|Chapter 23: Why Study the Vedānta-sūtra?|
Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Teachings of Lord Caitanya
Pure devotees know that they are meant to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that all things that exist can be means by which one can serve the Supreme. Because a devotee has been blessed by the Supreme from within his heart, he can see the Supreme Lord wherever he looks. Indeed, he can see nothing else. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.2.55) the relationship between the devotee and the Supreme Lord is confirmed as follows:
viṣṛjati hṛdayaḿ na yasya sākṣād
dharir avaśābhihito 'py aghaugha-nāśaḥ
sa bhavati bhāgavata-pradhāna uktaḥ
"If a person's heart is always tied to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord with the rope of love, the Lord does not leave him. Indeed, even if his remembrance is not perfect, he is to be considered a first class devotee." There is an example of this described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Daśa-skandha (10.30.4). When the gopīs assembled to join the rāsa dance with Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa left them. Consequently the gopīs began to chant the holy name of Kṛṣṇa and, being overwhelmed with madness, began to inquire about Kṛṣṇa from the flowers and the creepers in the forest. Kṛṣṇa is like the sky; He is situated everywhere.
By studying Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, we can obtain information about our eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord, understand the procedure by which the Lord can be attained and receive the ultimate realization, which is love of Godhead. In explaining to Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī how one can achieve the Supreme Personality of Godhead by devotional service, Lord Caitanya quoted a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.14.21) in which the Lord says that He can be realized only through devotional service executed with faith and love. Indeed, it is devotional service alone which purifies the heart of the devotee and elevates him to the ultimate realization by which he, established in faith, renders service unto the Supreme Lord. Even if one is born in a low family, like a family of caṇḍālas (dog-eaters), one can become filled with transcendental symptoms through realization of the supreme stage of love of Godhead. These transcendental symptoms are described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.3.31):
smarantaḥ smārayantaś ca
mitho 'ghaugha-haraḿ harim
bhaktyā samjātayā bhaktyā
bibhraty utpulakāḿ tanum
"When devotees discuss subjects dealing with the Supreme Lord, who can cleanse the heart of His devotee from all kinds of sinful reactions, they become overwhelmed with ecstasy and display different symptoms due to their devotional service." The Bhāgavatam further states: "Due to their spontaneous attachment for the Lord, when they chant His holy names they sometimes cry, sometimes laugh, dance, sing and so on, not caring for any social convention." (Bhāg. 11.2.40)
We should understand that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the real explanation of the Brahma-sūtra, and it is compiled by Vyāsadeva himself. In the Garuḍa Purāṇa it is said:
artho 'yaḿ brahma-sūtrāṇāḿ
"The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the authorized explanation of Brahma-sūtra, and it is a further explanation of Mahābhārata. It is the expansion of the gāyatrī mantra and the essence of all Vedic knowledge. This Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, containing eighteen thousand verses, is known as the explanation of all Vedic literature." In the very First Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam the sages of Naimiṣāraṇya asked Sūta Gosvāmī how one can know the essence of Vedic literature. In answer, Sūta Gosvāmī presented Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as the essence of all the Vedas, histories and other Vedic literatures. Elsewhere in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (12.13.15) it is clearly stated that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the essence of all Vedānta knowledge and that one who relishes the knowledge of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam has no taste for studying any other literature. In the very beginning of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the meaning and purpose of the gāyatrī mantra are also described: "I offer my obeisances unto the Supreme Truth." This is the first introductory verse dealing with the Supreme Truth, which is described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as the source of creation, maintenance and destruction for the cosmic manifestation. Obeisances unto the Personality of God head, Vāsudeva (oḿ namo bhagavate vāsudevāya), directly indicate Lord Sri Kṛṣṇa, who is the divine son of Vasudeva and Devakī. This fact is more explicitly presented later in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Vyāsadeva asserts that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead and that all others are either His direct or indirect plenary portions or portions of those portions. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has later still more explicitly developed this subject in his Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha, and Brahmā, the original living being, has explained Śrī Kṛṣṇa substantially in his treatise Brahma-saḿhitā. The Sāma Veda also verifies the fact that Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the divine son of Devakī.
