Why Study the Vedānta-sūtra?
Knowledge is information gathered from the scriptures, and science is practical realization of that knowledge. Knowledge is scientific when it is gathered from the scriptures through the bona fide spiritual master, but when it is interpreted by speculation, it is mental concoction. By scientifically understanding the scriptural information through the bona fide spiritual master, one learns, by one’s own realization, the truths of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The transcendental form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is different from material manifestations, and it is above the reactions of matter. Unless one scientifically understands the spiritual form of the Personality of Godhead, one becomes an impersonalist. The example comparing the Lord and the material manifestations to the sun and the sunshine is often given. The sunshine in itself is illumination, but that illumination is different from the sun. Yet the sun and the sunshine are not differently situated, for without the sun there can be no sunshine, and without sunshine there is no meaning to the word sun.
Unless one is freed from the influence of the material energy, he cannot understand the Supreme Lord and His different energies. Nor can one who is captivated by the spell of material energy understand the spiritual form of the Supreme Lord. Unless there is realization of the transcendental form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is no question of love of God, and without love of God there is no perfection of human life. Just as the five gross elements of nature – namely, earth, water, fire, air and ether – are both within and without all living beings in this world, the Supreme Lord is both inside and outside this existence, and those who are His devotees can realize this.
Pure devotees know very well that they are meant to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that all things that exist constitute the means by which they can serve the Lord. Therefore, because a pure devotee has been blessed by the Supreme Lord from within the core of his heart, wherever he looks he sees the Lord and nothing more. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.2.55 confirms this relationship between the pure devotee and the Supreme Lord as follows:
viṣṛjati hṛdayaṁ na yasya sākṣād
dharir avaśābhihito ’py aghaugha-nāśaḥ
sa bhavati bhāgavata-pradhāna uktaḥ
“If a person’s heart is always tied to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord with the rope of love, the Lord does not leave him. Indeed, even if his remembrance is not perfect, he is to be considered a first-class devotee.” An example of this is described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.30.4). When the gopīs assembled for their rāsa dance with Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa apparently left them. Consequently they began to chant the holy name of Kṛṣṇa and, being overwhelmed with madness, inquired about Kṛṣṇa from the flowers and creepers in the forest. Kṛṣṇa is like the sky: He is situated everywhere.
Therefore, by studying Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam we can learn about our eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord, understand the procedure for regaining Him, and attain the ultimate realization, which is love of Godhead.
Next Lord Caitanya explained to Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī how one can achieve the Supreme Personality of Godhead by devotional service. First the Lord quoted a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.14.21) in which Kṛṣṇa says that He can be realized only through devotional service executed with faith and love. Indeed, it is devotional service alone which purifies the heart of the devotee and elevates him to the ultimate realization, by which he serves the Supreme Lord with faith and love. Even if one is born in a low family, like a family of caṇḍālas (dog-eaters), one can become filled with transcendental symptoms through realization of the supreme stage of love of Godhead. These transcendental symptoms are mentioned in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.3.31):
smarantaḥ smārayantaś ca
mitho ’ghaugha-haraṁ harim
bhaktyā sañjātayā bhaktyā
bibhraty utpulakāṁ tanum
“When pure devotees discuss subjects dealing with the Supreme Lord, who can cleanse all kinds of sinful reactions from the heart of His devotee, they become overwhelmed with ecstasy and display different symptoms due to their devotional service.” The Bhāgavatam (11.2.40) also states: “When pure devotees chant the Lord’s holy name, due to their spontaneous attachment for the Lord they sometimes cry, sometimes laugh, sometimes dance, sometimes sing and so on, not caring for any social convention.”
