Tag Archives: Veda

Divine Visions

[1.6.21]

Alas, during this lifetime you will not be able to see me again. Your undissolved impurities interrupt our link, and I remain beyond your vision.

[22]

You saw my beauty once to increase your desires, O sinless. By increasing their desire for me, the saintly make their hearts completely pure.

[23]

This behavior of the saintly very quickly generates strong dedication to me. Casting off this deplorable world they become my personal associates.

We are given momentary glimpses of the infinite sweetness of the All-Attractive even when material impurities still remain encrusted around our pure being. These visions serve a purpose. They increase our desire to be rid of the impurities which interrupt the link that makes it possible for the infinitesimal soul to drink the beauty of the infinite Attractive One. Desire is the strongest impetus. Thus momentary glimpses of divine love increase our desire for pure love, and this increased desire causes the mind and intellect to become unyieldingly dedicated to again attaining realization of the All-Attractive. This complete dedication, fueled by desire, casts off the lasts remaining impurities and the pure soul goes into pure existence where it becomes a personal companion of the All-Attractive.

[24]

A mind dedicated to me can never be lost. Even when the universe is destroyed and created, all is remembered by my mercy.

This answers Vyāsa’s question, “How can you remember your previous life so vividly, especially considering that it was in a previous universe!?” The answer is that when intelligence is fixed in the eternality of the personality of Godhead, it can never be lost. Godhead himself protects the continuity of memory of a mind dedicated to him. Neither the creation and destruction of one’s own body nor the creation and destruction of the world itself can break the continuity of intelligence and memory rooted in Godhead.

 


Nārada’s Previous Life

Nārada has just finished explaining to Vyāsa why if he really wants to accomplish his goal of benefitting humanity he must give direct voice to the names, forms, qualities, and activities of the All-Attractive. Now he tells the story of his past life to illustrate how powerfully purifying it is to hear about the All-Attractive.

[1.5.23]

O scholar, in a previous creation I was the child of an insignificant maidservant. During the rainy season she was assigned to carefully attend the domestic needs of philosophers and mystics.

Nārada is one of the first children of the first being in the universe, Brahmā. So the words Nārada uses to mean “a previous life” also mean “a previous universe.”

[24]

I was not like most children, obsessed with frivolous games. I had discipline, was quiet, and listened carefully to instructions. Therefore I could make good use of the impartial mercy the learned bestow.

Divine mercy is infinitely ever-present. It is only lack of humility which causes us to close ourselves off from it. This boy had natural humility, and thus made very good use of the time he spent with saintly people.

[25]

For example, they allowed me to eat what remained on their plates. This erased all my karma and made my heart very pure. Thus I became naturally attracted to their way of life.

Eating the food left behind after one has served a pure person infects one with purity. When the heart is pure its constitutional attraction to the spiritual becomes self-manifest.

[26]

So I would go and listen to them; and they would affectionately sing to me about Kṛṣṇa. With great interest and care I paid attention to everything they described. Thus I acquired a real taste, O dear one, for the Beloved Subject of Discussion.

The boy found, among all the philosophers and mystics gathered during the rainy season, a special group of people who always enthusiastically sang about All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇa-kathāḥ pragāyatām).  One name for the All-Attractive is Priyaśrava, “The Beloved Subject of Discussion.”

[27]

O genius, when I got that taste my attention could not waver from the Beloved Subject. I saw that I was bewildered by thinking of myself as something temporary. I came to know myself as transcendental spirit.

[28]

So, throughout the rainy season and into the autumn I continued hearing the saṁkīrtan of those learned great-souls glorifying the pure fame of Hari. My devotion began to flow and the passion and ignorance that had covered me eroded.

Both the boy and the great souls were enjoying their kīrtana so much that they could not part when the time came at the end of the rainy season. All the other philosophers and mystics departed but the boy and the great souls continued hearing and chanting about All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa. This soon caused a river of divine love to begin pouring from what was previously the glacier of the boy’s spiritual heart. That river quickly and powerfully eroded the dirt of passion and ignorance which had covered his pure, clear spiritual existence.

