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Srimad Bhagavatam

SB 1.1 - The qualification of Sūta Gosvāmī

One day after finishing their morning duties and offering a great seat of esteem to Śrīla Sūta Gosvāmī, the great sages made inquiries. The elevated seat of respect is called vyāsāsana, or the seat of Vyāsa. Vyāsa is the original spiritual preceptor for all men, and all other preceptors are considered to be his representatives. Vyāsa taught the Bhāgavatam to Śuka, and Sūta heard it from Śuka. All the ācāryas in disciplic succession follow their predecessors who delivered the spiritual message unbroken to them. Those who listen to the Bhāgavatam may put questions to the speaker in order to elicit the clear meaning, but this should not be done in a challenging spirit. One must submit questions with a great regard for the speaker and the subject matter.

The sages said that Sūta was completely free from all vice, and was well versed in all religious scriptures, the Purāṇas and the itihāsās, for he had gone thru them under proper guidance. A Gosvāmī or a bona fide representative of Vyāsa must be free from the vices of illicit sex, meat eating, intoxication and gambling. He must also be well versed in all revealed scriptures. The Purāṇas and histories like Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa are also parts of the Vedas. One can assimilate the knowledge of the Vedas only by hearing (śravaṇam) and explaining (kīrtanam). Only one who has grasped the knowledge from the right source by submissive hearing can properly explain the subject. Sūta had great affection for his gurus, and so they must have revealed all confidential subjects to him. While rejecting those who extract their own ideas from these confidential topics, the sages chose Sūta to speak about them. Being the eldest learned Vedāntist, Sūta was acquainted with the knowledge of Vyāsa, and also knew other sages who are fully versed in all kinds of physical and metaphysical knowledge.

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is the natural commentary on Vedānta-sūtras. It is called natural because Vyāsa is author of both the Bhāgavatam and the Vedānta-sūtras. Besides Vyāsa, there are other sages who are the authors of different philosophical systems, namely Gautama, Kaṇāda, Kapila, Patañjali, and Jaimini. There is also the atheistic system of Aṣṭāvakra. Theism is completely explained in the Vedānta-sūtra, whereas in other systems of philosophical speculations, no mention is given to the ultimate cause of all causes. And because Sūta was submissive, his spiritual masters have endowed him with all favors. The sages asked Sūta to thus tell them what he had learned from his gurus. The secret of success in spiritual life is in satisfying the guru and thereby getting his blessings. Viśvanātha Cakravartī has sung that only by pleasing the guru can one please the Lord, and when he is dissatisfied there is only havoc on the path of spiritual realization.

SB 1.1 - Question 1 - What is the ultimate good for people?

The sages asked Sūta six questions. (Q1) (1.1.9) What is the absolute and ultimate good (śreyaḥ) for people in general? Foreseeing the incompetencies of the people in the age of Kali, the sages requested Sūta to give a summary of revealed scriptures for the welfare of the people because he had studied the śāstras for many years. In the age of Kali, men have short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky and always disturbed. The duration of life is shortened by irregular habits. By eating simple food and keeping regular habits, any man can maintain his health. Overeating, over sense enjoyment, over dependence on another’s mercy, and artificial standards of living sap the vitality of human energy. The people of Kali yuga are lazy not materially but in the matter of self realization. Human life is meant to know what one is, what the supreme truth is and what the world is. Due to a bad system of education, men have no desire for self realization. Even if they are interested, they unfortunately become victims of misguided teachers. Men are victims of different political creeds and other sense gratificatory diversions such as cinema, sports, clubs, smoking, drinking, cheating and so on. Their minds are always disturbed and full of anxieties due to so many engagements.

People in general are short-lived. If they have a long life they are lazy to investigate spiritual topics. If someone is not lazy, then he is unintelligent. Even if someone is intelligent, he is unfortunate because he is devoid of association of devotees. Even if someone has association of devotees, he is afflicted with sickness and other problems and so does not get time to hear from the devotees. Or even if he does hear, he cannot discern the highest goal for the human being and then carry out actions to attain it. Thus the people of Kali yuga are unfortunate in all respects.

