Madhvas and Gaudiyas

A few years ago I read quite a few attacks on Gaudiya Vaishnavism by some followers of Madhvacharya . If you search this blog you’ll find my reactions, it was a technical discussion about verses and translations, as I remember, but details are not important right now. There was another ex-ISKCON devotee who tried to prove to anyone who’d listen that Madhva’s dvaita is the real thing and Gaudiyas are just degenerate deviants. Questions about our parampara connection to Madhvacharya are probably a few hundred years old by now because the list given by our acharyas does not correspond to records kept by Madhvas themselves. Some explanations have been given but we can’t really know anything for sure about those times and names. I suspect Madhvas themselves were not very meticulous with keeping their records, and for ordinary devotees it was a matter of oral transmission. Our Gaudiya records begin with Kavi Karnapura, meaning after disappearance of Lord Caitanya, and so we have no accounts of the previous two centuries at all, just what Kavi Karnapura and others remembered from what they heard. It appears influential contemporaries who were godbrothers have been put into guru-disciple relationship in our parampara, for example. This doesn’t bother us at all but I mention it just to give some background.

Recently I read an interesting article on this matter in Krishna Kathamrita Bindu magazine, Issue #253. It was originally written for The Harmonist by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and it uses a novel approach to such challenges. It doesn’t answer all of them but it goes straight to the heart of the matter and addresses the main argument itself – Madhvas are traditionalists and Gaudiyas are an offshot. Madhvas are conservative but Gaudiyas are liberal inventors. Madhvas are the original and Gaudiya are an add on. No, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati paints a completely different picture where we, the Gaudiyas, are conservative preservers of the tradition and they, the Madhvas are inventors swayed by the currents of time. How about that!


Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada

There is a tendency, especially in this country, to approach the past history of a sect on the basis of the prima-facie authenticity of the guru- paramparā as preserved in the sect. We would be more scientifically employed if we turned our attention to obtaining greater information by comparative study of the different records instead of resorting to gratuitous assumptions against the validity of the preceptorial lists.

For this very cogent reason we must accept as historically valid the existing preceptorial list of the Madhva Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava sect till its authenticity in any particular is conclusively  mpugned by specific historical evidence. We have had no cause up till now to doubt the truth of any portion of this list.

This list discloses the fact that the Supreme Lord Sri Chaitanya accepted Sri Iswara Puri as his preceptor. Sri Iswara Puri was a disciple of Sri Madhavendra Puri. Sri Madhavendra  Puri is a most renowned vaiṣṇava. He is, in fact, the great founder of the society of transcendental lovers who adhere strictly to their all-absorbing passion for the amorous transcendental hero, Sri Krishna. This constitutes a great development of the original doctrine of Sri Madhvacharya. In spite of this peculiarity of the teaching of Sri Madhavendra Puri, the list of the former gurus shows that Sri Madhavendra is descended from the line of Ananda Tirtha in the ascetic order of the Madhva Vaiṣṇavas. There is really nothing against the genuineness of the list of the gurus of the line of the Madhva Vaiṣṇavas.

Some misguided critic may try to rashly propose to disconnect Sri Madhavendra from the line of the gurus of the Madhva Vaiṣṇavas by asserting that the Madhva sannyāsīs are known as “Tirthas” and that no sannyāsī of the title “Puri” can have admittance into their ecclesiastical order. But the solution of this apparent difficulty is offered by an incident in the authentic career of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna Chaitanya. He is stated to have embraced the order of the Bharati sannyāsīs. But he was also stated to be a disciple of Sri Iswara Puri. This irregularity is to be ascribed to the practice of attaching their surnames by the older associations. The different guru-paramparās show the same line. So we  cannot discredit those records by basing our arguments on assumptions and ordinary argument from current practices.

Moreover, whenever there is any congregational gathering of the different schools of vaiṣṇavas, the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, as a class, introduce themselves as belonging to the line of Sri Madhvacharya. These are hard and indisputable facts and cannot be lightly explained away by inferences based solely on certain practices of either sect.

If, however, the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas actually preferred to brand themselves as Madhva Gauḍīyas as a matter of history, inquirers would naturally be anxious to know whether the servants of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas subscribe in toto to the professions and practices of the Madhvas or whether they differ from the older school in some other points. In case they have a distinctive reference, an inquirer should naturally start to make a list of the differences between the two schools. This comparison should necessarily be made in regard to their practical activity, social procedure, philosophy, theology, and different performances; in other words, the examination should embrace both their exoteric and esoteric differences.

If we take up the practical activities of the Madhva and the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas for the purpose of such comparison, we find that the former are severely reserved in their propagatory methods, whereas the latter are vigorous proselytizers. The Madhvas keep up the old habits and ideas, whereas the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas have advanced towards and utilized everything for facilitating the true cause of devotion. The former are very fond of arcana according to the pañcarātrika system, whereas the latter, though not different in their adoption of arcana, additionally perform bhajana like the dāsakūṭa section of the Madhva community. The Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas give more stress to bhajana whereas the vyāsakūṭa section of the Madhvas give stress to arcana. The habits and customs of the Southern Indian vaiṣṇavas are different from those of Northern Indian Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, though both of them have a common base and origin as their guiding principle.

Turning to their respective social procedures, we find that there is one great point of resemblance. According to the Madhva community, Brahmins are alone considered to be eligible for the service of God. Brahmins are thus in sole charge of the religious institutions of the sect. They alone conduct all public and private worship. This is also the practice of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. But in this matter also there is an important distinction between the two. The point has already been referred to in connection with propaganda and proselytization. The Madhvas are not prepared to go outside the pale of the caste Brahmins for imparting initiation for worship. In this they are in one sense too narrow in comparison with the method of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. Sri Chaitanya accepted all who possessed the real inclination for leading the exclusive spiritual life and bestowed on them even the position and function of the ācārya. Thakur Haridas, the great ācārya of the Gauḍīya sect, was a Mohammedan by parentage. Most of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Gosvāmīs were not caste Brahmins.

In another respect, however, the Madhva practice is more lax than the practice of the Gauḍīya society. No person is entitled in the Gauḍīya community to mantra-dīkṣā unless he or she is prepared to submit unconditionally to follow the instructions of the ācārya in every particular of actual conduct. By this test, caste Brahmins are also liable to be ineligible for the service of God in the Gauḍīya community if they are not prepared to give up their unscriptural mode of life by submitting to the autocratic rule of the ācārya.

Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas claim to follow the essence of the scriptural varṇāśrama institution in the organization of their spiritual society, whereas the Madhvas follow the hereditary principle which is seldom applicable in the present age when few persons possess either the habit or the inclination to follow the spirit of the śāstric regulation. Judged by the test of loyalty to the spirit of the scriptural regulation, the Gauḍīya community may justly claim to be far more conservative in their social practices than the Madhvas.

— From the article, “A Word to our Madhwa – Vaishnava Brethren”,
The Harmonist, Vol. XXXI, Issue No. 18, 14 May 1935.

The last two paragraphs really bring it home – caste Brahmins of Madhva sampradaya are considered ineligible by Gaudiyas because they lack unconditional surrender and other necessary qualities. Nor are they loyal to the spirit of shastric regulations.

Interesting turn, isn’t it?