[29]

I really loved them, and so listened to and followed them carefully. All the impurities of that faithful boy were destroyed I began to behave like them.

[30]

Being affectionate and compassionate towards the needy, before leaving me they instructed me on the most confidential knowledge that the All-Attractive himself gives.

[31]

By this instruction certainly I understood the powerful influence of the true creator – the Son of Vasudeva – and became prepared to attain him.

[32]

O Brahmin, the instruction was this: ‘The learned know that the best remedy for all miseries is to dedicate ones duty to the All-Attractive Master.’

When finally departing, the great souls told the boy how to perfect what he had begun to attain in their company. They gave him the same knowledge that Kṛṣṇa himself gives in Bhagavad-Gītā: Do not renounce active life, but change your activities so that their motive is to please the All-Attractive Master.

Vyāsa may be surprised that such great souls gave such an apparently simplified instruction to a boy who had already attained so much spiritual advancement. After all, action and duty is the very first rung on the Vedic ladder of spirituality. So Nārada said…

[33-34]

O man of good action, can’t same thing that causes a disease cure it when administered properly? So, activities cause our material bondage, but activities can also destroy it when they are dedicated towards spiritual ends.

This is a homeopathic principle.

[35]

Whatever one does to please the All-Attractive thoroughly links one to the All-Attractive with the bonds of divine love. What we call “knowledge” is but a dependent of this link.

Normally duty purifies one of selfishness, and thus allows one to more clearly perceive knowledge. Thus normally duty is subservient to knowledge. But when duties are dedicated to the pleasure of Godhead the paradigm is reversed. Knowledge becomes a maidservant facilitating the link of divine love.

[36]

By endeavoring to please the All-Attractive by following his instructions, one naturally always remembers and embraces the qualities and names of Kṛṣṇa.

Activities dedicated to pleasing Kṛṣṇa are so purifying because they cause one to always remember Kṛṣṇa. It is actually the remembrance of Kṛṣṇa which is purifying, not the action itself. But the action is a catalyst.

[37]

‘Now hear this transcendental message: I focus on you, the All-Attractive, and contemplate you. Vāsudeva, Pradyumna, Aniruddha and Saṁkarṣaṇa are the focus, not I.’

To validate that duties properly performed cause one to remember Kṛṣṇa, Nārada here quotes a Vedic mantra to be invoked when doing regular duties.

 [38]

A person with perfect vision worships the Object of Sacrifice in the form of sound.

The “Object of Sacrifice” is Yajña, another name for Viṣṇu. God “in the form of sound” (mantra-mūrti) is especially the Saṁkīrtan Yajña singing of the mahā-mantra:

hare kṛṣṇa, hare kṛṣṇa, kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa, hare hare
hare rāma, hare rāma, rāma rāma, hare hare

Since the power of divine action is in its ability to inspire remembrance of the names and forms of the All-Attractive, one with good vision wants to spend as much time as possible directly engaged in discussing and singing the names and qualities of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore the best action to perform for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure is to discuss and sing about the Subject of Topmost Poetry.

[39]

O brahmin, that is how I obtained realized knowledge of Godhead. I acted upon it and was granted knowledge of Godhead’s opulent and multifarious powers. This lead me to personal affection for The Most Beautiful.

Nārada attained his status by Kṛṣṇa-saṁkīrtana: singing and discussing the names and qualities of the Divine Beloved. Keśava is a name for the All-Attractive indicating his beauty, especially due to his beautiful hair.

[40]

You also have learned by compiling the vast Veda that the wise who always seek knowledge try to please the Almighty. Describe this, and the miserable masses will get liberated from their constant suffering and sadness; from which there is no other escape.