In his prayer, the author of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam first proposes that Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the primeval Lord and that if any transcendental nomenclature for the Absolute Personality of Godhead is to be accepted, it should be the name Kṛṣṇa, the all-attractive. In Bhagavad-gītā the Lord has affirmed in many passages that He is the original Personality of Godhead, and this was also confirmed by Arjuna, who cited great sages like Nārada, Vyāsa and many others. In Padma Purāṇa it is also stated that of the innumerable names of the Lord, the name of Kṛṣṇa is the principal one. Although the name Vāsudeva indicates the plenary portion of the Personality of Godhead, and although all the different forms of the Lord are identical with Vāsudeva, in this text Vāsudeva principally indicates the divine son of Vasudeva and Devakī. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is always meditated upon by the paramahaḿsas, those who are most perfect in the renounced order of life. Vāsudeva, or Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, is the cause of all causes, and everything that exists is an emanation from Him. How this is so is explained in later chapters of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu describes Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as the spotless Purāṇa because it contains transcendental narrations of the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The history of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is also very glorious. It was compiled by Vyāsadeva, who drew from his mature experience of transcendental knowledge under the instruction of Śrī Nārada Muni, his spiritual master. Vyāsadeva compiled all the Vedic literatures — the four Vedas, the Vedānta-sūtra or Brahma-sūtras, the purāṇas and the Mahābhārata. Yet he was not satisfied until he wrote Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. His dissatisfaction was observed by his spiritual master, and consequently Nārada advised him to write on the transcendental activities of the Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Śrī Kṛṣṇa's transcendental activities are specifically described in the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the canto which is considered to contain the substance of the whole work. One should not approach the Tenth Canto immediately but should approach it gradually by developing knowledge of the subject matters first presented.
Generally a philosophical mind is inquisitive to learn of the origin of all creations. When one who is philosophical sees the night sky, he naturally raises questions about the stars, how they are situated, who lives there, etc. All these inquiries are quite natural for a human being, for the human being has a greater developed consciousness than the animals. In answer to such an inquiry, the author of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam says that the Lord is the origin of all creations. He is not only the creator but the maintainer and annihilator as well. The manifested cosmic creation is created at a certain period by the will of the Lord, is maintained for some time and is finally annihilated by His will. Thus He is the supreme will behind all activities.
Of course there are atheists of various categories who do not believe in the creator, but that is due simply to their poor fund of knowledge. The modern scientist creates rockets, and by some arrangement or other they are thrown into outer space to fly for some time under the control of a scientist far away. All the universes and the innumerable planets within them are similar to such rockets, and they are all controlled by the Personality of Godhead.
In the Vedic literatures it is said that the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, is the foremost amongst all living personalities. All living beings, from the first created being, Brahmā, down to the smallest ant, are individual living entities. Even above Brahmā there are many other living beings with individual capacities. The Personality of Godhead Himself is also a living being and is as much an individual as the other living beings. However, the Supreme Lord is the supreme living being, and He has the greatest mind and possesses the supermost inconceivable energies in great variety. If a man's mind can produce rockets and spaceships, it is conceivable that a mind higher than man's can produce superior things. A reasonable person will accept this argument but stubborn obstinate people will not.
Śrīla Vyāsadeva at once accepts the supreme mind as the parameśvara, the supreme controller. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā and all other scriptures written by Śrīla Vyāsadeva, that parameśvara is Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself. This is specifically validated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In Bhagavad-gītā also the Lord Himself says that there is no paratattva (summum bonum) superior to Himself. Therefore the author at once worships the paratattva, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, whose transcendental activities are described in the Tenth Canto.
Unscrupulous people go at once to the Tenth Canto, especially to the five chapters which describe the Lord's rāsa dance. However, this portion of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the most confidential part of that great literature. Unless one is thoroughly accomplished in the transcendental knowledge of the Lord, he is sure to misunderstand the Lord's worshipable transcendental pastimes in the rāsa dance and the Lord's love affairs with the gopīs. This subject matter is highly spiritual and technical, and only liberated personalities who have gradually attained the stage of paramahaḿsa can transcendentally relish the worshipable rāsa dance.
