Category Archives: 1.01 Questions in the Forest

Questions that Inspired Srimad Bhagavatam 1.1.4-23

A host of sages and mystics assembled in a great forest to perform a prolonged sacrifice for the benefit of the world, which just entered the challenging Age of Quarrel. One morning a very learned sage, named Suta, appeared amongst them and they all questioned him eagerly.

He might protest their attention and respect, so they said:

“It is right that we respect and inquire from you because (a) you have studied all branches of science and philosophy, (b) you understand all the major schools of thought on these subjects, and (c) you are very humble and therefore blessed by your teachers and eager to help others.”

Then they put their question to him – they asked, “We have assembled here to perform a sacrifice for the benefit of humanity in this difficult epoch of history. But we are afraid that we are not getting anything from our sacrificial fires except a lot of black smoke and soot. What should we do successfully benefit mankind?”

Suta would have protested that the learned sages should know the answer, so they continued:

“We have studied much indeed, but all the various branches and opinions have confused us. We are asking you to identify and explain the essence of all branches of knowledge.”

Suta may have protested that to answer would take a long time, so they said:

“You are very long-lived! As you can see from this thousand-year sacrifice we have begun, we are also long-lived and patient.”

Suta might have then doubted, “If these sages don’t even have the slightest idea as to the answer to their question, which though profound is indeed simple and essential, then perhaps they are not qualified or capable to learn the subject, and it would be a misuse of my time and effort to try to instruct them?” Fearing this doubt the sages spoke up to indicate that many of them did indeed have a strong suspicion about what might be the answer to this question – what is the most beneficial thing for humanity. Therefore they said:

“We think this question has everything to do with Krishna. The Supreme Godhead only appears in this world to uplift and benefit humanity, so his very recent appearance as Krishna must be the key to humanity’s welfare in this difficult age.”

Seeing Suta’s approving expression, the sages felt encouraged to reveal more of their opinion on the subject:

“Anything connected to Krishna is extremely purifying and beneficial for human beings. His name, for example, very easily frees everyone from the inescapably complex and frightening web of illusions. His servants and friends, for example, purify a human more than the Ganges river – just by being in their company. So we think that poems about Krishna and his confidential partners must be the most beneficial thing to purify and uplift humanity, especially in the Age of Quarrel.”

Now Suta may have tested the sages, or the sages anticipated such. One test Suta might have posed is, “What do you mean, how can hearing about some person be beneficial for humanity?”

They addressed this test thus: “Krishna is not an ordinary person, he is an incarnation of the Supreme Godhead.”

Suta tests further, “Yes, but in an incarnation Godhead acts like an ordinary man. What is the value of hearing about someone who imitates ordinary men?”

Sri Krishna, as a young child with foster mother .

Image via Wikipedia

The sages reply [1.1.17-18], “No, no, no! The Gods themselves and great saints and sages all sing loudly to broadcast the activities of Godhead. If such activities were ordinary, how would such extraordinary beings take delight in them? Please rest assured that we do not have this obnoxious misconception about the incarnations of Godhead, thinking that they are material and ordinary. We know fully well that the activities of the divine are not at all within the arena of illusion! They are all expressions of the overflowing internal spiritual bliss of Godhead. Poems about them are pictures of pure spirit in action! Therefore please tell us all about the activities of Krishna and many other incarnations of Godhead, too!”

Suta may then test the sages: “Are you sure? I love these topics. I will not stop speaking about them for a long time. Don’t you have busy schedules and responsibilities with this sacrifice? Won’t you become distracted or bored?”

They reply [19], “No! We can never get enough of the topmost poetry describing the amazing deeds of the Supreme Personality! We are familiar with the truth of pleasures and happiness and therefore when we hear the deeds of Krishna we will enjoy, oh we will so enjoy! In each and every word we will enjoy true pleasure.”

Now Suta becomes fully satisfied that his audience is fit to truly relish a full disclosure of Srimad Bhagavatam – the poetry describing the character and deeds of many incarnations of the Supreme Entity, the subject matter that should be meditated upon to attain the highest blessing. But he wonders, “Previously they mentioned Krishna as the son of Vasudeva and Devaki as their prime interest, but later they extended their interest to all incarnations of the Supreme Godhead. Which incarnation of Godhead should I really focus on as I narrate these divine tales?”

The sages reply [20], “We specifically want you to focus on Krishna, with beautiful hair, who sported with his brother Rāma. Especially we want to know the most intimate and concealed activities of Krishna – the Superhuman Godhead acting like a tricky young man!”