Nārada concludes his story of his past life by saying, “Give direct voice to the names, forms, qualities, and activities of the All-Attractive. Thus accomplish your goal of liberating people from suffering. I am the proof that it works. Make them attracted to the All-Attractive.”


The Futility of Everything Besides Devotion

[1.5.16]

Only the learned can understand the great one beyond infinity, who is beyond the grasp of those who have no true self-concept and follow the path of material pleasures. Therefore you must clarify the activities of that Great One.

A particularly difficult subject requires a tutor. The name, form and activities of the All-Attractive Godhead are very difficult for a common person to appreciate correctly because they are beyond infinity (ananta-pārasya). Therefore Nārada encourages Vyāsa to become a tutor on this subject, for humanity.

Vyāsa may be doubtful, “How can I explain such a difficult subject? And what if people cannot grasp it properly and it causes them to prematurely abandon the other important principles of morality?Would this not be counterproductive?”

Nārada replies…

[17]

If one stumbles by prematurely abandoning one’s own duties to cultivate devotion to the lotus-like feet of Hari – what is inauspicious about that? If one sticks to one’s own duties but has no such devotion – what is the worth in that?

 [18]

The wise would therefore endeavor only for that aim – which is beyond anything they could find from the bottom of the universe to the top. They do not strive for pleasures, because one gains pleasure just as easily as displeasure: via the subtle workings of destiny, resulting from previous actions.

We do not have to strive for displeasure or pleasure. Both automatically come and go as a result of our being held responsible for the countless selfish actions we have performed in the past. We do, however, have to strive for divine love. Vyāsa’s efforts up till now did not reflect this truth. Nārada suggests that he must correct this mistake, by composing Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

Nārada’s logic is that nothing is truly gained by striving for ordinary pleasures, and nothing can truly be lost by striving for divine love. Therefore Vyāsa should promote divine love more directly and clearly. Vyāsa may doubt, “You say that nothing is lost even by failure on the path of divine love. However I have practically seen and heard of what appears to be failures on that path.”

Nārada replies that such an opinion is superficial…

[19]

The striving devotee of the Lotus-Face may somehow remember his materialistic ways, but will never ever become like others. A person who tasted the mellow of embracing the feet of the Lotus-Face will never be able to give up the addictive desire for it.

This is quite practical.. A devotee who is still striving will of course remember his or her previous addictions and habits from time to time, and therefore may sometimes appear distracted from divine loving service. However, the taste of the sublime joy of divine love is so highly addictive that it cannot be removed from the heart even when one attempts to temporarily pursue other aims. Therefore one on the path of devotion always returns relatively soon to that path even when they sometimes stumble and divert their attention from it.

Lotus-Face is a name for the All-Attractive, “Mukunda” whose face is softer, more beautiful and attractive than any flower.


The Futility of Morality and Philosophy

[1.5.12]

Without heartfelt affection for the Infallible there is no beauty even in knowledge that liberates one from all karma. What to speak of laborious duties, be they selfishly intended or not, if they are not done in offering to The Master.

Nārada continues to explain Vyāsa’s failure, revealing why he felt depressed and incomplete even after creating the entire culture of Vedic knowledge. The bulk of Vyāsa’s work focused on duties (karma). A higher but smaller portion focused on philosophy (jñāna). He relatively ignored the most essential subject: heartfelt devotion to the Infallible Master (“acyuta-bhāva”).

[13]

Therefore – O greatly blessed man of perfect vision, famous for your purity, truthfulness and dedication – to liberate the people from bondage you must first enter a trance of constant contemplation upon the deeds of the Supernatural Doer.

Since deeds and knowledge are not satisfying unless connected to heartfelt devotion for the All-Attractive, to remedy his depression and accomplish his goal Vyāsa must make humanity more clearly aware of the beautiful deeds of the All-Attractive. To accomplish this he must first have perfect vision of those deeds, and so must enter a meditative trance upon them.

[14]

Do not discuss anything without connecting it to this. The myriad names and forms of such things will make the heart unsteady like a boat troubled by a storm.

