Tag Archives: Ganges

How to Befriend the God of Death

In the absence of the Pāṇḍavas, Parīkṣit governed the earth as a great devotee, guided by the best philosophers. Indeed, he developed all the great qualities foreseen by the astrologers when he was born.

He married Irāvatī and they had four children, the oldest of whom was Janamejaya.

With Kṛpā as the supervising priest, he held three horse sacrifices on the bank of the Ganges, at which he gave abundant charity. There, the gods came within the range of the human vision.

Once, while travelling through his new kingdom, he heroically used his power to arrest Kali, who appeared as a low class man disguised as a king destroying the legs of a cow and bull.

Śaunaka asked:

Why did he merely arrestKali and not kill him? O blessed Sūta, if this story has something to do with Krishna, please tell us about it. Those who enjoy the real nectar of Krishna have no hunger for wasting their life on unreal jabbering.

My boy, humans are short-lived mortals. But we can attain immortality if we befriend the god of death. If the god of death hears devotional discussion of Krishna, he stops his duties to listen, and while that happens no one dies. We have invited him here, so let us humans now drink the immortal nectar of discussing Hari! Let us not be like the fools of our age: Small, small-minded, and very short lived; sleeping away their nights and working away their days for nothing.

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An Example of Asthanga Yoga in Bhagavata Purana

Nārada Advises Yudhiṣṭhira

Meanwhile, the noble King had finished his morning prayers and rituals – paying respects to the learned and giving them food, resources and money. He returned to the palace to respect his elders but could not find his uncles and aunt.

Worried, he went to Sañjaya and asked,

“Where is our blind and old uncle? Where is my aunt, so sad over the death of her children? Where is my Uncle Vidura, who has always protected me? Have I been so insensitive to their losses that they’ve thrown themselves into the Ganges in misery?

“When our father Pāṇḍu fell and we were still little children, our uncles protected us from danger and disaster. Where have they gone?”

Sañjaya couldn’t answer right away, but he brushed away his own tears, calmed his own mind and, carefully remembering the feet of his master, began to reply.

Sañjaya said:

“Oh beloved son, I don’t know what your uncles and aunt have decided. Those great souls have left me in the dark.”

Just then godly Nārada arrived with Tumburu.[1] Everyone stood up to offer respectful greetings to the scholar.

Yudhiṣṭhira said:

“O godly one, I don’t know where my uncles and austere aunt have gone, aggrieved over the death of their children.  Your ears can guide us beyond the insurmountable limits of our own limitations.”

Then, godly Nārada, the most spiritual scholar, began to speak:

By no means should you weep, King. You are not the real King, God is. Everything is controlled by him. Everyone and all their leaders pay tribute to him, seeking sanctuary. He brings living beings together, and also takes them apart. His orders are the reigns through the nose of the bull that is humanity. Everyone pays him tribute and receives sanctuary.

Just like a playful child brings his toys together and separates them as he likes, so too are humans moved by the will of the Master.[2]

Maybe you think life is eternal, maybe you think it is temporary. In either case it is foolish to lament over affection, or anything else.[3]

You worry, thinking, “But how can those poor helpless people survive without me?” You feel this way because you are ignorant of who and what you really are. Give this up.

You are in a body created by five elements and controlled by habit, causality and fate. You are like a person bitten by a snake, who rushes to help others.

You worry that your aunt and uncles may have gone somewhere dangerous. Is anyplace safe in this world? Here the strong devour the weak. The four-legged devour the legless. Those with hands devour those without. Here, life lives at the expense of the living.

In this frightful situation, O Emperor, we must try to see the All-Attractive inside and outside of everything; the one soul of all souls. It is a bewilderment to look towards any other.

O Emperor, the All-Attractive being of beings is always among us in the form of fateful time. He deletes the existence of those who trouble the gods. He accomplishes this mission with time to spare. You will stay in this world for as long as he does.[4]

You want to know where your aunt and uncles are? They have gone to the southern Himalayas, to place where sages reside, a place called “Sevenfold” because there the Ganges splits into seven branches, creating seven islands for the seven sages.

