His Holiness Brahmananda Svami, after acting for many years as President of ISKCON’s first New York City temple (and simultaneously working as a teacher in the New York City public school system), became director of ISKCON Press and in 1970 accepted the renounced order of life. He was the first to introduce the Krishna consciousness movement in Africa and is now on a preaching tour of Kenya and other east African countries.
SRIMAD-BHAGAVATAM may rightly be esteemed above all the many other Vedic literatures, for its English edition stands as the foremost work of the world’s leading Vedic scholar and authority,HisDivine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada. Although His Divine Grace has undertaken many translations of Vedic literatures, including Sri Isopanisad, Caitanya-caritamrta and a thousand-page definitive edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and has written handfuls of small volumes on yoga, death, space travel and other subjects, it is his Srimad-Bhagavatam that he considers his life’s mission. To date he has published six volumes, comprising the first and second of the Bhagavatam’s twelve cantos, as well as a two-volume summary study of the exceptional Tenth Canto.
Astoundingly, His Divine Grace promises to present the complete, authoritative 18,000-verse Sanskrit work in no less than sixty volumes. It is also significant that for his historic voyage to America from India in 1965, Srila Prabhupada equipped himself with a hastily printed edition of his First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam rather than the Srimad-Bhagavad-gita, which is far more widely known in the West. Now, after almost seven years of preaching, having toured the world four times and opened more than ninety centers in sixteen different countries (at the age of seventy-six!), he has announced his retirement to fulfill his pledge to complete, for the benefit of the world, his elaborate English presentation of Srimad-Bhagavatam, “The Beautiful Story of the Personality of Godhead.”
Srimad-Bhagavatam’s original author is Srila Krishna-dvaipayana Vyasa, the author of the entire galaxy of Vedic literature. Understanding that Srila Vyasadeva is actually Krishna Himself appearing as a literary incarnation enables one to comprehend how he was able to edit the original Veda in four divisions, from which emanates all knowledge of all subjects that exist now in the world and will exist in the future; then to write the massive Mahabharata (60,000 verses), which includes the famous Bhagavad-gita; then the eighteen Puranas; and then the highly intricate Vedanta-sutra. Such a vast scriptural literature could issue forth only from the Lord Himself.
Anxiety And Its Cause
Srila Vyasadeva produced these works on the eve of the present Kali-yuga millennium, after foreseeing during a spiritual trance the unfortunate fate of man in this age. After having written all these books, the greatly magnanimous sage felt dissatisfied. “I have, under strict disciplinary vows, unpretentiously worshiped the Vedas, the spiritual master and the altar of sacrifice,” he thought. “I have also abided by the rulings and have shown the import of disciplic succession through the explanation of the Mahabharata, by which even women, sudras and others can see the path of religion. I am feeling incomplete, though I myself am fully equipped with everything required by the Vedas.” (Bhag. 1.4.28-30)
Deeper meditation intimated to Vyasa the cause of his despondency:
kim va bhagavata dharma
na prayena nirupitah
ta eva hy acyuta-priyah
“This may be because I did not specifically point out the devotional service of the Lord, which is dear to both the perfect beings and the infallible Lord.” (Bhag. 1.4.31)
At that moment Vyasadeva’s spiritual master, Narada Muni, approached the sage. It is the responsibility of a bona fide spiritual master to ascertain at once the cause of anxiety in his disciple and remove it by forthrightly speaking the truth, just as Krishna spoke to Arjuna in the Gita.
Narada told Vyasa, “Whatever you desire to describe that is separate in vision from the Lord simply reacts with different forms, names and results, to agitate the mind as the wind agitates a boat that has no resting place.” (Bhag. 1.5.14) Vyasa had neglected to write directly about the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, and instead he had presented many other religious observances in the Vedas. Not only had this left Vyasa agitated, but, because he was an authority, it had harmed all the people of this age.