And many unscrupulous men manufacture their own religious faiths, and people addicted to sense gratification are attracted by such institutions. There are no brahmacārīs, and householders do not observe the rules of the gṛhastha-āśrama. Consequently the vānaprasthas and sannyāsīs who come out of such gṛhastha-āśramas are easily deviated from the rigid path. The whole atmosphere is surcharged with faithlessness. Sense gratification is the standard of civilization, and men have formed complex nations and communities based on such standards. Hence there is a constant strain of hot and cold wars between the different groups. The sages of Naimiṣāraṇya were anxious to disentangle such fallen souls, and hence they were seeking the remedy from Sūta Gosvāmī.

SB 1.1 - Question 2 - What is the essence of all scriptures?

(Q2) (1.1.11) There are many varieties of scriptures and in all of them there are many prescribed duties, which can be learned only after many years of thorough study. So the sages asked Sūta to select the essence of all these scriptures and explain so that the hearts of all people would be fully satisfied. They wanted to know the scriptures worthy of hearing because these explain the many practices like hearing and chanting for attaining the highest goal. The self is never satisfied by any amount of material planning. It is not possible to execute the rules and regulations of the varṇa and āśrama society, which are the best means to uplift humans to the spiritual platform. Neither can people sever relations with their families as the varṇāśrama institution prescribes. Thus the spiritual emancipation for the common man in this age is very difficult. All scriptures are meant for the satisfaction for the ātmā. There are many approaches which are recommended for different types of living beings in different times and at different places. Consequently, the numbers of revealed scriptures are innumerable. Thus the sages asked Sūta to relate the essence of all scriptures.

SB 1.1 - Question 3 - Why did Kṛṣṇa appear in this world?

(Q3) (1.1.12) The sages asked Sūta to explain for what purpose the Personality of Godhead appeared in the womb of Devakī as the son of Vasudeva. Persons who are servitors of the Absolute Truth are called sātvatas, and the Lord who protects such pure devotees is called sātvatām patiḥ. Vasudeva is the symbol of the transcendental position wherein the appearance of the Supreme Lord takes place. The Lord appears to broadcast His wonderful qualities, not to relieve the burden of the earth. He made His appearance for the liberation and material prosperity of all beings. The sages were eager to learn about the Lord and His incarnations. They asked Sūta to explain the teachings of the ācāryas, for one is uplifted both by speaking them and by hearing them. The conditions for hearing the transcendental message of the Lord are that the audience must be very sincere and eager to hear, and the speaker must be in the line of disciplic succession from the recognized ācārya. Sūta was in the line of Śrīla Vyāsa and the sages of Naimiṣāraṇya were all sincere souls who were anxious to learn the truth.

SB 1.1 - The power of Kṛṣṇa's names

Living beings who are entangled in birth and death can be freed immediately by even unconsciously (vivaśaḥ) chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa, which is feared by fear personified. This indicates that the name of Kṛṣṇa is non different from Kṛṣṇa. Everyone is afraid of the rage of the Lord including great asuras like Rāvaṇa, Kaṁsa and the modern day demons. But fear personified is afraid of Kṛṣṇa, and thus one can take advantage of His holy names in the midst of great dangers. Even when chanted unconsciously or by force of circumstances, the name helps one get over the hurdle of birth and death. Since Kṛṣṇa is the origin of all incarnations, all holy names of God actually refer to Kṛṣṇa. Thus Vāsudeva, Dāmodara, Govinda, Keśava and all other names should be understood as names of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Ajāmila by a single utterance of the Lord’s name erased all fear of the Yamadūtas. It is not surprising that Yama and his messengers tremble at the Lord’s name, since even the form of the Lord known as ‘Great Time’, itself the root of fear, is afraid of Kṛṣṇa’s name.

