The original source of knowledge is the Vedas. From the Vedas emanate all the spiritual or scriptural writings known to this planet, and all material knowledge also has been passed down by exponents of the original Vedas. The original Vedas were known by the aural tradition, or simply by hearing. The knowledge contained in the Vedas actually has no origin in history; the Vedas are so ancient as to be untraceable, but we have it from authority that they were set into writing 5000 years ago, when they were compiled by a great sage, Srila Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasadeva. Vyasadeva put this aural tradition into writing because, as a liberated sage able to see the future, he foresaw that in the coming age, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy, people would be interested only in that which is temporary and would lose their ability to retain the Vedic knowledge by memory. The people of the age of Kali, which is the present age in modern civilization, are characterized by a short duration of life, diminished memory, distraction from the spiritual path, and lack of seriousness in searching out the ultimate goal of life.
It is told in the Vedic literature Srimad-Bhagavatam that Vyasadeva was fully equipped in knowledge and could see by his transcendental vision that all the good qualities of people in the future would gradually deteriorate, up to the point where 99% of the population would be thoroughly atheistic. A sage like Vyasadeva who is a devotee of the Supreme Lord is factually far more a friend of the people in general than the so-called public leaders who cannot even know what will happen five minutes ahead. Thus 5000 years ago this great philanthropist, Vyasa, foreseeing the need to edit the Vedas and put them into writing, divided the Vedas and expanded them into histories and narrations so that the less intelligent people, who are interested only in hearing stories, could understand the purport of the scriptures and thus be delivered back to the eternal joyful home, back to Godhead.
When the scriptures are heard from a bona fide spiritual master, their real meaning comes alive. There is no special educational qualification for understanding God.
By the mercy of Vyasadeva the Vedic literature is readily understandable when handed down by a bona fide spiritual master who has realized the truth of the scriptures. Vyasadeva was therefore a great spiritual master for all people, and he is known to be a literary incarnation of Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Vyasadeva and Lord Krsna are on the same transcendental platform, and they collaborated in a plan to benedict the fallen souls of this age by presenting scripture in the form of stories and histories, such as the Mahabharata (in which appears the Bhagavad-gita, which is the gist of the entire Vedic philosophical literature).
“I Still Feel Wanting”
After having worked so hard for the cause of humanity and after compiling so much transcendental literature, it would be expected that Vyasadeva would be satisfied by his worthwhile activities. Yet as Vyasadeva sat down in meditation one morning, he thought to himself that he was not very satisfied in mind or heart. Vyasadeva considered, “I have certainly worshiped the Vedas, the spiritual masters and the altar of sacrificial fire under strict disciplinary guidance and without pretense, and I have also abided by the Vedic rulings. I have shown the import of the disciplic succession through the explanation of the Mahabharata, in which even women, sudras and others can also see the path of religion. Yet although I am already fully equipped with everything needed in the matter of Vedic principles, I still feel wanting. It may be that I did not direct myself enough to the devotional service of the Lord, which is dear both to the perfect beings and to the infallible Lord.” From these thoughts we can see that Srila Vyasadeva was able to express to himself a hint of the lack that he felt. Somehow or other, although fully equipped in all the details of Vedic achievements, Vyasadeva appeared to have lost the clue to his normal transcendental happiness. Therefore he felt dissatisfaction.
The despondency of Vyasadeva must not be thought of as an isolated case unrelated to our own lives. If every man and woman reading this essay would only examine himself with introspection, he would most likely find something akin to the lack felt at heart by Srila Vyasadeva. Whether one has achieved great success in business, or has amassed great wealth, a nice family, fame, or any amount of worldly or mystical power, that dissatisfaction at the inner core of one’s being is liable to occur. This dissatisfaction is manifested in many ways, such as boredom, frustration, loneliness and disillusion, and in general it exists because our innermost desires for happiness and fulfillment are not being satisfied. This is certainly true for those persons who have made gross sensualism their purpose for living. As such a person grows older and increases in his career of sex enjoyment and intoxication, he realizes that it is hellish and that he is not satisfied. Any man who feels great hopes for a fulfilling life in this material world will find that his actual position falls far short of his wished-for happiness. We may have idealistic plans for our own enjoyment or our families’ enjoyment or for the improvement of our nation or humanity, but because of the nature of the material laws—such as old age, death, disease and other miseries—our ideals are never fulfilled in the material world. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has written in this connection: “Perfection is never attained until one is satisfied at heart, and this satisfaction of the heart has to be searched out beyond the material world.”
