Paramparā Dāsa: An analysis of an inventive proposal – If we were to deconstruct the proposal to rename Śrīla Prabhupāda “sampradāya ācārya”, we would find three basic constituent elements:
- Śrīla Prabhupāda should be given the title that has always been exclusive to Śrī Madhvācārya, that being that Śrīla Prabhupāda should be re-designated as sampradāya ācārya;
- The promoter gives himself the authority to redefine standard Vaiṣṇava philosophical terminology and then bestow his new terminology upon the great mahā-bhāgavata devotees of the Śrī Brahmā Sampradāya; thus, one must question his qualification to choose which mahā-bhāgavatas are to be renamed; and
- The proposal that if Śrīla Prabhupāda (and others chosen) were given Śrī Madhvācārya’s title, then somehow or other the problems of disciplic succession would be minimized and a sublime situation would manifest. One should examine the logic underlying such a proposal.
Element (1) Redefining Sampradāya Ācārya
Let us take a closer look at the first constituent:
As regards (1) redefining the title of Śrī Madhvācārya, it is hard to see how this would not be offensive to Śrī Madhvācārya and an embarrassment to Śrīla Prabhupāda. Such a redefinition of the title as being applicable to whomever the promoter chooses actually runs in the face of clear statements of Śrīla Prabhupāda that unequivocally clarify that there are only four sampradāya ācāryas, one for each of the four Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas.
Here is just one quote from many of Śrīla Prabhupāda, which interestingly seems to be absent from the promoter’s otherwise expansive promulgations:
Śrīla Prabhupāda in the purport of Cc Antya 2.295 reveals the names of these four sampradāya ācāryas:
“A Vaiṣṇava should study the commentaries on the Vedānta-sūtra written by the four sampradāya-ācāryas, namely Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇu Svāmī and Nimbārka.”
One wonders why such a statement does not sit center stage in the promoter’s writings. It is clear and definitive on the topic. But of course, it negates the proposal that the exclusive sampradāya ācārya title should be opened up and applied to whomever the promoter chooses.
We find “the four” clearly stated, indicating the exclusivity of the title for the four sampradāya ācāryas. However this exclusivity is further emphasized by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s usage of “namely”. Śrīla Prabhupāda becomes even more definitive by naming the four sampradāya ācāryas. Certainly, there is no implication that other devotees can be similarly named; in fact quite the opposite must be concluded from a plain reading of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s statement.
Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Śrīla Prabhupāda is being unequivocally definite that this sampradāya ācārya title is exclusive to “Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇu Svāmī and Nimbārka.”
For Loyal Disciples
For loyal disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda that should settle the matter, start and finish. A loyal disciple accepts the statements of his spiritual master with an open heart. This is the essence “submissive aural reception”, the path to enlightenment. The above statement is so clear. Therefore to apply spurious secondary meanings to suit a personal agenda is not the sign of dedicated discipleship. Furthermore, loyal disciples in accepting the plain meaning would be perfectly in accord with irrevocably established Vaiṣṇava age-old lore and convention. In other words, it is age-old Vaiṣṇava ABC that there are exclusively the four aforementioned sampradāya ācāryas – such is hardly a hidden secret of Vaiṣṇava philosophy.
Certainly, Śrīla Prabhupāda is the “external representative of the Supersoul”, so such a statement comes from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, at least for his disciples. Śrīla Prabhupāda is accepted as a saktavesa-avatara, his commentaries on the highest books of Vaiṣṇavism display an unparalleled erudition in the teachings and history of Vaiṣṇavism. So why would someone want to go against his words on this matter? Could someone actually consider he has a better definition of sampradāya ācārya than Śrīla Prabhupāda?
A Simple Unanswered Question
Moreover, when or where did Śrīla Prabhupāda ever present himself as sampradāya ācārya? Certainly there is nothing in the Vedabase of all Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lectures, letters, writings and commentaries. Surely if Śrīla Prabhupāda had wanted his followers to call him sampradāya ācārya he would have told us to do so quite clearly, but there is no record. It is not printed on his books.