Nārada will explain this concept in a more practical manner:

[15]

The instructions you gave about moral duties are condemnable because they will be completely misappropriated by humanity’s powerful natural attachments. “We are following religion,” they will say – as they completely ignore your prohibitions.

This is a practical explanation of how a storm of problems arises from discussion of anything – even morality and philosophy – without direct connection to heartfelt devotion for the All-Attractive. Vyāsa gave so much guidance on how to be moral and dutiful, how to be “religious.” But the powerful natural inclination of a human being is to exploit whatever we can for our own purposes. Unless this natural inclination is replaced with a natural inclination of divine love, humanity will take any morality and philosophy and twist it to serve our own agendas. While slaughtering men, women and children, and destroying centuries of accumulated study and knowledge we will hold aloft religious symbols and claim that our despicable deeds – great and small – are religious and just, completely ignoring all the parts of our morality and religion that state to the contrary.

Thus promotion of religion is a mistake, and Vyāsa himself made that mistake. To benefit humanity, direct heartfelt devotion for the All-Attractive that must be promoted first and foremost. Morality and philosophy must attend this devotion as loving servants. To reverse this ratio and put morality and philosophy before divine devotion is a catastrophic error – and Vyāsa made this error in his efforts prior to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.


The Flaws of the Vedas

[1.5.5]

Vyāsa said, “O son of the self-born, everything you’ve said about me is true. I place this question yet again before your unlimited comprehension: what is the unknown root of my lack of satisfaction?

Nārada is the son of Brahmā, who is known as “self-born” because he has no mother or father but appeared atop a type of flower sprouted directly from Viṣṇu. Nārada already told Vyāsa why he was dissatisfied despite his monumental accomplishments, but the answer was so shocking that Vyāsa needed to ask Nārada to say it again unequivocally.

Truly great souls are sensitive to their limitations, not their greatness. This is how they continually become less limited and more great. So Nārada would naturally recoil from the praises of Vyāsa regarding his “unlimited comprehension.” Vyāsa therefore shows that he is not being sentimental and he considers Nārada’s greatness to be due to his connection to the Original Person. This is a proposition which a humble soul like Nārada can reluctantly accept.

[6-7]

“Certainly you know every secret truth! You are a devotee of the Original Person – who is the master of this realm and the spiritual realm as well; whose will alone creates and destroys everything; and who is beyond the embrace of limiting qualities. You move through the three worlds like the Sun. You enter within things like the air. Indeed you are like the Witnessing Soul. Please clearly elucidate the flaw I had in the all-encompassing pursuit of my spiritual path.”

The “Original Person” (Puruṣa Puāṇa) is the origin of the first incarnation: All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa. The “Witnessing Soul” (ātma-sākṣī) is the Supersoul, the third facet of the first incarnation.

Here Vyāsa reveals that his sentiment about Nārada being great and all-knowing is not sentiment alone. He is aware of the deep greatness of Nārada, which originally stems from his intimate devotional connection to the Original Person.

[8]

Nārada answers:

You basically neglected to give voice to the spotless fame of the All-Attractive. I think any such philosophical system is inferior and cannot satisfy anyone!

Vyāsa labored for thousands of years to create the five Vedic schools, which then developed six darśana (philosophical systems). Up till this encounter with Nārada Vyāsa considered his Vedanta-Sutra to be the crowning achievement of his labor. The Vedanta Sutra, however, does not really come right out and present the spotless glories of the All-Attractive. Vyāsa was also happy to have written the Mahābhārata, but even in that book, the glories of All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa are a sideshow, in a supporting role to illustrate religious and moral principles for the common man. The Veda barely mention the All-Attractive at all. The Purāṇa existing up till this encounter with Nārada do mention the glories of the All-Attractive, but insufficiently; being unfocused and diluted as they are mixed up with so many other glorifications and details.