Your Uncle Dhṛtarāṣṭra is practicing aṣṭānga-yoga there. He performs the first step by bathing and invoking the sacred fires exactly according to rites. He performs the second step by eating only water. By now he will have attained self-pacification and abandoned all desires.

He will master the third and fourth steps: postures and breathing. He will take the fifth step: withdrawing his six senses from the external world and absorbing them in Hari. Thus he will attain the sixth step: liberation of the mind from the distractions of passion, peace, and ignorance.[5]

As the seventh step he will reach unity with perfect self-knowledge. He will destroy the knower of the body by merging it into the pool of spiritual being, like the air within a pot merged into the sky.

Finally, at the eighth step when nature’s impurities are overcome and their after-effects subside, the causes of desire will cease. All acquisition is stilled, immovable, and fixed. There is no further obstacle. All deeds are completely given up.

O King, this will probably take him another five days to achieve. So in five days his body will become ash.

When his saintly wife sees her husband’s body engulfed in flames inside a hut she will also enter the flame..

But when Vidura sees this amazing sight he will leave that place, pushed by feelings of delight and grief, and again wander on pilgrimage.[6]

After saying all this, Nārada and Tumburu ascended to the heavens. By keeping Nārada’s words in his heart, Yudhiṣṭhira could let go of all worry and grief.


[1] Tumburu is considered the best Gandharva (celestial musician). He accompanies Nārada to assist his kīrtana.

[2] We have very small, localized vision. Therefore it is not always obvious to us how God’s “play,” which often appears cruel and painful, can somehow serve a loving purpose. Similarly a child does not easily understand the punishment of his loving and careful mother.

[3] If life is eternal nothing can be lost. If life is temporary nothing can be saved. In either case there should be no cause for shock.

[4] This is a very slight hint that Krishna has already departed, and thus his retinue, which includes Vidura, are now also departing from the world.

[5] Material energy has three modes of operation: rajas agitates us to endeavor, sattva makes us seek peace and calm, tamas makes us want to relent and forget. These three forces constantly pull the six senses by the ropes of habit, dragging them back into mundane activity.

[6] He is delighted that his brother was so successful, but naturally sad at the experience of losing his relationship.


Defining the Unlimited

18

Sūta said:

Oh! My unusual birth has now become meaningful, for I have this opportunity to serve the learned elders.  To speak intimately with great souls quickly purifies the faults and sufferings one is born into.

What is Sūta’s “unusual birth”? It may be literal, since the word sūta also refers to an unusual caste in which the father is a warrior (kṣatriya) and the mother an intellectual (brāhmaṇa). Members of this caste usually became bards and poets. Another reason Sūta’s birth is “unusual” and “faulty” is that his father, Romaharsana, insulted Krishna’s brother, Balarāma. He sees this opportunity to glorify Krishna and Balarāma the ideal way to atone for this undesirable element in his ancestry. Finally, everyone’s birth is “unusual” and “faulty” – for the soul ought not repeatedly change identities! Everyone’s misfortune in this regard will be quickly purified by discussing the stories we are about to tell.

19

Why? Because then one will proclaim the name of the singular refuge of those great souls, who is called “Unlimited” because his all-attractive potencies and excellent qualities are unlimited!?

Why is heart-to-heart conversation with great souls so spiritually purifying? It is because the topic of discussion invariably turns towards the Unlimited All-Attractive.

20

So how can anyone define the immeasurable qualities of he who rests upon the unlimited? The divine goddess ignores all those who petition her and, unrequested, serves the dust of his feet.

The potencies and qualities of the All-Attractive are unlimited. When we hear that “he rests upon the unlimited,” we envision Viṣṇu beyond the borders of the universe reclining on the sea-dragon named Ananta (“unlimited”). It is an image which communicates the fact that his very being exists on the foundation of infinity.