Śrīla Prabhupāda very clearly directed us to introduce him as “Founder Ācārya of ISKCON”, and when once that title was omitted from a printing of his books, Śrīla Prabhupāda was very sharp in correcting the BBT. Why then did he not similarly clarify that he should be given the exclusive title of sampradāya ācārya?
Embarassing Śrīla Prabhupāda
The fact is that Śrīla Prabhupāda would not usurp the title belonging to Śrī Madhvācārya. It is an embarrassment to Śrīla Prabhupāda to see Śrī Madhvācārya’s title arbitrarily being applied to himself, even if done so with misinformed zealotry.
It is irrefutable that Śrīla Prabhupāda never designated himself sampradāya ācārya or ordered his followers to call him by that name. It is nowhere in his words.
Furthermore, renaming Śrīla Prabhupāda as sampradāya ācārya is tantamount to saying that Śrīla Prabhupāda started his own sampradāya, a fifth Vaiṣṇava sampradāya of which he is now the new sampradāya ācārya. Yet, Vedas inform us there are only four bona fide Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas. Therefore, by renaming Śrīla Prabhupāda, his branch of the Śrī Brahmā Madhvācārya sampradāya would be made into an apasampradāya, a false disciplic succession.
Therefore three clear anomalies are caused by inventively renaming Śrīla Prabhupāda:
1. The position of Śrī Madhvācārya is usurped.
2. It is tantamount to saying Śrīla Prabhupāda started his own apasampradāya.
3. Śrīla Prabhupāda is embarrassed by the false application of the exclusive title.
Element (2) the Promoter Accords Himself Sublime Authority
Another question arises. On what authority does the promoter consider himself somehow qualified to bestow titles upon Śrīla Prabhupāda? In addition, the promoter endeavors to bestow the title on a big list of Vaiṣṇavas in the Śrī Brahmā Sampradāya that he has chosen. Why does the promoter consider himself the arbitrator in this matter? The judge and jury? What is his qualification to do so? Does he consider himself especially empowered to redefine standard Vaiṣṇava terminology such as sampradāya ācārya and on his behest bestow the redefined title to whomever he chooses in his great wisdom, mercy and authority?
Questions for the Promoter to Answer
Of course, these are questions for the promoter to answer. Wherefrom his power, qualification and authority to bestow newly redefined titles on the great mahā-bhāgavata ācāryas of the Śrī Brahmā Sampradāya? Putting oneself in the position to bestow titles upon mahā-bhāgavatas is to assume a position of authority over them. A dangerous, self-destructive mentality at the very least.
Moreover, what will happen tomorrow? It is only another small step to start renaming ācāryas in other sampradāyas. Perhaps at future time, the promoter will bestow titles to other ācāryas in the three other Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas, as he decides, of course. Or perhaps the promoter will encourage all devotees to bestow the sampradāya ācārya title upon whomever they will choose, empowered by his example. Perhaps soon great numbers of previous ācāryas will be introduced as sampradāya ācārya. And the unique position of the four actual sampradāya ācāryas, “namely Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇu Svāmī and Nimbārka,” will be undervalued, minimized and even forgotten.
In this way, the promoter is determined to undervalue an august title, sampradāya ācārya, by arbitrarily according himself the authority to bestow the title upon whomever he chooses. Perhaps in future the disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples with similarly decide to call their own spiritual master as sampradāya ācārya. After all, if Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciple can rename Śrīla Prabhupāda as sampradāya ācārya, then why shouldn’t they entitled their guru in the same way?
In effect, the promoter is adopting for himself the position of sampradāya ācārya. After all if he has the authority to bestow the title upon others, then he must be in position of sampradāya ācārya himself. One must certainly question his underlying psychology in his adoption of such authority.
Therefore clear anomalies arise when the promoter postures the authority to redefine sampradāya ācārya and bestow the redefined title upon whomever he chooses:
1. Wherefrom does the promoter glean his authority to redefine standard Vaiṣṇava philosophical terminology?
2. Wherefrom does the promoter glean his authority to decide which great maha-bhagavats should be bestowed the newly redefined title of sampradāya ācārya?