We should understand, therefore, that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the real explanation of the Brahma-sūtra, for it is compiled by the same author, Vyāsadeva himself. In the Garuḍa Purāṇa it is said:
artho ’yaṁ brahma-sūtrāṇāṁ
“Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the authorized explanation of the Brahma-sūtra, and it is a further explanation of the Mahābhārata. It is the explanation of the Gāyatrī mantra and the essence of all Vedic knowledge. This Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, containing eighteen thousand verses, is known as the explanation of all Vedic literature.” In the First Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam the sages of Naimiṣāraṇya asked Sūta Gosvāmī to explain the essence of Vedic literature. In answer, Sūta Gosvāmī presented Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as the essence of all the Vedas, histories and other Vedic literatures. Elsewhere in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (12.13.15) it is clearly stated that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the essence of all Vedānta knowledge and that one who relishes the knowledge of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam has no taste for studying any other literature. In the very beginning of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the purport of the Gāyatrī mantra is described: “I offer my obeisances unto the Supreme Truth.” Thus from the first verse Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam deals with the Supreme Truth, which is described in the Bhāgavatam as the source of the creation, maintenance and destruction of the cosmic manifestation. Obeisances unto the Personality of Godhead, Vāsudeva (oṁ namo bhagavate vāsudevāya), directly indicate Lord Sri Kṛṣṇa, who is the divine son of Vasudeva and Devakī. That Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead is more explicitly presented later in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.3.28), where Vyāsadeva asserts that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead and that all others are either His direct or indirect plenary portions or portions of those portions. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has still more explicitly developed this subject in his Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha, and Brahmā, the original living being, has substantially explained the subject of Śrī Kṛṣṇa in his treatise Brahma-saṁhitā. The Sāma Veda also verifies the fact that Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the divine son of Devakī.
In his prayer (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.1.1), the author of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam first proposes that Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the primeval Lord, and if any transcendental nomenclature for the absolute Personality of Godhead is to be accepted, it should be the name Kṛṣṇa, meaning “all-attractive.” In the Bhagavad-gītā the Lord has affirmed in many passages that He is the original Personality of Godhead, and this was confirmed by Arjuna, who cited great sages like Nārada, Vyāsa and many others. Also, in the Padma Purāṇa it is stated that of the innumerable names of the Lord, the name Kṛṣṇa is the principal one. Therefore, although the name Vāsudeva indicates the plenary portion of the Personality of Godhead, and although all the different forms of the Lord are identical with Vāsudeva, in this text Vāsudeva principally indicates the divine son of Vasudeva and Devakī. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is always meditated upon by the paramahaṁsas, those who are most perfect in the renounced order of life. Vāsudeva, or Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, is the cause of all causes, and everything that exists is an emanation from Him. How this is so is explained in later chapters of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu describes Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as the spotless Purāṇa because it contains transcendental narrations of the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The history of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is also very glorious. Śrī Vyāsadeva, drawing on his mature experience of transcendental knowledge, compiled it under the instruction of Śrī Nāradajī, his spiritual master. Vyāsadeva had compiled all the Vedic literatures – the four Vedas, the Vedānta-sūtra (or Brahma-sūtra), the Purāṇas and the Mahābhārata. Yet he was not satisfied. His dissatisfaction was observed by his spiritual master, and thus Nārada advised him to write about the transcendental activities of the Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental activities are specifically described in the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the canto considered to contain the substance of the whole work. One should not approach the Tenth Canto immediately but should approach it gradually by developing knowledge of the subject matters first presented.
Generally a person with a philosophical mind is inquisitive to learn of the origin of the creation. He sees the night sky and naturally asks, “What are the stars? How are they situated? Who lives there?” and so on. All these inquiries are quite natural for a human being because his consciousness is more developed than the animals’. In answer to such inquiries, the author of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam says that the Lord is the origin of the creation. He is not only the creator but the maintainer and annihilator as well. The manifested cosmic nature is created at a certain period by the will of the Lord, it is maintained for some time, and finally it is annihilated by His will. Thus He is the supreme will behind all activities.
Of course, there are atheists of various categories who do not believe in the creator, but that is due only to their poor fund of knowledge. The modern scientist creates sputniks, and by some arrangement or other they are thrown into outer space to fly for some time under the control of a scientist far away. All the universes and the innumerable planets within them are similar to such sputniks, and they are all controlled by the Personality of Godhead.
In the Vedic literature it is said that the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, is the chief among all living personalities. All living beings, from the first created being, Brahmā, down to the smallest ant, are individual living entities. And above Brahmā there are many other living beings with individual capacities. The Personality of Godhead Himself is also a living being, as much an individual as other living beings. But the Supreme Lord is the supreme living being, with the greatest mind and the supermost inconceivable energies in great variety. If a man’s mind can produce a sputnik, we can very easily imagine that a mind higher than man’s can produce wonderful things far superior to man-made sputniks. A reasonable person will accept this argument, but stubborn, obstinate people will not.
