Tag Archives: Upanishad

Why Bhagavatam is the Topmost Work of Vyasa

Narada Inspired Vyasa

[1.4.27-31]

Not fully satisfied at heart, that knower of dharma sat in a quiet and pure place on the shore of the Sarasvatī River to think. “I have held firmly to my vow,” he said. “I have explained what I learned from my gurus about how to properly use mantra and fire for worship. I put together the History of India in such a way that even non-intellectuals like housewives, laborers, and pseudo-civilized people can clearly see all the important things necessary moral progress. I have given everything required for an embodied being to realize the self within the self. But still, there is some defect. I seem to have not yet given the supreme explanation of spirituality. Maybe that is because I have basically neglected to delineate the All-Attractive Dharma, which is beloved to the topmost swans and is even dear to the Infallible One.

“That knower of dharma” is Vyāsa.

He summarizes his lengthy and strenuous effort to fulfill his vow of helping the people of the world to escape the brunt of the ignorance that would best them in our current Age. “Explaining how to properly use mantra and fire for ritual worship” refers to the four Veda that Vyāsa created and established schools to develop. The “History of India” is the Mahābhārata, which he wrote to solve the problem of reaching the common man not interested in Vedic complexities. “Everything required to realize the self within the self” is a reference to Vedānta-Sūtra, a concise explanation and reconciliation of all the philosophical content of the four Vedas.

The “supreme explanation of spirituality” Vyāsa feels he has still failed to give is a clear and direct delineation of the “All-Attractive Dharma” (bhāgavata dharma), the most exquisitely beautiful and beloved of all topics, which attracts the affections even of “topmost swans” – those who are already completely purified and spiritually developed (paramahaṁsa), and even attracts the heart of the Infallible Godhead himself (acyuta)!

The delineation of All-Attractive “Bhāgavata Dharma” which would finally satisfy Vyāsa’s heartfelt mission is what became the book we are now reading, the Bhāgavatam.

The prior works of Vyāsa – the four Veda and their expansions, and the other Purāṇa and histories – do not entirely neglect to present the All-Attractive Bhāgavata Dharma. But considering the importance of this subject, they “basically” do (prāyeṇa) neglect it.

[32]

Thus The Black was regretfully contemplating his incompleteness when Nārada arrived from the east at the ashram. Realizing this, the sage suddenly stood up and respectfully venerated Nārada, whom the gods venerate, as if he were the creator himself.

“The Black” is a named for Vyāsa in reference to his complexion.

Nārada’s father is the creator, Brahmā. Vyāsa venerates Nārada as if he were Brahmā himself, on the principle that a good son or student carries out the functions and purposes of his superior.

[1.5.1]

When the very famous Sage of Gods with vīṇa in hand was happily seated, he spoke smilingly to the Sage of Learneds, who sat nearby.

The “Sage of Gods” is Nārada. The “Sage of Learneds” is Vyāsa. A “Vīṇa” is a beautiful stringed instrument, usually with a fretted neck. Nārada almost always carries this instrument with him at all times and sings.

[2-4]

Nārada said, “O greatly blessed son of Parāśara, do you find it satisfying to consider the body and mind as the self? That is why – in spite of inquiring thoroughly and explaining in a very well-versed manner, in spite of presenting the History of India in a most amazing manner clearly explaining everything important, and in spite of giving clear and careful revelations regarding the eternal spiritual substance – still, sir, you weep and feel like everything you’ve done is useless.”

Vyāsa must have certainly been shocked to hear Nārada say this! It is the ABC’s of elementary philosophy that the self is an entity distinct from its body and mind. Vyāsa must have been rattled to hear the great Nārada point out that the cause of Vyāsa’s disappointment with his work has something to do with the very elementary topics of assigning to much focus and importance to the body and mind! Nārada said, “You are dissatisfied? Of course you are dissatisfied! How could anyone be satisfied by treating the body or mind as if it were the all-important self? Although everything you have done is glorious, all of it was primarily directed only at benefiting the bodies and minds of humanity. Your work so far has neglected the true self!”

Bear in mind that this criticism includes the Upanishads and their summary in Vedānta-Sūtra! Nārada’s opinion of those works, therefore, is that they mainly benefit the mind by freeing it from ignorance. They do not directly benefit the soul itself, in Nārada’s greatly esteemed opinion.

Due to the shocking nature of this direct disclosure, Vyāsa will ask Nārada to repeat it. This is often the case when we hear something very surprising, that we have completely overlooked.


Bhagavatam… Buon Appetito!

There is a tree made of wisdom,
knowledge that fulfills your every desire and need.

On this tree is a fruit,
at the peak of ripeness.

A parrot lands upon the branches and pecks it with her beak,
its sugars and sweetness multiply.
Perfected,
like thickened juice within an impossibly thin skin.

