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Srimad Bhagavatam

SB 1.2 - Sūta Gosvāmī 's decision to speak on Bhāgavatam

Sūta Gosvāmī thanked the sages for their six perfect questions, and attempted to reply them. He reflected that he would speak the essence of all the scriptures, the very substance. Even though some righteous persons would say that the intellect is pleased with Sāṅkhya, some would say the intellect is pleased with Mīmāṁsa, or with the Upaniṣads, or the Vedānta, which discern the conclusion of the Upaniṣads, all that cannot be admitted. Sūta thought that he should speak the scripture that remained steady without objections from anyone, since it gave pleasure to all the sages, after withstanding the tests of all the great luminaries, the greatest philosophers present in the assembly gathered around King Parīkṣit. So he decided he should speak the Bhāgavatam.

Sūta first offered his obeisances unto Śukadeva Gosvāmī, who left home without undergoing any of the reformatory ceremonies. When this happened, Śuka’s father, Vyāsa, cried out in separation, but only the trees, which were absorbed in the same feelings of separation, echoed in response. The reply was actually Kṛṣṇa Himself sounding thru the trees, who (the trees) loved Śuka for his purity.

Generally, a man is born as an ordinary being, and by the purificatory processes, he is born a second time. When he seeks direction for spiritual progress, he approaches a guru for instruction in the Vedas. The guru accepts only a sincere inquirer as his disciple, and gives him the sacred thread. Thus becoming a dvija (twice born), one may study the Vedas, and after becoming well versed in the Vedas one becomes a vipra. A vipra thus realizes the Absolute and makes further progress until he reaches the Vaiṣṇava stage, which is the postgraduate status of a brāhmaṇa.

The aim of varṇāśrama dharma is to make one a pure devotee of the Lord. Anyone who is accepted as a Vaiṣṇava by a first class devotee of the Lord is already a brāhmaṇa, regardless of his birth or past deeds. Śuka was a Vaiṣṇava from the very beginning, and thus had no need to undergo all the processes of the varṇāśrama institution. Lord Caitanya accepted this principle and recognized Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura as the ācārya of the holy name, although Haridāsa was born in a Mohammedan family.

SB 1.2 - Vyāsa's teaching Śukadeva Bhāgavatam

Vyāsa wanted to teach Śuka Bhāgavatam, and so to entice him to return, he asked his disciples to recite texts from Bhāgavatam whenever they went into the forest. Śuka happened to hear those disciples and became attracted, and returned to his father’s hermitage to learn Bhāgavatam. By the power of yoga, Śuka had entered into the minds of all living beings. So Sūta desired that Śuka enter his heart also and speak the Bhāgavatam thru his mouth. He who could enter the trees and pacify his father by answering back could also enter his (Sūta’s) heart and please the intellect of the hearers by the Bhāgavatam.

Śuka, out of great compassion for the fallen souls spoke Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, the confidential supplement to the cream of Vedic knowledge (akhila śruti sāram), after having personally assimilated it by experience. The Vedānta sūtras were complied by Vyāsa with a view to present just the cream of Vedic knowledge. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is the natural commentary on this cream. Śuka was thoroughly realized in Vedānta, and also personally realized the commentary, Bhāgavatam. Everyone is baffled by the laws of material nature in their plans to become happy. The unfortunate souls do not want to get out the dark region of nescience. Such materialists, who although harassed by their material creations do not wish to escape, are called karmīs. Out of millions of karmīs, only a few may feel tired of material entanglement and desire to get out of it. Such intelligent persons are called jñānīs. The Vedānta-sūtra is directed to such jñānīs. Foreseeing the misuse of Vedānta by unscrupulous men, Vyāsa supplemented it with the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and he also taught it to his son, Śuka. Śuka realized it personally and then explained it.

Bhāgavatam is the one unrivaled commentary on Vedānta. Śaṅkara intentionally did not touch it because he knew that the natural commentary would be difficult for him to surpass. Śaṅkara wrote his Śārīraka-bhāṣya on Vedānta, and his followers deprecated the Bhāgavatam as some new presentation. One should not be misled by such propaganda and should know that the Bhāgavatam is the only transcendental literature meant for the paramahaṁsas. The envious Māyāvādīs have no access to the Bhāgavatam, but those who are anxious to get out of material existence may take shelter of this great work, because it is uttered by the liberated Śukadeva Gosvāmī. It is the transcendental torchlight by which one can perfectly see the Absolute Truth realized as Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān.

