The Power of the Disciplic Succession, Guru Parampara
Spiritual knowledge descends through the disciplic succession from Krishna. The representatives of the disciplic succession can not change anything, add anything or subtract anything. Otherwise the disciplic succession will be broken and their preaching will have no potency. Many times in the history this disciplic succession has been broken because the representatives of the disciplic succession did not correctly pass on the knowledge to their students.
The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvān, and Vivasvān instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikṣvāku. (Bhagavad Gita 4.1)
This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost. (Bhagavad Gita 4.2)
These two verses describe the process by which this knowledge of Bhagavad Gita has come into our hands and that process is that Krishna originally spoke Bhagavad Gita at the beginning of time as we know it, at the creation of the universe the the sun god, Vivasvan. Vivasvan, by our calculation is very, very old. We can not even imagine the age of the sun god. This is an unbelievable amount of time. Vivasvan, the sun god then instructed the science of Bhagavad Gita to his sons and disciples.
So Vivasvan heard the Bhagavad Gita from Krishna and then Vivasvan spoke the same Bhagavad Gita to his son Manu, the father of mankind and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku. This is the history of Bhagavad Gita. Originally Krishna spoke Bhagavad Gita to Vivasvan the sun god, and that was such a long time ago that we cannot even imagine. Vivasvan then spoke the Bhagavad Gita to his son Manu who is the father of mankind and then in turn Manu spoke that same Bhagavad Gita to Iksvaku who 2,500,000 years ago was the king of this earth planet.
We can understand then that Bhagavad Gita has been present in human society for at least 2,500,000 years from the time when Manu instructed it to his son Iksvaku who was then the king of this whole planet. Unfortunately after some time the knowledge of Bhagavad Gita became lost. This is the nature of the material world. Everything we find in this material world goes through different stages. It is created, it exists for some time, it produces some by-products, it dwindles and then it vanishes. This is the power of time, time is very, very powerful and time wears away everything.
Even if some very perfect spiritual knowledge is established at some point in time then, because of the destructive nature of time, in time this knowledge will be misunderstood, it will be misrepresented by the various generations.
This knowledge of Krishna consciousness that Krishna has given us in the Bhagavad Gita is very delicate knowledge. This knowledge is only potent, it only acts if it is received in the pure disciplic succession and that disciplic succession can be very easily broken. This means that the preachers of Bhagavad Gita have an incredibly great responsibility. As soon as we speak anything, supposedly on Bhagavad Gita which is not simply knowledge that we have heard in the disciplic succession then we have broken the disciplic succession.
The responsibility of the reciter of the Bhagavad Gita is to hear the perfect knowledge from his bona fide spiritual master and simply to repeat that knowledge to the people he is speaking to. He has no authorization to present his own opinion or to add anything new or to subtract anything that was originally in the message as it was presented by Krishna to the sun god Vivasvan , as Vivasvan presented that same message to his son Manu, and as Manu presented that same message to his son Iksvaku. That was 2,500,000 years ago and that was when this Bhagavad Gita entered into the human society through this king, Maharaja Iksvaku, who was at that time the king of the whole planet.
Therefore, the actual qualification of a real spiritual master is that he simply presents perfectly the knowledge that has been given to him by his bona fide spiritual master to the people who come to hear from him. He does not introduce any of his own opinions, he doesn’t add any new information and he does not subtract anything which was there in the original message as it was distributed by Krishna.
Although this appears to be a very simple thing to do, a very simple process, it goes against the very nature of our conditioned life in the material world. In the conditioned state in the material world we are thinking that, “I am very important,” and that “My ideas, my opinion is very valuable.” We are thinking like this, in the conditioned state of life. This mentality makes it almost impossible for someone who is in the conditioned state of life, someone who is not a liberated soul, to speak on the Bhagavad Gita.
