Conversations with Prakāśānanda
According to the principles of the Māyāvādī sannyāsīs, singing, dancing and playing musical instruments are strictly prohibited, for they are considered to be sinful activities. The Māyāvādī sannyāsī is simply supposed to engage in the study of the Vedānta. Therefore when the Māyāvādī sannyāsīs in Benares saw that Lord Caitanya was indulging in singing, dancing, playing musical instruments and always chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, they concluded that He was not educated and that, out of sentiment, He was misleading His followers. Śaṅkarācārya’s injunction was that a sannyāsī should always study the Vedānta and that he should be satisfied by simply having one cloth and nothing more. Because Lord Caitanya neither studied the Vedānta formally nor ceased from singing and dancing, He was criticized by all the sannyāsīs at Benares, as well as by their householder followers.
When Lord Caitanya received news of this criticism from His students and disciples, He simply smiled and started for Mathurā and Vṛndāvana. When He returned to Benares on His way from Mathurā to Jagannātha Purī, He stayed at the house of Candraśekhara, who was considered a śūdra because he was a clerk. In spite of this, Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu made His residence at his home. Lord Caitanya made no distinctions between brāhmaṇas and śūdras; He accepted anyone who was devoted. Customarily, a sannyāsī is supposed to take shelter and eat in the home of a brāhmaṇa, but Caitanya Mahāprabhu, as the independent Supreme Personality of Godhead, used His own discretion and decided to stay at Candraśekhara’s house.
In those days, by misusing their brahminical heritage, the brāhmaṇas had created a law to the effect that anyone not born in a brāhmaṇa family was to be considered a śūdra. Thus even the kṣatriyas and vaidyas were also considered śūdras. Because the vaidyas were said to be descendants of brāhmaṇa fathers and śūdra mothers, they were sometimes called śūdras. Thus Candraśekhara, although born in a vaidya family, was called a śūdra in Benares. As long as Lord Caitanya stayed in Benares, He remained at Candraśekhara’s home, and He took His food at the home of Tapana Miśra.
When Sanātana Gosvāmī met Lord Caitanya at Benares, he learned the process and principles of devotional service during two months of continual teaching. Lord Caitanya’s instructions to Sanātana Gosvāmī have been described in the first part of this book. After receiving these teachings, Sanātana Gosvāmī was authorized to propagate the principles of devotional service and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. It was during this time that both Tapana Miśra and Candraśekhara were feeling very sorry about the strong criticism against Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and they came together and prayed for the Lord to meet the Māyāvādī sannyāsīs.
“We have been mortified by hearing unfavorable criticisms from the Māyāvādī sannyāsīs against You,” they informed Lord Caitanya. “Indeed, it has become intolerable for us.” They requested the Lord to do something so that these criticisms would be stopped. While they were discussing this subject, a brāhmaṇa came to Lord Caitanya and invited Him to his home. All the sannyāsīs but Caitanya Mahāprabhu had been invited, and now the brāhmaṇa came to invite Him. Knowing that the Lord did not mix with Māyāvādī sannyāsīs, the brāhmaṇa fell down at Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s feet and implored Him: “Although I know that You do not accept invitations, I still implore You to come and take prasādam at my home with the other sannyāsīs. If You accept this invitation, I will consider it a special favor.”
The Lord took this opportunity and accepted the brāhmaṇa’s invitation in order to meet the Māyāvādī sannyāsīs. Actually this was an arrangement made by the Lord Himself. Although the brāhmaṇa who invited Him knew that the Lord did not accept any invitations, he was still very eager to invite Him.
The next day Lord Caitanya went to the house of the brāhmaṇa and saw that all the Māyāvādī sannyāsīs were sitting there. He offered His respects to all the sannyāsīs, as was customary, and then went to wash His feet. After washing, He sat down at that spot, a little distance from the other sannyāsīs. While He was sitting there, the sannyāsīs saw a glaring effulgence emanating from His body. Attracted by this glaring effulgence, all the Māyāvādī sannyāsīs stood up and showed Him their respects. Among them was a sannyāsī named Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī. He was the chief among the impersonalist sannyāsīs, and he addressed Lord Caitanya with great humility, asking Him to come and sit among them.
“My dear Sir, why are You sitting in that filthy place?” he asked. “Please come and sit with us.”
“Oh, I belong to an inferior sect of sannyāsīs,” Lord Caitanya replied. “Therefore I think that I should not sit with you. Let Me remain down here.”
