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Srimad Bhagavatam

SB 1.3 - The essence of all spiritual activities

In the Bhāgavatam historical facts of different planets have been depicted. The special significance of these histories is that they are all connected with the activities of the Lord in a different time and atmosphere. Vyāsa, being a great authority, delivered the message first to his son Śukadeva Gosvāmī, who is the topmost of all self realized souls. One should accept it from a representative of Śuka and not from a professional man who makes a living out of reciting Bhāgavatam. The purpose of all the Vedas is to know Lord Kṛṣṇa. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is Kṛṣṇa Himself in the form of recorded knowledge. Therefore it is the cream of all the Vedas, and the essence of all histories.

Śuka delivered the Bhāgavatam to the great emperor Parīkṣit, who sat surrounded by sages on the bank of Ganges, awaiting death without taking food or drink. Parīkṣit received information of his death in time, and he at once left his kingdom and family and sat down on the bank of the Ganges to fast till death. All great sages went there and offered many suggestions about his immediate duty, and at last it was settled that he would hear from Śuka about Lord Kṛṣṇa. Thus the Bhāgavatam was spoken to him. Śaṅkara, who preached Māyāvāda, also recommended that one should take shelter of Govinda because the flowery grammatical interpretation of the Vedānta-sūtra cannot help one at the time of death. Śuka stated the same truth long time ago, that at the end one must remember Nārāyaṇa. That is the essence of all spiritual activities. By reciting Bhāgavatam to Parīkṣit, both the speaker and the listener were duly delivered.

SB 1.3 - The rising sun of Bhāgavatam

After establishing Kṛṣṇa as the original form of God, the glories of Bhāgavatam were discussed and how it was received in the chain of devotees. Next the non difference of Bhāgavatam and Kṛṣṇa is established.

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Kṛṣṇa to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of Kali yuga shall get light from this Purāṇa. Though Kṛṣṇa left Dvārakā, arrived at Prabhāsa, and then disappeared along with His six great qualities, this Purāṇa arose like the sun to give knowledge. The details of Kṛṣṇa’s disappearance pastime are not clearly mentioned because it causes disturbance to the devotee.

Kṛṣṇa’s eternal abode is a manifestation of His internal energy, whereas the material world is a manifestation of His external energy. The Lord descends by His own potency (ātma-māyā). His form, name, fame, abode etc., are not creations of matter. He descends to reestablish codes of religion which are directly enacted by Him. Real religion is to know God, our relation with Him and our duties in relation with Him and to know ultimately our destination after death. Conditioned souls hardly know these principles. They are mostly engaged in sense enjoyment in the pretext of religiosity, knowledge or salvation.

In Kali yuga, the population is just a royal edition of the animals. They cannot see anything beyond the jurisdiction of their minds, intelligence and ego, but they are very much proud of their advancement in knowledge, science and material prosperity. Kṛṣṇa appeared just a little prior to the beginning of Kali yuga, and He returned practically at the commencement of Kali yuga. He spoke the Bhagavad-gītā and eradicated all pretentious principles of religiosity. And He empowered Vyāsa thru Nārada to compile the messages of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. These two literatures are the torchlight for the blind people of this age. The Gītā is the preliminary study of the Bhāgavatam, and Bhāgavatam is the summum bonum of life, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa personified.

Kṛṣṇa is the sun and Mathurā is like the sunrise mountain. Prabhāsa is the sunset mountain. The righteous persons are like the cakravāka birds which mourn in the night and rejoice in the day. The evil persons are like fog. Darkness is the totality of sins. The devotees are like a grove of lotuses. Though the sun of Kṛṣṇa had set, the sun of Bhāgavata had risen. It is another form of the sun.

SB 1.3 - Seeing Kṛṣṇa in the pages of Bhāgavatam

Sūta said that when Śuka recited Bhāgavatam, he heard him with rapt attention and thus learned it from the great sage. Sūta said that now he would make the sages of Naimiṣāraṇya hear the same message as he learned it and as he realized it (yathādhītaṁ yathā-mati). One can see Kṛṣṇa directly in the pages of Bhāgavatam if one has heard it from a self realized soul like Śuka. One cannot learn Bhāgavatam from a bogus person who engages in sex indulgence. Nor can one learn from one who interprets the text by mundane scholarship. Sūta is a bona fide representative of Śuka because he wants to present the message which he received from the great brāhmaṇa. Sūta says he did not concoct anything but followed Śuka who understood everything, grasping its full extent with his intelligence. So Viśvanātha Cakravartī says here that Sūta would speak the scripture as he learned it according to Śuka’s realization (yathā matiḥ).

Simply hearing is not all; one must realize the text with proper attention (yathā-mati). By drinking the juice of Bhāgavatam thru the ears, and hearing it with rapt attention from a real person, one can realize the presence of Kṛṣṇa in every page. No one can give rapt attention who is not pure in mind. No one can be pure in mind who is not pure in action. No one can be pure in action who is not pure in eating, sleeping, fearing and mating. But somehow if one hears with rapt attention from the right person, at the very beginning one can assuredly see Kṛṣṇa in person in the pages of Bhāgavatam.

