“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
Does God exist? If so, where is He? How do we see Him? Why does He put us through so much torture on this earth? Why doesn’t He just show Himself to mankind and then explain the meaning of chaos? Why the secrecy? Or is it up to us to figure out for ourselves? Is He merely a concept, like a sentiment that we need to possess? Is He represented through love only?
In the Vedic tradition, the answers to these questions come through something called parampara. In general conversation, this word refers to tradition, such as following things that your ancestors did. With respect to understanding the highest truths of life, parampara is disciplic succession. Basically, you tap into a chain of teachers in order to learn. You don’t figure out everything for yourself. Not that you throw away logic and common sense, but there are things beyond the scope of the mind’s abilities.
You accept the truth about the higher being and then apply yourself to realize those truths. You practice under the guidance of an authority known as the spiritual master, or guru. The enlightened person has seen the truth themselves, so they can deliver the disciple. Only in this way can the Absolute Truth be realized. Upon careful analysis, we see that there are many reasons for following parampara.
1. Man has four defects.
There is the tendency to cheat. The public gets upset when a famous athlete is caught taking banned substances or bending the rules behind the watchful eye of the officiating staff. Yet the games themselves involve cheating. If the players were honest, they would reveal their strategy, which would then hurt their chances of winning.
Man also has imperfect senses, commits mistakes, and is easily illusioned. Because of these four defects, he cannot reach the conclusion of conclusions on his own. “Vedanta” is the word that describes the philosophy that is the final word on all subject matters. Vedanta describes the Absolute Truth, and since man has these defects the only way to reach Vedanta is to first find a teacher who knows it.
2. Any person can make up anything.
The foundation of parampara is authority. You accept a guru who had their own guru at some point. It’s called a succession for a reason. Any person can say anything. I can go up to you and tell you that I am God. You can tell me that there is no God. How do we reconcile? We quite frequently come upon this issue in our daily lives, and the way we settle is through authority. We establish authority based on credentials, and parampara is the system giving the highest credentials.
3. It’s a tested path, based on experience.
The daily news stories talk about new discoveries in science and health. Something we have never heard before – that’s what they have found. Yet the very nature of progress points to defects. You can only progress from something if the starting point is flawed. This means none of the recommendations are perfect.
Parampara is already tested. There is the life of the spiritual master, supported by the lives of the previous masters. This means that the hard work is already done for us. We don’t need to test to see if the Supreme Lord is a person, full of transcendental attributes. We don’t need to make a test of association with the material energy. The guru already knows that the material is temporary and miserable. They’ve seen the light of the Supreme Lord through practicing bhakti. They know that anyone who follows the same path will get the same result.
4. Shri Krishna recommends it.
The divine personality who lifted the massive Govardhana Hill with His tiny pinky finger in order to save innocent residents of a farm community says that we should approach a spiritual master in the disciplic succession. He acted as the guru to the bow warrior Arjuna in the famous conversation that turned into the Bhagavad-gita. He did not advise Arjuna to figure out God on his own. He did not tell the disciple that through meditation he would become God at some point in the future. He did not give Arjuna a magical touch that brought him enlightenment. Instead, Krishna explained the highest truths of the Vedas, even quoting authority Himself. He then left the matter up to Arjuna to deliberate.
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ
guhyād guhyataraṁ mayā
yathecchasi tathā kuru
“Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.63)
5. Shri Krishna is at the root of it.
Parampara’s potency comes from its root. The bona fide chain of succession starts with God. You could have a great thief who then passes on his wisdom about stealing to another thief. That chain could continue, and a person tapping into the teachings could quickly learn how to steal effectively. In this way the nature of the succession is determined by the person who starts it.
With respect to spirituality, the bona fide parampara system is rooted in God, who is a person. Any other system would be rooted in a being who is fallible, suffering from the four defects mentioned above. Another name for Krishna is Achyuta, which means one who never falls down. In the Bhagavad-gita, He even explains how He started the parampara system by speaking to the sun-god at the beginning of time.
imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ
proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha
manur ikṣvākave ‘bravīt
“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)
The Padma Purana says that in this present age of Kali there are four bona fide sampradayas, or specific traditions of discplic succession. They each have a founding spiritual master who is devoted to Shri Krishna. The sampradayas come from Lord Shiva, the four Kumaras, Lakshmi Devi and Lord Brahma. The potency of these chains is due to Shri Krishna, so one who taps into the lineage connects with the all-attractive one. They learn the amazing truth that the name of the Lord is identical to Him. Upon the advice of their guru, they wholeheartedly accept the chanting of the holy names as their way of life, as their way of staying connected to the Supreme Lord: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Since with defects is the mind,
Bewilderment of true nature to find.
Into disciplic succession must tap,
To avoid maya’s perpetual trap.
From teachers many tested already,
So with confidence on path remain steady.
In Kali’s age sampradayas coming four,
Lotus feet of Lord each to adore.
Categories: the five