A Transcendental Dialectic
The advent of Sri Caitanya is not simply a historical event in the phenomenal world. It is the culmination of a transcendental dialectic. The dialectic is inherent in the very nature of parabrahma or the Supreme Being. The Taittiriya Upanishad describes parabrahma as rasa: raso vai sah (Taittiriya, Ananda Valli, 7). Rasa is concentrated ananda or bliss; ananda in its concentrated form assumes a figure. The figure is the figure of Sri Krishna. Ananda-brahman is the formless expansive glow of parabrahma, just as moonlight is the formless expansive glow of the moon. In Ananda-brahman rasa is dormant—still and motionless. It is not rasa in the real sense. In rasa-brahman or rasa as Sri Krishna, it is dynamic, restless, effulgent, ever-flowing, and ever-growing. It is astonishingly new and relishable—passing every moment beyond itself to new levels of rasa-consciousness.
Krishna is rasa itself. He is both rasa and rasika. As rasa he is the highest thing to be relished and as rasika he is the greatest enjoyer of rasa. Rasa is dynamic because it is the essence of love. Love is never satisfied with itself. The more the love, the more the longing for it. The dynamism of rasa makes Krishna desire to revel ever and ever more in beatific pastimes of love. But this is not possible if Krishna remains the Supreme Being who is one without a second, or the lone rasika who enjoys his own rasa. Therefore the unity of rasa and rasika in him bursts and blooms into the duality of Krishna and Radha. Krishna is personalized rasa and Radha is personalized bhava, or pure and selfless love (prema) at its highest. Loving communion between the two generates higher and higher dimensions of rasa.
The development of unity into duality, however, is not a process in time. It is a logical development, a development that is indicative of a necessary and integral relationship between rasa and love. There is no rasa without love. Krishna as rasa is always qualified by love. Love is the essence of the bliss potency of Krishna. This potency resides in Krishna in an abstract form and is responsible for the bliss that flows from his self. It resides outside Krishna in a definitive form in the shape of Radha. Krishna enjoys the bliss caused by her love a thousand times more than the bliss natural to his self.
Radha is the ideal devotee or the ideal subject of love. Krishna is the ideal and the sweetest object of love. The sweetness of Krishna cannot be realized except through the eyes of love. Since Radha’s love is the highest, Krishna in the sweetest form is realized by Radha. But both the love of Radha and the sweetness of Krishna are ever-growing. The intensity of the love of Radha sublimates the sweetness of Krishna, and the sweetness of Krishna sublimates the love of Radha. There is, as it were, a race between the two. The race continues until both love and sweetness reach the highest stage. At this stage the highest type of bliss is experienced. The bliss is so sweet and intense that it obliterates the subject-object relationship. The subject loses all consciousness of himself as well as the consciousness of the sweetness that causes the experience. Only the bliss consciousness remains. That bliss experiences itself.
Rupa Goswami says that in this state, love melts the minds of Radha and Krishna to such an extent that they virtually become one, and perception of difference is not possible (Ujjvala-nilamani, Sthayi 78). This state of the love relationship between Radha and Krishna is called prema-vilasa-vivarta. It is from the standpoint of this ecstatic state of Radha and Krishna that the ultimate reality, parabrahma, is called rasa, or an act of enjoyment.
This union of love between Radha and Krishna, however, does not imply a monistic union, as does the advaitic conception of formless Brahman or the Neo-Platonic concept of God as an experience, in which the loss of individuality of the devotee or the sadhaka is complete and irrevocable. It is, as Jiva Goswami explains, like the union between fire and a piece of iron. A piece of iron, when put for a long time in fire, becomes red-hot like the fire. Every part of it is animated by fire and acquires the characteristics of fire. Still, iron remains iron and fire remains fire. Similarly, both Krishna and Radha retain their identity. They are so absorbed in each other’s love and lost in each other’s thoughts that there is hardly any room in their hearts for the thought of anything else. Sri Caitanya is the substantial or personalized form of this union.
