Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who was also known as Vishvambhara ("Lord of the universe"), appeared in Bengal, India, 525 years ago and taught love of Krishna. The Vedic scriptures, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Vedanta-sutra and especially Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, all reveal Krishna to be the Supreme Truth and the dear most friend of every living being. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita “Give up all other forms of religion and surrender to Me. I shall then protect you.” Lord Chaitanya, therefore, urged everyone He met, "Surrender to Krishna. His holy name is the only shelter."
Because thousands of years had passed since Krishna’s appearance on earth and because people had not fully understood Krishna from Bhagavad-gita, Lord Chaitanya, as Krishna’s dear most servant, showed everyone exactly how to render loving service to Krishna, just according to Krishna’s own words as revealed in the Vedic literature. These Vedic writings were compiled over 5,000 years ago, but when Lord Chaitanya came, He created a great revival of love for Krishna. Most importantly, Lord Chaitanya delivered the chanting of Krishna’s holy names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Sri Krishna Chaitanya, as He was also called, did not invent the chanting of Hare Krishna; He took it directly from the Vedic scriptures. The Brihan-naradiya Purana says: harer nama harer nama harer nama eva kevalam / kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha: "Chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name! In the Kali-yuga [the Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy] there is no other way, no other way, no other way." The Kalisantarana Upanishad also says that these sixteen words in thirty-two syllables—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—are the most effective means for counteracting the contaminating effects of Kali-yuga.
Sankirtana – congregational chanting of the holy names
According to the Vedic scriptures, the chanting is the only process perfectly suitable for the age in which Lord Chaitanya appeared, Kali-yuga, a spiritually fallen age. Kali-yuga is still going on, and we shall feel its disruptive influence more and more. Therefore Lord Chaitanya gave a great impetus to the Krishna consciousness movement by inaugurating sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy names. Indeed, He set in motion, by His own example, a movement that would spread all over the world as the greatest benediction for the people of today. He Himself had foretold that, "The chanting of the names of Krishna will be heard in every town and village of the world."
We know a great deal about the life and teachings of Lord Chaitanya because His immediate followers wrote many books, all authoritatively based on the Vedic scriptures. His chief literary followers were known as the six Gosvamis. Among them, Jiva, Sanatana and Rupa especially wrote dozens of scholarly spiritual books proving bhakti, or love of Krishna, to be the ultimate goal of the Vedas. Krishnadasa Kaviraja and Vrindavana dasa Thakura also wrote authoritative biographies of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, and many of their learned followers have contributed elaborations and expositions upon the philosophy of Lord Chaitanya, thus establishing the basis for a complete and consistent spiritual movement.
Let us consider Lord Chaitanya's significance for the people of the world today. Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, in his biography Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, describes the events leading to Sri Chaitanya’s appearance. We shall try to relate them here, for they tell us much about His mission.
"To fulfill a particular desire within His mind, Lord Krishna, Vrajendra-kumara, decided to descend on this planet after mature contemplation." Krishnadasa Kaviraja plainly declares that Lord Chaitanya is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Chaitanya’s advent is also mentioned in the Srimad-Bhagavatam:
yajanti hi sumedhasah
"In this Age of Kali, people endowed with sufficient intelligence will worship the Lord, who is accompanied by His associates, by performing sankirtana-yajna [congregational chanting of Hare Krishna]." (Srimad Bhagavatam, 11.5.32) This verse also describes that in the Age of Kali, Krishna will appear, but His complexion will be golden. When Lord Chaitanya taught His disciple Sanatana how to detect a genuine incarnation of God, He pointed out that the activities and bodily hues of the incarnations are described in the scriptures. Since the time of Lord Chaitanya, many men have posed as Gods or avataras, collected money and attracted followers, but such imposters never fool the experts who know the transcendental science.
The scriptures indicate that the incarnation for Kali-yuga is Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is also called Gauranga or Gaurasundara (Gaura means "gold") because of His golden hue. His complexion is golden, and His activities engage everyone in chanting Hare Krishna. To enact His mission, He always appears with His associates. Thus Lord Chaitanya is most often worshiped in His form of pancha-tattva, in which He is accompanied by His immediate expansions Nityananda, Advaita, Gadadhara and Srivasa.
