The Parampara Institution in Gaudiya Vaishnavism (Part II)

The origins of the śikṣā-sampradāya idea

ISKCON's disciplic line, which we have here called a śikṣā-sampradāya, (30) is traced through Bhaktivedanta Swami to Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, then to Gaura Kishor Das Babaji and then to Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Bhaktivinoda (which is the title given to Kedarnath Datta, d. 1914) was the natural father of Bhaktisiddhanta, whose original name was Bimala Prasad Datt. In the disciplic line which was proned by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, Bhaktivinoda Thakur's spiritual master was Jagannath Das Babaji. It is known from Bhaktivinoda's own writings,(31) however, that he was initiated by Bipin Bihari Goswami, a descendant of Ramacandra, the adopted son of Jahnava and founder of a dynasty of initiating gurus based in Baghna Para, a village about 20 kilometers southwest of Nabadwip.(32) One of Bhaktivinoda's eight sons, Lalita Prasad, took initiation from him and preserved the disciplic line which Bipin Bihari Goswami passed on to Bhaktivinoda Chart (See Chart II below).

Having already resumed far too much history in far too brief a space, I find that my task is not yet complete. Another brief look at an even lengthier chunk of history must be me made before we can take a quick glance at the earliest texts of the tradition to see whether any light can be cast on the issues involved in this conflict between ideas on the nature of disciplic succession. Only then will we be able to make some conclusions about the possible ramifications for the future of ISKCON.

The word paramparā, generally translated as 'disciplic succession', is found in the Bhagavad-gita (4.3), where Krishna says evaṁ paramparā-prāptam imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ: 'This knowledge of yoga was passed down in disciplic succession and in this way the seer-kings knew it.' There Krishna reveals that the knowledge of the Gitā being spoken to Arjuna is the same as that which he himself had taught to Vivasvant, who had told it to Manu, who had told it to Iksvaku the first human in the line. In the course of time the message had been lost and he had become incarnate specifically to reestablish this knowledge by speaking it to Arjuna.

Though the great majority of Hindus today revere the Bhagavad-gitā, there are none who claim to be in a disciplic succession of teachers who have their origin in this conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. However, the principle itself is seen as being of imperative importance in the great majority of traditionalist Hindu groups. Most Purāṇas claim a rough disciplic succession for themselves. Their structure is nearly always in the manner of a dialogue in which the speaker answering inquiries by citing a higher authority, in the manner of, 'Interesting question. I heard Siva say the following about that to Parvati,' etc. In both these examples, disciplic succession is clearly one of a transmission of teaching, not of mantra.

The Gaudiya Vaishnavas, and I speak here specifically of the school which traces its origins to Chaitanya in all its manifestations including ISKCON, claim a disciplic succession which can be roughly divided into three or four historical periods as the name Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya-sampradāya partially indicates. The first is the mythological period of succession which begins with the creator god Brahma's introduction of the teachings into the world of matter. The second is the historical period of succession which begins with the South Indian Madhvacarya. The third begins with the life and teaching of Chaitanya. The fourth period, only accepted by the Gaudiya Math and its branches, is that begun in the modern period by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.

The succession has mythical beginnings in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. There Vishnu speaks the catuḥ-ślokī Bhāgavata to the creator God Brahma. He in turn speaks a more elaborate version to his son, the sage Narada. Narada teaches Vyasa, who writes the Bhāgavata down. His son Suka is his disciple and the speaker of the Bhāgavata. This is clearly not a dīkṣā succession, but one based simply on the transmission of knowledge.

Ananda Tirtha or Madhvacarya (d. 1300) claimed to be the direct disciple of Vyasa, receiving the Vedanta teachings from him. Once again, his relationship with Vyasa is nowhere stated to be one of initiation. His initiation is described as having come from the Sankara line. Madhva established a monastery in Udipi in modern Karnatak, where a rigid system of succession is in place.

Though it would appear at first that the third phase of the succession begins with Chaitanya, it in fact starts with Madhavendra Puri, who initiated several of Chaitanya's associates such as Advaita and Nityananda, as well as Chaitanya's own guru, Isvara Puri. Chaitanya did not himself formally initiate anyone, and indeed it is stated by Sanatana that, as an incarnation, he would not so do.(44)

At some point in history, the followers of Chaitanya became identified with the Madhva line. This identification has been contested by many, and for many reasons. Arguments have been put forth by various scholars, and there is little time to go into this here.(45) Certainly, there is little direct connection with Madhva teaching, nor any by initiation, for the mantras given in the Madhva line are different from those which were given by Madhavendra Puri and his disciples. Indeed it seems more likely that these mantras and a great deal of the ritual came from the Nimbārka sampradāya's Krama-dipika, much of which has been incorporated by Gopala Bhatta into Hari-bhakti-vilāsa.(46) Even a connection through samnyasa initiation seems impossible since the Tirtha title is the only one used in the Madhva line and samnyasa is limited to only a few select individuals.

