(Interactive session on 20.7.2013)
Keynote address by Mr. S. R. Das
(Other participant speakers: Mr. Asim Banerjee, Mr. Ramesh Chanda, Mr.A. K. Sengupta, Ms. Kalyani Chakraborty, Dr. Santosh Ganguly, Dr.Kalyan Chakravarthy, Ms. Mitali Ghosh, Ms.Sharmila Bhawal, – Devotional song by Ms. Manimala Das)
Anchor & conclusive remarks: Asish K.Raha
The word ‘Chaitanya’, means consciousness of the existence of God or Pure Consciousness, described in the Vedanta as Param Bramhan, or Sat-chit-ananda (eternal existence, eternal consciousness and eternal bliss), having no form. God when conceived in form is referred to as the Virat Purusha, or the Supreme Entity in whom all individual souls reside and Who resides in all. Complementary to Virat Purusha as the source of creativity is called Prakriti (nature) or Shakti (energy). Together, the Purusha and the Prakriti are the creators of this phenomenal world comprising multiple universes of matters and souls, manifest and unmanifest. The embodied souls, called Jivaatma, sourced to the Purusha, are bonded to the prakriti, by the glue of desire and attachment, called Maya (illusion).
The longing for the Supreme by the Jivaatma is called the Divine Love. In this state, Jivatma effaces his/her ego and yearns for nothing less than the Supreme only in the form he/she perceives the beloved Lord.
In Srimad Bhagwat Gita, it is stated:
“That which has been mentioned as the Unmanifest, the Immutable, they call Him the supreme Goal. That is the supreme abode of Mine, reaching which they do not return. That supreme Being in whom are included all the beings and by whom all this is pervaded, is indeed reached through unalloyed devotion” (Ch 8, verses 21- 22).
Divine Love and its various forms
Divine love for Swami Vivekananda meant real spiritual pursuit. We are no longer beggars, because we give up everything for the love of God. We are no longer in fear, because we feel God as our own, our closest one. To Vivekananda, the divine love of God is its own end – the salvation and perfection. We would love God because that is our highest aim and goal of life. How to Worship God? Swami Vivekananda answered, “Worship him dearer than all your possessions, than all your relatives and all your children. Nothing must stand between me and God except love. God is only love and nothing else. Love first, love in the middle, love at the end. God is infinite love. At last, love, lover and the beloved become one. That is the goal. Our separation from God in this phenomenal world became necessary, according to Swamiji, beause God wanted to enjoy the bliss of love.
Swami Vivekananda in his Bhakti Yoga has explained the various forms of divine love. When a man gets absorbed in his/her devotion to God, it is known as the Shanta Bhav or quiet state of love. The next type is Dasya when the devotee with the untainted loyalty of a servant worships/serves God. Sakhya or friendship with God is the next type where the devotee opens his/her heart to God considering Him to be his true Friend or Playmate. Here the devotee loves God as his Friend and on equal footing.
Then there is the Vatsalya bhav, or loving God is as our child. Here we try to give our best forgetting self and do not look up to Him in awe. This relationship, like that of a mother and a child, takes us quite close to God.
Madhura Bhav in Divine Love is considered as the strongest and most intimate relation with God aiming at ultimate union with God. This Bhav results in complete self-effacement of the devotee who longs for the pleasure of complete union with God. For the worshipper God becomes the only and central focus. Intense love does not see any obstruction, barrier, customs, rules or regulation. In his intense yearning for God, the devotee is in the state of both agony and ecstasy. It can be described as the madness of the devotee for God whom he/she sees as lover. In Vrindavan, behaviour of the Gopis demonstrated how the Divine in the human form of Krishna was madly loved. On hearing the sound of His voice or his flute, the ever-blessed Gopis rushed out of their abodes to meet their beloved, forgetting the whole world, i.e. the worldly rituals and taboos, the do’s and don’ts. Gopies told Uddhava, a friend of Sri Krishna, that their minds were no longer their own as every bit of it had been given to Krishna. Their body, mind and soul were longing for Krishna. Gopies were immersed in Krishna and no traces of self consciousness were left in them. We find a similar expression in the following couplet of Kabir.
प्रेम गली अति संकरी, तामें दाऊ न समाई |
जब में था तब हरी नहीं, अब हरी है में नाहीं ||
(The Path of love is so narrow that the lover and the beloved cannot tread together. When I was there, my beloved (God) was not. Now that my beloved (God) is here, I am not.)
