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