So Nārada quite bluntly says, “Everything you have produced so far, including your elaborate philosophical expositions, is inferior and unsatisfactory because it neglects to properly glorify All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa.”

[9]

O Best of Scholars, again and again you described morality and so on as the goals of life. You certainly did not give similar attention to enunciating the greatness of Vasudeva’s son.

Vyāsa would submit that indeed All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa is the hidden subject within each and every word he wrote in each and every branch of the Vedas. Nārada counters with the practical truth: “You constantly stress how to achieve the four goals of life (pleasure, stability, morality, and emancipation). In comparison to the emphasis you gave these topics, you completely neglected Kṛṣṇa, Vasudeva’s son.”

[10]

I think words that do not pronounce the fame of Hari, the purifier of everything, however wondrous or poetic they may be are vacation spots for crows. Perfected spiritual swans do not delight there.

Vyāsa would submit that the four goals of human life are also important. But this would miss the point: Yes, they have relative importance, but developing a devotional relationship to the All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa is far more important. That fact is not at all borne out in the Vedas preceding Śrīmad Bhāgavatam – which elaborately stress every other goal of life and only here and there mention the true significance of spiritual devotion to the Original Person. Therefore Nārada becomes somewhat blunt and heavy with Vyāsa, saying, “I think what you have made so far amounts to a heap of garbage.”

[11]

The words which pronounce his names and depict his limitless fame will truly revolutionize the miseries of humanity. Even if each and every line is full of flaws – great souls embrace them, listen to them, and sing them.

Vyāsa would submit that purification is required before one can appreciate the All-Attractive. Therefore his efforts to gradually purify people might not be just “garbage.” Nārada counters that the All-Attractive is himself the purifier. No extraneous means of purification is required. Nārada says that Vyāsa should never have created all of those Vedas! He should have immediately put his full effort into directly announcing the names and famous deeds and qualities of All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa. The misdirection of his energy is why he feels incomplete despite all he accomplished.

Of course, Vyāsa’s works are extremely meritorious and monumentally outstanding accomplishments in human history. But Nārada says that to be monumental and outstanding is of no real consequence. Even if one is a terrible writer and a cloudy thinker – if one tries to speak or sing about the name and fame of Kṛṣṇa, whatever one produces however small or amateur is better than the entire corpus of Vedic literature cultivated over thousands of years by Vyāsa himself!

Swanlike people are repulsed by anything that is devoid of the All-Attractive, however beautifully it may be decorated. But they wholeheartedly embrace everything that contains the name and fame of Hari, however poorly it may be prepared.


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.


When, Why and How Vyasa Conceived Srimad Bhagavatam

[1.4.14]

Sūta said, “When the Second Age was beginning within the Third, the expansion of Hari was born to the mystic Parāśara and Vāsavyā.

This describes the birth of Vyāsa. Thus Sūta begins to answer Śaunaka’s first question – when, why and how did Vyāsa conceive of Śrīmad  Bhāgavatam?

The ages are counted “backwards” from the smallest, due to the math regarding how they are calculated as multiples of the smallest unit. Thus the Fourth Age is chronologically first, then comes the Third, followed by the Second, followed by the final age: “Quarrel.” Vyāsa was born a very long time ago, at the beginning of the Second Age (dvāpara yuga) about 870 thousand years ago, or, if we count ages according to Manu Samhita’s method, about three or four thousand years ago.

[15]

“Once, after finishing his morning bath in the pure water of Sarasvati River, he took a seat alone in concentration as the Sun rose over the riverbank.

[16]

“That sage could perceive the past and future. He saw that soon the unstoppable forces of the next age would cause an upheaval in morality, as occurred in the past as well, whenever this age comes.  

[17-18]

“That age would ruin humanity’s powers, character, and creations. People would be reduced to stone-hearted, confused, dull-witted, short-lived and luckless creatures. Seeing this by divine vision, the Sage whose vision is always clear contemplated how to help all varieties of people.

