Category Archives: 1.05 How Vyasa Conceived the Bhagavatam

The Flaws of the Vedas (II)

After directly and indirectly compiling the four Vedas, the histories, their expansions, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, and the Vedanta Sutra Vyasa still felt incomplete. The divine sage Narada Muni arrived to help him understand why. (This story is told in the Srimad Bhagavata Purana 1.5)

Nārada answered with the same direct honesty as before: “Basically, you neglected to voice the spotless fame of the All-Attractive. I think any such philosophical system is inferior, and cannot really satisfy anyone!”

Vyāsa would think, “But I did glorify the all-attractive throughout all my works!”

So Nārada continues, “O Best of Scholars, again and again you lauded morality and the like as being the true goals of life. Comparatively speaking, how much attention did you give to the greatness of Vasudeva’s son?”

Vyāsa was silent in the face of this truth.

Seeing his acceptance of the facts, Nārada spoke out even more strongly. “What is the use of all the words you have written!? No matter how wondrous or poetic such words might be, since they do not pronounce the fame of Hari – who purifies everything – I think your words are trash; playgrounds for the crows. Beautiful spiritual swans take no delight in them!

“If you would have given your words instead to pronouncing his all-attractive names and limitless fame you would have truly revolutionized the miseries of humanity! Even if each and every line would have been full of flaws, great souls would embrace them, listen to them, and sing them!”


The Origin of Karma and Illusion

1.7.1

Śaunaka asked: After Bādarāyaṇa heard godly Nārada speak and then leave, what did he do, O Sūta?

Bādarāyaṇa is a name of Vyāsa, whose main headquarters is at Badarīk Ashram in the Himalayas.

2

Sūta answered: On the western shore of the sacred river Sarasvatī, in a place called Śamyāprāsa, is an ashram reputed to be ideal for spiritual research.

3

There, surrounded by Badarī trees, is Vyāsa’s personal ashrama where he sat, washed his hands and focused his mind within.

Vyāsa’s headquarter is called Badarīk Ashrama because it is surrounded by Badarī trees; a type of cotton shrub called Jujube. The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam does not agree with those who contend that Bādarāyaṇa and Vyāsa are entirely different people. The arguments of those who dissect the universe into slices which fit their preconceived misconceptions are endless and serve little purpose.

4-6

[4:] Perfectly linking his mind in pure devotion, he saw the Complete Original Person, with all energies at his command. [5:] These energies bewilder the transcendent soul to blindly conceive of itself as a product of matter; and to become caught up in the endeavor for useless things. [6:] This entanglement with useless things can be erased straightaway by linking oneself to the Supreme in divine love. Because people in general don’t know this, Vyāsa compiled this spiritual treatise.

7

Just listen carefully to it and devotion for the All-Attracative Paramount Personality, Kṛṣṇa, will take root, extinguishing the laments, confusions, and fears of humanity.

I will offer my insignificant but hopefully useful comments on texts one through seven.

Nārada told Vyāsa to personally realize the importance of divine love and then express that realization as a new addition to the Veda. So when Nārada departed, Vyāsa went to his ashram and sat in deep meditation.

Text 4 describes the type of meditation and the vision he obtained by it. Vyāsa meditated by the yoga of devotion. Thus he succeeded in attaining an absolutely perfect link from his mind to the Paramount Person (bhakti-yogena manasi samyak paṇihite ‘male). What he then beheld was a vision of that Supreme Person with all energies completely at his command (apaśyat puruṣaṁ pūrṇaṁ māyāṁ ca tad-apāśrayam).

Vyāsa saw that the Personal Being of Godhead is in control of every other energy. This directly contradicts the idea that a personal God is a figment, a myth, a primitive anthropomorphic impulse of simple minds. Even people within the modern religions of the world are infected with this concept. It is not the concept held by Vyāsa when he composed Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Vyāsa saw that the creative and illusive powers that be are under the control of Godhead, not visa versa (māyām ca tad-apāśrayam).

Text 5 describes the illusion created by one of the Paramount Person’s energies. This energy bewilders not God, but the infinitesimal fragment of God, the soul (yasyā sammohito jīva).

Why does God want to bewilder anyone?

God loves everyone. Loving a person means that you want to fulfill their desires and care for their needs. God uses his energy for this purpose alone. When someone wants to experience existence from the point of view of being the center, the focal point of all attention and affection – God, as always, wants to fulfill that desire. Normally this is exclusively God’s experience of reality, but to share it with the souls who so desire God employs his energy to create a completely compelling and fully believable illusion. In this illusion the soul accepts an temporary identity like a role in a drama (ātmānaṁ triguṇātmakam paro ‘pi manute), and in that persona pursues various goals, which are props of no real value or use to us outside the context of the drama (anarthaṁ tat-kṛtaṁ cābhipadyate).

Love means to fulfill the beloved’s desires, and care for their needs. So God’s energies not only fulfill our desires, they tend to our needs. The soul may desire to be self-centered, but what it eventually needs is to be willingly harmonious with its essential nature. God’s energy bewilders the soul into a sensation which fulfills its impossible dreams, but also provides the possibility of reform. How? By responsibility. The energy of illusion (māyā) bewilders us, and the energy of responsibility (karma) offers us reformation.

