Found in Sanga, Sanga 2004.

Q. I am trying to read Caitanya-caritamrta but find the philosophy in the beginning section of the book difficult to understand. What is your advice?

A. The narrative of Caitanya lila begins in chapter thirteen after much philosophy and theology has been discussed and the principal players of the eternal drama have been introduced. Since you are having trouble with the philosophy and theology presented in the first twelve chapters, perhaps you can begin by reading the narrative first. In this way you will gradually become grounded in Gaudiya philosophy and theology while becoming acquainted with Sri Caitanya’s glorious pastimes. Then you can return to the beginning chapters.

Q. Can you please explain how Caitanya-caritamrta’s mangalacarana works?

A. The first two verses offer obeisances (namaskara). The first namaskara verse is to the gurus, Vaisnavas, God, his expansions, his incarnations, and his saktis. The second namakara verse is to Gaura-Nityananda. In the first verse the author offers his pranam in a general way and in the second verse his pranam is specific. In the second namaskara verse the author establishes that Gaura-Nityananda are the Deities that preside over his book. This implies that by worshiping them, all the truths of Caitanya-caritamrta will be revealed. The third verse defines the objective (vastu-nirdesa), which is to demonstrate that Sri Caitanya is Krishna himself and that Krishna is svayam bhagavan (the source of all avatars). The fourth verse offers a benediction to the readers (asirvada). The blessing is that the readers taste the gift of Sri Caitanya, the brightest jewel of aesthetic rapture (rasa).

These four verses are followed by thirteen more verses delineating the position of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his associates Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita Prabhu, the Panca-tattva, and finally the three Deities of Vrindavana, Radha Madana-mohana, Radha Govinda, and Radha Gopinatha. It is truly an incredible introduction that is elaborated upon in the following twelve chapters.

Q. I have just taken sannyasa and would like to ask for your blessings. Also, can you recommend any website other than your own that strives for Vaisnava unity?

A. I was happy to hear that you have taken sannyasa. I pray that you will advance in krishnanusilanam (Krishna consciousness) and inspire others to do the same. You have the blessings of your diksa and siksa gurus. What can I possibly add to that?

In the words of our parama-guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, kirtana prabhave smarana svabhave: “Your spiritual wealth will be realized through Krishna-kirtana.” He referred to his sannyasa disciples as jivanta mrdanga, “living drums.” Play with feeling.

We do strive for unity as far as it is possible, while stressing that which is worthy of unifying around. The World Vaisnava Association (WVA) was founded several years ago with this same purpose in mind. The WVA maintains a nonsectarian website  called VINA, which is informative, aesthetically pleasing, and often features insightful articles on Gaudiya siddhanta. VINA invites editorial contributions, announcements, news articles, book reviews, and so on, from all Gaudiya sects.

Q. In a recent Sanga you said that your guru customarily gave brahma gayatri mantra to his female disciples. Why then are they not also wearing the sacred thread?

A. I assume that he knew of no precedent for women wearing the sacred thread. At any rate these things are details, and the wisdom to adjust details lies with an acarya. Spiritual progress in the Gaudiya lineage is not dependent upon wearing the sacred thread or chanting Brahma gayatri. Gopala mantra, kama gayatri, and Krishna nama received from a guru in parampara are all that are required. Other mantras and customs can be added in consideration of time and circumstance.

Q. What is the meaning of the word “astottarasata” (108) in glorification of the Guru?

A. In Krishna lila there are 108 principal gopis, and Sri Krishna has 108 groups of cows. The word “astottarasata” indicates that the guru is considered a servant-associate of those 108 gopis and groups of cows. This is also the reason we have 108 beads on our japa mala.

Q. When someone dies, is it acceptable to disperse the ashes in the Yamuna instead of the Ganges?

A. If one passes from the world near the Yamuna, one’s ashes can be placed in the Yamuna instead of the Ganges. Both rivers are equally sacred. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu bathed in both and Sri Krishna bathed in the Yamuna, which is also sometimes called the “Krishna” because of its black water.

Q. Can one gain bhakti sukrti by hearing from a person who may have at one time associated with a pure devotee of Krishna?

