Definition of Prema: Kṛṣṇa is the Sole Object of Divine Love
First I will define prema, and then I will try to describe bhagavat-prema. Prema has a unique tendency, and its nature is described as follows:
ākarṣa sannidhau lauhaḥ pravṛttaḥ dṛśyate yathā
anor-mahati caitanye pravṛttiḥ prema-lakṣaṇam
“When iron ore is placed near a magnet, there is a natural attraction. Similarly, a spontaneous attraction occurs when the aṇu-caitanya or minute conscious entity becomes inclined towards the mahati caitanya or Supreme Conscious Entity, thus causing the symptoms of prema to develop.”
The ādhāra (support) of prema is the bhakta–jīva, and the viṣaya (object) of prema is Kṛṣṇa. Neither brahma, the impersonal effulgence, nor Īśvara, the Supreme Controller, can be the the viṣaya of prema. Kṛṣṇa is the primary tattva and the ultimate limit of bhagavat-tattva and therefore He alone is the supreme object of prema.
The Difference Between Kāma and Prema
Prema is completely transcendental and, although the jīva is aṇu-caitanya or an infinitesimal conscious entity, he is also a fully transcendental phenomenon. Somehow or other he has become corrupted by the transformations of material energy, and therefore now his ‘prema’ is jaḍa-viṣaya-prema, or ‘lust for material objects.’ According to Vaiṣṇava dharma, that materialistic prema is kāma or lust, while lust for Kṛṣṇa is actually called prema. Lust is worthless, whereas prema is the ultimate benefit. Kāma or lust is temporarily pleasing, preyaḥ to the jīva whereas prema is the jīva’s eternal auspiciousness, śreyaḥ. Nowadays, not understanding the nature of prema, the materialistic conditioned souls imagine prema to be lust; but although kāma and prema appear to a be identical, one is worthless, while the other is priceless.
Successive Stages Leading to Prema
The perfection of all goals is obtained when kṛṣṇa-prema is awakened in the heart. Mahāprabhu has called prema the pañcama-puruṣārtha or the fifth goal of life (beyond religion, economic development, sense gratification and liberation). But how does that supremely rare kṛṣṇa-prema dawn within our hearts? There is certainly a necessity to endeavour by the appropriate means. What is that endeavour? Sādhana–bhakti. Mahāprabhu has explained the gradual sequence of stages leading to achievement of that prema:
kona bhāgye kona jīvera ‘śraddhā’ yadi haya
tabe sei jīva ‘sādhu-saṅga’ karaya
sādhu-saṅga haite haya ‘śravaṇa-kīrtana’
sādhana-bhaktye haya ‘sarvānartha-nivartana’
anartha-nivṛtti haile bhakta ‘niṣṭhā’ haya
niṣṭhā haite śravaṇādye ‘ruci’ upajaya
ruci bhakti haite haya ‘āsakti’ pracura
āsakti haite citte janme kṛṣṇe prīty-aṅkura
sei rati gāḍha haile dhare ‘prema’-nāma
sei premā-‘prayojana’ sarvānanda-dhāma
“If by some inexplicable good fortune the living entity develops faith in Kṛṣṇa, that soul begins to associate with devotees. Sādhana–bhakti entails hearing and chanting in the association of devotees, and the performance of that sādhana-bhakti causes all anarthas or futile desires to dwindle. With the cleansing away of these anarthas, firm faith in devotional service develops, and from firm faith, ruci or a taste in the heart for hearing and chanting awakens. After a spontaneous taste has awakened, āsakti or deep-rooted attachment arises. This is followed by prīti or rati, the seed of love for Kṛṣṇa, sprouting in the heart. When deep emotional attachment intensifies, that prema-prayojana, the ultimate goal of divine love, manifests as the abode and reservoir of all happiness.” (CC Madhya 23. 9-13)
Eight Transformations of Ecstasy After Achieving Kṛṣṇa-Prema
When the sprout of prema arises, bodily transformations appear, such as horripilation, tears, perspiration, trembling, and a change of bodily colour. All these symptoms are anubhāvas, the indication of prema. See how rare and absolutely necessary is prema, that even mukti becomes insignificant before it. Although prema is eternally perfect, it’s blossoming is caused by sādhana. Nowadays many persons claim to have prema and display duplicious symptoms, The yātrā Vaiṣṇavas (professional, religious performers) and Kālānemī of the Rāmāyaṇa (who later became Kaṁsā in kṛṣṇa-līlā)—these are examples of counterfeit prema. All these deceptive men and women are simply cheated themselves. Fie on our ill-minded natures!
Sanātana-Dharma or Vaiṣṇava-Dharma Means Prema-Dharma
If we have a desire to obtain that prema, which is even rare in Vaikuṇṭha, then what other course do we have except to take shelter of the lotus feet of Gaurāṅga, our life and soul? Vaiṣṇava-dharma or jaiva-dharma is actually this prema. If we can acquire even a particle of this prema in our hearts, then our lives are successful. Every religion in the world has been propagated in the name of this prema, but vaiṣṇava-dharma alone is supreme. As far as we can see, there is no other example of this unalloyed prema.
In wandering from country to country, or searching throughout heaven, earth and hell, we do not find viśuddha–cinmaya (pure transcendental) prema-dharma anywhere else. Having roamed throughout every land and observed all the sampradāyas, we encounter prema in vaiṣṇava-dharma as propagated by Śrī Navadvīpa-candra Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya alone. Only then do the fruits of prema appear and cause transformations on our bodies as all of our senses become enlivened. Only then does our entire existence vibrate with all kinds of variegated spiritual bliss.
