Guru-parampara: The List of 32, Part 11

BY: ROCANA DASA - 31.8 2018

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's Bhagavat-parampara 

Any discussion of bringing the guru-parampara list forward from Lord Chaitanya has to include mention of a debate that has been quietly raging on for decades about Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur's personal connection to the parampara and his preaching on bhagavat-parampara. Voices on all sides have been spinning this debate in their own convenient direction, whether it be devotees in the Lalita Prasad line, the Vrindavan Anti-party (Jiva Institute), or the Rtvik-vadis who are now trying to argue that bhagavat-parampara authorizes the practice of bhagavati-diksa. In fact, quite a number of Rtviks today are starting to focus in this direction, hoping that bhagavati-diksa will fill the gap left by technical defeats that have decimated their Final Order siddhanta.

In our opinion, many elements of the Bhaktisiddhanta bhagavat-parampara debate are resolved by applying the fundamental tenets of our Sampradaya Acarya position. One significant juncture where these two aspects of guru-tattva intersect happens to be in the List of 32 -- the guru-parampara list handed down by Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya Acaryas, most recently memorialized in sastra as the List of 32 in Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is.

While the topic is far too complex for us to introduce in this paper, our commentary on the 'List of 32' will serve as a building block for the arguments we'll put forward in future when addressing the bhagavat-parampara and bhagavati-diksa debates.

In Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava [12], HH Bhakti Vikas Swami discusses the criticism leveled at Bhaktisiddhanta Thakur by Visvambharananda dasa Babaji and the caste Goswamis of Vrndavana over the guru-parampara list Bhaktisiddhanta composed. Bhakti Vikas Swami writes:

"Sarasvati Thakura responded by explaining the concept of bhagavata-parampara, or siksa-parampara. He maintained that the essence of parampara lies in the transmission of transcendental knowledge, not merely in a list of contiguous names. The life of the parampara is maintained by the maha-bhagavatas, who embody the essence of scriptural knowledge. Therefore, to trace the parampara through such maha-bhagavatas truly represents parampara."

A portion of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's response to the caste Goswamis is found in his booklet, Brahmana o Vaishnaver Taratamya Visayaka Siddhanta ('The Conclusion on the Comparison Between Brahmanas and Vaishnavas'), an essay based on a famous lecture given by the Thakur at Midnapur in 1911.

Some devotees point to Brahmana o Vaishnaver as evidence that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta instituted radical reform to the Sampradaya by essentially replacing the focus on pancharatrika initiation with his own new concept of bhagavati-diksa. Some go so far as to suggest that he actually started a new sampradaya: the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Saraswata Sampradaya.

We suggest that Bhaktisiddhanta did not invent some radical reformation -- rather, he followed the age-old process reflected in the List of 32. While critics of Bhaktisiddhanta point to supposed errors in the Thakur's guru-parampara list, particularly in the line from the Six Goswamis up to Jagannatha das Babaji, the list as he presented it, and as Srila Prabhupada has given it in Bhagavad-gita As It Is, is a faultless representation of the descending line of Sampradaya Acaryas. And in fact, the aspects of nomenclature we have been pointing out in this paper -- conjunctive groups, multiple names per line, etc. -- were employed as a means of technically stating or itemizing names and relationships in the disciplic succession that properly follow an eternal process of descent of the pure, unalloyed sampradaya.

We'll save for another paper a discussion of how the guru-parampara list actually serves to reconcile and resolve dilemmas regarding diksa relationships in the context of pancharatrikaand bhagavat, which some devotees characterize as 'radical reform' or 'innovation'. Much remains to be said on this complex issue, but again, it is our belief that the Sampradaya Acarya position serves to clarify and resolve many of the dilemmas associated with this debate.

For now, we can only caution the reader to take the greatest possible care when consuming opinions on the topic of bhagavat-parampara. Such commentaries are becoming more and more prevalent on the Net today amongst the ISKCON community of devotees, most of them originating from Gaudiya branches that are not inline with Srila Prabhupada's teachings. Now the Rtvik-vadis have begun proliferating these arguments, putting even more devotees at risk of being contaminated. These arguments are imbued with a most deadly form of poison -- enviousness of the Sampradaya Acaryas.