“O Lord of the universe, I do not desire material wealth, materialistic followers, a beautiful wife or fruitive activities described in flowery language. All I want, life after life, is unmotivated devotional service to You.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 20.29)
As far as Vaishnava saints go, Lord Chaitanya is one of the more famous ones. With a name meaning “one who is fully spiritual,” the son of Shachimata and Jagannatha Mishra is also known as the “great Lord,” Mahaprabhu. He is also a mahapurusha, or great person, showing Himself to be human while in fact being non-different from the Supreme Lord. Known especially for His spontaneous and wonderful display of genuine devotion to God, Lord Chaitanya’s actions and teachings lack nothing in terms of knowledge. One of His famous Shikshashtaka instructions teaches of the eternality of the soul, which is the fundamental truth of Vedanta philosophy.
“Who am I? Why do the threefold miseries always give me trouble? If I do not know this, how can I be benefited?” (Sanatana Gosvami speaking to Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.102)
The intelligent person asks about their true identity and why they are put into miserable conditions. Sanatana Gosvami asked these questions of Lord Chaitanya when the two met in Varanasi. In this interaction, there is an acknowledged teacher, a superior authority. The junior does not debate contentiously with the senior. The junior is not eager to show off whatever knowledge they think they have. The junior is submissive, and they are genuine in their desire to seek the truth.
The truths pertaining to this subject matter come up in the introductory instructional phase of Vedanta, which means “the end of knowledge.” You go to the bookstore and choose a title on how to fix common problems around the house. This is a do-it-yourself guide. Another day you pick up another book on how to code a website for e-commerce. Then you get a cookbook for preparing Thanksgiving meals. These books are all knowledge, but none of them represents the end. The end is the point at which you cannot go further.
The end of all knowledge is Vedanta, which not surprisingly deals with the soul. The soul is who we really are. Since the soul is not perceptible to the blunt senses it is difficult to identify. Just as we can’t see the wind, we can’t see the soul. And actually, there are subtle aspects to our body that aren’t perceptible as well. We can’t see the mind, the intelligence, or the ego. The soul is finer than all three of these.
“The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and he [the soul] is even higher than the intelligence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.42)
When we don’t know the soul, we don’t know who we really are. The soul is beyond the temporary changes that affect the body. The body itself is temporary. We get a new one after death. The present one is not fixed. My body was different five minutes ago than it is right now. The contrast doesn’t become stark until more time passes, but the change takes place nonetheless.
The position of the soul with respect to the temporary nature, the elements of that nature, the changing of bodies, the cause of the creation – Vedanta covers all such topics. Lord Chaitanya is known for bhakti, which is devotion. He practices and teaches bhakti-yoga, which is the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul through devotion. On the outside bhakti-yoga appears to be lacking full knowledge; there isn’t so much of a focus on philosophy. Lord Chaitanya barely spoke philosophy with anyone, and yet since bhakti-yoga is non-different from its beneficiary, the Supreme Lord, it is full of knowledge.
As an example, in one of Lord Chaitanya’s instructions, He asks to only have unmotivated devotional service to God in lifetime after lifetime. He eliminates the common requests coming from those who lack spiritual knowledge. He does not ask for material wealth. He does not want many followers who are looking for material benedictions. He doesn’t even want a beautiful wife. He wants devotion without motivation. This means service to God without considering the consequences. It means loving God for the sake of loving Him, knowing that such love is the greatest boon to an existence.
In this simple prayer, Lord Chaitanya reveals that the soul is eternal. There are things the individual, the soul, desires at all times. In a future lifetime, desire will remain. So why not ask for a gift that will still be there at that time? The rewards of the material world will not last. One day you are enjoying the company of your beautiful wife, but then suddenly you could get separated. You want material wealth today, but tomorrow you see that it hasn’t brought you lasting happiness. People adore you today, but tomorrow you realize that it’s only because they can get something out of you. Their interest is not pure.
The soul is eternal. It is fixed in its position of bliss and knowledge. When coming in contact with the material energy, the soul gets covered by ignorance. It is not very difficult to remove that ignorance; simply the contact has to change. Lord Chaitanya shows us how to make the change happen, and He also shows the symptoms that indicate when that transformation has taken place. His simple prayers teach so much, as do His amazing displays of genuine devotion. As such, it is no wonder that Sanatana’s brother Rupa has properly assessed Lord Chaitanya’s position as the most munificent avatara of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna.
Saint by the name Chaitanya to call,
Known as avatara most munificent of all.
Freely love for Krishna gave,
For all of humanity to save.
Be fooled not from ecstatic dancing seeing,
For full knowledge in bhakti-yoga being.
Mundane cancelled from Mahaprabhu’s prayer,
Devotion best gift today, tomorrow and everywhere.