Bhaktisiddhānta Paramparā Controversy

Śrī Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī did a lot of revolutionary, controversial things. All of them were done to hammer home specific philosophical points that were extremely relevant to the audience he was dealing with in early 20th century Bengal. Adoption of Sanyassa and Saffron, for example. Wearing of the “brahmana’s thread” and śikha. He did this to boldly and vividly demonstrate the point that a Vaiṣṇava can play any social role, to downplay the existing emphasis on birth-caste, and for many other practical social reasons.

He also completely changed the description of the Paramparā, causing a huge controversy that persists to this day. “Paramparā” means, literally, “higher and higher” and refers to the “one after another” succession through which a school transmits its values and ideas. Bhaktisiddhānta described the Paramparā in terms of the major teachers who influenced the development of his branch of the Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇava school. Most people, however, think of “paramparā” solely as dīkṣa-paramparā, and take the word dīkṣa to mean the official acceptance of a student by a teacher (instead of the deeper meanings, “transmission of light/knowledge.”). These people accuse Bhaktisiddhānta of falsifying a paramparā for nefarious reasons. Such people, in my opinion, are utterly unimpressive, and merely wish, for whatever reason, to cast mud on a great person. Bhaktisiddhānta simply wanted to emphasize that what is important in a school is not their official membership in a family tree (seminal or ideological). What was important to a school were the ideas and values themselves. Therefore he identified the paramparā not as the family tree of his lineage, but as the idealogical tree – showing the major teachers.

To set the record straight, the dīkṣa paramparā of Śrī Bhaktisiddhānta Varshabhanavi Daitaya Dāsa is as follows (as told by Akincana Krishna das Bābājī, who learned it from Dina-bandhu dasa Bābājī, disciple of Gaura Kishor dasa Bābājī and thus guru-bhai (“godbrother”) of Śrī Bhaktisiddānta):

Diksha line0002

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  1. I completely agree and accept this approach:

    “he identified the paramparā not as the family tree of his lineage, but as the idealogical tree”

    Here are my question:

    1) Srila Prabhupada presented himself as a representative of Bhaktisiddhanta.
    2) But Srila Prabhupada presented parampara as a family tree, stressing the importance of getting “initiated.” In fact, he basically hid the fact that Bhaktisiddhanta made this contribution.

    As a representative of Bhaktisiddhanta, why didn’t Srila Prabhupada present parampara as an ideological tree?


    1. 1) Śrīla Prabhupāda was an initiated dīkṣa disciple of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. Also Bhaktsiddhānta was his primary instructor (śikṣa-guru)

      2) Śrīla Prabhupāda stressed initiation, because initiation is essential. Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī stresses initiation as the second of all the practices of Uttama-bhakti (“Śrī Guru Śikṣa-dīkṣādi”). The fact that instruction is more important than formal acceptance does not mean that formal acceptance has no importance at all. It IS important, its just not the most important.

      He did not hide anything about Bhaktisiddhānta. You can research his quotes to hear him describe it as a “Bhāgavata Paramparā” – not a formal dīkṣa paramparā.


      1. I came across this blog through google search. You have written “Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī stresses initiation as the second of all the practices of Uttama-bhakti (“Śrī Guru Śikṣa-dīkṣādi”). The fact that instruction is more important than formal acceptance does not mean that formal acceptance has no importance at all. It IS important, its just not the most important.” I am afraid this is not correct. Instruction follows acceptance and dIkSa is “acceptance” and not “formal acceptance”. The first is “Guru-pAdAshraya”. Thereafter , “tasmAt, kRSNa-dIkSAdi sIkSaNam”. Therefore, dIkSa is actually part of sIkSa and the question of one more being important than the other does not arise at all. If there is no dIkSa, then there is no sIkSa. dIkSa and sIkSa are meant to be from the same person.


          1. Thanks. It is not a must, but it is generally meant. When I say shikSA, I do not mean specific learning in a particular subject but fundamental learning in bhakti. The SB verse also says “tatra-bhAgavatAn-dharmAn-shIkSed-gurvAtma-daivataH”. The word “tatra” connects to the previous verse. dikSAdi-shIkSaNam means dIkSA pUrvaka shIkSa as per chakravartipAd..


  2. Also, I complete agree with these statements too that parampara goes “higher and higher” – and that there is influence and development:

    ““Paramparā” means, literally, “higher and higher””
    “Bhaktisiddhānta described the Paramparā in terms of the major teachers who influenced the development of his branch of the Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇava school.”

