Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a proponent of the Bhakti movement. He was the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. The philosophy of Sri Chaitanya is called achintya-bhedabheda-tattva which is simply described as inconceivable oneness and difference. The oneness is in quality and the difference is in quantity. He accepted the sentiment of total dependence on Sri Krishna, the path of spontaneous devotional service which establishes that the ‘jiva’ is simultaneously a part of Krishna but also an eternally separate distinct individual. He believed that the ‘jiva’ is eternally connected with Krishna, and the separation is illusory, caused by Maya.
Nimai who was later known as Sri Chaitanya Mahapravu was born in Mayapur of the Nadia district of West Bengal. The ladies of the neighborhood named him Gaur Hari due to his golden complexion and his mother called him Nimai as he was born under a Neem tree. In his eighth year, he was admitted to the tol (school) of Gangadas Pandit in Ganganagar. In two years, he became well-versed in Sanskrit. It appears that he read the Smriti and Nyaya on his own. Nimai was considered as one of the best scholars of Nadia and occupied the renowned seat of Nyaya philosophy and Sanskrit learning at the age of fifteen. At that time he was married to Lakshmi Devi who later died to a snake bite.
Keshab Misra of Kashmere who called himself the Great Digvijayi came to Nadia to discuss various religious aspects with the pandits. He met Nimai at the Barokona Ghat in Mayapur and after a very short discussion Keshab was defeated by Nimai’s logic and religious aptitude.
Nimai travelled to Gaya with his students at the age of seventeen, where he took his spiritual initiation from Iswar Puri, a Vaishnava sannyasi, and a disciple of the renowned Madhavendra Puri. On his return to Nadia, Nimai became a religious preacher.
Chaitanya embraced the life of a Sannyasi under the guidance of Keshav Bharati at the age of 24. His mother and wife were grief-stricken at this decision. Nemai then appealed his mother, “Mother! This body is yours and I must obey your orders. Permit me to go to Vrindavan for my spiritual attainments.” His mother and others asked him to reside in Puri (town of Lord Jagannatha) so that she might obtain some information about him from time to time. He agreed to that proposal and left for Puri where he took residence with Sarvabhauma.
Sarvabhauma and Vedanta
Chaitanya understood the Sutras very well but he could not make out what Sankaracharya meant by his commentaries. Astonished at this, Sarvabhauma had asked him, “How is it that you understand the meanings of the Sutras and do not understand the commentaries which explain the Sutras? Ah well! If you understand the Sutras, please let me have your interpretations.”
It was then that Mahaprabhu explained all the Sutras in his own way without touching the commentary of Sankaracharya. Sarvabhauma realised the truth, beauty and harmony of the explanations given by Sri Chaitanya. He also admitted that the commentaries of Sankaracharya never gave such natural explanations of the Vedanta-Sutras as the ones given by the Mahaprabhu. He then submitted himself as a follower of Chaitanya. In a few days, Sarvabhauma turned out to be one of the best Vaishnavas of that time. In the meantime, Mahaprabhu started to visit southern India along with Krishnadas and returned to Puri in two years. He spiritualized one Tukaram who then became a religious preacher himself. During his journey, he had discussions with Buddhists, Jains and Mahavodis in several places and influenced them to join Vaishnavism. Sri Chaitanya returned to Puri through Santipur where he again met his mother.
He left for Vrindavan after a short stay at Puri. This time he was accompanied by one Balabhadra Bhattacharya. He visited Vrindavan and came down to Prayag (Allahabad). There he met Rupa Goswami. Sri Chaitanya trained him in spirituality and directed him to go to Vrindavan on missions. His first mission was to write theological works, explaining scientifically, pure Bhakti and Prem. All who visited him believed that he had appeared in the world for the benefit of mankind.