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The Unique Standard of Srimad-Bhagavatam

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by Karunasindhu dasa

1973-01-53-19

There are many scriptural writings present for perusal by intelligent and enlightened men who are able to appreciate the value of authoritative spiritual knowledge. Amongst those fortunate souls who are able to appreciate authoritative information, the question must arise as to which to study. We must first kill the serpent of conditional limitations and fly away from relative terms, for by definition God is the infinite, unlimited Absolute Truth. There are higher and lower principles of truth evident in all endeavors for knowledge, so we must turn ourselves to the complete knowledge of the Supreme Absolute Truth. Although we are obviously finite, we cannot contradictorily impose impotency on the Infinite by charging Him with being unable to reveal Himself to the finite. We necessarily must inspect the various types of information available, with a view toward capturing a grasp on the Absolute Truth.

In the various scriptures there are various indications that God is the most powerful, the supreme creator, the most intelligent, and so forth. The conclusion is that God is the Supreme Entity. In the Sanskrit language He is therefore termed Bhagavan, which means the possessor of all opulence in full—that is, unlimited strength, unlimited intelligence, and unlimited beauty, wealth, fame and renunciation. Without such complete opulence there is no meaning to the nomenclature “God.” With the goal of meeting a complete understanding of the Complete, let us search out the authorized information which delivers that knowledge.

The standard of the scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam fulfills all the requisites of even the most demanding and intelligent inquirer for it is factually the acme of literature for the theistic pursuit. This literature was delivered in response to the need for guidance in self-realization. The endeavor for self-realization necessitates a complete ontology which is properly derived from scriptural sources. One inquiry which prefaces the speaking of the Bhagavatam is the request for a summary exposition of the essence of all scriptures and the various duties known therein. Not only is Srimad-Bhagavatam the essence of all scriptures, but it is spoken by paramahamsas, the most perfect swanlike transcendental lists who are in full knowledge.

The surpassingly excellent attributes of the Bhagavatam are revealed in the second verse of this unrivalled standard for transcendental study. It is therein stated:

dharmah projjhita-kaitavo ‘tra

“All so-called religiosity covered by fruitive intentions is completely rejected herein.” (Bhag. 1.1.2)

Fruitive intentions take the shape of moksa (liberation), kama (sense gratification), artha (economic development), and dharma (worldly religiousness or duty), and they despoil the attempt at true religion. The motive for them all is self-aggrandizement. Dharma in the sense of worldly religiousness is accepted by those who aspire after artha or economic development, for an intelligent man, recognizing that he is not the independent source of his own support, realizes the necessity for worship of a higher source to fulfill his desires. Economic development, in turn, is pursued for kama (sense gratification), which lies as the ultimate goal for all materially infected beings. Sense gratification is a carousal in the animal propensities of eating, defending, sleeping and sex life and, more subtly, mental speculation. None of these affairs of the mundane world actually delivers the nectar of complete ecstasy which the soul demands by its nature. Thus in course of time the living being becomes frustrated with religiosity, acquisition and sense gratification, and he desires moksa, liberation from them. Moksa, liberation, must also be relegated to the Mundane platform because it is simply a reaction (though quasi-spiritual) to the modes of material existence.

Taken together, religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and liberation summarize the mundane goals. These, however, must be abandoned as pollutions covering the bhagavata-dharma or the essential function of the soul. By and large, beings of this world are exclusively engaged with these fruitive intentions and are therefore without the qualification to comprehend the highest truth. Therefore the Bhagavatam rejects these motives in toto as unworthy.

Beyond merely discarding mundane ethos, the Bhagavatam directs us to the highest goal.

paramo nirmatsaranam satam
vedyam vastavam atra

“The highest truth, which is understandable by those who are fully pure in heart, is inculcated herein.” (Bhag. 1.1.2)

The Vedanta-sutras given by the same author, Vedavyasa, distill the vast Vedic texts into concise statements about the nature of the Absolute Truth.

These sutras impress transcendence from their very onset with the aphorism:

athato brahma-jijnasa

“Now [when one is equipped with vast previous preliminary understanding and the facilities of the rare human frame endowed with sufficient intelligence], it is time to inquire about the nature of the Absolute Truth.” (Vedanta-sutra, 1.1.1)

The human life is uniquely valuable, for it alone offers the opportunity to become enlightened about the Absolute Truth, leaving aside the secondary mean concerns of eating, sleeping, defending and mating, which are available in all aspects of living beings down to the lowliest insects and bacteria. The absurd dance of sensuality and mental speculation which dissipates one’s precious energy into the ever-muting reservoir of mundane elements is abandoned herewith. The sutras continue:

janmadyasya yatah

“The Absolute Truth is that from which all is emanating, by which all is maintained, and by which all is conserved in its unmanifested state.” (Vedanta-sutra, 1.1.2)

