The parama-puruṣārtha, or the supreme goal of life, is prema. This is the principle for which Brahmā, the grandfather of the universe, and Mahādeva Śiva, the god of gods, are searching. It is also the most sought-after object for the liberated jīvas. It is the one and only object of attainment of all spiritual practices (sādhanas), and it is the ultimate goal delineated throughout the entire body of the śāstras. In Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, in the section known as rūpa-śikṣā, jagad-guru Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu says:
brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja
mālī hañā kare seī bīja āropaṇa
śravaṇa-kīrtana-jale karaye secana
After wandering for a long, long time in this material existence, some fortunate jīva, by the mercy of guru and Kṛṣṇa, attains the seed of the creeper of devotion (bhakti-latā-bīja) in the form of kṛṣṇa-sevā-vāsanā, the desire to serve Kṛṣṇa. He waters that seed with the water of hearing (śravaṇa) and chanting (kīrtana). It begins to sprout, and develops into a creeper.
‘prema-phala’ pāki’ paḍe, mālī āsvādaya
latā avalambi’ mālī ‘kalpa-vṛkṣa’ pāya
tāhāṅ sei kalpa-vṛksera karaye sevana
sukhe prema-phala-rasa kare āsvādana
eita parama phala ‘parama-puruṣārtha’
jāṅra āge tṛṇa-tulya cāri puruṣārtha
The creeper pierces the coverings of the universe, and one after another traverses the Virajā, the impersonal brahma-jyoti and the spiritual planets of Vaikuṇṭha. Finally, it climbs up the desire-tree of Vrajendra-nandana Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet in Goloka Vṛndāvana. There it bears fruits in the form of prema. When the fruit becomes ripe, it falls here in this world, and the gardener tastes it. Taking support from that creeper of devotion (bhakti-latā), he takes shelter of the desire-tree of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet and always tastes the transcendental mellow (rasa) of the fruit of prema. This very prema is the crest jewel of all achievements for the jīva.
If prema is compared to the sun, then bhāva is likened to a ray of that prema. In his definition of bhāva, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī says:
rucibhiś citta māsṛṇya-
kṛd asau bhāva ucyate
That bhakti which is the embodiment of śuddha-sattva, which is compared to a ray of the sun of prema, and which melts the heart by various tastes, is called bhāva.
When śuddha-sattva in the form of bhāva becomes mature, it evokes very thick mamatā, or feelings of possessiveness, for the object of one’s service, and this makes the heart extremely soft. Such bhāva, imbued with very thick mamatā, is called prema.
bhāvaḥ sa eva sāndrātmā
budhaiḥ premā nigadyate
This can be expressed as follows: The saṁvit function of the self-manifesting svarūpa-śakti is called śuddha-sattva. Bhāva imbued with very thick mamatā for Kṛṣṇa is the special function of the hlādinī aspect of cit-śakti. That supremely astonishing bhāva which arises when these two mix together in the heart of a pure jīva is called viśuddha-prema.
When bhāva, or rati, which is the sprout of prema, arises in the heart of the sādhaka, its intrinsic nature produces the following collection of anubhāvas: kṣānti, tolerance; avyartha-kālatva, the habit of never wasting even a single moment; virakti, detachment from worldly enjoyment; māna-śūnyatā, absence of pride; āśā-bandha, the hope that Kṛṣṇa will bestow His mercy; samutkaṇṭhā, intense longing to attain one’s goal; nāma-gāne sadā rucih, continuous taste in nāma-kīrtana ; tad-guṇākhyāne āsakti, attachment for the narrations of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes; and tad-vasati-sthale prītiḥ, affection for the places of His pastimes.
The beginning stage of prema is rati. When this rati becomes highly intensified it is called prema. This rati is evoked in two ways: (1) by the mercy of Śrī Kṛṣṇa or His devotees, and (2) by absorption in sādhana. In this world, rati is generally born of absorption in sādhana. The appearance of rati born purely from mercy is rarely seen.
The rati arising from absorption in sādhana is also of two types: (1) rati arising from vaidhī-bhakti-sādhana; and (2) rati arising from rāgānuga-bhakti-sādhana. The rati arising from vaidhī-sādhana-bhakti is full of reverence for Bhagavān’s majesty and leads to Vaikuṇṭha. In contrast, the rati arising from rāgānuga-sādhana-bhakti is full of the loving service to Kṛṣṇa in Vraja.
Rāgātmika-bhakti is always present in the associates of Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Vraja. The devotion which follows in the wake of this bhakti is called rāgānuga. Rāgānuga-bhakti has two types of sādhana: external and internal. External sādhana consists of practices such as hearing and chanting which the sādhaka performs by the body in which he is presently situated. The service performed throughout the eight periods of the day to the Divine Couple Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Yugala in Vraja is called internal mānasī-sevā.
Highly developed affection (prīti), experienced merely as joy in the first stage when it has not yet blossomed, is called rati. This is attained in śānta-rasa. When rati arises, everything except for service to Kṛṣṇa seems insignificant. When profuse mamatā appears within such rati, then it is called prema. This is realized in dāsya-rasa. That love in which there is a higher sense of complete conf idence, and which becomes even thicker despite the presence of causes for its destruction is called praṇaya. This is observed in sakhya-rasa. When this praṇaya assumes a surprising and unusual state of prema, it is called māna. That intense prema which makes the heart extremely molten is called sneha.
When sneha is imbued with intense longing it is known as rāga. With the appearance of rāga, even a moment of separation is intolerable, and at that time, distress is felt as happiness. When rāga always experiences its object (the most beloved Kṛṣṇa) in ever-fresh ways then it is called anurāga. In this stage there is visphūrti (the condition of being bereft of external knowledge) at the time of separation. When that anurāga becomes more condensed and attains an incomparably astonishing condition like madness (unmāda), it is called mahābhāva. When mahābhāva arises, even the blinking of one’s eyelids at the time of meeting produces an intolerable separation, and even a kalpa (4,320,000,000 years) passes away like a moment. In anurāga and mahābhāva, the combination of all transformations such as sāttvika and vyabhicārī is observed in a highly blazing (mahādīpta) condition. This very mahābhāva is the intrinsic nature of Śrīmatī Rādhikā, whose each and every limb is made of mahābhāva.
This is the teaching of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and it has been described by Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura in a condensed form:
ārādhyo bhagavān vrajeśa-tanaya-stad-dhāma vṛndāvanaṁ
ramyā kācid upāsanā vraja-vadhū-vargeṇa yā kalpitā
śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ pramāṇam amalaṁ premā pumartho mahān
śrī-caitanya-mahāprabhor matam idaṁ tatrādaro naḥ paraḥ
Both Bhagavān Vrajendra-nandana Śrī Kṛṣṇa and the magnificent Śrī Dhāma Vṛndāvana are the exclusive objects of worship. The mood in which the young brides of Vraja have worshipped Kṛṣṇa is the most excellent of all. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam alone is the immaculate evidence (śabda-pramāṇa) and prema is the supreme objective of life. This is the supremely worshipful siddhānta of Caitanya Mahāprabhu. There is no other conception worthy of respect.