Vedic knowledge presents itself as factual, and we've found no reason to doubt it. Those familiar with their comprehensive, consistent, and detailed information on so many aspects of human endeavor—spiritual, ethical, and practical—would likely find it hard to believe that they could have been fabricated with no basis in fact.
Respected scholars—past and present, east and west, secular and traditional—accept the knowledge contained in the Vedas—including the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita—as both factual and timeless. Vedic teachings are the basis of one of the world's most enduring cultures. We wouldn't be interested in them if we thought they were fiction. Their scope and accuracy—along with considerable reliable testimony attesting to their validity—make it difficult for us to dismiss them as make-believe.
Fiction can't help us. If we mention a health concern to our doctor, for example, we wouldn't expect him to base his diagnosis and treatment on something he read in a book of fairy tales. We would hope he has factual knowledge of how the human body works, and experience dealing with a wide variety of diseases. Likewise, if we're looking for spiritual knowledge, knowledge of the self beyond the body, we don't want to waste our time—and life—with information that may or may not be true.
Yes and no. The engineer of the universe, Brahma, mentions Durga as Krishna's illusory energy—Maya—in his collection of prayers to Krishna known as the Brahma-samhita. The commentary to Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.2.48 discusses this:
". . .the Brahma-samhita (5.44) says . . . Maya is like a shadow of the Supreme Personality of Godhead who serves Him in the creation, maintenance and annihilation of this world. Just as a shadow has no independent power of movement but follows the substance that casts the shadow, the illusory energy of the Lord has no independent power, but bewilders the living entities according to the Lord's desire. One of Krishna's opulences is that He is supremely detached; when a living entity wants to forget Him, Krishna immediately employs His illusory energy to facilitate the foolishness of the conditioned soul."
"Actually, the illusory, material energy is cheating everyone. People do not know what they are doing when they worship the material energy in the form of goddess Kali or Durga for material boons. They ask, "Mother, give me great riches, give me a good wife, give me fame, give me victory." But such devotees of the goddess Maya, or Durga, do not know that they are being cheated by that goddess. Material achievement is actually no achievement because as soon as one is illusioned by the material gifts, he becomes more and more entangled, and there is no question of liberation."
The name "Durga" doesn't always refer to Krishna's illusory energy by which we're all bewildered in the material world. For example, the cowherd girls of Vrindavan, the gopis, prayed to Durga in order to get Krishna as their husband. The gopis are well known as Krishna's dearest devotees, and certainly aren't ignorantly seeking illusory happiness. In Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.22.4, Purport, we see this commentary on Durga and Maya:
"According to various acharyas, the goddess Durga mentioned in this verse is not the illusory energy of Krishna called Maya but rather the internal potency of the Lord known as Yoga-maya. The distinction between the internal and external, or illusory, potency of the Lord is described in the Narada-pañcaratra, in the conversation between Sruti and Vidya:
'The Lord’s inferior potency, known as Durga, is dedicated to His loving service. Being the Lord’s potency, this inferior energy is nondifferent from Him. There is another, superior potency, whose form is on the same spiritual level as that of God Himself. Simply by scientifically understanding this supreme potency, one can immediately achieve the Supreme Soul of all souls, who is the Lord of all lords. There is no other process to achieve Him.
That supreme potency of the Lord is known as Gokulesvari, the goddess of Gokula. Her nature is to be completely absorbed in love of God, and through Her one can easily obtain the primeval God, the Lord of all that be. This internal potency of the Lord has a covering potency, known as Maha-maya, who rules the material world. In fact she bewilders the entire universe, and thus everyone within the universe falsely identifies himself with the material body.'
From the above we can understand that the internal and external, or superior and inferior, potencies of the Supreme Lord are personified as Yoga-maya and Maha-maya, respectively. The name Durga is sometimes used to refer to the internal, superior potency, as stated in the Pañcaratra: “In all mantras used to worship Krishna, the presiding deity is known as Durga.”
