The Siksastaka Prayers
Although widely renowned as a preceptor
and scholar, Lord Caitanya composed only eight verses.
They contain the essence of His teachings.
This is the last installment in a special series of articles commemorating the five-hundredth anniversary of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's appearance in Mayapur, West Bengal. By His life and teachings, Lord Caitanya inaugurated the Hare Krsna movement in India. If you'd like to learn more about India's most influential mystic saint and philosopher and the most merciful incarnation of Godhead, we suggest you read Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, an authentic account of Lord Caitanya's life and precepts. Scholars of language, philosophy, and religious history around the world consider Srila Prabhupada's seventeen-volume English translation of this Bengali classic true to the original. The volumes are available at your local Hare Krsna center.
Lord Caitanya remained on earth for forty-eight years. The first twenty-four He spent in Navadvipa, West Bengal, His birthplace. After entering the renounced order, sannyasa, He traveled on foot through north and south India for six years. His final eighteen years He spent in Puri, a holy city in Orissa. Here, in the association of His most intimate devotees, He constantly relished discussing and meditating on the most intimate spiritual pastimes of Lord Krsna and His eternal consort, Srimati Radharani, reveling in ecstatic love of God.
Sri Caitanya would celebrate His jubilance by glorifying Krsna with songs and verses composed by great devotees or by chanting Hare Krsna. These verses would in turn produce different states of transcendental mellows within His mind and body. Thus sometimes He lamented because of feeling separation from Krsna. At other times He felt powerful ecstatic emotions of anger, greed, or humility. Sometimes He felt great eagerness, at other times great satisfaction.
Day and night for twelve years these symptoms repeatedly occurred, along with various transformations in the Lord's body: His bodily hair would stand on end. His limbs would slacken, and His eyes would incessantly flood with tears. The mere recitation of a song or a verse about Krsna, and especially about Radharani, would elicit such intense symptoms of spiritual ecstasy that Sri Caitanya would become distraught and weep torrents of tears, sometimes even losing external consciousness.
Sometimes the Lord would become so absorbed in a particular emotion that He would stay up all night reciting or listening to relevant verses and relishing their transcendental tastes. On one such occasion, in the company of Svarupa Damodara and Ramananda Raya, Sri Caitanya recited the verses of His Siksastaka prayers, the only verses He composed, and commented on their meanings and emotions. "My dear Svarupa Damodara and Ramananda Raya," the Lord began, "know from Me that chanting of the holy names is the most feasible means of salvation in this age of Kali [the present age of quarrel and deceit]." After explaining further how the chanting of Krsna's names frees one from undesirable habits, awakens good fortune, and initiates "the flow of waves of love of God," the Lord quoted the first verse of His Siksastaka.
Let there be all victory for the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krsna, which can cleanse the mirror of the heart and stop the miseries of the blazing fire of material existence. That chanting is the waxing moon that spread the white lotus of good fortune for all living entities. It is the life and soul of all education. The chanting of the holy name of Krsna expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life. It gives a cooling effect to everyone and enables one to taste full nectar at every step.
Lord Caitanya explained that sankirtana, the congregational chanting of God's holy names, ultimately leads to direct association with Krsna and the rendering of devotional service in transcendental bliss. Thus sankirtana immerses one in an ocean of divine love. While thinking like this, the Lord felt transcendental lamentation and humility. Then He recited another verse:
My Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name there is all good fortune for the living entity, and therefore You have many names, such as Krsna and Govinda, by which You expand Yourself. You have invested all Your potencies in those names, and there are no hard and fast rules for remembering them. My dear Lord, although You bestow such mercy upon the fallen, I am so unfortunate that I commit offenses while chanting the holy name, and therefore I do not achieve attachment for chanting.
In commenting on this verse, Sri Caitanya explained that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is absolute and that His names are also absolute. He appears with His numerous names and thus makes Himself easily available to any chanter of those holy names, regardless of time or place. Each name is perfect and can purify anyone's heart. Taking Himself as an average man, however, Sri Caitanya lamented His misfortune in not having any attachment for chanting the holy name of Krsna. This lamentation led Him to recite the third verse of the Siksastaka, describing how a devotee should chant so as to awaken his dormant love for Krsna.
One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.
A pure devotee is prideless, giving up the passion for honor and respect. Though he is in fact a very exalted soul, he thinks himself lower than straw in the street. And like a tree, which tolerates abuse, heat, wind, rain, and yet gives fruits, flowers, and shelter without discriminating against anyone, a devotee tolerates all abuses and gives shelter to all. Knowing Krsna is present in the heart of all living beings, he offers all respect to others, even to the animals and insects. Such a humble soul is able to chant Krsna's names constantly.