The dialectic that leads to the emergence of Sri Caitanya is obvious. In Hegelian terminology, the rasa-brahma or Krishna as the unity of rasa and rasika is the thesis. The unity veers around to its opposite, the duality of Krishna and Radha as a necessary and inseparable part of itself. Thus unity is negated by duality. But duality or difference is repugnant to the essential unity of the two. Therefore, both unity and difference are necessarily transcended and reconciled in a higher synthesis, which is neither unity nor difference, but unity in difference.
Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami describes the incarnation of Sri Krishna as Sri Caitanya as the result of his desire to relish this highest dimension of rasa in union with Radha, which he did particularly during his 18 years of ecstatic life in monastic seclusion at Puri. While this, according to Kaviraja Goswami, is the esoteric reason for the advent of Sri Caitanya, the exoteric reason is the propagation of bhakti, or loving devotion to Krishna, by example more than by precept, so that the souls lost in the labyrinth of cults and isms may easily find their way to the realization of the supreme goal of life. It is therefore that he appears in the form of an ideal devotee. But since he combines in his personality Krishna, the highest object of worship, and Radha, the highest devotee, both the aspects of his personality find expression. Though the devotee in him predominates, he cannot help appearing before his devotees at times as Krishna or other incarnations, according to the devotee’s mode of worship. This makes his personality complex and difficult to understand. Even Advaita Acharya, the wisest of the devotees of Sri Caitanya, could not help doubting Sri Caitanya’s divinity when he prostrated himself at the feet of the Vaishnavas and begged for their blessings (though in so doing, he was merely setting the example for the true devotee, who is humble and considers himself as the lowest of the low).
Krishna desires to relish the highest rasa because he is the supreme rasika. He desires to propagate bhakti of the highest type because he is the most merciful. Krishnadas says that the two qualities go together. Krishna is supremely merciful because he is the supreme rasika. In the state of union with Radha his rasikhood reaches the highest limit. Therefore in this state he is also the most merciful. When the bowl of rasa is overfilled, it overflows. The overfilling is Krishna’s fullest enjoyment of rasa. The overflowing is his fullest manifestation of mercy, which consists of his gift of the highest type of bhakti (called raganuga-bhakti) to the finite souls so that they may be enabled to share his bliss (Vidagdha-madhava 1.2).
Raganuga-bhakti means the natural, spontaneous, and continuous flow of pure devotion, free from scriptural forms and sanctions regarding what ought to be done and what ought not to be done. It means a life fulfilled in love. It also means the preparation for a transcendental body that enables the devotee to establish some kind of personal relationship with Krishna and enjoy the divine bliss by participating in the divine sports of Krishna and his companions in the transcendental realm. This kind of bhakti was never preached before by any incarnation or spiritual master before Sri Caitanya.
Also never before was bhakti described as both the means and the end. Sri Caitanya’s characterization of love as the supreme goal is the most important landmark in the history of philosophy and religion. According to Sri Caitanya, the center of reality is love, not Godhead. Love is the center not only for the devotee, but also for God. Love governs both. Though Godhead is the embodiment of love itself, he has an ever-growing desire for love. Love is a gravitational force that works at two ends: it draws the devotee to Godhead and Godhead to the devotee. God needs the devotee as much as the devotee needs God.
This arouses a new hope for the fallen souls of this world seeking deliverance from bondage and for the world at large. The peace and happiness of the world is assured if only we can reorient our view of life and turn towards Godhead as love, as he who is ever responsive to us, and as the one who, though perfect in all respects, realizes himself ever and ever more in our realization of him.
Dr. O. B. L. Kapoor has authored more than 20 scholarly books on Indian philosophy including The Philosophy and Religion of Sri Chaitanya. An initiated disciple of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Gobrother and friend of A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, he left this world in the year 2001 in Vrindavan, India