Therefore Śrīla Vyāsadeva gives the reader a chance to gradually develop in spiritual realization before actually relishing the essence of the pastimes of the Lord. Thus Vyāsadeva purposefully invokes the gāyatrī mantra: dhīmahi. This gāyatrī mantra is especially meant for spiritually advanced people. When one attains success in chanting gāyatrī mantra, he can enter into the transcendental position of the Lord. First, however, one must acquire the brahminical qualities and become perfectly situated in the mode of goodness in order to chant the gāyatrī mantra successfully. From that point one can begin to transcendentally realize the Lord, His name, His fame, His qualities, etc. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is a narration dealing with the svarūpa (form) of the Lord, which is manifested by His internal potency. This potency is distinguished from the external potency, which has manifested the cosmic world within our experience. Śrīla Vyāsadeva makes a clear distinction between the internal and external potencies in the very first verse of the First Chapter of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In that verse he says that the internal potency is factual reality, whereas the external manifested energy in the form of material existence is temporary and illusory, no more real than a mirage in the desert. Water may appear present in a mirage, but real water is somewhere else. Similarly, the manifested cosmic creation appears to be reality, but it is simply a reflection of the true reality which exists in the spiritual world. In the spiritual world there are no mirages. Absolute Truth is there; it is not here in the material world. Here, everything is relative truth; one truth seems to depend upon another. This cosmic creation results from an interaction of the three modes of material nature. The temporary manifestations are so created as to present an illusion of reality to the bewildered mind of the conditioned soul. Thus there appear to be so many species of life, including the higher demigods like Brahmā, Indra, Candra, etc. In fact there is no reality in the manifested world, but there appears to be reality because the true reality exists in the spiritual world, where the Personality of Godhead eternally abides with His transcendental paraphernalia.
The chief engineer of a complicated construction does not personally take part in the construction itself, but it is he only who knows all the nooks and corners of the construction because everything is carried out under his instructions only. In other words, he knows everything about the construction directly and indirectly. Similarly, the Personality of Godhead, who is the supreme engineer of this cosmic creation, knows very well what is happening in every nook and corner of the cosmic creation, although activities appear to be performed by someone else. In actuality no one is independent in the material creation; the hand of the Supreme Lord is everywhere. All material elements, as well as all spiritual sparks, are but emanations from Him only. Whatever is created in this material world is created by the interaction of the two energies, material and spiritual. These energies belong to the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
A chemist can manufacture water in the laboratory by mixing hydrogen and oxygen, but in reality the living entity can only work under the direction of the Supreme Lord. Indeed, all materials used by a chemist are supplied by the Lord. The Lord knows everything directly and indirectly, and He is cognizant of all the minute details of everything. He is fully independent as well. He can be compared to a gold mine, and the cosmic creations can be compared to ornaments made from that gold, such as gold rings, necklaces, etc. The gold ring and necklace are qualitatively one with the gold in the mine, but quantitatively the gold in the mine and the gold in the earring or necklace are different. Lord Caitanya's philosophy of the Absolute Truth centers about the fact that the Supreme Lord is simultaneously one with and different from His creation. Nothing is absolutely equal to the Absolute Truth, but at the same time nothing is independent of it.
Conditioned souls, beginning from Brahmā, the engineer of this particular universe, down to an insignificant ant, are all creating something, but none of them are independent of the Supreme Lord. The materialist wrongly thinks that there is no creator outside his own good self, and this is called māyā, or illusion. Due to his poor fund of knowledge, the materialist cannot see beyond the purview of his imperfect senses; thus he thinks that matter automatically takes its own shape independent of a conscious background. This is refuted by Śrīla Vyāsadeva in the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. As stated before, Vyāsadeva is a liberated soul, and he compiled this book of authority after attaining spiritual perfection. Since the complete whole, or the Absolute Truth, is the source of everything, nothing is independent of Him. Everything exists within the body of the Absolute Truth. Any action or reaction of a part of a body becomes a cognizable fact to the embodied whole. Similarly, if the creation abides in the body of the Absolute Truth, then nothing is unknown to the Absolute, directly or indirectly.