Śrīla Vyāsadeva at once accepts the supreme mind as the parameśvara, the supreme controller, and offers His respectful obeisances to Him. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā and all other scriptures written by Śrīla Vyāsadeva, that parameśvara is Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself. This is specifically stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In the Bhagavad-gītā the Lord Himself says that there is no paratattva (summum bonum) other than Him. Therefore the author at once worships the paratattva, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, whose transcendental activities are described in the Tenth Canto.
Unscrupulous persons go at once to the Tenth Canto, especially to the five chapters in which Śrīla Vyāsadeva has kindly described the Lord’s rāsa dance. However, this portion of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the most confidential part of that great literature. Unless one is thoroughly accomplished in the transcendental knowledge of the Lord, one is sure to misunderstand the Lord’s worshipable transcendental pastimes in the rāsa dance and His loving dealings with the gopīs. This subject matter is highly spiritual and technical, and only liberated personalities who have gradually attained the stage of paramahaṁsa can transcendentally relish the worshipable rāsa dance.
Therefore Śrīla Vyāsadeva gives the reader a chance to gradually develop in spiritual realization before actually relishing the essence of the pastimes of the Lord. Thus at the beginning Vyāsadeva purposefully invokes the Gāyatrī mantra with the word dhīmahi. The Gāyatrī mantra is especially meant for spiritually advanced people. When one attains success in chanting the Gāyatrī mantra, he can enter into the transcendental position of the Lord. But in order to chant the Gāyatrī mantra successfully, one must first acquire the brahminical qualities and become perfectly situated in the mode of goodness. From that point one can begin to transcendentally realize the Lord – His name, His fame, His qualities, etc.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is a narration dealing with the svarūpa (form) of the Lord, which is manifested by His internal potency. This potency is distinguished from the external potency, which has manifested the cosmic world within our experience. Śrīla Vyāsadeva makes a clear distinction between the internal and external potencies in the very first verse of the first chapter of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In that verse he says that the internal potency is factual reality whereas the external manifested energy in the form of material existence is temporary and illusory, no more real than a mirage in the desert. Water may appear present in a mirage, but real water is somewhere else. Similarly, the manifested cosmic creation appears to be reality, but it is simply a reflection of the true reality, which exists in the spiritual world. In the spiritual world there are no mirages. Absolute Truth is there; it is not here in the material world. Here everything is relative truth, with one apparent truth depending upon another. This cosmic creation results from an interaction of the three modes of material nature. The temporary manifestations are so created as to present an illusion of reality to the bewildered mind of the conditioned soul, who appears in so many species of life, including higher demigods like Brahmā, Indra, Candra, and so on. In fact there is no reality in the manifested world, but there appears to be reality because of the true reality in the spiritual world, where the Personality of Godhead eternally resides with His transcendental paraphernalia.
The chief engineer of a complicated construction does not personally take part in the construction itself, but it is he only who knows every nook and corner of the construction because everything is carried out under his direction only. In other words, he knows everything about the construction, directly and indirectly. Similarly, the Personality of Godhead, who is the supreme engineer of this cosmic creation, knows very well what is happening in every nook and corner of the cosmic creation, although activities appear to be performed by someone else. In actuality, from Brahmā down to the insignificant ant, no one is independent in the material creation; the hand of the Supreme Lord is everywhere. All material elements, as well as all spiritual sparks, are but emanations from Him only. Whatever is created in this material world is a result of the interaction of these two energies, material and spiritual, which emanate from the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa (Vāsudeva).
A living entity known as a chemist can manufacture water in the laboratory by mixing hydrogen and oxygen. But in reality the living entity works under the direction of the Supreme Lord, and all the materials he uses are supplied by the Lord. Thus the Lord knows everything directly and indirectly, in minute detail, and He is fully independent as well. He can be compared to a gold mine, and the objects within the cosmic creation can be compared to ornaments made from that gold, such as gold rings, gold necklaces, and so on. The gold ring and necklace are qualitatively one with the gold in the mine, but quantitatively the gold in the mine and the gold in the ring or necklace are different. The complete philosophy of the Absolute Truth, therefore, centers about the fact that the Absolute Truth is simultaneously one with and different from His creation. Nothing is absolutely equal to the Absolute Truth, but at the same time nothing is independent of the Absolute Truth.