This apparent absence of any real connection with the Madhva line leads many to conclude that an affiliation was artificially constructed for convenience's sake. There does indeed appear to have been pressure in the 18th century for the followers of Chaitanya to be affiliated with one of the four major Vaishnava sects, the cari sampradaya: those of Nimbarka, Madhva, Ramanuja and Visnusvami. A number of works dated to this period tie the Gaudiyas to Madhva, especially Baladeva Vidyabhusana's Prameya-ratnavali, which also tries to draw a doctrinal connection to Ananda Tirtha.(47)

Baladeva was known to have had connection with the Madhva line in his youth, coming to the doctrinal position of the Gaudiyas only later in his life. However, it is difficult to prove that certain passages in the text of Karnapura's Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika or Harirama Vyasa's Nava-ratna are interpolated as is suspected by many, including this author. We will thus leave the argument here. [See Is the Gaudiya Sampradaya connected to the Madhva line?]

Subsequent to Chaitanya, initiation in Bengali Vaishnavism was more or less a monopoly controlled by those whom Bhaktisiddhanta disparagingly called jāti gosāñi. These were members of brāhmaṇa, or less frequently vaidya or other families, who traced their lineage to direct associates of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Chief among these was the family of Nityananda, who according to the Nityānanda-vaṁśa-vistāra was instructed by Chaitanya himself to marry and establish a family precisely as an institutionalization of the succession. This tradition holds that this took place when Chaitanya established Nityananda's preaching mission, otherwise what was the need of Nityananda to get married?(48)

The charismatic Nityananda is generally accepted as ādi-guru in the Caitanya-bhāgavata and Caitanya-caritāmṛta. His wife Jahnava continued the work of initiating after his death, and her stepson Virabhadra and adopted son Ramachandra became her disciples and established temples and spiritual dynasties.(49) In none of these lines is any paramparā line prior to Chaitanya considered to have any importance; not even Madhavendra Puri or his disciple, Chaitanya's guru Ishvara Puri, are counted as part of the disciplic line.

It should be emphasized that this method of continuing the disciplic succession was the only one in vogue in the post-Chaitanya period. Those in the renounced order such as the Six Goswamis did not take many disciples in keeping with the injunction found in BhP vii.13.8 and stressed by Rupa Goswami in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (i.2.110). Where they established temples, they assured the continued service to the deities by turning them over to householders who were expected to maintain them through the generations. These families, centered around the great temples, also became important initiating spiritual masters of the sampradāya.

Other Vaishnavas who never married but were engaged in preaching work, such as Gadadhar Pandit, Narottama Das, Ramachandra Goswami of Baghna Para, etc., similarly established spiritual dynasties through their own householder disciples or through family members. Where are there any examples of disciplic lines that consist wholly of renunciants.

To summarize, it would appear that wherever a major change in the disciplic succession exists, i.e., with Madhva, Chaitanya and Bhaktisiddhanta, teaching is given precedence over initiation. Madhva rejects monistic teaching and establishes a new line on the basis of dualism. Madhavendra, apparently externally accepting Sankara samnyasa as did Chaitanya, adheres to an emotional bhakti of the Alvar type. His antecedents are not properly known, and with the appearance of the highly charismatic Chaitanya and Nityananda, no one really cares until social pressure requires the legitimacy of adherence to one of the four accepted Vaishnava lines. Even then, expediency demands adherence to the Madhva line, for Madhavendra Puri's disciplic line has been lost.

With Bhaktisiddhanta, the institutional superstructure already in place (and accepted, at least tacitly by his father, Bhaktivinoda Thakur) to maintain the teaching is rejected for having become corrupt. Each of these charismatic reformers nominally accepts an initiation, but functionally they and their descendants act independently of their antecedents. The question of dīkṣā and disciplic succession, though written large in the tradition, appears to be superseded by charisma, i.e., spiritual power. As we would expect, each revolution is followed by a new institutionalization which includes a system of initiation, but the disciplic line is for all intents and purposes a new one, its initial point being the charismatic founder.

It will come as no surprise that each of these charismatic founders is awarded a superior ontological status: Madhva is said to be an incarnation of Vayu, Chaitanya and his followers to be Krishna himself and his associates, and Bhaktisiddhanta, to be a "ray of Vishnu."

Initiation in the Bhakti-sandarbha

Before arriving at any further conclusions, only one further area must be examined. What does scripture say? Gaudiya Vaishnavas pride themselves on having a rich written tradition based on revealed sources such as the Bhāgavata. Can any light be shed on the questions that have been raised in the preceding pages be found in the writings of the six Goswamis, the primary theological authorities for all Gaudiya Vaishnavas?

Rupa Goswami makes it clear that surrendering to a spiritual master and taking initiation from him are the first steps in devotional practice.(50) Jiva goes into the matter in greater detail in his Bhakti-sandarbha,(51) his treatise on the practice of devotional service as a means to perfection (sādhana-bhakti). Neither of these authorities explicitly discuss the concept of a disciplic succession in their works. In his Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, on the other hand, Gopala Bhatta Goswami uses the word āmnāya-gata ("coming in sacred tradition") in connection to the guru, which Sanatana glosses as kula-kramāgata ("coming in a family line") or veda-vihita ("ordained by the scripture").(52)

Gopala Bhatta also says that at the time of initiation the guru bestows the tilaka of the school upon the disciple, using the word sāmpradāyika which Sanatana glosses paramparā-siddham, "authorized by the line of spiritual masters."(53) Hari-bhakti-vilāsa also requires other qualities such as that the guru be a brahmana, handsome, a family man, and a number of other things that are customarily ignored as they are considered secondary to the essential qualities described in the Bhāgavata-purāṇa: śabde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ brahmaṇy upaśamāśrayam: the guru should be fully versed in the Vaishnava scriptures which present the highest truth and himself have direct experience of the Supreme Truth, having ended all attachment to sensuality for its own sake.(54)

It remains to be shown whether being a member of a disciplic succession (dīkṣā-sampradāya) is to be considered a primary or secondary and optional requirement. Needless to say, the above scriptures are taken seriously by the householder gurus or prabhu-santānas, especially in view of the corollary prohibition for renunciates to take many disciples.

