Characteristics of Prema

Srimad-Bhagavatam and other devotional scriptures reveal that when Lord Krishna descends to this world He comes for various reasons and accomplishes a multitude of tasks. In Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, the author, Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, guided by the recollections and realizations of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s closest associates, tells us that Krishna came as Lord Chaitanya to inaugurate the religion for this age – the congregational chanting of God’s holy names – and, among other things, to bestow prema, pure love of God, on the spiritually debilitated people of our times. For this second reason especially, great spiritual authorities glorify Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as Lord Krishna’s most merciful appearance.

Most people don’t know about Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu or His granting of prema. But those of us who know of Him can benefit from increasing our appreciation for what He came to give. In this regard, His disciple Sanatana Goswami, in his Sri Brihad-bhagavatamrita (2.2.103–105), has described seven characteristics of prema.

(1) Prema is the goal of all paths prescribed in the Vedic literature, including karma-kanda (scripturally guided fruitive work), jnana-kanda (philosophical pursuit of the Absolute Truth), and vairagya (renunciation of the world). The Vedas guide human beings to the highest attainment from wherever they are in the range of spiritual qualification. Therefore, though apparently promoting competing paths, their aim is in fact one: prema.

(2) Prema is the ultimate goal of existence, beyond even liberation, or full freedom from all influence of the material energy. Followers of the Vedic literature generally accept liberation as the goal of human life. An inestimable contribution of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was to reveal the superiority of prema above all else.

(3) Prema brings God Himself under the devotee’s control. A beautiful example of this is Krishna’s allowing Himself to be tied to a grinding mortar by His mother. Another example is Lord Vishnu’s telling the sage Durvasa, seeking the Lord’s protection from His disc weapon, that He is fully dependent on the wishes of His devotees. Lord Vishnu directed Durvasa to seek shelter at the feet of His pure devotee Ambarisha Maharaja.

(4) Prema is given by God; it is not acquired by one’s own efforts. Because the path of bhakti-yoga prescribes regulated spiritual practices, we might think that strict adherence to them will automatically give us prema. In fact, however, what we’re trying to do is please Krishna. When He is pleased with our pure desire to love and serve Him, He will shower His blessings on us, His greatest blessing being the gift of prema.

(5) Prema is the greatest treasure of God’s devotees. Having been blessed with prema, pure devotees have no desire but to serve the Lord for His satisfaction alone.

(6) Prema overflows with transcendental bliss. Boundless happiness is an inherent quality of prema. The devotee doesn’t aspire for happiness for its own sake, but it comes of its own accord as a result of pure devotional service offered in prema.

(7) Prema entitles devotees to join the Lord in His eternal ecstatic pastimes in the spiritual world.

This last characteristic is not included in the list given in Sri Brihad-bhagavatmrita, but Gopiparanadhana Dasa, the translator and commentator for the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust edition, includes it, reasoning that Pippalayana Rishi, the speaker of these verses, may have felt that mention of entering Krishna’s pastimes was too confidential at this point in the narration. Despite our wretched condition in this age, however, Lord Chaitanya has allowed us entry into the narrations of Lord Krishna’s confidential pastimes, where prema is exhibited in its full glory.

– Nagaraja Dasa