[19]

“He saw that the four types of rituals purified the deeds of the general population. So he expanded their definition from one concise summary into four discrete sections.

Vyāsa thought, “Rituals are useful to purify the deeds of ordinary people. So perhaps if I make it easier and clearer how and why to perform ritual, the people of the coming age will be rescued from the brunt of the calamity I foresee?”

[20-23]

“Those four are called Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma, and Atharva. He then made what is called the fifth division, consisting of histories and ancient tales. Then he carefully put Paila in charge of the Ṛg Veda, Jaimini in charge of the Sāma, and Vaiśampāyana in charge of the Yajur. He gave charge of the Atharva to Angirā, the fierce sage also named Sumantu. The histories and tales he entrusted to my father, Romaharṣaṇa. Each of these sages passed the Veda in their charge down through their limitless students, students’ students, the students of those students. Thus arose the different Vedic schools.

So, Vyāsa did not create the five divisions of Vedic knowledge in a few months. It took many generations before the five different schools were clearly and firmly established. During the Second Age the people, especially the sages, were very long-lived, so this would amount to quite a lot of time – thousands if not tens of thousands of years or more.

[24]

“That is how blessed Vyāsa, out of compassion for the miserable, compiled the Veda in a manner that a dull-minded man might better grasp.

 [25]

“Then he considered that certain people do not have much natural attraction to reading and academics – housewives, laborers, and those who are not truly cultured. ‘How can I help the less intellectually inclined?’ So thinking, he compassionately created the Tale of India.

The ritualistic Vedas, histories, and Purāṇas that Vyāsa created so far, though greatly simplified and clarified from their original format, were still quite “high-brow.” Vyāsa foresaw that most of the men and women in the coming age would be non-intellectual and have no interest in studying high-brow complexities. Therefore he compiled the extremely dramatic and colorful tales of Mahābharata (“The Great Tale of King Bhārata, King of India”) in such a way that would communicate essential knowledge through an entertaining medium.

[26]

“O cultured sages, having done all this work tirelessly and wholeheartedly for the benefit of so many people, his heart still could not find satisfaction.”

The next post will reveal why Vyāsa was still unsatisfied, and what he finally did about it.


The People Behind the Bhagavatam

 [1.4.1]

Elderly Śaunaka, leader of the sages at the prolonged sacrifice, congratulated and encouraged Sūta.

In this section the head of the sages stood up to congratulate Sūta for his plan to retell the Bhāgavatam, and in excitement inquires about the three most important people responsible for creating the Bhāgavatam: Vyāsa, who conceived of it, Śuka, who put it into words, and Parīkṣit, who inspired Śuka to do so.

[2]

“O Sūta! O greatly blessed Sūta!!! O greatest speaker among speakers, speak to us! Tell us the purifying messages of the All-Attractive, which you learned from blessedly powerful Śuka.

 [3]

A portrayal of Vyasa, who classified the Vedas...

Dark Complexioned Vyasa

“When, where and why was The Black inspired to create this book?

“The Black” is a name for Vyāsa, whose complexion was black. He is therefore also called Kṛṣṇa (“black”), as a short form of his full name: Kṛṣṇa-Dvaipāyana-Vyāsa.

[4]

“His son was a great mystic who saw everything as the same, had no ulterior motives, and was of one mind, fully-awakened; but kept it hidden by appearing to be a fool.

Vyāsa’s son is Śuka. Next, Śaunaka will illustrate the above qualities with an incident he heard about:

[5]

“When naked Śuka passed a group of beautiful bathing women they felt no shyness at all. When his father, Vyāsa came following close behind, however, they scrambled to cover their bodies. Astonished, Vyāsa inquired from the ladies, who told the sage, ‘You see differences between men and women, but your son does not. His sight is pure.’