Like Rupa, Jiva places association with devotees (sādhu-sanga) prior to the commencement of devotional practice (bhajana-kriyā). Taking shelter of a guru is the beginning point of such a practice. Jiva Goswami states that the highest standard of perfection must be sought in the teaching spiritual master, whom he calls the śravaṇa-guru, for realization of the scriptural meaning is only possible through him. This individual generally becomes the bhajana-śikṣā-guru. There may be a multitude of such gurus.(55) If one is unable to find such a guru, he may approach many teachers out of a desire to know the different logical arguments (yukti-bheda): "Firm and clear knowledge cannot be had from one teacher alone. The supreme truth is one, but is described by the seers in many ways."(56)

The śikṣā-guru is thus essential, but Jiva nonetheless,stresses that the mantra-guru is even more so (ato mantra-guror āvaśyakatvaṁ sutarām). The mantra-guru is only one in contrast to the many śikṣā-gurus allowed above. Problems arise if one abandons this guru. If one is unsatisfied with this guru for some reason and takes mantra from another individual, then by definition the first one has been abandoned or rejected.(57) However, Jiva does point out that if one has been initiated by a non-Vaishnava, one "goes to hell" and that rather than suffer such a fate, one should take initiation from a Vaishnava according to the proper rites. (58) He also points out that when one finds the pāramārthika-guru, one has no more need for other, functional authority figures (vyavahārika-guru) such as parents, teachers, etc.

These pramāṇa verses have customarily been used in the Gaudiya Math to persuade people initiated by family gurus to abandon them and retake initiation from its own leaders. In this spirit of competition, the family gurus, even when belonging to a long and venerable tradition, might well be called non-Vaishnavas or vyavahārika-gurus because of any number of deviations from the Math's own ascetic standards. On the other hand, failure to adhere to the disciplic succession renders Gaudiya Math disciples non-Vaishnavas to those who do, citing Gopala Bhatta's minimum definition of a non-Vaishnava as one who has not taken [legitimate] initiation in the Vishnu mantra.(59) As a result, both groups generally require re-initiation for those who wish to fully participate in their activities.

When writing of the benefits which accrue from service to the guru (either śikṣā or dīkṣā), Jiva stipulates another criterion that permits the radical step of abandoning the guru. The initiating guru should not interfere with the disciple's association with other advanced Vaishnavas since such association is an essential part of his spiritual life. And although it is better if one should serve other Vaishnavas with the permission of the guru in such a way that one's service to him is not adversely affected,(60) certain considerations must be taken.

One who has taken shelter of a guru who does not possess the qualities described in the verse śabde pare ca niṣṇātam, etc., and then cannot get permission from him to serve great devotees due to his enviousness (matsarādi), is not to be considered in this injunction because he had acted against scripture in the first place by making an unqualified guru. The disciple will be caught in a dilemma, incurring fault both by acting against the wishes of his guru as well as by not serving great devotees. This is the meaning of the scripture, "Both the guru and the disciple whose relationship is based on dishonesty are destined for hell." Therefore such a guru should be worshiped from a distance. But if he is a hater of devotees then he should definitely be rejected. Due to his lack of Vaishnava character, he is not to be considered a Vaishnava. As stated in the previously quoted verse from Narada-pañcarātra: "The mantra received from a non-Vaishnava will lead one to hell. One should therefore take the mantra again from a Vaishnava guru, according to the proper rites."(61)

The statement "worshiped from a distance" (ata eva dūrata evārādhyas tādṛśo guruḥ) is significant and reminds one of Jiva's earlier line about dissatisfaction with his guru: if the guru interferes with one's advancement in devotional life then he is not to be renounced, but one should simply distance himself from him and continue to follow the injunction to associate with advanced devotees.(62) This is true even when the guru is possessed of unpleasant qualities such as enviousness.

The Purāṇas and popular literature abound with warnings about abandoning gurus possessed of failings; it is apparent that in principle Jiva is in agreement with them though he has avoided quoting them.(63) Thus, although it is generally allowed that only a Vaishnava who has attained direct experience of the Supreme Truth should initiate, one who is not so advanced could legitimately initiate a disciple as long as he recognizes that such a disciple needs to seek out the association of Vaishnavas on a higher stage of realization in order to perfect himself.

This in fact is the current sad-ācāra in Vrindavan, where there is a large community of Gaudiya Vaishnava renunciates. I have met individuals among these vairagis who have a feeling that their initiating spiritual master is not necessarily a very advanced devotee, but they nevertheless continue to give him the respect he is due, even while placing a higher practical emphasis on their association with śikṣā-gurus in the renounced community.

