Question: I have heard it said that there are some gaps in the list of names in the Gaudiya parampara and that some of the names given there are actually fictitious names of personalities that never really existed. Do you think this could be true?
Answer: In "Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika" Srila Kavi Karnapura lists the parampara of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas from Lord Brahma up to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as follows:
tatra madhvi sampradayah prastavad atra likhyate
paravyomesvarasyasic chisyo brahma jagat-patih
tasya sisyo narado'bhud vyasas tasyapa sisyatam
suko vyasasya sisyatvam prapto jnanavarodhatat
tasya sisyah prasisyas ca bahavo bhutale sthitah
vyasal labdha-krsna-dikso madhvacaryo maha-yasah
cakre vedan vibhajyasau samhitam sata-dusanim
nirgunad brahmano yatra sa-gunasya pariskriya
tasya sisyo'bhavat padmanabhacaryo mahasayah
tasya sisyo naraharis tac-chisyo madhava-dvijah
aksobhyas tasya sisyo'bhut tac-chisyo jayatirthakah
tasya sisyo jnanasindhus tasya sisyo mahanidhih
vidyanidhis tasya sisyo rajendras tasya sevakah
jayadharma-munis tasya sisyo yad-gana-madhyatah
srimad-visnupuri yas tu bhakti-ratnavali-krtih
jayadharmasya sisyo'bhud brahmanah purusottamah
vyasa-tirthas tasya sisyo yas cakre visnu-samhitam
sriman laksmipatis tasya sisyo bhakti-rasasrayah
tasya sisyo madhavendro yaddharmo'yam pravartitah
kalpa-vrksasyavataro vraja-dhamani tishitah
prita-preyo vatsalatojjvalakhya phala-dharinah
tasya sisyo'bhavac chriman isvarakhya-puri-yatih
kalayamasa srgaram yah srgara-phalatmakah
advaitah kalayamasa dasya-sakhye phale ubhe
sriman ragapuri hy esa vatsalye yah samasritah
isvarakhya-purim gaura urarikrtya gaurave
jagad aplavayamasa prakrtaprakrtatmakam
"I shall now begin this book by describing the disciplic succession descended from Sripada Madhvacarya. Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe became the disciple of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Narayana. Brahma's disciple was Narada. Narada's disciple was Vyasa. Vyasa then transmitted transcendental knowledge to his disciple Sukadeva. Sukadeva taught the same knowledge to his many disciples and grand-disciples in this world. The famous Madhvacarya received initiation from Vyasa personally. Madhvacarya carefully studied all the Vedas from Vyasa, and later wrote his book 'Mayavada-sata-dusani', where he proved that the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Person, full of all transcendental qualities, and not the quality-less impersonal Brahman. Madhvacarya's disciple was the exalted Padmanabhacarya. Padmanabhacarya's disciple was Narahari. Narahari's disciple was Madhava-dvija. Madhava-dvija's disciple was Aksobhya. Aksobhya's disciple was Jaya Tirtha. Jaya Tirtha's disciple was Jnanasindhu. Jnanasindhu's disciple was Mahanidhi. Mahanidhi's disciple was Vidyanidhi. Vidyanidhi's disciple was Rajendra. Rajendra's disciple was Jayadharma Muni. Among Jayadharma Muni's disciples was Sriman Visnupuri, the famous author of the 'Bhakti-ratnavali'. Another disciple of Jayadharma was Brahmana Purusottama. Purusottama's disciple was Vyasa Tirtha, who wrote the famous book Sri Visnu-samhita. Vyasa Tirtha's disciple was Sriman Laksmipati, who was like a great reservoir of the nectar of devotional service. Laksmipati's disciple was Madhavendra Puri, a great preacher of devotional service. Madhavendra Puri was the incarnation of a kalpa-vrksa tree in the abode of Vraja. This tree bears as its fruits the mellows of servitude to Lord Krsna, friendship with Lord Krsna, parental love for Lord Krsna, and conjugal love for Lord Krsna. Madhavendra Puri's disciple was Sriman Isvara Puri Svami. Isvara Puri carefully understood the mellows of conjugal love for Lord Krsna, and was able to distribute that fruit to others. Sri Advaita Acarya displayed the sentiments of servitorship and friendship for the Lord, and Sriman Ranga Puri manifested the sentiment of parental love for Lord Krsna. Lord Caitanya accepted Sriman Isvara Puri as His spiritual master. The Lord proceeded to flood the entire world with spontaneous transcendental love for Krsna." (Gaura Ganoddesa-dipika 22-25)
The above-mentioned disciplic succession given by Kavi Karnapura has been accepted by Bhaktivinoda Thakura and this is evident from the following statement:
ei samasta vakyadvara spasta pratita haya ye, Sri brahma sampradayai Sri Krsna Caitanya -dasadiganer guru-pranali. Sri Kavi Karnapura Gosvami ei anusarre drta kariya sviyakrta 'Gaura Ganoddesa-dipika' ya guru-pranalir krama likhiyachen. Vedanta-sutra-bhasyakara Sri Vidyabhusana u sei pranalike sthira rakhiyacchen. Yahara ei pranalike asvikara karen, tahara ye Sri Krsna Caitanya-carananucara-ganer pradhana satru, ihate ara sandeha ki?