Śrī Gaurāṅga-Tattva—He is the Avatārī of All Avatāras, Non-Different from Vrajendranandana, and He is the Bestower of Kṛṣṇa-Prema
“O Brothers! Who is my Gaurāṅga Mahāprabhu? The mere inquiry contains all auspiciousness. My Gaurāṅga is the crest-jewel of those worthy of worship, the Supreme Guru among gurus, and the crown-jewel of avatāras. My Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, the bestower of prema, is none other than the coronet of worshipable realities, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He is the principal ācārya of all ācāryas, and He is the avatārī or fountainhead of unlimited avatāras, who fulfilled the requirements of some lack to complete the svarūpa (nature) of Kṛṣṇa. This is my Śacīnandana Viśvambhara!”
Scriptural References Regarding the Śrī Caitanya-Avatāra
Na caitanyāt kṛṣṇāj jagati para-tattvaṁ param iha: “He is the Supreme Personality Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself. He is the Absolute Truth, one without a second. There is no truth superior to Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu.” (CC Ādi 1.3)
My Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu is svayaṁ Bhagavān Himself, the hidden avatāra, and there is no greater truth in the world than this. Although the Purāṇas narrate His glory in an inconspicuous manner, all the Vedas, Purāṇas and so many śāstras widely glorify Him and illuminate His identity.
The Vedas (Śvetāśvatara 3.12) states, “mahān prabhur vai purūṣaḥ sattvasyaiṣa pravartakaḥ—That exalted personality Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, is certainly the Supreme. He is svāmī, the Master who propagates viśuddha–bhakti to those having sufficient intelligence.”
“Yadā paśyaḥ paśyate rukma-varṇaṁ (Muṇḍaka 3.3)—When the jīva perceives the Lord, he sees that His colour is an extremely attractive golden colour.” “…suvarṇa-jyotiḥ puruṣaḥ—that golden effulgent personality…” Manu also states, “rukmābhaṁ svapnadhīgamyam—That golden complexioned puruṣaḥ propagates the function of buddhi, that is bhakti.”
The Gītā states, “āditya-varṇaṁ tamasaḥ parastāt—He is luminous like the sun, and He is transcendental, beyond this material nature.”
Mahābhārata (dāna-dharma section) states, “suvarṇa-varṇo hemāṅgaḥ—His limbs are golden and He is continuously chanting…”
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.5.32) says, “kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ—He is Kṛṣṇa Himself, appearing in a golden colour and chanting the two syllables kṛṣ and ṇa…”
In this way, all the Purāṇas and Tantras describe the avatāra of Śrī Caitanya, and ṛṣīs or realized sages have recorded their perception in countless śāstras.
Bhagavat-Tattva is Realised by the Mercy of Bhagavān. The Plight of Those Who do not Accept the Shelter of Gaurāṅga
The Lord manifests Himself to those upon whom He bestows His mercy, and this form of self-revelation is the only testimony. Śrī Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī has said:
avatīrṇe gauracandre vistīrṇe prema-sāgare
su-prakāśita-ratnaughe yo dīno dīna eva saḥ
avatīrṇe gauracandre vistīrṇe prema-sāgare
ye na majjanti majjanti te mahānartha-sāgare
“The Advent of Śrī Gauracandra is like a vast ocean of nectarean prema. One who neglects to gather the priceless jewels from that ocean is certainly the poorest of the poor. The golden moon of Gauracandra has now created a great tidal wave in the ocean of prema, and those who do not dive deep into that vast ocean will find themselves floating instead on that great ocean of futile deeds and useless goals.”
Prema-Mūrti Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s Pastime of Making His Prema-Dāna-Līlā Available to All Classes of Living Entities
My Mahāprabhu is prema-mūrti, the embodiment of divine love. Ardently beseeching the fallen living entities with all humility, He distributes His prema to them. He establishes prema in the hearts of the paṇḍitas by displaying His vast erudition, and He favours the sense enjoyers by instructing them to enjoy their sense objects in a mood of detachment and thus gradually obtain prema. He makes doctors and physicians qualified to administer the medicine of prema to relieve the disease of material existence, and He shows the renunciates how to perform continuous kṛṣṇa-bhajana by completely rejecting all association with the material world.
Nourishing the Desire to Spread the Religion of Prema-Dharma Throughout the World
To the degree that gaura-kathā, topics of Gaurāṅga, are broadcast, mundane opinions will fall mute. Like the rising sun, gaura-dharma will very soon manifest everywhere. Śrī Kavi Karṇapura has said:
punīmaś-caṇḍālān api khalu dhunīmo’ khila-malaṁ
lunīmaḥ saṁskārān api hṛdi tadīyān ati-dṛḍhān
kṛpā devī tasya prakatayati dṛk-pātam iha cet
tadā teṣām antaḥ kamapi rasa-bhāvañ ca tanumaḥ
“If someone gets the mercy of Śrī Gaurāṅgadeva, then undoubtedly he is able to purify all, including the caṇḍālas, (low-class dog-eaters) wash away all their sins, cut away their deep-rooted saṁskāras of past bad impressions, and immerse their hearts in an indescribable rasa.”
(This article “Prema-Bhakti and Śrī Gaurāṅgadeva” Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was translated into English by Gaudiya Vedanta Publications)