Caitanya Mahaprabhu's Tirtha-yatra, Part 10
BY: SUN STAFF
May 15, 2013 CANADA (SUN) A serial exploration of the holy sites visited by Lord Caitanya.
While the details of Lord Caitanya's travels are very interesting from the standpoint of the routes He traveled, tirthas He visited, and personalities He gave darshan to along the way, the primary purpose for Mahaprabhu's extensive travels was to preach the glories of Sri Krsna, and to open the floodgates of love of God by spreading His glorious Sankirtana mission. Along the way, he debated and defeated many pandits, from the Mayavadis to the Buddhists. Today we offer this excerpt from the BBT publication, Chant and Be Happy – the Power of Mantra Meditation, Chapter 5, regarding Mahaprabhu's exchanges with the Mayavadis in Benaras.
"The Life of Sri Caitanya"
Not long after this important victory in His native town, Sri Caitanya began to spread His movement all over India. For six years He traveled the length and breadth of the country, chanting the Hare Krsna mantra and spreading love of God. At many places, crowds of hundreds of thousands of people would join with Him in massive chanting parties. Nevertheless, He also encountered opponents, the strongest of whom were the Mayavadis, an elitist group of philosophers who had spread throughout India, twisting the meaning of the Vedic scriptures in a vain attempt to prove that God has no personality or form. The impersonalists also believed that spiritual enlightenment could be obtained only by a chosen few who knew Sanskrit and arduously studied the Vedanta-sutra.
Throughout His travels, Sri Caitanya struggled against the Mayavadis and succeeded in convincing many of them by the strength of His preaching. One of the greatest philosophers of the Mayavada school, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, tried to prevail over Sri Caitanya in philosophical discussion but was defeated. Countering the Bhattacarya's impersonal explanation of God, Sri Caitanya said, "The living entities are all individual persons, and they are all parts and parcels of the Supreme Whole. If the parts and parcels are individual persons, the source of their emanation must not be impersonal. He is the Supreme Person amongst all relative persons." Then out of His causeless mercy, Lord Caitanya performed a wondrous miracle, manifesting before Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya His beautiful, original, spiritual form as Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Falling at Lord Caitanya's feet, the former impersonalist philosopher surrendered to Him and soon became a great devotee of the Lord.
But the biggest confrontation with the Mayavadis was yet to come, and it occurred at their very headquarters, for centuries the capital of the Mayavada school, the city of Benares. There Lord Caitanya stayed with His friends and devotees and continued His sankirtana movement, attracting crowds of thousands wherever He went. Hearing reports of this, Prakasananda Sarasvati, the leader of the prevailing Mayavada sect, began to criticize the Lord. A real spiritual leader, he said, would never involve himself in singing and dancing with all kinds of ordinary people. Ignorant of the spiritual significance of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, he considered it mere sentiment. Prakasananda Sarasvati believed a spiritualist should continually study abstract philosophy and engage in lengthy discussions about the Absolute Truth. A great clash between a popular non-sectarian universal religious movement and a stifling, schismatic and separatist philosophy was about to occur. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu would soon destroy forever the impersonalists' attempted domination over Indian spiritual thought and practice.
The Lord's followers were extremely unhappy about the Mayavadis constant criticism of Him, so in order to pacify them, He accepted an invitation to a meeting of all the leading Mayavadis. After seating Himself on the ground at the assembly, the Lord, exhibiting His supreme mystic potency, manifested from His body a spiritual effulgence more brilliant than the sun. The Mayavadis were amazed and immediately stood in respect. Then Prakasananda Sarasvati inquired about why Caitanya chanted and danced instead of studying Vedanta philosophy. Lord Caitanya, who in truth was extremely well versed in the Vedic teachings, replied, "l have taken to the sankirtana movement instead of the study of Vedanta because I am a great fool." Indirectly, the Lord was criticizing the Mayavadis for being overly proud of their dry, intellectual study of the Vedas, which had led them to false conclusions. "And because I am a great fool," Caitanya continued, "my spiritual master forbade Me to play with Vedanta philosophy. He said that it is better that I chant the holy name of the Lord, for this would deliver Me from bondage." Sri Caitanya then spoke a Sanskrit verse His spiritual master had told Him to always remember:
harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha
"In this age of Kali, there is no alternative, there is no alternative, there is no alternative for spiritual progress other than the chanting of the holy name, the chanting of the holy name, the chanting of the holy name of the Lord." (Brhan-naradiya Purana)
The discussion went on for hours. Finally, in one of the most astounding religious conversions of all time, Prakasananda Sarasvati, the Mayavadis' greatest scholar, along with all his followers, surrendered to Lord Caitanya and began to chant the holy names of Krsna with great enthusiasm. As a result of this conversion, the entire city of Benares adopted Sri Caitanya's sankirtana movement.
Although born a brahmana, a member of the highest caste, Lord Caitanya always said that such designations were simply external, and He behaved accordingly. Disregarding the social conventions of the age, He would stay in the homes of devotees from even the lowest caste and take His meals with them. Indeed, He delivered His most esoteric teachings on the subject of love of God to Ramananda Raya, a member of a lower caste. Another of the Lord's disciples, Haridasa Thakura, was born a Muslim and thus was considered an outcast in Hindu society. Yet Sri Caitanya elevated him to the exalted position of namacarya, the spiritual master of the holy name of Krsna. Sri Caitanya judged people not by their social status but by their spiritual advancement.
In this way, Lord Caitanya laid the foundation for a universal religion for all mankind, a scientific process of spiritual awakening that is now rapidly spreading around the globe. In this present age, when attendance at churches, temples, and mosques is diminishing daily, and the world is torn with violence between numerous religious and political sects, it is easy to see that people are growing more and more dissatisfied with external, divisive religious formulas.
People are hungering for an experience of spirituality that transcends all boundaries. Millions are now finding that experience in the worldwide sankirtana movement of Lord Caitanya, who said, "This sankirtana movement is the prime benediction for humanity at large because it spreads the rays of the benediction moon. It is the life of all transcendental knowledge. It increases the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious."
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust
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