With this statement, the sages in the Forest of the Unblinking Eyes indicate boldly and directly that they want Suta Goswāmī to focus his narration upon Śrī Krishna as the son of Nanda and Yasoda, in the Sweet Forest (Vrindavana), especially on his very expert and tricky dealings with the young girls there. Indeed this topic will become the focal point and crown jewel of Suta Goswāmī’s presentation.

At this point, Suta Goswāmī is overjoyed but shocked to have found such deep spiritual passion in an unexpected place – a ritualistic ceremony.

The sages reply to this surprise [21-22]: “Because we knew that the Age of Quarrel had already begun, all of us gathered here in this special forest to perform a sacrifice. This forest is special because it is consecrated to Śrī Vishnu and is therefore fit for Vaishnava functions. The sacrifice we truly intended to perform here is not done with fire and oil, but with words! However we found no one fit to lead the sacrifice by speaking the divine words of poetry glorifying the incarnations of the Supreme Personality, Śrī Vishnu. But now you have come into our midst, sent directly by providence! You shall fill the post that no one here was fit to fill. You shall become the captain of the boat which can carry humanity in the Age of Quarrel over the insurmountable ocean of decay and deterioration!”

Wishing to end their statements with a specific question allowing Suta to have clear focus on how to begin his discussion, the sages closed with the following [23]:

“The master of all spiritual powers, the Spiritual Entity, the protector of dharma – Krishna – has now gone away to his own abode. Who or what shall now protect dharma?”

1.1.4-17 Questions in the Forest

The introduction is over and the story now begins…

A host of learned sages and mystics, headed by Shaunaka, assembled in the Forest of He Who Does Not Blink, and engaged themselves in an arduous thousand-year long sacrifice for the benefit of both heaven and earth. But one morning, after they tended the sacrificial fire, the uncommonly wise and learned Suta entered their midst. The sages made Suta a respectful seat, and very thoughtfully presented him the following questions.

“You have carefully studied and taught the many branches of Vedic Wisdom – all the histories, accounts, and guidelines for morality. You yourself practice what you have learned and taught, being free from vice. You are fully conversant with the teachings of the foremost scholar Vyasadeva, and all other important teachers as well, and are therefore the most learned person. And equally important, you are a humble and receptive person. Therefore you fully absorbed all the blessings of your teachers and are now eager to pass those gifts on to others such as us. Considering all that you have learned, good and long-lived Suta, please answer this question in a simple, unequivocal way: What is the highest good for humanity?

“Specifically please tell us of the highest good for the current epoch of human history – the Age of Quarrel – during which time human beings become very meager in longevity, lazy, misguided and dull, unlucky, and surely always without peace of mind and free time.”

Here Suta Goswāmī may have humbly indicated that all of these learned sages and mystics assembled must surely know the answers to such question. Therefore the sages said that although they were quite learned, they were confused…

“We are learned, but we have learned so many branches of knowledge – each of which seems to say a different thing and put forth a different idea about what is best. We ask you to unify all these divergent teachings by pointing out to us what is the essence of all of them. Considering all the many divergent theories and philosophies, what is the singular best thing for humanity, by which their troubled hearts will be fully satisfied?”

Again Śrī Suta would now very likely look at them with some disbelief, as if saying, “none of you has any idea?” In fact many of the sages did know the answer, but wished to hear it expanded and gloriously explained by the greatly blessed Suta. Therefore they now indicate that they are aware of what the answer to this question most likely is…

“Suta! You are most blessed because you know the true purpose why the Supreme Entity, protector of the pure, appeared as Krishna – the son of Vasudeva and Devaki. That is what we are so eager to understand, for the incarnations of the Supreme are meant to protect and uplift humanaity! Please explain what you have learned about Krishna!

“The sound of his name – “Krishna,” even if inattentively heard, at once liberates even those completely entangled in the complex and frightening web of material life. Ah, fear itself flees in fear of that wondrous name! The Ganges river purifies after some use, but one immediately becomes far more purified just by being in proximity to those who merely serve Krishna’s feet. Is there anyone that desires their own purification who would not want to hear the auspicious poetry describing Krishna’s character and activities? Such poems are the only means of sanctifying the impure Age of Quarrel. All his activities are magnanimous, and broadcast by the gods and sages. We are very, very eager to hear about the pastimes he enjoys in all his incarnations – please speak to us about this!”