Conditioned souls, from Brahmā, the engineer of this particular universe, down to an insignificant ant, are all creating something, but none of them are independent of the Supreme Lord. The materialist wrongly thinks that there is no creator but his own good self, and this misconception is called māyā, or illusion. Due to his poor fund of knowledge, the materialist cannot see beyond the purview of his imperfect senses; thus he thinks that matter automatically takes its own shape independent of a conscious background. This is refuted by Śrīla Vyāsadeva in the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. As stated before, Vyāsadeva is a liberated soul, and he compiled this book of authority after attaining spiritual perfection. Since the complete whole, or the Absolute Truth, is the source of everything, nothing is independent of Him. In one sense, everything that exists is the body of the Absolute Truth. Any action or reaction of a part of a body becomes a cognizable fact to the embodied soul. Similarly, since the creation is the body of the Absolute Truth, then everything in the creation is known to the Absolute, both directly and indirectly.
In the śruti-mantra it is stated that the absolute whole, or Brahman, is the ultimate source of everything. Everything emanates from Him, everything is maintained by Him, and at the end everything enters into Him again. That is the law of nature. This is confirmed in the smṛti-mantra. There it is said that at the beginning of Brahmā’s millennium the source from which everything emanates is the Absolute Truth, or Brahman, and that at the end of that millennium the reservoir into which everything enters is that same Absolute Truth. Material scientists haphazardly take it for granted that the ultimate source of this planetary system is the sun, but they are unable to explain the source of the sun. In the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam the ultimate source is explained. According to the Vedic literature, Brahmā is the creator of this universe, but because he had to meditate to receive the inspiration for such creation, he is not the ultimate creator. As stated in the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Brahmā was taught Vedic knowledge by the Personality of Godhead. There it is said that the Supreme Lord inspired Brahmā, the secondary creator, and enabled him to carry out his creative functions. In this way the Supreme Lord is the supervising engineer; the real mind behind all creative agents is the Absolute Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. In the Bhagavad-gītā (9.10) Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself states that it is He only who superintends the creative energy (prakṛti), the sum total of matter. Thus Śrī Vyāsadeva worships neither Brahmā nor the sun but the Supreme Lord, who guides both Brahmā and the sun in their creative activities.
The Sanskrit words abhijña and svarāṭ, appearing in the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, are significant. These two words distinguish the Lord from all other living entities. No living entity other than the Supreme Being, the Absolute Personality of Godhead, is either abhijña or svarāṭ – that is, none of them are either fully cognizant or fully independent. Everyone has to receive knowledge from his superior; even Brahmā, who is the first living being within this material world, has to meditate upon the Supreme Lord and take help from Him in order to create. If neither Brahmā nor the sun can create anything without acquiring knowledge from a superior, then what to speak of the material scientists, who are fully dependent on so many things? Modern scientists like Jagadisha Chandra Bose, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, etc., may boast of their respective creative energies, but all were dependent on the Supreme Lord for so many things. After all, the highly intelligent brains of these gentlemen were certainly not products of any human being. The brains were created by another agent. If brains like those of Einstein or Newton could have been manufactured by a human being, then mankind would produce many such brains instead of eulogizing these scientists. If such scientists cannot even manufacture such brains, what to speak of foolish atheists who defy the authority of the Lord?
Even the Māyāvādī impersonalists, who flatter themselves that they have become the Lord, are not abhijñaḥ or svarāṭ, fully cognizant or fully independent. The Māyāvādī monists undergo a severe process of austerity and penance to acquire the knowledge needed for becoming one with the Lord, but ultimately they become dependent on some rich follower, who supplies them with requisite paraphernalia to construct great monasteries and temples. Atheists like Rāvaṇa and Hiraṇyakaśipu had to undergo severe austerities before they could flout the authority of the Lord, but ultimately they were so helpless that they could not save themselves when the Lord appeared before them as cruel death. This is also applicable to the modern atheists who dare flout the authority of the Lord. Such atheists will be dealt the same awards as were given in the past to great atheists like Rāvaṇa and Hiraṇyakaśipu. History repeats itself, and what occurred in the past will recur again and again when there is necessity. Whenever the authority of the Lord is neglected, the penalties dealt by the laws of nature are always there.
