Visvarupa-mahotsava marks the occasion on which Lord Chaitanya’s older brother, Visvarupa, took sannyasa, the renounced order of life. And on the same date some four hundred and fifty years later, our own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, also accepted sannyasa.
According to Vedic literatures, Lord Chaitanya is Krishna Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, come in the present age in the role of a devotee. In the previous age, Lord Krishna came in His original feature and spoke the Bhagavad-gita, and at the conclusion He instructed, sarva-dharman parityaja mam ekam saranam vraja: give up all other duties and surrender unto Me. But people could not understand or appreciate Lord Krishna’s instruction. So later, about five hundred years ago, Krishna came again, not in His original form but in His devotional form as Lord Chaitanya. And Lord Chaitanya taught us how to serve Krishna, how to worship God in the present age.
Lord Chaitanya taught various methods of worship, but He especially emphasized the chanting of the holy names of God, or Krishna. In particular, He quoted a verse from the Brhan-Naradiya Purana (38.126):
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
“One should chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of Hari, Krishna. In this age of Kali, there is no other way, no other way, no other way for spiritual realization.”
He acted like a teacher who shows students how to write the alphabet. The teacher stands in front of the class and writes on the board, “A, B, C, D.” The teacher has no need to practice writing, but he shows by his own example how to form the letters properly. In the same way, God, Krishna, had no need to worship, but to set the example for us, so that we could learn how to worship Him in the best way in the present age, He came as Lord Chaitanya and taught and demonstrated the chanting of the holy names of Krishna.
When Lord Chaitanya appeared, the social and spiritual system called varnashrama-dharma was still prevalent in India. In this system there are four social and four spiritual divisions, all necessary for society to function properly. Although we may not refer to them by the same terms, and although the system has not been developed as systematically and scientifically as in Vedic culture, still, by the arrangement of nature, the divisions still exist. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says, catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah: “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me.” (Gita 4.13) So, the four social orders, or broad divisions of occupational duties, are created by Krishna.
The four divisions include, first, the intelligent class, who are teachers and priests, but mainly teachers. Then there is the martial, or administrative, class, who are rulers and warriors; they govern and protect the citizens. There is the vaishya, or productive class, who engage in agriculture—farming and cow protection—and, with any surplus, in trade. And there is the service class, or workers, who perform services to support the other three classes.
When a person hears the description of the different social orders and duties, he or she may be alerted to the possibilities for exploitation and domination of the “lower” classes by the “higher.” But in Vedic society the different members work cooperatively for the common good, ultimately for the pleasure of God. In the physical body there are natural divisions—the head, the arms, the stomach, the legs—and they all have different functions. But they all cooperate for the benefit of the whole. In the social body, the brahmans are compared to the head—they give guidance. The kshatriyas are compared to the arms—they protect the body. The vaishyas are compared to the stomach—they provide food for the body. And the sudras, or workers, are compared to the legs—they carry the rest of the body where it wants to go. There is no question of competition among the different parts of the body—or of exploitation. They all work for the good of the whole.
Apart from the social divisions, there are four spiritual divisions. These are also natural, especially in a culture meant for self-realization and God realization, which Vedic culture is. The first order is the brahmacharis, celibate students. In the traditional system, the brahmachari would study in the ashram of the guru, in the gurukula. He would be trained mainly in principles of good character. And because the main emphasis was on good character and spiritual development, the teachers had to be spiritually qualified.
Here we can see the defect in modern education, where emphasis is given to material knowledge without much consideration of personal character. Now practically no spiritual or moral qualification is required of teachers. They may drink, they may smoke, they may gamble, they may do all sorts of nonsense in their “private” lives, but if they know the subject in a material way, they are considered qualified to teach. But in the Vedic system, because the emphasis was on moral character and spiritual development, the teachers, the brahmans, had to be exemplary. And in addition, they had to know the content of the subjects they taught. The exemplar in the Vedic system was called acharya. Acharya means “one who teaches by example”— not that in the classroom the teacher says, “You should not smoke” but then outside the classroom he or she smokes, or that the teacher says, “You shouldn’t drink” but then outside he or she drinks.
A friend of ours in Bombay was attending an international conference on drug abuse in Delhi. She is a devotee, and she works with a lot of underprivileged people in the slum areas of Bombay. And in her own way, she tries to introduce Krishna consciousness, seeing how, by God’s grace, it can transform people’s lives, how people who were addicted to drugs can give them up with the spiritual strength gained by chanting and other practices. So, she went to the conference, and during the evenings her colleagues would get together and have parties and drink and smoke and take drugs. Then, during the day, they would meet to discuss what to do about the problem of substance abuse. Socially, she would be with them. After all, they were her friends and colleagues, but when she would attend their parties, they would insist, “Why don’t you have a drink? Have a smoke. Have this, have that.” And she would always refuse.
One night, their party was busted by the police. The only one of them of good character, of spotless character, was our friend, the devotee. Her colleagues knew that her word would be accepted, because she was strict in her habits, so they appealed to her to make up a story that they were conducting an experiment, doing research, on taking drugs. Whatever happened in the end, the point I am making is that in Vedic culture the teachers were supposed to be exemplary. Their character was considered one of their main qualifications as teachers. Continue reading »