Opinion

Is an ācārya allowed to make changes to foundational teachings of the sampradāya?

In the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Goswami explains in a lengthy analysis that the gopīs are married to Kṛṣṇa in the aprakaṭa or unmanifest līlā. Because they are born in the prakaṭa līlā, they are not married to Kṛṣṇa in it. Instead, they become married to other gopas, and then relate to Kṛṣṇa as an upapati, or lover outside of marriage.

Śrī Jīva Goswami cryptically writes in the Gopāla Campu that he wrote some of these things against his own wishes. Śrī Babaji explains that Śrī Jīva did not want to disturb people with his writings in the Sandarbhas. Kṛṣṇa’s līlā with the gopīs is overtly against dharma, and therefore was not acceptable to most people of his time. Similarly, Śrī Caitanya also did not try to disturb the prevailing social order at that time despite much opposition to His teachings.

That Śrī Jīva’s explanation that the gopīs are married to Kṛṣṇa in the aprakaṭa or unmanifest līlā is not consistent with the fundamental teachings of the sampradāya is clear from books like Śrī Rūpa’s Ujjvala Nīlamaṇi, and also from Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti’s writings where he makes things crystal clear on this topic. This fact is known through the paramparā also. It is also understood from the paramparā that Śrī Jīva Goswami had pressing reasons for why he presented things in this way.

This then brings up the question of whether an ācārya is allowed to make changes to basic principles of the sampradāya. In some modern sects of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism, it is common practice to defend apasiddhāntas by interpreting them as adjustments made for preaching purposes to a modern audience. To what extent can such adjustments be made without totally obscuring the sampradāya? And how is one to determine whether a given sect or its teachings are genuine? A number of seekers become stuck at this question.

But the question is not such a vexing one if we consider that any sect of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism is obligated to fidelity with Śrī Jīva Goswami, Śrī Rūpa Goswami and Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti. There is no option here! If a sect contradicts their teachings, they are no longer Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas, as by definition, Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism originated in and is to be found exclusively in the teachings of these ācāryas. For this reason, one can not point to Śrī Jīva Goswami’s example cited above as a justification for modifying things.

Those who modify and alter the Goswamis’ teachings of course have the right to start their own groups and develop their own narratives. But the problem is that such groups make the most noise about their professed authenticity as the only genuine followers of the Goswamis.

Each person has to decide who they are interested in following – the Goswamis, by learning and studying their original writings in the paramparā, or modern commentators who only superficially conform to their teachings, while propagating their own novel understandings. These commentators have in effect created novel panthas rather than continue the paramparā of the Goswamis.

Categories: Opinion

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