So how can anyone define or delimit Viṣṇu and his qualities by conversation? Still one is hopelessly attracted to the effort, much like the supreme goddesses, who ignore those who bring her presents and prayers, and instead flock unrequested to attend upon the outskirts of such discussions.

21

The water flowing from his toenails is collected by the creator (Brahmā), who uses it to honorably purify the destroyer (Śiva). Who else in the world besides the Lotus-Face could be worthy of the name and position of “All-Attractive”?

There are, truly, so many amazing people among humans and gods and others. But who is worthy of the title “All-Attractive”? It is only he whose face is like the most beautiful flower, whom the goddess flock to, whom the gods worship. We will hear a story much later in this tale, that Viṣṇu once took three cosmic strides. The third created a fracture in the shell of the universe, and the water from the ocean of causality streamed down from the polestar, through the Milky Way, and eventually onto the earth as the Ganges river. This is the water that “flows from his toenails.”

22

Those in love with him suddenly become very deep. Going beyond the embrace of their bodies they attain the highest perfections, in which nonviolence and tranquility are natural.

The purifying power of devotion of the All-Attractive is powerful and uniquely swift, “sudden.” Without such devotion one toils with great delay to develop good qualities like non-violence and tranquility.

23

You are like Aryamān, so whatever you ask I will grant. I will speak as far as my knowledge will allow. Birds fly as high as they can into the sky, like the learned towards Viṣṇu.

Aryamān is the Vedic god who empowers a man to ask a father for his daughter in marriage. It is a very difficult request to accept, because a father very dearly loves his daughter and feels very reluctant to entrust her care to anyone else. Therefore the would-be groom must appeal to Aryamān for divine help. One should give whatever is asked for in the name and with the sanction of Aryamān. Sūta considered the sages to be representatives of Aryamān, because their inquiries were so blessed and divine. Therefore he felt honor-bound to give them what they had asked for.

The sages, headed by the elderly Śaunaka, requested Sūta to tell them all about the All-Attractive son of Vasudeva, Krishna. Sūta says that it is impossible to properly describe Krishna because he is naturally unlimited in qualities and nature. He is All-Attractive. Our efforts to describe and comprehend Krishna are like the effort of a bird to fly in the sky. It is natural for the bird, and delightful – but still it is impossible for a bird to reach the limit of the sky.

The tales of the All-Attractive told by Sūta in this beautiful book, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam are sublime. They represent the intimate vision and realization of the most highly elevated souls. Still, Sūta admits that this book cannot define or delimit the Unlimited. This book will point our attention towards Krishna. Our consciousness then will absorb the downpour of blissful and enlightened energy radiating from him and thus become empowered to directly and impossibly comprehend the tangible reality of Śrī Krishna.

As a lightning rod attracts lightning, without creating or containing the it, this book attracts our consciousness to the All-Attractive. It is the greatest blessing of Indian thought. May we dive into it with wild joy and abandon.

This ends the introduction to Srimad Bhagavatam. From here the book itself begins, so we shall consider this the end of the first part, although traditionally that division is made one chapter after this.

Krishna and the gopis, from a Bhagavata Purana...

Krishna and the gopis, from a Bhagavata Purana manuscript c. 1760 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Death is not Frightening

SB 1.18.1

Sūta said:

By the kindness of All-Attractive Krishna, whose deeds are amazing, Parīkṣit certainly could not be killed in the womb by the blast from the weapon of Droṇa’s son.

2

But, rising from the anger of a priest, the Takṣaka dragon would take his life. He was never overcome by terrible fear, because his intentions were always fixed upon the All-Attractive.

3

Casting off all connections with the world, he attained realization of the true position of the Unconquerable. He left his body near the Ganges, as a student of Vyāsa’s son.

4

Those who delight upon the nourishment of discussing the Subject of Topmost Poetry shall never be confused when their time has come to an end. They will certainly remember his lotus-like feet.


