was especially missed at the five-hundredth anniversary.
I appreciate Mr. Ghosh's sentiments. I don't, however, agree that Prabhupada was not present. He was present at our Quincentennial celebration, and the best testimony of this is that all over the world hundreds of ISKCON centers celebrated Gaura-purnima.
As described in the sastras, the guru is present in two ways, by vapuh and by vani. Vapuh means the guru's physical presence, and vast means his teachings. Although the guru may be physically present for only a limited amount of time, he remains with those followers who faithfully obey his instructions. As Srila Prabhupada wrote in dedicating his first book to his own spiritual master. "He lives forever in his instructions, and the follower lives with him."
Srila Prabhupada is present among the members of his ISKCON. It is only by Srila Prabhupada's mercy that devotees around the world today are following in the footsteps of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Lord Caitanya's mission is being carried on every day in ISKCON centers worldwide, and devotees distribute the books of Lord Caitanya's teachings (which are the same as Lord Krsna's teachings). Following Lord Caitanya, devotees of every nation go into the streets to chant the holy names of God.
Prabhupada was certainly present at the five-hundredth anniversary celebration in Mayapur, where thousands of his followers from around the world gathered to chant and hear the glories of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Both Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada continue to be present in the hearts of followers who remain faithful to their teachings. Thus their important welfare work continues. SDG