The Divinity of Sri Caitanya
Answers by HH Romapada Swami
I’m having difficulty understanding the divinity of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Within Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 11, there seems ample opportunity to reveal his name directly as an avatar. The idea that people in the age Kali aren’t capable of recognizing him – [“Thus it is understood that it is difficult for common people in Kali-yuga to recognize the incarnation of the Lord since in this age the Lord’s appearance is slightly concealed.”] – seems to be more the reason for specifically naming Lord Caitanya in the context of the questions put forth in the Canto.
Leaving His divinity unnounced seems to go against the reason for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance in the first place. If we in the age of Kali aren’t capable of understanding, why hide the identity? It only seems to make things confusing.
The reason why Lord Caitanya’s identity is concealed is stated within the Bhagavatam itself: the incarnation for this age does not directly assert Himself to be the Personality of Godhead. Prahlada Maharaja states this in Bhagavatam (7.9.38): “According to the age, O my Lord, You protect the principles of religion. In the age of Kali, however, You do not assert Yourself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore You are known as Triyuga, or the Lord who appears in three yugas.”
It is by His own desire that the Lord chooses to appear as a ‘channa-avatara’ or ‘gupta-avatara’ (hidden incarnation). Through one action the Lord accomplishes many purposes; one of the external reasons for His maintaining His identity discrete is understood thus: Lord Caitanya appears in the mood of a devotee to teach by example the process of devotional service.
During Lord Caitanya’s manifest pastimes, He confidentially revealed His identity to a few fortunate devotees but forbade them from disclosing it to anyone, at least not until after His manifest pastimes, because such disclosure would have been a hindrance to His mood and to the unfolding of His pastimes. Similarly, there are direct evidences both in the sruti and puranas giving details of the name and activities of Lord Caitanya, which I will briefly mention further below, but these references are also confidential for the same reason and only later revealed by His followers such as Krsna das Kaviraja, Vrndavan das Thakur and Bhaktivinode Thakura.
Another reason is that Kali yuga, being an age of hypocrisy, it would be a welcome opportunity for unscrupulous people to misuse scriptural evidence to pose as incarnations and cheat common men. Even in such a clearly defined instance as Kalki avatar, who is supposed to appear only after some 400,000 years from now, we have already witnessed the rise of many so-called Kalki avataras! Thus, quite contrary to the expectation that declaring His name in the Bhagavatam would make it easier for us to identify him, it could have paved way for so many pseudo-incarnations in the name of Caitanya, Kalki, etc to bewilder and mislead the innocent public.
The Bhagavatam is particular and authoritative in naming names. Why leave out the name of the most sublime and merciful form of Krishna? Wasn’t his advent for all conditioned souls (not just the followers of our sampradaya)? In Bhagavad-Gita, the personality of Godhead is clearly named in various ways, and the purpose is the same.
While the Bhagavatam specifies the names of many incarnations, it also gives us the method for ascertaining the innumerable incarnations: by their personal characteristics (such as the various signs and marks on the body by which an incarnation can be distinguished) and their uncommon and activities and specific mission.
This is also explained in Lord Caitanya’s teachings to Sanatana Gosvami.
It is described that Lord Caitanya exhibited all the features of a maha-purusha and even more evident to us are His extra-ordinary activities — distributing love of God and establishing the congregational chanting of Hare Krishna maha-mantra which is declared to be the yuga-dharma for this age in many scriptures. Other details of His activities and features are also described in SB 11.5.34 as well as in Vishnu-sahasranama, which is accepted by all sampradayas (as quoted in SB 11.5.32).
When the particular verse often cited (11.5.32) is taken in context of the whole Canto, and with the translation of akrsnam – meaning not black, taken without the added golden (which seems to be an interpolation), I don’t understand how it necessarily translates to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Although this particular verse does not mention the golden color, it is not an arbitrary interpolation, but substantiated by references from other places, presented here in context for our benefit.
Srila Prabhupada often translated in this way, thus giving us the benefit of understanding each verse in the context of the entire scripture without having to read and assimilate all of them and personally figure out the connection. The golden or yellow complexion is mentioned in other places, even in Bhagavatam. For example, during the name giving ceremony of Krishna, Gargamuni mentions the color of incarnation in each of the other 3 ages – white, red, and yellow. (Cf. SB 10.8.13) Verses 11.5.22,24 describe the incarnations of white and red complexion in satya and treta yugas respectively; thus we can understand the incarnation in Kali yuga to have a yellow or golden complexion.