Thus in the transcendental sound vibrations glorifying and worshiping the Absolute Truth, Krishna, the presiding deity of the particular mantra or hymn is called Durga. The name Durga therefore refers also to that personality who functions as the internal potency of the Lord and who is thus on the platform of suddha-sattva, pure transcendental existence. This internal potency is understood to be Krishna’s sister, known also as Ekanamsa or Subhadra. This is the Durga who was worshiped by the gopis in Vrindavan. Several acaryas have pointed out that ordinary people are sometimes bewildered and think that the names Maha-maya and Durga refer exclusively to the external potency of the Lord."
Maya can just mean "Krishna's energy." Krishna's personified energy is Srimati Radharani. Krishna can never be separated from His energy. How we experience Krishna's energy depends on our mentality. If we want to serve Krishna, we see His energy as Laksmidevi, Srimati Radharani, or yoga-maya—the energy which brings us closer to Krishna. Then we can be ourselves and be happy.
If we want to enjoy separately from Krishna—by trying to separate Krishna from His energy—we see only maha-maya, or Durga Devi. We then try to enjoy her many manifestations. But since we're not meant to enjoy separately, our enjoyment is temporary and illusory.
(Image depicts Durga offering prayers to Vishnu.)
It wouldn't be possible to list all the Goswamis' books here, but below is a list of their books that are currently available from the Krishna.com Store. Links are provided for online versions, when available:
Books by Sanatana Goswami:
- Sri Brhad Bhagavatamrta—Written in Sanskrit nearly five hundred years ago, this is a three-volume, epic example of the quest genre, but different from the sort commonly encountered in fable and fiction. The heroes of Brihad-bhagavatamrita are searching for a key to fulfillment much subtler than wealth, influence, mundane love, the Fountain of Youth, or even the Holy Grail.
- Sri Krishna Lila Stava—Among the priceless books contributed by Srila Sanatana Goswami to the literary heritage of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, his Sri Krsna-lila-stava is the shortest and simplest. An offering of praise in 432 verses, it gives a personal meditation of Krishna's Vrindavan pastimes as told by Sukadeva in Srimad-Bhagavatam.
- Hari bhakti vilasa—Among the important books compiled by Sanatana Goswami is the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, which explains the duties and behavior for Vaishnavas. In twenty chapters (vilasas) Sanatana explains the duties and behavior of Vaishnavas. The sixth through tenth chapters contained in this volume describe the process of deity worship, the glories of Tulasi, and the characteristics of the devotee of Krishna.
- Sri Damodarastakam & Kartika Mahatmya—Whether you're planning to visit Vrindavan this Karttika or simply desire to know more about Lord Damodara at this sacred time, this book is a great resource. The extensive translation of the Damodarashtakam explores a delightful childhood pastime of Lord Krishna. Kartika Mahatmya explains the spiritual significance of the month of Kartika and describes the practices a Vaishnava should perform during this time.
Books by Rupa Goswami:
- The Nectar of Devotion, commentary by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This is a summary study of Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, the Vaishnava classic written by Rupa Goswami that analyzes the various stages of bhakti (devotion) as a methodical practice resulting in love of God. Nectar of Devotion Online
- Nectar of Instruction, commentary by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Across five centuries and half the globe comes this compact guidebook of essential spiritual teachings. How to choose a guru, how to practice yoga, even where to live—you'll find it all in this invaluable work originally written in Sanskrit by Srila Rupa Goswami, one of the great spiritual geniuses of medieval India.
Nectar of Instruction Online
- Sri Radha-Krsna Ganoddesa Dipika—Krishna has innumerable friends and family members, and each relationship is uniquely flavored according to the love of the individual devotee. In this book, Srila Rupa Goswami names and describes the main characters in Krishna's life.
- Sri Mathura Mahatmya, translation by Kusakratha dasa. Srila Rupa Goswami beautifully describes the various holy sites of Mathura and the spiritual benefits gained by visiting and worshiping at each site.
- Padyavali: Anthology of Devotional Poetry—The many verses in this collection are written by devotees of Lord Krishna such as Madhavendra Puri, Rupa Goswami, and Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. The verses in this anthology offer a glimpse into the hearts of these great saints and Vaishnavas.
