Q. Would you explain the difference between the siksa-guru-parampara of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and the guru pranali system followed by some of the other Gaudiya Vaisnava sects?
A. Gaudiya sects that follow what is known as the siddha-pranali or guru-pranali system teach that initiation into Gaudiya Vaisnavism is valid only if the initiating (diksa) guru can document that he is connected to an unbroken chain of diksa gurus going back to an associate of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. In some of these lineages, initiates are given a spiritual form to meditate on and are informed of what is believed to be the spiritual identity of all the initiating gurus in the succession.
In contrast, our param guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, rather than citing a list of diksa gurus who individually may or may not have been qualified, traced his lineage through a succession of significant acaryas who were like lighthouses illuminating the world in different periods of time. He referred to this type of spiritual lineage as a Bhagavata-guru-parampara, a succession of spiritually advanced teachers linked by either diksa or siksa. He emphasized essence over form, and thus in some instances laid stress on a previous acarya’s more qualified siksa guru rather than his sometimes questionable diksa guru.
Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana, author of the sampradaya’s commentary on the Vedanta-sutra (Govinda-bhasya), also presented Sri Caitanya’s lineage in a similar fashion. Here is how he described it in his Prameya-ratnavali:
“Sri Krishna’s disciple was Brahma, whose disciple was the sage of the demigods, Narada. His disciple was Badarayana (Vyasa), whose disciple was Madhva. His disciple was Padmanabha, whose disciple was Nrihari. His disciple was Madhava, whose disciple was Aksobhya, whose disciple was Jaya Tirtha. His disciple was Jnanasindhu, whose disciple was Dayanidhi. His disciple was Vidyanidhi, whose disciple was Jayadharma. His disciple was Purusottama, and his disciple was Brahmanya, whose disciple was Vyasa Tirtha. His disciple was Laksmipati, and his disciple was Madhavendra, whose disciples were Isvara, Advaita, and Nityananda, the gurus of the whole world. Another of his disciples was Sri Caitanya, who we offer our respects to.”
One should note that Padmanabha Tirtha, Nrihari Tirtha, Madhava Tirtha, and Aksobhya Tirtha were all direct diksa disciples of Madhvacarya and were not successive links in a diksa chain. Yet Baladeva Vidyabhusana lists them as disciples of one after the other, indicating that the link between them was of siksa and not diksa (Padmanabha gave instruction to Nrihari, Nrihari instructed Madhava, and so on).
In a discussion on this topic, Pujapad Sridhara Deva Goswami said, “Our guru-parampara, disciplic succession, follows the ideal, not the body; it is a succession of instructing spiritual masters, not formal initiating spiritual masters. In a song about our guru-parampara written by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, it is mentioned, mahaprabhu sri caitanya radha krishna nahe anya rupanuga janera jivana: the highest truth of Krishna consciousness comes down through the channel of siksa gurus, instructing spiritual masters. Those who have the standard of realization in the proper line have been accepted in the list of our disciplic succession.” (Sri Guru and His Grace)
Q. In your book Sri Guru Parampara: Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Heir to the Esoteric Life of Kedarnath Bhaktivinoda, you write, “The basis of all criticism levied at Bhaktisiddhanta and his gosthi by other Gaudiya Vaisnava sects, the Radha-kunda babajis as well as the followers of Lalita Prasad Thakura, is that when Bhaktisiddhanta rejected Bhaktivinoda’s initiating guru, Bipin Bihari Goswami [which indeed did not appear to sit well with Bhaktivinoda], he also rejected the tradition’s stress on the diksa-guru-parampara.”
When you write in brackets, “Which indeed did not appear to sit well with Bhaktivinoda,” are you saying that Bhaktivinoda Thakura was in some way disturbed or displeased with Bhaktisiddhanta for his rejection of Bipin Bihari Goswami?
A. Essentially, my booklet Sri Guru Parampara seeks to establish that Bhaktisiddhanta inherited the spiritual wealth of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and was empowered by him to keep his current of spirituality alive in the world. When I say that Bhaktisiddhanta’s rejection of Bipin Bihari Goswami “appeared” to not sit well with Bhaktivinoda Thakura, I mean that despite the fact that he had more realization than his own diksa guru, the Thakura continued to show at least formal respect to him. However, when Bipin Bihari Goswami rejected the Thakura’s revelation concerning the birthplace (yoga-pitha) of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and thus Bhaktivinoda himself; it became apparent that the long-held objections that Bhaktisiddhanta had voiced against him were credible.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta reasoned that, all considered, the realization found in Bhaktivinoda should not be traced to his diksa guru, Bipin Bihari Goswami, but rather to one who had more substantial realization and at the same time considerable influence over the Thakura. That someone was Bhaktivinoda’s siksa guru, Jagannatha dasa Babaji, who incidentally honored the Thakura’s yoga-pitha revelation.