The Spiritual Master
Just as Vyasa was trying to locate the defect in himself, Narada Muni, his spiritual master, reached Vyasa’s cottage on the bank of the River Sarasvati. On seeing Narada, Srila Vyasadeva got up in respect and offered his master all worship. Narada then took a comfortable seat and began to address his disciple. As Narada spoke, he was smiling because he knew well the cause of Vyasadeva’s disappointment. Narada inquired, “Are you not satisfied with identifying the body or mind as the object of self-realization?” By his first words Narada hinted that despite his compilation of sacred and instructive transcendental literature, Vyasadeva had actually identified the body and mind with the self. But the concept of the body and the mind as the self can never bring happiness because the body is subject to so many miseries and is only temporary, whereas the real self is eternal. How is it that Vyasadeva, who was such a great sage, could miss the real point of spiritual life and spiritual happiness? Narada admitted that Vyasadeva had certainly studied fully and had with deliberation compiled a full explanation of the original knowledge of the Vedas. So why should he be disappointed just when he should be feeling satisfied by a full lifetime of great welfare work for all humanity? Vyasadeva humbly submitted himself before his spiritual master and asked him to please point out the root cause of his despondency.
Sri Narada said, “You have not broadcast the sublime and spotless glories of the Personality of Godhead. Anything that does not satisfy the senses of the Lord is considered worthless philosophy.” That was Narada Muni’s prompt diagnosis. Srila Vyasadeva was despondent because, despite writing so many books, he had deliberately avoided glorifying the Supreme Lord, but he gave more attention to religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and salvation, which are the material activities of civilization. Vyasadeva had neglected to give his full attention to devotional service, which starts with hearing and glorifying the name and pastimes of Krsna. Therefore Narada concluded that Vyasadeva had more or less wasted his time. Narada was saying, in other words, that all the scriptures that Vyasadeva had compiled up to this point had dealt mainly with material activities, and this was the reason for his despondency. Vyasadeva was interested in regulating material activities so that people could gradually come to the spiritual platform. But if people simply perform the regulative material principles and do not come to the spiritual platform, that will not help them. The only point of regulating sense gratificatory activities is to gradually gain the transcendental taste of love of God. Only when one tastes transcendental pleasure can he abandon satisfying his own senses and be intent on satisfying the senses of Krsna.
In The Name Of Religion
It has been stated that Vyasadeva had been concerned with religiosity, which involves preparing oneself for being elevated to the spiritual platform. Vyasadeva had outlined dharma, or religious faith, as meaning to very punctually go to a church or temple, execute all ritualistic ceremonies very rigidly and follow religious rules and regulations. In this way a materialistic man can gradually be purified. But if at the end a person does not develop love for God, then the rituals are simply useless labor and empty formality. The objective of religion is not material happiness. The objective of religion is Krsna. When religious rituals are followed for the goal of material happiness, all the prescriptions and regulations are simply a waste of time. Thus Vyasadeva could be said to have actually encouraged materialistic activities. The sacrifices he described in the scriptures were presented with the understanding that everyone comes into this material world in order to satisfy his senses. So in order for people to enjoy sense gratification while at the same time following the codes of religion, the Vedas were prepared. Now Narada told Vyasadeva that he had actually encouraged sense gratification in the name of religion. We commonly see that when someone is involved in some basically illicit activity, he may try to find sanction for it within his religion. “My religion says I can do it. I can eat meat. I can smoke. I can have sex. It is sanctioned in my religion.” If scriptures are presented in material terms, people who seek authoritative approval for their sinful activities will screw out false meanings from them. And he who compiles such scriptures is to blame. That sort of religiosity in which the object is to achieve material happiness by following regulative principles will not help one, and Narada condemned this religiosity as abominable. “If you simply stick to this principle, because you are an authority, people will understand that this is religion. People will think that religion is nothing more than this.” Even if one becomes very expert in executing religious performances, that does not mean that he can be elevated to the spiritual platform. Such performances may be a little helpful for rising to the spiritual platform, but unless one actually engages in the service of the Lord he cannot achieve perfection. Narada Muni said, “Therefore, now please write literature that will attract people to Krsna, the Supreme Lord. Thus far you have only given an official understanding of Krsna. You have indicated that God is great or all-powerful, but people are not attracted because you have distracted their attention to the improvement of their material condition.”
In this connection there is a nice story told by our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, concerning a wedding party that was traveling to the bride’s home. In India the bridegroom and his father and other relatives go to the bride’s home, and the marriage ceremony takes place there in the presence of all the relatives. This particular marriage was to take place in a village miles away. In Bengal the land is full of rivers, and the rivers are used as highways. So it was settled that the bridegroom’s party would start out on the evening before the marriage day and would arrive the next morning. They could rest the whole day, and that evening the marriage would take place. The party hired a ferry and got into the boat, and as the boat started, all the members of the bridegroom’s party fell asleep. The breeze on the river was strong and very pleasing, but the next morning when the wedding party arose they saw that they were standing in the same place. They were surprised. “How is it,” the boatman was asked, “that we are still in the same place? We have not proceeded even a few yards. How is that?” The boatman said, “We were rowing the whole night. We don’t know how this has happened.” Then one boatman found that the anchor had not been raised. The whole night the men were plying the oars, but the boat was only going around the anchor and did not go forward an inch.
