Q. Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami wrote Caitanya-caritamrta, which Gaudiya Vaisnavas accept as the definitive scripture on the life and teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. When Krishnadasa Kaviraja writes that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said something about Krishna, his words are automatically accepted by Gaudiyas to be true. Thus it appears that to be a Gaudiya Vaisnava one has to accept not only that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna but that Krishnadasa Kaviraja is the transparent medium through whom Mahaprabhu can be understood. Is this correct?
A. The truth is that no one would know much of what Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught without his disciples having written about it, as there are only ten verses attributed directly to Mahaprabhu. These are his famous eight verses of Siksastakam and two others cited in Padyavali. These other two verses are:
“I am not a ksatriya, a vaisya or a sudra. Nor am I a brahmacari, a householder, a vanaprastha, or a sannyasi. I am none other than the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krishna, the maintainer of the gopis.”
“The message of the Upanisads is far from the nectar topics of Lord Hari. For this reason, the study of the Upanisads does not result in a heart melting with emotion or ecstatic symptoms, such as trembling, shedding tears, or standing of hairs on the body.”
Gaudiya Vaisnavism is about seeing Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu through the eyes of his devotees. Other sects might view Mahaprabhu differently, but who would be in a better position to understand him than those who knew him personally and dedicated their lives to him? The celebrated Six Goswamis of Vrindavana were such persons. They imparted their experience and realizations of Mahaprabhu to Krishnadasa Kaviraja and blessed him to reveal Sri Caitanya’s life and teachings to the world through his book Caitanya-caritamrta.
Q. What is my position if I accept Caitanya Mahaprabhu as Krishna but do not accept the teachings of Krishnadasa Kaviraja?
A. People accept Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as Bhagavan Sri Krishna because this was the realization of his direct disciples. Chief among these were the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana, who were among the first to write that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was Krishna, basing their realization on sastra. They permanently established this realization by citing evidence from sastra that pointed to Krishna’s appearance as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Therefore, to accept Mahaprabhu as Bhagavan but not accept the writings of his disciples, particularly Krishnadasa Kaviraja, is uninformed in the least. The Six Goswamis and other direct disciples of Sri Caitanya imparted their experiences and realizations to Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami and ordered him to represent them in writing. Without those disciples’ intimate knowledge of Sri Caitanya’s words and pastimes no one today would know that he was Krishna, or more specifically Radha-Krishna combined. All who accept Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as Krishna owe a great debt of gratitude to his disciples, especially Krishnadasa Kaviraja and the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana. Those who claim to know Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu independently of the teachings of his disciples are only deluding themselves.
Q. There is a sect that worships the Deity of Gadadhara Pandita as a woman, dressing him in a sari. Alongside him is worshiped the Deity of Caitanya Mahaprabhu dressed as Krishna. Can you tell me something about this type of worship?
A. Although Gaura is Krishna and Gadadhara is Radha, this worship is most likely an expression of what is sometimes referred to as “Gaura-nagara bhava.” In pursuance of Gaura-nagara bhava, persons seek a conjugal relationship with Mahaprabhu in the svarupa of a nagari, a village girl. Both of the principal biographers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, namely Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami and Vrindavana dasa Thakura, have rejected this type of worship.
In Caitanya-caritamrta Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja writes, gopika-bhavera ei sudrdha niscaya vrajendra-nandana vina anyatra na haya: “It is firmly established that gopi-bhava is experienced only in relation to Vrajendra-nandana Krishna and no one else.” (Cc. 1.17.278)
In his Caitanya Bhagavata, Vrindavana dasa Thakura likewise writes: “The Lord was apt to indulge in indiscriminate, merciful behavior towards all, except that he never looked at a woman, even by a sidelong glance. It is known to all the world that he did not even allow the name of a woman to enter his ear. Those who are his real devotees, therefore, never address Sri Gauranga as ‘Gauranga-nagari,’ or the enjoyer of women. Although all forms of praise are applicable to the Lord, the wise only sing that which is in accordance with his nature.” (CB 15.28-31)
Thakura Bhaktivinoda openly condemned the sentiment of Gaura-nagara bhava, as did his most prominent disciple, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. Although one can find some lines in Bhaktivinoda’s poetry that seem to indicate this sentiment, these lines have to be understood in light of his criticism of Gaura-nagara bhava. The same holds true for the Six Goswamis, who either openly rejected this sentiment or were silent about it.