    So question about this as the other one:

    1) Srila Prabhupada presented parampara as already having all the knowledge, and that to be within the parampara means to faithfully and purely represent what has come through the parampara without “adding or subtracting.”

    2) But yet we can see that Bhaktisiddhanta made developmental leaps as well as Srila Prabhupada himself (although he denied doing so). Major ones that are not simply details.

    As a representative of Bhaktisiddhanta, why did Srila Prabhupada present parampara as not going “higher and higher” and developing – but simply as a medium without scope for changes in the same magnitude as done by Bhaktisiddhanta (not details) ?


    1. para means “above” so, literally, paramparā means “above and above” – higher and higher. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the knowledge will evolve higher and higher, it means tracing the descent of a revelation from the immediately higher source to the source above that, etc. etc.

      The Śāstra contains complete, perfect knowledge. It is explained according to the needs and capabilities of the people at various times, in various places and in various circumstances. The people explaining it are the ācārya, and they gain the ability to explain it as a result of having learned it extremely deeply. This is the paramparā, the descent of a deep teaching from one generation to the next, so that the next generation can apply the teaching dynamically to their current time, place, circumstances, etc.

      Śrīla Prabhupāda stressed “not changing things” because nearly all of his followers were 20-something year-old westerners from a wild background with all of 5-10 years experience even with the rudiments of the Gauḍiya school.


  3. Thanks for answering the questions. One last thing (I hope):

    To me, it’s very clear and apparent judging from the parampara name “Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya” that transmission of knowledge is not merely repetition but evolution.

    Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did not represent Madhvacharya. Certainly there is an evolution of thought stemming from a root lineage.

    You might says, “Yes, but they were divine personalities.” But this is parampara. The call to exceptionality is another way of saying, “I can’t explain.”

    Would it be so heretical to say that the philosophy is blooming like a rose? An oak tree contains a perfect and complete acorn, and yet if you were to shred the oak you would not find another acorn like it.


    1. I agree with you, but with caution that you could take my agreement as a signal to run to the ends of the earth with it. So let me clarify my agreement: Śāstra is mysterious, by nature (because it deals with the Supreme Mysteries). All of what Caitanya Mahaprabhu gave is there in the Veda, Upanishad, Vedanta, and CERTAINLY Bhāgavata, but it didn’t really become clear until he came and expressed it. Its just like looking at a Highlights magazine where they have those games for kids, to find pencils and tricycles hidden in the line drawing of a tropical beach. Once you find the pencil, you can’t even see it as a palm-tree-trunk anymore – its so obvious. But before you found it, it was just a tropical beach scene. So there is an evolution in how the ācāryas can reveal things. And there are also devolutions. For example, from Satya to Kali there is devolution of the ability to comprehend most of the Veda. Then Vyas tries to fix things, and Buddha gets the upgrade going by deleting the old file-system. Now from Buddha to Śankar to Rāmānuja to Madhva to Caitanyadev, there is clearly a very obvious evolution of thought – gradually restoring the full comprehension of the original which Vyas sought to make clear by composing Bhāgavata at the end of Dvāpara.

      Its not so much constant evolution as it is that the śāstra can be understood to different depths by different teachers at different times.

      [One more interesting place where I find a clear example of philosophical evolution is in how Vyās restructured Brahmā’s Veda into the Vedic library we have today. The evolution from the Veda to Upanishads to Vedānta to Bhāgavatam is exciting. Its also interesting that Canto One describes Vyās putting 5 scholars in charge of the 5 Vedic Branches, and each scholar developed that branch over the next few generations of students, into the literature that the Veda became at the end of Dvāpāra yoga.]


    1. No, but it is pretty undeniable that he did not at all like his father’s dīkṣa guru, Śrī Bipin Bihari Goswāmī. I have heard, and it seems most plausible to me, that the reason he did not accept dīkṣa from his father was that this would make Bipin Bihari Goswāmī his param-guru.


  4. I do not think that people who reject the “shiksha parampara” concept as a type of sampradayic diksha are trying to impress anyone. In fact I believe that the issue is that both “traditionalists” and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s followers claim the title Gaudiya Sampraday for their lineage. Wish there could be a unique name designation to describe each of the two different lineages (or branches if you will) which have such major philosophical differences. Then perhaps there would be less tendency to prove one’s Guru’s position, rather let things naturally develop as religious traditions invariably do, and we could finally live in peace.


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