"It is evident that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu belonged to the Brahma sampradaya, as it descends through Madhvacarya. Kavi Karnapura confirmed this line of disciplic succession in his Gaura Ganoddesa-dipika, and the writer of the commentary of the Vedanta, Sri Baldeva Vidyabhusana, did so again (in his Prameya Ratnavali). Is there any doubt that those who do not accept this line of disciplic succession are the principle enemies of the followers of Sri Krsna Caitanya?" (Bhaktivinoda Thakura - Sri Mahaprabhur-siksa, Ch.2)
Bhaktivinoda further states in Chapter Two of Sri Mahaprabhur-siksa that anyone who does not accept these statements is an atheist:
Sri Krsna Caitanya sampradaya svikara karata gopane guru-parampara siddha-pranali svikara Karen na, tahara kalir guptacara. Ihate sandeha ki?
"Anyone who refuses to accept such statements is a promoter of atheism. Those who accept the authority of Sri Krsna Caitanya but secretly do not accept this disciplic succession of spiritual preceptors are actually agents of Kali. Can there be any doubt about this?" (Bhaktivinoda Thakura - Sri Mahaprabhur-siksa, Ch.2)
Considering the position of Srila Kavi Karnapura, it is highly unlikely he would have simply fabricated a list of names to make up the parampara of Sri Caitanya. Kavi Karnapura was the son of Sivananda Sena and he was thus always associated with pure devotees and with the eternal associates of the Supreme Lord. The information that Kavi Karnapura gives us about the identities of Mahaprabhu's associates in Gaura-lila and their corresponding identities in Krsna-lila is extensive. It is therefore quite unlikely that having access to such confidential information as regards the eternal associates of the Lord that he would at the same time fabricate a fictitious parampara.
As Kavi Karnapura has heard from senior devotees about the identities of Mahaprabhu's associates, he similarly heard from them regarding the parampara. In fact, although it may not be mentioned in any particular book, it is widely accepted that Sri Caitanya heard about the parampara of Madhavendra Puri at the time of his initiation from Isvara Puri, the disciple of Madhavendra.
If what Kavi Karnapura had written in Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika regarding the Gaudiya-sampradaya parampara was indeed false - then the senior Vaisnavas present on the planet at that time would indeed have objected to those statements. Yet such objections were never raised. On the contrary, the community of Vaisnavas and pure devotees of Sri Caitanya accepted the writings of Kavi Karnapura as bona-fide transcendental literature.
Just as we have heard from our spiritual master about the lineage of our parampara, so it has always been the tradition among Vaisnavas that a spiritual master informs and enlightens his disciple regarding their parampara.
The fact that there are also sometimes gaps in the parampara list of names, does not mean that there is an actual break in the parampara. This topic has been briefly explained by Bhaktivinoda in Jaiva-dharma as follows:
sampradaya-pranali ki sampurna-rupa rakha haiyacche?
madhye madhye ye sakala pradhana acarya haiyacchen,
tahader namasakala sampradaya pranalite acche.
"Is there a list of names of spiritual masters in the parampara given without any breaks?
From time to time, only the more important spiritual masters' names are included in these lists." (Jaiva-dharma - Ch.13)
Although envious persons or persons with a poor fund of knowledge are sometimes quick to criticize the Gaudiya-sampradaya for such apparent breaks in their parampara, the fact is that there are also apparent breaks in other recognized and established sampradayas such as the Madhva- sampradaya and the Ramanuja sampradaya.
