Vanity thought #777. Parampara Power

Never underestimate it.

First thing that comes to mind of a conditioned soul is that there’s no way all gurus are created equal. It’s just not possible to see our acharyas that way with our material eyes and we have plenty of legitimate criteria to judge their relative levels even if we can’t judge their devotion itself.

Most obvious of those criteria is renunciation. We can always compare devotees, gurus, acharyas, whoever, to Six Goswamis. We know that a pure devotee has absolutely zero attachment to his body and bodily convenience. Six Goswamis slept under different trees every night so as not to become attached. If a devotee builds himself a comfortable ashram in Vrindavana it’s just undeniable that he isn’t on the level of Goswamis yet.

Another clear cut criteria is the ability to preach and convert people into devotees. We have examples of Srila Prabhupada and his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, to compare any other devotee to.

Another criteria is writing devotional books, though these days everyone can write just about everything and we have been warned not to read books translated by some very prolific writers.

So, in our immediate parampara we have Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati who were preachers, we have Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura who was a preacher and a writer, and a great reformer. We have Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji who was a perfect renunciate, as good as Six Goswamis, and that’s about it.

We don’t know much about Jagannatha Dasa Babaji, except that he was a great devotee who helped discover birthplace of Lord Chaitanya, and we don’t know anyone in our parampara beyond him.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati gave us “bhagavata parampara” rather than diksha chain, and that confirms our initial suspicion that not all gurus are created equal. Some were not even good enough to make a parampara list.

We don’t disrespect them in any way, but there’s a unspoken assumption that they weren’t as extraordinary as those who were included. Maybe there weren’t even “pure devotees” (gasp!)

Then we have two generations of spiritual masters coming after Srila Prabhupada and, as time goes, by there will be even more grand-disciples taking up the torch, we might live even to see the third generation becoming gurus.

Our critics, however, argue that it’s obvious that none of them are as self-effulgent acharyas as Srila Prabhupada, and some critics go all the way and dismiss all ISKCON gurus as unqualified impostors.

We can’t learn anything useful from these not so advanced devotees, they say. We can’t learn Krishna prema from those who don’t possess it themselves, they say. Fine, but I want to point out one important precedent – Srila Vyasadeva himself.

He is, of course, an empowered incarnation of God and he is the author of Vedas as we know them. Not the original author, of course, but a person who manifested them and wrote them down for use in Kali yuga.

Under the guidance of his guru, Narada Muni, he compiled Srimad Bhagavatam, the topmost scripture, the ripe fruit of all Vedas.

Yet it’s is possible that he didn’t know what he was writing himself.

[Lord Śiva said:] ‘I may know; Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the son of Vyāsadeva, may know; and Vyāsadeva may know or may not know Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. On the whole, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the spotless Purāṇa, can be learned only through devotional service, not by material intelligence, speculative methods or imaginary commentaries. (CC Madhya 24.313)

Just take it in slowly – Srila Vyasadeva, who compiled and wrote down the book, might not know its actual meaning.

There are reasons how that might have happened. For one thing, the story of Bhagavatam is pretty convoluted – we hear it from Suta Goswami who retells it as Shukadeva Goswami told it to Maharaja Parikshit. Shukadeva Goswami learned Srimad Bhagavatam from his father, Srila Vyasadeva, and Srila Vyasadeva was among the sages who heard Suta Goswami’s talk, and that’s what he decided to write down.

It would appear that Srila Vyasadeva, sitting in the forest of Naimisharanya, didn’t know the full import of Bhagavatam, which is understandable, but then how could he teach his son, who was the original source, several years earlier?

Because of the parampara system – knowledge transferred down the parampara is full and complete in itself regardless of qualifications of the gurus. Srila Vyasadeva DIDN’T HAVE TO know full import of Srimad Bhagavatam when he was teaching it to his son, he might not have realized the full import even when he wrote it down, but those were instructions of his guru, Narada Muni, so he followed them.

So, he taught his son, he heard the Bhagavatam again at Naimisharanya, he went on with his business of compiling Vedas, and only when Narada Muni instructed him directly he finally put that story to paper as it didn’t seem important to him before. Narada Muni promised Vyasadeva that he would be finally satisfied by doing that yet here we have Lord Shiva saying that Vyasadeva might still not know the full import of Srimad Bhagavatam.

One can only wonder at how parampara works. Srila Vyasadeva received Srimad Bhagavatam from his sources, passed it down to his son, heard it again from a follower of his son, and still haven’t realized the full glory of his own work while everyone else was swimming in the ocean of bliss already. Well, not everyone, but his son surely knew the value of the book, and Lord Chaitanya knew it, too, and so did Srila Prabhupada.

In the same vein, things we say to each other or things we say to people when we preach might not strike a chord within our own hearts but if we do our job honestly their full import might manifest for proper recipients and in places we least expect ourselves.

We don’t have to be super advanced, we just have to be honest and pass down the knowledge as we received it ourselves, it will still work and it might work even better if people we pass it to have pure hearts filled with faith.

There’s nothing to despair if we don’t make any progress ourselves, and it doesn’t disqualify us from the preaching mission either. It doesn’t require much from us – just honestly tell people what we heard form our guru, that’s it.

It might not work on us due to our anarthas but we are not doing it for ourselves anyway. We don’t preach so that we become advanced, we preach because that’s what our guru wants and that’s what pleases Lord Chaitanya, and that’s what people want to hear. There’s no place for selfishness in sankirtana.

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