That the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, is all-perfect is confirmed in all śruti-mantras. It is said in the śruti-mantras that the all-perfect Lord glanced over matter and thus created all living beings. The living beings are parts and parcels of the Lord, and He impregnates the vast material nature with the seeds of the spiritual sparks. Thus the creative energies are set in motion for so many wonderful creations. When one atheist argued that God is no more expert than the manufacturer of a subtle watch that has so many delicate parts, we had to reply that God is a greater mechanic than the watchmaker because He creates one machine in male and female forms that go on producing innumerable similar machines without the further attention of God. If a man could manufacture a set of machines capable of producing other machines without the man giving the matter any further attention, then that man could be said to equal the intelligence of God. But that is not possible. Each and every one of man’s imperfect machines has to be handled individually by a mechanic. Because no one can be equal to God in intelligence, another name for God is asamaurdhva, which indicates that no one is equal to or greater than Him. Everyone has his intellectual equal and superior, and no one can claim that he has neither. But this is not the case with the Lord. The śruti-mantras indicate that before the creation of the material universe there existed the Lord, who is the master of everyone. It was the Lord who instructed Brahmā in Vedic knowledge. That Personality of Godhead has to be obeyed in all respects. Anyone who wants to become freed from material entanglement must surrender unto Him, and this is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā.
Unless one surrenders unto the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead, it is sure and certain that one will be bewildered, even if he happens to be a great mind. Only when great minds surrender unto the lotus feet of Vāsudeva and know fully that Vāsudeva is the cause of all causes, as confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.19), can they become mahātmās, or the truly broad-minded. But such broad-minded mahātmās are rarely seen. Only they, however, can understand that the Supreme Lord, the absolute Personality of Godhead, is the primeval cause of all creations. He is the ultimate (parama) truth because all other truths are dependent on Him. And because He is the source of everyone’s knowledge, He is omniscient; there is no illusion for Him, as there is for the relative knower.
Some Māyāvādī scholars argue that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was not compiled by Śrīla Vyāsadeva, and some suggest that the book is a modern creation written by someone named Vopadeva. In order to refute this meaningless argument, Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī points out that many of the oldest Purāṇas make reference to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The first śloka, or verse, of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam begins with the Gāyatrī mantra, and there is reference to this in the Matsya Purāṇa (the oldest Purāṇa). In that Purāṇa it is said about the Bhāgavatam that in it there are many narrations and spiritual instructions, that it begins with the Gāyatrī mantra, and that it contains the history of Vṛtrāsura. It is also said that whoever makes a gift of this great work on a full-moon day attains to the highest perfection of life and goes back to Godhead. There is also reference to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in other Purāṇas, which even indicate that the work consists of twelve cantos and eighteen thousand ślokas. In the Padma Purāṇa there is also a reference to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, during a conversation between Gautama and Mahārāja Ambarīṣa. The king was advised to read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam regularly if he at all desired liberation from material bondage. Under these circumstances, there is no doubt regarding the authority of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. For the past five hundred years, since the time of Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu, many scholars have made elaborate commentaries upon Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and have displayed unique scholarship. The serious student will do well to attempt to go through these commentaries in order to more happily relish the transcendental messages of the Bhāgavatam.
In his commentary on the Bhāgavatam Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura specifically deals with original and pure sex psychology (ādi-rasa), devoid of all mundane inebriety. The entire material world turns due to the basic principle of sex life. In modern human civilization, sex is the central point of all activities; indeed, wherever we turn our face we see sex life prominent. Thus sex life is not unreal, but its true reality is experienced in the spiritual world. Material sex is but a perverted reflection of the original; the original is found in the Absolute Truth. This validates the fact that the Absolute Truth is personal, for the Absolute Truth cannot be impersonal and have a sense of pure sex life. The impersonal, monist philosophy has given an indirect impetus to abominable mundane sex because it overly stresses the impersonality of the ultimate truth. The result is that men who lack knowledge have accepted perverted material sex life as all in all because they have no information of the actual spiritual form of sex. There is a distinction between sex in the diseased condition of material life and sex in the spiritual existence. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gradually elevates the unbiased reader to the highest perfectional stage of transcendence, above the three kinds of material activities, namely, fruitive actions, speculative philosophy and worship of functional deities indicated in the Vedas. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the embodiment of devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, and is therefore situated in a position superior to other Vedic literatures.
