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Vaishnava Philosophy
Deviation of the disciplic succession

Table of contents:

1. Introduction

In a standard Sanskrit dictionary, the word sampradaya is defined as "genuine instruction that has been received through guru-parampara or disciplic succession" (guru paramparagatu sad upadesasya). The prefix sam indicates connection, while the stem is a cognate of pradhana, "source". In the fourth chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna declares Himself to be the original source of the transcendental science of bhakti-yoga, and He confirms that one is connected to this knowledge only through guru-parampara.

In the vocabulary of Western religious traditions, sampradaya really has no exact equivalent. One might be tempted to employ "orthodoxy", but as a noted German Sanskritist has pointed out, this word really applies to matters of doctrine, not practice. Admission into a sampradaya does not only depend upon a theoretically correct grasp of Krishna's teachings. The candidate must practically demonstrate his learning through strict adherence to the purified lifestyle (acara) set down by great saintly teachers (acaryas).

"One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every endeavor is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by the sages to be a worker for whom the reactions of karma have been burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge." (Bhagavad-gita 4.19)

Pure acara automatically expands into pure pracara (preaching), upacara (Deity worship) and all other devotional activities. By such purity, the devotee becomes eligible to enjoy the higher taste of transcendence (param drstva) that is spoken of by Krishna in Bhagavad-gita 2.59, which satisfies all desires at their very root, within the soul itself. Thus the lower taste for meat-eating, illicit sex, gambling and intoxication is lost; consciousness firmly settles into sinlessness, and the devotee gradually becomes qualified to enter the rasa of Sri Krishna's personal association. Raso vai sah rasam hy evayam labdhvanandi bhavati, declares the Tattiriya Upanisad: "When one understands the Personality of Godhead, the reservoir of pleasure, Krishna, he actually becomes transcendentally blissful."

The genuineness of a sampradaya or a person representing a sampradaya is primarily determined by spiritual quality (sarva maha-guna-gana vaisnava-sarire - "A vaishnava is one who has developed all good qualities", Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 22.75). The good qualities of the vaishnava are actually krishnera-guna, Krishna's own, and they appear in the devotee through his exchange of rasa with the Lord. The Lord's transcendental qualities are unlimited (ananta krsnera-guna), and His devotees are likewise unlimited. This combination precipitates different moods of love of Godhead, which are visible in the persons of great acaryas who have descended into this world to teach genuine vaishnava qualities via the sampradaya system.

Even when he seems to be at variance with other acaryas on certain matters of detail, it is clear that a real acarya is situated in perfect knowledge because he 1) is free from vice, 2) exhibits the good qualities of a vaishnava, and 3) accepts vishnu-tattva as Supreme. Differences between the teachings of acaryas are due to their individual moods of love for the Lord.

"What Madhvacarya understands, we also understand... What Ramanuja understands, we also understand. What Caitanya Mahaprabhu understands, we also understand. So there is no difference... That is vaishnava. All the vaishnavas understand that Vishnu is the Supreme. There may be, sometimes, such as Krishna is understood as incarnation of Vishnu, and sometimes they understand Vishnu as the incarnation of Krishna. That is sampradaya. That is sampradaya. But either Krishna or Vishnu, He is Supreme, that is accepted by all... If I love somebody, I'll say he is first. And if you love somebody, you'll say he is first. But both of them same... Hanumanji, he'll never accept Krishna. And the gopis will never accept Rama or Vishnu." (His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, conversation, May 6, 1975)

Admission into a sampradaya ultimately depends upon the aspirant's submission to the mood of the acarya through strict adherence to the acara he teaches. When asked what constitutes the personal relationship of a disciple to his spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada answered, "To obey your spiritual master. Whatever he has said, you follow strictly. Follow the regulative principles. Chant sixteen rounds. That's all." (SP conversation, April 8, 1975)