Prakāśānanda was surprised to hear such a thing from such a learned man, and he took the Lord’s hand and requested Him to please come and sit with him and the other sannyāsīs. When Lord Caitanya was finally seated among them, Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī said, “I think Your name is Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, and because You have taken sannyāsa from Keśava Bhāratī, who belongs to the Śaṅkarācārya sampradāya, I understand that You belong to our Māyāvādī sect.”
According to the Śaṅkara sect, there are ten different names for sannyāsīs. Out of them, three names – Tīrtha, Āśrama and Sarasvatī – are given to the sannyāsīs considered to be the most enlightened and cultured. Since Lord Caitanya was a Vaiṣṇava, He was naturally humble and meek, and He wanted to give the better sitting place to Prakāśānanda, who belonged to the Sarasvatī sampradāya. According to Śaṅkara’s principles, a brahmacārī of the Bhāratī school is called Caitanya. However, although Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu took sannyāsa, He kept His brahmacārī name and did not take up the title of Bhāratī.
“Well, Sir,” Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī continued, “You belong to our Śaṅkara sect, and You are living in Benares – so why don’t You mix with us? What is the reason? Another thing: You are a sannyāsī and are supposed to engage simply in the study of the Vedānta, but we see that instead You are always engaged in chanting and dancing and playing musical instruments. What is the reason? These are the activities of emotional and sentimental people. But You are a qualified sannyāsī. Why not engage in the study of the Vedānta? By Your effulgence it appears to us that You are just like the Supreme Nārāyaṇa, the Personality of Godhead, but by Your behavior You appear to be otherwise. So we are inquisitive to know why You act in this way.”
“My dear sir,” Lord Caitanya replied, “My spiritual master considered Me a great fool. Therefore he has more or less punished Me by saying that because I am such a fool I have no capacity to study the Vedānta. So he kindly gave Me the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. My spiritual master told Me, ‘Just go on chanting this Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra; it will make You all-perfect.’”
Actually, Lord Caitanya was neither foolish nor ignorant of the principles of the Vedānta. His purpose was to demonstrate to modern society that fools who have no history of penance and austerity should not try to study the Vedānta just for some recreational purpose. In His Śikṣāṣṭaka, Lord Caitanya said that one should be in a humble state of mind, should think himself lower than the grass on the street, should be more tolerant than a tree, and should be devoid of all sense of prestige and ready to offer all kinds of respects to others. In such a state of mind, one can chant the Vedānta philosophy or the holy name of God constantly. The Lord also wanted to teach that a serious student of transcendental science should exactly follow the words of his spiritual master. According to the calculations of His spiritual master, Lord Caitanya appeared to be a fool; therefore he said that He should not indulge in the study of the Vedānta but should continue chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. Lord Caitanya strictly obeyed this order. In other words, Lord Caitanya impressed on the Māyāvādīs that the words of a bona fide spiritual master must be strictly followed. One who does so becomes perfect in all respects.
The word vedānta means “the last word of Vedic knowledge,” which is to understand Kṛṣṇa. As Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gītā (15.15), vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyaḥ: “By all the Vedas, I am to be known.” When one actually comes to understand the Vedānta, he comes to know Kṛṣṇa and his relationship with Kṛṣṇa. And one who understands Kṛṣṇa understands everything. Moreover, the knower of Kṛṣṇa is always engaged in His transcendental loving service. As the Lord states in the Bhagavad-gītā (10.8):
ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ
“I am the source of everything, and everything emanates from Me. One who perfectly knows this fully engages in My transcendental loving service.”
A living entity is eternally related with Kṛṣṇa in the relationship of servant and master. Once that service is wanting – or, in other words, when one is not situated in Kṛṣṇa consciousness – it is to be understood that his study of the Vedānta is insufficient. When one does not understand Kṛṣṇa or does not engage in His transcendental loving service, it is to be understood that he is averse to studying the Vedānta and understanding the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The path of Vedānta study shown by Lord Caitanya should be followed by all. A person who is puffed up by so-called education has no humility and therefore does not seek the protection of a bona fide spiritual master. He thinks that he does not require a spiritual master and that he can achieve the highest perfection by his own efforts. Such persons are not eligible for studying the Vedānta-sūtra. Those who are under the spell of the material energy do not follow the instructions of the disciplic succession but try to manufacture something on their own. In this way they step outside the sphere of Vedānta study. A bona fide spiritual master must always condemn such independent mental speculators. If the bona fide spiritual master directly points out the foolishness of a disciple, it should not be taken wrongly.