Lord Chaitanya’s Associates
Chaitanya-charitamrita describes that before Lord Krishna took birth as Lord Chaitanya, He requested many of His devotees to precede Him. "Lord Krishna first allowed His family of superiors to descend on the earth." (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 13.53) These included Sri Sachidevi and Jagannatha Mishra, who were to appear as His mother and father; Madhavendra Puri, who was to appear as a great spiritual master in the line Sri Chaitanya would follow; and Sri Advaita, Srivasa and Nityananda, three of the Lord's principal associates who would appear as His elders in His pastimes. He also sent Haridasa Thakura, who, despite his birth in a Moslem family, would become the namacharya, or master of the holy name, celebrated for chanting 300,000 names of Krishna daily. In an important book called Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika, Kavi-karnapura has ascertained that the associates or family members of Lord Krishna in Krishna’s pastimes over 5,000 years ago in Vrindavana reappeared in different roles in the pastimes of Lord Chaitanya. Thus Jagannatha Mishra and Sachidevi were formerly Nanda and Yashoda, the mother and father of Krishna; Nityananda was formerly Krishna’s brother, Balarama; and Advaita Acharya was an incarnation of Krishna’s Vishnu expansion from whom all the universes emanate at the time of universal creation.
Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita describes the birthplace of Lord Gaurasundara before the Lord's advent: "Before the appearance of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, all the devotees of Navadvipa used to gather in the house of Advaita Acharya. In these meetings of devotees, Advaita Acharya used to recite Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, decrying the paths of philosophical speculation and fruitive activity and establishing the super excellence of devotional service." (Chaitanya-charitamrita Adi-lila, 13.63-4)
Krishnadasa Kaviraja further mentions that devotional service to Lord Krishna is the actual conclusion of the Vedic scriptures. Although different sections of the Vedic literature teach different paths, staunch devotees of Lord Krishna reject other processes, such as philosophical speculation, yogic gymnastics and unnecessary austerities and rituals, for these are meant only to raise people gradually to devotional service. Krishna says at the end of His teachings in Bhagavad-gita, "Give up all other varieties of religion and just surrender to Me." Devotees, therefore, are the topmost transcendentalists and so need not engage in any other process than devotional service. If one takes to another process but doesn't recognize that love of the Supreme Person is the supreme goal, he cannot be accepted as a genuine transcendentalist, and his practice of yoga or meditation is a waste of time.
It is stated that the associates who preceded Lord Chaitanya were reading Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam exclusively. One who doesn't know the conclusion may search through many literatures and philosophies inquiring for the ultimate. These two Vedic literatures, however, hold the cream of all the Vedas. Sridhara Svami, a great Vedic acharya (spiritual master), wrote, "The Gita which issued from the lotus-like lips of Padmanabha Himself [Lord Krishna], must be well assimilated; what is the use of a multiplicity of other scriptures?" Lord Chaitanya Himself prescribed reading Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita as primary because although the Vedas and Upanishads only hint at the Absolute Truth, that Truth is fully developed in the Gita, which records the spoken words of Krishna, and Srimad-Bhagavatam, which contains narratives about Krishna and His pure devotees.
The associates of Lord Chaitanya are described as Vaishnavas, which means devotees of the Absolute Truth in His aspect as the Supreme Person. Chaitanya-charitamrita continues: "In the house of Advaita Acharya, all the Vaishnavas took pleasure in always talking of Krishna, always worshiping Krishna and always chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra." (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila 13.66) From this we can understand that the devotees who gathered at Advaita Acharya’s house were fully absorbed in Krishna consciousness, either through talking of Krishna on the basis of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, worshiping the Lord in His form as the Deity, or chanting in kirtana (singing Hare Krishna) with musical instruments. Because such Vaishnavas understand that there is nothing but Krishna and His energy, they never forget Krishna for a moment, and they always engage their senses in some kind of devotional service to the Supreme Lord.
Only sense-gratification causes suffering
Chaitanya-charitamrita goes on to cite the predominant mood of the assembled Vaishnavas: "But Sri Advaita Acharya Prabhu felt pained to see all the people without Krishna consciousness, simply merging in material sense enjoyment." (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila 13.67) Such is the vision of all pure devotees. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (the spiritual master of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada) used to say, "There is no scarcity of anything within this world. The only item scarce is Krishna consciousness." The devotee can see that for want of God consciousness people are suffering terribly. In ignorance, people think they can be happy without cultivating spiritual life, and so they absorb themselves in plans and activities just to satisfy their senses. Yet this only causes suffering, all over the world. Food shortages, fuel shortages, war and poverty are all directly traceable to humanity's forgetfulness of its relationship to Krishna.
Material nature runs by strict laws, and Krishna consciousness is a science of how to live in harmony with the material and spiritual nature by acting always in loving relation to the Supreme Lord, who is in fact the supreme proprietor. Man acts as if no one were in charge but him, and so the masses of people are misled by capitalism, communism, consumerism, voidism and so many other godless "isms". Man breaks nature's laws and suffers from the crises that result. A devotee onlooker is very much aggrieved to see this.