Similarly, our anchor in the material world is our desire for material happiness, for which we may even worship God, go to a temple and offer our respect. But if our goal is only material happiness and if that is accepted as the ultimate goal, then it is useless. We have to go above that position. If one approaches Krsna and says, “My dear Lord, I am in distress, please help me,” that is good in the sense that somehow or other one has approached God. But his motive is not pure. The motive is material enjoyment. Therefore Narada told Vyasadeva, “This kind of instruction in your books will not help people to come to the standard of pure devotional service, which alone can save them from all material bondage.”
If this criticism is actually valid for Vyasadeva, who was at least trying to bring people to the spiritual level, then how severely Narada’s criticism applies to those so-called authorities or teachers who do not even encourage that one follow the regulative principles of religion. Famous writers, poets and philosophers who are taken as authorities and are followed by people in general, but who present only their speculations or sinful motives in writing, may write books which are read by millions, but the effect is disastrous. Srila Vyasadeva, by encouraging material sex life under the regulative principles of marriage but not stressing sufficiently that Krsna is the center of married life and of all activities, may have been at fault in that way, but the mundane writer who presents sex life as virtuous and enjoyable, even outside of marriage, has an abominable influence.
Pilgrimage For Crows
The Srimad-Bhagavatam deals with such literatures. In the First Canto, Chapter Five, it is stated, “Those words which do not describe the glories of the Lord, who alone can sanctify the atmosphere of the whole universe, are considered by saintly persons to be like unto a place of pilgrimage for crows. Since the all-perfect persons are inhabitants of the transcendental abode, they do not derive any pleasure there.” In his purport to this verse His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has written: “Crows and swans are not birds of the same feather because of their different mental attitudes. The fruitive workers or passionate men are compared to the crows, whereas the all-perfect saintly persons are compared to swans. The crows take pleasure in a place where refused remnants of foodstuffs are thrown out, just as the passionate fruitive workers take pleasure in wine, women, and places for gross sense pleasure. The swans do not take pleasure in the places where the crows are assembled for conferences and meetings. They are instead seen in an atmosphere of natural scenic beauty where there are transparent reservoirs of water nicely decorated with stems of lotus flowers in variegated colors of natural beauty. That is the difference between the two classes of birds. Similarly, there are different kinds of literature for different kinds of men. Mostly the market literatures which attract men of the crow’s category are literatures containing refused remnants of sensuous topics. They are generally known as mundane talks in relation with the gross body and subtle mind. They are full of subject matter described in decorative language full of mundane similes and metaphorical arrangements. Yet with all that, they are devoid of glorification of the Lord. Such poetry and prose, on any subject matter, is considered decoration of the dead body and the superficial agitated mind. Spiritually advanced men who are compared to the swans do not take pleasure in such dead literatures, which are sources of pleasure for men who are spiritually dead. These literatures in the modes of passion and ignorance are distributed under different labels; but they can hardly help the spiritual urge of the human being, and therefore the swanlike spiritually advanced men have nothing to do with such mundane remnants. Social literary men, scientists, mundane poets, theoretical philosophers and politicians who are completely absorbed in the material advancement of sense pleasure are all dolls of the material energy. They take pleasure in a place where rejected subject matters are thrown. According to Svami Sridhara, this is the pleasure of the prostitute hunters.”
The Best Literature
The essence of human activities is to describe the glories of the Lord. Literature which does not engage people in the devotional service of Krsna will not be substantially pleasurable. “On the other hand, literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, form, pastimes, etc., of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation of transcendental words meant for bringing about a revolution in the impious life of a misdirected world civilization. Such transcendental literature, even though imperfectly composed, is accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.” (Bhag. 1.5.11)
It is understood that by broadcasting the holy name and fame of the Supreme Lord, the polluted atmosphere of the world will change, and as a result of propagating transcendental literature, people will become sane in their transactions. Of course at first people are inclined towards literature concerning sensuous topics, and they find this to be more entertaining and attractive than descriptions of the Supreme Lord. This is due to their diseased condition of thinking that the real self is the temporary body. The Bhagavad-gita, however, points out that this body is just like a jacket and that the real self is the eternal soul. Until we realize this, we think that our happiness is in this body, and therefore we like to hear literatures describing the joys and pleasures of this body.