The same aphotism, janmadyasya yatah, is echoed in Vedavyasa’s Srimad-Bhagavatam, his own bona fide exposition of the Vedanta texts, which are in the form of codes full of great meaning. In dealing with codes, one needs some access or key to understanding, since the compactly concentrated statements imply far more than their apparent simple meanings. Upon inspection, the Vedanta-sutras give rise to volumes of transcendental indications, and one need only approach the author’s own Srimad-Bhagavatam for the complete crystallization of this knowledge. In this work Vedavyasa benedicts us with a view of all aspects of the Absolute Truth, especially of the original essential feature of Bhagavan Sri Krsna, who supports all other features and energies as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Although purely theistic, this topic is completely nonsectarian. The Absolute Truth knows no limit, for it is He from whom everything emanates and who is the cause of all causes and possessor of infinite opulence and energies (both minute and grand). No one can claim an interest separate from the quest of understanding the Absolute Truth Sri Krsna, for all entities and states of existence have their source in Him. Therefore, the intelligent inquirer will recognize that study of the Absolute Truth is the prime function of life. There can be no question of validity in accusations of sectarianism because when one realizes the nature of God as the Absolute Truth from whom all emanates, there is no possibility of relegating Him to a realm of eclipsed thought.

Vedavyasa states clearly at the beginning of his great Bhagavatam that the Absolute Truth is known in three features: brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti. (Bhag. 1.1.11) The feature of Bhagavan or Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, is supreme. The other two features—Brahman (impersonal raw effulgence) and Paramatma (all-pervasive Supersoul)—are supported by Him, just as light and heat are inseparably supported by the filament of an incandescent electric bulb. Bhagavan Sri Krsna, is thus the summum bonum in the quest for the Absolute Truth.

Although the source and support of all categories of existence, Sri Krsna still remains aloof. In the first verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam He is described as svarat or fully independent. The understanding of Krsna’s position in this matter was bestowed by Krsna Himself in His divine appearance as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the guise of His own perfect devotee. Sri Krsna Caitanya put forth the sublime doctrine of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, or the inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and difference of the Lord. As in the example of the light bulb, one cannot separate the energy from the energetic. (There is no meaning to a light without its radiant energy.) Still, the energetic source at the same time remains distinct. Similarly, Krsna manifests all varieties of energies, yet He remains the Supreme Transcendental Entity.

The intelligent soul must therefore seek his relationship with the Absolute Truth as his quintessential purpose. However we exist, there are always relationships and functions. We are now encased in gross and subtle forms of matter—specifically, the body, mind and intelligence—but by careful examination we find that we are not the body, for we identify it as our possession (“my” hand, “my” mind, etc.). It is properly owned by the “I,” and there is a distinction between “me” and what is “mine.” We should therefore accept all corporeal functions as corollary to embodiment and thus not at all primary. Although there are many codes prescribed in the Vedic scriptures and elsewhere for the conduct of ordinary activities, they should be executed properly in relation to the Absolute Truth. Similarly, mundane knowledge must also be regarded in the same light.

All duties or essential performances are known as dharma, or sustainers of the living beings. The living beings are described as nitya, eternal, (Bhagavad-gita, 2.17-20) and thus possessing sanatana-dharma, an eternal function. As part and parcel of the Absolute Truth, (Bg., 4.35) all souls are serving Sri Krsna, (Bg. 4.11) but some, in forgetfulness of their true nature, serve Him only through His external potency, according to their degree of surrender to Him. Yogis and those who worship the formless Brahman effulgence also appreciate some part of Krsna, but Krsna Himself is called param brahma (the Supreme Spirit), paramatma (the all-pervading Supersoul) and bhagavan (the Supreme Personality of Godhead). Sanatana-dharma is also known as bhagavata-dharma, or one’s function in relation to Bhagavan, the Supreme Person. Thus all phases of spiritual realization are climaxed by the attainment of bhagavata-dharma. Bhagavan Sri Krsna is the substance of the discrete existence of all categories, mundane and transcendental; thus in all circumstances the ultimate reality underlying all outward manifestations and changes is bhagavata-dharma, the true subject of predication.