For those who desire liberation, the Bhāgavatam helps to cross over the dense ignorance with great ease by revealing the jīva. This is a secondary result of the Bhāgavatam. For the pure devotees, Bhāgavatam contains the essence of all the śrutis, of all the Upaniṣads, and is the essence for those who relish it with the ear by hearing. This was indicated in SB 1.1.3 where it is said that Bhāgavatam is the ripened fruit of the tree of the Vedas. For Śukadeva as well, Bhāgavatam revealed the power of abundant rasa. It also produced Śuka’s power, so much so that he became the guru of all the sages such as Nārada and Vyāsa who were seated in the assembly of Parīkṣit and taught them Bhāgavatam as if it had not been heard before.

SB 1.2 - The way to recite Bhāgavatam

Before reciting Bhāgavatam, which is the very means of conquest, one should offer obeisances unto the Personality of Godhead, Nārāyaṇa, unto Nara-Nārāyaṇa Ṛṣi, unto Sarasvatī and unto Vyāsadeva, the author. Nara-Nārāyaṇa spoke Bhāgavatam to Nārada, who then repeated it to Vyāsa. Vyāsa later spoke it to Sarasvatī. Nara-Nārāyaṇa are also the presiding deities of the place, Badarikāśrama, where Vyāsa first wrote the Bhāgavatam. Sarasvatī is the śakti of the work. This is not the material deity but the spiritual counterpart, who gave Kṛṣṇa mantra to Brahmā in Brahma-Saṁhitā.

The living being cannot get out of the material existence by making plans. If he wants to conquer his perpetual struggle for existence, he must reestablish his relation with God. And thus one should take shelter of the Vedas and the Purāṇas, which are the supplementary explanations of the Vedas. Different men are conducted by different modes of nature, and the Purāṇas are so divided that any class of men can take advantage of them and get out of the hard struggle for existence. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is the spotless Purāṇa meant for those who desire to get out of material entanglement permanently.

SB 1.2 - Sūta Gosvāmī praises the questions

Sūta said that the questions of the sage relate to Lord Kṛṣṇa and such questions alone are capable of completely satisfying the self. In the Bhagavad gītā the Lord says that in all the Vedas there is nothing but the urge for searching after Him. Thus the questions that pertain to Kṛṣṇa are the sum and substance of all Vedic inquiries. The whole world is full of questions and answers. The birds are busy with questions and answers day and night. The humans are busy with questions and answers. The businessmen in the market, the lawyers in the court, the students in the colleges and schools, the politicians and the press people are all busy with questions and answers. But none of their lives are satisfied by such questions and answers. Forgetting Kṛṣṇa, we have created so many objects of questions and answers, but none of them are capable of giving us complete satisfaction. We cannot live for a moment without being questioned or without giving answers. We can derive the highest satisfaction by reading and hearing the Bhāgavatam as it deals with questions and answers related to Kṛṣṇa. And thereby make an all round solution to all problems pertaining to social, political or religious matters.

Sūta describes the questions as excellent as they are auspicious to the world and capable of satisfying the self. The text 1.2.5 mentions kṛṣṇa-sampraśna, and thus in his answers adhokṣaja (text 6), vāsudeva (text 7) and sātvatāṁ-pati (text 14) all refer to Kṛṣṇa.

SB 1.2 - The dharma of a living being

In answer to the first question of the sages regarding what is the highest good for people in general, Suta Gosvami says that the supreme occupation for all humanity or the highest good for all people is that men attain to loving devotional service (prema bhakti) unto Adhokṣaja. Such devotion should be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self. Prema bhakti to the Lord is not caused by anything other than itself, cannot be obstructed and satisfies the mind completely. People desire intimacy, but because of being self centered, which places them in the position of exploiter, their attempts to find intimacy on the physical, emotional, or intellectual levels push true intimacy away. On the other hand, serving Kṛṣṇa feels true because it is deeply pleasing to the soul.

The Vedas prescribe two different types of occupation for the human beings. One is called the pravṛtti-mārga, or the path of sense enjoyment, and the other is called nivṛtti-mārga, or the path of renunciation, which is superior. The material existence of the living being is a diseased condition of life. Actual life is spiritual existence, or brahma-bhūta existence. Material life is temporary, illusory and full of miseries, and cessation of miseries is called happiness. Thus the path of progressive material enjoyment is inferior. But devotional service to the Lord, which leads one to eternal, blissful and all cognizant life, is called the superior quality of occupation. Devotion mixed with material gain is an obstruction to the progressive path of renunciation. Material enjoyment only aggravates the symptoms of diseased life and increases its duration. Therefore devotional service must be pure in quality, without the desire for material enjoyment.

