[Originally published in The Harmonist, Vol. 31, May 1935]
There is a fundamental justification in seeking to approach the past history of a sect, especially in this country, on the basis of the prima-facie authenticity of the guru-parampara as preserved in the sect. We would be more scientifically employed if we turn 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-Gaudiya Vaisnava sect till its authenticity in any particular is conclusively impugned by specific historical evidence. We have had no cause up till now to suspect the truth of any portion of this list.
This list discloses the fact that the Supreme Lord Sri Caitanya accepted Sri Isvara Puri as His preceptor. Sri Isvara Puri was a disciple of Sri Madhavendra Puri.
Sri Madhavendra Puri is a most renowned Vaisnava. 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 Krsna, This constitutes a great development of the original doctrine of Sri Madhvacarya. 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 Vaisnavas. There is really nothing against the genuineness of the list of the gurus of the line of the Madhva Vaisnavas.
Some misguided critic may try to rashly propose to disconnect Sri Madhavendra from the line of the gurus of the Madhva Vaisnavas, by asserting that the Madhva sannyasins are known as Tirthas and that no Puri sannyasin 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 Krsna Caitanya. He is stated to have embraced the order of the Bharati sannyasins. But He was also stated to be a disciple of Sri Isvara Puri. This irregularity is to be ascribed to the practice of attaching their surnames by the older associations. The different guru-paramparas 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 Vaisnavas, the Gaudiya Vaisnavas, as a class, introduce themselves as belonging to the line of Sri Madhvacarya. 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 Gaudiya Vaisnavas actually preferred to brand themselves as Madhva Gaudiyas as a matter of history, enquirers would naturally be anxious to know whether the servants of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas 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, enquiry 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 due to all these, - or, 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 Gaudiya Vaisnavas for the purpose of such comparison, we find that the former put themselves under a severe reserve in their propagatory methods, whereas the latter are vigorously proselytizing. The Madhvas keep up the old habits and ideas, whereas the Gaudiya Vaisnavas have advanced towards and utilized everything facilitating the true cause of devotion. The former are very fond of arcana according to the pancaratrika system; whereas the latter, though not different to adopt arcana, yet in addition to that, they perform bhajana like the Dasakuta section of the Madhva community. The Gaudiya Vaisnavas give more stress to bhajana than to arcana of the Vyasakuta section of the latter community. The habits and customs of the Southern Indian Vaisnavas are different from those of Northern Indian Gaudiya Vaisnavas, 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. Brahmanas are alone considered to be eligible for the service of God by the Madhva community. Brahmanas are accordingly 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 Gaudiya Vaisnavas. 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 brahmanas for imparting initiation for worship. In this they are in one sense too narrow in comparison with the method of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas. Sri Caitanya accepted all who possessed the real inclination for leading the exclusive spiritual life and bestowed on them even the position and function of the acarya. Thakura Haridasa, the great acarya of the Gaudiya sect, was a Mohammedan by parentage. Most of the Gaudiya Vaisnava Gosvamis were not caste brahmanas.
In another respect, however, the Madhva practice is more lax than the practice of the Gaudiya society. No person is entitled in the Gaudiya community to mantra-diksa unless he or she is prepared to submit unconditionally to follow the instructions of the acarya in every particular of actual conduct. By this test caste brahmanas are also liable to be ineligible for the service of God in the Gaudiya community, if they are not prepared to give up their unscriptural mode of life by submitting to the autocratic rule of the acarya.
Gaudiya Vaisnavas claim to follow the real principle of the scriptural varnasrama 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 sastric regulation.
Judged by the test of loyalty to the spirit of the scriptural regulation, the Gaudiya community may justly claim to be far more conservative in their social practices than the Madhvas.