It was to no avail that Vyasa had given transcendental instructions side by side with material topics. In Mahabharata, a historical narrative, he had indeed included Bhagavad-gita, which emphasizes the gist of bhagavata-dharma-that one should relinquish all other engagements and surrender wholly and solely to the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But materialistic men are prone to glance over this and dwell on the political, economic and philanthropic topics of the remainder of Mahabharata as suits then-taste. Therefore, since he had given people a program of materialistic religion that was nothing more than the regulated performance of fruitive activities, they would not heed the essence of bhagavata-dharma-that one should realize his relationship with the Lord and surrender to Him without delay. Because Vyasa had compromised, his entire presentation of the Vedas had been ruined, just as a large pot of sweet rice would be ruined if someone were to drop a pinch of sand in it. Narada chided Vyasa “The people in general are naturally inclined to enjoy, and you have encouraged them in that way in the name of religion. This is verily condemned and is quite unreasonable.” (Bhag. 1.5.15)
For a sincere disciple, deprecation from the bona fide spiritual master is a welcome opportunity. There is no question of exchanging flatteries in the master-disciple relationship as many modern svamis and their disciples now do. Vyasa openly admitted his great fault, but with the urging of his spiritual master he rectified it and made it quite clear in the beginning of the Bhagavatam that this work would be quite different. “Completely rejecting all religious activities that are materially motivated, this Bhagavata Purana [Srimad-Bhagavatam] propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are pure in heart.” (Bhag. 1.1.2)
The Secret Of Perfection
Srila Vyasadeva’s intention in promoting through the Vedas a regulated system of fruitive activities, speculative philosophy and worship of demigods had been to eliminate, somehow or other, all the undue competition between men and societies that results from sense gratification. Srila Vyasadeva wrote all those books just to make everyone happy, the result being that he could not make himself happy. But Narada Muni knew the secret of happiness, and therefore he instructed Vyasa to write Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Lord Krishna Himself stated that secret of perfection in one all-encompassing verse of Bhagavad-gita: “I [Krishna] am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Bg. 10.8) Therefore Srimad-Bhagavatam deals with one subject and one subject only: love of God. And it is a great subject matter, fully requiring the Bhagavatam’s twelve cantos, in which Vyasa establishes who God is, what the different relationships with Him are and how they can be established, all culminating in the perfection-love of God.
In Srimad-Bhagavatam, four consecutive verses summarize the book’s entire subject matter. These verses, known as “the original Srimad-Bhagavatam in four verses, are a specific reply by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to four questions asked by Lord Brahma, who was the first to receive transcendental knowledge from Krishna in this world. Brahma asked first: “What are the forms of the Lord in both matter and transcendence? “The answer is the important “aham eva” verse;
aham evasam evagre
nanyad yat sad-asat param
pascad aham yad etac ca
yo ‘vasisyeta so ‘smy aham
“Brahma, it is I, the Personality of Godhead, who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see now is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation what remains will also be I, the Personality of Godhead.” (Bhag. 2.9.33)
Three times the Lord repeats aham (“It is I”), and not without intention. The Vedas use repetition to stress what is most important. For example, the Puranas state:
harer nama harer nama
harer nama eva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
“Chant the name of Krishna, chant the name of Krishna, chant the name of Krishna. There is no other way, there is no other way, there is no other way.” Similarly, in the Gita’s Ninth Chapter Krishna says mam, “Me,” four times, just to stress that He is the object of thought, worship, service and liberation. This repetition is a sort of chastisement, as when a mother who wants her child to stop some mischief repeats: “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” Krishna wants to chastise philosophers who by mental speculation insist that the Lord is not in fact a person.
Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, stands before Brahma and says, “It is I, it is I,” just to emphasize Himself personally. And, interestingly, immediately after speaking these four verses to Brahma, Krishna disappears from Brahma’s sight, again just to emphasize that when He says “Me,” He refers to Himself personally. Nevertheless, right after Krishna says, “Me” in the Gita four times, one so-called scholar writes: “It is not to Krishna . . .” and then goes on to explain that Krishna actually was referring to the unborn and unmanifest within.