The root meaning of dharma is that which sustains one’s existence. A living being’s sustenance of existence is to coordinate his activities with his eternal relation with Lord Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is the central pivot of living beings and is the eternal form among all living beings or eternal forms. Each and every living being has his eternal form in spiritual existence, and Kṛṣṇa is the eternal attraction for all of them. Kṛṣṇa is the complete whole and everything else is His part and parcel. The living beings are servants of Kṛṣṇa, and this relation is transcendental and completely distinct from our experience in material existence. This relation of servant and served is the most congenial form of intimacy. When one engages in loving service to the Lord even in the conditional state of existence, one will gradually get the clue of actual life and become completely satisfied.

SB 1.2 - The cause of pure bhakti

It is not that prema is caused by sādhana-bhakti. Dharma consisting of hearing and chanting about the Lord is called sādhana-bhakti, and in its mature state is called prema. Both are called bhakti. Just as an unripe mango is the cause of a ripe mango, we can say sādhana bhakti (para dharma) is the cause of prema bhakti (yato bhaktir adhokṣaje). Considering one the cause of the other because of difference in taste is simply a conception for understanding the different strengths of bhakti, though sādhana bhakti and prema are not actually different things. One cannot also say the cause of bhakti is association of devotees, for association of devotees is part of bhakti. It is the second stage as understood from ādau śraddha, tathaḥ sādhu-saṅga…

Charity, vows, austerity etc are to some degrees cause of bhakti in sattva-guṇa, practiced as an aṅga of jñāna. But they are not causes of pure bhakti. Nor can it even be said that the mercy of the Lord is the cause of pure bhakti, for it is a non-final cause, making one search out a further cause. If the Lord’s mercy is the cause of pure bhakti, then it would mean He is unjust and prejudiced in choosing to give mercy to some and not to others. However, if one says the cause of bhakti is the mercy of the devotee, it is not so incorrect. Though the uttama bhaktas do not make distinctions and are thus not prejudiced, the madhyama bhaktas make distinctions between the Lord, the devotee, the innocent and the demon. And because the Lord is dependent on the devotee, the Lord’s mercy follows after the mercy of the devotee.

But then how is bhakti said to be without cause? Because the Lord’s mercy is included in the mercy of the devotee, and because that mercy is included in the association with devotees, and because devotee association is an aṅga of bhakti, bhakti is said to be without cause (since an aṅga of bhakti causes bhakti). Moreover the cause of devotee’s mercy is but the bhakti present in the heart of the devotee, because without bhakti in his heart there is no possibility of his mercy arising. In all ways therefore, bhakti is the cause of bhakti. Therefore, bhakti is said to be without cause. From the point of view of bhakti, the devotee, bhakti, the Lord, and His mercy are not separate items. Even though bhakti appears by bhakti, it does not negate the fact that bhakti’s self manifesting nature comes from the Lord.

Bhakti is also apratihatā – cannot be prevented by anything. Bhakti is without destruction, though it is the cause of destruction of obstacles. Apratihatā can also mean that prema-bhakti is not contaminated by jñāna or karma. By that bhakti the mind becomes completely satisfied. Because of the impossibility of the mind being satisfied with material desires, it is evident that this bhakti is without any material desires.

SB 1.2 - Knowledge and detachment follows bhakti

By rendering devotional service unto Kṛṣṇa, one immediately acquires causeless knowledge and detachment from the world. This is the essence of all scriptures that Kṛṣṇa is the only object of worship, and establishing one’s relationship with Him thru devotional service. According to some bhakti is meant for those who cannot perform high grade activities such as sacrifice, charity, austerity and knowledge. But here that is refuted. Bhakti is the topmost of all transcendental acts, and is simultaneously sublime and easy. It is sublime for the pure devotees who are serious about getting in contact with the Lord, and easy for the neophytes who are on the threshold of the house of bhakti.

To achieve contact with the Supreme Lord is open to all grades of living beings. The other high grade acts such as sacrifice, charity etc are all corollary factors following pure bhakti. By performing bhakti the fruits of other spiritual practices – knowledge and detachment – manifest automatically. The jñāna mentioned here is not the knowledge that leads to impersonal liberation because the knowledge is said to be causeless. Rather it refers to knowledge of the sweetness of the Lord’s attributes. Therefore by practicing bhakti in which knowledge also manifests without the goal of liberation, the liberation of merging does not take place. As every leaf is nourished when we water the root of a tree, so while bhakti gives Kṛṣṇa pleasure, each soul performing bhakti naturally becomes satisfied. This bhakti is endowed with dāsya, sakhya and other loving emotions. When one attains some level of devotion, his hearing about Kṛṣṇa and desire to perform other acts that increase bhakti (like chanting) tend to increase as a matter of course. As soon (āśu) as one hears Bhāgavatam one begins to experience knowledge and detachment.