SB 1.1 - The power of the pure devotees

The great sages who have taken shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord can at once sanctify those who come in touch with them, whereas the waters of the Ganges can sanctify only after prolonged use. Thus the mercy of the pure devotee is more potent than the waters of the Ganges, which emanates from the lotus feet of the Lord. Seeing and touching the Ganges can purify one, but by simply remembering a devotee, one becomes sanctified. To take shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord means to take shelter of the pure devotees. The pure devotees whose only business is serving are honored by the names Prabhupāda and Viṣṇupāda, which indicates such devotees to be representatives of the lotus feet of the Lord. Such devotees are honored equally with the Lord, for they are engaged in the confidential service of the Lord, by delivering the fallen souls out of the material world. The sincere disciple considers the spiritual master equal to the Lord, but always considers himself to be a humble servant of the servant of the Lord.

SB 1.1 - Question 4 - What are the adventures the Lord performs?

(Q4) (1.1.17) The sages asked Sūta to speak about the various adventures the Lord performs in His various incarnations. They wanted to know the deeds of the Lord when He assumed the forms of Brahmā, Rudra etc for the purpose of creating, maintaining and destroying the universe, or the acts the Lord performs in relationship to creating the material world. This can also mean to deal with Kṛṣṇa’s creation and maintenance of the worlds thru His puruṣa-avatāras. The Lord is always active and His works are nicely described by such great souls as Vyāsa, Vālmīki, Madhva, Śrī Caitanya, Rāmānuja and others. Both the material and spiritual creations are full of opulence and beauty but the spiritual realm is more magnificent due to its being full of knowledge, bliss and eternity.

The material creations are manifested for some time as perverted shadows of the spiritual kingdom, and they attract the less intelligent. But more intelligent men guided by sages like Nārada know that the eternal kingdom of God is more delightful, larger and eternally full of bliss and knowledge. The Lord favors the ignorant by displaying His pastimes in this world. The conditioned souls are either engaged in enjoying their senses or in negating the real life in the spiritual world. Above these karmīs and jñānīs are the devotees, who are engaged in the positive service of the Lord, and thereby derives the highest spiritual benefit unknown to the karmīs and jñānīs.

The Lord has many incarnations of unlimited categories. Incarnations like Brahmā, Rudra, Manu, Pṛthu and Vyāsa are partial or empowered incarnations, but His incarnations like Rāma, Nṛsiṁha, Varāha and Vāmana are His transcendental incarnations. Lord Kṛṣṇa is the fountainhead of all incarnations and thus the cause of all causes. The constant presence of all incarnations during the time when Kṛṣṇa appears indicates the completeness of Kṛṣṇa as avatārī.

SB 1.1 - Question 5 - What are the incarnations of the Lord?

(Q5) (1.1.18) The sages asked Sūta to describe the transcendental pastimes of the Lord’s multi-incarnations, which are performed by His internal powers. Question four is an inquiry into the pastimes of the Lord’s incarnations, whereas question five is what are the Lord’s different incarnations. According to Jīva Gosvāmī question four is asking about the activities of the Lord’s three puruṣa-avatāras, and five asks about the narrations concerning the Lord’s descents.

Both those who are present during such activities and those who hear the transcendental narrations of such activities are benefited. The sages never tire hearing the pastimes of the Lord and they relish hearing them at every moment because they had developed a taste for transcendental relationships. The histories of the universe such as Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas contain the pastimes of the incarnations of the Lord. They remain fresh even after repeated readings unlike mundane history and stories.

Mundane news is static whereas transcendental news is dynamic, inasmuch as the spirit is dynamic and matter is static. One may read Bhagavad gītā and Bhāgavatam throughout his whole life and yet find in them new light of information. The literatures pertaining to uttama-śloka is above the mode of darkness and its light becomes more luminous with progressive reading and realization of the transcendental subject matter. The artificial realization of Brahman becomes hackneyed, and so to relish pleasure the impersonalists turn to the narrations of Bhāgavatam. Those who are not so fortunate turn to altruism and philanthropy.