Lord Caitanya has forbidden those who want to understand the true meaning of Srimad-Bhagavatam to read the books of these misleading philosophers. Before answering Lord Brahma’s four questions, Krishna instructs how the Absolute Truth is to be known. “Knowledge about Me as described in the scriptures is very confidential, and it has to be realized in conjunction with devotional service. The necessary paraphernalia for that process is being explained by Me. You may take it up carefully.” (Bhag. 2.9.31)
The Eternal Form Of Bliss And Knowledge
One can have knowledge of the Lord only if it is made known by the Lord Himself. This is repeatedly stated in Bhagavad-gita, specifically in the four verses known as the summary verses of Bhagavad-gita (Bg. 10.8-11). Independently, even the greatest mundane thinker cannot understand the Absolute Truth by mental speculation. At most, he can achieve realization of Krishna’s impersonal (Brahman) aspect, but what the Gita calls the most confidential knowledge of the Personality of Godhead can be comprehended by a very few, who receive that knowledge from the Lord in the heart because of their devotional service. The immediate example is Arjuna, whom Lord Krishna declared in the Fourth Chapter to be qualified alone out of thousands because rather than being a big scholar, meditator or yogi, he was a real friend and sincere devotee of the Lord. Therefore Krishna revealed transcendental knowledge to him, just as a father might disclose confidences only to his pet son.
The followers of impersonal philosophy stress that the Absolute Truth is ultimately impersonal or void and state that although the Absolute may manifest many forms in this world, they are all material. Citing the Upanisads, which are elementary texts of the Vedas, they conclude from statements such as “the Lord does not have any material form” that He has no form at all. But how can they explain this statement, which is found in the Isopanisad (Mantra 16): “Please remove the effulgence of Your transcendental rays so that I may see Your form of bliss”?
A form of bliss is not within our experience, since everyone in the material world is without exception prone to four miseries: birth, disease, old age and death. But the Vedas point beyond our limited experience to sac-cid-ananda-vigraha, the form of eternal bliss and knowledge. From this one can understand how impersonalism is similar to materialism and atheism because these philosophies are all based only on what one can experience through the bodily senses or mental speculation. But bhagavata-dharma (Krishna consciousness) is based on the authority of the Vedic scriptures, in which a personalist has complete faith.
The Brahma-samhita states that the Lord can use any one of His transcendental senses for various purposes. He can eat with His eyes, or He can see with His legs. Obviously this power is beyond the limits of a mundane form. Standing as a direct challenge to impersonalism, Srimad-Bhagavatam presents a most elaborate description of the Lord’s various transcendental forms, which are all identical yet different in appearance. Some of His bodies are black, some red, some yellow and some white; some are two-handed, and some are four-handed; some are like a fish and some like a lion. The Bhagavatam relates all the activities or pastimes of these forms in detail, especially in the Tenth Canto (published now as the Krishna Books).
It is no wonder that impersonalists have avoided trying to apply their tainted and speculative interpretations to the Bhagavatam, for no verbal jugglery can hide the crystal-clear meaning of Srimad-Bhagavatam’s verses. Even the father of impersonalism, Sripada Sankaracarya, although having written a famous commentary on Vedanta-sutra, would not touch Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is a further elaboration of the Vedanta-sutra by its original author, Srila Vyasadeva.
Lord Brahma’s second question in the Bhagavatam—“How are the different energies of the Lord working?”—is answered as follows: “Whatever appears to be of value, if it is without relation to Me, has no reality. Know it as My illusory energy, that reflection which appears to be in darkness.” (Bhag. 2.9.34)
Bhagavad-gita’s Seventh Chapter confirms that the Lord has two energies, one spiritual and one material. Material energy manifests itself as that which appears not to be produced from God but to be independent. In other words, anything held not to relate with the Lord is a part of the illusory material energy because factually nothing can exist without being related to Him.