A. There is a lot of bhakti sukrti going around due to the chanting and preaching of pure devotees, but it is a stretch to think that because someone may have gotten some that there is benefit in hearing from them. One might have a touch of bhakti sukrti, but that does not necessarily mean that one can give it out to others.

Q. Can a disciple somehow help his or her guru who is no longer practicing?

A. Naturally we are indebted to those who have helped us either materially or spiritually, and we should do what we can to help them in their time of need. This is common sense and decency. However, it is unlikely that a disciple of a fallen guru can do much in the way of instructing the fallen guru. Such devotees can be rectified by the association of more advanced devotees.

Q. Sometimes it is said that the material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world and thus the lowest activity in this world is the highest activity in the spiritual world. For example, in Hinduism an affair between unmarried people is unacceptable even though the love shared between Radha and Krishna is considered the highest. How are we to understand this?

A. The conception that the material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world only goes so far. Just because something is wrong here does not mean it must be right there. It is not that because paramour love is religiously undesirable in this world that it becomes desirable in Vraja, the abode of Radha-Krishna. Actually Vraja is nothing like this material existence, as there is a world of difference between the serving ego and the exploiting ego.

To help us understand the intensity of the gopis’ serving ego, the example of paramour love in this material world is cited. The comparison is concerned with the measure of intensity more than anything else.

Q. I was reading your edition of Gopala-tapani Upanisad where the word “svaha” is explained in relation to the Gopala mantra. There you cite the explanation of Prabodhananda Sarasvati of the syllables “sva” (meaning the prema-sakti embodied in the gopis) and “ha” (signifying devotion to Krishna). Later the Gautamiya-tantra explanation is given where “sva” refers to the knower of the field, and “ha” refers to the higher, spiritual nature. What are the connections between these two explanations?

A. Sri Prabodhananda explains “sva” as the gopis/prema-sakti (devotees) and Gautamiya-tantra explains “sva” as “the knower of the field” (jiva-sakti/devotee). Both see “sva” as referring to the Lord’s sakti, one prema-sakti and the other jiva-sakti. However, in both cases these saktis are ultimately devotees. “Ha” in the realization of Sri Prabodhananda means devotion to Krishna, and Gautamiya-tantra explains “ha” as “higher spiritual nature,” which in Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s words is jivera svarupa haya krsnera nitya dasa, “The nature of the jiva is that of an eternal servant of Krishna.” Later svaha is also identified with Sri Radha and Sri Guru.

[Editor’s note: Swami Tripurari’s edition of Gopala-tapani Upanisad is available as a free download here.]

Q. You said there are different types of souls. Can you explain further? Is there scriptural evidence for this statement?

A. The idea that there are different kinds of souls runs throughout our bhakti sastras. Radha, Lalita, Subala, Yasodamayi, and so on, are souls, but they are not tatastha-sakti (marginal energy) like the materially bound jivas. They are constituted of Bhagavan’s svarupa-sakti (internal energy).

Caitanya-caritamrta (1.4.79) describes the gopis as expansions of Srimati Radhika, kaya-vyuha-rupa tanra rasera karana. It also similarly describes the entire entourage of Sri Krishna, svayam-rupa krsnera kaya-vyuha, tanra sama bhakta sahite haya tanhara avarana (Cc. 1.1.81). Because Balarama is the first expansion of Krishna and the embodiment of his sandhini-sakti, it is understood that he manifests the forms of the parsadas of Sri Krishna in all the rasas other than srngara (conjugal love).

With regard to Maha-Visnu manifesting the baddha-jiva (eternally bound souls), it is stated in many places that the One (Maha-Visnu) desired to become many for the purpose of his srsti-lila (creation), eko bahu syam.

In Jaiva-Dharma, which draws its support from Sat-sandarbha and thus Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote:

“There are three types of jivas. Those that originate in Vraja manifest from Lord Baladeva. Those in the Vaikuntha planets manifest from Sankarsana. Those in the material world manifest from Maha-Visnu. The first two types of jivas are nitya-mukta (eternally liberated) and the third type are nitya-baddha (materially bound).”

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