The problem is one who is in the materialistic concept of life will be thinking that “I am the body” and that “I have some very important ideas” and “My ideas are very valuable.” So instead of simply humbly hearing the message of Bhagavad Gita from his bona fide spiritual master and simply humbly repeating that same message, the same message that’s been handed down through the disciplic succession since before the beginning of time, he will want to put his own twist on the message, give it his own spin, and as soon as we add any of our own ideas, any of our own opinions, no matter how nice or how wonderful we think they are, into the message of Bhagavad Gita, we have broken the disciplic succession, we have broken the param para. What we are speaking is no longer representative of the disciplic succession, no longer representative of the param para. The transcendental knowledge will not flow through us.
This is a very mystical thing, the Bhagavad Gita, and the knowledge we find inside the Bhagavad Gita, and how one comes to understand the Bhagavad Gita. These are not simply words printed on paper that one can understand through scholarship, by simply studying the words, studying the language. Understanding of Bhagavad Gita is not possible in that way. The understanding comes from hearing the words of a pure devotee in the disciplic succession, someone who is not adding his own opinion.
Actually “pure devotee” is not a very difficult thing, not a very complicated thing, in one sense, it simply means someone who follows the principles which are set out in the Bhagavad Gita. The pure devotee is very humble and he thinks “My opinion is worthless,” “My knowledge is worthless,” “I am nothing,” All I can do is I have heard this knowledge from my spiritual master and I am simply going to deliver it to whoever I meet, I will simply speak the same thing that I have heard from Srila Prabhupada. In that way, because we are simply repeating the message, then the message will be powerful. It is the message that is powerful, it is not us that are powerful. So we have to become simply carriers of the message.
Srila Prabhupada often gives a very nice example in regard to the postman. The responsibility of the postman is he will take the letter with some person’s address on it and he will simply take that letter and deliver it to that person. When he does this he has performed his duty very nicely. The postman may not be a very qualified person and the letter may contain some very valuable thing. The postman may be a poor man, but the letter or parcel may contain some very valuable thing. The parcel may contain a beautiful diamond ring worth millions of dollars. The postman is a poor man, his responsibility, his duty, is to simply take that parcel and deliver it to the person who’s address is written on the parcel. If he does that then the person gets that million dollar diamond. So even though the postman himself is not a millionaire, he simply accepts that this is my duty, my duty is to take this parcel and to deliver it to the person who’s name is written on the parcel, and he delivers the million dollar diamond.
So, similarly, the business of the spiritual master is like that. The business of the spiritual master is that he takes the messages that have been given to him by his bona fide spiritual master and whoever comes to him, he simply delivers that same message. Actually anyone can do this. It requires humility and submission and it requires surrender. It is a very simple thing, actually, but we have to come to this point of surrender and humility, and this point of actually realizing that my mental speculation, my intellect, my knowledge, my ideas, they’re all useless, they’re all faulty.
This can be a very difficult thing to come to realize because we are so attached to our mental speculation, to the whole process. The whole world, the “scientific method,” is built on this mental speculation. The whole idea which is underlying the world which we live in, the material world, is that by this process of mental speculation we can advance the knowledge of mankind, that we can create a better world, that we can advance. This is the whole background of the material world–but it’s false.
If you carefully study the results of all this mental speculation and scientific advancement that we see in the world you will find that people are not any more happy than they were 1,000 years ago or 100 years ago. In fact the people are much more distressed now and full of anxieties and the world has become a very dangerous place. Everywhere, all over the world at the present time, there are big, big wars going on, there’s fighting everywhere, there’s terrorism. You can not walk on the street. If you go outside your house there is the very real fear that there will be some criminal who will give you trouble, steal your money. So many disturbing activities are going on, people are simply afraid, they’re always full of fear.
So what’s happened? All these big, big scientists and philosophers have been speculating and coming up with so many ideas and they are sincerely thinking that these ideas will help the people to become “happy,” that they will help the world to become better organized. So what is the outcome of all this mental speculation? The outcome is that the people are more unhappy, more distressed, more anxious than ever before.