Books by Jiva Goswami:
- Sat Sandarbha—In the Sat-sandarbha, Jiva Goswami has systematically presented the philosophy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu with complete scriptural evidences.
Books written about the Goswamis:
- The Goswamis of Vrindavan, by O.B.L. Kapoor. This book describes the lives of fourteen Goswami followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, including Lokanatha, Sanatana, Rupa, and Jiva.
The subject of the editing process for Srila Prabhupada's books has been a topic of interest and sometimes controversy over the years. The devotees who have been most actively involved in the work of editing and producing Srila Prabhupada's books—during his time on earth and afterwards—have created a website, BBTedit.com, to fully explain the history of how his books were produced, as well as the reasoning, context, and logic behind how the books have been edited. We're confident that this information more than adequately addresses any and all questions on this matter. Kindly visit their site and judge for yourself.
The modern theory of evolution became popular in the 1800s as a result of the work of Charles Darwin and others to understand the diversity of species on earth. Evolution has become the standard way to explain how all life came into existence and gradually evolved from simple to complex forms.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam, composed over five thousand years ago, also contains detailed explanations of how evolution takes place, describing the gradual development—from subtle to gross—of the material elements, the planets, the bodies of all living creatures, and how conscious beings (atmas, or souls) enter the material world to inhabit the specific material bodies suited to their particular consciousness.
There are some significant differences between the Vedic view and today's many variations on evolutionary theory. One is that the Vedas take consciousness into account as the basis of all varieties of bodily forms. Every material body is animated by a spiritual spark—atma—who is placed into a particular type of body according to his qualification, or karma. The atma gradually evolves, or transmigrates from less conscious to more conscious species through a succession of bodily changes—births and deaths—on the way to eventual emancipation from the cycle of rebirth.
The Vedas also say the whole evolutionary process happens neither blindly nor by chance nor by a random series of events originating in chaos. Rather, everything occurs intentionally. Instead of postulating that the universe and everything within it sprang forth from a void (or a void containing an inexplicably handy assortment of organic chemicals), Vedic literature again and again ascribes the creation and development of the cosmos and all its inhabitants to a profoundly intelligent consciousness.
Whatever version of evolution we ultimately choose to accept will be based on a certain amount of faith. This is true of all events occurring outside our direct experience. Modern theories of evolution and of the origin of life, while certainly the products of many years of study by relatively well-informed and brilliant men of considerable intellect, are still theories after all. Just as previous theories fell out of favor, it is the nature of all theories to be cast aside over time.
The Vedas are described as apauruseya, "not created by man." The Vedic tradition teaches that perfect knowledge can only come from a perfect source, and the Vedas have the same source as the cosmos itself. Since the time of universal manifestation, perfect knowledge of how and why it came into being has been passed down from teacher to student. That system is known as parampara, "one after another," and even considering such a system's potential for error, it is considered the most reliable of all methods of acquiring knowledge.
"Although Westerners accept that Darwin first expounded the doctrine of evolution, the science of anthropology is not new. The development of the evolutionary process was known long before from the Bhagavatam, which was written five thousand years ago. There are records of the statements of Kapila Muni, who was present almost in the beginning of the creation. This knowledge has existed since the Vedic time, and all these sequences are disclosed in Vedic literature; the theory of gradual evolution or anthropology is not new to the Vedas." ( Srimad-Bhagavatam, 3.29.29, Purport)
Bhagavad-gita says that a devotee doesn't differentiate between good and bad—both are equal to him. But if a person is harming you, how can one stay calm thinking that there shouldn't be dualities?
Perhaps you're speaking about Bhagavad Gita 6:7 "For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquility. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same."
In this verse, as well as others like it, what is meant is not that these differences aren't perceived, but that they don't affect a person's actions.
In the Mahabharata, Arjuna was prepared to fight those who had wronged his wife, his family, his kingdom, and even exiled himself and his family to the forest. He saw them as enemies.
