Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his associates
On Friday I drove to Reading, some distance from London, for the evening Gaura Purnima celebrations of the devotees there. I was accompanied by mother-of-three Iravati dasi, from Amsterdam in Holland, who has come to see how our ISKCON groups work over here in England. She was very happy to see how the Vaishnavas of this particular town are flying the victory flag of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
For many years now the group has been hosted and organised by Dave Edwards and his wife Janet. Shyamasundara and his wife Lalita from the Bhaktivedanta Manor temple became the regular teachers for the group and kept up that service for twelve years. Recently many more ‘travelling preachers’ have included Reading on their circuit, thanks to the organisational efforts of Gail Staveacre. So well covered are the groups visitors’ appointments that my own last appearance there was many months ago. It was nice to be back.
Dave and Janet arrived first and rapidly transformed the small meeting room of the Friends Meeting House into an attractive temple room. They worked diligently and with obvious years of practise. Out went the chairs and in came carpet squares and cushions; down came a notice board and up went brightly coloured tapestries of Krishna; out went the tables, all except one which, placed at the end of the room, became the foundation for an altar.
And what an altar! Sumptuous maroon velvet cloth, pictures of the Vaishnava teachers and the Pancha-tattva, beautiful deities of Chaitanya and Nityananda, arms raised in sankirtan, and a beautiful baby Krishna on a silver and cloisonne throne. The finishing touches were an arranged vase of fresh flowers including bright yellow early daffodils and sprays of catkins, and two new candles, lit just before the members all arrived.
I took up my position on a fat red cushion in the corner by the altar and, after a short kirtan, began my class on the identity and mission of Lord Chaitanya. One of the guests for the evening was from the Reading Interfaith Group and so I introduced my talk with a brief discussion of the nature of God from the Vedas and the incessant flow of avataras, all descending before human vision in order to help us on the path back to our original home. For this reason, I explained, we as Vaishnavas have no problem with any other genuine revelations of Godhead through other saints or prophets.
After I’d explained the Lord’s purpose as revealed by Him in Bhagavad-gita 4.7-8, I continued by describing the changing nature of the practise of dharma as the essential religious practise of human beings transforms through the Universal Ages as the world regresses from Satya Yuga to Kali Yuga.
The 18,000 verse Bhagavat Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam, begins with a question as to the nature of the best religious practise for Kali Yuga, while simultaneously describing the difficulties people will have in the Age. After everything in the universe has been described including all the histories of kings and the accounts of all the incarnations of God, towards the end of the book there is a telling verse. This verse explains that those who are blessed with knowledge in Kali Yuga will worship and understand the golden incarnation who arrives with His associates and who always chants the names of Krishna. The Bhagavatam concludes by saying that this process of sankirtana – the congregational chanting of the names of Krishna – is the process that destroys all sins, and obeisances to Krishna takes away all material suffering. Lord Chaitanya is thus Krishna coming in the form as His own devotee, the incarnation for Kali Yuga, and the one who shows how to be a Vaishnava with particular reference to this Age.
I then described some of the Lord’s activities in the three stages of His life: youth, sanyasa and travelling, and seclusion at Puri. After a few questions we had a festive arati and sankirtan with circular dancing.
The evening was concluded by a vegetarian feast of sanctified food – prasadam.