In another conversation (March 11, 1976), Srila Prabhupada compared the disciple to wood, the spiritual master to matches, Krishna consciousness to fire and maya to water. When damp wood is placed in fire, it first dries and then ignites. The drying is compared to the practice of acara by which the disciple associates with the acarya. When he becomes firmly situated in acara, he naturally ignites with Krishna consciousness. In this way the flame of pure krishna-bhakti passes down the sampradaya. "There are four lines of disciplic succession: one from Lord Brahma, one from Lord Shiva, one from Laksmi, the goddess of fortune, and one from the Kumaras. The disciplic succession from Lord Brahma is called the Brahma Sampradaya, the succession from Lord Shiva (Sambhu) is called the Rudra Sampradaya, the one from the goddess of fortune, Laksmiji, is called the Sri Sampradaya, and the one from the Kumaras is called the Kumara Sampradaya. One must take shelter of one these four sampradayas in order to understand the most confidential religious system. In the Padma Purana it is said, sampradaya-vihina ye mantras te nisphala matah: "If one does not follow the four recognized disciplic successions, his mantra or initiation is useless." In the present day there are many apasampradayas, or sampradayas which are not bona fide, which have no link to authorities like Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva, the Kumaras or Laksmi. People are misguided by such sampradayas. The sastras say that being initiated in such a sampradaya is a useless waste of time, for it will never enable one to understand the real religious principles." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.3.21, purport)

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur identifies thirteen apasampradayas that split away from the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Sampradaya after Lord Caitanya's disappearance: Aula, Baula, Kartabhaja, Neda, Daravesa, Sani, Sahajiya, Sakhibheki, Smarta, Jata-gosani, Ativadi, Cudadhari and Gauranga-nagari. These apasampradayas (apa means "deviated") are like parasitical growths upon the great tree of the sankirtan movement. Because they exhibit all the defects of material conditioning, they are spiritually useless. The "rasa" relished by such groups is termed prakrta-rasa by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. Their missionary activities are condemned as cheating.

"A conditioned soul in the material world has the disqualification of cheating. He has four disqualifications: he is sure to commit mistakes, he is sure to be illusioned, he is prone to cheat others and his senses are imperfect. But if anyone carries out the order of the spiritual master by disciplic succession or the parampara system, he overcomes the four defects. Therefore knowledge received from the bona fide spiritual master is not cheating. Any other knowledge which is manufactured by the conditioned soul is cheating only. Brahma knew well that Kardama Muni exactly carried out the instructions received from him and that he actually honored his spiritual master. To honor the spiritual master means to carry out his instructions word for word." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.24.12, purport)

The ultimate test of whether one is or is not a member of Lord Caitanya's sampradaya is the quality of his chanting of the holy name of Krishna, which is the essential acara in the the age of Kali: "...you should always remember that either grhastha or brahmacari or sannyasi, nobody can strictly follow all the rules and regulations... In the Kali-yuga it is not possible... Therefore Caitanya Mahaprabhu has recommended that hari-nama, chanting Hare Krishna mantra, should be very rigidly performed, which is common for everyone." (SP conversation, March 10, 1976)

If a person advertises himself as a Gaudiya Vaishnava by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and yet deliberately blasphemes great devotees, denies that Lord Vishnu is the Absolute Truth, considers the spiritual master to be an ordinary man, blasphemes Vedic literatures and other authorized scriptures, considers the glories of the holy name to be exaggeration, concocts perverted theories about the holy name, thinks the holy name to be equivalent to mundane religious rituals, preaches the glories of the holy name to the faithless or maintains material attachments while chanting the holy name, he cannot represent the sampradaya even if he is initiated into it.