The knowledge, theories and research of modern scientists who try to dismiss any connection between God and tine world must therefore be considered illusory. These scientists refuse to accept the authoritative statements of the scriptures with regards to the Lord’s creating the world, yet they can furnish only a plethora of theories and contradictory speculations on how the world is created, maintained and destroyed. Medical scientists refuse to accept the existence of the soul in the physiological constitution of the body, yet with all their laboratories they cannot give life to a dead body, even if all its physical mechanisms continue to exist.
Like materialistic scientists, impersonalists who maintain that in the ultimate realization the individual self becomes God are in illusion. Their claiming to be the Supreme is another way of saying that they have no connection with God, for if one is Himself God he does not have to connect himself with the Lord. Personalism clears away this illusion by explaining that the spiritual energy of the Lord cannot be as great as the Lord Himself, although there is very little qualitative difference between the energy (the living entities) and the possessor of the energy (the Lord). Just as a fire is a source of heat but the heat is not the fire itself, so the Lord is the source of innumerable living entities, although these living entities are not equal to God.
To consider God and the living entities one and the same is unreasonable because it is apparent that the living entity is forced to accept many conditions that do not at all affect the infinite Lord. For instance, the embodied soul can exhibit potencies and powers only according to the development of his body. Thus the potencies of an infant, for example, are quite limited in comparison to those of a fully grown man. But when Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appears as an infant, He is competent to exhibit His full powers. Srimad-Bhagavatam relates in the Tenth Canto that Krishna killed the terrible demon named Putana when He was only an infant on the lap of His mother.
The Lord And His Energies
Lord Brahma’s third question-“How does theLordplaywithHis different energies?”—is answered as follows: “O Brahma, please know that the universal elements enter into the cosmos and at the same time do not enter into the cosmos; similarly I Myself exist within everything, and at the same time I am outside of everything.” [Bhag. 2.9.35] Bhagavad-gita explains that the material creation consists of different elements such as earth, air, water, fire and ether. The earth, trees, mountains, humans and animals are all made up of different combinations of these elements, yet these elements themselves exist independently. Similarly, the Lord is within everything by His energy yet at the same time outside of everything. To give an example, in a monarchy the different governmental departments work as the energy of the king, yet the king is not personally present in every department, although they work by his power. Impersonalists however, perceive only that God is all-pervading, within everything, and so mistakenly conclude that He does not have a form in the kingdom of God (Vaikunthaloka), which is beyond the material manifestation.
How confidential knowledge of the Personality of Godhead’s real nature is revealed to a devotee was explained to Brahma in answer to his fourth question—“How may I be instructed to discharge the duty entrusted to me?” Lord Krishna told Brahma: “A person who is searching after the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, has to search it out up to this, certainly in all circumstances, and in all space and time, and both directly and indirectly.” [Bhag. 2.9.36]
Those who relish Srimad-Bhagavatam are compared to swans that enjoy pleasant ponds of water, scenic and natural, whereas materialists are compared to the crows who prefer to enjoy the garbage of refuse heaps.
Not one pure devotee has received enlightenment in Krishna consciousness independently. Rather, every great spiritual master has been instructed and benedicted by a previous spiritual master. Not only did Lord Brahma, the first and greatest of all living entities, receive instructions from Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but even the Lord Himself, the supreme spiritual master, became a disciple of a spiritual master, Sandipani Muni, and again when the Lord appeared as Caitanya Mahaprabhu He also accepted a spiritual master.
