THE BHAKTIVEDANTA BOOK TRUST PRESENTS:
CHANT AND BE HAPPY
THE POWER OF MANTRA MEDITATION
|After organizing India's largest peaceful civil disobedience movement, Lord Caitanya convinced the Muslim ruler of Navadvipa to allow the chanting of Hare krsna to be continued unhindered|
The Life of Sri Caitanya
In the latter part of the fifteenth century, India's most extraordinary political, cultural, and religious reformer appeared in a small town in West Bengal.
Five hundred years before Gandhi, this remarkable personality inaugurated a massive nonviolent civil disobedience movement. He swept aside the stifling restrictions of the hereditary caste system and made it possible for people from any station in life to achieve the highest platform of spiritual enlightenment. In doing so, He broke the stranglehold of a proud intellectual elite on India's religious life. Ignoring all kinds of outmoded rituals and formulas, He introduced a revolutionary spiritual movement that was rapidly accepted all over India, a movement which, because of its universal appeal, has now spread all over the world. The name of this powerful reformer was Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the founder of the modern-day Hare Krsna movement.
The Vedic scriptures of India had long predicted His birth, in 1486 in Mayapur, a quarter of the city of Navadvipa. Great saints and scholars soon detected that He was not an ordinary human being, but an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna Himself, appearing as a great devotee of the Lord.
Caitanya had little patience with ritualistic religious functions, and as He grew to young manhood, He began to carry out His divine mission. He wanted all people, everywhere, to have access to the actual experience of love of God, by which one can feel the highest spiritual ecstasies. This awakening, Sri Caitanya taught, could be attained by sankirtana-the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, the Hare Krsna mantra.
Caitanya rapidly acquired many followers, who immediately took up the chanting, sometimes performing it in their homes and sometimes in the streets of Navadvipa. The Lord's sankirtana movement immediately threatened the established groups in the social hierarchy-the Muslim rulers of Bengal and the hereditary Hindu priestly class, the caste priests who were attempting to artificially monopolize religious leadership. Members of both groups lodged complaints with the local Muslim ruler, Chand Kazi.
Agreeing that Caitanya and His followers threatened the established order, the Kazi tried to suppress the growing sankirtana movement. On his order, constables raided the home of one of Caitanya's followers and smashed the drums used in the chanting. The Kazi ordered that the chanting of the holy names of the Lord be immediately stopped and threatened that if it began again in Navadvipa, he would ruthlessly punish those responsible.
When informed of the raid, Sri Caitanya immediately organized the largest peaceful civil disobedience movement in Indian history up to that time. On a prearranged evening, Sri Caitanya and one hundred thousand of His followers suddenly appeared in the streets of Navadvipa and divided into many well-organized chanting parties. As they danced through the city, the sound of the Hare Krsna mantra resounded in a deafening roar. Finally, the chanters converged on the residence of the Kazi, who hid inside.
At the Lord's invitation, however, the Kazi appeared, and the two began negotiations. Speaking politely, and with great logic and reason, the Lord convinced the Kazi that the complaints against sankirtana were groundless. In a dramatic conversion, the Kazi himself became a follower of Caitanya and actively promoted and protected the sankirtana movement. To this very day, Hindus visit the tomb of this Muslim magistrate to pay their respects. Since the time of the Kazi, the Muslim inhabitants of Navadvipa have never interfered with the public chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, even during the time of the Hindu-Muslim riots.
Not long after this important victory in His native town, Sri Caitanya began to spread His movement all over India. For six years He traveled the length and breadth of the country, chanting the Hare Krsna mantra and spreading love of God. At many places, crowds of hundreds of thousands of people would join with Him in massive chanting parties. Nevertheless, He also encountered opponents, the strongest of whom were the Mayavadis, an elitist group of philosophers who had spread throughout India, twisting the meaning of the Vedic scriptures in a vain attempt to prove that God has no personality or form. The impersonalists also believed that spiritual enlightenment could be obtained only by a chosen few who knew Sanskrit and arduously studied the Vedanta-sutra.