It is stated that reading literature glorifying God acts on the conditioned soul as sugar candy does upon a person affected with jaundice. Although in the beginning one who is suffering from jaundice is reluctant to take sugar candy because of his diseased state, it is well known that sugar candy is the remedy for jaundice. Sugar tastes bitter to a jaundiced person, but the symptom of his cure is that he tastes the sugar candy to be progressively sweeter. Similarly, when people develop a taste for transcendental literature, they will automatically cease to read other literature. When transcendental literature like Srimad-Bhagavatam is available for the reading propensity, the material literature, which is catering poison to society, will automatically cease to be popular. “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 the people in general for thousands and thousands of years. Unfortunately none of them have brought peace and tranquility on earth between men or between nations. This is due to a spiritual vacuum in those literatures; therefore Vedic literatures are specifically recommended for 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.” (Bhaktivedanta purports to Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.5.13)
Concentrate On Krsna
Narada therefore advised his student Vyasadeva, “Anything which you have described under any vision apart from that of the Lord will react and result in oscillating the mind as the wind rocks a boat which has no resting place.” Narada stressed the effect of the Vedic literature compiled by Vyasadeva and tried to emphasize to him that he should concentrate on describing everything in relation with the Supreme Lord and no one else. In fact, there is nothing existent but the Lord. The Lord is the root of the complete tree, and He is the stomach of the complete body. Pouring water on the root is the right method of watering a tree, just as feeding the stomach is the means of supplying energy to all parts of the body. Srila Vyasadeva was an authority on the scriptures, and therefore Narada condemned his compromising spirit and advised him to speak directly on the prime necessity of human life—to realize one’s relationship with the Lord and thus surrender unto Him without delay. Narada said, “The Supreme Lord is unlimited. Only expert personalities understand this knowledge of spiritual values. Therefore those who are not so well situated, due to being attached to material qualities, should be shown the ways of transcendental realization, by yourself, through descriptions of the transcendental qualities of the Supreme Lord.” Narada indicated that because Vyasa actually knew about the Supreme Lord, he should compile scriptures according to the synopsis which Narada had given him. Living beings must accept the supremacy of the Lord and agree to render loving service unto Him for whom they have been created. Without this there cannot be peace and tranquility in the world. Srila Vyasadeva was advised by Srila Narada to expand this idea in the Bhagavatam. To surrender fully unto the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord is the only proper engagement of the living being. Therefore, intent on describing the Lord more vividly, Vyasadeva set about to both wipe out his own despondency and to benefit all humanity by following the orders of his spiritual master.
“On the western bank of the River Sarasvati, which is very intimately related with transcendental subjects like the Vedas, there is a cottage for meditation. In that place Srila Vyasadeva, in his own asrama, which is surrounded by berry trees, sat down to meditate after touching water for purification. Thus he perfectly engaged his mind in the linking process of devotional service without any tinge of material affection, and he saw the Absolute Personality of Godhead along with His external energy, which was under full control.” (Bhag. 1.5.2-4) By the instructions of his spiritual master, Vyasadeva became absorbed in transcendental thought of the Personality of Godhead. He did not take notice of the impersonal effulgence coming from the body of the Lord, but concentrated on the Personality of Godhead who is personally controlling all energies. Upon seeing the all-perfect Personality of Godhead along with His energies, Vvasadeva observed the unwanted miseries of the conditioned souls bewildered by illusion, and at last he saw the remedial measure for thc conditioned souls, namely the linking process of devotional service. Thus, based on the instructions of his spiritual master and his subsequent meditation, Vyasadeva understood that the process of hearing and chanting of the name, fame, and glory of the Supreme Personality will alone revive one’s dormant love of God. The way this works is that when the Lord is satisfied with the efforts of the devotees, He endows them with His loving transcendental service. As soon as one takes up chanting and hearing in an attitude of service, at once his unwanted miseries disappear. There is no other requirement necessary but simply to give aural reception to the glorification of God.
The final result is that Vyasadeva set to work compiling the mature work of his life, Srimad-Bhagavatam, which contains full descriptions of the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His pure devotees. In this work there is no tinge of dry philosophical speculation, study of the impersonal nature, execution of sacrifices to the demigods, or the pursuit of sense gratification under the sanction of religiosity or mechanical yoga. Vvasa compiled the Srimad-Bhagavatam in twelve cantos of eighteen thousand verses. Srimad-Bhagavatam which is the narration of the Lord’s activities, is the postgraduate study of Bhagavad-gita, which is spoken by the Lord Himself. Often someone says, “God is great,” but how great He is, what He is doing, what His energies are, what He is like, what His pastimes are, what His qualities are (His gentleness, gravity and beauty as well as His specific dealings with His intimate devotees) is all disclosed in Srimad-Bhagavatam. This is the crowning glory of Vyasadeva’s compilation of the scriptures. Simply by reading Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, one can assimilate all knowledge and reach the ultimate end of knowledge—to develop love for Krsna.