Bringing this back to the disciplic succession. The reason I am giving this example of the results of the modern scientific and philosophical mental speculation is even though the scientists and philosophers who have come up with the technology and the philosophy which underpins the way the current materialistic world is running were very sincerely working and were thinking that “My ideas and my scientific advancements will help the people to become happy,” or “My philosophical ideas or my political ideas will created a governmental system in which people will be very happy…” They were sincerely trying for very noble goals from the materialistic point of view but the outcome has been the opposite. The outcome has been very bad. Instead of creating happiness for the people they have created great distress and great misery. But they did not intend to do this, they intended to make the world a better place.
We have been trained in mental speculation from birth. We have been trained to think that there is some value in our ideas, there is some value in our opinion and that we have some capacity with our own strength, with our own mind, to come up with brilliant ideas that will solve the problems of the world and make the people happy. But this is not the way, this will never be successful, our ideas born of mental speculation will not help anyone. It is only Krishna’s ideas, Krishna’s opinion that will help. And the only way we can find out what are Krishna’s ideas and what is His opinion is to hear from a pure devotee of Krishna in the bona fide disciplic succession.
If we are going to become Krishna conscious or if we are going to become able to present this knowledge to others, if we’re going to become empowered by Krishna to preach we have to completely give up this idea that I can do anything valuable on my own strength. We cannot come up with any valuable ideas ourselves. We cannot come up with anything worthwhile.
First we must hear from Krishna and we must hear from the bona fide spiritual master in disciplic succession, we must hear from Srila Prabhhupada, and we need to accept what he is presenting and follow it in our lives and then repeat it to others, simply present the same message and that will be powerful.
This disciplic succession is such an essential point and it is so easy for the disciplic succession to become broken. We see throughout the history that the disciplic succession is often being broken. In the beginning of time Krishna spoke the Bhagavad Gita to the sun god Vivasvan, Vivasvan instructed it to his son Manu, Manu instructed it to his son Iksvaku and Iksvaku was the king of the earth planet 2,500,000 years ago. For some time this knowledge was being passed down through the saintly kings. Maharaja Iksvaku taught the Bhagavad Gita to his sons who in turn became kings and would teach the same Bhagavad Gita to their sons. But after some time, even though the Bhagavad Gita was still there, people were still speaking on the Bhagavad Gita, however the actual knowledge, the essence of the message of the Bhagavad Gita was lost.
Five thousand years ago Krishna detected that the message of the Bhagavad Gita had become completely lost and therefore there was a need for Him to appear as Krishna to speak the Bhagavad Gita again to His friend and disciple, Arjuna. This is the reason Krishna appeared within the material world.
“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” (Bhagavad Gita 4.2)
So this is why Krishna appears. He appears because that knowledge which He originally spoke and which was passed down through the saintly kings in the disciplic succession had become lost. So there is periodically a necessity for Krishna to come himself as an incarnation or for Krishna to send His empowered representative, his pure devotee, to re-establish the principles of religion in the material world. This is because, as we have been speaking, even if the pure religious principles are established, they will be lost in the course of time.
This happens again and again and again. It happened before the advent of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared in West Bengal in India, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself personally. Also at that time, 500 years ago, the message of the Bhagavad Gita, the param para, the knowledge of the Bhagavad Gita had been lost so Krishna again appeared in the form of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. And Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught the teachings of Bhagavad Gita, the teachings of Krishna in the mood of a devotee of Krishna. So the teachings of Lord Caitanya and the teachings of Lord Krishna are the same because Lord Caitanya is Krishna, the same Krishna.
It did not take very long after Lord Caitanya re-established the disciplic succession, the pure param para, that the Bhagavad Gita was again not being understood correctly. Not so long after Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu left this planet some of His disciples also deviated from His pure teachings and schisms developed and there were different groups of followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu who started to have different opinions. However in spiritual life there are no different opinions, there is only one opinion and that’s the opinion of Krishna. As soon as we see devotees with different opinions we can understand either one of them or both of them have lost the param para or broken the disciplic succession.