Divine Love of Radha (Gopis)
Sri Radha’s intense yearning for Sri Krishna epitomizes divine love in Madhur Bhava. The intensity of Radha’s love toward Sri Krishna is beautifully depicted by Jayadev in Geet Govinda. Radha beheld Krishna in everything she sets her love-lit eyes upon. She was totally immersed in Krishna and effaced her own identity. Her sole existence was for fulfilment of the wishes of her beloved Krishna. She was completely lost in the thoughts of Krishna. Hence, she is also called Krishnamoyi (absorbed in Krishna).
After the Braj leela, Krishna moved away from Vrindavan to Mathura, and never returned to his beloved. Instead, He sent Uddhava, to console the Gopis. Seeing them crying inconsolably, Uddhava was moved. They complained that they could not close their eyelids, for Krishna had invaded their eyes, body, senses, speech and thoughts. They pleaded with Uddhava for a mantra to forget Krishna, so that they could once again attend to their daily chores. Uddhava advised them to meditate on Krishna instead, and at this, the gopis sobbed,
“Uddhava, man na bhaye das bees, ek huto so gayo Shyam sung, ko aaradhe ees?”
(We do not have 10 or 20 minds; there was but one mind which Krishna stole. With what should we meditate?”)
Mind gives rise to ego, but in true love, there is no ego left.
A Life Sketch of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
In Gita, Sri Krishna said: Whenever there is a decline of virtue and increase of vice I manifest Myself” (Chapter 4, verse 7).
Sri Chaitanya came to revive spirituality demonstrating the power of Krishna Naam Sankirtan (chanting of the name of Krishna). It is the yearning for God and not the ritualistic worship which takes you onto the path to the Divine.
It is said that Sri Chaitanya is an incarnation of Sri Krishna, manifesting Self to demonstrate to the world the depth and intensity of Divine Love. He was the combined form of Krishna and Krishna’s consort, Srimati Radharani. He came also to experience the love Radha had for Him, and to show by example how to fully surrender to the beloved Lord. He exhibited symptoms of Divine Love to the highest degree, and emphasized that the chanting of the holy names of Krishna was the best means to unite in love with God.
Sri Chaitanya was born in 1486, in Nabadvipa, now in West Bengal. Nabadvipa was at that time famous as a centre of learning and culture. At that time, Bengal under Islamic rule was suffering from spiritual degeneration, stagnation of growth, and exploitation of lower castes by caste-conscious Brahmins and other higher castes. The hallmark of learning was the capability of one to defeat others in open debate over interpretation of ancient philosophical texts, where logic got primacy over spiritual and mystic experiences. Socially, morally, spiritually, politically, and intellectually, contemporary India needed a change.
On the full moon night of the Bengali month of Phalguna, when there was a lunar eclipse, and amidst people’s chanting and bathing in Holy Ganga, Sri Chaitanya was born in a Brahmin family. Astrologers predicted that He would manifest super-human qualities and deliver the world. So his parents, Jagannatha Mishra and Sachi Devi, gave Him the name Vishvambhara, meaning “support of the universe.” As he was born under a Neem tree, he was given the nickname Nimai.
During his childhood he displayed mysterious powers by outwitting thieves, playing with a poisonous snake, and speaking philosophically to His mother. As He grew, his handsome look and intelligence began to attract neighbours and friends. He was a brilliant student who quickly mastered poetics, Sanskrit grammar, and the current fad, navya nyaya, a form of logic. He would often playfully defeat his fellow students in debate. While still in his teens, he opened his own school and began teaching grammar and logic.
Vishvambhara journeyed to Gaya, with a group of students in order to perform sacred rites on the anniversary of his father’s death. There, after receiving Vaishnava initiation from Ishvara Puri, he became transformed. He lost all interest in logic and argument and absorbed himself in chanting Krishna’s names in devotional ecstasy.
Back in Nabadvipa, Vishvambhara with other Vaishnavas like Advaita Acarya, Srivasa Pandit, and Haridas Thakur started the sankirtana movement by chanting the name of Lord Krishna. First, the movement was confined to the faithful. After a year, however, Vishvambhara started to spread the ecstasy of Divine Love to all the people of Nabadvipa.
Vishvambhara’s movement was not influenced by caste consideration. Nor was it meant for the ascetics or the yogis in penance or meditation for liberation from the material world. As he deviated from the conventional path in his spiritual pursuit, Vishvambhara met with stiff opposition from some sections of the local Brahmin community and from the Muslim ruler as well. But when he mobilized thousands of people in a Sankirtana procession to the Muslim magistrate’s house, he succeeded in convincing the magistrate to permit the movement.