It is extremely astonishing that a naked young man could pass a group of naked young women bathing without either parties minding or even significantly noticing one another. This is a powerful tribute to the depth of spiritual realization attained by Śuka. True realization is obvious to everyone, you can “sense” it. The women were fully aware that Śuka did not see them as naked women, but as spiritual entities. Therefore they did not mind or even respond at all when the naked young man passed them.

What does this say about Vyāsa’s level of realization? Is it inferior to his son’s?

In a sense, yes, that is what the sage is trying to convey. “Śuka is so great, even superior to Vyāsa.” Although Vyāsa had the same deep realization as his son, the practicalities of his lifestyle were not on that level, and thus his vision was not accustomed to operate on a par with his true realization. Vyāsa was a family man involved in having children, etc. Therefore in practice Vyāsa had to, as a duty, differentiate on a material level between things like male and female. Śuka, however, immediately renounced any type of normal lifestyle and existed on the platform of his pure realization without compromise. Therefore his functional vision was even superior to his father, the revered Vyāsa.

The quality of complete indifference to the male-female polarity in nature is a deep and inimitable trademark of the “equal-vision” which accompanies deep spiritual understanding. It is important to remember that our tendency to see and treat men and women differently is an embarrassment, albeit an embarrassment that is required to keep normal affairs functioning.

[6]

“When he reached the city of Gaja Sāhvage looking wild, deaf and dumb coming out of the Kuru Jungle, how did the citizens appreciate him?

Gaja Sāhvage is another name for Hastināpura, which has now become Delhi.

[7]

“My dear boy, how did he meet the Pandava King – thus setting the stage for this pure discussion of wisdom?

[8]

“He lingers in a worldly home only as long as it takes them to milk a cow. Thus the house becomes a most blessed holy ashram.

Śaunaka had no interest in possessions or food. On the rare occasion that he needed to beg from a common home, he would only accept milk, and would only stay for as long as it took them to get the milk. By his short presence in a home, the character of the place would transform with a spiritually enlivened atmosphere. That was his true purpose in occasionally begging something trifling from the worldly.

[9]

“O Sūta, Abhimanyu’s Son is said to be a topmost blessed lover of Godhead. Please tell us about his greatly wondrous life and deeds!

“Abhimanyu’s Son” is the emperor, Parīkṣit. The leader of the sages, Śaunaka, now turns his appreciations and inquiries to Parīkṣit.

[10]

“He was an emperor in the extremely wealthy Pāṇḍu dynasty. Why would he discard his power and opulence to sit and fast by the Ganges?

The emperor took a vow to fast until death. The sages are astonished about this.

[11]

“Even his enemies would bow down, placing their wealth at his feet for their own best interest. Oh why would such a powerful, opulent, beautiful, young, unconquerable man want to give up his life?

[12]

“People who live to please The Subject of Topmost Poetry live not for their own interest, but for the welfare, growth and prosperity of the world. Why then did he want to give up all connection with his mortal life, which protected so many people?

“The Subject of Topmost Poetry” is another name for Godhead.

Śaunaka surmises that probably Emperor Parīkṣit would easily give up worldly things like power and opulence due to natural lack of interest in them, since he was a greatly elevated lover of Godhead. Devotees of God do not seek annihilation, they always wish to exist to please Godhead; living vigorously for the welfare of Gods energies – the creation and all the people in it. As an emperor, the welfare of many, many people rested upon Parīkṣit. So Śaunaka has to ask Sūta to explain why this emperor was willing to give up his life.

 [13]

“We ask you all these questions because, although you do not practice rituals, we think you are fully acquainted with all subjects and the language used to describe them. Therefore you can clearly explain all of this to us.”

Śaunaka indicates that the ritualistic facets of the Vedas (or of any culture) are inconsequential and it is not important for anyone’s spiritual progress to be well acquainted with them. What is important is to deeply understand complicated subjects and the subtleties of the words sages use to explain them. Śaunaka and the sages felt that Sūta was fully conversant in these topics, and that is why they put so many questions to him, with such eagerness.


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!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,058 other followers