There are different stages of devotional service and God realization. Strictly speaking, anyone who accepts the existence of God is situated in devotional service. To acknowledge that God is great is something, but not much. Lord Caitanya, preaching as an ācārya, a great teacher, taught that we can enter into a relationship with God and actually become God's friend, parent or lover. In the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa showed Arjuna His universal form because Arjuna was His very dear friend. Upon seeing Kṛṣṇa as the Lord of the universes, however, Arjuna asked Kṛṣṇa to forgive the familiarity of his friendship. Lord Caitanya goes beyond this point. Through Lord Caitanya we can become friends with Kṛṣṇa, and there will be no limit to this friendship. We can become friends of Kṛṣṇa not in awe or adoration but in complete freedom. We can even relate to God as His father or mother. This is the philosophy not only of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta but of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as well. There are no other scriptures in the world in which God is treated as the son of a devotee. Usually God is seen as the almighty father who supplies the demands of His sons. The great devotees, however, sometimes treat God as a son in their execution of devotional service. The son demands, and the father and mother supply, and in supplying Kṛṣṇa the devotee becomes like a father or mother. Instead of taking from God, we give to God. It was in this relationship that Kṛṣṇa's mother, Yaśodā, told the Lord, “Here, eat this or You’ll die. Eat nicely.” In this way Kṛṣṇa, although the proprietor of everything, depends on the mercy of His devotee. This is a uniquely high level of friendship, in which the devotee actually believes himself to be the father or mother of Kṛṣṇa.
However, Lord Caitanya's greatest gift was His teaching that Kṛṣṇa can be treated as one's lover. In this relationship the Lord becomes so much attached to His devotee that He expresses His inability to reciprocate. Kṛṣṇa was so obliged to the gopīs, the cowherd girls of Vṛndāvana, that He felt unable to return their love. "I cannot repay your love," He told them. "I have no more assets to give." Devotional service on this highest, most excellent platform of lover and beloved, which had never been given by any previous incarnation or ācārya, was given by Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Therefore Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, quoting Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, writes in the fourth verse of his book, "Lord Caitanya is Kṛṣṇa in a yellow complexion, and He is Śacīnandana, the son of mother Śacī. He is the most charitable personality because He came to deliver kṛṣṇa-prema, unalloyed love for Kṛṣṇa, to everyone. May you always keep Him in your hearts. It will be easy to understand Kṛṣṇa through Him."
We have often heard the phrase "love of Godhead." How far this love of Godhead can actually be developed can be learned from the Vaiṣṇava philosophy. Theoretical knowledge of love of God can be found in many places and in many scriptures, but what that love of Godhead actually is and how it is developed can be found in the Vaiṣṇava literatures. It is the unique and highest development of love of God that is given by Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
Even in this material world we can have a little sense of love. How is this possible? It is due to the presence of our original love of God. Whatever we find within our experience within this conditioned life is situated in the Supreme Lord, who is the ultimate source of everything. In our original relationship with the Supreme Lord there is real love, and that love is reflected pervertedly through material conditions. Our real love is continuous and unending, but because that love is reflected pervertedly in this material world, it lacks continuity and is inebriating. If we want real, transcendental love, we have to transfer our love to the supreme lovable object—Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the basic principle of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
In material consciousness we are trying to love that which is not at all lovable. We give our love to cats and dogs, running the risk that at the time of death we may think of them and consequently take birth in a family of cats or dogs. Our consciousness at the time of death determines our next life. That is one reason why the Vedic scriptures stress the chastity of women: If a woman is very much attached to her husband, at the time of death she will think of him, and in the next life she will be promoted to a man's body. Generally a man's life is better than a woman's because a man usually has better facilities for understanding the spiritual science.
