In connection with the Krishna consciousness movement and its history, we oftentimes we hear about the parampara, ancient disciplic succession, where the knowledge of one's relationship is passed down through a chain of self realized spiritual masters. The self-realized spiritual masters are passing on the message of Krishna in unchanged form and this protects the succession from adulteration. Lord Krishna Himself is the originator of this succession both at the beginning of creation by instructing Lord Brahma through his heart and later on on the battlefield of Kuruksetra where He appears to re-establish the succession starting with his beloved and intimate friend Arjuna, who is the example of a perfect devotee in this world being in a complete surrender to the Lord.
However, the succession does not appear only historically with one spiritual master "after another." There is a succession or transmission of transcendental knowledge happening in real time as well. Both of these paramparas are bona fide and they play a role in inspiring conditioned souls to take up the process of bhakti. In the Caitanya Caritamrta, there is a wonderful pastime of Lord Caitanya described in connection with the followers of Buddha.
The description of this wonderful pastime that illustrates the divine potency of the holy name goes as follows. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu established the devotional cult everywhere. No one could defeat Him.
Being thus defeated by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, all these philosophers and their followers entered into His cult. In this way Lord Caitanya made South India into a country of Vaisnavas. When the nonbelievers heard of the erudition of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, they came to Him with great pride, bringing their disciples with them. One of them was a leader of the Buddhist cult and was a very learned scholar. To establish the nine philosophical conclusions of Buddhism, he came before the Lord and began to speak. Although the Buddhists are unfit for discussion and should not be seen by Vaisnavas, Caitanya Mahaprabhu spoke to them just to decrease their false pride. The scriptures of the Buddhist cult are chiefly based on argument and logic, and they contain nine chief principles. Because Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu defeated them in their argument, they could not establish their cult. Srila Prabhupada based on the explanations of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura states the various discrepancies in the Buddhist doctrine and one may take pleasure in reading about these in Srila Prabhupada's commentary on the Caitanya Caritamrta (Madhya 9.49): The teacher of the Buddhist cult set forth the nine principles, but Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu broke them to pieces with His strong logic. All mental speculators and learned scholars were defeated by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and when the people began to laugh, the Buddhist philosophers felt both shame and fear. The Buddhists could understand that Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was a Vaisnava, and they returned home very unhappy. Later, however, they began to plot against the Lord. Having made their plot, the Buddhists brought a plate of untouchable food before Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and called it maha-prasada. When the contaminated food was offered to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, a very large bird appeared on the spot, picked up the plate in its beak and flew away. Indeed, the untouchable food fell upon the Buddhists, and the large bird dropped the plate on the head of the chief Buddhist teacher. When it fell on his head, it made a big sound. The plate was made of metal, and when its edge hit the head of the teacher, it cut him, and the teacher immediately fell to the ground unconscious. When the teacher fell unconscious, his Buddhist disciples cried aloud and ran to the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu for shelter. They all prayed to Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, addressing Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself and saying, "Sir, please excuse our offense. Please have mercy upon us and bring our spiritual master back to life." The Lord then replied to the Buddhist disciples, "You should all chant the names of Krsna and Hari very loudly near the ear of your spiritual master. "By this method your spiritual master will regain his consciousness." Following Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's advice, all the Buddhist disciples began to chant the holy name of Krsna congregationally. When all the disciples chanted the holy names Krsna, Rama and Hari, the Buddhist teacher regained consciousness and immediately began to chant the holy name of Lord Hari.
Srila Prabhupada writes: "Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura comments that all the Buddhist disciples were actually initiated by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu into the chanting of the holy name of Krsna, and when they chanted, they actually became different persons. At that time they were not Buddhists or atheists but Vaisnavas. Consequently they immediately accepted Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's order. Their original Krsna consciousness was revived, and they were immediately able to chant Hare Krsna and begin worshiping the Supreme Lord Visnu. It is the spiritual master who delivers the disciple from the clutches of maya by initiating him into the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. In this way a sleeping human being can revive his consciousness by chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. In other words, the spiritual master awakens the sleeping living entity to his original consciousness so that he can worship Lord Visnu. This is the purpose of diksa, or initiation. Initiation means receiving the pure knowledge of spiritual consciousness.
One point to note in this regard is that the spiritual master of the Buddhists did not initiate his disciples. Rather, his disciples were initiated by Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and they in turn were able to initiate their so-called spiritual master. This is the parampara system. The so-called spiritual master of the Buddhists was actually in the position of a disciple, and after his disciples were initiated by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, they acted as his spiritual masters. This was possible only because the disciples of the Buddhist acarya received the mercy of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Unless one is favored by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the disciplic succession, one cannot act as a spiritual master. We should take the instructions of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the spiritual master of the whole universe, to understand how one becomes a spiritual master and a disciple." Thus when the spiritual master of the Buddhists began to chant the holy name of Krsna and submitted to Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, all the people who were gathered there were astonished. Ordinarily speaking, the spiritual master, or acharya by the definition must be expert in studying the Vedic scriptures, must practise the conclusions of his study and preach them to his followers. The Buddhists followers were neither learned scholars in the Vedas, nor could they practise their tenets and preach to their followers. In fact, the Buddhist school rejects the Vedas being naisthikas. Their sprititual master was unconscious when they chanted the holy name into his ear. How then could they initiate their master and thus become his spiritual masters? The answer is they have become members of the real time parampara by following the order of Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya gives this order to everyone of us:
yare dekha, tare kaha 'krsna'-upadesa
amara ajnaya guru hana tara' ei desa
"Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Sri Krsna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land."
One might not be very learned or perfect, yet he can become a guru by strictly following the order of the spiritual master. In this way he becomes a tool and a link to the disciplic succession. Srila Prabhupada writes in a letter to his formally uninitiated disciple:
Yes, whoever you tell the chant to, it is effective. You have heard it from me and my disciples, similarly I have heard it from my Guru Maharaja, and so on, and on. Because you have heard it from a pure devotee of the Lord, therefore it is transmitted from you to another. Just as an aerial message, is transmitted from one place to another, similarly, this Guru parampara system is working. My disciples are my agents, my representatives, so by hearing it from them, you are receiving it from me. And because you are a sincere soul, those who are hearing the Mantra from you are receiving it in disciplic succession, from Lord Caitanya and from Lord Krishna.
(Letter to: Andrea Temple -- Los Angeles 6 March, 1968)
However, foolish motivated people of this world have no interest following this instruction of Lord Caitanya to become a guru. They want to manufacture ideas against his desires and in this way the whole world is bewildered. If we want to solve the problems that we are facing in our present day and age we should pay attention to the lamentation of the pure liberated acharya Srila Prabhupada who writes:
Presently people are so fallen that they cannot distinguish between a liberated soul and a conditioned soul. A conditioned soul is hampered by four defects: he is sure to commit mistakes, he is sure to become illusioned, he has a tendency to cheat others, and his senses are imperfect. Consequently we have to take direction from liberated persons. This Krsna consciousness movement directly receives instructions from the Supreme Personality of Godhead via persons who are strictly following His instructions. Although a follower may not be a liberated person, if he follows the supreme, liberated Personality of Godhead, his actions are naturally liberated from the contamination of the material nature. Lord Caitanya therefore says: "By My order you may become a spiritual master." One can immediately become a spiritual master by having full faith in the transcendental words of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and by following His instructions. Materialistic men are not interested in taking directions from a liberated person, but they are very much interested in their own concocted ideas, which make them repeatedly fail in their attempts. Because the entire world is now following the imperfect directions of conditioned souls, humanity is completely bewildered.
(SB 4.18.5 purport)