"Whether a Vaishnava is properly initiated or not is not a subject for consideration. One may be initiated and yet contaminated by the mayavada philosophy, but a person who chants the holy name of the Lord offenselessly will not be so contaminated. A properly initiated vaishnava may be imperfect, but one who chants the holy name of the Lord is all-perfect. Although he may apparently be a neophyte, he still has to be considered a pure unalloyed vaishnava." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 15.111, purport)

"If one chants the Hare Krishna mantra while committing offenses, these unwanted creepers will grow. One should not take advantage of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra for some material profit. As mentioned in verse 159: 'nisiddhacara', 'kutinati', 'jiva-himsana', 'labha', 'puja', 'pratisthadi yata upasakha-gana

The unwanted creepers have been described by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur. He states that if one hears and chants without trying to give up offenses, one becomes materially attached to sense gratification. One may also desire freedom from material bondage like the mayavadis, or one may become attached to the yoga-siddhis and desire wonderful yogic powers. If one is attached to wonderful material activities, one is called siddhi-lobhi, greedy for material perfection. One may also be victimized by diplomatic or crooked behavior, or one may associate with women for illicit sex. Others may make a show of devotional service like the prakrta-sahajiyas, or one may try to support his philosophy by joining some caste or identifying himself with the support of family tradition, one may become a pseudo guru or so-called spiritual master. One may become attached to the four sinful activities -- illicit sex, intoxication, gambling and meat eating -- or one may consider a vaishnava to belong to a mundane caste or creed. One may think, "This is a Hindu vaishnava, and this is a European vaishnava. A European vaishnava is not allowed to enter the temples." In other words, one may consider vaishnavas in terms of birth, thinking one a brahmana vaishnava, a sudra vaishnava, a mleccha vaishnava and so on. One may also try to carry out a professional business while chanting the Hare Krishna mantra or reading Srimad-Bhagavatam, or one may try to increase his monetary strength by illegal means. One may also try to be a cheap vaishnava by chanting in a secluded place for material adoration, or one may desire mundane reputation by making comprises with non-devotees, compromising one's philosophy or spiritual life, or one may become a supporter of a hereditary caste system. All these are pitfalls of personal sense gratification. Just to cheat some innocent people, one makes a show of advanced spiritual life and becomes known as a sadhu, mahatma or religious person. All this means that the so-called devotee has become victimized by all these unwanted creepers and that the real creeper of bhakti-lata-bija has been stunted." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 19.160, purport)

The link between namaparadha and full-blown deviation from the sampradaya is indicated by Srila Jiva Gosvami, who warns in the Bhakti-sandharba that there are offenders to the holy name who are acikitsya or incorrigible (jnana-lava-durvidagdhastra-acikitsya-atva-dupeksa). Devotees, always compassionate, try to help fallen souls with good instruction. But if someone becomes insolent and arrogant due to acquiring a little knowledge from their association, he is disqualified from the sampradaya because of three kinds of namaparadha: sadhu-nindha (blasphemy of the devotees of the Lord), guru-avajna (disregard of the spiritual master) and sruti-sastra-nindha (blasphemy of the revealed scriptures).

Yet the incorrigible offender never concedes the fact of his offenses. He cannot understand that the mercy of the spiritual master and the association of pure devotees are indispensible to the chanting of the holy name. Because he highly values worldly knowledge and accomplishments, he looks down upon the simple devotees who have surrendered themselves to devotional service. This is sadhu-ninda. He cannot accept that the spiritual master is a transcendental teacher, not a worldly one; thus he tries to measure the person and instructions of the guru by his own mental standards. This is guru-avajna. He studies the revealed scriptures as he would ordinary literature, gleaning from it whatever seems to support his preconceived notions, heedless of the rest. This is sruti-sastra-nindha.

If, on the strength of a false show of advancement in Krishna consciousness, he pretends to have fully realized the glories of the holy name, he is fit for eternal punishment by Yamaraja. As explained in the purport to Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 19.156, one who "thinks that he has become very mature and can live separate from the association of vaishnavas and thus give up all the regulative principles" commits the hati-mata or mad elephant offense. Whatever genuine devotional inspiration that might have been implanted in his heart by good association is uprooted and destroyed. Because of his incurable calumny, such a hard-hearted acikitsya-namaparadhi is fit to be shunned by the bona fide community of devotees.