Text 6 describes the best method of reform. Vyāsa saw that the best way to delete the complications of illusion is by divine love. We are also an energy of Godhead, so we should also place ourselves into his shelter and control. The best way to place oneself in the hands of another is by pure love. Thus Vyāsa understood that divine love (bhakti-yoga) is the best remedy for illusion.

So Vyāsa became personally inspired to do what Nārada asked of him: create a new spiritual treatise (sātvata-saṁhita) which would help the common man understand what Vyāsa has just personally understood in his mystical vision.

Text 7 tells us that if we just listen carefully to that treatise, divine love for the All-Attractive Paramount Personality, Kṛṣṇa, will take root in our heart (yasyāṁ vai śrūyamāṇāyāṁ kṛṣṇe parama-pūruṣe bhaktir utpadyate). The side effect of that divine love is to extinguish all human lamentation, illusion and fear (śoka-moha-bhayāpahā).

The River Sarasvati Closeby Vyasa's Ashrama in the Himalayas


Nārada’s Order To Vyāsa: “Make Them Become Like Śrī Rādhā”

[1.5.20-21]

The All-Attractive is one with everything, yet also distinct from it all. On him the world exists, is destroyed, and is created. You know all about this, my good man, but still I present a little synopsis. With your flawless vision you can discover the self of the self. You are a part of the Supersoul facet of the Supreme Person. Such unborn beings take birth only to improve the world, therefore please awaken the greatest divine love by describing it very vividly.

That the divine is simultaneously one with yet different from everything (bhedābheda-tattva), is not a novel invention of Śrī Caitanya in the 16th Century. It is the original timeless philosophy of Nārada, the sage of the gods, and Vyāsa, the sage of all other sages. Nārada’s exact words defining it are, idaṁ hi viśvaṁ bhagavān ivetaraḥ, “The All-Attractive is one with everything, yet also distinct from all of it.” He tells Vyāsa, tad dhi svayaṁ veda bhavān, “you already know and hold this same opinion.”

Vyāsa holds this philosophy because he has flawless vision of reality (amogha-dṛk) and is himself an incarnation of Godhead (paramātmanaḥ kalām). Thus, this conception is flawless and represents God’s own perspective on the nature of reality.

Nārada requests Vyāsa, “Godhead incarnates only the benefit the world, so please give the world the most beneficial thing.”

What is the most beneficial thing?

“Love, of course.” Nārada replies, “But even better, not just ordinary love – pure, true love. And not just any true love, but true love that springs from the true self for the true beloved. And not just any type of true divine love, but the very greatest zenith of it.”

This is the meaning within the Nārada’s words, mahā-anubhāva.

Divine love is called bhāva-bhakti, indicating that it is true and pure, springs directly from the pure and true self, and flows directly towards the pure and true divine beloved. Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī carefully explains, in his books Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu and Ujjvala-Nīlamaṇī, that this true divine love is called prema when fully realized in a tangible manner. Prema can then undergo several stages of further  intensification towards its infinite zenith. The Goswāmī calls this zenith mahā-bhāva. There is only one being who truly and fully experiences divine love at this level, the Supreme Goddess, who blesses the world with her name, “Rādhā.” Just as Śrī Caitanya’s philosophy is no novel invention, similarly his disciple Śrī Rūpa is not a fabricator of novelties.  Śrī Rūpa’s paradigms represent the paradigms of the great sage of the gods, Nārada. Nārada here directly instructs Vyāsa, with the words mahānubhāvābhyudayo ‘dhigaṇyatām,  that he must conceive of a way to glorify Śrī Rādhā’s extreme zenith of divine love and thereby make the world follow her example and become her assistants in the transcendental love affair. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is the ultimate outcome of Vyāsa taking this instruction from Nārada to heart.

 [22]

The erudite certainly define this as the perfect goal of human efforts, inquiries, rituals, prayers, enlightenment, and selflessness: to give voice to the qualities of The Subject of Topmost Poetry.

Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum, , , .

Maha-anu-bhava

Vyāsa’s question after hearing the previous words of Nārada was, “How can I accomplish such an elevated deed – granting humanity access to the supreme and most intimate form of divine love?”

Nārada replies with this: “True love can’t be manufactured! So you cannot attain it by strenuous efforts, philosophy, ritual, prayers, liberation, or morality – as you have already wasted your efforts promoting in all the Veda you’ve compiled over these thousands of years.”

“I accept that,” Vyāsa would say. “But please tell me how I can succeed in granting such divine love to humanity?”

Nārada answers, “A person can attain topmost divine love only by coming into direct contact with it. You must give humanity that chance! Let them witness it! Tell them what it looks like in action, what it feels like, tastes, smells and sounds like! Describe to them how the All-Attractive Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, interacts with the All-Loving Fountainhead Goddess, Rādhā.”

That is what this book, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, really is.


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.