“What is Prema?”
Some time ago, in Sri Vraja-dhama, someone submitted a question to Sriman Mahaprabhu’s confidential associate, Sri Sanatana Gosvami. Is the word ishqh in the Islamic religious tradition means unadulterated love, or something else. Sanatana Gosvami was a learned scholar of all the religious scriptures, and his scholarship in the Arabic, and Farsi languages in particular, knew no bounds. Sri Rupa Gosvami, Sri Jiva Gosvami, and other exalted spiritual preceptors were present in that assembly. Sri Sanatana Gosvami kindly answered the question as follows:
“Yes, the word ishqh means love. Adherents of Islam do use the word ishqh in relation to the worship of Krishna, but the word generally means love in the ordinary worldly sense. Islamic religious teachers have not been able to understand the true conception of the pure spiritual entity. This is evident from the poetical account of the devoted lovers Laila and Majnun, and from the literary descriptions of ishqh by the great poet Hafiz. They have referred to ishqh either as physical love pertaining to the gross body, or as emotional love in relation to the subtle body. Thus, they cannot have had any experience of unadulterated divine love, or prema towards Bhagavan. I have never seen this type of prema described in any religious texts of the Muslim teachers; I have only seen it in the Vaisnava scriptures. The same is true of the Muslim word ruh, which means soul or spirit. It does not seem that Muslim teachers have used the word ruh to mean the liberated soul; rather, they have used the word ruh in the sense of the soul bound by matter.
I have not seen unadulterated love for Krishna taught in any other religion, whereas descriptions of Krishna-prema, are common throughout the teachings of vaisnava-dharma.
In the second verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Krishna-prema has been lucidly described in the statement,
‘This Srimad-Bhagavatam propounds the highest truth from which all pretentious religiosity has been rejected.’
Nonetheless, I have full faith that Sri Krishna Caitanya, was the first to give full instructions on the religion of unalloyed Krishna-prema. If you have faith in my words, you may accept this conclusion.”
The words “creation” and “formation”, when applied to the jiva, are used in a material context. The speech of this world functions by drawing from the experience of material phenomena. The time that we experience is divided into the three phases of past, present, and future. This is material time, which is connected with the material energy, maya. In the spiritual domain, there is spiritual time, which eternally exists in the present, with no divisions of past and future. The jivas and Krishna exist in that spiritual time, so the jiva is eternal and ever existing. The functions of creation, formation, and conditioning take place under the influence of material time, and they are used to describe the jiva after it is bound in this material world. However, even though the jiva is infinitesimal, it is an eternal, spiritual entity, and its fundamental constitution, existed before its conditioning,
and entrance into this material world.
Since past and future do not exist in the spiritual world, whatever occurs within that spiritual period, is eternally present. Therefore, in reality, the jiva and its constitutional function are both ever-present and eternal.
As these explanations have been made in words, but one can only understand their true meaning to the extent that one has realized and experienced the unalloyed spiritual realm. These words are just a glimpse; one should try to realize the meaning of what has been said through spiritual meditation.
One will not be able to understand these topics through mundane logic or by debate. The more one can free their faculty of experience from material bondage, the more one will be able to experience the spiritual domain.
First, one should cultivate the realization of their pure spiritual identity and practice chanting the Holy Name of Krishna purely, and then one’s spiritual function known as jaiva-dharma will be clearly revealed.
[COMMENT: Note, that the Thakura clear states that by chanting the Holy Name of Krishna PURELY, Jaiva-dharma will be clearly revealed.]
Spiritual realization and experience cannot be fully purified, by the eightfold yoga system, known as astanga-yoga, or brahma-jnana by cultivating knowledge of the all-pervading, featureless brahma. The jiva can only manifest his eternal spiritual function, by constantly cultivating activities directly meant for Krishna’s pleasure.
You should constantly practice chanting hari-nama (Holy Names of Krishna) with great enthusiasm.
Such practice is true spiritual culture. By chanting hari-nama regularly, you will develop unprecedented attachment for sri-Krishna-nama within a short time, and you will directly experience the spiritual realm. Chanting sri-hari-nama (chanting the name of Lord Hari/Krishna) is the foremost of all the different limbs of bhakti (loving devotional service), and it yields the quickest results. This is confirmed by Sri Mahaprabhu’s instructions in Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s magnificent work, Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya 4.70-71):
“Of all the different types of spiritual practice, the nine forms of bhakti are the best because they have tremendous power to deliver Krishna and Krishna-prema. Of these nine practices, nama-sankirtana is the best. By chanting sri-Krishna-nama without offense, one obtains the priceless treasure of prema.”
A Vaisnava is someone who has given up all offenses, and who chants sri-Krishna-nama with great feeling. There are three categories of Vaisnavas: the kanistha (neophyte), the madhyama (intermediate), and the uttama (most exalted).
A kanistha Vaisnava chants the name of Krishna occasionally, a madhyama Vaisnava chants the name of Krishna constantly, and an uttama Vaisnava causes others to chant sri-nama by his very presence. According to Mahaprabhu’s instructions, we do not need any other criteria to discern who is a Vaisnava.