Advaita Acarya and the Unique Compassion of Caitanya Mahaprabhu
The following is an adapted excerpt of Swami Tripurari’s upcoming commentary on the mangala-carana slokas of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta.
Typically, the avataras who teach the dharma of each yuga appear in the world through Mahavishnu. As the primal purusa of this world, he is a prominent yet partial manifestation of Bhagavan Narayana, who is a person of many faces. The many faces of Narayana appear in the world for different purposes: for lila, for establishing dharma, and so on. In this way, they assist him in his form of Mahavishnu, the compassionate overseer of the world.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s descent is somewhat different from that of other avataras in that he is none other than svayam-bhagavan Sri Krishna, the source of Narayana, who is himself but one of Krishna’s many faces. Nonetheless, when Mahaprabhu appears in the world, he does not defy convention. Thus he appears at the request of Advaita Acarya, the Mahavishnu of Gaura-lila.
Krsnadasa Kaviraja relates how Advaita Acarya, who at the time was arguably the leading Vaishnava in West Bengal, expressed frustration at the impiety of the general public and its ambivalence, if not opposition, to the practice of Sri Krishna sankirtana, the dharma of Kali-yuga. His frustration in turn gave rise to immense compassion. As empathy more readily arises in one closer to suffering, Advaita Acarya, the overseer of a world of suffering, is a veritable abode of compassion. By contrast, Krishna’s world revolves around his love for Radha, a love that renders him devoid of any tangible experience of the suffering of others and thus arguably less capable of directly expressing compassion.
Descending at Advaita’s request and fulfilling the role of yuga-avatara, Sri Caitanya is naturally full of compassion for the world’s inhabitants and their perpetual suffering in cycles of birth and death. But this aspect of Mahaprabhu is only one side of his descent, constituting his external reason for incarnating. While secondary, this role as yuga-avatar is unique, as it is no doubt informed by his internal reason for incarnating, to taste the highest form of divine love—ujjvala-rasa—that is the domain of Sri Radha. Here we find a theistic ladder of love on which compassion for worldly suffering lies at the bottom rung and the prema of Radha is the final step into a love that is unlimited and ever-expanding.
The compassion of Sri Krishna Caitanya is saturated with prema. As the yuga-avatara, he not only benedicts the world with a means of deliverance from its karmic web through Krishna sankirtan, but also grants entrance into the ujjvala-rasa of his intimate circle of devotees, a dispensation that is atypical of a yuga-avatara. Thus, the combination of Sri Krsna Caitanya’s exalted prema, along with his compassion, is the combination of madhurya (sweetness) and audarya (magnanimity) that leads to the possibility of drowning the entire world in love of God, and it is Sri Advaita’s compassion that opens the gates to Sri Caitanya’s compassionate dispensation.
Despite his absorption elsewhere, Sri Advaita asks Krishna to show compassion to his constituents, a request Krishna apparently cannot refuse. However, neither can he fulfill it in any way short of a benediction that corresponds to who he is. Thus, at Advaita’s request, Sri Krishna Caitanya fulfills the role of the yuga-avatara and then some, blessing the world with the opportunity to taste ujjvala-rasa.
It is one thing to bless the most qualified with the highest benediction and quite another to bless the least qualified (as people are considered to be in Kali-yuga) with the highest benediction. Sri Caitanya’s compassion is of this nature; blessing the masses—the least qualified—with the highest benediction, that which Krishna himself has come to experience. Therefore, Sri Rupa Goswami has described Sri Caitanya as the most compassionate avatara—maha vadanyaya avatara, and he blesses the world with Krishna prema—krsna prema pradaya te.
The method of worship that Advaita attached to his request was simple. He worshipped Saligram with water from the Ganges and blossoms of the tulasi. This simplicity of Advaita’s puja is notable. Kaviraja Goswami cites the Gautamiya-tantra: “Sri Krishna, who is very affectionate toward his devotees, sells himself to a devotee who offers him merely a tulasi leaf and a palmful of water.” Advaita Acarya is certainly an uncommon devotee, and his method of worship was pure. Although Ganges water and tulasi blossoms are not difficult to acquire, Advaita offered them with uncommon love, and thus the world knows something about love that in our times has never been known before.