3. As the promoter bestows such authority upon himself, why should not other devotees posture the same authority and call their own guru as sampradāya ācārya?
4. Should the promoter encourage this new usage of sampradāya ācārya to the adherents of the three other Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas? Or should they maintain the previous definition, not moving with the times?
Element (3) Incoherent Logic
Now we come to the third constituent in the promoter’s scheme. Apparently, he imagines that if Śrīla Prabhupāda were given Śrī Madhvācārya’s title, along with many other previous ācāryas of the Śrī Madhvācārya Sampradāya, then somehow or other the problems of disciplic succession would be minimized and a sublime situation would manifest in the disciplic succession. Would this actually be the case? No doubt all Vaiṣṇavas would like to see the vitality of the disciplic succession increased. The intention is laudable. But why would the redefinition and wide distribution of Śrī Madhvācārya’s title be the route to improvement? It is hard to see any coherent logic in the proposal, rather one divines the classic logical fallacy known as non-sequitor, “it does not follow”.
Redesignating Śrīla Prabhupāda
Certainly Śrīla Prabhupāda is a great ācārya of the Śrī Madhvācārya Sampradāya and as the Founder Ācārya of ISKCON his contribution is unique in modern era. His status as a great mahā bhāgavata is unassailable, and he spearheaded the translation and dissemination of the Vedic siddhānta and culture throughout the world. For this wonderful contribution, he is rightfully addressed as Śrīla Prabhupāda, the master at whose feet all other masters sit.
Does it follow that renaming Śrīla Prabhupāda with the title of Śrī Madhvācārya will create a sea change for the better in the disciplic succession? Rather is it not more likely that the opposite will take place? Certainly, it is an embarrassment to Śrīla Prabhupāda to be renamed with the appellation belonging to Śrī Madhvācārya.
A clear contradiction is self-evident. How is one vitalizing the sampradāya by destroying one of its fundamental philosophical tenets? A sampradāya is identified by its sampradāya ācārya, in this case, Śrī Mādhavācārya. The sampradāya becomes cohesive and unified around this central and exclusive sampradāya ācārya. However, by giving the sampradāya ācārya title to whomever he chooses, the promoter dissipates this central pivot of the sampradāya, and so weakens the unity of the sampradāya. In this way, the opposite effect is created. Instead of becoming stronger, the sampradāya becomes weaker by minimizing the central binding personality who wrote the sampradāya’s seminal commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra.
Creating Multi Apasampradāyas
Moreover, by bestowing the sampradāya ācārya title widely (not just upon Śrīla Prabhupāda), on whomever the promoter decides, then the validity of the sub-branches of the sampradāya is brought into question. The established convention is that there is one sampradāya ācārya for each of the four Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas. Therefore multi sampradāya ācāryas signifies multi sampradāyas. However, the multi sampradāyas then become apasampradāyas, as the Vedas strictly declare there can only be four Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas.
Clearly then, by arbitrarily entitling many different ācāryas as sampradāya ācārya, the cohesion of the sampradāya is attacked. No longer is there a central defining sampradāya ācārya, such as Śrī Mādhavācārya, but lots more sampradāyas all with their own sampradāya ācāryas. This is farcical and absurd.
Disturbing All Branches of the Sampradāya
In addition, one can foresee more disturbances to the Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas. Undoubtedly, the learned members of other branches of Śrī Brahmā Madhvācārya Sampradāya will point out the illicit redefining of the post of sampradāya ācārya. They will reject the idea and be irritated by an artificial and unsupportable concoction. This will only lead to fractious controversy within the Śrī Madhvācārya Sampradāya. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s followers will be defined as uneducated and whimsical, reflecting badly on Śrīla Prabhupāda. For example, are members of the Gauḍīya Math going to concur with Śrīla Prabhupāda being re-named sampradāya ācārya? The fact is that presently many in the Gauḍīya Math resent Śrīla Prabhupāda being called “Śrīla Prabhupāda”. Will they accept Śrīla Prabhupāda as the new “sampradāya ācārya”?
