It is only after a prolonged evolution of consciousness through corresponding forms of life that we become aware of ourselves. This awareness occurs in human life. Human life is therefore the opportunity to know oneself—to become aware of the extent to which one exists. In the evolution of consciousness, human life represents that time when nature wakes up to the fact that it has a soul.
The natural yearning of the soul is to search out its true nature. In our search, we must transcend the contracted sense of self that is centered on our material body and mind and go beyond the selfishness that is inevitably tied to this misidentification with matter. Then we will find an expanded sense of self that arises out of sacrificing our lower self—our self-indulgent self—in pursuit of love. Having given up what is not love, we find our authentic self.
However, we have not yet completed our search. Loving or giving unconditionally requires someone who can accept love without reservation. We cannot give without limit to one who is limited in terms of how much love they can accept. What then is the perfect object of love? It cannot be anything found in the natural world where all objects are here today but gone tomorrow. Nor can it be any individual unit of consciousness, especially those prone to the condition of misidentifying themselves with matter. The perfect object of love must, like its lover, be similarly constituted of consciousness yet not prone to material exploitation.
Although God is the reservoir of consciousness, God can accept unlimited love, and as the root of spiritual and material existence, God’s satisfaction nourishes the entirety of existence. Love of God is typically reverential; however, reverential love is not the only kind of love. Nor is reverential love necessarily the most complete form of love, which can be evaluated in terms of the intimacy it affords its lover and beloved—the closeness and sense of identity with one another that it affords. Thus our search for the perfect object of love leads us somewhere beyond God, or beyond the common notion of God. It leads to a connoisseur of love capable of embracing all forms of love, not merely passive reverential love and servitude, but fraternal, familial, and intimate love as well.
Here Sri Caitanya steps in to point us in the right direction. He points to Krishna, the perfect object of love, who is adored as friend, son, or lover of his devotees. The distinction between ourselves and God—the distance between the two in self-sacrifice—is breached in the self-forgetfulness of transcendent love that Sri Caitanya exemplified, a love endowed with the intensity with which a lover loves her beloved.
Just as friends and family members forget themselves in the loving company of one another, when perfect love is realized, self-forgetfulness ensues. Krishna is God in forgetfulness of himself under the influence of his devotee’s love. Such love takes place in that plane where the finite soul and the infinite meet in an intimacy that takes on a finite appearance to facilitate intimacy. There the Absolute appears as Krishna, the pastoral cowherd and connoisseur of love.
Sri Caitanya teaches that this plane of transcendental existence is attainable in our present human form of life. We need only combine human life with saintly association and in that association learn the art of loving Krishna. Such love of Krishna is devoid of any selfish material motive and is uninterrupted even by its by-product of enlightenment. It is rendered on Krishna’s terms and its primary expression—both in terms of spiritual practice and spiritual perfection—is reciting Sri Krishna’s holy name.