Guru-parampara: The List of 32, Part 10

BY: ROCANA DASA

Bringing the List Forward from Lord Caitanya

With the passing of time, more and more disciples and followers of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada are attempting to understanding the nature, importance and essential meaning of the list of Sampradaya Acaryas presented in Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Many important indicators are found in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's list of names following Lord Caitanya -- a list that was undoubtedly composed with the greatest possible diligence and Krsna consciousness.

When Srila Bhaktisiddhanta composed his list, the selection of names he included on the list -- and more importantly, those he excluded -- created a great disturbance amongst the local maths and caste Goswamis. This alone tells us much about the importance of the list. It was not seen as a casual thing by the community of devotees – not just a compilation of names of some of the Gaudiya preachers, diksa gurus, or "small a" acaryas. This was a list of the Sampradaya's topmost members – the perfect transmitters of Absolute Truth, coming down directly from Lord Brahma.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's list mentions Baladeva Vidyabhusana followed by Jagannatha dasa Babaji, and on the Gita List of 32 these two are grouped together in item #28, as "(Baladeva) Jagannatha". It was Baladeva Vidyabhusana who formally established Gaudiya bhasya in his presentation to the Ramanandis at Galta, when he presented Sri Govinda Bhasya. In terms of placing added importance upon the pastimes of certain illustrious members of the Sampradaya, there is typically a focus placed on the bhasya they delivered. We have the universally accepted examples of the four main Sampradaya Acaryas, Madhva, Ramanuja, Nimbarka and Visnuswami. Many devotees today argue that these four individuals were designated as 'Sampradaya Acaryas' because they introduced a significant element of bhasyainto our Sampradaya. But interestingly enough, Baladeva Vidyabhusana, who is famous for his presentation on Gaudiya bhasya, appears on the Gita List of 32 as a parenthetical preface to Jagannatha das Babaji.

In all three iterations of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's list, just as on Srila Prabhupada's Gita list, two of the final names listed are Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Gaurakisora das Babaji. This underscores another all-important aspect of the guru-parampara list: the fact that the author of Sri Guru-parampara, HDG Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, did not place his own illustrious name after Gaurakisora's, as item #31. Again, according to Atulakrsna Dattaji, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's name was added later by his disciples. In his Bhagavad-gita list, Srila Prabhupada included Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's name followed by his own. Srila Prabhupada did not add other names to the list above his own -- not Bhaktisiddhanta's peers or other favored disciples of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur's, nor any of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's disciples (his own godbrothers).

As disciples and followers of Srila Prabhupada, it is our job to contemplate the meaning of the list of Sampradaya Acaryas and arrive at our own realizations about it. With respect to adding names to the list, our personal realizations about the addition of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's name to the list is the heart of our Sampradaya Acarya position.

In the case of Kavi Karnapura and Baladeva Vidyabhusana's lists, we don't have an example of how these two Sampradaya Acaryas dealt with the addition of the most recent Acaryas of their day, because they both stopped at Lord Caitanya's Name.

Lord Chaitanya departed from this world in 1534 A.D., 42 years before Sri Kavi Karnapura's departure, in 1576 A.D. Rupa Goswami departed in 1564, and Sanatana in 1558. But although Kavi Karnapura lived one to two decades after Rupa and Sanatana's departures, he did not add their names to his list of Sampradaya Acaryas in Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika. In other words, the addition of names is not some mechanical process.

Jiva Goswami, the last of the Six Goswamis to disappear from this world, departed in 1598. Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana departed in 1768 -- 170 years later. But like Kavi Karnapura, Sri Vidyabhusana also did not include the Goswamis in his chronological Prameya-ratnavali list, although he does mention them in the narrative that follows his itemized list.

The English translation of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's Sri Guru-parampara (Bengali poem) say:

"Bhaktivinoda Thakura was followed by Sri Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji, a great devotee, whose only pleasure was the service of Sri Hari.

"All these pure devotees of the Lord represent the dynasty of Sri Gauranga, the Gaura-vamsa. Their holy feet are my only refuge. I am devoid of any real service to them, but hope that one day their service may be mine. I am only a fallen tridandi-sannyasi by the name of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati."

At the Bengali poem we can see that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's name is not at the end of the itemized list, but rather is noted in the closing glorification, presumably added by his disciples, like the addition to the Sanskrit verse:

mahabhagavata-vara, sri-gaura-kisora-vara, 
hari-bhajanete yanra moda
sri varsabhanavi-bara, sada sevya-sevapara, 
tanhara dayitadasa nama
ei saba hari-jana, gaurangera nija-jana, 
tandera ucchiste mora kama

In Bhagavad-gita As It Is, however, Srila Prabhupada does list his name as #32 – "His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada". In his lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam, April 9, 1969, he states:

"…from Bhaktivinoda Thakura to Gaurakisora dasa Babaji Maharaja, and from Gaurakisora dasa Babaji my spiritual master, and then we are descended."

In his letter to Upendra, February 13, 1968, he writes:

"28. (Bhaktivinode) Gaura-kisora, 29. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, Sri Barshabhanavidayitadas, 30. Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta."