The Opposite of Good Sense
Yet, the promoter foresees only good effects by his arbitrary redefinition of the post of sampradāya ācārya. This is only his imaginings, the opposite of good sense. There is no coherent logic to be ascertained in his illusory proposal. One only sees disjointed speculation. One only sees an affront and dissipation of the Śrī Madvacarya Sampradāya. The result would be more of the quarrel and hypocrisy that characterizes Kali Yuga.
While promoting his invention, the promoter informs us that his new idea will have a positive effect. However, anomalies will arise:
1. Why would the redefinition and wide distribution of Śrī Madhvācārya’s title be the route to improvement? It is hard to see any coherent logic to this aberration..
2. The renaming of Śrīla Prabhupāda and other Vaiṣṇava ācāryas would be a cause of controversy and disturbance.
3. The axiomatic position of Śrī Madhvācārya in the sampradāya would be minimized, even forgotten by multi sampradāya ācāryas, thus dissipating the cohesion of the sampradāya.
4. To be given the title belonging to Śrī Madhvācārya is an embarrassment to Śrīla Prabhupāda.
5. The status of Śrīla Prabhupāda and his teachings would be brought into question by the deviance of his supposed followers.
6. Multi sampradāya ācāryas is tantamount to creating multi apasampradāyas.
7. Fractious controversy would be created between different branches of the sampradāya.
8. The expanded term sampradāya ācārya would become arbitrarily bestowed upon any devotee of the sampradāya by the misinformed zeal of their neophyte disciples. In this way, the august term sampradāya ācārya becomes devalued to common coinage.
The Promoter offers Logical Fallacy as his Evidence
When recently challenged for proof positive from guru, sādhu and śāstra to support his new invention, the promoter could only pose a classic rhetorical fallacy, we directly quote the promoter:
“Fine. Now show me where Śrīla Prabhupāda — or anyone of his predecessor
ācāryas — said that these were the ONLY four personalities who may be
called sampradāya ācāryas?” Either that, or admit that no such restriction exists.”
This is a common rhetorical trick called “shifting the burden of proof”, which then leads to the fallacy of “appeal to ignorance”. Actually the burden of proof lies with the promoter.
Shifting the Burden of Proof
When debating any issue, there is an implicit burden of proof on the person asserting a claim. If this responsibility or burden of proof is shifted to a critic, the fallacy of “appealing to ignorance” is committed. Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or “appeal to ignorance” where “ignorance” stands for “lack of evidence to the contrary”, is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false.
So the promoter employs a logical fallacy as his only proof. He asserts that he can rename anyone he chooses as sampradāya ācārya because such action has not yet been proven false. This is the logical fallacy at the heart of his proof and so is no proof at all.
Implicit Condemnation of Promoter’s Fallacy
In fact, additionally, the words of Śrīla Prabhupda implicitly condemn the fallacy of the promoter by their plain meaning which of course are perfectly in line with established Vaiṣṇava philosophy:
“A Vaiṣṇava should study the commentaries on the Vedānta-sūtra written by the four sampradāya-ācāryas, namely Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇu Svāmī and Nimbārka.”
Here the definite article is employed as “the four”. This indicates the exclusivity of the title for the four sampradāya ācāryas. Next, this exclusivity is further emphasized by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s usage of “namely”. Thus, Śrīla Prabhupāda becomes even more definitive by naming the four sampradāya ācāryas. Therefore, we must conclude that Śrīla Prabhupāda is being unequivocally definite that this sampradāya ācārya title is exclusive to Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇu Svāmī and Nimbārka, especially, when this exclusivity is perfectly in line with age-old Vaiṣṇava philosophy and practice.
Proof Positive from Guru, Sādhu and Śāstra
Vaiṣṇava epistemology demands proof positive from guru, sādhu and śāstra, not fallacious rhetorical trickery. To employ the same is an overt admission that the promoter has actually no proof positive.
So it is not surprising that though the promoter has been propagandizing his logical fallacy for many years, the learned Vaiṣṇavas have not accepted his redefinition and arbitrary expanded usage of the exclusive august term sampradāya ācārya. We pray that the promoter will see the error of his ways and reconcile his newly invented idea with established Vaiṣṇava philosophy.