The effect of pursuing the knowledge of Srimad-Bhagavatam is stated:

vastu sivadam tapatrayonmulanam

“The highest truth is described to uproot the threefold miseries for the welfare of everyone.” (Bhag. 1.1.2)

The motive and result are disclosed here as being universal welfare. There are numberless attempts to benefit the public and free them from the miseries of existence, which are described as threefold: (1) miseries inflicted by other living beings, (2) miseries inflicted by natural phenomena (floods, heat and cold, etc.), and (3) miseries due to one’s own self (mental anxieties, old age, etc.). These miseries are inherent in the condition of embodiment and cannot be compromised or surpassed by any amount of planmaking. The solution is to relieve the suffering soul from embodiment by enlightening him to his true nature as part and parcel of God and the Lord’s eternal servitor. By experiencing himself as aloof from the gross and subtle (mental and intellectual) bodies, the suffering soul becomes free from the inescapable miseries of these coverings. This can be perfected even in the embodied state by advancement of transcendental knowledge, which relieves the soul of the false sense of lordship over his bodily designation and its relations and establishes him by degrees in his true position of loving servitorship to the eternal Lord Sri Krsna. Thus, bhakti-yoga or devotional service is clearly the most attractive proposition, surpassing all flickering pleasures of the mundane platform and even the conception of liberation from the material world (which is no more than mere negation of the innate miseries of mundane existence). One situated in transcendental service is already liberated from the woes of false identification, and above that, he experiences the ecstatic mellow taste of loving exchange with the unlimited Supreme Personality of Godhead. This service is truly beneficial for universal welfare.

Since all souls are equipped with the facility simply to hear the message of Godhead and advance in transcendental understanding, the foundation of enlightenment is called sravanam, or authorized hearing, which is counted as the primary process of the devotional ennead. The application of devotional service is followed causelessly by knowledge and renunciation. (Bhag. 1.3.8) The ultimate goal must be surrender to the Absolute Truth, and necessarily one must be equipped with bhakti, devotion, and its corollaries, jnana, knowledge (of the mundane and transcendent natures), and vairagya, detachment from the mundane platform. All requisites are bestowed simply by authorized hearing of the great literature Srimad-Bhagavatam.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam is the authentic transcendental science given by the foremost spiritual authority, Sri Vyasadeva, the author of all the Vedic literature, which encompasses the entire spectrum of knowledge, both transcendental and mundane. The higher division of knowledge, of course, deals with the higher aspect of existence, generally referred to as spiritual or sac-cid-ananda—that is, existence full of truth and eternity, unadulterated consciousness and pure cognition, and full uninterrupted bliss. Vyasadeva’s transcendental expositions deal with all the numerous categories and climax in delivering the substance in Srimad-Bhagavatam. After compiling all of his vast writings, he was not fully pacified even by such great contributions as Vedanta-sutra until on the order of his spiritual master he carried out the mission of writing Srimad-Bhagavatam, which deals directly with the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His devotees. Thus it is said that the Srimad-Bhagavatam is the fully ripened fruit of the Vedic tree of wisdom (Bhag. 1.1.3) and in fact the literary incarnation of Godhead given by the incarnation of Godhead Himself. (Bhag. 1.3.40) Vedavyasa’s Bhagavatam is the full treatise on the Absolute Truth beyond the indications and suggestions of his other discourses, and it is thus intended for the fully mature transcendentalist and inquirer.

Simply by eager aural reception of Bhagavatam, the candidate for understanding transcendental knowledge becomes qualified to realize the Absolute Truth to full capacity. If one submits to the Absolute Truth he can know the Absolute Truth. The transmission of the messages of Godhead contains complete transcendental potency by the absolute omnipotency of the Supreme, and by proper association with these messages, the path is cleared for the aspirant. Krsna actually becomes the well-wisher of the devotee and vanquishes all inauspiciousness and defectiveness within him. The mood of challenge divorces the defiant soul from any entrance into truth, for the truth stands aloof from challenge or doubt. The sublime and uncomplicated means of success is simply to flood the self with the companionship of the truth, thus annihilating the darkness of ignorance, which is fraught with the agonized writhings of the faithless mind. The prime qualification is to hear conscientiously.

Although the method of hearing is direct and free from complication, it is not cheap; rather, it must come in a strictly authorized manner. According to spiritual authorities, the aspirant must receive his instruction from a guru or spiritual master who is himself qualified by proper hearing and is situated according to the instruction that originates from the Absolute Truth Himself. The precepts are activated by the preceptor; one must receive the literature Bhagavatam from the person Bhagavatam, or the representative of the line of disciplic succession. The understanding is not accessible in any other manner; the transcendental method must be employed above all mundane attempts. Often mundaners will attempt to understand or present this great literature according to their own erroneous interpretations, but the method of transmission and the literature itself are both of the same quality as Godhead—purnam, perfect and complete. Thus the need for adopting some new dichotomy is simply a superfluous concoction. The author, Vyasadeva, is fully qualified by disciplic succession to render the sublime topics, and the audience of his messages should receive them from Vyasa’s representative without adulteration.

