The difference between a paramparā and a pantha

When Rupa goswami describes the limbs of bhakti, he writes the first limb as:

guru-pādāśrayas tasmāt kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam |

Guru-pādāśraya means taking shelter of the guru. This is followed by kṛṣṇa-dīkṣā, which means taking the dīkṣā mantra from the guru. Next, one undergoes śikṣaṇam – one learns the scriptures systematically from the guru.

This kārikā captures the uniqueness of the sampradāya. The sampradāya is based on śikṣa- learning. That’s why one has to study the sampradāya and its scriptures. If one is not clear about the school of thought, then one’s practice becomes an ineffective hodge-podge of everything.

The sampradāya is different from a pantha. There is the popular notion that great devotees do not have to conform to scriptures and can introduce changes in the meaning of scriptures and practices as they see fit. These devotees are considered authorities in themselves. The popularity of the guru in terms of number of disciples is considered paramount. But these gurus represent panthas, not sampradāyas.

Rupa Goswami and Jiva Goswami were not interested in presenting themselves as authorities independent of the scriptures. They barely had any disciples.

In Vaiṣṇavism, and the broader Indian tradition, the meaning of āstika – theist – is not someone who believes in God, but someone who believes in the scriptures. For example, purva mīmāṁsā does not talk about God at all, but a believer in it is considered a theist because purva mīmāṁsā is based on the Vedas. In Indian theism, God’s actions are not the authority but his words are the authority. That is, the Vedas are the authority. This is the uniqueness of Indian theism.

Therefore Maharajji used to say, “if I say anything that is not in line with the scriptures, reject it”. This is the accepted metric to judge a guru of any sampradāya. One should be clear on whether one belongs to a sampradāya or a pantha. There are many great names who have formed their panthas – like Sant Kabir – but it was clearly understood during their time and later on that they formed panthas. But these days, people who have actually started panthas are mistaken to be representatives of a sampradāya.

This is because in modern times, people are ignorant both of the language of the scriptures, Sanskrit, and of the scriptures.

Jiva Goswami’s Sandarbhas are the foundation of the Caitanya sampradāya. Therefore it is important for aspiring sādhakas to become well-informed and well-versed in the writings of the Goswamis.

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11 replies »

  1. Thank you for the article.

    I was wondering if there is an objective way of finding out if one is following a pantha or a paramparā… because for the Madhvas the whole of Caitanya sampradaya may seem to be a pantha… and even in the Caitanya Sampradaya we have different branches which have something in addition to what the Six Gosvamis said like the idea of siddha-pranali that was introduced by Gopala Guru Gosvami and his disciple Dhyanacandra Gosvami… Or Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura sometimes differing with Jiva Gosvami…

    • In the case of the Chaitanya sampradaya, its foundations are established in the Sandarbhas. So anyone who claims to be an authentic follower must be consistent with the theology from Sri Jiva’s books. Furthermore, one must be able to demonstrate an unbroken parampara that goes back to the Goswamis.
      The objective way is to test if a group values shastra more or individuals more. Is shastra the topmost pramana for them? Or is it an individual person? When it comes to conflicts, do they resolve them by referring back to the Goswamis’ foundational books? Or do they resolve them some other way.

  2. Right. And what about issues not addressed by the Goswamis? And issues where the Goswamis also differ?

    • For all points where the Goswamis apparently differ, there are also reconciliations; for knowing more about them, one has to learn systematically in our parampara. There are no real differences between them.

  3. Right and things which they haven’t touched upon? Like siddha-pranali process which was introduced by the Lineage of Vakresvara Pandit? Or the Gauranga nagari mood followed by Narahari Sarkar and Locana das Thakur?

  4. Or even major festivals like Gaura paurnima, or how to worship the deity of Gauranga, or what Gaura-tattva is – these weren’t described much by the six Goswamis

  5. The article may unintentionally confuse members of a sect…

    Actually such minor differences are possible in any Sampradāya – take the Sri Vaisnavas for instance – the Thenkalais and the Vadakalais – their philosophy differs but not their practice and Jiva Gosvami quotes acharyas on both sides.. so such minor differences can be overlooked understanding that such philosophies are not originating in an ordinary man but an Acharya…

  6. I am curious if the same verse comes from different scriptures? Does it mean that sruti-smrti-puranadi-pancaratra-vidhim vina is quoted from both Brahma-yamala and Skanda Purana?
    SB 5.4.8 purport: In his Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.2.101) Rupa Gosvami, quoting the Skanda Purana, states:
    sruti-smrti-puranadi -pancaratra-vidhim vina
    SB 6.1.20 purport: In Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.2.101) he quotes the following verse from the Brahma-yamala:

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