The exploits of the Lord become more relishable for those who have knowledge of rasa. There are 3 ways one knows that one has had enough of something and is satisfied: by sufficiency of quantity (like food in the belly), by lack of taste and by lack of relishing the object. There is insufficiency for the sages here because the exploits are not directly present, being present only as sound vibrations. A person who is like an animal is incapable of appreciating rasa and so cannot be satisfied. However, the sages have appreciation of rasa. But still they are not satisfied. Unlike chewed sugarcane which loses its taste and becomes detestable, the topics of the Lord are most excellent because of the increase in taste at every moment after tasting.

SB 1.1 - Kṛṣṇa's pastimes as human and superhuman

Kṛṣṇa, along with Balarāma, played like a human being, and so masked He performed many superhuman acts. The sages were finding the sacrifice tiring but still wanted to hear more and more about Kṛṣṇa. Their taste for such kathā was insatiable. The word uttama-śloka also means ‘He whose glories dispel tamas’, so hearing about Kṛṣṇa would allow the sages to feel relief. Man can never become God by penance and austerity. Lord Rāma, Lord Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya were detected by the sages to be the Personality of Godhead as indicated in revealed scriptures. Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Lord from the very beginning of His appearance, and not a popular personality who can display some feat of jugglery and so had become God by popular vote. The birth and deeds of the Lord are transcendental and one who knows them in truth at once becomes liberated and eligible to return to the kingdom of God. Even though the Lord exhibited His divinity even from the lap of His mother, yet He was always accepted as an ordinary child by His father, mother and other relatives, who always remained satisfied with unflinching filial love fore their son.

Though Kṛṣṇa’s actions were human, His actions of lifting Govardhana hill surpass the actions of humans. But the Lord is hidden. He was deceptive to materialistic persons such as Jarāsandha by disguising Himself as a brāhmaṇa to make a request, in order to help His devotees. He was deceptive to the gopīs by giving them instructions on proper conduct in order to increase the manifestation of prema. Since the bewilderment of the demons is due to material ignorance and the bewilderment of devotees is because of their prema, the Lord does not actually cheat anyone. He conceals Himself in order to give instructions only.

SB 1.1 - Question 6 - Who is the shelter of religious principles after Kṛṣṇa's departure?

(Q6) (1.1.23) The sages wanted to know to whom the religious principles had gone for shelter after Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa had departed for His own abode. Religion is the prescribed codes enunciated by the Personality of Godhead. When there is a decline in religious principles, the Lord appears to restore them. The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is the transcendental sound representation of the Lord, and thus it is the full representation of transcendental knowledge and religious principles. Viśvanātha Cakravarti says that the Bhāgavatam, along with additional connected discussions (prasaṅgas), constitutes the answers to the questions of the sages.

The sages had assembled at Naimiṣāraṇya to hear at great length the message of Godhead and in this way perform sacrifice, knowing well that the age of Kali had begun. The people in Satya-yuga, living a lifetime of a 100,000 years, performed prolonged meditation for self realization. In Tretā-yuga, when the duration of life was 10,000 years, people performed great sacrifice. And in Dvāpara-yuga, when the duration of life was 1000 years, self realization was attained by the worship of the Deity of the Lord. But in Kali-yuga, the maximum duration of life is 100 years and the recommended process of self realization is to hear and chant the holy name, fame and pastimes of the Lord. By the example of the sages one should learn that regular hearing and recitation of the Bhāgavatam is the only way for self realization. Lord Caitanya recommended that those born in India should broadcast the messages of Bhagavad gītā and Bhāgavatam.

The sages accepted Sūta Gosvāmī as their leader. To cross over the dangerous ocean of Kali, one must follow the footsteps of the sages of Naimiṣāraṇya and accept Sūta or his bona fide representative as the captain of the ship, which is the message of Kṛṣṇa in the shape of Bhagavad gītā or the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.