Five hundred years from now, with the advancement of his disciples, couldn’t one make the case that this verse refers to Srila Prabhupada?
This particular case would be very difficult to make — not unless one entirely distorts and manipulates all of Prabhupada’s teachings and direct statements, discarding a major part of his writings, as well as the numerous testimonies of his direct followers.
Srila Prabhupada unequivocally explained his position in relation to Lord Caitanya as his humble servant, and squarely established Lord Caitanya as the yuga-avatar as did his direct disciples. Apart from his extensive writings, his life is well-recorded. We know how he severely chastised and even excommunicated some disciples who made the mistake of claiming him to be God. Although he was greatly empowered to fulfill the prophecy of Mahaprabhu in bringing the chanting of His names to every town and village, he did not leave any room for such interpretation where one can claim him to be the yuga avatara.
Lord Caitanya’s life is also similarly well-recorded by His close associates who were of high character and many with high social standing as well. As Krishna das Kaviraj Goswami appeals, we can apply our logic and reasoning power to the activities, teachings and mercy of Lord Caitanya – and one will not fail to be struck with wonder and moved to accept His divinity.
I understand that the scriptures we use as authoritative come primarily from within our sampradaya (and some quotes from the Vedas and Upanishads that many can’t find or accept as conclusively authoritative). We accept them based on our faith in the authors who are recognized as realized souls/eternal associates of the Lord. Thus when Srila Jiva Gosvami explains that krsna-varnam means Sri Krishna Caitanya, “Krsna-varnam and Krsna Caitanya are equivalent”, we accept it on faith. I’m curious about that as well.
I assume that you are specifically referring to scriptural quotes in this context of establishing Lord Caitanya’s identity; otherwise all the important siddhantas of our philosophy are based on standard Vedic texts accessible and familiar to all sampradayas.
As mentioned above, there are puranic and Vedic references directly mentioning the Name of Lord Caitanya, His mother Sacidevi, His advent in the town of Navadvipa and His mission of spreading sankirtana. (Cf. Cc Adi 2.22) While some of these texts and quotes may indeed not be so well-known (for the reason discussed previously), there are others which are not difficult to verify. For example, the Vayu Purana, which is often quoted from by Prabhupada in a number of different contexts, says: kalau sankirtanarambhe bhavishyami saci sutah: “In the age of Kali, when the sankirtana movement is inaugurated, Krishna will descend as the divine son of Saci devi.”
Scriptural evidence is indeed the only authority by which we can ascertain the avataras; nonetheless we cannot do away with the need for guidance by expert and self-realized devotees who alone are able to, in accordance with the scriptural evidence, actually detect the avatara. This is applicable in all ages and more so in the age of Kali. Faith in authority is essential in any endeavor or discipline, not the least in acquiring transcendental knowledge. But our faith is not blind, nor are the teachings of the saintly persons whimsical – they are firmly established on the foundation of scripture. Thus Jiva Goswami offers this explanation not arbitrarily but based on other scriptural statements.
Even during the advent of Krishna, the common population could understand His identity not without the guidance of the sages such as Vyasadev and confidential associates of the Lord, while Duryodhana and his accomplices could not recognize Him even after personally witnessing His potencies. In fact, we also hear how even at that time Paundraka assumed the signs and name of Vaasudeva and was even worshiped by some, despite numerous Vedic references to Krishna’s identity.
This brings us to the question of personal qualifications of the candidate who wishes to verify and gain conviction in the Lord’s manifestation. When Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was trying to understand the position of Mahaprabhu, Gopinatha Acharya gave many scriptural evidences but finally said that one can understand the Lord only by His mercy, and not otherwise. (See Madhya 6.80-104) One may come to the right understanding after scholarly scrutinization or by simple-minded acceptance of the right authority — but in both cases personal sincerity and the mercy of the Lord are indispensable factors.
Thus, even though the population is less intelligent in this age, those who sincerely seek the Ultimate Truth will be able to confidently and conclusively know and worship the Lord by His mercy – such souls are therefore called sumedhasa (very intelligent).