A person who is completely ignorant of the science of God cannot be considered learned. More or less, everyone who is not in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is subject to foolishness. Sometimes we display our foolishness by accepting someone who is barely educated as a spiritual master. It is our duty to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose lotus feet are worshiped by all the Vedas. One who does not understand Him and is proud of a false understanding of the Vedānta is actually a fool. Mundane attempts at academic knowledge are simply another type of foolishness. As long as one cannot understand the cosmic manifestation as a representation of the three modes of material nature, he must be considered to be in the darkness of inebriety and caught in the duality of this material world. A person who is in perfect knowledge of the Vedānta becomes a servitor of the Supreme Lord, who is the maintainer and sustainer of the whole cosmic manifestation. As long as one is not transcendental to the service of the limited, he cannot have knowledge of the Vedānta.
As long as one is within the limited jurisdiction of fruitive activities or is involved in mental speculation, he may perhaps be eligible to study or teach theoretical knowledge of the Vedānta-sūtra, but he cannot understand the supreme, eternal, transcendental (completely liberated) vibration of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. One who has achieved perfection in chanting this transcendental vibration does not have to separately learn the philosophy of the Vedānta-sūtra. According to the teachings of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the bona fide spiritual master, those who do not understand that this transcendental vibration is nondifferent from the Supreme, yet who try to become Māyāvādī philosophers expert in the Vedānta-sūtra, are all fools. Studying the Vedānta-sūtra by one’s own efforts (the ascending process of knowledge) is a sign of foolishness. On the other hand, he who has attained a taste for chanting this transcendental vibration has actually reached the conclusion of the Vedānta. In this connection, there are two verses in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam which are very instructive. The purport of the first is that if a person is chanting the transcendental vibration Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, then even if he was born in the family of the lowest of human beings it is to be understood that in his previous lives he performed all types of renunciation, austerities and sacrifice and studied all the Brahma-sūtras. The purport of the second verse is that one who chants the two syllables ha-ri must be considered to have studied all the Vedas – the Ṛg Veda, Atharva Veda, Yajur Veda and Sāma Veda.
On the other hand, there are many so-called devotees who think the Vedānta is not meant for devotees. Such people are ignorant of the fact that the Vedānta is the only platform of pure devotees. Great ācāryas in all four Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas have made commentaries on the Vedānta-sūtra, but the so-called devotees known as prākṛta-sahajiyās carefully avoid the study of the Vedānta-sūtra. The prākṛta-sahajiyās mistakenly take the pure devotees and Vaiṣṇava ācāryas to be mental speculators or fruitive actors. Consequently they themselves become Māyāvādīs and leave the service of the Supreme Lord.
Understanding the Vedānta-sūtra by academic knowledge never enables one to understand the value of the transcendental vibration. People who are entangled in academic knowledge are conditioned souls who are confused about the facts of “I”- and-“mine” understanding. Consequently they are unable to detach their minds from the external energy. When a person actually attains transcendental knowledge, he becomes free from this duality and engages in the transcendental loving service of the Supreme Lord. The Lord’s service is the only means by which one can become detached from material activities. A person properly initiated by a bona fide spiritual master and engaged in chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare gradually becomes freed from the conception of “I” and “mine” and becomes attached to the Lord’s transcendental loving service in one of the five transcendental relationships. Such transcendental service is not a subject matter for gross and subtle bodies. Only when one can understand that there is no difference between the Supreme and His name can one be situated in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. At such a time one no longer needs to make grammatical adjustments. Rather, one becomes more interested in petitioning the Lord: “Hare Kṛṣṇa – O my Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service!”
Lord Caitanya explained all this to Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī and told him that He had heard all this from His spiritual master. He further informed Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī that His spiritual master had taught Him that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the actual commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra, as stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam by Vyāsadeva, the author of the Vedānta-sūtra.