Jiva discusses the act of initiation itself in several places. Having already discussed the sovereign importance of the holy names of Krishna, for which initiation is not necessary, in the spiritual life of a devotee, he considers the possibility that initiation in the mantra is not necessary either:

"Now consider the following: the mantra itself consists of names of the Lord. Added to that are words indicating submission such as namaḥ or svāhā, etc., through which the Lord and the seers have endowed the mantra with some special potency. Furthermore they are capable of awakening a specific personal relationship with the Lord. [Of all these ingredients] in the mantra, the names of the Lord alone are capable of independently giving its reciter the supreme goal of life [i.e., prema]. Thus we find that in the mantras there is an even greater power than can be found in the name alone. In view of all these considerations, why then is there any necessity for initiation?

"The answer is as follows: there is no fundamental necessity for initiation. Nevertheless, because people are generally by nature caught up in bad habits and are unable to concentrate due to bodily associations, etc., the great seers and others have on occasion established some fundamental regulations here and there calling for the performance of worship of the deity (arcana-mārga) in order to reduce such bad habits and lack of concentration. For this reason, the scriptures call for the performance of penances as an atonement for the non-performance of such deity worship. Where neither of these faults (bodily and mental aberrations) are not prominent, there is no need for initiation. The regulations spoken of are found in the following verse from Brahma-yāmala which states that exclusive devotion to Hari which is independent of the injunctions of the scriptures only causes a disturbance."(64)

Once again, initiation from the guru is not given primary status by Jiva: it is not a magical act like the śakti-pāt of the Kasmiri Saivas. It is functional in that it opens the door to the performance of deity worship, through which one can become purified and strengthen one's sense of identity in relationship to the Lord. Jiva elaborates on this later on, maintaining the same tension between the absolute powers of any devotional act and the necessity of initiation and worship of the deity.

"Even though in the opinion of the Bhāgavata there is no imperative for the performance of deity worship, as there is in the Pañcarātra and other systems, and that one can attain the supreme perfection of life through the performance of any aspect of devotion beginning from self-surrender (śaraṇāpatti), nevertheless those who follow in the path of Sri Narada, etc., and who wish to establish a particular relationship with the Lord bestowed by the guru through the process of initiation, should certainly engage in deity worship once they have thus been initiated.(65) "Because it bestows divine knowledge and destroys sin, it is called dīkṣā by the learned scholars. Therefore one should humble himself before the guru, offer him all one's wealth and take the Vaishnava mantra from him through the authorized process of initiation."(66)

"The term 'divine knowledge' here refers to the knowledge of the specific form of the Lord contained in the holy syllables of the mantra and knowledge of a specific relationship with that Lord."(67)

The significance of the idea of 'a specific relationship' (sambandha-viśeṣa) is confirmed in relation to the idea of 'purification of one's being' (bhūta-śuddhi) which is integral to deity worship.

"The purification of one's existence (bhūta-śuddhi) indicates that one should meditate according to convenience upon one's own spiritual body as an associate of Krishna, suitable for the performance of a service for which one has a personal desire. Thus, wherever it is ordained that one should meditate on one's object of devotion, one should also think of oneself in the form of an associate of that deity."(68)

The idea of such a spiritual identity has special significance in the light of another statement by Jiva that efforts to engage in devotional activities can be dispensed with if one simply identifies strongly enough as a servant of God; through such identification alone one can attain perfection.(69) Indeed, the whole idea of rāgānugā bhakti can be seen in terms of developing this specific identity without which it is meaningless.

To summarize: Though the idea of disciplic succession is not mentioned by Jiva in his discussion of initiation, it would seem that a chain of initiatory relations is a logical necessity. The statements of the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, Gautamīya-tantra, Padma-purāṇa, etc., in this matter must be accepted as having a great deal of weight. On the other hand, Jiva does admit the possibility of an exception to the rule of initiation and deity worship in the case of some extraordinary individuals. In the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition predating Bhaktisiddhanta it was felt that one could attain perfection in this manner, but was not then oneself permitted to initiate.(70)

As a result, in the view of the traditionalists, Bhaktisiddhanta's unorthodox approach to initiation was a disruption in the path of devotion (utpātāyaiva kalpate). What was unusual in Bhaktisiddhanta's approach was his claim to more accurately represent the spirit of Chaitanya and his followers than those who traditionally did so in that he put the accent on proselytization. The promulgation of the śikṣā-sampradāya idea, in which the spirit of the law takes precedence over the letter may partially have been promulgated with the goal of overcoming sectarianism within the Gaudiya school,(71) but other innovations in the Gaudiya Math movement made such spiritual unity difficult if not impossible. It appears rather more likely that the rift between the Gaudiya Math and the rest of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition was intentional and is probably irreparable. Those in the Gaudiya Math tradition must therefore come to terms with this and recognize the exceptional status of their founder and the fact that their disciplic succession has taken a new beginning from him. It would thus be historically more accurate to call this particular branch of Vaisnavism (notwithstanding Rupa Vilasa's suggestion noted earlier) the Brahma-Madhva-Gauḍīya-Sārasvata-sampradāya, 'Sārasvata' being a reference to Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.

If Bhaktisiddhanta's innovations which to Chaitanyaite traditionalists have a sacrilegious and disruptive character, make Chaitanya Vaisnavism more universally accessible and acceptable, the continued flourishing of the various Gaudiya Math branches will no doubt lead to the progressive marginalization of the issues raised in this article. In the broader perspective of Hinduism and free-market religiosity, success is the only measure of authenticity.