Some associates of Mahaprabhu, like Narahari and Locana dasa, do seem to occasionally express this sentiment, but they have not discussed any sadhana for attaining it. For that matter, it is possible that the poetry expressing this sentiment was interpolated in an effort to lend support to the concept of Gaura-nagara bhava. Indeed, without such apparent support, advocates of Gaura-nagara bhava would have nothing to stand on.
In the very least, it should be emphasized that no eternal associate of Mahaprabhu has taught any spiritual practice (sadhana) corresponding with Gaura-nagara bhava. Sadhana is not to be manufactured. It descends from above and corresponds with a particular spiritual goal (sadhya). Without the sadhana, how can there be such a sadhya, or if there is such a sadhya, how will one attain it with no sadhana? One cannot make up a sadhana corresponding with an imagined sadhya. In fact, doing so is nothing more than a disturbance to the society of devotees.
aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatayaiva kalpate
“Devotional service performed without reference to the Vedas, Puranas, Pancaratras, and so on, must be considered sentimentalism. It causes nothing but disturbance to society.” (Brs. 1.2.101)
Q. Can the Deities of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his associate Nityananda Prabhu (Gaura-Nitai) be worshiped in the mood of Radha-Krishna?
A. How can Gaura-Nitai be in the mood of Radha and Krishna? According to Gaudiya siddhanta, Nitai is Balarama and Mahaprabhu is Krishna in the mood of Radharani. When Mahaprabhu exhibits the mood of Radha, Nitai steps back to facilitate his bhava. Therefore, Gaura can stand on the altar next to Radha-Krishna to make the statement that he is one with them, but Nitai, being Balarama, will not stand on the same altar next to Radha-Krishna.
Again, Mahaprabhu can be seen as Radha-Krishna because he is Radha-Krishna combined, but Gaura-Nitai will never been seen as Radha-Krishna because they are not Radha-Krishna, they are Krishna and Balarama. Some people do try to say that Nitai is Radha, but you will not find much support for this idea anywhere in Gaudiya Vaisnavism.
Q. You say that Gaura-Nitai should not be worshiped with Radha-Krishna, but I have noticed that in most Iskcon temples there are Gaura-Nitai Deities, Radha-Krishna Deities, and sometimes a third set of Deities, such as Sita-Rama or Krishna-Balarama, situated on adjoining altars. I have also noticed that some Gaudiya Matha temples worship Sri Caitanya accompanying Radha-Krishna on the same altar, and no Deity of Nityananda is present. Can you explain this?
A. Gaura-Nitai and Radha-Krishna may be worshipped on adjoining altars, just not on the same altar. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu may be worshiped with Radha-Krishna on the same altar because he is Krishna in the mood of Radha. He is Radha-Krishna combined. This type of Deity worship is common throughout Gaudiya Matha institutions. In his Iskcon institution, my Gurudeva Srila Prabhupada widely established the worship of Gaura-Nityananda Deities out of deference to Nityananda Prabhu, who had empowered him to preach. Indeed, Srila Prabhupada was from a family that had been graced by Nityananda Prabhu some generations earlier.
For the most part, Srila Prabhupada’s preaching involved introducing Krishna consciousness to those who from the standpoint of varnasrama were outcastes. By emphasizing the worship of Gaura-Nitai, he sought to invoke the special mercy of Nityananda Prabhu, to whom Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu gave the task of delivering the most fallen. Srila Prabhupada was so successful in his efforts to introduce the worship of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu worldwide that his Godbrother Srila Sridhara Maharaja referred to him as Nityanadavesa, or one who is especially empowered by Sri Nityananda Prabhu. Locana dasa Thakura sings, amar nitai guna mani aniya premer vanya bhasailo avani: “My Lord Nityananda, the jewel of all virtues, has drowned the entire world in a flood of ecstatic love of Krishna.”