We have already mentioned several indications of how Srila Prabhupada's addition of his own name might be understood. One of the key elements in our Sampradaya Acarya thesis is that Srila Prabhupada is a nitya-siddha, sent to this world by Lord Caitanya Himself as His deputed senapati bhakta:

"Even if the sinners reject religion or flee to foreign countries, still they will get the mercy. I will send My senapati (military field commander) bhakta to go there and deliver them." (Lord Caitanya from Sri Caitanya Mangala, Sutra-Khanda by Locana das Thakura)

While all this is certainly congruent with Srila Prabhupada's use of the phrase, "then we are descended" in the April 9, 1969 lecture mentioned above, it seems more likely that he was using the term in the same way it was used by Kavi Karnapura in his Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika:

"22. I shall now begin this book by describing the disciplic succesion descended from Sripada Madhvacarya."

A sign of humility, which is the hallmark of great Vaisnavas, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta is mentioned at the end of Sri Guru-parampara as being "a lowly tridandi-sannyasi". Likewise, Srila Prabhupada never sang his own glories, but often humbly criticized himself, instead always praising his Spiritual Master. Nonetheless, he chose to add his own name to the List of 32 in Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Why did he do so? As suggested above, one likely reason is that he was introducing Bhagavad-gita and the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya to parts of the world completely unfamiliar with Vedic culture, and wished to clearly establish his own authority for the benefit of readers who would have no idea of the concept of parampara.

Some have speculated that Srila Prabhupada knew his own disciples wouldn't have the necessary realization to add his name, so he did it himself -- very likely knowing that his neophyte followers would soon busy themselves with adding their own names to the list. But speculation aside, whatever his reasons, in adding his own name to the list of 32 members of the guru-parampara Srila Prabhupada was not simply engaging in one-upmanship with his godbrothers. He was not adding his name and ignoring their names -- even the name of his close friend, Srila Sridhar Maharaja.

Srila Prabhupada was making a very pointed and explicit philosophical statement in adding his name to the list. Although we cannot be certain what his reasons were since he didn't specify them, we can be certain that he did not take such an action capriciously.

Srila Prabhupada did not compose item #32 conjunctively on the list, to read:

His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Srila Sridhar Maharaja)

Nor did he write:

(Srila Sridhar Maharaja) His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

as a way of acknowledging that Srila Sridhar was his senior by age or by date of initiation. Nor did he add the names of his other Gaudiya Math godbrothers or his sannyasa guru, HH Bhaktiprajnana Kesava Goswami.

Determining who the transcendental personalities on the guru-parampara list are, and how they are distinguished from all the other stellar Vaisnavas in the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Sampradaya, is not simply a matter of speculation or favoring popularity. Srila Prabhupada and the previous Acaryas have given ample indications in that regard.

In an address by Srila Prabhupada, published in The Harmonist in 1936 [11], on the Appearance day of HDG Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada said the following:

"The transcendental knowledge of the Vedas was first uttered by God to Brahma, the creator of this particular universe. From Brahma the knowledge descended to Narada, from Narada to Vyasadeva, from Vyasadeva to Madhva, and in this process of disciplic succession the transcendental knowledge was transmitted by one disciple to another till it reached Lord Gauranga, Sri Krsna Caitanya, who posed as the disciple and successor of Sri Isvara Puri. The present acaryadeva is the tenth disciplic representative from Sri Rupa Goswami, the original representative of Lord Caitanya who preached this transcendental tradition in its fullness. The knowledge that we receive from our gurudeva is not different from that imparted by God Himself and the succession of the acaryas in the preceptorial line of Brahma."

In this brief paragraph, Srila Prabhupada makes it clear that he is referring to the members of the disciplic succession included in the List of 32 -- the Sampradaya Acaryas. From Lord Brahma, to Lord Caitanya, to Rupa Goswami – who was added to the list by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta -- then on to Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati himself. Srila Prabhupada clearly states, in the context of this group of individuals, that his Spiritual Master is the present acaryadeva, and he is the tenth disciplic representative from Sri Rupa Goswami. If he were not referring to the enumerated list – our List of 32 -- he would not have referred specifically to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta as the tenth disciplic representative from Rupa Goswami. There are many, many Vaisnavas in our line between Lord Caitanya and Rupa Goswami, and many in the line from Rupa to Bhaktisiddhanta, yet the latter is again named as the tenth in disciplic succession.

Similarly, in his letter to Upendra, February 13, 1968, Srila Prabhupada referred to his Spiritual Master as being the 10th generation from Lord Caitanya, and himself the 11th generation. His use of the term "generation" can be clearly understood by considering this 1936 Appearance Day offering. "10th generation" means "the tenth disciplic representative" – not the 10th group, or wave of devotees, but a certain individual representative.

Srila Prabhupada refers collectively to these disciplic representatives as the acaryas in the preceptorial line of Brahma, which we argue is non-different than referring to them as the 'Sampradaya Acaryas'.