But Kṛṣṇa consciousness is so nice that it makes no distincition between man and woman. In the Bhagavad-gītā (9.32), Lord Kṛṣṇa says, "Anyone who takes shelter of Me—whether a woman, śūdra, vaiśya or someone of low birth—is sure to achieve My association." This is Kṛṣṇa's guarantee.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu informs us that in every country and in every scripture there is some hint of love of Godhead. But no one knows what love of Godhead actually is. The Vedic scriptures, however, are different in that they can direct the individual in the proper way to love God. Other scriptures do not give information on how one can love God, nor do they actually define or describe what or who the Godhead actually is. Although they officially promote love of Godhead, they have no idea how to execute it. But Caitanya Mahāprabhu gives a practical demonstration of how to love God in a conjugal relationship. Taking the part of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, Caitanya Mahāprabhu tried to love Kṛṣṇa as Rādhārāṇī loved Him. Kṛṣṇa was always amazed by Rādhārāṇī’s love. "How does Rādhārāṇī give Me such pleasure?" He would ask. In order to study Rādhārāṇī, Kṛṣṇa lived in Her role and tried to understand Himself. This is the secret of Lord Caitanya's incarnation. Caitanya Mahāprabhu is Kṛṣṇa, but He has taken the mood and role of Rādhārāṇī to show us how to love Kṛṣṇa. Thus the author writes in the fifth verse, “I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord, who is absorbed in Rādhārāṇī’s thoughts.”
This brings up the question of who Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is and what Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa is. Actually Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa is the exchange of love—but not ordinary love. Kṛṣṇa has immense potencies, of which three are principal: the internal, the external and the marginal potencies. In the internal potency there are three divisions: samvit, hlādinī and sandhinī. The hlādinī potency is Kṛṣṇa's pleasure potency. All living entities have this pleasure-seeking potency, for all beings are trying to have pleasure. This is the very nature of the living entity. At present we are trying to enjoy our pleasure potency by means of the body in the material condition. By bodily contact we are attempting to derive pleasure from material sense objects. But we should not entertain the nonsensical idea that Kṛṣṇa, who is always spiritual, also tries to seek pleasure on this material plane. In the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa describes the material universe as a nonpermanent place full of miseries. Why, then, would He seek pleasure in matter? He is the Supersoul, the supreme spirit, and His pleasure is beyond the material conception.
To learn how Kṛṣṇa enjoys pleasure, we must study the first nine cantos of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and then we should study the Tenth Canto, in which Kṛṣṇa's pleasure potency is displayed in His pastimes with Rādhārāṇī and the damsels of Vraja. Unfortunately, unintelligent people turn at once to the sports of Kṛṣṇa in the Daśama-skandha, the Tenth Canto. Kṛṣṇa's embracing Rādhārāṇī or His dancing with the cowherd girls in the rāsa dance are generally not understood by ordinary men, because they consider these pastimes in the light of mundane lust. They foolishly think that Kṛṣṇa is like themselves and that He embraces the gopīs just as an ordinary man embraces a young girl. Some people thus become interested in Kṛṣṇa because they think that His religion allows indulgence in sex. This is not kṛṣṇa-bhakti, love of Kṛṣṇa, but prākṛta-sahajiyā—materialistic lust.
To avoid such errors, we should understand what Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa actually is. Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa display Their pastimes through Kṛṣṇa's internal energy. The pleasure potency of Kṛṣṇa's internal energy is a most difficult subject matter, and unless one understands what Kṛṣṇa is, one cannot understand it. Kṛṣṇa does not take any pleasure in this material world, but He has a pleasure potency. Because we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, the pleasure potency is within us also, but we are trying to exhibit that pleasure potency in matter. Kṛṣṇa, however, does not make such a vain attempt. The object of Kṛṣṇa's pleasure potency is Rādhārāṇī; Kṛṣṇa exhibits His potency as Rādhārāṇī and then engages in loving affairs with Her. In other words, Kṛṣṇa does not take pleasure in this external energy but exhibits His internal energy, His pleasure potency, as Rādhārāṇī and then enjoys with Her. Thus Kṛṣṇa manifests Himself as Rādhārāṇī in order to enjoy His internal pleasure potency. Of the many extensions, expansions and incarnations of the Lord, this pleasure potency is the foremost and chief.