ISKCON's first well-thought out 'heresy', the doctrine of the ṛtvik (i.e., 'officiating priest, deputy', claimed that no disciple of Prabhupada was qualified to handle the position of spiritual master and that those who led the movement were mere caretakers or 'monitor gurus' until the arrival of a qualified, “self-effulgent” acharya. The hold of this doctrine is strong, and even in the 1993 meeting, one initiating master, Gaura Govinda Swami, denied officially any claims ostensibly being made by his disciples that he was such a nitya siddha uttama adhikārī, 'superior guru', and that he was the śikṣā-guru of all the rest of ISKCON.(72) However, though the 'monitor guru' and rtvik guru doctrine may have been officially eliminated by ISKCON, it has, in a sense, been accepted through undermining the traditional autonomy of the guru. Nevertheless, the importance of guruism as an institution of Hinduism itself and its decentralizing, destabilizing power, the importance of the myth of the guru-relationship in the Hindu aspirant's spiritual life, the guru archetype as a functioning psychological reality, would all indicate that despite the evident strength of ISKCON, there will be a tendency to fragmentation particularly in future generations, as individual styles become more prominent. It is also likely that ISKCON itself will gravitate towards the hegemony of a small group of powerful gurus, or one individual.

It can be stated with some confidence, however, that the following areas will be sure to cause continued problems:(i) Lack of confidence in the level of spiritual achievements of the leaders the 'priests' of the movement in Weber's terminology, who possess purely institutional charisma. They may well be considered inadequate even from the point of view of their priestly function, as their scholarship (which in a text-rich tradition like Gaudiya Vaisnavism is not to be underestimated in importance) is found lacking. The lack of rāgānugā bhakti culture in ISKCON, though certainly not an immediate problem for its younger members, is in the long run bound to create a vacuum for those who are well-read in the works of the tradition. One cannot consistently appeal to the members' commitment to evangelization without taking note of their individual spiritual appetites, whetted by the cornucopia of spiritual material lying outside the corpus bequeathed by Bhaktivedanta.

(ii) Problems arising from the emphasis in Prabhupada's writings on disciplic succession and the accent on initiation as the token of participation in that succession, contrasted with the absence of such participation in the current line. This will prove particularly important for those who develop a desire for rāgānugā bhakti, who will come to seek the 'special relationship' which is said to come through initiation.

(iii) If, as in the Gaudiya Math, emphasis is made on the concept of the śikṣā-sampradāya, those aspirants who have the courage will feel that they are free to make the individual search and will be led outward towards other sources of knowledge. The institution, seeking to protect itself by preventing such association outside the parameters it sets (i.e. extra ecclesiam nullum salus) will eventually lose credibility for such aspirants. Building walls, as in Berlin, will likely prove ineffectual and counter-productive in the long run.

For a large number of Prabhupada's disciples, however, the rtvik option or variations thereof will continue to be attractive. It continues to have resilience amongst those disaffected by the current leadership and who look back to the days of Prabhupada's presence as the golden age. ISKCON itself is taking on more and more the form of a horizontally rather than vertically-based society (to use Shinn's terminology). Those who have found power within the structures of the movement have strengthened horizontal relationships with their own disciples at the expense of their relationships with their godbrothers. The ratio of original Prabhupada disciples continues to diminish and many of these people are left to their own devices: either to abandon devotional life altogether or to seek succour in some other spiritual discipline or Vaishnava group.

The success of the ISKCON institution itself depends to a great extent on charismatic leaders who genuinely possess the characteristics expected of someone advanced in spiritual life. If this quality can be achieved, even by a few of its leaders, even in the face of the inevitable political difficulties caused by the preeminence which will result from it, inconsistencies in matters of doctrine can no doubt be overcome. In the absence of such charisma, the inherent contradictions in the guru-paramparā issue will continue to confuse and weaken the movement.

Similarly, the success of the rtviks and other splinter groups of Gaudiya Vaisnavism which have arisen out of Bhaktivedanta's preaching efforts will depend greatly on the charismatic powers of the individuals who lead them. In the race between these groups, the initial lead is with the more powerful and wealthy and still more cohesive society, ISKCON. Whether it will be able to maintain this lead in the long run remains to be seen.


(30) This idea of śikṣā-sampradāya should not be confused with that which is prevalent in the sahajiya schools of Vaisnavism, where dīkṣā is identified with the exoteric aspects of religious practice and śikṣā with esoteric and tantric practices which were grafted onto the tradition. The śikṣā-sampradāya of the Sahajiyas is normally traced through Kalacand Goswami and back further to Rupa Kaviraja. The śikṣā relationship here constitutes in fact a separate initiation rather than a teaching as such, and the sampradāya consists of a series of empiric personal relationships. In this śikṣā initiation, the kāma-gāyatrī and hamsa mantras (so'ham) are given precedence.
(31) Brian Marvin, 'Bhaktivinoda Thakur,' PhD dissertation, University of Toronto, 1996.
(32) Ramachandra was never married himself. Like the Goswamis of Vrindavan, he appointed a nephew to take charge of the temple he founded and it is the descendents of that nephew who are the current leaders of this much weakened line.
(33) The Seventh Goswami (Washington, MS: New Jaipur Press, 1989), 142-4. 'Bipin Bihari Goswami initially enjoyed a very sweet relationship with the Thakur, but later he is said to have been neglected by the Thakur due to a disagreement about the position of Raghunath Das Goswami. He also assisted the Thakur in his preaching work, but his spiritual advancement was not on the same level as the 'Commander-in-chief of the Vaishnavas,' as Srila Jagannatha dasa Babaji came to be called...'

