Interwoven Glories: Dilemma of the Humble in Sri Caitanya Caritamrita (Part 2)

By Kishore Krishna Das

In contrast to the inner tension Krsna Das experienced while sharing his revelation (which we explored in part 1), Sri Caitanya shares his vision without hesitation due to his obliviousness of others present. In the “Antya Lila” of Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, a group of very distressed devotees search all day around Jagannath Puri for a lost Sri Caitanya, only to finally find him lying unconscious on the beach. After great endeavor through the medium of kirtan, the devotees successfully wake Sri Caitanya but not to full external awareness; rather, he rises only to a state of semi-consciousness. Krsna Das describes, “In three states Mahaprabhu (Sri Caitanya) remained all the time: wholly internal, wholly external, and half-externally conscious. When the internalized condition is half impervious and half-externally conscious, the bhaktas (devotees) call that condition ‘half-conscious.’”1 It is worth noting that Sri Caitanya’s state of consciousness and corresponding level of awareness of the external world influences his behavior and expressiveness significantly. Reflecting on this dynamic, Schweig notes, “When Caitanya was more externally conscious, he tended to be concerned with the ways of dharma (proper action); whereas, when he was in a deeply internal frame of mind, perhaps in trance, it was possible for him to drop any concern whatsoever of these normative conventions.”2 The half-conscious state described by Krsna Das is akin to Schweig’s description of the “deeply internal frame of mind.” Although Sri Caitanya exhibits humble reluctance in many situations, there are times when deep internal moods swell and move him in extraordinary ways—this divine ecstasy is termed bhava. Contemplating this emotive experience, Stewart explains how “bhava embraced that conception of religious madness that was ontologically revelatory, laying bare the constituents of identity erupting from within, transforming the surface appearance.”3 When overcome by bhava, Sri Caitanya often shares very intimate and private experiences in his internal life.

On the beach in Jaganatha Puri where we find Sri Caitanya, his bhava covers his external consciousness such that he is unaware of the surrounding devotees—he feels that he is in a private and safe space to share his heart. Krsna Das describes how upon waking, Sri Caitanya “looked this way and that, but not seeing Krsna, and thereby not seeing anyone, he resolves to recount his vision to the sky…in this semi-consciousness, Prabhu (Sri Caitanya) spoke words of lamentation…and all the bhaktas (devotees) listened.”4 Sri Caitanya is unable to comprehend the presence of others due to his intense isolated concern of keeping the beauty and sweetness of Krsna alive in his heart. His words of lamentation express the undesirable reality of his consciousness retreating from Krsna lila (God’s divine play), which he was beholding and relishing within. In this state of intense separation, his only solace is to recount and thereby relive his vision to some extent. Although his mood of lamentation causes extreme humility to arise, Sri Caitanya is not reluctant to speak liberally because he is unaware of the others present before him.

At this point, when Sri Caitanya begins recounting his darshan of Krsna lila, the structure of the text shifts from prosaic writing to poetic verse, signifying the free, sweet, and charming nature of Sri Caitanya’s experience. Through his structural choice, Krsna Das suggests that such beauty is the nature of Krsna and divine ecstasy—unbounded yet sweetly harmonious. Krsna Das also relates Sri Caitanya’s words with a substantial amount of rhyme and figurative language to highlight the flowing and otherworldly nature of his description.

varṣe sthira taḍid-gaṇa, siñce śyāma nava-ghana,
ghana varṣe taḍit-upare
sakhī-gaṇera nayana, tṛṣita cātaka-gaṇa,
sei amṛta sukhe pāna kare”

The gopīs were like steady streaks of lightning, and Kṛṣṇa resembled a blackish cloud. The lightning began sprinkling water upon the cloud, and the cloud upon the lightning. Like thirsty cātaka birds, the eyes of the gopīs joyously drank the nectarean water from the cloud.5

The Bengali rhyme scheme, traditionally sung out loud in meter, allows the lines to progress and develop seamlessly. The vocally interwoven nature of this description emphasizes Sri Caitanya’s trance-like state. Sri Caitanya compares Krsna and the devotees to two atmospheric elements (a cloud and lightning bolt) who are eager to taste water droplets that have contacted the other element. Using personified elements of nature blends objective reality with poetic description. Stewart footnotes this section of verse to explain, “In this system of thought there is no distinction between poetic ornamentation and reality, so it is possible to say that Krsna actually demonstrated these poetic figures.”6 The indiscriminate river of Sri Caitanya’s rhythmic words highlights the enchanting nature of his vision as well as his present disconnect from external objective reality. Through a literary shift to poetic writing with substantial rhyme and figurative language, Krsna Das gives a glimpse into the externally unaware yet compositionally beautiful mind of Sri Caitanya.