A student’s perfection is to understand the identity of the holy name and the Supreme Lord. Unless one is under the shelter of a realized spiritual master, his understanding of the Supreme is simply foolishness. However, one can fully understand the transcendental Lord by service and devotion. When Lord Caitanya offenselessly chanted the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, He declared that the mantra could at once deliver a conditioned soul from material contamination. In this Age of Kali there is no alternative to chanting this mahā-mantra. It is stated that the essence of all Vedic literature is the chanting of this holy name of Kṛṣṇa: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Lord Caitanya also told Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī, “In order to convince Me about this essential fact of Vedic knowledge, My spiritual master has taught Me a verse from the Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa (38.126). Harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam/ kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā: “In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is the chanting of the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.”
In three out of the four millenniums (namely, Satya-yuga, Tretā-yuga and Dvāpara-yuga) people had the honor to strive to understand transcendence through the path of disciplic succession. But in the present age, due to the influence of Kali, people have no interest in the disciplic succession. Instead, they have invented many paths of logic and argument. This individual attempt to understand the supreme transcendence (called the ascending process) is not the Vedic way. The Absolute Truth must descend from the absolute platform. He is not to be understood by the ascending process. The holy name of the Lord – Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare – is a transcendental vibration because it comes from the transcendental platform, the supreme abode of Kṛṣṇa. And because there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and His name, the holy name of Kṛṣṇa is as pure, perfect and liberated as Kṛṣṇa Himself. Academic scholars, relying on logic and argument, have no entrance into the understanding of the transcendental nature of the holy name of God. The single path for understanding the transcendental nature of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare is the chanting of these names with faith and adherence. Such chanting will release one from designated conditions arising from the gross and subtle bodies.
In this age of logical argument and disagreement, the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa is the only means for self-realization. And because this transcendental vibration alone can deliver the conditioned soul, it is the essence of the Vedānta-sūtra. According to the material conception, there is a difference between a person himself and his name, form, qualities, emotions and activities, but as far as this transcendental vibration is concerned, there is no such limitation, for it descends from the spiritual world. In the spiritual world, unlike the material world, there is no difference between a person and his name and qualities. Because the Māyāvādī philosophers cannot understand this, they cannot utter the transcendental vibration.
Lord Caitanya then told Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī that because He received the order from His spiritual master He was constantly chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. “As a result of this chanting,” the Lord said, “I sometimes become very impatient and cannot restrain Myself from dancing and laughing or crying and singing. Indeed, I become just like a madman. When I first wondered whether I had become mad by chanting this Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, I approached My spiritual master and informed him that I had gone mad by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Thus I asked him what was My actual position.”
In the Nārada Pañcarātra it is stated:
eṣo vedāḥ ṣaḍ-aṅgāni
chandāṁsi vividhāḥ surāḥ
yac cānyad api vāṅ-mayam
“All Vedic rituals, mantras and understanding are compressed into the eight words Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare.” Similarly, in the Kali-santaraṇa Upaniṣad it is stated:
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa
kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma
rāma rāma hare hare
iti ṣoḍaśakaṁ nāmnāṁ
“The sixteen words Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare are especially meant for counteracting the contaminations of Kali. To save oneself from the contamination of Kali, there is no alternative to the chanting of these sixteen words.”
Lord Caitanya informed Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī that when His spiritual master understood Him he said, “It is the transcendental nature of the holy names Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare to transport a man into spiritual madness. Anyone who sincerely chants this holy name is quickly elevated to the platform of love of God and becomes mad after God. This madness arising from love of God is the highest perfectional stage for a human being.”
Generally a human being is interested in religion, economic development, sense gratification and liberation. But love of God is above all these. A bona fide spiritual master chants the holy names Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, and the transcendental sound vibration enters the ear of the disciple, and if the disciple follows in the footsteps of his spiritual master and chants the holy name with similar respect, this chanting constitutes worship of the transcendental name. When the transcendental name is worshiped by the devotee, the name Himself spreads His glories within the heart of the devotee. When the devotee is perfectly qualified in chanting the transcendental vibration of the holy name, he is quite fit to become a spiritual master and to deliver all the people of the world. The chanting of the holy name is so powerful that it gradually establishes its supremacy above everything in the world. The devotee who chants it becomes transcendentally situated in ecstasy and sometimes laughs, cries and dances in his ecstasy. Sometimes the unintelligent put hindrances in the path of the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, but one who is situated on the platform of love of Godhead continues to chant the holy name loudly for the benefit of all concerned. As a result, everyone becomes initiated into the chanting of the holy names – Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. By chanting and hearing the holy names of Kṛṣṇa, a person can remember the forms and qualities of Kṛṣṇa.