Guru-parampara: The List of 32, Part 16

BY: ROCANA DASA

Significance of the List of 32 Members of the guru-parampara

What can be concluded by studying all these technicalities related to the List of 32? While matters of nomenclature seem pale in comparison to the transcendental pastimes of these personalities, there is obviously enormous significance in this list of topmost Acaryas in our disciplic succession. Everything about them, including how they are described in paramparalists, is of the upmost importance.

In the case of Brahmanya and Purusottama we are faced with seeming inconsistencies, but we rely on the word of the most recent Sampradaya Acarya, appreciating that he has followed – without change – his own Spiritual Master. This is the essence of disciplic succession. We do not skip back over the current Sampradaya Acarya, taking instead our interpreted opinion of a previous Acarya. If there is any question, the most recent Sampradaya Acarya stands as the definitive, inarguable source of Absolute Truth, whether the subject matter is particulars of the disciplic succession, or some aspect of Sri Krsna's transcendental Name or Form.

When we take all this into account, we can see the tremendous importance of dealing properly with the final name on the list -- the preeminent Sampradaya Acarya's name. It is not that we point to anomalies like Dayanidhi/Mahanidhi or Brahmanya/Purusottama and conclude that the list is not absolute, therefore we have carte blanche to add whatever names we like after Srila Prabhupada's name, in whatever order we like. Clearly this is not how the guru-parampara list has been handled over more than 500 years, since the first extant recording of it by Kavi Karnapura in his Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika, in 1498 A.D.

Any consideration of whose name is placed last on the List of 32 must take into account the great precision and spiritual perfection with which the list was handed down over the ages. To whimsically add names to the list is an arrogance of the highest order. We do not even need to argue about the personal qualifications of a particular contemporary in this regard – we simply need to study the painstaking care with which this list has been handed down. By its very nature, the guru-parampara reveals itself as being a rarified list of 32 divine personalities who are the pinnacle of pure transmission of the Absolute Truth in the descending parampara. Anyone bold enough to add their own name, or allow it to be added, should be scrutinized to the greatest degree possible, in comparison to all the previous Sampradaya Acaryas. And when we hold His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada to such scrutiny, we can only conclude that he inarguably qualifies and deserves to have his name placed as number 32 on the list following the two preceding Sampradaya Acaryas, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakurs.

The fact that these three -- Bhaktivinoda, Bhaktisiddhanta and Bhaktivedanta Thakurs -- came in short succession on the timeline does not make the guru-parampara cheap, opening the doors wide so that any and all diksa gurus and 'small a' acaryas can now freely add their own name to the list as contemporaries. This succession of three nitya-siddha, shaktyavesa, paramahamsa, maha-bhagavata Sampradaya Acaryas should be understood in just the same way that we understand the concentration of transcendental personalities who preceded the advent of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu in our Sampradaya. For example, Laksmipati Tirtha, Madhavendra Puri and Advaita Acarya came to prepare the way for Mahaprabhu's descent. Similarly, Srila Bhaktivinoda, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Bhaktivedanta came shortly after, executing the Lord's predestined plan: that the Holy Name be distributed to every town and village on the planet. Who would dare to add their own name to such an inconceivably stellar list of transcendental personalities? Only one who is himself a true Sampradaya Acarya of the highest order -- either that, or a puffed-up neophyte who imagines himself to be as good as God.

Jaya Tirtha Charan dasa probably didn't anticipate when writing his biographical sketches of the parampara acaryas that they would form the basis for any kind of comparative study of individual Acaryas. The pastimes of all our Sampradaya Acaryas are glorious, and there is no possibility of comparing these individuals in some absolute way based on apparent external success or attributes, what to speak of their hidden, internal ecstasies and devotion. At the same time, a fair comparison can and must be made of their overall exalted natures so that our current Sampradaya Acarya, Srila Prabhupada, can be understood in the context of this guru-parampara as being of equal stature to the other members of the List of 32. Comparison for the right reasons is proper and is encouraged by sastra -- in fact, it is required.

Central to these biographical sketches is an emphasis on the Acaryas' philosophical knowledge and depth of realization, demonstrated by their veracity and adeptness in defeating other pandits in debate, and by the books they contributed to the body of Vaisnava sastra. In all such areas, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is above exemplary.

A common denominator or distinguishing factor that one can recognize in all the biographies is that these Sampradaya Acaryas had the mood of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in the sense that they had intense compassion for the fallen conditioned souls and expressed that by preaching and writing. If you recognize this to be a primary reason why the successive Sampradaya Acaryas included them in the guru-parampara list, then you can easily see how A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the most prominent disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to have exhibited these characteristics, and can therefore easily conclude that he is more than qualified to be put on the list.

Srila Prabhupada did not criticize his godbrothers in any way other than the fact that they did not embrace the main desire of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to actively and dynamically preach in the West, doing what he did. He was so humble that he would insinuate that he was doing it because his other godbrothers didn't do it -- not that they didn't have the pre-requisite qualifications to accomplish this task, whereas he was a nitya-siddha who was sent directly by the Lord to do it.

As we've said on many occasions, we are not saying that any of Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers were not bona fide diksa gurus. What we do say is that to varying degrees, Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers did not accurately distinguish Srila Prabhupada as being a Sampradaya Acarya… but that's understandable. What is not acceptable, in my view, is that the leaders of ISKCON who are Srila Prabhupada's disciples, do not recognize Srila Prabhupada to be a Sampradaya Acarya -- an exalted member of the List of 32 Spiritual Masters in perfection in the disciplic succession. I criticize my own godbrothers to a far greater degree than I do Srila Prabhupada's godbrothers, for not properly recognizing him.

Most devotees today are relatively unfamiliar with the lives of the earlier Sampradaya Acaryas, e.g., those following Madhvacarya, up to the time of Madhavendra Puri. The lives of the more recent Sampradaya Acaryas are well documented in Caitanya-caritamrta, and it's not necessary for us to repeat that material here. But we hope our narrative on the lives of the earlier Sampradaya Acaryas (to follow) will help to dispel the misconception that they are somehow a caliber above our Srila Prabhupada, or that they are included in the ancient list of guru-parampara members due to qualities or pastimes somehow not shared by Srila Prabhupada, e.g., due to the introduction of bhasya. As the narrative clearly indicates, that is not the case. They are all transcendental personalities of the highest stature, including our Srila Prabhupada.