Reconciliation: Accepting Two Distinct Terms
In fact, the reconciliation is that one should distinguish between the terms Sampradāya Ācārya and Ācārya of the Sampradāya. As Śrīla Prabhupāda instructs us there are only four samapradaya ācāryas and this august appellation can therefore only be correctly attached to that exclusive four: Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇu Svāmī and Nimbārka.
However, the term, Ācārya of the Sampradāya, may be applied to all qualified devotees initiated into a particular sampradāya. However, the terms are distinct; they do not have the same meaning.
Definition of Ācārya
In Cc Adi Līlā, 1.46, Śrīla Prabhupāda defines ācārya:
“In the Vāyu Purāṇa, an ācārya is defined as one who knows the import of all Vedic literature, explains the purpose of the Vedas, abides by their rules and regulations, and teaches his disciples to act in the same way.”
Correctly Naming a Sampradāya
A sampradāya may be designated by the first link of a sampradāya as well as by the sampradāya ācārya. Thus Śrīla Prabhupāda appeared in the Śrī Brahmā Sampradāya, which can also be designated the Madhvācārya Sampradāya.
For example, Śrīla Prabhupāda, purport, Sb 1.9.6:
“He [Nārada] initiated even Vyāsadeva, the author of the Vedic literatures, and from Vyāsadeva, Madhvācārya was initiated, and thus the Madhva-sampradāya, in which the Gauḍīya-sampradāya is also included, has spread all over the universe. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu belonged to this Madhva-sampradāya; therefore, Brahmājī, Nārada, Vyāsa, down to Madhva, Caitanya and the Gosvāmīs all belonged to the same line of disciplic succession.”
However it would be an errant concoction to rename a sampradāya after any ācārya of that sampradāya, even if that ācārya were the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore it would be erroneous to expound the ‘Śrī Caitanya Sampradāya’. Certainly we in ISKCON would be in contravention to propound that we are in the ‘Śrīla Prabhupāda Sampradāya’, asserting that Śrīla Prabhupāda is our sampradāya ācārya. Using the full title, ISKCON is in the Śrī Brahmā Madhva Gauḍīya Sampradāya. Interesting, this branch of the Brahmā Sampradāya under Śrī Caitanya does not use the name of Śrī Caitanya. The addition of ‘Gauḍīya’ is sufficient. In this way one sees the convention of naming a sampradāya with a combination of the original starting point, in this case Śrī Brahmā, and also the sampradāya ācārya, in this case, Śrī Mādhavācārya, resulting in the Śrī Brahmā Madhvācārya Sampradāya.
The important point is that the appellation sampradāya ācārya is exclusive to the four personalities: Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇu Svāmī and Nimbārka. This is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s plain statement as quoted above and well-established in Vaiṣṇava lore. Of course, Śrīla Prabhupāda is an ācārya of the Śrī Brahmā Sampradāya, but it would be erroneous to then mistakenly designate Śrīla Prabhupāda as the sampradāya ācārya. That would be tantamount to saying that Śrīla Prabhupāda has started a fifth Vaiṣṇava sampradāya, which would be a serious and unsupportable concoction. There are only four Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas, as quoted above.
Therefore to designate Śrīla Prabhupāda as a Great Ācārya of the Śrī Brahmā Madhva Gauḍīya Sampradāya is perfectly correct. And of course he is exclusively the Founder Ācārya of ISKCON. Already Śrīla Prabhupāda has accepted a most wonderful and bona fide appellation: Śrīla Prabhupāda, the master at whose lotus feet all other masters sit. These wonderful bona fide appellations certainly obviate the necessity of arbitrarily creating a false designation. To designate Śrīla Prabhupāda as sampradya ācārya is greatly mistaken, even if done so with misinformed enthusiasm. Problems arise in disciplic succession when the careful message of the great ācāryas is disregarded. Misusing or redefining standard terminology is a philosophical digression to be avoided.