As Lord Caitanya spoke on these points, deeper feelings of humility welled up within Him. The author of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, comments that a devotee fully situated in love of Godhead is so humble he never thinks himself a devotee; rather, he thinks, "I do not even have a drop of love for Krsna." Exemplifying this mentality of a pure devotee, Sri Caitanya recited the fourth verse of His composition, begging for devotional service as if He had no love for Krsna.
O Lord of the universe, I do not desire material wealth, materialistic followers, a beautiful wife, or fruitive activities described in flowery language. All I want, life after life, is unmotivated devotional service to You.
Here the Lord decries all the standard pursuits and ambitions of persons who have no knowledge of transcendence and who sometimes scoff at the devotees of God for giving up the so-called pleasures and responsibilities esteemed by materialistic men. Lord Caitanya prays for devotional service "life after life" to show us that rendering service to God is the true desirable goal of life. Again placing Himself as a forlorn conditioned soul, Sri Caitanya entreated the Supreme Lord.
O My Lord, O Krsna, son of Maharaja Nanda, I am Your eternal servant, but because of My own fruitive acts, I have fallen into this horrible ocean of nescience. Now please be causelessly merciful to Me. Consider Me a particle of dust at Your lotus feet.
Fallen souls in this material world labor very, very hard in their attempt to lord it over nature's resources. They have no knowledge that their labor simply binds them in an intricate cycle of action and reaction, of repeated birth and death, life after life. They sentimentally think the material world a place of enjoyment, when in reality it is a place of bondage, suffering, illusion, and ignorance. Sri Caitanya teaches us that to free ourselves from this illusion we must forsake our selfish desires to enjoy wealth, women, followers; and we must humbly supplicate the Personality of Godhead to kindly reinstate us as the servants of His lotus feet.
Further humility and eagerness then awoke in Lord Caitanya, and He prayed to chant the holy name of Krsna in ecstatic love.
My dear Lord, when will My eyes be beautified by filling with tears that constantly glide down as I chant Your holy name? When will My voice falter and all the hairs on My body stand erect in transcendental happiness as I chant Your holy name?
In commenting on this verse, the Lord explains that a life without love of God is useless. He therefore prays to be accepted as the eternal servant of Krsna and to receive ecstatic love as His "salary." After speaking thus, various feelings of distress, lamentation, and humility arose in His mind, and He began speaking like a madman.
My Lord Govinda, because of separation from You, I consider even a moment a great millennium. Tears flow from My eyes like torrents of rain, and I see the entire world as void.
In His agitated, despairing state of separation from Krsna, a day seemed never to end; each moment seemed an eternity. One moment felt so excrutiatingly painful that the Lord described Himself as "burning alive in a slow fire. "Yet far from being any ordinary madness and suffering of this material world, the Lord's pain and emotion were the highest transcendental ecstasy. In the mood of Srimati Radharani whose mind becomes agitated whenever Krsna tests Her love by feigning indifference to Her, and in whom the ecstatic symptoms of envy, eagerness, humility, zeal, and supplication would sometimes combine Lord Caitanya recited the last verse of His Siksastaka. This verse of advanced devotion voices Radharani 's sentiments while speaking to Her close friends.
Let Krsna tightly embrace this maidservant, who has fallen at His lotus feet. Let Him trample Me or break My heart by never being visible to Me. He is a debauchee, after all, and can do whatever He likes, but He is still none other than the worshipable Lord of My heart.
Radharani is the topmost devotee of Krsna. In this verse She expresses the purest sentiments of love between lover and beloved, which is the essence of Lord Caitanya's teachings: the highest love is realized when one loves Krsna as the Lord of one's life unconditionally. Unconditional love means that the beloved may or may not reciprocate that love, but it makes no difference to the lover. This is the standard of love taught by Lord Caitanya. If Krsna derives happiness by putting His devotee in distress, that distress becomes the devotee's happiness. In other words, the only happiness for an unconditional lover is the happiness of the beloved, even at the cost of his or her own happiness.
This standard of love cannot be realized in this material world. Sometimes it is said that a mother's love is the purest love in this world, but we often see nowadays that mothers kill their own unborn children rather than tolerate inconvenience on their child's behalf. Still, even if somehow we were to catch a glimpse of unconditional love in our material relationships, the happiness of such love would be marred by fear of infidelity, disease, old age, and the other inevitable shortcomings of material existence. Finally, death separates even the most ardent lovers. Practically speaking, therefore, there is no comparison between eternal love of God and the temporary, so-called loving relationships of this material world. Transcendental love is like gold; mundane love is like iron.
Kaviraja Gosvami concludes this portion of his narrative on the life and precepts of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu by explaining that it was only to advertise the pure standard of love that the Lord came to this material world, composed the Siksastaka verses, and explained their meanings.