The same materialistic tendencies plagued Navadvipa over 500 years ago, and so Advaita Acharya expressed His sorrow for the people. The Vaishnavas at His home were free of all anxiety themselves because of their participation in krishna-katha (topics about Krishna), but a Vaishnava is unhappy to see others unhappy. Another great Vaishnava, Prahlada Maharaja, whose life is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, once prayed: "Saintly persons and ascetics generally travel alone, concerned only with their own salvation, but I am not like them. I do not want to go back to the kingdom of God alone, leaving all these bewildered people who have no other shelter but Your Lordship. Unless they can come with me, I shall not go back to Godhead." A Vaishnava feels free of all difficulty, but he also feels compassion for those who have been duped into accepting a false civilization that will cause them only suffering in this life and the next.
"Vaishnava" is not a sectarian designation. Lord Jesus Christ and Lord Mohammed were also powerful Vaishnava personalities who worked to bring humanity to love of God. Only the presence of such Vaishnavas can save human society. Lord Chaitanya was to appear in a community of such Vaishnavas, but with one difference: He Himself was the Supreme Lord, the object of the Vaishnavas' prayers. Thus even though appearing as a devotee, He would be able to deliver love of Krishna directly.
How Lord Chaitanya descended at the specific request of Advaita Acharya is described in Chaitanya-charitamrita: "Seeing the condition of the world, Sri Advaita Acharya began to think seriously of how all these people could be delivered from the clutches of maya (material illusion). Srila Advaita Prabhu thought: 'If Krishna Himself appears to distribute the cult of devotional service, then only will liberation be possible for all people: " (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila 13.68-69) His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada comments on this prayer: “Just as a condemned person can be relieved by a special favor of the chief executive head, the president or king, so the condemned people of this Kali-yuga can be delivered only by the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself or a person empowered especially for this purpose. Srila Advaita Acharya Prabhu desired that the Supreme Personality Himself advent to deliver the fallen souls of this age.” Advaita Acharya thus promised to cause Lord Krishna to descend, and He began to worship the Supreme Lord with offerings of tulasi leaves and water of the Ganges. "By loud cries He invited Krishna to appear," writes Krishnadasa Kaviraja, "and this repeated invitation attracted Lord Krishna to descend."
Lord Krishna says that He appears in every millennium
Just as the prayers of Lord Brahma caused Lord Krishna to descend in Vrindavana, so the prayers of Krishna’s pure devotee, Advaita Acharya, caused Him to come again as Lord Chaitanya. Of course, the Supreme Lord comes at His own will for His own mission, as stated in Bhagavad-gita: "Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practices, O Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion—at that time I descend Myself. To deliver the pious and annihilate the miscreants, as well as to establish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium." (Bhagavad-gita, 4.7-8) According to these verses, Lord Krishna appears specifically to mitigate the anxieties of pure devotees who are eager to see Him in His pastimes. Lord Krishna says that He appears in every millennium. This indicates that He also incarnates in the Age of Kali. Thus Lord Chaitanya, as the incarnation of Krishna, the Personality of Godhead, is described secretly, indirectly, in the confidential parts of revealed scriptures such as the Upanishads, Mahabharata and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The devotees of Lord Krishna are greatly attracted by the sankirtana movement of Lord Chaitanya because instead of killing the miscreants, the Lord, through this movement, delivers them by His causeless mercy. When Rupa Gosvami first met Lord Chaitanya, Rupa Gosvami therefore offered this prayer: "I offer You my most humble obeisances, for You are the most munificent avatara of Krishna, offering what was never offered before, even by Krishna Himself—pure love of Krishna." These are some of the special features of Sri Krishna Chaitanya.
Lord Chaitanya’s appearing as the son of Sachidevi and Jagannatha Mishra cannot be compared to the birth of an ordinary conditioned soul. It is comparable only to Krishna’s appearance as the son of Devaki and Vasudeva. Before the birth of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Sachidevi, the wife of Jagannatha Mishra, gave birth to eight daughters one after another, but just after their birth they died. Unhappy at the death of his children, and desiring a son, Jagannatha Mishra worshiped the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. After this, Sachidevi gave birth to a highly qualified son, whom they named Vishvarupa. Greatly pleased with their son, the husband and wife especially began to serve the feet of the Supreme Lord.
Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita describes elaborately what happened next: "In the month of January in the year 1407 of the Saka Era [A.D. 1486], Lord Krishna entered the bodies of both Jagannatha Mishra and Sachi. Jagannatha Mishra said to Sachimata: 'I see wonderful things! Your body is effulgent, and it appears as if the goddess of fortune were now staying personally in my home. Anywhere and everywhere I go, all people offer me respect. Even without my asking, they voluntarily give me riches, clothing and paddy.'
"Sachimata told her husband: 'I also see wonderfully brilliant human beings appearing in outer space, as if offering prayers.'
"Jagannatha Mishra then replied: 'In a dream I saw the effulgent abode of the Lord enter my heart. From my heart it entered your heart. I therefore understand that a great personality will soon take birth."' (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila 13.80-5) Sachidevi did not become pregnant as an ordinary woman becomes pregnant because of sensual indulgence. But exactly as Krishna appeared in the heart of Devaki through the heart of Vasudeva, so Lord Chaitanya appeared in the heart of Sachidevi through the heart of Jagannatha Mishra.
While Sachidevi was pregnant, Nilambara Chakravarthi (the grandfather of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) astrologically calculated that in that month, at an auspicious moment, the child would be born. At the time of Lord Chaitanya’s appearance, a wonderful natural phenomenon occurred—a full lunar eclipse. Krishnadasa Kaviraja writes, "When the spotless moon became visible, what would be the need for a moon full of black spots on its body?"
In India all the followers of the Vedic scriptures customarily bathe in the Ganges or the sea as soon as there is a lunar or solar eclipse. Strict followers of the Vedic religion stand in the water throughout the eclipse and chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. At the time of Lord Chaitanya’s birth such a lunar eclipse took place, and naturally the people standing in the water were chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Krishnadasa Kaviraja relates that not only were the followers of the Vedas chanting Hare Krishna, but the Mohammedans and others joined them, imitating the chanting. Thus Hindus and Moslems joined together in chanting the holy name of the Lord when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared. It was miraculously appropriate that He who throughout His life would induce everyone to chant Hare Krishna appeared in the world at a moment when everyone was joyfully chanting because of the lunar eclipse. Certainly it signaled the advent of a great leader of sankirtana.
Lord Chaitanya Appears
Krishnadasa Kaviraja relates that the whole world was induced to blissful chanting of the holy names by the appearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. "All the ten directions became jubilant, as did the waves of the rivers. Moreover, all beings, moving and nonmoving, were overwhelmed with transcendental bliss… At that time Sri Advaita Acharya Prabhu, in His own house at Shantipura, was dancing in a pleasing mood. Taking Haridasa Thakura with Him, He danced and loudly chanted Hare Krishna. But why they were dancing no one could understand… In this way all the devotees, wherever they were situated, in every city and every country, danced, performed sankirtana, and gave charity by mental strength on the plea of the lunar eclipse, their minds overwhelmed with joy." (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila 13.97, 99, 103)
After the Lord's appearance, respectable ladies of the neighborhood came to visit the newly born child, whose bodily color resembled shining gold. Among them, Sitadevi, who was Advaita Acharya’s wife and a recognized devotee, was astonished when she saw Vishvambhara, for she could appreciate that except for a difference in color, the child was directly Krishna Himself.
Chaitanya-charitamrita (13.122) states, "Lord Chaitanya is very merciful to anyone who hears this narration of His birth, and thus such a person attains the lotus feet of the Lord."
Krishnadasa Kaviraja writes that the pastimes of Lord Chaitanya are unlimited and that he can give only a tiny part of them in his book Chaitanya-charitamrita. Of that tiny part, we have here taken only a brief glimpse, as space would permit. The readers are advised to read Chaitanya-charitamrita further, especially for an elaborate discussion, supported by scriptural references, concerning the identity of Lord Chaitanya with Krishna Himself. There is also extensive material on the happy results of chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has translated, with purports, the entire Chaitanya-charitamrita (11,555 verses). As Srila Prabhupada's purports establish, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is genuinely continuing Lord Chaitanya’s mission of spreading Krishna consciousness all over the world.
We hope that these few lines on the appearance of Lord Chaitanya will encourage interest in the potent reality of Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana movement. Krishna consciousness is authentically based on the Vedic literature and intended precisely for this age. Krishnadasa Kaviraja emphatically states that if one is at all interested in his self-betterment, he should not miss the chance to take to the teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: "Anyone who attains a human body but does not take to the cult of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is baffled in his opportunity. Amritadhuni is a flowing river of the nectar of devotional service. If after getting a human body one drinks the water in a poison pit of material happiness instead of the water of such a river, it would be better for him not to have lived, but to have died long ago."