First of all, I want to thank our teacher HG Dhruva Maharaj prabhu for sharing the controversy regarding Caitanya-Caritamrta’s descriptions of Vallabha Bhatta. The discussion with Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sumati Morarji is very enlightening.
There is a common theme running in the two pastimes – Lord Caitanya’s confrontation with Vallabha Bhatta and later on the discussion between Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sumati Morarji. The theme is a strong defense of one’s parampara system. Caitanya Mahaprabhu was right in defending His (and our) previous acaryas including Sridhara Swami. Sri Sumati Morarji was also right in her place to defend her Vallabha sampradaya. And Srila Prabhupada was also right in defending Lord Caitanya’s position with respect to his discussion with Vallabha Bhatta. This, in essence, shows the importance of following one’s own parampara in the Indian vedic system. Allegiance to one’s parampara is rooted deeply in Indian vedic culture, especially to those following the religious principles strictly. Unfortunately not so much in modern India. It is very common in India for someone visiting well-established religious institutions to be asked, “What sampradaya do you belong to?” This is a very valid question and proves the authenticity of both the questioner and the responder.
People who have closely read Srila Prabhupada’s books would have encountered the importance of following the parampara system numerous times in his books. This concept is not invented by Srila Prabhupada. It has come down to us through ages starting from Lord Krsna. In BG 4.2, Lord Krsna says: “This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.”
What is the parampara system? “Any question that is put forward may be answered by quoting the authority, and that satisfies the saner section. That is the system even in the law court. The best lawyer gives evidence from the past judgment of the court without taking much trouble to establish his case. This is called the paramparā system, and learned authorities follow it without manufacturing rubbish interpretations.” (SB 2.10.51 Purport)
In the parampara system, the questions are bonafide and the answers are bonafide. Everything quoted is based on guru, sadhu and sastra. There is no room for misinterpretation. All knowledge came from Lord Krsna. He imparted this to Lord Brahma, Lord Brahma to Narada, Narada to Vyasadeva, and down to us through the chain of disciplic succession. The Supreme Lord is Absolute Truth and knowledge imparted through Him is also Absolute in nature. What is the need, or allowance, for someone to manufacture something or deviate from the original knowledge? It is therefore important to follow the parampara system strictly. The parampara system does not allow one to deviate from the commentaries of the previous acaryas.
Therefore Lord Caitanya taught us a very important lesson about strictly abiding by our parampara. When Vallabha Bhatta wanted to refute the commentaries of Sridhara Swami, Lord Caitanya replied:
“One who does not accept the svāmī [husband] as an authority I consider a prostitute.” (CC Antya 7.115-119)
What is actually happening is that Vallabha Bhatta was not accepting the parampara system by ignoring Sridhara Swami’s commentaries.
To which, the Lord further went on to explain to Vallabha Bhatta:
CC Antya 7.131-134 — “You are both a greatly learned scholar and a great devotee. Wherever there are two such attributes, there cannot be a mountain of false pride. You have dared criticize Śrīdhara Svāmī, and you have begun your own commentary on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, not accepting his authority. That is your false pride. Śrīdhara Svāmī is the spiritual master of the entire world because by his mercy we can understand Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. I therefore accept him as a spiritual master. Whatever you might write due to false pride, trying to surpass Śrīdhara Svāmī, would carry a contrary purport. Therefore no one would pay attention to it.
CC Antya 7.135-137 — “One who comments on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam following in the footsteps of Śrīdhara Svāmī will be honored and accepted by everyone. Put forth your explanation of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam following in the footsteps of Śrīdhara Svāmī. Giving up your false pride, worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. Abandoning your offenses, chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, the holy names of the Lord. Then very soon you will achieve shelter at the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa.”
This is an important lesson for all of us. Whenever we quote something, it should be based upon bonafide scriptures. I remember when I started the CC study 2 years ago and would quote something in the forum posts, our teacher Dhruva Maharaja prabhu would immediately ask, “What is the source of my statement?” If I happened to quote something that is outside of our parampara system, he would correct me. It happened quite a number of times. From then on, I understood the importance of following the parampara system.
Coming back to the discussion between Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sumati Morarji, Srila Prabhupada wonderfully defended the Back to Godhead article by quoting the CC passage on Lord Caitanya’s instructions to Vallabha Bhatta. Being a genuine leader, Srila Prabhupada did not try to avoid Sri Sumati Morarji’s letter. He responded with facts and figures. I haven’t read that specific Back to Godhead article. I am not even sure we have access to it now. But I wonder why hadn’t the author and/or the editors quote Lord Caitanya’s instructions to Vallabha Bhatta in the article in the first place? This would have avoided all the needless controversies.
yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau
tasyaite kathitā hy arthā prakāśante mahātmanaḥ
“The real import of the scriptures is revealed to one who has unflinching faith in both the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the spiritual master.” Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura advises, sādhu-śāstra-guru-vākya, hṛdaye kariyā aikya. The meaning of this instruction is that one must consider the instructions of the sādhu, the revealed scriptures and the spiritual master in order to understand the real purpose of spiritual life. Neither a sādhu (saintly person or Vaiṣṇava) nor a bona fide spiritual master says anything that is beyond the scope of the sanction of the revealed scriptures. Thus the statements of the revealed scriptures correspond to those of the bona fide spiritual master and saintly persons. One must therefore act with reference to these three important sources of understanding. (CC Adi 7.48 Purport).
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!