The whole spiritual process leads to perfect knowledge of everything material and spiritual, and the results of such knowledge are that one becomes detached from material affection and becomes attached to spiritual activities. Detachment from material forms does not mean nullifying the positive form. Naiṣkarma means not undertaking acts that will produce good or bad effects. The bhakti cult is meant to realize the positive form. With the application of positive service to the positive form, all negative forms are eliminated, one becomes detached from inferior things, and becomes attached to superior things. All this happens by the grace of the Lord. One who is a pure devotee has all good qualities such as knowledge, detachment etc., but one who only knowledge and detachment is not necessarily well acquainted with the principles of bhakti. This verse establishes that bhakti alone functions as the cause and the goal, and not knowledge or detachment.

SB 1.2 - Our occupation should lead to attraction for Kṛṣṇa

The occupational activities a man performs are only useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead. There are different occupational activities in terms of man’s different conceptions of life. To the gross materialist there is nothing beyond his senses. Thus his occupation activities are limited to concentrated selfishness – personal body, and extended selfishness – centers around family, society, nation and world. Above the gross materialists are the mental speculators whose occupational duties involve making poetry and philosophy or propagating some ism with the same aim of selfishness limited to the body and mind. But above the body and mind is the spirit soul.

Here love for hearing and speaking kṛṣṇa-kathā is glorified above all other forms of bhakti. Bhakti is independent of karma and jñāna, both of which depend on bhakti to be successful. Although people seek pleasure to satisfy the body (by karma) or mind (by jñāna), both attempts lead only to final dissatisfaction, because they neglect the needs of the soul, which is satisfied only by the culture of bhakti. Even if one properly engages in religion, his worship is useless if it does not evoke love for Kṛṣṇa because only love for God is permanent.

Kṛṣṇa says in SB 11.20.11 that one who does his prescribed duties attains transcendental knowledge or, by fortune, devotional service unto Him. Does this mean karma is the cause of bhakti? Karma gives rise to jñāna, but does not directly produce bhakti. That is understood from the use of yadṛcchaya (by itself) in the verse. If by good fortune bhakti happens to appear in a person, then he attains attraction for the Lord’s topics.

It is said that from varṇāśrama sometimes attraction for the topics of the Lord does arise. Because one cannot attain the results of dharma without such affection for the Lord’s topics, that affection is present but that is an appearance only, not genuine. If activities of varṇāśrama dharma whether kāmya or nitya do not produce affection for the Lord’s topics, they are a waste of labor (for no material results will come). For farmers, agriculture must generate affection for the king; otherwise they cannot attain its results. Intelligent people seeing that there will be no results without attraction for the topics of the Lord perform dharma that produces such affection. Bhāgavatam (1.5.12) confirms that even the stage of jñāna without the bondage of karma is not glorious because it is devoid of bhakti to the Supreme Lord.

The self is the potent active principle of the body and mind. The foolish people have no information of the soul and thus their occupational duties do not give them satisfaction. The body and mind are the outer coverings of the soul and simply satisfying them without fulfilling the needs of the soul proper is no use. The soul needs to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill his desire for complete freedom. He wants to see the free light and the spirit. The complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit, the Personality of Godhead. There is a dormant affection for God within everyone; spiritual existence if manifested thru the gross body and mind in the form of perverted affection for gross and subtle matter. Therefore we have to engage in occupational acts that will evoke our divine consciousness. This is possible by hearing and chanting the divine activities of the Lord. Other activities cannot give liberation to the soul. Even the activities of the salvationists are considered to be useless because of their failure to pick up the fountainhead of all liberties. The hankering soul cannot be satisfied with material gains limited to time and space even if he goes to Svargaloka.

SB 1.2 - The goal of one's works

If one thinks that providing security and comfort for the family should be one’s main objective, Sūta says it is not so. He says all occupational engagements are meant for ultimate liberation and so should never be performed for material gain. Dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa (impersonal liberation) are called pavarga. Āpavarga means nullifying the pavarga to get ultimate liberation in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. According to sages, one engaged in ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification. Some consider all occupational engagements including those of religion are meant for material gain. Even in Vedas, material allurements are offered for various religious performances. Most people are attracted by such allurements. By such material gain, one can fulfill his desires, which in turn satisfy sense gratification. But here Sūta Gosvāmī says one should not engage in any occupation for material gain only. But instead one should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry into the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works.