No Time for Jibber Jabber!!!

Srimad Bhagavatam 1.16.1

Sūta said:

Then, guided by the best of the twice-born, Parīkṣit governed the earth as a great devotee. Indeed, he developed all the great qualities foreseen by the astrologers when he was born.

“Twice-born” refers to a person with excellent education. The first birth is for the body, the second is for the mind. The word for “great devotee” is mahā-bhāgavata. This could be more elaborately translated as, “Great All-Attracted.” The word for “astrologers” is abhijāta-kovida, which could be more elaborately translated as, “experts in extrapolating the birth.”

2

He married Uttara’s daughter, Irāvatī. They had four children: Janamejaya, etc.

3

He held three horse sacrifices [aśvamedhā] by the Ganges. At these he gave abundant charity. He made Śaradvan’s son [Kṛpā] the master. There, the gods could came within the range of the senses.

4

Once, while victoriously travelling the world, he heroically used his power to arrest Kali, a low class man in the form of a king who was destroying the legs of a cow-couple.

Here, Kali refers to the personified kali-yuga. Pretention and fakery is his primary character trait. The cow-couple refers to the cow of Mother Earth and the bull of dharma. Dharma has four “legs” – pillars that hold up morality: truthfulness, simplicity, compassion, and cleanliness. In each age another leg is broken. The only leg that remains in Kali Yuga is truthfulness. The age itself pummels away at this leg so that it crumbles and is completely destroyed as the age progresses.

5

Śaunaka said:

During this victory travels, why did he arrest Kali, a low class man in a king’s costume beating the leg of a cow? O blessed one, please tell us about this if it is a part of what you wish to tell us about Kṛṣṇa.

Śaunaka is surprised that Parīkṣit merely arrested and did not kill such a dangerous person. But this verse is very special because it clearly shows the standard by which the Bhāgavatam was composed, and by which we must also present it. There are all sorts of topics covered in Bhāgavatam, but all of them have explicit and direct relevance to devotional discussion of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Vasudeva’s son.

6

Those who drink the real nectar from his lotus-like feet have no interest in wasting their life on unreal jabbering.

7

My boy, short-lived human mortals who desire immortality should befriend the lord of death, who suspends his activities when invited to devotional discussions.

8

No one dies so long as the death-lord is present. That is why the great sages invited him here. Ho! Let us humans now drink the immortal nectar of words about the activities of Hari!

Śaunaka tells Sūta he would like to hear more details about Parīkṣit’s arrest of Kali, if and only insofar as such discussion involves Kṛṣṇa. He wants to drink the delicious nectar from the lotus-like feet of Kṛṣṇa, so he has no interest at all in wasting his life by jibber jabbering about illusions and unreal details. When one discusses Kṛṣṇa the lord of death, Yāma, himself comes to hear the delightful narrations suspending his normal activities. Thus one who submerges himself in Kṛṣṇa-kathā never dies, but goes on and on relishing the ever-new deliciousness of the All-Attractive. This is the poetic metaphor Śaunaka spontaneously composed.

9

Small, small-minded, and certainly with small lifespan; the people of this age sleep away their nights and work away their days for nothing.

Without the immortal nectar of Hari-kathā our short lives are wasted on nothing of importance; we become stunted in every way.


A wretched person always remembers the injustices done by others. A saintly person always remembers their favors.

29

Thus his younger brother, Vidura, helped the king’s mind awake to a vision of wisdom. He steadfastly cut through the ropes of selfish love and set out on the path of liberation that his brother showed him.

The ropes which bind the soul to a humiliating condition are wound from fibers of sveṣu-sneha: love for oneself and one’s own. We cannot seek enlightenment and maintain selfishness at the same time.

30

Subala’s daughter saw her husband leaving. Being very saintly and dedicated to him she followed him towards the Himalayas. They accepted the rod of renunciation with pleasure, like a great warrior accepts a beating.