The Supreme Absolute Truth is revealed by degrees in Vyasadeva’s systematic presentation. The full appreciation of the substance is uncovered by grades of categorical revelation in the first nine cantos, and when these are fully assimilated the candidate becomes God realized. Thus when one can understand the nature of the Supreme Person he can take to hearing the succeeding accounts of Krsna’s intimate activities with His closest associates. Often unscrupulous men make a pretense of study of the Bhagavatam, and immediately leap to the Tenth Canto, which they are unqualified to enter. Transcendental enlightenment, however, is bestowed by the Supreme Transcendence Himself in His full presence in the form of sound vibration which comes through His authorized representatives, His transparent via media. There is no means to circumvent the Lord’s agency of His pure devotees and approach Him in any other way. Souls contaminated by mundane affinity are unfit to contact the transcendental nature, but by Divine Grace the pure devotees are available just to engage the diseased souls in the service of the Transcendence and purify them. The primary qualification is the urge to hear Krsna-katha (topics related to Krsna or His own words), and thus Krsna Himself cleanses such sincere souls from all affinities for material enjoyment. One who falls into the mire becomes covered by muck. Similarly, one’s body made of the material elements bears irrevocable evidence to the desire for material enjoyment. Without purification, we must act on the platform of pollution and distraction from the Supreme Absolute Truth Sri Krsna. The cleansing process which allows our dormant desire for the Supreme to come forth is available only in humble selfless service to the lotus feet of the Lord’s pure devotees. (Bhag. 1.2.16-20)

By gaining the standard of purity by the grace of the Lord’s devotees, the soul becomes qualified to comprehend the nature of the Absolute Truth and enter into that nature. When one is no longer diverted by any affinity for the combination of the mundane modes, he is able to fix his mind in undeviating attention on the supermost feature of the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. Krsna declares that He is known according to the surrender of the individual, (Bg. 4.11) but the ability to surrender demands enlightenment gained by service. It is said, as noted previously, that the highest truth is understandable by those who are fully pure in heart, free from all mundane contaminations. (Bhag. 1.1.2) The purification process must be adopted because the goal is supreme. The means of purification are not unreasonable or artificial impositions, but they simply change one’s association in such a way that his attention is turned to transcendence.

Everyone is engaged in some service by hearing, glorifying, questioning, desiring or other bodily activities, for service is the innate function of the finite living entities. Within the mundane field, however, the eternal living beings are enmeshed in the service of their temporal and ignorant environment (the transitory material body and mind and their relationships). However, by the practice of vaidhi-bhakti-yoga (regulated devotional life), the individual’s function of service is turned to the completely ecstatic activities of loving the eternal Supreme Lord. All beings are attracted by greatness, and thus they serve greatness according to their appreciation. But Bhagavan Sri Krsna is the person of infinite greatness, and when the individual can grasp Krsna’s supremacy, he engages in his original pure service. The process is therefore not dry, but is a progressive awakening of the attraction for God that is dormant within all conditioned beings. It is simultaneously simple and sublime; the means are the same as the end, for service to Krsna is the so-called practice and also the culmination. (Bg. 10.7-9)

The most accessible mode of service is simply to hear about Krsna’s glories, for thus the natural affinity of the minute souls for the Supreme Soul is invoked:

Isvarah sadyo hrdy avarudhyate ‘tra krtibhih susrusubhis tat-ksanat

“As soon as one applies his attentive and submissive aural reception to the message [of Srimad-Bhagavatam], he becomes attached to the Supreme Lord at once.” (Bhag. 1.1.2)

1973-01-53-20As discussed previously, once one is purified and free from the distractions of mundane existence, he can turn full proper attention to culturing knowledge of the Absolute. As the fully potent Absolute Truth, Krsna is fully present in the accounts of His glorious attributes and pastimes, and thus anyone can relish his constitutional ecstasy in the holy service of hearing these glories. Govinda (Krsna) is the reservoir of unlimited spiritual bliss, and by His full presence in His pastimes they remain everfresh, as confirmed by the sages of Naimisaranya:

vayam tu na vitrpyama
uttama-sloka-vikrame
yac chrnvatam rasa-jnanam
svadu svadu pade pade

“We shall never tire of hearing the transcendental pastimes of the Personality of Godhead who is glorified by transcendental prayers. Those who have developed a taste of their transcendental relationship with Him relish hearing of His pastimes at every moment.” (Bhag. 1.1.19)

Thus the natural fully blissful state of the soul (ananda) can be experienced, undiminished; one need only accept the proper method of receiving Srimad-Bhagavatam. We therefore humbly beg the reader to seize this most fortunate opportunity by turning his attention to the message of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which fixes within one’s heart the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna.

“This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krsna to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the age of Kali shall get light from this purana.” (Bhag. 1.3.43)

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