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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 manuscript c. 1760 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)