Seeing the need to spread Krishna consciousness more widely, Vishvambhara decided to take sannyasa, at the age of twenty-four. He took the name Krishna Chaitanya from Keshava Bharati. He also became known as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. To console his mother he promised to stay in Puri, not far off from Nabadvipa.
He travelled to various parts of South India for four years and to Prayag, Vrindavana, and Varanasi for one year.
Last 12 years in Puri in total devotion and ecstasy
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spent his last 12 years in Puri, an old and renowned Pilgrimage Centre, the seat of Lord Jagannath. He often got into trance in the temple as also outside, experiencing spiritual ecstasy while completely immersed in love with the Lord. In that state he felt the glory and divine grace of the place. Every morning he made it a point to visit the temple. Standing at a distance, he silently gazed at the Lord Jagannath and was completely lost. He was a living example of Para Bhakti, the supreme devotion.
As mentioned in the Bhagwatam, when Radha felt the agony of separation from Krishna, she used to experience ten kinds of bodily transformations like: anxiety, sleeplessness, mental agony, feebleness, un-cleanliness, incoherent utterances, affliction, frenzy, obsession and motionlessness. It is said that similar ecstatic conditions overwhelmed Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
He spent several nights in wakefulness chanting Hare Krishna. He was also listening from Srimad Bhagavatam, about Lord Krishna’s glories and actions. Many a times, he would get dead-silent or was seen crying for Krishna and at times dancing in joy. Sometimes he was not to be found in his room and after a search, his followers would find him lying outside unconscious.
Only after hearing Krishna’s name he would gain consciousness. Sometimes he would run towards the Sea as its blue water reminded him of the Yamuna in Vrindavan, or towards a sand dune thinking it to be Giri Govardhan that was lifted by Sri Krishna. All these proved deterrent to his physical health but he was indifferent to his worldly needs.
Shiksa ashtak: embodiment of Divine love
Sri Chaitanya Dev’s spiritual personality, wisdom, knowledge and interpretation of ancient philosophical texts such as the Vedas and the Vedanta were a living source of inspiration to many prominent followers who have composed many verses, kirtans etc. based on his life and teaching. However, the singular composition that he left for posterity is known as Shiksha Aashtak in Sanskrit, which is a unique composition elucidating Divine Love, spirituality, glorification of Krishna and various ways of worshipping. This also speaks of the state of divinity he was in.
- 1. Divine power in Krishna Sankirtana: Sri Krishna Sankirtana cleanses mind of worldliness, spreads humanity among the people. It increases transcendental bliss and it enables us to fully taste the nectar in every step of life.
- 2. One God different names:Taking various names of Lord Krishna alone, which are full of transcendental energies, can render all benedictions to living beings. There are no hard and fast rules for chanting these names. One needs only to get attracted to these names.
- 3. Way of Chanting: One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble tolerant state of mind, devoid of all sense of false prestige and be respectful to others.
- 4. Devotion: O, Lord, Prayer to you is not for wealth nor to desire beautiful women, nor for praise from people. Let there be desire-less devotion birth after birth.
- 5. Dashya Bhab: Since life is plunged in the terrible ocean of the material world, pray to be in His service and stay like a dust particle in His lotus feet.
- 6. Prem Bhakti: Urge for a state when by uttering His name tears would flow down the eyes; voice would be choked with emotion and mind would be delighted.
- 7. Anxiety: In separation from Him, every moment would be like a decade, tears would flow from eyes and world would appear meaningless and void.
- 8. Gopi Prem: Krishna is the only Lord and He shall remain so even if He embraces me or makes me broken hearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always unconditionally the worshipful Lord.
His Last words
Sri Chaitanya said, “Listen Swaroopa and Ramananda Rai! The chanting of Krishna’s Name is the chief means of attaining Krishna’s feet in the Kali Yuga. Sankirtan of the Name is the supreme healer in the Iron Age. Sankirtan tantamounts to Vedic sacrifice. Sankirtan destroys sins and purifies the heart and creates Bhakti. Chant the name while sitting, standing, walking, eating, in bed and everywhere. The Name is omnipotent. You can repeat the Name at any place, at any time.
Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was last seen on the 14th June, 1533. His passing away is still a Mystery.
Divine Love, the spark of which was seen in Radha, more as the yearning of an individual soul for union with the Divine, became a mass movement in the hands of Sri Chaitanya. And this movement was not confined to Nabadvip, the place of his birth, or for that matter to the places he camped in for a number of years, like Puri, but went far beyond in an era when movement on road or river was painfully slow and time-consuming. Even in 21st century, this movement is still alive, spreading beyond the frontier of India and Sri Chaitanya continues to be the inspirational pioneer for the posterity.
