By His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the golden avatara, appeared in India nearly five hundred years ago. It is the custom in India that when a child is born, an astrologer is called for. When Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appeared five thousand years ago, Gargamuni was called by His father, and he said, "This child formerly incarnated in three complexions, such as red and golden, and now He has appeared in blackish color." Krishna's color is described in the scriptures as blackish, just like the color of a cloud. Lord Chaitanya is understood to be Krishna appearing in golden complexion.
There is much evidence in Vedic literature that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is an incarnation of Krishna, and this is confirmed by scholars and devotees. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is confirmed that the incarnation of Krishna, or God, in this present age, Kali-yuga, will always engage in describing Krishna. He is Krishna, but as a devotee of Krishna He describes Himself. And in this age His bodily complexion will not be blackish. This means that it may be white, it may be red, or it may be yellow, because these four colors—white, red, yellow, and black—are the colors assumed by the incarnations for the different ages. Therefore, since the red, white, and blackish colors were already taken by former incarnations, the remaining color, golden, is assumed by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His complexion is not blackish, but He is Krishna.
Another feature of this avatara is that He is always accompanied by His associates. In the picture of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu one will find that He is always followed by many devotees chanting. Whenever God incarnates He has two missions, as stated in the Bhagavad-gita. There Krishna says, "Whenever I appear, My mission is to deliver the pious devotees and to annihilate the demons." When Krishna appeared, He had to kill many demons. If we see a picture of Vishnu, we will notice that He has a conchshell, lotus flower, club, and disc. These last two items are meant for killing demons. Within this world there are two classes of men—the demons and the devotees. The devotees are called demigods; they are almost like God because they have godly qualities. Those who are devotees are called godly persons, and those who are non-devotees, atheists, are called demons. So Krishna, or God, comes with two missions: to give protection to the devotees and to destroy the demons. In this age Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's mission is also like that: to deliver the devotees and to annihilate the non-devotees, the demons. But in this age He has a different weapon. That weapon is not a club or disc or lethal weapon—His weapon is the sankirtana movement. He killed the demoniac mentality of the people by introducing the sankirtana movement. That is the specific significance of Lord Chaitanya. In this age people are already killing themselves. They have discovered atomic weapons with which to kill themselves, so there is no need for God to kill them. But He appeared to kill their demonic mentality. That is possible by this Krishna consciousness movement.
Therefore, in the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is said that this is the incarnation of God in this age. And who worships Him? The process is very simple. Just keep a picture of Lord Chaitanya with His associates. Lord Chaitanya is in the middle, accompanied by His principal associates—Nityananda, Advaita, Gadadhara, and Srivasa. One simply has to keep this picture. One can keep it anywhere. It is not that one has to come to us to see this picture. Anyone can have this picture in his home, chant this Hare Krishna mantra, and thus worship Lord Chaitanya. That is the simple method. But who will capture this simple method? Those who have good brains. Without much bother, if one simply keeps a picture of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu at home and chants Hare Krishna, then one will realize God. Anyone can adopt this simple method. There is no expenditure, there is no tax, nor is there any need to build a very big church or temple. Anyone, anywhere, can sit down on the road or beneath a tree and chant the Hare Krishna mantra and worship God. Therefore it is a great opportunity. For example, in business or political life one sometimes finds a great opportunity. Those who are intelligent politicians take a good opportunity and make a success of it the first time it comes. Similarly, in this age, those who have sufficient intelligence take to this sankirtana movement, and they advance very quickly.
Lord Chaitanya is called "the golden avatara." Avatara means "descending, coming down." Just as one may come down from the fifth story or the one-hundredth story of a building, an avatara comes down from the spiritual planets in the spiritual sky. The sky we see with our naked eyes or with a telescope is only the material sky. But beyond this there is another sky, which is not possible to see with our eyes or instruments. That information is in the Bhagavad-gita: it is not imagination. Krishna says that beyond the material sky is another sky, the spiritual sky.
We have to take Krishna's word as it is. For example, we teach small children that beyond England there are other places, called Germany, India, etc., and the child has to learn about these places from the version of the teacher because they are beyond this sphere. Similarly, beyond this material sky there is another sky. One cannot experiment to find it, any more than a small child can experiment to find Germany or India. That is not possible. If we want to get knowledge, then we have to accept authority. Similarly, if we want to know what is beyond the material world then we have to accept the Vedic authority, otherwise there is no possibility of knowing. It is beyond material knowledge. One cannot go to the far planets in this universe, what to speak of going beyond this universe. The estimation is that in order to go to the highest planet of this universe with modern machinery one would have to travel for forty thousand light-years. So we cannot ever travel within this material sky. Our lifetime and means are so limited that we cannot have proper knowledge of even this material world.