Throughout His travels, Sri Caitanya struggled against the Mayavadis and succeeded in convincing many of them by the strength of His preaching. One of the greatest philosophers of the Mayavada school, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, tried to prevail over Sri Caitanya in philosophical discussion but was defeated. Countering the Bhattacarya's impersonal explanation of God, Sri Caitanya said, "The living entities are all individual persons, and they are all parts and parcels of the Supreme Whole. If the parts and parcels are individual persons, the source of their emanation must not be impersonal. He is the Supreme Person amongst all relative persons." Then out of His causeless mercy, Lord Caitanya performed a wondrous miracle, manifesting before Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya His beautiful, original, spiritual form as Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Falling at Lord Caitanya's feet, the former impersonalist philosopher surrendered to Him and soon became a great devotee of the Lord.
But the biggest confrontation with the Mayavadis was yet to come, and it occurred at their very headquarters, for centuries the capital of the Mayavada school, the city of Benares. There Lord Caitanya stayed with His friends and devotees and continued His sankirtana movement, attracting crowds of thousands wherever He went. Hearing reports of this, Prakasananda Sarasvati, the leader of the prevailing Mayavada sect, began to criticize the Lord. A real spiritual leader, he said, would never involve himself in singing and dancing with all kinds of ordinary people. Ignorant of the spiritual significance of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, he considered it mere sentiment. Prakasananda Sarasvati believed a spiritualist should continually study abstract philosophy and engage in lengthy discussions about the Absolute Truth. A great clash between a popular non-sectarian universal religious movement and a stifling, schismatic and separatist philosophy was about to occur. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu would soon destroy forever the impersonalists' attempted domination over Indian spiritual thought and practice.
The Lord's followers were extremely unhappy about the Mayavadis constant criticism of Him, so in order to pacify them, He accepted an invitation to a meeting of all the leading Mayavadis. After seating Himself on the ground at the assembly, the Lord, exhibiting His supreme mystic potency, manifested from His body a spiritual effulgence more brilliant than the sun. The Mayavadis were amazed and immediately stood in respect. Then Prakasananda Sarasvati inquired about why Caitanya chanted and danced instead of studying Vedanta philosophy. Lord Caitanya, who in truth was extremely well versed in the Vedic teachings, replied, "l have taken to the sankirtana movement instead of the study of Vedanta because I am a great fool." Indirectly, the Lord was criticizing the Mayavadis for being overly proud of their dry, intellectual study of the Vedas, which had led them to false conclusions. "And because I am a great fool," Caitanya continued, "my spiritual master forbade Me to play with Vedanta philosophy. He said that it is better that I chant the holy name of the Lord, for this would deliver Me from bondage." Sri Caitanya then spoke a Sanskrit verse His spiritual master had told Him to always remember:
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
"In this age of Kali, there is no alternative, there is no alternative, there is no alternative for spiritual progress other than the chanting of the holy name, the chanting of the holy name, the chanting of the holy name of the Lord." (Brhan-naradiya Purana)
The discussion went on for hours. Finally, in one of the most astounding religious conversions of all time, Prakasananda Sarasvati, the Mayavadis' greatest scholar, along with all his followers, surrendered to Lord Caitanya and began to chant the holy names of Krsna with great enthusiasm. As a result of this conversion, the entire city of Benares adopted Sri Caitanya's sankirtana movement.
Although born a brahmana, a member of the highest caste, Lord Caitanya always said that such designations were simply external, and He behaved accordingly. Disregarding the social conventions of the age, He would stay in the homes of devotees from even the lowest caste and take His meals with them. Indeed, He delivered His most esoteric teachings on the subject of love of God to Ramananda Raya, a member of a lower caste. Another of the Lord's disciples, Haridasa Thakura, was born a Muslim and thus was considered an outcast in Hindu society. Yet Sri Caitanya elevated him to the exalted position of namacarya, the spiritual master of the holy name of Krsna. Sri Caitanya judged people not by their social status but by their spiritual advancement.
In this way, Lord Caitanya laid the foundation for a universal religion for all mankind, a scientific process of spiritual awakening that is now rapidly spreading around the globe. In this present age, when attendance at churches, temples, and mosques is diminishing daily, and the world is torn with violence between numerous religious and political sects, it is easy to see that people are growing more and more dissatisfied with external, divisive religious formulas.
People are hungering for an experience of spirituality that transcends all boundaries. Millions are now finding that experience in the worldwide sankirtana movement of Lord Caitanya, who said, "This sankirtana movement is the prime benediction for humanity at large because it spreads the rays of the benediction moon. It is the life of all transcendental knowledge. It increases the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious."
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