Nonetheless, it is seen that some acikitsya-namaparadhis become very influential in the Kali-yuga. Somehow or other they make use of the bona fide spiritual master for their own ends. Advertising themselves as his dearmost disciples, they seem to serve, glorify and worship the spiritual master with considerable sincerity. But all pains taken by them are for the sake of self-promulgation alone. Their progress is in the accumulation of material wealth and fame, not in devotional service to Krishna. The acikitsya-namaparadhi, propelled to prominence by cunning, diplomacy and material qualifications like noble birth, opulence, erudition and beauty, may attract followers from the ranks of two lesser grades of namaparadhis who have not firmly taken shelter of the sampradaya due to misfortune. These two kinds of offenders are the ignorant and the weak.

The ignorant offenders are compared to damp wood: lacking bhakti-sukrti and the association and mercy of the saintly, they are sunk in material conceptions; even if they are exposed to the purifying fire of Krishna consciousness, it does not ignite their good fortune immediately. Thus they are liable to be misled. But if they take refuge in the holy name, Krishna's mercy will someday be available to them, even if after a long time.

The weak are hesitant to take advantage of genuine sadhu-sanga due to a paucity of faith. Innocent and without duplicity, the more they can simply surrender to the chanting of the holy name in good association, the more they are blessed by Krishna's mercy. But until their lingering sins are destroyed by the effect of sadhu-sanga, they cannot muster the strength to transcend namaparadha.

The acikitsya-namaparadhi expertly spins a net of illusion sticky-sweet with a perverted enjoying mood (prakrta-rasa) by which he entraps his unfortunate followers. Awakening and nourishing seeds of worldly desire (anarthas) within their hearts, he misleads them into thinking that these growing anarthas are the bhakti-lata-bija.

"Bhakti-lata-bija means 'the seed of devotional service.' Everything has an original cause or seed. For any idea, program, plan or device, there is first of all the contemplation of the plan, and that is called bija, or the seed. The methods, rules and regulations by which one is perfectly trained in devotional service constitute the bhakti-lata-bija, or seed of devotional service. This bhakti-lata-bija is received from the spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. Other seeds are called anyabhilasa-bija, karma-bija, jnana-bija or political and social or philanthropic bija. However, bhakti-lata-bija is different from these other bijas. Bhakti-lata-bija can be received only through the mercy of the spiritual master. Therefore one has to satisfy the spiritual master to get bhakti-lata-bija (yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah). Bhakti-lata-bija is the origin of devotional service. Unless one satisfies the spiritual master, he gets the bija, or root cause, of karma, jnana and yoga without the benefit of devotional service. However, one who is faithful to his spiritual master gets the bhakti-lata-bija. This bhakti-lata-bija is received when one is initiated by the bona fide spiritual master. After receiving the spiritual master's mercy, one must repeat his instructions, and this is called sravana-kirtan -- hearing and chanting. One who has not properly heard from the spiritual master or who does not follow the regulative principles is not fit for chanting (kirtan). This is explained in Bhagavad-gita (2.41): vyavasayatmika buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana. One who has not listened carefully to the instructions of the spiritual master is unfit to chant or preach the cult of devotional service. One has to water the bhakti-lata-bija after receiving instructions from the spiritual master." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 19.152, purport)

In the apasampradayas, chanting and preaching are never undertaken with regard for vaishnava traditions of regulative principles and spiritual instruction. The "ecstasy" of prakrta-rasa generated by such unauthorized chanting and preaching is but poison in devotional guise.