In the śruti-mantra it is stated that the absolute whole, or Brahman, is the ultimate source of everything. Everything emanates from Him, everything is maintained by Him, and at the end everything enters into Him again. That is the law of nature. This is also confirmed in the smṛti-mantra. There it is said that at the beginning of Brahma s millennium, the source from which everything emanates is the Absolute Truth, or Brahman, and at the end of that millennium the reservoir into which everything enters is that same Absolute Truth. Material scientists haphazardly take it for granted that the ultimate source of this planetary system is the sun, but they are unable to explain the source of the sun. In Vedic literatures the ultimate source is explained; Brahmā is the creator of this universe, but because he had to meditate in order to receive the inspiration for such a creation, he is not the ultimate creator. As stated in the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Brahmā was taught Vedic knowledge by the Personality of Godhead. In the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is said that the Supreme Lord inspired a secondary creator, Brahmā, and enabled him to carry out his creative functions. In this way the Supreme Lord is the supervising engineer; the real mind behind all creative agents is the Absolute Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. In Bhagavad-gītā Śrī Kṛṣṇa personally admits that it is He only who superintends the creative energy (prakṛti), the sum total of matter. Thus Śrī Vyāsadeva neither worships Brahmā nor the sun but the Supreme Lord, who guides both Brahmā and the sun in their creative activities.
The Sanskrit words abhijña and svarāṭ, appearing in the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, are significant. These two words distinguish the Lord from all other living entities. No living entity other than the supreme being, the Absolute Personality of Godhead is either abhijña or svarāṭ — that is, none of them are either fully cognizant or fully independent. Everyone has to learn from his superior about knowledge; even Brahmā, who is the first living being within this material world, has to meditate upon the Supreme Lord and take help from Him in order to create. If Brahmā or the sun cannot create anything without acquiring knowledge from a superior, then what is the situation with the material scientists who are fully dependent on so many things? Modern scientists like Jagadisha Chandra Bose, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, etc., may be very boastful of their respective creative energies, but all were dependent on the Supreme Lord for so many things. After all, the highly intelligent brains of these gentlemen were certainly not products of any human being. The brain is created by another agent. If brains like those of Einstein or Newton could have been manufactured by a human being, then mankind would produce many such brains instead of eulogizing their passing. If such scientists cannot even manufacture such brains, what to speak of foolish atheists who defy the authority of the Lord?
Even the Māyāvādī impersonalists who flatter themselves and believe that they have become the Lord themselves are not abhijñaḥ or svarāṭ, fully cognizant or fully independent. The Māyāvādī monists undergo a severe process of austerity and penance to acquire knowledge of becoming one with the Lord, but ultimately they become dependent on some rich follower who supplies them with requisite paraphernalia to construct great monasteries and temples. Atheists like Rāvaṇa and Hiraṇyakaśipu had to undergo severe penances before they could flout the authority of the Lord, but ultimately they were so helpless that they could not save themselves when the Lord appeared before them as cruel death. This is also applicable to the modern atheists who dare flout the authority of the Lord. Such atheists will be dealt the same awards as were given in the past to great atheists like Rāvaṇa and Hiraṇyakaśipu. History repeats itself, and what was occurring in the past will recur again and again when there is necessity. Whenever the authority of the Lord is neglected, the penalties dealt by the laws of nature are always there.
That the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, is all-perfect is confirmed in all śruti-mantras. It is said in the śruti-mantras that the all-perfect Lord glanced over matter and thus created all living beings. The living beings are parts and parcels of the Lord, and He impregnates the vast material nature with the seeds of the spiritual sparks. Thus the creative energies are set in motion for so many wonderful creations. When one atheist argued that God is no more expert than the manufacturer of a subtle watch which has so many delicate parts, we had to reply that God is a greater mechanic than the watchmaker because He simply creates one machine in male and female forms, and the male and female forms go on producing innumerable similar machines without the further attention of God. If a man could manufacture a set of machines capable of producing other machines without the man giving the matter any further attention, then a man could be said to equal the intelligence of God. Of course this is not possible. Each and every one of man's imperfect machines has to be handled individually by a mechanic. Because no one can be equal in intelligence to God, another name for God is asamaurdhva, which indicates that no one is equal to or greater than Him. Everyone has his intellectual equal and superior, and no one can claim that he has neither. However, this is not the case with the Lord. The śruti-mantras indicate that before the creation of the material universe, the Lord was existing, and He was master of everyone. It was the Lord who instructed Brahmā in Vedic knowledge. That Personality of Godhead has to be obeyed in all respects. Anyone who wants to become freed from material entanglement must surrender unto Him, and this is confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā.
