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.
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!
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
pibata bhAgavataM rasam AlayaM
muhuraho rasikA bhuvi bhAvukAH
The meaning is as beautiful as the structure:
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.
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 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.
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!