Subala’s daughter is more commonly named Gāndhārī. Sūta describes her as sādhvī : a saint. This is due to her serious renunciation of personal pleasures, as expressed in her self-imposed blindness. She was therefore already quite fit and ready to renounce the world for the sake of enlightenment. Sūta also describes her as pati-vratā: dedicated to her husband. So, on both counts she very happily and willingly followed him into complete renunciation. She is like a royal warrior. A warrior accepts beatings because it is part of being a warrior. Similarly we must embrace renunciation because it is part of the reality of life. We must not flee from death like cowards. We must march out and greet it head on, with dignity, when our time is due. Vidura and Gāndhārī have just displayed excellent examples of this principle. Dhṛtarāṣṭra also serves as an example, by the good fortune of his association with those exalted souls.

31

The one who makes no enemies [King Yudhiṣṭhira] finished his morning prayers and rituals. He bowed to the learned and gave them grains, cows, land and gold. Then he entered the palace to respect his elders but he could not find his uncles and Subala’s Daughter.

Vidura went to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and convinced him to renounce the world in the very solitary depths of the night. The next morning King Yudhiṣṭhira woke up and went about business as usual.

What is “business as usual” for such an exalted king? First he did morning prayer and ritual. The ritual was huta-agni: lighting a sacred fire. The prayer was maitra: a special him to Mitra, a form of the sun-god who protects promises, alliances, and pacts. Sūta addresses the King as ajāta-śatru: a person who does not create enemies. Prayer to the god of alliances and friendships is important for establishing this mentality. Completing his prayer and ritual, the King then went out to bow down before learned people and insure their well-being by giving them whatever food, money or other resources they needed. Next, he entered his palace. Upon entering the palace he would first do guru-vandana: offering respect to his teachers, guides and elders. But this morning he could not do guru-vandana, because he couldn’t find his aunt Gāndhārī and uncles, Vidura and Dhṛtarāṣṭra.

32-33

Full of anxiety, he asked Sañjaya, who was sitting nearby, “Where is our blind and old uncle? Where is my aunt, so sad over the death of her children? Where is my uncle, who has always protected me? Have I been so insensitive to him and his wife, who lost their entire family? Have my injustices so disturbed them that they’ve thrown themselves into the Ganges in misery?

34

“When our father Pāṇḍu fell and we were still little children, our uncles protected us from danger and disaster. Where have they gone?”

A wretched person always remembers the injustices done by others. A saintly person always remembers their favors.

35-36

Sūta said:

At first Sañjaya could not reply because he was too confused by lamentation and affection, distressed by his loss at not being able to find his lord. Brushing away his tears with his hands, he calmed his own mind and, carefully remembering the feet of his master, began to reply.

37

Sañjaya said:

“Oh beloved son, I don’t know what your uncles and Gāndhārī have decided. Those great souls have left me in the dark, O mighty armed.”


The Astrology of Emperor Pariksit

12

When the planets became favorable for all good fortune, they produced the heir of the dynasty – as powerful as Pāṇdu.

13

Out of affection, the king had the most learned scholars, headed by Dhaumya & Kṛpa, read the auspicious astrological nativity of this newborn.

Learned souls know how to foretell the future in various ways, chiefly by astrology. What we are about the hear is a collection of learned astrologers headed by Dhaumya and Kṛpa informing the king of the future of his newborn grand-nephew.

14

Knowing what should be done on the birth of a child, the King gave gifts of the highest quality gold, cows, land, villages, elephants and horses. He sumptuously fed the intellectuals.

Intellectuals are most important in society, but they do not earn much money. Thus it is a very important social custom to feed them and give them gifts on every occasion.

15-17

Very satisfied, those intellectuals spoke:

“This spotless child will certainly be the foremost in the family of Puru. Unstoppable destiny intended to destroy him, but the all-powerful and all-pervading Viṣṇu, rescued him – because of his affection for you. Thus the boy will be famous throughout the world by the name Viṣṇu Rāta (Viṣṇu-Rescued). Undoubtedly he is a great soul, extremely blessed, the pinnacle of divine love.”