Then, when he got on the battlefield, he didn't want to fight. He didn't want to kill his grandfather, his guru, and others on the Kuru side because he saw them as friends. But once he heard the Bhagavad-gita from Krishna, Arjuna agreed to fight. But now his agreement to fight was not because he saw his teachers and relatives as enemies or even as friends, but rather because he realized that the fight was Krishna's will. He realized that by doing what Krishna wanted all requirements would be met. This is the qualification of one fixed in transcendence—to be fixed in doing what Lord Krishna wants and not anything else for any other reason.
He may feel happiness or distress, he may understand good or bad, but that judgment is made differently; things that make Krishna happy cause "happiness," and not being able to serve Him causes "distress." "Good" is what brings one closer to self-realization, and "bad" is what takes one away from that.
Of course if it's one's job to protect people—as a policeman, for example—then he must see "bad people" as those who infringe on others' property or rights, and protect others from them. That's his responsibility, and he does it out of duty. He doesn't neglect to distinguish between good and bad. However, that vision is useful and reasonable because an administrator's duty is to see those differences.
As a devotee, he may see everyone as soul. He may have no personal enemies; but in terms of karma and duty he understands that "this person must be punished" if he's breaking the laws of God and harming others.
I hope this makes things more clear.
The Vedas themselves explain that although they appear within human society for our benefit, they weren't written by ordinary humans, but have always existed. They're like the instruction manual for how to live in this world; and most instruction manuals aren't written by the inventors themselves.
In Sanskrit the scriptures are called apaurusheya, not of human origin. According to Vedic wisdom, the Supreme Person empowers various other persons—sages, prophets, and acharyas—with the necessary vision for distributing and teaching the scriptures.
The validity of scriptural directions can be tested the same way as scientific theories. If 1) they appear reasonable and 2) they don't contradict anything we know to be true, and 3) if by acting according to them we get the predicted result, we may have more confidence in them. Blind doubt is just as un-beneficial as blind faith.
Whenever Krishna does something, He accomplishes many purposes simultaneously. Krishna chose to speak the Bhagavad-gita to His devotee and friend Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra for a number of reasons. Krishna's purpose in coming to the material world is to deliver His devotees from the anxieties of material existence, annihilate those who disturb the universal order, and to reestablish principles of religion. His choice of Kurukshetra for speaking the Bhagavad-gita accomplished all three of these.
Just prior to the war, Arjuna was overcome with resistance; he didn't want to fight. Even though fighting was his nature as a warrior, and the war he was about to fight in was a clear case of righteousness versus unrighteousness, he was so distressed about the consequences of the impending conflict that he lay down his bow.
In the course of speaking the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna reminds Arjuna of the eternality of the soul, the relationship between the infinite Supreme Soul and the individual soul, and how to perfect that relationship through practice of bhakti-yoga, Krishna consciousness. By hearing from Krishna, Arjuna's anxiety is removed, and he becomes divinely inspired to fight for Krishna's cause without hesitation. As a result, he becomes Krishna's instrument for ridding the world of a huge overabundance of ungodly military forces. Everyone who hears their conversation gets spiritual benefit.
Krishna's choice of Kurukshetra as the setting for speaking the Bhagavad-gita is also noteworthy for its extremity. The violence and scale of human loss there was tremendous, and it would be hard to conceive of a more intense scene. Arjuna's questions and Krishna's answers on the nature of reality itself could not have taken place at a more grave moment, proving to the rest of us that if it's possible to be perfectly God conscious in the midst of a gigantic battle, it's certainly possible to think of Krishna in less stressful situations.
Actually, the Bhagavad Gita is part of the larger historical narrative of the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata provides the important contextual history of the battle at Kuruksetra and of the Pandavas and Kauravas. One can appreciate the Bhagavad Gita, the great conversation between Arjuna and Krishna, even more upon understanding their familial connection as cousins and upon learning about Arjuna’s glorious birth and activities, many of which intersect with Krishna and Balarama’s.
While it is true that we can perfect our bhakti practice through studying the Gita and through chanting alone, all of these other texts, including the Mahabharata, inform and inspire our practice. If the Mahabharata succeeds in attracting our minds to Krishna—and it has for many—than it is preeminently useful for us.