In the pages of Back to Godhead you may often come across the term “disciplic succession.” It’s an English rendering of the Sanskrit word parampara. The meaning of the word is simple yet important.
The parampara is the chain of spiritual masters and disciples through which Krishna consciousness is taught and received. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “I taught this ancient science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan. Vivasvan taught it to his son Manu. And Manu taught it to his son Iksvaku. In this way, through the system of parampara, disciplic succession, the science was understood by the saintly kings.”
In the parampara system, then, the original teacher, the original spiritual master, is Lord Krishna, God Himself. The Lord gives perfect knowledge, and that knowledge is handed down from master to disciple. It’s like a ripe fruit handed down from person to person, from the top of the tree to the ground.
In the chain of parampara, each spiritual master has the duty to transmit the knowledge of Krishna consciousness as it is. He is not to add anything, subtract anything, or change anything. He simply has to deliver the message, just as a postman delivers a letter, contents fully intact.
According to the Vedic scriptures, one who is serious about attaining self-realization or God realization or the ultimate goal in life must approach such a bona fide spiritual master. It is not optional; accepting a bona fide spiritual master is essential.
The method of accepting the spiritual master is explained in Bhagavad-gita: one must surrender to him, inquire from him, and serve him. Inquiry alone is not enough. One must humbly submit oneself before the spiritual master, accepting him as a representative of God.
The spiritual master is not God, and any so-called master who claims to be God should at once be rejected as bogus. But the spiritual master is honored as much as God because he intimately serves God through the disciplic chain. Because each spiritual master serves his own spiritual master, all the members of the chain are ultimately servants of God and therefore very dear to God. More precisely, the bona fide spiritual master is the servant of the servant of the servant of God, or Krishna.
This is one of the secrets of the parampara system: to be a genuine master, one must be a genuine servant. The student, therefore, surrenders to the spiritual master as a disciple and serves him, and the master responds by answering the disciple’s questions, enlightening him with transcendental knowledge. For the sincere disciple who has full faith in Krishna and equal faith in the bona fide spiritual master, all the truths of spiritual realization are factually revealed.
The genuine disciple feels everlastingly indebted to the spiritual master and continues to serve him forever. In this way, even when the spiritual master leaves this world, the master and disciple are connected. The disciple continues to serve the spiritual master by following what the master has taught him, and by teaching it to others. Thus the bona fide disciple becomes a bona fide spiritual master, and the chain of succession continues.