The Disciplic Succession
In the Introduction to “Bhagavad-gita As It Is” we find a list of the complete disciplic succession of the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Sampradaya, beginning with Lord Sri Krsna, up to and including the current Sampradaya Acarya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.
Lord Krsna says: Evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh “This Supreme science was thus received through the chain of Disciplic Succession, and the Saintly Kings understood it in this way.”
This Bhagavad-gita As It Is is received through this disciplic succession:
10. Jaya Tirtha
17. Brahmanya Tirtha
18. Vyasa Tirtha
20. Madhavendra Puri
21. Isvara Puri, (Nityananda, Advaita)
22. Lord Caitanya
23. Rupa, (Svarupa, Sanatana)
24. Raghunatha, Jiva
28. (Baladeva) Jagannatha
31. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
32. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
(Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada)
The name of our sampradaya — Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya-sampradaya – suggests three distinct phases, or links in the disciplic chain. The disciplic succession begins with Lord Brahma, who first spoke the absolute truth into the cosmic creation after receiving it in his heart directly from Lord Krsna. Lord Brahma was the spiritual master of Narada Muni, and Narada passed the teachings on to Vyasadev.
The second phase is marked after Vyasadev with Sripada Madhvacarya, who took his birth at Udupi somewhere between the years of A.D. 1119 and A.D. 1239. While the chronological gap between the manifestations of Sri Vyasadev and Madhvacarya is long, as Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter to Dayananda (12-04-68): “Regarding parampara system, there is nothing to wonder for big gaps. We have to pick up the prominent acarya and follow from him.”
Sri Madhvacarya claimed to be a direct disciple of Vyasa, from whom he directly received the Vedanta. Their relationship is not stated to be one of initiation, and in fact, Madhva is described as having taking initiation from the Sankara line. From his base in Udipi, he went on to establish what continues today as a strict system of succession.
The third phase of the succession is marked by the appearance of Lord Caitanya in Gauda-desa, Bengal. Lord Caitanya took birth in Navadvipa, Bengal in the year A.D. 1407. Lord Caitanya did not formally initiate anyone, and it is stated by Sanatana Goswami that, as an incarnation, he would not personally do so.
Prior to Lord Caitanya’s appearance Madhavendra Puri appeared, and he initiated several of Caitanya’s associates, including Sri Advaita and Nityananda prabhu. Madhavendra Puri also initiated Lord Caitanya’s own guru, Isvara Puri. As stated in Caitanya-caritamrta, Madyam lila 4:197, Sri Madhavendra Puri introduced the conception of conjugal love for the first time in the Madhvacarya-sampradaya, and this conclusion was later revealed by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Following Lord Caitanya, the modern age of the Gaudiya Sampradaya was marked by the appearance of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, who took birth in A.D. 1838 in the Nadia District of West Bengal. Following Srila Bhaktivinode in the disciplic succession is his son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, who appeared in 1874 in Puri. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta took initiation from Gaurakisora das Babaji. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta became the spiritual master of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the most recent Sampradaya Acarya, who appeared in 1896 in Calcutta.