These are the qualifications needed to understand scripture. Mundane scholars and sense enjoyers have no access to the real meaning of scriptures. And by reading Bhāgavatam if one finds himself attracted to Kṛṣṇa, then it must be understood the real interpretation of Bhāgavatam. Also some scholars translate or explain scripture without realization. But Śrīla Prabhupāda presents realized knowledge in his translations and purports, and so sometimes they may not be a literal interpretation. Sūta says he was going to explain Bhāgavatam according to what he learned and as he realized it, and not simply parrot like repetition. That is how Prabhupāda wrote his books.

SB 1.4 - The qualification to recite Bhāgavatam

Śaunaka Muni, who was the elderly and learned leader of all the sages engaged in the prolonged sacrificial ceremony, congratulated Sūta Gosvāmī and asked him to relate the pious message of Bhāgavatam, which was spoken by the great sage, Śukadeva Gosvāmī. It is interesting to note that Śaunaka, who was a great brāhmaṇa, eagerly inquired from Sūta, who was not a brāhmaṇa by birth. Sūta expressed his desire to present Śrīmad Bhāgavatam exactly as he heard it from Śukadeva Gosvāmī and as he realized it personally. Personal realization does not mean that one should, out of vanity, attempt to show one’s learning by trying to surpass the previous ācārya. Having full confidence in the previous ācārya and realizing the subject matter nicely, one should present the matter for the particular circumstances in a suitable manner. The original purpose of the text must be maintained. One should present the matter in an interesting manner without trying to screw out any obscure meaning. No learned man should be willing to hear from one who does not represent the original ācārya. So the speaker and the audience were bona fide in this meeting of sages, and this should be the standard of recitation of Bhāgavatam. Generally the so-called reciters of Bhāgavatam are either professional readers or learned impersonalists who cannot enter into the transcendental activities of the Supreme Person.

SB 1.4 - Śukadeva's transcendental position

Śaunaka asked Sūta where, when and why was Śrīmad Bhāgavatam compiled and how Vyāsa got the inspiration to compile it. Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the son of Vyāsa, was an equibalanced monist. He was realized in impersonal knowledge (nirvikalpakaḥ) and his attention ended in one point (ekānta-matiḥ). He was transcendental to mundane activities but appeared like an ignorant person. He remained always alert not to be trapped by the illusory energy being indifferent to matter, unlike the conditioned soul, who is always absorbed in matter.

While Vyāsa was following his son, young girls who were bathing naked covered their bodies with cloth, although Vyāsa himself was not naked. But they had not done so when his son had passed. When the sage inquired the girls about this, they replied that his son was purified and when looking at them made no distinction between male and female, but the sage made distinctions. A learned sage looks on equally a learned brāhmaṇa, a dog eater, a dog or a cow due to his spiritual vision. Śuka did not see a male or female but saw living entities in different dress. The girls could understand the innocent nature of Śuka by their special qualifications. Vyāsadeva was also in the transcendental stage, but because he was a householder he did not pretend to be a liberated soul as a matter of custom. A householder has to distinguish between a male and female. Thus the ladies reacted to the presence of Vyāsa according to social custom even though he was quite old. The young women, skilful in the arts, had the power to know the inner truth of men and women just by looking at their eyes.

SB 1.4 - The sages questions about Śuka and Parīkṣit

Śuka after leaving his home was roaming like a mad man and thus the ordinary citizens could not recognize his exalted position. A sage is recognized by hearing and not by sight. The sages asked Sūta how Śuka was recognized by the citizens when he entered Hastināpura. They also asked how King Parīkṣit met Śukadeva Gosvāmī, making it possible for the sātvatī śruti (the transcendental essence of the Vedas), Bhāgavatam, to be spoken. Śuka was not accustomed to stay at any householder’s residence for more than half hour, the time taken to milk a cow. And he did this to sanctify the residence by enlightening the householder with transcendental knowledge. Then he would accept alms. The sages wondered how Śuka was able to speak with a king for so long a time.

The sages were eager to know about Mahārāja Parīkṣit too. The king was a great devotee of the Lord, and his birth and activities were all wonderful. He was protected by Kṛṣṇa while he was in the womb of his mother. Getting notice of his death, he renounced his kingdom and sat on the bank of the Ganges and without taking any food or drink nor sleeping, he heard the transcendental activities of the Lord from Śuka. The sages wanted to know why the king gave up everything to sit down on the bank of the Ganges and fast until death. Parīkṣit inherited the kingdom from his grandfathers Yudhiṣṭhira and brothers. He was governing well and was a great emperor that all his enemies would surrender their wealth for their own benefit. So why did he give up everything, the sages wondered.

SB 1.4 - The saintly nature of King Parīkṣit

Those who are devoted to the cause of the Lord live only for the welfare of others without any selfish interest. A devotee of the Lord has all good qualifications. Parīkṣit worked for the welfare of the public not only for this life (by giving material wealth) but also for the next (by extinguishing material life). He would not allow slaughtering animals especially cows. Selfishness is either self centered or self extended. He was neither. His interest was to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The king is the representative of the Supreme Lord, and therefore his interest must be identical with the Lord’s interest. The Lord wants all living beings to be happy, and thus the king’s interest is to guide all subjects back to God. Parīkṣit was such a king. The sages asked even though the king was free of all attachment, how could he give up his mortal body, which was shelter for others. One should not give up something upon which others depend for life, even though one may be personally detached from it.