Aho! You there!
You who crave for deep emotional significance!
You who wish to taste the true pleasures of life itself!
Yes you there, earthling!

DRINK IT!!!

Relish the nectar of this Bhagavatam-fruit,
again and again,
eternally without end!

This third verse of Srimad Bhagavatam is a beautiful poetic metaphor! The Sanskrit itself has an amazing meter. If “.” is a short syllable and “-” a long one, the meter of the Sanskrit is:

. . . – . . – | . . – . -

Here I will put the long syllables in bold:

nigama-kalpa-taror galitaM phalaM
zuka-mukhAd amRita-drava-saMyutam
pibata bhAgavataM rasam AlayaM
muhuraho rasikA bhuvi bhAvukAH

The meaning is as beautiful as the structure:

The Tree

The tree made of wisdom is a metaphor for the Vedic literature. “Vedic” literature is misunderstood by the definition of modern western scholastics. It is not merely the 3 or 4 original “Veda” but all the ancillary works which elaborate upon and elucidate it. That is the Indian conception of the term Vedic, and since India is the mother of the Veda, we ought to give it deference, no?

In any case, Vedic literature refers to the entire corpus of philosophical, practical, technological and religious material cultivated through at least a few dozen centuries in the region today called India. This includes the ritualistic four Veda; the explanation of their philosophical import, the Upanishad (108 principle books). The summary study of all this philosophy, the Vedanta Sutra. The application and retelling of the rituals and philosophy in semi-historical tales, the Purana and Itihasa (like Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, and Ramayan). And many other appendixes to the original four vedas in the form of manuals (Aranyas) and treatises (Samhitas and Siddhantas), etc.

To go back to the poetic image – it would be stupid to envision a tree of wisdom and knowledge with only four branches! The tree of wise knowledge (“veda”) has hundreds of branches spreading in all directions, in the form of Puranas, Itihasas, Upanishads, Aranyas, Samhitas, Siddhantas, Tikas, etc. etc.

The Fruit

There are many fruits on this huge tree, of course, but one fruit is particularly special because it is perfectly ripe. What does it mean to be “perfectly ripe”? It means to be at the absolute pinnacle of one’s maturity.

The Srimad Bhagavatam is thus depicted as the absolute pinnacle of Indian spiritual wisdom at the peak of ripeness. We will soon hear from its opening stories how the main author, Mahamuni Vyasa, compiled this after compiling all other Vedic works and having thus achieved a zenith of spiritual realization. In particular the Srimad Bhagavatam is the grand-finale of Vedic wisdom because it is (a) the sequel to the Vedanta Sutra, which is otherwise the most important Vedic book; the “second ripest fruit”, you might say; (b) the 18th of the 18 main purana, thus also the culmination of Indian thought as expressed through that medium. Thus the Srimad Bhagavatam represents the pinnicle of both the philosophical genius of the Vedanta-Sutra, as well as the poetic and theatrical mastery and relative ease-of-understanding developed in the Puranas.

The Parrot

The Sanskrit word for parrot is zuka. Mahamuni Vyasa is given credit as the compiler of Srimad Bhagavatam, but the main narrator of this tale is Vyasa’s son zuka-deva (“The divine parrot” – Sukadeva Goswāmī). Suka is really the one who expanded upon the core material within this Purana and made it as sweet and wonderful and easily digestible as it now is.

The imagery of a “parrot” is not always positive in English because it carries the meaning of one who simply repeats words without understanding their meaning. This connotation is absolutely absent from Sanskrit poetics. Instead the connotation of “parrot” is a bird with a special type of saliva that, when the bird bites a fruit, causes that fruit to become extremely sweet and ripe. So do not carry over the English connotation and imagine that the Bhagavatam is being narrated by someone who merely repeats what he heard from his father, without understanding. Not at all. Quite the opposite. The Bhagavatam is as sweet as it is because Sukadeva’s telling of it enhanced, expanded, and amplified the original meaning into an even more wondrous perfection.

Drink It!

Finally, we are implored to take our place in the poem. Our place is to grab the fruit and enjoy it!!!

What is unusual about this fruit is that it satisfies hunger without reducing the hunger, and it is eaten without ever diminishing. The more you meditate upon what you will hear in Srimad Bhagavatam, the more you will be able to meditate upon it! The more you enjoy it, the more and more you will be able to enjoy it.

Specifically this metaphor refers to the principle that meditation upon the Supreme Entity, Śrī Krishna is infinite. It is not a means to a goal, but is itself the goal and the means. Therefore it is never abandoned. Even the persons who are steeped in spiritual perfection continue to feast upon the perfect fruit of Srimad Bhagavatam. Even beyond liberation, even in the spiritual locus, our tongues will forever taste and vibrate the delicious topics discovered within this amazing book!


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