Guru-parampara: The List of 32, Part 17

BY: ROCANA DASA - 13.9 2018

Misinterpreting and Misapplying the Guru-parampara List

In an article published on VNN, January 27, 2003, entitled "The Bhagavata Parampara"[20], Brahma das commented on the bhagavat-parampara as presented by Srila Prabhupada in Bhagavad-gita As It Is. The author referenced two source books, Sri Chaitanya: His life & Associates by Swami B.B. Tirtha [7], and Sri Guru Parampara: Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Heir to the Esoteric Life of Kedarnatha Bhaktivinoda by Swami B.V. Tripurari. [8]

Brahma das notes that Jagannath Das Babaji is co-listed with Baladeva Vidyabhushana – "28. (Baladeva) Jagannatha" – although the two were not contemporaries. Jagannath Das Babaji was not a contemporary of Visvanatha, who is #27 on the list. In fact, there are four consecutive gurus between Jagannath Das Babaji and Baladeva Vidyabhusana. Brahma das describes the ordering of the list, saying:

"His listing follows Bhaktisiddhanta's practice of emphasizing the teachings (siksa) of great gurus rather than a diksa succession of gurus. Bhaktisiddhanta's innovation in this regard was in this way much different than the traditional system that was in place in the Gaudiya Vaisnavism of his time."

When Brahma das says "His listing", he is referring to Srila Prabhupada, following Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. Brahma das also says that this is "Bhaktisiddhanta's innovation", presenting a list of "great gurus" rather than simply "diksa gurus", as was common at that time amongst the Gaudiya Vaishnavas. Of course, when we look at the List of 32 before the time of Lord Caitanya –all the way forward from Vyasa to Madhva, we see that this guru-parampara has never simply been a listing of "diksa gurus". So this is not "innovation" on Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's part. More accurately, the Thakur was restoring proper practice to the function of listing our Sampradaya Acaryas, following the examples set by the predecessor Acaryas, Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana and Sri Kavi Karnapura, and perhaps also Srila Bhaktivinoda.

In fact, Brahma das has a raison d'être for emphasizing this notion of "innovation", which has to do with his close association with Swami Tripurari, whose writings he drew upon in presenting his VNN article, "The Bhagavata Parampara". This same notion of "innovation" was mentioned earlier in this paper, in relationship to the book review of Swami Tripurari's Sri Guru Parampara book [8] by his follower, Babhru dasa, who writes:

"This booklet also explores the nature of the sampradaya as conceived by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. In response to the degeneration of many venerable lines of succession, Bhaktivinoda, and, following his explicit instruction, Bhaktisiddhanta, sought to reform the Gaudiya Vaisnava-sampradaya by stressing the substance over apparent form. Therefore, in pursuance of this end, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta fashioned such an essential lineage, consisting of universally acknowledged maha-bhagavatas, thus making the important teachings of the most prominent lines accessible to all sincere devotees. This essential sampradaya may be called a bhagavata- or siksa-sampradaya. The outward form is less important than essential spiritual ideal, the Swami explains. Such is the nature of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's revolution."

While we completely agree with Swami Tripurari's presentation, that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was following the explicit instructions and example of Srila Bhaktivinoda in properly representing the eternal guru-parampara, we have some difficulty with the language the Swami has uses to convey this understanding.

Babhru/Tripuri say that Bhaktisiddhanta 'conceived of the nature of the sampradaya', that he 'fashioned' an essential lineage, and this was a 'revolution'. Brahma das follows suit, saying this was 'Bhaktisiddhanta's innovation'. In fact, although Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's Gaudiya Vaisnava contemporaries had digressed from a proper presentation of guru-parampara, the Thakurs were not inventing something new. They were simply following the previous Sampradaya Acaryas, restoring to order the practice of listing the transcendental Spiritual Masters in perfection in the disciplic succession.

The underlying motivation for emphasizing all this conceiving, fashioning, innovating, and revolutionizing of the guru-parampara list becomes very clear when we arrive at the end of the list: His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. What better invitation for those who wish to add another name to the list – their own diksa or siksa guru, or their own name – than to preach the notion that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was a 'fashioner and innovator'. In other words, all living Vaishnavas can use this description as a license to do their own 'conceiving' and 'fashioning', as they carry the list forward from Srila Prabhupada based on their interpretation of the current Gaudiya Vaisnava landscape and who is deserving of inclusion on the list. Thus, today we find all sorts of names appended: B.R. Sridhar Maharaja (Swami Tripurari's siksa, and primary guru), B.V. Narayana (who wished to be installed as Srila Prabhupada's successor), ISKCON diksa gurus, etc.

Of course, in the case of so many devotees today, we find that politics and favoritism enter the arena. Those who are casually adding names to the list after Srila Prabhupada are not themselves Sampradaya Acaryas like Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, Srila Bhaktivinoda, and Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana. They are not themselves maha-bhagavata, paramahamsa pure devotees. Nor are the names they so hopefully add to the list 'universally acknowledged maha-bhagavatas'. Instead, in many cases we find there is a tremendous amount of disagreement about the status and qualifications of these personalities.

In a later article by Brahma dasa entitled, "The Bhagavata Parampara And Diksa" (VNN, June 4, 2003) [21], he quotes Swami Tripurari's book Sri Guru Parampara:

"Bhaktisiddhanta's siksa guru parampara involved weaving his spiritual lineage out of the fabric of substance rather than formality. Considering the condition of the prominent diksa paramparas, he placed in his line all of the universally acknowledged maha-bhagavatas appearing at one time or another in the various diksa lineages. Thus his line crossed all of the lineages of the time and united them while dismissing them as well. He made a line of siddhas and claimed that connection to all of them was the right of all sincere followers of Mahaprabhu. Their teaching (siksa) and adherence to it was the binding force of the sampradaya."

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's basis for including certain personalities on the list was not a consideration of their status as siksa or diksa, nor was it based on the "condition of the prominent diksa paramparas". It was an acknowledgement of the spiritual identity of individual maha-bhagavatas as Sampradaya Acaryas.

To our knowledge, there is no evidence to support Tripurari Swami's statement that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta included on the list "all of the universally acknowledged maha-bhagavats appearing at one time or another in the various diksa lineages". Obviously, that is a very broad group. But this was not a canvassing process, sweeping all members of any particular group into a category -- not even maha-bhagavats. It was more personal than that. For example, there are those among the Vaisnava saints and parishad associates of Lord Chaitanya who are widely considered to be maha-bhagavats, whose names were not included on the guru-parampara list by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. Tripurari Swami suggests that some of these names were probably lost, but we do not accept that speculative conclusion.

We also question the Swami's characterization of the Sampradaya Acaryas as being a "line of siddhas" -- a definition and categorizatoin he offers no real clarification of. In essence, Tripurari Swami is repeating the same message B.R. Sridhar Swami gave. The use of language like 'line of siddhas' effectively serves to create ambiguity, which makes it easier to accept the addition of Sridhar Swami's name to the List, and likewise to accept the addition of other names in future.

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FOOTNOTES:

[7] Sri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates by Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaja

[8] Book Review of Sri Guru-parampara: Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Heir to the Esoteric Life of Kedarnatha Bhaktivinoda by Swami B.V. Tripurari (Harmonist Publishers, 1998). Review by Babhru dasa, ISKCON Communications Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2, December 1999

[20] The Bhagavata Parampara by Brahma dasa, VNN, January 27, 2003 
http://www.harekrsna.com/sun/editorials/00-guru-tattva/TheBhagavataParam...

[21] The Bhagavata Parampara And Diksa by Brahma dasa 
http://www.vnn.org/editorials/ET0306/ET04-8112.html