In the Bhagavad-gita, when Arjuna asked Krishna, "Will you kindly explain the extent to which Your energies are working?" the Supreme Lord gave him so many instances, and at the end He finally said, "My dear Arjuna, what shall I explain about My energies? It is not actually possible for you to understand. But you can just imagine the expansion of My energies: this material world, which consists of millions of universes, is a display of only one fourth of My creation." We cannot estimate the position of even one universe, and there are millions of spiritual planets. All this information is available from the Vedic literature. If one accepts Vedic literature, then he can get this knowledge. If one doesn't accept it, there is no other means. That is our choice. Therefore, according to Vedic civilization, whenever an acarya speaks he immediately gives references from the Vedic literature. Then others will accept it: "Yes, it is correct." In a law court the lawyer gives references from past judgments of the court, and if his case is tight, the judge accepts. Similarly, if one can give evidence from the Vedas, then it is understood that his position is factual.
The avatara for this age, Lord Chaitanya, is described in Vedic literature. We cannot accept anyone as an avatara unless he has the symptoms described in the scriptures. We do not whimsically accept Lord Chaitanya as an avatara on the basis of votes. Nowadays it has become a fashion that any man can come and say that he is God or an incarnation of God, and some fools and rascals will accept it: "Oh, he is God." We do not accept an avatara like that. We take evidence from the Vedas. An avatara must conform to descriptions in the Vedas. Then we accept him; otherwise no. For each avatara there is a description in the Vedas: He will appear at such and such a place, in such and such a form, and He will act like this. That is the nature of Vedic evidence.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam there is a list of the avataras, and there is mention of Lord Buddha's name. This Srimad-Bhagavatam was written five thousand years ago, and it mentions different names for future times. It says that in the future the Lord would appear as Lord Buddha, his mother's name would be Anjana, and he would appear in Gaya. So Buddha appeared twenty-six hundred years ago, and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, which was written five thousand years ago, mentioned that in the future he would appear. Similarly, there is mention of Lord Chaitanya, and similarly the last avatara of this Kali-yuga is also mentioned in the Bhagavatam. It is mentioned that the last incarnation in this age is Kalki. He will appear as the son of a brahmana whose name is Vishnu-yasa, in a place called Sambhala. There is a place in India with that name, so perhaps it is there that the Lord will appear.
So an avatara must conform to the descriptions in the Upanisads, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, other Vedic literatures. And on the authority of Vedic literature and the commentary of great, stalwart gosvamis like Jiva Gosvami, who was the greatest scholar and philosopher in the world, we can accept Lord Chaitanya as an incarnation of Krishna.
Why did Lord Chaitanya appear? In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, "Give up all other engagements and simply engage in My service. I will give you protection from all results of sinful actions." In this material world, in conditional life, we are simply creating sinful reactions. That's all. And because of sinful reactions, we have received this body. If our sinful reactions stopped we would not have to take a material body; we should get a spiritual body.
What is a spiritual body? A spiritual body is a body which is free from death, birth, disease, and old age. It is an eternal body, full of knowledge and bliss. Different bodies are created by different desires. As long as we have desires for different kinds of enjoyment, we have to accept different kinds of material bodies. Krishna, God, is so kind that He awards whatever we want. If we want a tiger's body, with tiger-like strength and teeth with which to capture animals and suck fresh blood, then Krishna will give us the opportunity. And if we want the body of a saintly person, a devotee engaged only in the service of the Lord, then He will give us that body. This is stated in the Bhagavad-gita.
If a person engaged in yoga, the process of self-realization, somehow or other fails to complete the process, he is given another chance; he is given birth in a family of a pure brahmana or a rich man. If one is fortunate enough to take birth in such a family, he gets all facilities to understand the importance of self-realization. From the very beginning of life our Krishna conscious children are getting the opportunity to learn how to chant and dance, so when they are grown up they will not change, but instead will automatically make progress. They are very fortunate. Regardless of whether he is born in America or Europe, a child will advance if his father and mother are devotees. He gets this opportunity, if a child takes birth in a family of devotees. This means that in his last life he had already taken to the yoga process, but somehow or other he could not finish it. Therefore the child is given another opportunity to make progress under the care of a good father and mother so that he will again advance. In this way, as soon as one completes his development of God consciousness, then he no longer has to take birth in this material world, but returns to the spiritual world.
Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita: "My dear Arjuna, if one understands My appearance, disappearance, and activities, simply because of this understanding he is given the opportunity to take birth in the spiritual world after giving up this body." One has to give up this body -- today, tomorrow, or maybe the day after that. One has to. But a person who has understood Krishna will not have to take another material body. He goes directly to the spiritual world and takes birth in one of the spiritual planets. So Krishna says that as soon as one gets this body—it doesn't matter if it is from India or the moon or the sun or Brahmaloka or anywhere within this material world—one should know that it is due to his sinful activities. There are degrees of sinful activities, so according to the degree of sinfulness, one takes a material body. Therefore our real problem is not how to eat, sleep, mate, and defend—our real problem is how to get a body that is not material but spiritual. That is the ultimate solution to all problems. So Krishna guarantees that if one surrenders unto Him, if one becomes fully Krishna conscious, then He will give one protection from all reactions to sinful life. This assurance was given by Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, but there were many fools who could not understand Krishna. In the Bhagavad-gita they are described as mudhas. Mudha means "rascal," and Krishna says in the Gita, "They do not know what I actually am." So many people misunderstood Krishna. Although Krishna gave us this message of the Bhagavad-gita so that we could understand Him, many people missed the opportunity. Therefore, Krishna, out of His compassion, came again, as a devotee, and showed us how to surrender unto Krishna. Krishna Himself came to teach us how to surrender. His last instruction in the Bhagavad-gita is to surrender, but people—mudhas, rascals—said, "Why should I surrender?" Therefore, although Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself, this time He teaches us practically how to execute the mission of the Bhagavad-gita. That's all. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is teaching nothing extraordinary, nothing beyond the process of surrendering to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, which was already taught in the Bhagavad-gita. There is no other teaching, but the same teaching in presented in different ways so that different kinds of people may take it and take the opportunity to approach God.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu gives us the opportunity to reach God directly. When Rupa Gosvami, the principal disciple of Lord Chaitanya, first saw Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he was a minister in the government of Bengal but wanted to join Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's movement. So he gave up his position as a minister, and after joining, when he surrendered, he offered a nice prayer to Lord Chaitanya. This prayer says:
"My dear Lord, you are the most munificent of all the incarnations." Why? Krsna-prema-pradaya te: "You are directly giving love of God. You have no other purpose. Your process is so nice that one can immediately learn to love God. Therefore You are the most munificent of all incarnations. And it is no possible for any personality other than Krishna Himself to deliver this benediction; therefore I say that You are Krishna." Krsnaya krsna-caitanya-namne: "You are Krishna, but You have assumed the name Krishna Chaitanya. I surrender unto You."
So this is the process. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself, and He is teaching how to develop love of God by a very simple method. He says simply to chant Hare Krishna.
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
"In this age, simply go on chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. There is no other alternative." People are embarrassed by so many methods of realization. They cannot take to the actual ritualistic processes of meditation or yoga; it is not possible. Therefore Lord Chaitanya says that if one takes up this process of chanting, then immediately he can reach the platform of realization.
The chanting process offered by Lord Chaitanya for achieving love of God is called sankirtana. Sankirtana is a Sanskrit word. Sam means samyak—"complete." And kirtana means "glorifying" or "describing." So complete description means complete glorification of the Supreme, or the Supreme Complete Whole. It is not that one can describe anything or glorify anything and that will be kirtana. From the grammatical point of view that may be kirtana, but according to the Vedic system, kirtana means describing the supreme authority, the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is called kirtana.
This devotional service begins with the method of sravana. Sravana means "hearing," and kirtana means "describing." One should describe, and another should hear. Or the same man himself can both describe and hear. He does not need anyone else's help. When we chant Hare Krishna, we chant and hear. This is complete. This is a complete method. But what is that chanting and hearing? One must chant and hear about Vishnu, Krishna. Not of anything else. Sravanam kirtanam visnoh: one can understand Vishnu, the all-pervading Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by the method of hearing.
We have to hear; if one simply hears, that is the beginning. One does not need any education or development of material knowledge. Just like a child: as soon as he hears, immediately he can respond and dance. So by nature God has given us these nice instruments—ears—so that we can hear. But we must hear from the right source. That is stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. One must hear from those who are devoted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They are called satam. If one hears from the right source, from a realized soul, then it will act. And these words of God, or Krishna, are very relishable. If one is intelligent enough, he will listen to what is spoken by the realized soul. Then very soon he will be released from material entanglements.
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, Conway Hall, London, November, 1969)