Krsna Das further emphasizes the externally oblivious nature of Sri Caitanya’s consciousness through an extended, rambling description of his darshan. He paints a picture of the feast offered to Krsna in his vision by enumerating:

Many kinds of coconuts/ and many kinds of mangoes / and of plaintains and jujube / and jackfruit, dates, oranges, / naranga citrus / jama berries / samatara / and grapes, and nuts and pistachios – all the kinds there are. / And kharamuja melons, cucumber, tala, / water chestnuts, paniphala, lotus stalks, / bel-fruit, pilu, and pomegranate…7

The extended and flowing poetic description of fruits and nuts offered to Krsna continues for 26 Bengali verses (each containing four lines of text). This continuance of 100 lines highlights the absence of Sri Caitanya’s external awareness. Instead of listing a few fruits and nuts as signifiers of variety, Sri Caitanya lovingly rambles about all the specific varieties of food offered to Krsna in his vision—each item representing a specific taste or expression of devotion offered to God. His lack of shyness in overspeaking highlights his subjective vision of a non-human audience; Sri Caitanya is relaying his vision to the sky, whose boundlessness supports him in his unending description. Sri Caitanya is reliving his vision while describing it and therefore not able to properly plan the sentences that detail his experience.

The devotees present are able to hear Sri Caitanya’s private inner experience because his trance-like state subdues his humility. After Sri Caitanya regains full consciousness, he reflects, “Seeing this (vision) I raved, for it took my mind.”8 He is soft-spoken after he resumes full-external consciousness, feeling somewhat embarrassed. Sri Caitanya’s humility would have normally made him reluctant to share his darshan and bring attention to himself. However, in an oblivious half-conscious state, which was conveyed through extended poetry with rhyme and figurative language, Sri Caitanya’s eagerness to glorify Krsna was unobstructed. This instance—with humility subdued—gives some glimpse into the intensity of a devotee’s desire to glorify the beauty and mercy experienced in Krsna’s darshan. Also, we may infer the intensity of a devotee’s humility, which is strong enough to check this desire in normal circumstances. Fortunately, the immense force of Sri Caitanya’s desire to recount his vision was unobstructed, allowing his internal reality to flow unrestricted in love-rambling poetic verse.

In contrast to the previous two examples, Sripada Madhavendra Puri decides not to publicly share his reception of Krsna’s mercy. Madhavendra Puri is a very austere mendicant absorbed in internal devotional life. Krsna Das describes how “it was not Puri’s inclination to ask things of people; he was indifferent and detached. When he got food without asking, he ate. When he did not, he went hungry. He was satisfied with the nectar of prema (divine love).”9 On one occasion, Madhavendra Puri visits the temple of Gopinatha, a renowned and beautiful deity of Krsna that is worshipped with great pomp—his worship includes a daily offering of 12 pots filled with a famous recipe of ksira (sweet milk and rice pudding). Madhavendra sees the offering to Gopinatha and desires to taste the special ksira so that he can infer the recipe and recreate it for his own deity, Gopal. But as soon as the thought strikes Madhavendra Puri’s mind, he feels ashamed of his greed to taste sweets that are currently being offered to Gopinatha and leaves the temple immediately after the Arati. Moved by the humility and love of his austere devotee, Gopinatha mystically hides one pot of ksira during the evening offering. That night, Gopinatha appears to the temple priest in a dream and tells him to deliver the pot of ksira, which is hidden under the altar curtain, to the mendicant named Puri. When the priest finds the ksira and delivers it to Madhavendra Puri, he sees the measure of the mendicant’s love; he remarks, “Krsna is under the control of this man—and that is as it should be.”10 Witnessing the profound relationship of loving dealings between the Lord and his devotee, the priest is astonished.

Krsna Das gives insight into the nature of Madhavendra Puri’s humility through the use of rhetorical quickness and discontinued thought progress. Inhabiting the mind of Puri, Krsna Das writes, “’The Thakura (deity) gave ksira to me—the moment they hear of it, people from all over will come in great throngs when they have learned where I am.’ Fearing this, as soon a night was ended, Sri Puri bowed to Gopinatha on the spot, then slipped away.”11 The rhetorical quickness of his thoughts, which progress in just two short lines, highlights the heightened caution of his humility. First, Puri steps out of his bhava to objectively note how Gopinatha personally served him ksira. Then, he immediately makes the subjective inference that upon hearing this story, many people will come. This thought pattern should naturally progress to the fact that Madhavendra Puri will receive great worship and veneration due to the mercy he received. However, Madhavendra Puri’s mind is so disturbed by the idea of receiving glorification that it does not even progress to this last stage of the thought process—his humble heart is shying away even from the thought of receiving glory! Instead, Puri’s thought process ends abruptly, and the next lines describe him quietly paying obeisances on the spot and hastily leaving the village before daybreak. The anxious and quick nature of his thoughts and actions is a manifestation of subjective unworthiness. Feeling completely undeserving of Gopinatha’s attention and mercy, Puri cannot mentally adjust to the possibility of public glorification.12 Because his own glory is interwoven into Krsna’s glory, Puri is unable to remain present in the village. 

Although Madhavendra Puri makes a humble attempt to hide from glorification, it only brings more attention and veneration. When Puri arrives at the next village, hordes of devotees come to see him and receive his blessings after hearing of the mercy that Gopinatha showed to him. Krsna Das writes, “It is well known in the world that the nature of fame is that it comes to him who does not desire it; this is the ordination of God. So in fear of fame, Puri fled; but fame goes with the prema (love) of Krsna.”13 Although Puri does not want to receive any glorification, Krsna is very eager to glorify his dear devotee. Mercy extends itself most prominently when either the devotee is eager to glorify Krsna or when Krsna is eager to glorify his devotee.14 These two forces are in constant and sweet competition with one another; although the devotee’s glorification of Krsna often manifests foremost due to their serving disposition, Krsna’s desire to glorify his devotee sometimes becomes so intense that it manifests in extraordinary ways.15 Here, in the case of Madhavendra Puri, we see an extraordinary form of glorification. Not only does Gopinatha steal ksira to express his affection to Madhavendra Puri but he also proclaims his love widely by spreading the story and thereby the glory of his devotee! Although Madhavendra Puri’s humility internalizes his eagerness to glorify Gopinatha, Gopinatha’s unbounded eagerness to glorify Madhavendra Puri allows for mercy to be extended; and in honor of this merciful outreach, the deity is now famously known as Ksira-chora Gopinatha: that Lord who will steal to share a special sweetness with his devotee.

Throughout Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, Krsna Das demonstrates how devotees’ inner sentiments may or may not impel them—often beyond their own control—to share the interwoven glories of their divine revelations; and how in either case (sharing or not sharing), the act is performed with a sincere inner mood of service. Krsna Das uses rhetorical devices such as juxtaposing metacommentary, indirect speech, shift from prosaic to extended poetic description, rhetorical quickness, and discontinued thought progress to emphasize the intensity of emotion swelling in a devotee after receiving the darshan of Krsna. This fervor is Bhakti Devi manifesting herself through a devotee for the pleasure of Krsna. If bhakti has the ability to overwhelm Krsna, how can a devotee remain steady under her emotive sway? However, this unsteadiness is not an imposition; rather, it is a profound manifestation of the devotee’s identification with their innermost potential, substantiated by the grace of bhakti. I pay my sincere pranams to such enraptured devotees. And if they are so moved to either internalize or share their inner darshan of Krsna, I put that expression of service on my head.

pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange
matala hari-jana kirtana-range

The devotees, intoxicated by the kirtana of the Holy Name that has the power to consume the entire world, worship the raga marg from a distance. This kirtana cleanses the heart of all charm for the world and bridges the gap between worshipper and worshipped, such that reverence for the Deity is replaced by deep intimate love for him.

Translation by Swami B.V. Tripurari, Sanga Letter
  1. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, trans. Edward Dimmock, ed. Tony Stewart (Harvard University, 1999), 973. []
  2. Graham Schweig, “Humility and Passon: a Caitanyite Ethics in Devotion,” Journal of Religious Ethics, vol. 30, no. 3 (2002): 433. []
  3. Tony Stewart, The Final Word: the Caitanya Caritamrita and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2010), 86. []
  4. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, 973. []
  5. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, 977. []
  6. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, 977. []
  7. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, 978. []
  8. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, 979. []
  9. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, 388. []
  10. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, 388. []
  11. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, 389. []
  12. Interesting to note, Madhavendra Puri previously shared a darshan of Gopal publicly because he required help in his service of excavating, installing, and worshipping the deity. []
  13. Krsna Das, Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, 389. []
  14. Drawing from the commentary of Sanatana Goswami in Brhad Bhagavatamrita verse 2.7.138, Swami Tripurari comments on S.B. verse 10.32.22 by saying, “Because Krsna cannot reciprocate in kind with the love Radha embodies and approaches him with, he is left to eternally sing of its virtue the world over. To do this—to make a feeble attempt to repay her—he must become a sadhu devoted to her” (Sacred Preface, 158). Thus, Krsna’s eagerness to glorify his most intimate devotees gives birth to Sri Caitanya, the most merciful form of Godhead. []
  15. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna says, “My devotees are always chanting my glories” (9.14); however, Krsna’s desire to glorify his devotees becomes so intense that he says, “He who proclaims the purity of the gopis’ apparent misbehavior…immediately becomes righteous by speaking about their so-called violation” (9.30, Swami Tripurari paraphrasing Bhaktivinode Thakura’s commentary). []

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