"Instead of awakening real love for Krishna, such hearers of the Bhagavatam become more and more attached to household affairs and sex life (yan maithunadi-grhamedhi-sukham hi tuccham). One should hear Srimad-Bhagavatam from a person who has no connection with material activities, or, in other words, from a paramahamsa vaishnava, one who has achieved the highest stage of sannyasa. This, of course, is not possible unless one takes shelter of the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The Srimad-Bhagavatam is understandable only for one who can follow in the footsteps of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya 5.131, purport)

In their "ecstasy", the apasampradayas enjoy the holy dhama (or a place they claim is a dhama) as a facility for hucksterism, self-promotion and money-making. They enjoy disciples by diverting them from the Lord's service and engaging them in the service of the senses of cheating gurus. They enjoy great vaishnavas through lip-service and cheap imitation; eager to bewilder the innocent and advance their own schemes, they strive for some kind of recognition from a great vaishnava so that they can freely exploit this "endorsement." And they enjoy propagating esoteric doctrines of their own invention that they claim are the real teachings of guru, sastra and sadhu.

All this results in three kinds of inauspicious qualities that are ever prominent in the apasampradayas. These are mentioned in Vaishnava Ke by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati: anitya-vaibhava (hankering for material success), kaminira-kama (illicit sexual affairs that are usually passed off as "transcendental"), and mayavada (philosophical speculation that undercuts the personal nature of God as taught by the vaishnava sampradayas).

In the chapters that follow, the backgrounds of the thirteen apasampradayas will be investigated and their deviations analyzed. I have undertaken this work out of a firm belief that these thirteen cases are archetypical of all sorts of misrepresentations of the sankirtan movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu that have been seen down to this very day.

As he declared in a lecture on July 4, 1970, Srila Prabhupada considered his only success to be the extension of Lord Caitanya's sampradaya into the Western World. It will be our success as his followers to protect the growth of ISKCON so that it may extend to every town and village of this planet as Lord Caitanya predicted. Let us heed the warning from another prediction made by Lord Caitanya regarding the rise of the apasampradayas, visva andhakara koribe: "In My name they will make the whole world dark."

In preparing this volume, I have drawn from a number of sources, vaishnava and academic. The most important of these are the books, letters and lectures of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. From Sri Bhakti-vilasa Bharati Maharaja, a godbrother of Srila Prabhupada, I used resumes and refutations of apasampradaya philosophy given in Apasampradaya Svarupa, kindly translated from the Bengali by Bhakta Krishanu Lahiri, a student of languages at Calcutta University and member of Bhaktivedanta Youth Services. I also took help of the wealth of data on the Gaudiya Sampradaya's long-standing differences with the jata-gosani and smarta castes in The History and Literature of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, an unpublished manuscript by another godbrother of Srila Prabhupada named Sambidananda das (who in the 1930's accompanied two Gaudiya Matha sannyasis on a preaching tour of Europe). The following scholarly books were consulted: Vaishnavism in Bengal by Dr. Ramkantha Cakravarti (Sanskrit Pushtak Bandhar, Calcutta 1985), Obscure Religious Cults by Dr. Sashi Bhushan Das Gupta (1976 reprint by Firma KLM Ltd.), The Bauls of Bengal by Rebati Mohan Sarkar (Gian Publishing House, New Delhi 1990) and Braj -- Center of Krishna Pilgrimage by Alan W. Entwistle (Egbert Forsten, Holland 1987).

Sri Bhakti Vikasa Svami Maharaja and Kiranasa Prabhu brought me up to date with a detailed account of the modern-day apasampradaya phenomena encountered in their years of preaching in Bangladesh. Sarvabhavana Prabhu helped with the translating of the material on the Aul apasampradaya, and Kishore Ghosh of the B.Y.S. similarly helped with material on the Bauls. Atma Tattva Prabhu of the ISKCON Mayapura Gurukula was kind in ways too numerous to mention. The following devotees assisted me in processing the raw data out of which this book was churned: Anadi das, Rama Gopala das, Sucirani devi-dasi, Priti devi-dasi, and Daya Dharma devi-dasi.

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