The intellectuals described Parīkṣit as mahān, mahā-bhāga, and mahā-bhāgavata – a great soul, greatly blessed, and the greatest devotee.

18

The blessed King asked:

Oh best of truthful souls, will this boy have glory and fame following the footsteps of his forbearers: great souls famous as pious philosopher-kings?

19-26

The intellectuals replied:

O Pārtha,
In maintaining the citizens he will be exactly like Ikṣvaku, Manu’s son.
In truthfulness and obedience to teachers he will be exactly like Rāma, Dāśaratha’s son.
In giving charity and giving shelter he will be like Śibi of Uśīnara.
In expanding the renown of his kin by performing sacrifices he will be like Duṣyanta’s son.
In bowmanship he will equal the Arjunas.

He will be unstoppable as an inferno, insurmountable as an ocean.
He will be powerful as a lion, unwavering as the Himalaya,
He will be forbearing as the earth, as patient as parents.
In being merciful and generous he will be like grandparents.

In giving shelter to all living beings he will be like Śiva
and the god who is the shelter of the goddess of fortune [Viṣṇu].
In having all glorious spiritual qualities he will be like Kṛṣṇa,
to whom he is devoted.
In altruism he will be like Rantideva.
In following rules he will be like Yayāti.
In patience he will be like Bali.
In saintly devotion he will be like Prahlāda.

He will conduct many horse sacrifices.
He will be a follower of the experienced.
He will father many philosopher-kings.
For the sake of world peace
he will curb the insubordinate and extinguish the cantankerous.

Ikṣvaku, the son of the personality from whom the Human race descends, was the first king to prohibit meat eating.

Śibi was so charitable and protective that he wanted to give away to others his own right to enter heaven, and was ready to give his own life to protect a bird.

Duṣyanta’s son is Bhārata, after whom the great Mahābhārata is named.

The other Arjuna besides the Pāṇḍava is Kārttavīrya-Arjuna: a powerful thousand-armed warrior who was the impetus for Parśurāma killing 21 generations of warriors.

Rantideva is famous as the most magnanimous king who was virtually obsessed with giving everything he had to others.

Yayāti, like Rantideva is a famous and very ancient king. He performed thousands of different Vedic sacrifices.

Bali is an exemplar of patience because he kept his cool resolve to fulfill his promise to Viṣṇu, even when his guru was warning him not to. His grandfather was the famous Prahlāda, son of Hiraṇyakaśipu.

As far as horse sacrifices, even a cursory study of Vedic culture will show that they did not conceive of animal rights with the same sensitivities as we have today. This is not to insinuate that they had any less concern for the well-being of all living entities, just that they implemented this concern in a different manner than would make sense to a modern activist.

27-28

His own death will come from the dragon Takṣa, as a result of a curse from the child of a twice-born. When he hears of this he will cast off all attachments, take full shelter in Hari, and inquire about the true goal of the soul from the learned son of Vyāsa. He will then leave his body beside the Ganges and go directly to the abode of fearlessness.

Most of the astrological reading given by the intellectuals, in texts 19-26, pertained to the newborn king’s character, but here they make an extremely concrete prediction regarding the boy’s death. They did not hesitate to pronounce the nature of the newborn’s death. Perhaps because the family was so elevated and did not consider death an unnatural and awful thing, like most of us do.

29

Thus those learned experts of natal astrology advised the king. Wondrously paid, they returned to their own homes.

30

The boy would become famous as “The Examiner” (Parīkṣit) because he examined everyone he saw, in search of that person he saw before, whom he constantly contemplated.

The “person he saw before” refers to the person he saw before his birth, Viṣṇu.

31

The prince grew quickly and luxuriantly like the waxing moon day after day, under the care of his many parents.


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.


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!”