Unless one surrenders unto the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead, it is certain that one will be bewildered, even if he happens to be a great mind. Only when great minds surrender unto the lotus feet of Vāsudeva and know fully that Vāsudeva is the cause of all causes, as confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (7.19), can they become mahātmās, or truly broad-minded. However, such broad-minded mahātmās are rarely seen. Only they, however, can understand the Supreme Lord as the Absolute Personality of Godhead, the primeval cause of all creations. He is parama, ultimate truth, because all other truths are dependent on Him. Because He is the source of all knowledge, He is omniscient; there is no illusion for Him as there is for the relative knower.
Some Māyāvādī scholars argue that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was not compiled by Śrīla Vyāsadeva, and some suggest that the book is a modern creation written by someone named Vopadeva. In order to refute this meaningless argument, Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī points out that there are many of the oldest purāṇas which make reference to the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The first śloka, or verse, of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam begins with the Gāyatrī mantra, and there is reference to this in the Matsya Purāṇa (the oldest Purāṇa). With reference to the context of Gāyatrī mantra in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, in this Purāṇa it is said, "That which contains many narrations of spiritual instruction, begins with the Gāyatrī mantra and also contains the history of Vṛtrāsura, is known as the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Whoever makes a gift of this great work on a full moon day attains to the highest perfection of life and goes back to Godhead. There is also reference to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in other Purāṇas which even indicate that the work consists of Twelve Cantos and eighteen thousand ślokas. In Padma Purāṇa also there is reference about the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam during a conversation between Gautama and Mahārāja Ambarīṣa. Mahārāja Ambarīṣa was advised to read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam regularly if he at all desired liberation from material bondage. Under these circumstances, there is no doubt regarding the authority of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. For the past five hundred years many scholars have made elaborate commentaries upon Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and have displayed unique scholarship. The serious student will do well to attempt to go through them in order to more happily relish the transcendental messages of the Bhāgavatam.
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura specifically deals with original and pure sex psychology (ādi-rasa) devoid of all mundane inebriety. The entire material world turns due to the basic principle of sex life. In modern human civilization, sex is the central point of all activities; indeed, wherever we turn our face we see sex life prominent. Consequently sex life is not unreal; its true reality is experienced in the spiritual world. Material sex is but a perverted reflection of the original; the original is found in the Absolute Truth. This validates the fact that the Absolute Truth is personal, for the Absolute Truth cannot be impersonal and have a sense of pure sex life. The impersonal monist philosophy gives an indirect impetus to abominable mundane sex because it overly stresses the impersonality of the ultimate truth. The result is that men who lack knowledge have accepted the perverted material sex life as all in all because they have no information of the actual spiritual form of sex. There is a distinction between sex in the diseased condition of material life and sex in the spiritual existence. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gradually elevates the unbiased reader to the highest perfectional stage of transcendence above the three modes of material activities, fruitive actions, speculative philosophy and above worship of functional deities indicated in the Vedas. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the embodiment of devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead Kṛṣṇa and is therefore situated in a position superior to other Vedic literatures.
Religion includes four primary subjects: (1) pious activities, (2) economic development, (3) satisfaction of the senses, and (4) liberation from material bondage. Religious life is distinguished from the irreligious life of barbarism. Indeed, it may be said that human life actually begins with religion. The four principles of animal life — eating, sleeping, defending and mating — are common both to the animals and human beings, but religion is the special concern of human beings. Since human life is no better than animal life without religion, in real human society there is some form of religion aiming at self-realization and referring to one's eternal relationship with God.
In the lower stage of human civilization there is always competition between men in their attempt to dominate material nature. In other words, there is continuous rivalry in an attempt to satisfy the senses. Thus driven by sense gratificatory consciousness, men enact religious rituals. Thus pious activities and religious functions are performed with an aim to acquire some material gain, and if such material gain is obtainable in another way, this so-called religion is neglected. This can be seen in modern human civilization. Since the economic desires of the people appear to be fulfilled in another way, no one is interested in religion now. The churches, mosques and temples are practically vacant, for people are more interested in factories, shops and cinemas. Thus they have deserted the religious places erected by their forefathers. This is evidence that religion is generally performed for the sake of economic development, and economic development is required for sense gratification. When one is baffled in his attempt to attain sense gratification, he takes to the cause of salvation in order to become one with the supreme whole. All these activities arise with the same aim in view — sense gratification.