(34) With whom I had the chance of having several personal interviews prior to his death in 1979. Although Lalita Prasad wrote much about his differences with his brother, most of it remains in manuscript form and is not available for citation.
(35) Op. cit., 23-24.
(36) The Guru and His Grace, 22.
(37) All this appears to have been accompanied by personal problems. Ananta Vasudeva married one of his disciples. He liberated all his disciples to take initiation elsewhere, gave over the Gaudiya Mission to Bhaktikevala Audulomi Maharaj on the condition that he dress in white rather than the saffron of the Gaudiya Math samnyasins. He then left for Brindavan where he lived out the rest of his life more or less as a recluse. Ex-disciples of Ananta Vasudeva formed a large contingent of the renounced residents of Radha Kund and śrī kṛṣṇa caitanya gaura guṇadhāma, the kirtana promulgated by Puri Das can still be heard there. (Puri Das also came to accept that the congregational chanting of the mahamantra was not authorized.) His abandonment of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati made him an anathema in the rest of the maths, and left many of his admirers particularly disillusioned. Bhaktivedanta styled Tirtha as guru-bhogī, 'exploiter of the guru,' and Puri as guru-tyāgī, 'renouncer of the guru.'
(38) Calcutta: Karuna Das, Sripata-Paraga, 1964.
(39) Bhakti-sandarbha, 283: dīvyaṁ jñānaṁ hy atra śrīmati mantre bhagavat-svarūpa-jñanam, tena bhāgavata sambandha-viśeṣa-jñānaṁ ca |
(40) See Śrī-Śrī-Gauḍīya-Vaiṣṇava-Jīvana (Nabadwip: Haribol Kutir, 1975), 195-7.
(41) Ibid., 128-130.
(42) An obvious reference to sambandha-viśeṣa-jñānam.
(43) Op. cit., 19.
(44) HBV, 2.1, commentary. sākṣāt tasyopadeṣṭṛtvāsambhave 'pi cittādhiṣṭhātṛtvādinā sarveṣām api parama-gurutayātmano 'pi sa eva guruḥ |
(45) See S. K. De, The Early History of the Vaishnava Faith and Movement. Friedhelm Hardy, 'Madhavendra Puri', JRAS, 1979. Sundarananda Vidyavinoda in particular points out that the list of disciples given by Baladeva and Karnapura does not match that given by the Udipi matha. Acintyabhedābheda (Calcutta: Gaudiya Math, 1956), 86.
(46) In particular, Gopala Bhatta describes the process of initiation according to Krama-dipikā (HBV 2.2). In Brahma-saṁhitā, Brahma is said to have received dīkṣā in aṣṭadaśākṣara-mantra. Krishna-mantra is given him by Saraswati and then the Kama-gāyatrī mantra is revealed to him through the sound of Krishna's flute. Neither this book, nor Gopālatāpanī Upaniṣad which also discusses these mantra, are anywhere in use in the Madhva line. They both contain information about these mantras which are given special status in the Chaitanya line. See Guy L. Beck, 'The Divine Names in the Gayatri Mantra,' Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 2.2, Spring 1994. 47-58.
(47) It is in this connection that the above-cited verse about the mantra having no effect has been quoted. The rest of the passage is as follows: atah kalau bhaviṣyanti catvāraḥ sampradāyinaḥ | śrī-brahma-rudra-sanaka vaiṣṇavāḥ kṣiti-pāvanāḥ || rāmānujaṁ śrīḥ svīcakre madhvācāryaṁ caturmukhaḥ | śrī-viṣṇu-svāminaṁ rudro nimbādityaṁ catuḥsanāḥ || Needless to say, these verses are nowhere to be found in the Padma-purāṇa from which they are cited, nor are they referred to anywhere in the writings of Chaitanya's contemporaries. It is probable, however, that they had a currency in the Vaishnava world in which Baladeva lived. They are followed in Prameya-ratnāvali by the disciplic succession of Madhva up to Laksmipati Tirtha who is said to be the guru of Madhavendra Puri.
(48) Ramakanta Chakravarty, Vaishnavism in Bengal, 1486-1900 (Calcutta: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 1985) 150.
(49) Ramacandra did not in fact marry. His nephew Rajavallabha, the author of Muralī-vilāsa, did have a family and his descendants still maintain the temple of Krishna and Balarama in Baghna Para.
(50) Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, i.2.74. gurupadāśrayas tasmāt śikṣā-dīkṣādi-sevanam |
(51) ed. Chinmayi Chatterjee, Calcutta: Jadavpur University, 1980. Particularly sections 202-214 (pp. 104-8), 283-4 (pp. 144-7).
