Chaitanya (one who is conscious)
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was said to be an earthly incarnation (avatar) of the Hindu Gods Radha and Krishna. He is perhaps best known for espousing Bhakti yoga, and as the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and many modern forms of sankirtan.
Chaitanya means “conscious,” “awareness,” or “one who is conscious.”
Mahaprabhu is divided into “maha,” meaning “great,” and “prabhu,” meaning “Lord,” or “master.”
Chaitanya Deep Dive
Born in 1486 in West Bengal, India, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s birth name was Vishvambar Mishra. It is said that he was born under a full moon solar eclipse while millions of Hindus bathed in the Ganges chanting the names of God. He was nicknamed Nimai as a youth, because he was born under a neem tree. He was also called Gaura or Gauranga due to his golden complexion.
An ardent scholar of the scriptures during his youth, Nimai opened his own school at 16 years old, and was beloved in his hometown by Hindus and Muslims alike. After meeting his guru, Ishvara Puri, he became more of a devotee than a scholar, chanting Krishna’s name often. Nimai then became known for performing and promoting sankirtan, the congregational chanting of the name of God.
As his followers increased, he became known for challenging the caste system, and for leading the first instance of mass civil disobedience in India. However, disenchanted, he became a sannyasin (renunciate, ascetic), and walked thousands of miles in India, visiting temples, doing kirtan, and gaining followers along the way.
It was during this time that people began to see Chaitanya as Krishna reincarnated as his own devotee, a channa avatar. He was witnessed to have exhibited his universal form, and perform miracles. These accounts and others are recorded in the Chaitanya Charitamrita, the definitive biography of Chaitanya written by Krishnadasa Kaviraja.
The only scripture remaining that was personally written by Chaitanya is the eight-versed Shikshashtakam.
Chaitanya also popularized the Krishna Maha-mantra:Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
Chaitanya In Your Life
What can you learn from Chaitanya, and how can you apply it in your life?
Since Chaitanya passed away aged 48, many attempts have been made to summarize Chaitanya’s message. The result is generally understood as the ten root principles of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, or the Dasha Mula:
Scripture is proof, and confirms the following:
Krishna is the Supreme Absolute Truth.
Krishna possesses all energies, material and spiritual.
Krishna is the source of rasa – the essence, nectar, and taste of human experience
Jiva (individuated souls) are Krishna’s separated parts
Jiva are conditioned by matter, subject to the effects of maya (illusion).
In a liberated state, jiva are free from the influence of matter.
Jiva are inconceivably one with and different than Krishna.
Pure devotion is the only way to attain liberation.
Pure love of Krishna is the ultimate goal.
The principles seem to follow Chaitanya’s path in life. He was an avid scholar, and acquired as much knowledge as he could about living a spiritual life. But after coming to an understanding that pure devotion was the only way to liberation, the goal became clear: pure love of Krishna, or prema in Sanskrit.
Prema is a love for the divine, a love for something higher, greater. It’s a focused love, and unselfish. It wants nothing, except to love.
It’s the kind of love that compelled Chaitanya to dance, sing, and chant constantly.
If you’ve never been to a kirtan, there’s a good chance you can find a group nearby and join in. Some people prefer kirtan above all other forms of spiritual and devotional practice. So if you enjoy meditation, yoga, breathwork, etc. but still feel like there’s something missing… Check it out.
Your path will be unlike any other. But maybe you can think of something greater, higher than yourself, that’s worth pouring your love into. A love that never ends, that consumes all your days. With that kind of love, your yoga journey is not undertaken alone.
To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.