Category Archives: 1.04 History of Bhagavatam

The Beauty of the All Attractive

1.7.8

Having conceived of and polished that godly treatise, he taught it to his learned and renounced son, Śuka.

9

Śaunaka asked: He was dedicated to giving up everything, completely uninterested in acquiring anything. So why would a learned soul already immersed in spiritual bliss bother to take up such a vast study?

10

Sūta answered: From those immersed in spiritual bliss to those who are scholars and even to those who are lawless, everyone wants pure, unmotivated divine love. The qualities of Hari are that wonderful.

11

The thoughts of godly Badarāyaṇa’s son were enraptured by those qualities of Hari. Therefore he eagerly took up the study of that which is dear to those dedicated to Viṣṇu.

This section clarifies how Vyāsa passed the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam on to his son, Śuka. It is a topic of question because Śuka left home immediately upon being born with a fully developed youthful body. Vyāsa followed the boy calling for him to return home, but his calls were replied to only by their own echoes. Śuka had no interest in associating with Vyāsa and did not remain in his company for a moment. So how and when could Vyāsa have passed Śrīmad Bhāgavatam to Śuka?

In the current section, Śaunaka raises this very question: “We know Śuka was completely uninterested in anything his father Vyāsa had to say or offer, so how could he have learned Śrīmad Bhāgavatam from him?”

The answer is: The birth of Śuka took place before Vyāsa met Nārada. After Vyāsa learned about divine love from Nārada he deeply meditated upon it and personally realized it. Thereafter he composed the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. He then went out in search of his son. Upon hearing the change in his father’s level of realization, Śuka understood that Vyāsa had now come to fully appreciate divine love and therefore happily agreed to sit and learn Śrīmad Bhāgavatam from him.

The tenth text in particular is an extreme favorite of the great exemplar of divine love, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya. He personally explained this text to a handful of fortunate people bringing out dozens of facets within it. The essence of all of them is that everyone is attracted to divine love. It doesn’t matter if you are learned or illiterate, self-realized or self-ignorant, saintly or sinful. The wonderful attributes of Hari are so delightful that everyone is attracted.

Hari is a name describing the All-Attractive as a being so captivating that he steals the heart and mind. Hari is All-Attractive to everyone, but especially to those who are pure, selfless and free from illusion, such as Śuka. Thus Śuka was even more powerfully attracted than anyone else would be to the proposition of learning Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, the Beautiful Exposition of the All-Attractive. Therefore he eagerly and attentively devoted himself to studying it under Vyāsa.


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.


History of the Bhagavatam & Qualities of True Teachers

Suta gave a list of important incarnations of Godhead. Then there was a question, “Isn’t God limited by taking incarnations and having form?” – Suta explained that God’s form is beyond form, and the individual’s soul is similar. He then stated bluntly that no one can grasp what this truly means by their logic and intellect alone. To understand such infinite subjects one must be empowered by the infinite Godhead. Thus one must approach the topics of Godhead in a devotional mood.

Suta intends to deliver the topics of Godhead in a devotional mood, by explaining Śrīmad Bhāgavatam to them.

[1.3.40]

This Purāṇa named “Bhāgavatam” is nothing but pure spirit. It is full of the activities of he who inspires the ultimate poetry. It was compiled by the Sage Incarnation especially for the ultimate good of the world. In it reside blessedness, auspiciousness, and greatness!

The term “Sage Incarnation” (bhagavān ṛṣi) is a reference to Vyāsa, the incarnation who recompiled knowledge into more readily understandable formats.

[41-42]

He extracted the essence of the essence of all knowledge and history and put it in the care of his great, self-realized son. It was his son who actually gave it shape by explaining it to Emperor Parīkṣit, who was fasting until his end, surrounded by exalted sages on the Ganges’ shore.

Suka's Bhagavatam Kirtan

The Kirtan of Suka and Pariksit

Vyāsa’s constant task is to extract the essence of the abstracts of knowledge and explain it in more graspable ways. This requires utilization of analogy, metaphor and stories. Thus Vyāsa does not merely extract the essence of philosophy but also of art, presentation, and history. He combines the essence of philosophy with the essence of such subjects to create a presentation that can deliver deep understanding of spiritual concepts not just to dedicated sages living in a forest, but to blue collar workers as well.

He is not primarily a historian or an artist. His primary aim is to communicate knowledge, and he employs the essence of arts and histories to that end, as he deems appropriate.

His work came to a culmination due to the guidance of Narada. He then composed the Srimad Bhagavatam and taught it to his son, Suka. Suka then gave it fuller form by explaining it to Emperor Pariksit.

[43]

Krishna has returned to his own realm, and morality and knowledge have gone with him. The Age of Darkness has ruined the vision of everyone who remains. But now arises the new sun of this Purāṇa!

This is Suta’s direct answer to one of the earlier questions from the Sages, “How can morality and knowledge be protected now that Krishna has left our world?” They will be protected by the Bhāgavata Purāṇa.

[44]

O scholars, I was also in the kirtan of that greatly empowered sage of scholars. By his kindness I could concentrate upon it clearly and understand it. Now I will pass those words on to you, as far as my ability might allow.

A summary of the Bhāgavatam’s history: It was conceived of by Vyāsa as the perfected essence of the essence of his efforts to make true knowledge available. Vyāsa’s son, Śuka, presented it to an audience for the first time – during his kīrtana with the Emporer on the banks of the Ganges. Suta was present there and will now pass on what he learned to the sages of the forest.

Suta exemplifies the qualities of a truly valuable spiritual teacher.

The first quality is to attend to “kīrtana.” Kīrtana means audible glorification. Sometimes it is spoken, sometimes it is sung. Sometimes it is prose, sometimes it is poetry, and sometimes it is merely an important, meaningful word or name repeated with attention and devotion. The greatest “spiritual lottery” one could win would be to attend the kirtan of highly realized speakers and singers, as Suta did by attending the Kirtan of Śuka and Parīkṣit.

The second quality is appreciativeness. Understanding the topics of that exalted kīrtana, Suta did not become proud or arrogant. Instead, he felt so grateful to Śuka for kindly making the effort to explain the topics so easily and thoroughly.

The third quality of a truly valuable spiritual teacher is humility. The true teacher is appreciative towards his or her own teachers and humble before his students. Suta does not consider himself a superman. He admits natural limitations and does his best to communicate what he learned in a manner both relevant and intact.

One who attends kīrtana with full appreciation and who conducts kīrtana with full humility becomes a rising sun of spiritual blessing, dispelling the darkness of the Age of Quarrel.