(52) upadeṣṭāram āmnāya-gataṁ pariharanti ye | tān mṛtān api kravyādaḥ kṛtaghnān nopabhuñjate || 'Even the vultures will not eat the corpses of those ungrateful persons who abandon the guru coming in disciplic succession as is ordained by scripture.' HBV 4.363, quoted from Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa (translation based on Haridas Sastri's Hindi version). The word sampradāyin, 'belonging to a specific line of spiritual masters' as a characteristic of the guru is found in Padma-purāṇa, Pātāla-khaṇḍa, 51 (See Baiṣṇaba-siddhānte śrī-guru-svarūpa, 78).
(53) HBV 2.129. sampradāyika-mudrādi-bhūṣitaṁ taṁ kṛtāñjalim | pañcāṅga-pramukhair nyāsaih kuryāt śrī-kṛṣṇa-sāc chiśum || Thus each of the main Vaishnava sampradayas has a distinctive tilaka. Sub-groups or families (parivāras) of the Gaudiya sampradaya (such as Nityananda, Advaita, Narottama, Gadadhara, Vakresvara, Syamananda, Srinivasa, etc.) also have their distinctive markings. The tilaka markings of the Gaudiya Math resemble most closely those of the Narottama-parivāra.
(54) BhP xi.3.22. Quoted in Bhakti-sandarbha, 202.
(55) Ibid., 208
(56) BhP xi.9.31. na hy ekasmād guror jñānaṁ susthiraṁ syāt supuṣkalam | brahmaikam advitīyaṁ vai gīyate bahudharṣibhiḥ ||
(57) Paras. 209-210.
(58) BhaktiS 207, quotation from Nārada-pañcarātra. avaiṣṇavopadiṣṭena mantreṇa nirayaṁ vrajet | punaś ca vidhinā samyag grāhayed vaiṣṇavād guroḥ ||
(59) HBV 1.55. gṛhīta-viṣṇu-dīkṣāko viṣṇu-pūjā-paro naraḥ | vaiṣṇavo 'bhihito 'bhijñair itaro 'smād avaiṣṇavaḥ ||
(60) BhaktiS., p. 122. śrī-gurv-ājñayā tat-sevanāvirodhena cānyeṣām api vaiṣṇavānāṁ sevanaṁ śreyaḥ. anyathā doṣaḥ syāt.
(61) Para. 238, p.122.
(62) Ibid. yathokta-lakṣaṇasya guror avidyamānāyāṁ tu tasyaiva mahā-bhāgavatasyaikasya nitya-sevanaṁ parama-śreyaḥ |
(63) Gopala Bhatta quotes the Aditya-Purāṇa at HBV 4.359. avidyo vā sa-vidyo vā gurur eva janārdanah | mārgastho vāpy amārgastho gurur eva sadā gatiḥ || 'Whether ignorant or learned, the guru is Janardana. Whether situated on the path or not, he is ever the goal.'
(64) BhaktiS 284: nanu bhagavan-nāmātmakā eva mantrāḥ, etc. Note that Jiva finishes this section by quoting śruti-smṛti-purāṇādi-pañcarātra-vidhiṁ vinā | aikāntikī harer bhaktir utpātāyaiva kalpate || (Brahma-yāmala, also quoted at Brs i.2.10).
(65) BhaktiS, 283.
(66) Ibid. Quoted from the Agamas, also quoted in HBV, 2.9.
(67) Ibid.
(68) Ibid. 285 (p. 148).
(69) astu tāvat tad-bhajana-prayāsaḥ, kevala-tādṛśatvābhimanenāpi siddhir bhavati | (BhaktiS 304, p. 159)
(70) The legend of Madhusudana Das Babaji, śikṣā-guru of Jagannath Das Babaji is often cited. Though he received initiation from a spiritual master, he did not get siddha-pranali, nor indeed did he know the identity of his guru. Later, he was given his siddha identity in a dream, and though this was accepted by Govardhana's Siddha Krishna Das Babaji, he was told not to make disciples himself. Cf. Gaudiya Vaishnava Jivana, 197. By way of contrast, Hita Harivamsa Goswami, the founder of the Radhavallabha sampradaya, claimed to have received mantra from Radha herself. Though there is reason to believe that Harivamsa had a close connection to the Gaudiya sampradaya, he is considered by the latter to be unorthodox primarily for this reason.
(71) It was with this goal that Bhaktivinoda Thakur started the Visva-Vaishnava-raja-sabha ('The World Council of Vaishnavas') which Bhaktisiddhanta maintained as his preaching organization until he founded the Gaudiya Math.
(72) Resolution 56, Resolutions of the Governing Body Commission, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Annual General Meeting, Feb. 7-21, 1993, Mayapur, India. Gaura Govinda Swami, an Orissan, older than most of his ISKCON counterparts, has attracted a number of Western and Indian disciples. He is nevertheless greatly dependent on the society as a whole for financial aid toward the construction of a major temple complex in Bhubaneswar. Evidently, separation is not in his interest. His recent death (1996) has defused the problem in some ways, in others, the 'holy' circumstances of his passing away seem to have infused him with an aura that may continue to cause a certain friction.