Second, the Divine Love movement of Sri Chaitanya broke all barriers, i.e. the barrier of caste, religion, social, financial, intellectual, etc. Initially though women were not included in Samkirtan, subsequently they also joined the ecstatic group, singing and dancing publicly, chanting the name of Sri Krishna.
Third, Divine Love as a concept was unique in the sense that neither the Vedas, nor the Upanishads or the Vedanta advocated it. The stress all along in those philosophical and spiritual texts was on wisdom, self-realization, self-effacement or annihilation of ego, pursuit of Truth or realization of the ultimate Truth viz. Brahman That is within oneself as also without or all over. This realization of Brahman can be attained by various Yogas, namely, Bhakti or devotion, Gyana or wisdom, Dhyana or meditation, Karma or self-less work, Sannyas or renunciation of the fruits of work, Kriya or various rituals/exercises etc. None of those paths were akin to the path of Divine Love that would place the lover and the beloved (God) on the same pedestal all through.
While on the concept of Divine Love as a means to attain God as the beloved, the question that would come to mind is whether it is possible for a mortal with five senses like us to love God Who is formless, deathless and beyond all senses. In other words, the yearning for God as a lover pre-supposes the reducing of infinite God into human form as the beloved. Is such reduction valid, practical, realistic and effective? Let us address this question in the light of the prominent religions in general that recognise God.
That God is omni-potent, omni-present and omni-scient is more or less accepted as a postulate by all prominent religions, except Buddhism that avoids any reference to God. The very concept of an omni-present God would imply that God exists in the minutest particle in this phenomenal world. Some of the religions have even referred to the conversation of their Messiahs and prophets with God and the messages received by them from God. In the process, human qualities have been attributed to God. As to the question of form, it is more or less accepted that God with His infiniteness, cannot be bound within a specific form. That, however, would not prevent God from assuming any form at His will, given that He is the ultimate source of all matters, energy, souls and consciousness. The Gita talks about worshipping God in form or without. The form could be symbolic like the stone image of a deity. The form could also be one of a living being who by attaining God-consciousness is believed to have been one with God. In the cases of Radha and Sri Chaitanya, the Divine was conceived in form of Sri Krishna. Their love, therefore, had the pang of separation as also ecstasy of union, the emotions that are easily perceivable by human instinct.
As to the question whether Divine Love is realistic, or a mere fantasy, it would not be reasonable to answer such question in general terms. To Radha, Krishna being a man of flesh and blood was as real as she herself was, although she may have regarded him as the God incarnate owing to his miraculous powers. The same would not apply to Sri Chaitanya, or to Mira Bai inasmuch as in their time Sri Krishna was not in existence, but believed to have frequented them in vision. As to the question whether their visions of Sri Krishna were genuine or fantasy, such matters cannot obviously be subjected to scrutiny by any known human standard. Love, after all is not chemistry but it belongs to the domain of conscious mind which is known as our sixth sense. The love for the Divine is believed to open the door of a still higher sense by the grace of the Divine, helping the lover to have vision of the beloved Who happens to be the subtlest of the subtle and the grossest of the gross. Sri Ramakrishna looked upon the Divine as Mother Kali and often did he taste the sweets and fruits before offering the same to the Goddess. Sri Bama Khyapa of Tara Peeth considered himself as the little child of Ma Tara, the Divine Mother, and once did he urinate on the deity as if a baby on his mother’s lap. He was mercilessly beaten by the priests but later they understood their mistake and apologized when the Deity of the Divine Mother is believed to have shown her anger by turning Her face away. Narendra Nath (Swami Vivekananda), initially an agnostic, was in extreme financial hardship when, seeing his miserable state, Sri Ramakrishna advised him to pray for food and clothes from the Divine Mother at the temple of Dakshineswar. As he entered the sanctum sanctorum, he saw the idol of the Divine Mother come alive and was unable to ask for such trifle. Instead he prayed for wisdom and liberation. Sri Aurobindo, while in Alipore jail facing trial for treason against the British Raj, had a sudden vision of Sri Krishna in every living being, including the jailor, the prisoners, the guards and the judge. In our above four examples of vision of the Divine, the first two were of the advanced Yogis cum great spiritual Masters, while the latter instances were of two leading intellectuals of contemporary India at the material time, both of whom later turned into spiritual Masters cum teachers of international fame. Obviously, it would be naive to denounce their visions as mere hallucination.
Admittedly though loving God is easier said than done, we have no hesitation to conclude that the world will be a much better place to live in if we learn to love fellow beings as embodiment of the Divine in myriad forms.