The Tree of Knowledge
In Sri Caitanya is to be found the culmination and fulfillment of the philosophy and the religion of love. Through him Vaisnavism, which is the philosophical expression of the ideal of love for God, ushered in a new era in the higher life of Bengal. His ideas have found exquisite expression in a richly emotional collection of hymns which have been a peculiar contribution of Bengal to Indian culture. Every Bengali has in his blood a liberal admixture of Sri Caitanya’s religion of love.and man; all men whether they were sinners or saints, were to him creatures of God, and his heart overflowed with sympathy for the lowly, the suffering and the destitute. So his very name excites genuine spiritual emotions in the hearts of those who know about him. His followers see in him Krsna reborn in the flesh.
Sri Caitanya was born in 1485 at Navadwip, at that time a large city in Bengal and the seat of Sanskrit learning, particularly of grammar and logic. His parents lost their first eight children, all of them daughters, in infancy, and the ninth, a boy named Viswarupa at an early age entered a monastery in southern India. Sri Caitanya was the youngest son. He was given the name of Viswa and was nicknamed Nimai. He was also called Gour or Gouranga (fair complexioned) because of the exquisite beauty of his person. The name Sri Krsna Caitanya he received when he was admitted to the order of monks. As a small baby he was afflicted with prolonged fits of crying, the only remedy for which his mother found to be the chanting of the name of Hari (God). As a boy, he was full of mischief and took pleasure in teasing others and playing pranks. He lost his father when he was eleven years old. It was then that he seriously applied himself to studies in literature and grammar and other branches of knowledge. His master was Vasudeva, the well-known teacher of Sanskrit and the famous founder, in conjunction with his brilliant pupil Raghunath, of the Neo-Iogic (Nabya-Nyaya) of the Bengal school.
An interesting story is told of the relation between Raghunath and the young Caitanya. The former, a fellow-student, being at work upon his famous treatise on logic, learned that Caitanya was writing a book of the same character. He asked his friend to read a few pages to him, and when he heard them he grew dispirited. ‘I cherished a hope,’ he said in answer to a question from Caitanya, ‘of leaving a name behind me, but I realize that my work will not be read if yours is given to the public.’ To this Caitanya replied: ‘This trivial matter must not disturb you. I will see that your work is recognized.’ There upon Caitanya threw his own manuscript into the Ganges. Though he had not yet completed his education, at sixteen he opened a school of his own at Navadwip, and in that city he gained fame as one of the greatest teachers of grammar and logic of his time. Hundreds of students flocked to him. While he was teaching at Navadwip, he wrote a book on Sanskrit grammar which was widely used.
At the age of 22 or 23 he departed on a pilgrimage to Gaya, the site of a famous temple dedicated to Vishnu. It was at Gaya that Buddha, centuries before, sat under the Bodhi tree, and here the young Sri Caitanya, then known as Nimai Pundit, while worshipping at the feet of Vishnu, received a sudden illumination that transformed his being. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and he lost himself in ecstasy. Amongst the pilgrims was a monk, Iswar Puri, a sannyasin of the order of Samkara, who had met Caitanya before and knew him as a great scholar. Now, as he witnessed his ecstatic condition, he recognized in him a great devotee. Caitanya asked for blessings from lswar Puri, who then initiated him into the worship of Krsna.
Nimai returned to Navadwip a changed man. The unrivalled scholastic debater, the grammarian, the logician, now disappeared. Instead, there stood before men a serene, exalted person, continually chanting ‘Krsna, Krsna’. His former students gathered about him as had been their custom, but he could no longer teach them. ‘Brothers,’ he cried, ‘I can no longer give you lessons. Whenever I attempt to explain anything to you, I see before me the little boy Krsna, playing upon his flute. You had better seek some other teacher.’ Thereupon he sang a kirtan (chant), which has come down to this day and is sung by the Vaisnavas of Bengal. Now there gathered round the master devotees who found joy in the contemplation of God. So did Sri Caitanya become a great spiritual force in the city of Navadwip, and the lives of many unbelievers were transformed by the touch of this God-intoxicated man. Some of his disciples in later years played an important part in the religious life of Bengal by preaching his message of love and giving peace and consolation to many a hungry soul.
At the age of 25, but two years after his conversion at Gaya, Sri Caitanya was seized by a burning desire to forsake the world. Of his renunciation Swami Durga Chaitanya Bharati, a follower of Sri Caitanya, and his biographer, writes: “The story of Gouranga’s renunciation has few parallels in history. The heart-rending story of his renunciation, when he left his aged mother, loving young wife, and all Navadwip bewailing his separation from them, soon spread in all directions and moved the people in a way that nothing else had done before in Bengal. This story has since been carried to the furthest corners of the country through poetry, songs, ballads, dramas, and discourses, and yet even after these 444 years it has not lost in the least in its original pathos. There is no man or woman, young or old, who even to this day hearing of Gouranga’s renunciation is not moved to tears.”
Sri Caitanya moved in two states of consciousness. While in the normal state, he was a dualist; he was the lover of God, and God was the Beloved. In samadhi, however, he realized the truth of nondualism; the lover and the Beloved became one. To the outside world and for the masses of men, he preached the ideal of love and the philosophy of dualism but to the chosen few he preached the highest truth, which he dared not reveal to all men since not all men are prepared to receive it — the supreme truth of nondualism.
After his initiation into the monastic order he set out for Puri, the well-known place of pilgrimage. There he resided for many years, with occasional departures for preaching or teaching. At one time he toured southern India, worshipping in many of the temples, but without prejudice against forms or aspects of the one Godhead other than those which they represented. He also visited Brindaban, the holy seat of the Vaisnavas, where Krsna had engaged in his divine play with the shepherds and shepherdesses. The present Brindaban owes much to Sri Caitanya and his disciples for rescuing the holy place from oblivion.
Sri Caitanya’s last days were spent in Puri. Here his overmastering, consuming love for God transformed the lives of thousands. In the Jagannath Temple of Puri his influence continues to be felt. The passing of Sri Caitanya is shrouded in mystery, his biographers giving no certain account of it. Most of them, however, do state that at the age of 48 he entered a temple and came out no more, simply disappearing. So there exists the belief that in the image of God in the temple Caitanya lives for eternity.
Source: Spiritual Heritage of India – Swami Prabhavananda
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