Because spiritual life is undoubtedly difficult, it is necessary to receive knowledge about God from both the scriptures and a spiritual master whose life teaches by example what the scriptures teach. In the following verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam, the word “bhagavata” has a dual meaning: the scripture and the personality who exemplifies the scripture, the book Bhagavata and the devotee bhagavata. “By regularly hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam and rendering service unto the pure devotee [who is also known as bhagavata], all that is troublesome to the heart is practically destroyed, and loving service unto the glorious Lord, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact.” [Bhag. 1.2.18]
But although anyone can relish Srimad-Bhagavatam, not everyone will, for many people derive pleasure from reading sensuous mental speculations that only waste time, thus increasing their illusion, lamentation and fear. Those who are spiritually advanced, however, and are actually disgusted with material life, are a captive audience for Srimad-Bhagavatam. The Bhagavatam likens such rare souls to swans that enjoy pleasant ponds of water, scenic and natural, whereas it compares materialists to crows that prefer to enjoy the garbage of refuse heaps.
The impetus for Srimad-Bhagavatam’s being promulgated to the English-speaking world began in the nineteenth century with Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the grand-spiritual master of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. As a spiritual pioneer, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura first wrote books especially in English to try to interest Westerners in bhagavata-dharma. In one small volume entitled “The Bhagavata: Its Philosophy, Its Ethics and Its Theology,” he writes as follows; “The Bhagavata [Srimad-Bhagavatam] is pre-eminently the book of India. Once enter into it, and you are transplanted, as it were, into the spiritual world where gross matter has no existence. The true follower of the Bhagavata is a spiritual man who has already cut his temporary connection with phenomenal nature and has made himself an inhabitant of that region where God eternally exists and loves. This mighty work is founded on inspiration and its superstructure upon reflection. . .We are therefore obliged to study it deeply through the assistance of such great commentators as Sridhara Svami and the divine Caitanya and His contemporary followers.”
A Spiritual Master Who Knows The Lord
It is absolutely necessary to receive Srimad-Bhagavatam from a bona fide spiritual master coming in disciplic succession and not from professional reciters or pseudo-devotees. A spiritual master is one who knows the science of Krishna consciousness. He must have given up all other engagements and be fixed solely in the service of the Lord. Such a spiritual master will always lead one towards Krishna and not away from Him. Krishna says, “Surrender unto Me only” [mam ekam saranam vraja), and the spiritual master says, “Surrender unto Krishna.” He does not interpret Krishna’s words and say that it is not to Krishna that we must surrender. He delivers the message as it is, like a postman who delivers a letter to the addressee without opening it and changing what it says.
A bona fide spiritual master must necessarily be a personalist. Impersonalists are not pure because they desire to become one with God, like materialists who think themselves number one in the world. Because they are materially contaminated, impersonalists cannot avoid misinterpreting the pure message of the scriptures. It is therefore recommended that one who is eager to accept a spiritual master seek a bona fide spiritual master who can lead everyone to God. Such a spiritual master knows everything about the Supreme Personality of Godhead because the Lord is obliged to reveal Himself completely to His sincere devotee. As Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, “To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Bg. 10.10)
It is important that the spiritual aspirant be conversant with the science of Krishna consciousness so that he will not be misled. If one is ignorant of what spiritual life is, how will he be able to evaluate who is a bona fide spiritual master and who is bogus? If one is ill and needs a doctor, one must select a doctor who is qualified to cure him, who perhaps has been recommended by a friend and who has cured other patients. Selecting a spiritual master is just as practical a matter, and because the disease of material life is the most stubborn of all, only an expert spiritual master can cure one—if one really wants to be cured.
Most people do not understand the seriousness of the disease of material life. Therefore it is stated that if one wants God, the Lord will send him to a spiritual master who will give the Lord to him. We recommend any reader fortunate enough to be seeking the Absolute Truth, God, or Krishna, to approach His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, who is such a spiritual master. One can do this just by reading his Srimad-Bhagavatam. In the words of His Divine Grace: “There are thousands and thousands of literary men all over the world, and they have created many, many thousands of literary works for the information of people in general for thousands and thousands of years. Unfortunately none of them have brought peace and tranquility on the earth. This is due to the spiritual vacuum in those literatures; therefore the Vedic literatures, especially Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, are specifically recommended to suffering humanity to bring about the desired effect of liberation from the pangs of material civilization, which is eating the vital part of human energy.”