Chart I
The guru-paramparā of the Gaudiya Math

[The original expression of this disciplic succession is found in Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's introductory comments to Anubhāṣya, a commentary on Chaitanya Caritamrta, 5th edition, Sri Mayapur: Sri Chaitanya Math, 1956 (Gaurabda 470), 1-3.] Bhaktivedanta Svami gives his list in the introduction to Bhagavad-gita as it is. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1972.

1. Chaitanya (d. 1534)2 Svarupa Damodara (d. 1540)
[Sanatan Goswami (1558)
2. Rupa Goswami (1568)](a)(a)
3. Raghunatha Das Goswami (158(b)(b)
4. Krishnadasa Kaviraja (1615)
5. Narottama Das Thakur (ca. 1650?)
6. Vishwanath Chakravarti (ca. 1710?)
[Baladeva Vidyabhusana (1725?)](c)(c)
7. Jagannath Das Babaji (1911)
8. Bhaktivinoda Thakur (1838-1914)
9. Gaura Kishor dasa Babaji (191(d)(d)
10. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati (1937)
11. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1977)

(a) tār mitra rūpa sanātana. Rupa and Sanatana are not designated as disciples of Svarupa Damodara, but as friends. Bhaktivedanta gives Rupa as the predominant disciple of Chaitanya and puts Svarupa Damodara and Sanatana in parentheses.
(b) rūpapriya mahājana. Priya, though non-specific, is the usual designation of a disciple. Bhaktivedanta adds Jiva Goswami here.
(c) Given in brackets in Bhaktivedanta's edition but not mentioned in Bhaktisiddhanta's introduction to Anubhāṣya.
(d) Bhaktisiddhanta makes no overt claim to discipleship to Gaurakisora here, including him simply as one amongst many: ei saba harijana gaurāṅgera nijajana tādera ucchiṣṭe yāra kāma . 'I simply desire to take the remnants of all these devotees, who are the intimates of Gauranga.'
The gurupranali of Lalita Prasad Thakur
As presented by Gadadhara Prana Das, 'Rāgānugā Bhajan in Gifts of Sacred Wonder, edited by Neal Delmonico, Calcutta: Subarnarekha, 1985. 105.
1. (Nityananda Prabhu) Jahnava Mata
2. Ramacandra Goswami
3 Rajavallabha Goswami
4. Kesavacandra Goswami
5. Rudresvara Goswami
6. Dayarama Goswami
7. Mahesvari Goswamini
8. Gunamañjari Goswamini
9. Ramamani Goswamini
10. Yajñesvara Goswami
11. Vipina Vihari Goswami (1850-1919)
12. Bhaktivinoda Thakur (1838-1914)
13. Lalita Prasad Thakur (1879-1980)


Prem Prakash said…
"Hari-bhakti-vilasa also requires other qualities such as that the guru be a brahmana handsome..."

Since Krishna is satyam-shivam-sundaram, it always seemed to me that the bhakta would reflect these qualities, the way a son often looks like his father. Only half-kidding, I have been surprised how the various acharyas of ISKCON are so lacking in good looks and authentic charisma. They remind me of Congressmen, they hold their power by appointment to position, not by inherent qualities.
Jagadananda Das said…
Without responding directly to your remarks about good looks and authentic charisma, it is true that Iskcon has been able to remain alive is a result of its success in "routinizing charisma." But that, also in Weber's words, is a bureaucratic solution.
Prem Prakash said…
You are right and proper not to respond to my ungentlemanly remark, Jagadananda dass, but I can afford to continue! I would argue there is no such thing as "routinizing charisma. I know what you are referring to, but it's a contradiction in terms. I'm leaning on our friend Webster, who states that charisma is: "A divinely conferred power or talent" that generates a "compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire others."

The folks I am referring to are, in my not-so-humble opinion, lacking in most everything that is "divinely conferred" and "compelling." They and their followers may claim otherwise, but we can see how much convincing it takes to sustain this belief. It definitely takes bureaucratic solutions, such as a rigid and enforced hierarchy, reliance on dogma, fear of threatening ideas, sensing threat from those who might be different, and the constant reference to external authority. There is little that is spontaneous, self-generated, creative, and irresistible.

We've all seen young, attractive women on the arms of older, wealthy men. They aren't holding their arms because of their charm and charisma. In this case, to their credit, at least all parties are cognizant of their own motives.
madan said…
my dandavats-pranams

excellent analytical presentation on param-para; many topics covered; very enlightening;

this theme connects with another subject; the philosophy cintya-acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva of sri caitanya mahaprabhu;

mahaprabhu manifested his own sampradaya; he is bhagavan-svayam; there is no problem with it in this way;

would it be correct to state that the philosophy cintya-acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva is the union of the tattva-siddhanta of all four sampradayas [sri-brahma-rudra-sanaka] ???

the general consensus conveyed by goudiya-math is that mahaprabhu has collected from every sampradaya, the elements to manifest the philosophy cintya-acintya-bheda-abheda;

Is mahaprabhu's philosophy self-evident? he did not need the sampradayas?

You [jagadananda babaji], could you please comment and clarify this matter ???

gour premanande !!!
Tarun said…
Iskcon trades on Prabhupada, the all-perfect guru, the only pure devotee, whose body is Iskcon. He is the charismatic center still. Don't know how long they can hold out like that.
I'm not that tuned into who is who in Iskcon. It does seem that there are some shining lights in the Indian followers. Seems the most advanced devotees on the planet are still in Indian bodies. As in Gaura Govinda M. When westerners show up like that, the international society will have born fruit. I only know of a handful, maybe not even.

Great thought provoking article. I think we have to consider what guru means in the west. The west that values individual freedom, of thought among other things, and how that plays with submission to guru. How much should we surrender. It is pushed so hard in the Indian section, that is is imperative that you surrender to guru, that people take guru out of fear. Approaching guru with one's critical faculties intact is the way to relate to a teacher in the west. Bowing and scraping seems to be the eastern way. I'm caricaturing, but there's the point.

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