These apparent breaks are also acknowledged as existing by Madhva and Ramanuja followers, but these apparent breaks are not considered as defects in their respective sampradayas.
In the books 'Sampradaya Paddhati' and 'Mani-manjari' written by Hrsikesa Tirtha and Narayana Panditacarya respectively (both direct disciples of Madhvacarya) the parampara of the Madhva sampradaya is given as follows:Hamsavatara, Brahma, Catursana, Durvasa, Jnanasindhu Tirtha, Garudavahana Tirtha, Kaivalya Tirtha, Jnanisa Tirtha, Para Tirtha, Satya-prajna Tirtha, Prajna Tirtha, Acyuta Preksa, and Madhvacarya.
The gap between Acyuta Preksa (the guru of Madhva) and Prajna Tirtha (the previous acarya) is approximately 400 years. The reason for this gap is explained that, during this time the Vaisnavas in that area were being terrorized by the Naga Babas, and other militant followers of Sankaracarya. They had gone completely 'underground' as a result of it. After the time of Madhvacarya the social climate changed and the Vaisnavas were able to resume their normal behavior and lived openly in society, establishing Mathas, keeping parampara records, etc.
A similar gap, but this time of approximately 3,000 years, is found in the Ramanuja sampradaya. The recognized parampara of the Ramanuja sampradaya from Visnu up to Ramanuja is as follows:Visnu, Laksmi, Visvaksena, Alvars, Nathamuni, Pundarikaksa, Rama Misra, Yamunacarya, and Ramanujacarya.
From the Alvars (4000 BC to 2700 BC) to Nathamuni (584AD) there is a gap of more than 3,000 years. Despite this apparent gap the Ramanuja parampara is accepted by all Vaisnava scholars as a bona fide sampradaya. Also, it has been noted that during the period of the Alvars, only Nammalvar and Madhurakavi were connected as guru and disciple respectively. All the other ten Alvars were independent of each other. In other words they were not related in any way as guru and disciple.
The point of contention wherein some persons try to establish that one must be in a disciplic succession that can produce a list of names of its parampara (guru to disciple) from the present day back to its very origin and prove the validity of those names by producing old texts where such names are mentioned is not actually necessary, nor is such a method accepted by other sampradayas as the ultimate pramana (proof). If it were so, then it would not be possible to factually prove an unbroken chain of disciplic succession in any sampradaya in the world today. Even those so-called sampradayas of Babajis in Vrndavana and Mayapura who claim to have an unbroken disciplic succession, can only prove such by creating imaginary literature and fabricating lies in support of their fallacious claims.
Actually the evidence supporting the validity of any sampradaya via old books, historical records and all such related materials are for the most part empirical evidence and this is considered secondary to the most important type of evidence known as srota-pantha or having heard from previous acaryas.
The mind and intelligence being material elements of this mundane world are prone to rational thought and want proof of everything by the process of empirical knowledge. Ultimately empirical knowledge is defective because it is gathered by the imperfect senses. The process of srota-pantha however is the process by which realized knowledge of the Absolute Truth is passed down from guru to disciple without any loss. This process depends not on empirical evidence to prove its validity, but the process of srota-pantha depends solely on hearing with faith.
The empirical philosopher cannot accept the reality of faith because he or she has no experience of faith. Such less spiritually advanced persons do not know that faith (sraddha) is a spiritual substance more real than all the empirical knowledge of the mundane world combined.
Faith allows the descending eternal knowledge (sabda-brahman) to flow through the realized spiritual master to the heart of a qualified disciple completely unobstructed by any material defect. The knowledge of the empiricist however is always wrought with troubles and defects because it is an ascending process and depends solely on the material mind, intelligence, and senses, which are imperfect.
Those faithful devotees who have accepted the authority of the parampara mentioned by Kavi Karnapura in "Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika" are factually the persons responsible for fulfilling the prediction of Sri Caitanya of spreading Krsna consciousness all over the world. This is indeed another valid proof (pramana) of the validity of their parampara, for as Krsna Dasa Kaviraja Gosvami states in Caitanya-caritamrta - only those who are empowered by Krsna can spread the holy name of Krsna:
taha pravartaila tumi,--ei ta 'pramana'
krsna-sakti dhara tumi,--ithe nahi ana
On the other hand those who doubt the integrity of Kavi Karnapura and his followers such as Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana, and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura are to be compared to a thorn in the leg of the Supreme Lord and the association of such unfortunate persons should be rejected.