Bhaktisiddhanta and Parampara

QUESTION:What do you know about this claim that Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur never received initiation therefore rendering his parampara a hoax?

Before going further on the question I think we should first re-evaluate how we believe “parampara” works. Let’s describe two versions of it.

Version 1: As a result of a dīkṣā rite correctly performed, a disciple becomes linked to a guru, opening a channel through which śuddha-sattva enters the disciple and enlightens them.

Version 2: As a result of opening a channel to a guru, śuddha-sattva can enter the disciple and enlighten them. The channel primarily opens by (1) establishing acceptance (dīkṣā) from the guru, (2) receiving guidance from them (śikṣā), and (3) puting that guidance into practice (anuvartmana). 

The difference is really that Version 1 doesn’t elaborate on what dīkṣā is. It paints it as a rite or an event – and allows enlightenment to seem like a magical occurrence in which the disciple is basically passive. Version 2 explains that dīkṣa is a guru’s acceptance, which takes actual form in the disciple’s education and practice – and enlightenment is therefore mostly on the disciple’s shoulders.

It is important to decide which version is closer to what you believe in, as we turn our attention to your specific worry: “What do you know about this claim that Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur never received initiation therefore rendering his parampara a hoax?”

Before saying what I think about the claim that he “never received initiation” I would prefer to ask you if “not receiving initiation” would automatically “render his parampara a hoax”?

Personally, I think it depends a lot on how we define “initiation” – is it Version 1 or Version 2? If we don’t have Version 2, we certainly are not in paramparā. But if we don’t have Version 1, there may be some leeway.

I think it winds up impossible to deny that Bhaktisiddhanta did not have Version 1 dīkṣā from a Gauḍīya, but I do not believe that this automatically “renders his paramparā a hoax.”

What is the essence of the Gauḍīya Paramparā? What sets it apart from other Vaiṣṇava Paramparā? Some may say it is the valuation of gopī-bhāva. This is correct, but not the root of the matter. The reason Gauḍīyas uniquely value gopī-bhāva is that we are the only Vedāntic school with Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as our param-pramāṇa. All others use Vedānta-Sūtra.

Then how can we evaluate the presence or absence of Gauḍīya Paramparā in a person or community? Some may say it is the presence or absence of gopī-bhāva, but in my opinion this is impractical, since gopī-bhāva is the prayojana (ultimate goal). People who have not yet achieved the ultimate goal would not show any genuine gopī-bhāva – so if we use gopī-bhāva as our meter we would exclude all sādhakas from Gauḍiya Paramparā.

Some may say the presence of the sādhana which leads to gopī-bhāva should be our meter. This is more practical, but still misses the root. The reason we strive for gopī-bhāva and practice the sādhana we practice is because of our unique acceptance of Śrīmad Bhagavatam. So, in my opinion the simplest and most reliable way to measure the existence of Gauḍiya Paramparā is by testing how deeply a person comprehends Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

Honestly, I feel it is debatable and somewhat disappointing how well Gauḍīya Maṭh and ISKCON fare in that evaluation – compared to the larger Gauḍīya community. But I don’t think this is because Bhaktisiddhānta used a picture of a guru or whatever else he did or didn’t do regarding dīkṣa. I think the immediate and practical cause is that Gauḍīya Maṭh and its branches such neglected rigorous study of Jīva Gosvāmī’s Bhāgavat Sandarbha’s in favor of vigorous evangelism.

Probably if he had submitted more formally and conventionally to a Gauḍīya dīkṣa he would not have done this, but the practical and immediate cause of the differences between Gauḍīya Maṭh and the rest of the Gauḍīya Sampradāya is the Maṭh’s focus on evangelistic preaching at the expense of practice and study, especially study of Bhāgavat-Sandarbha, the founding-document of the Gauḍīya Paramparā.

I feel that argument about Bhaktisiddhānta’s dīkṣa is mostly a counterproductive distraction from this more practical fact.

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  1. ari

    Very clarifying. thank you


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