The result of performance of dharma is artha, acquisition of material results. The result of material acquisition is desire, kāma. The result of kāma is pleasure of the senses. When the senses are pleased, for further gain of pleasure, one executes the sequence starting with dharma again. This is true for the karmīs. Material results are not suitable for the person dedicated to higher goals. Dharma refers to control of the mind and senses for the jñānīs, to yama, niyama etc for the yogī, and to hearing, chanting and other devotional acts for the devotee. Though material results appear by these processes, they are not suitable as the goal. The goal is liberation for the jñānī and yogī, and prema-bhakti for the devotee. For the avid practitioner of apavarga-dharma, the practice itself has its own results. In certain actions the jñānīs use material assets which are favorable for controlling their senses, the yogīs use material assets favorable for yama and niyama, and the devotees use material assets for service to the Lord and His devotees.

For one who desires apavarga, sense pleasure is not the goal of life. The pleasure of the senses from enjoyment for the jñānīs and yogīs consisting of the secondary results that appear along with the desired results is designated as results of action. Since jñāna and yoga are transformations of niṣkāma-karma, they perceive whatever happiness and distress they experience as results of karma. For the devotees, however, the pleasure of the senses from sense objects which accompany bhakti is not a transformation of karma. They perceive happiness to be the result of bhakti only. They regard suffering as the mercy of the Lord. In SB 10.88.8 Kṛṣṇa says that He takes away the wealth of one who He favors. So the suffering of a devotee should be regarded as direct action of the Lord or a result of devotional offenses.

In the modern civilization, in all spheres of life, the ultimate end is sense gratification. In politics, social service, altruism, philanthropy, and even in salvation, the very same sense gratification is predominant. The voters adore the leaders only when they promise sense gratification. As soon as the voters are dissatisfied in their sense enjoyment, they dethrone the leaders. The leaders must always disappoint the voters by not satisfying their senses. The same is applicable in all other fields. The salvationists desire to merge into the Absolute Truth and commit spiritual suicide for sense gratification. But the Bhāgavatam says that one should not live for sense gratification. There are regulated directions for sense gratification. For example, marriage is necessary for progeny, but it is not meant for sense enjoyment. In the absence of voluntary restraint, there is propaganda for family planning, but foolish men do not know that family planning is automatically executed as soon as there is search after the Absolute Truth. Serious seekers are overwhelmed with researching the Truth that they have no time for sense gratification.

SB 1.2 - The three aspects of the one Absolute Truth

This Absolute Truth is called by the learned men as Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān. It is one, non dual substance comprising the totality of existence. The same substance is realized as impersonal Brahman by the students of Upaniṣads, as localized Paramātmā by the yogīs, and as Bhagavān by the devotees. Bhagavān is the last word of the Absolute Truth. Paramātmā is the partial representation of the Personality of Godhead, and impersonal Brahman is the glowing effulgence of the Lord, as the sun rays are to the sun god. The perfect seers know well that the three features of the one Absolute Truth are different perspective views seen from different angles of vision.

The highest truth is advaya-jñānam. What the jñānīs call Brahman is jñānam. According to them it is without form, without distinction of knower and known, a condition of consciousness alone. This jñānam is called Paramātmā by the yogīs. This jñānam is advayam because of oneness between him and his śaktis – jīva and prakṛti – because as cause he pervades the effect, this universe, and because Paramātmā is non-different from his form and abodes thru particularization of his consciousness aspect. According to the yogīs the form of Paramātmā is still pure jñāna because his form is also the same knowledge. Even though he is pure jñāna, he is also the shelter of particularization of jñāna, because he performs functions such as acting as the witness. Paramātmā is like the sun, who though is the very form of light, also is the possessor of luminosity.

This jñānam is called Bhagavān by the devotees. He is called advayam because material energy is the śakti, which is one with the śaktimān. Advayam also means unique and thus indicates the Lord who is completely different from the jīvas in illusion. He is advayam also because the jīvas are distinct parts or parts of the whole (identity of part and whole), and also because no one is in the same position as the Lord (advayam meaning having no equal). Though Bhagavān is pure jñāna, He has a form possessing the six qualities described by the word bhaga, which is non material, because the form is pure consciousness. Bhaga is defined as: complete control, complete influence, complete excellent qualities of body, mind and words, complete beauty or wealth, complete knowledge and complete detachment.