Q. Srila Prabhupada’s disciple, Gaura Govinda Swami (now deceased), was born into a family of Vaisnavas in the holy city of Jagannatha Puri. Some devotees believe that because of the Swami’s background and record of service Srila Prabhupada gave him some type of siddha-pranali initiation. Do you think that this is at all possible?
A. Gaura Govinda Maharaja pleased Srila Prabhupada immensely by translating his books into the local language of Oriya. Srila Prabhupada had also asked Gaura Govinda Maharaja to help him establish a Krishna-Balarama temple in Bhubanesvara, thus giving the Swami another opportunity to render a service that was very dear to his heart. While Srila Prabhupada may have given him spiritual instructions on any number of issues both exoteric and esoteric, I see no reason to speculate that he gave Gaura Govinda Maharaja something that both he and his spiritual master spoke against. The fact remains that siddha-pranali is not given in the line of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. He did not give it, nor did our Srila Prabhupada, nor did Pujyapda Sridhara Maharaja, nor is it necessary to receive this information to attain the Gaudiya ideal of Vraja bhakti. Indeed, in many instances where this practice is common, it is more of a sham than anything else. So, to reiterate, I do not believe that Srila Prabhupada gave siddha pranali to Gaura Govinda Maharaja or to anyone else.
Q. Is it correct or acceptable to make distinctions and meditate on the diksa guru and/or different siksa gurus taking into consideration the way they influence, teach, and serve as models to us in what concerns the three stages of bhakti known as sambandha (conceptual orientation), abhidheya (the nature of the path), and prayojana (the goal)?
A. The diksa guru’s function is part of sambandha tattva and the siksa guru’s function is part of abhidheya tattva. At the same time, individual gurus may primarily represent any of the three tattvas. For example, in our line Sanatana Goswami largely represents sambandha tattva, Rupa Goswami abhidheya tattva, and Raghunahta dasa Goswami prayojana tattva. This conclusion can be drawn from their lives and literature. So there is no harm in your proposal.
Q. Some Gaudiya sects argue that the sannyasa of Bhaktisiddhanta was invalid because the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana taught that there was to be no sannyasa in the sampradaya. Specifically, they say that Sanatana Goswami told Jagadananda that Vaisnavas should not wear red cloth, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu himself cited a sloka against the idea of taking sannyasa in Kali-yuga.
A. In previous Sangas (see below), I discussed these objections in more detail, but briefly Sanatana’s comments about red cloth were in regard to mayavadi sannyasa; and the famous scriptural statement prohibiting sannyasa in Kali-yuga speaks of karma sannyasa, which refers to those who take sannyasa in old age even though they have no spiritual knowledge. We agree that karma sannyasa is prohibited as Caitanya Mahaprabhu himself cited a verse against it from the Brahma-vaivarta Purana in his conversation with Chand Kazi. Of course, shortly afterwards Mahaprabhu himself took sannyasa for preaching. In his midst there were also a good number of sannyasis; for example, Prabhodananda Saraswati, Paramananda, Madhavendra, and his guru Isvara Puri. Srimad Bhagavatam also speaks of sannyasa. We call this Vaisnava sannyasa, or tridandi sannyasa, of which Sri Ramanuja is a good example. So objections to the sannyasa of Bhaktisiddhanta on the basis of its being prohibited in the sampradaya are not substantial.
Bhaktisiddhanta took sannyasa in consideration of daiva-varnasrama, which in general is a semblance of varnasrama for Vaisnavas who have yet to attain perfection. The idea of daiva-varnasrama originated in Bhaktivinoda, who instructed Bhaktisiddhanta to institute it. By adopting sannyasa, Bhaktisiddhanta in a sense stepped down, not up, in order to set an example of how to serve the paramahamsa Vaisnavas through preaching/kirtana as a parivrajakacarya (itinerant preacher). His purpose in taking sannyasa was to aid in the establishment of a mission that would spread the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world. As we have seen, by the grace of the guru-parampara and Krishna, and through his disciple A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, he was supremely successful.