In the Vedas, the four primary subjects mentioned above are prescribed in a regulative way so that there will not be undue competition for sense gratification. However, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is transcendental to all the sense gratifying activities of the material world. It is a pure transcendental literature, understandable by the devotees of the Lord who are above competition in sense gratification. In the material world there is keen competition between animals, men, communities and even nations in an attempt to gratify the senses, but the devotees of the Lord are above all this. Devotees have no need to compete with materialists because they are on the path back to Godhead, back home where everything is eternal, full and blissful. Such transcendentalists are a hundred percent nonenvious and are therefore pure in heart. Because everyone in the material world is envious, there is competition. The devotees of the Lord are not only free from all material envy, but they are also kind to everyone in an attempt to establish a competitionless society with God in the center.
The socialist's idea of a society devoid of competition is artificial because even in the socialist states there is competition for power. It is a fact that the principle of sense gratification is the basic principle of materialistic life, and this can be realized either from reading the Vedas or simply from observing common human activities. The Vedas recommend fruitive activities by which people can advance to higher planets, and they also recommend worship of the various demigods for the purpose of attaining their planets. Ultimately the Vedas recommend activities by which one can reach the Absolute Truth and realize His impersonal feature in order to become one with Him. However, the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth is not the last word. Above the impersonal feature is the Paramātmā, or the Supersoul, and above that is the Supreme Personality. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives information about the personal qualities of the Absolute Truth, qualities which are beyond the impersonal aspect. Topics concerning these qualities are greater than topics of impersonal philosophical speculation; consequently Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is given higher status than the jñāna-kāṇḍa portions of the Vedas. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is also greater than the karma-kāṇḍa and upāsanā-kāṇḍa portions as well because it recommends the worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the divine son of Vasudeva. The karma-kāṇḍa portion of the Vedas is fraught with competition to reach heavenly planets for better sense gratification, and this competition is also seen in the jñāna-kāṇḍa and upāsanā-kāṇḍa portions. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is above all of these because it aims only at the Supreme Truth, the substance or root of all categories.
In other words, from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam we can know the substance as well as the relativities in their true sense and perspective. The substance is the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the relativities are the different forms of energy which emanate from Him. Since the living entities are also related to His energies, there is nothing really different from the substance. At the same time, the energies are different from the substance. In the material sense, this conception is self-contradictory, but Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam explicitly deals with this aspect of simultaneous oneness and difference. This philosophy is also found in the Vedānta-sūtra beginning with the janmādy asya sūtra [SB 1.1.1]. Knowledge of the simultaneous oneness and difference found in the Absolute Truth is imparted for the well-being of everyone. Mental speculators mislead people by establishing the energy of the Lord as absolute, but when the truth of simultaneous oneness and difference is understood, the imperfect concepts of monism and dualism cease to satisfy. By understanding the Lord's simultaneous oneness with and difference from His creation, one can immediately attain freedom from the threefold miseries — miseries inflicted by the body and mind, by other living entities and by acts of nature.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam begins with the surrender of the living entity unto the Absolute Person. This surrender is made with clear consciousness and awareness of the devotee's oneness with the Absolute, and, at the same time, of his eternal position of servitorship. In the material conception, one thinks himself to be the Lord of all he surveys; consequently he is always troubled by the threefold miseries of life. As soon as one comes to know his real position in transcendental service, he at once becomes freed from all these miseries. The position of servitor is wasted in the material conception of life. In an attempt to dominate material nature, the living entity is forced to offer his service to relative material energy. When this service is transferred to the Lord in pure consciousness of spiritual identity, the living entity at once becomes free from the encumbrances of material affection.
Over and above this, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the personal commentary on Vedānta-sūtra made by Vyāsadeva when he had attained maturity in spiritual realization. He was able to write it by the help of Nārada's mercy. Vyāsadeva is also an incarnation of Nārāyaṇa, the Personality of Godhead; therefore there is no question about his authority. Although he is the author of all Vedic literature, he specifically recommends the study of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In other purāṇas various methods for worshiping demigods are mentioned, but in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam only the Supreme Personality of Godhead is mentioned. The Supreme Lord is the total body, and the demigods are different parts of that body. Thus if one worships the Supreme Lord, he need not worship the demigods, for the Supreme Lord is in the hearts of all demigods. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu distinguished Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from all other purāṇas by recommending it as the spotless Purāṇa.