There can not be different opinions in understanding the Bhagavad Gita. There is only one opinion. Krishna’s opinion only. So we have to find the pure representative who is actually empowered to present Krishna’s opinion. This is valuable. Krishna’s opinion is very valuable but our opinion or anyone else’s opinion is completely useless. This is actually the key to understanding and advancing in spiritual life: that Krishna’s opinion is valuable and everbody else’s opinion is completely useless, worthless. This is the beginning.
We have to give up this idea that “My opinion has some value.”
So we see that even a few years after Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu disapeared some of his disciples started quarreling and different factions of disciples appeared presenting different opinions. By the time of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura who was preaching in the late 1800’s. In 1896 Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura sent his booklet, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu–His life and Precepts, all over the world to different Universities. It was found by one of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples in the McGill university in Canada. So we can see from this that even in 1896 Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur had this dream to preach Krishna consciousness all over the world.
But the point of Bhaktivinoda Thakur is that at his time, in the late 1800’s, the whole message of Bhagavad Gita was completely lost. Krishna, as Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, appeared in 1486 and He established the pure knowledge of Bhagavad Gita and in the early 1500’s Lord Caitanya flooded the subcontinent of India with His message of Love of God. He established the clear understanding of Bhagavad Gita.
However by the late 1800’s, maybe 450 years later, there was no hint of the pure teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu or the pure teachings of Krishna and the message of the Bhagavad Gita had been completely lost again. The disciplic succession, the param para was completely broken.
The way the disciplic succession was re-established was through Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s studies of the writings of the Vaisnava Acharyas, particularaly the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavana, the direct disciples of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, principally the books of Rupa Goswami, Sanatana Goswami and Jiva Goswami. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur studied these books and from these literatures of the previous acharyas he was able to establish the pure teachings of Krishna.
The preacing of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was not so expansive as he was living in Jagannath Puri and acting as the magistrate in the court system in Jagannatha Puri, and he was in charge of the temple of Jagannath. So he was not able to preach very widely all over the world or even all over India, but he had the idea to do this. His dream was that this message of Lord Caitanya would be spread all over the world. So he prayed to Krishna for a son who would be empoured to preach the pure message of Krishna consciousness, the Bhagavad Gita in the bona fide disciplic succession, all over the world. So Bhaktivinoda Thakur did have a son, and that son was Srila Bhaktsiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, and Srila Bhaktsiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur took on this great mission of very powerfully preaching the pure message of the Bhagavad Gita all over India.
Srila Bhaktsiddhanta was always requesting any of his disciples who were a little intelligent and knew the English language to preach Krishna consciousness in the West. He would instruct them that “You should take this Krishna consciousness very seriously and you should preach this message of Lord Caitanya in the Western countries in English.” So Srila Prabhupada was one of many disciples who Srila Bhaktsiddhanta gave this instruction to but Srila Prabhuapda was the one disciple who actually took it very seriously and made that the mission of his life.
So we see because Srila Prabhuapda made the order of his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktsiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, the mission of his life, and he worked very hard to establish the Krishna consciousness movement based on the pure philosophy of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the Western countries, so he was very successful.
Srila Prabhupada’s success was that he simply repeated the message he received from Srila Bhaktsiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, his bona fide spiritual master in the disciplic succession. So this grand success of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching is a testament to the power of the disciplic succession.
We can also become empowered to preach, but only if we actually realize that my opinion, my ideas, my intellect, has no value. The only value is Krishna’s opinion, Krishna’s ideas. So we must get Krishna’s opinion and Krishna’s ideas through the bona fide pure devotee in the disciplic succession, param para. And we have to humbly simply present that knowledge to anyone we meet, like the postman simply takes the parcel and delivers it to the person whose name is on it. This is his duty.
So we simply have to hear the pure messages which are coming from Krishna through the disciplic succession and repeat them to everybody we meet. In this way, through the power of the disciplic succession we will become instruments in the hands of Krishna.
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