“Oh, My Lord, O Krishna, son of Maharaja Nanda, I am Your eternal servant, but because of My own fruitive acts, I have fallen in this horrible ocean of nescience. Now please be causelessly merciful to Me. Consider Me a particle of dust at Your lotus feet.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 20.32)
Just as the Bhagavad-gita perfectly summarizes Vedic philosophy, which is also known as Vedanta, the most important teachings of Lord Chaitanya reveal the same vital information, though in a different mood. The conclusion of both is the same: devotion to God is the highest occupation for man. Krishna’s presentation is a little more thorough, while Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s seems to be less philosophical. Yet there is nothing missing from the latter, including an explanation on the most vital question: from where did I come.
It’s the question parents dread. They never want to hear it. They have books ready just in case, but it’s not something they want to go through. “Mom, where did I come from? Dad, how do babies get here?” The parents struggle because the answer involves sex, a topic which the child is not ready to hear. If they hear the explanation, how will they understand it? They don’t yet know why men and women join together. They don’t understand why the woman is anxious to hold the hand of her beloved and why the man feels the need to look fit for the woman.
Upon reaching maturity, the same person, who was once a child, begins to understand. In the same way, Vedanta philosophy is meant for the sophisticated. Such a person not only understands the cause of birth through sexual relations, but they also know that the soul is eternal. This means that the soul which appears in the body of an infant was somewhere previously. Though presented through the term “reincarnation,” which has a mystical aura, the concept isn’t very difficult to understand.
The child eventually matures into adulthood; provided they remain alive. This means that there is a change. Yet the identity is one. The child and the adult are the same person; they are just at different points within the timeline known as the lifetime.
And so the infant appearing from the womb is also at a different point in the timeline. The individual inside, the soul, was somewhere previously. This is how life continues. The union between a man and a woman doesn’t suddenly create a soul. It simply creates the atmosphere for which a previously existing soul can once again appear in front of the eyes.
Lord Chaitanya explains the origin of the soul. He says that the soul is an eternal servant of the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna, but through desire it falls into the material ocean. This ocean is considered horrible. And why is that? Do not we experience pleasure from time to time? Is not the piping hot pizza pie in front of us delicious? Is there not excitement for the upcoming vacation?
The material world is likened to an ocean because it is seemingly endless. The last place you want to be stuck is out in the ocean. Even if you have the sturdiest of boats, it will take you a long time to find land again. If anything bad happens, you are out of luck. It is not possible to swim to safety. And so the repetition of birth and death takes place in an ocean-like place. Just as there are so many species of fish in the ocean, in the material world there are so many bodies that can act as temporary homes for the fallen spirit soul. The Vedas give the definitive tally: 8,400,000 different species.
What makes this ocean horrible is that it is nearly impossible to remember Krishna while in it. If you’re stranded in the ocean, will you not panic? Will you not worry over things and forget everything which is pleasant? And so in the material ocean there is constant worry. There is fear over impending death, which is guaranteed for every person. Shri Rama, the same Krishna in a beautiful incarnation form, says that for the mature human being there is no other fear than death.
“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)
Life in this ocean continues for as long as there is no desire to reunite with Krishna in service to Him. The desire only changes through the causeless mercy of Krishna Himself. Therefore Lord Chaitanya prays for that mercy. He doesn’t need to, as He is Krishna Himself, but He reveals the proper attitude necessary for rescue from the material ocean.
Through the causeless mercy of God, one finds devotional service again. They don’t pray for temporary happiness through material opulence. They don’t simply ask for rescue from the ocean, only to fall down again. The true reward is devotional service, which automatically keeps one from the material ocean.
The elevated souls who practice bhakti-yoga are so merciful that they intentionally act as instruments for deliverance. They volunteer to plunge into the material ocean again in order to rescue others. In the process they do not forget devotion to Krishna; so they remain unaffected. The horrible world does not bother them. They fight fearlessly to rescue others, and this selflessness is an extension of Krishna’s mercy.
Lord Chaitanya led the fight during His time on earth, and those who follow in His line continue the mission to this day. Devotion is the meaning to life, and it can be explained in great philosophical detail or simply by example. The high life of service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead gives a glimpse of eternal life that is blissful, which is beyond the suffering accompanying residence in the material ocean. The chanting of the holy names is the best means for practicing that service: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. One who always chants these names and keeps Lord Chaitanya in mind gets the causeless mercy of the son of Nanda Maharaja.
Somehow into material ocean fell,
From this of reincarnation can tell.
In ignorance continuously swimming,
High and low but never winning.
By mercy of Govinda rescue to gain,
And once again reach devotional plane.
Lord Chaitanya for all shows the way,
Chant holy names and for His help pray.