By Swami B. V. Tripurari
Gaudiya Vaishnavas accept Sri Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and Sri Caitanya as Krishna himself, and their understanding is supported by sastra pramana (evidence from scripture). The supremacy of Krishna over Narayana is stated in the Bhagavatam (1.3.28) where it says “krsnas tu bhagavan svayam.”
It is often noted that Madhvacharya, whose lineage the Gaudiya sampradaya has a formal connection with, explains this verse differently. However, our tattva acarya, Sri Jiva Goswami, has substantiated the Gaudiya interpretation of this verse with over 300 points drawn from sastra in his treatise known as Krishna-sandarbha. Thus the Gaudiyas are not lacking in sastra or reasoning when they interpret this verse as they do. They have also substantiated with sastra their understanding that Sri Caitanya is Krishna himself, drawing from many diverse sources.
On these and other points the Gaudiya Vaishnavas differ from the experience of Madhvacarya and his corresponding interpretation of sastra. However, this does not mean that either the Gaudiyas or Madhva are wrong, but rather that Godhead has revealed himself to them from different angles of vision and has thus given them the power to support their respective visions with scripture.
Many of the followers of Madhva do not agree with the Gaudiya interpretation of scripture, nor do they agree with the interpretations of Ramanuja, Nimbarka, or Visnuswami, all of whom are respected acaryas representing Vaishnava lineages. Still they must respect the particular angles of vision of these acaryas because of their obvious spiritual standing and ability to support their experience with scripture. The present-day followers of Madhva should also show the same deference to Sri Caitanya and his sincere followers.
Although Sri Caitanya appeared formally in the Madhva line, he has revealed new insight. As Sri Krishna he started the Madhva line of disciplic succession when he gave knowledge to Brahma, and he is free to adjust it if he so chooses in order to reveal something special later on. This is what Krishna has done through the revelations of Sri Caitanya. Thus while the Gaudiyas are formally in the line of Madhva, in substance they differ—not in terms of whether or not God is personal or impersonal, but rather in terms of which manifestation of Godhead is the sweetest.
Who is sweeter, Krishna or Narayana? Madhurya means sweet—save the sweet for the end of the meal. In essence this is what Krishna has done through his connection with the Madhva sampradaya in the form of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. By sweetness we mean that there is greater potential for rasa in relation to Krishna than there is in relation to Narayana, and scripture tells us that Brahman is rasa—raso vai sah, the reservoir of all rasa.
Is differing within an established lineage unprecedented? No it is not! Madhva himself was initiated in an Advaitin lineage, but he evolved an entirely different doctrine. Although the Madhva sampradaya claims that he later accepted siksa directly from Vyasa, we are left to accept this on faith. There is no conclusive evidence to substantiate this point. However, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas do accept it on faith and honor Madhva, so much so that they claim that Krishna himself has chosen to appear again in Madhva’s lineage as Sri Caitanya.
Is it inappropriate to ask the Madhvas to accept that Sri Caitanya is Krishna himself—the Kali Yuga avatara—when the Gaudiyas also support their contention with scripture? Is it any more of a stretch than that which the followers of Madhva insist we must make in accepting that Madhva had the darsana of Vyasa or that Madhva was an incarnation of Vayu, Bhima, and Hanuman?
If we accept the Gaudiya vision of Sri Caitanya, where is the break in the disciplic succession and who can complain if Sri Krishna Caitanya decides to shed new light on the teachings of Madhva and the Bhagavatam? New light from Sri Caitanya does not extinguish the light of Madhvacarya, rather the appearance and teachings of Sri Caitanya have enhanced the position of the Madhva sampradaya throughout the world. Who can deny this fact?
Those who choose to follow Madhva’s teaching while showing respect to Sri Caitanya will no doubt be successful in attaining the goal of the Madhva sampradaya, which is Vaikuntha, the abode of Narayana. In Vaikuntha the Madhvas will always think that Krishna is an avatara of Narayana.
At the same time, the Gaudiyas will attain the goal of Sri Caitanya which is Goloka, Maha Vaikuntha, the abode of Krishna. In Goloka the Gaudiyas will think of Krishna as their friend or lover and of Narayana as God. Thus, in the end the Gaudiyas and Madhvas agree in the sense that from the vantage point of their bhava in Goloka the Gaudiyas also accept Narayana as the supreme God and Krishna, who is their lover or friend, as subordinate to Narayana. Still, they love Krishna more, and who can deny that Krishna is more charming?
In the end, both sampradayas acknowledge the virtue of nama-kirtana and the importance of forgoing material sense indulgence. So we can focus on this and see which way our heart takes us.