Śaunaka’s first set of inquiries was about Vyāsa, whose background for compiling Bhāgavatam is described in chapters four thru seven. Śaunaka’s second set of inquiries was about Śukadeva Gosvāmī, whose studying the Bhāgavatam is addressed at the beginning of chapter seven. Śaunaka’s third set of inquiries was about Mahārāja Parīkṣit, whose history is described in chapters 12, and 16 thru 19.

SB 1.4 - The qualification of Suta Gosvami

Śaunaka said that Sūta was an expert in the meaning of all subjects, except some portions of the Vedas, and thus can clearly answer all the questions the sages had put forth to him. Sūta was not expert in chanting the Vedic mantras with metric pronunciation. He was more a parivrājaka than a brāhmaṇa. The brāhmaṇas are meant to administer some fruitive sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas, but the parivrājakācāryas are meant to disseminate transcendental knowledge to one and all. Both of them are meant for the same end, in different ways. Their difference is like the difference between the Vedas and the Purāṇas. There is no difference between the Vedic mantras and what is explained in the Purāṇas. All Vedas, Purāṇas, Upaniṣads etc are emanations from the breathing of the Supreme Lord. The difference is the Vedic mantras require some training to practice the pronunciation and involves more parrot-like chanting. The Purāṇas explain what is there in the Vedas in an easy way. One should not think that Bhāgavatam is inferior to the Vedas because of Sūta’s particular qualification. All persons are qualified for the final fruit of the tree of all the Vedas. Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the ripened fruit of the tree of the Vedas, is the essence of all śrutis.

SB 1.4 - The vision of Vyāsadeva

During the regime of Vaivasvata Manu (the current one), in the 28th round of the four millenniums (Satya, Tretā, Dvāpara and Kali), at the end (the third part) of Dvāpara yuga, the current Vyāsadeva, whose name was Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa, was born to Parāśara in the womb of Satyavatī. All yugas are divided into three parts: the beginning portion (sandhyā-rūpa), the middle portion (yuga-rūpa) and the end portion (sandhyāṁśa-rūpa). The proportions are: 0.1 for the beginning, 0.8 for the middle and 0.1 for the concluding portion of the yuga.

Once Vyāsa took his morning ablution in the waters of the Sarasvatī at his place in Badarikāśrama, and sat alone to concentrate. He saw anomalies in the duties during the age of Kali, due to unseen forces of time. He could see thru his transcendental vision the deterioration of everything material. He could also see the reduced duration of life of the faithless people, who would be impatient due to lack of goodness. In the age of Kali, the land does not produce enough food grains, nor the cows give much milk. Due to want of necessities of life, the duration of life is reduced, the memory is short, intelligence is meager and mutual dealings are full of hypocrisy. Thus Vyāsadeva contemplated for the welfare of all people. The transcendentalists like Vyāsa, Nārada, Madhva, Lord Caitanya, Rūpa Gosvāmī, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and Śrīla Prabhupāda are the greatest philanthropists as they always try to deliver the fallen souls back home, back to Godhead.

SB 1.4 - Vyāsa divides the Veda

Prior to kali yuga religious texts were memorized and not recorded. Vyāsa attempted to adapt the Vedic processes to the times. The Vedas require adjustment because to make proper use of the Vedas one is required to know the intricacies of Vedic Sanskrit, which is more difficult than contemporary Sanskrit. In addition the cryptic verses of the Vedas require a qualified guru under whom they can be studied. In kali yuga there are no such gurus. Before undertaking the study of the Vedas, one should have studied the six Vedic corollaries, or limbs called the Vedāṅgas: śikṣā, pronunciation; kalpa, the process of performing sacrifices; vyākaraṇa, grammar; nirukta, the meanings and derivations of difficult words used in the Vedas; jyotiṣa, astronomy and astrology; and chandas, Vedic meters. Who would teach these subjects and who would be capable of learning them in Kali yuga?

Vyāsa saw that the sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas were means by which the occupation of the people could be purified. To simplify the process, he divided the one Veda, Yajur, into four – Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva. Seeing the purifying power of Vedic rites performed by the four priests for the people at large who were not inclined for jñāna, yoga or bhakti, Vyāsa divided the one Veda into four for continuation of sacrifice. These sacrifices were accomplished by four priests, the hotā (reciter of Ṛg-veda, offerer of oblations), udgātā (reciter of Sāma-veda, corrector of irregularity), adhvaryu (reciter of Yajur-veda, preparer of items for sacrifice), and the brahmā (reciter of Atharva-veda, knower of all vedas, supervisor). The historical facts (itihāsās) and authentic stories (Purāṇas) are called the fifth Veda. The Chāndogya Upaniṣad (7.1.4) also confirms that the Purāṇas and the itihāsās are the fifth Veda. These explain the teaching of the four Vedas.