The method by which the transcendental message is received is the method of submissive hearing. A challenging attitude cannot help one receive or realize the transcendental message; therefore in the second verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam the word śuśrūṣu is used. This word indicates that one should be anxious to hear the transcendental message. The desire to hear with interest is the primary qualification for assimilating transcendental knowledge. Unfortunately many people are not interested in patiently hearing the message of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The process is simple but the application difficult. Those who are unfortunate will find time to hear ordinary social and political topics, but when they are invited to attend an assembly to hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, they are reluctant to attend. Sometimes people indulge in hearing portions of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam which they are not prepared to hear. Professional readers of the Bhāgavatam indulge in reading the confidential portions dealing with the pastimes of the Supreme Lord. These portions appear to read like sex literature. However, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is meant to be heard from the beginning, and those who are fit to assimilate the messages of Bhāgavatam are mentioned in the very beginning (Bhāg. 1.1.2): A bona fide audience fit to hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is generated after many pious deeds. An intellectual person can believe in the assurances of the great sage Vyāsadeva and patiently hear the messages of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in order to realize the Supreme Personality of Godhead directly. One need not struggle through the different Vedic stages of realization, for one can be lifted to the position of paramahaḿsa simply by agreeing to hear the message of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with patience. The sages of Naimiṣāraṇya told Sūta Gosvāmī that they were intensely desirous of understanding Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. They were hearing from Sūta Gosvāmī about Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they were never satiated by these discussions. People who are really attached to Kṛṣṇa never want to stop hearing about Him.
Lord Caitanya therefore advised Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī: "Always read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and try to understand each and every verse. Then you will actually understand Brahma-sūtra. You say that you are very anxious to study Vedānta-sūtra, but you cannot understand Vedānta-sūtra without understanding Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam." He also advised Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī to always chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. "And, by doing so, you will very easily be liberated. After liberation you will be eligible to achieve the highest goal of life, love of Godhead."
The Lord then recited many verses from authoritative scriptures like Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Bhagavad-gītā and Nṛsiḿha-tāpanī. In particular, he quoted the following verse from Bhagavad-gītā.
na śocati na kāńkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiḿ labhate parām
"One who is transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me." (Bg. 18.54)
When a person reaches this brahma-bhūta platform, he sees all living entities equally and becomes a pure devotee of the Supreme Lord. In the Nṛsiḿha-tāpanī (2.5.16) it is said that when a person is actually liberated he can understand the transcendental pastimes of the Supreme Lord and thus engage in His devotional service. Lord Caitanya also quoted a verse from the Second Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.1.9) in which Śukadeva Gosvāmī admits that although he was elevated to the liberated stage and free from the clutches of māyā, he was still attracted by the transcendental pastimes of Kṛṣṇa. Consequently he studied Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from his great father, Vyāsadeva.
Lord Caitanya also quoted another śloka from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.15.43) dealing with the Kumāras. When the Kumāras entered the temple of the Lord, they were attracted by the aroma of flowers and tulasī leaves offered to the lotus feet of the Lord with pulp of sandalwood. Simply by smelling the aroma of these offerings, the minds of the Kumāras turned to the service of the Supreme Lord, despite the fact that the Kumāras were already liberated souls. It is stated elsewhere in Bhāgavatam (1.7.10) that even if one is a liberated soul and is actually free from material contamination, he can still, without cause, become attracted to the devotional service of the Supreme Lord. Thus God is so attractive, and because He is so attractive, He is called Kṛṣṇa.
In this way Lord Caitanya discussed the Ātmārāma verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī. Lord Caitanya's admirer, the Mahārāṣṭrīya brāhmaṇa, related that the Lord explained this verse in sixty-one different ways. Everyone assembled was very eager to hear the different versions of the Ātmārāma śloka again, and since they were so eager, Lord Caitanya again explained the śloka in the same way that He had explained it to Sanātana Gosvāmī. Everyone who heard the explanations of the Ātmārāma śloka was amazed. Indeed, everyone considered Lord Caitanya to be none other than Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself.
Copyright © The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, Founder Ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness