Advaita Acarya and the Unique Compassion of Caitanya Mahaprabhu

The following is an adapted excerpt from Sacred Preface, Swami Tripurari’s 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 avataramaha vadanyaya avatara, and he blesses the world with Krishna premakrsna 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.

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3 Responses to Advaita Acarya and the Unique Compassion of Caitanya Mahaprabhu

  1. Hare Krishna! Maharaja,
    Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga!

    Sometimes Adwaita Acharya is presented as an incarnation of Mahavishnu and other times of Lord Shiva. Can you comment on that?

    Re: the congregational chanting of the Hare Krishna maha mantra, although it is recommended as the yuga dharma in the Vedic literature, is there any evidence to indicate that people in India engaged in Krishna kirtana before Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu introduced it? Also, can I confidently say to members of impersonalist groups, who engage in Hare Krishna kirtana, that this chanting was introduced in India by the Krishna Consciousness movement, under the direction of Lord Chaitanya, and that their chanting, while cultivating an impersonal conception of the Absolute, is a perversion of the process?

    As you have quoted the prayer of Srila Rupa Gosvami Prabhupada, in your article (above), Lord Chaitanya is freely distributing Krishna Prema, to the most unqualified jivas in the material world. And we read that if Lord Nityananda simply glanced at someone that person would immediately display symptoms of ecstatic love of God. Although these descriptions are very beautiful, they do not correspond with our practical experience of purposefully doing our sadhana, day after day, and still remaining as a kanistha third class materialistic devotee. How do we reconcile this apparent discrepancy? Why are we being encouraged that this Krishna Prema is being freely distributed, when this is not our actual experience? Granted, the opportunity is there – but it appears that the price that must be paid is that we must want it as much as our very lives?

    I am reading your Bhagavad-gita, and finding it very enlivening. Thank you.

    Your servant, Ishan das

  2. Hare Krishna. Dandavat pranam Maharaj.

    I read here :

    “Harinama is all-important. Without harinama, no one can attain Krishna-prema. It was Advaita Acarya who first instituted harinama diksa. He did so following the will of Mahaprabhu. One day young Nimai (Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu) refused to drink milk from his mother Saci’s breast. Sri Advaita Acharya concluded that the remedy was for Saci to take initiation into the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha mantra. Adwaita Acharya gave her this initiation and then Nimai happily drank her breast milk again.”

    From which biography of Sri Advaita Acharya is this? Could you please give full quote of the above pastime? Thank you.

  3. I believe this information is found in Advaita Prakasa. But the three principal hagioraphical texts from the Advaita Vamsa, Advaita Mangala, Advaita Pakasa, and Balya-lila-sutra, are available in English. See “The Fading Light of Adviata Acarya by Rebecca Manring.

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