Religion includes four primary subjects: (1) pious activities, (2) economic development, (3) satisfaction of the senses and (4) liberation from material bondage. Religious life is distinguished from the irreligious life of barbarism. Indeed, it may be said that human life actually begins with religion. The four principles of animal life – eating, sleeping, defending and mating – are common to both the animals and human beings, but religion is the special concern of human beings. Since human life without religion is no better than animal life, in real human society there is some form of religion aiming at self-realization and referring to one’s eternal relationship with God.
In the lower stage of human civilization there is always competition between men in their attempt to dominate material nature. In other words, there is continuous rivalry in an attempt to satisfy the senses. Thus driven by sense gratificatory consciousness, men perform religious rituals and pious activities with the aim of acquiring some material gain. But if such material gain is obtainable in another way, this so-called religion is neglected. This can be seen in modern human civilization. Since the economic desires of the people appear to be fulfilled in another way, no one is interested in religion now. The churches, mosques and temples are practically vacant, for people are more interested in factories, shops and cinemas than in the religious places erected by their forefathers. This definitely proves that religious rituals are generally performed for the sake of economic development, which is needed for sense gratification. And when one is baffled in his attempt to attain sense gratification, he takes to the cause of salvation in order to become one with the supreme whole. All these activities arise with the same aim in view – sense gratification.
In the Vedas, the four primary subjects mentioned above are prescribed in a regulative way so that there will not be undue competition for sense gratification. But Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is transcendental to all these sense-gratifying activities of the material world. It is a purely transcendental literature, understandable by the devotees of the Lord, who are above the competition for sense gratification. In the material world there is keen competition between animals, between men, between communities and even between nations in an attempt to gratify the senses. But the devotees of the Lord are above all this. Devotees have no need to compete with materialists because they are on the path back to Godhead, back home, where everything is eternal and fully blissful. Such transcendentalists are a hundred percent nonenvious and are therefore pure in heart. Because everyone in the material world is envious, there is competition. But the transcendentalists, or devotees of the Lord, are not only free from all material envy but are also kind to everyone in an attempt to establish a competitionless society with God in the center. The socialist’s idea of a society devoid of competition is artificial because even in the socialist states there is competition for the post of dictator.
It is a fact, therefore, that sense gratification is the central principle of materialistic life, whether based on the Vedas or simply on common human activities. There are three divisions of the Vedas. The first division (the karma-kāṇḍa) recommends fruitive activities by which people can advance to higher planets. Above this is the upāsanā-kāṇḍa, which recommends worship of the various demigods for the purpose of attaining their planets. Finally there is the jñāna-kāṇḍa, which recommends activities that enable one to reach the Absolute Truth and realize His impersonal feature in order to become one with Him. But the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth is not the last word. Above the impersonal feature is the Paramātmā, or Supersoul, and above that is the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives information about the personal qualities of the Absolute Truth, beyond the impersonal aspect. Topics concerning these qualities are greater than topics of impersonal philosophical speculation; consequently Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is given higher status than the jñāna-kāṇḍa division of the Vedas. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is also greater than the karma-kāṇḍa and upāsanā-kāṇḍa divisions because it recommends the worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the divine son of Vasudeva. The karma-kāṇḍa division of the Vedas is fraught with competition to reach heavenly planets for better sense gratification, and this competition is also seen in the jñāna-kāṇḍa and upāsanā-kāṇḍa divisions. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is above all of these because it aims only at the Supreme Truth, the substance or root of all categories.
In other words, from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam we can know the substance as well as the relativities in their true sense and perspective. The substance is the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the relativities are the different forms of energy which emanate from Him. Since the living entities are also His energies, there is nothing really different from the substance. At the same time, the energies are different from the substance. This conception is not self-contradictory. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam explicitly deals with this simultaneously-one-and-different philosophy – a philosophy also found in the Vedānta-sūtra, which begins with the janmādy asya sūtra.
Knowledge of the simultaneously-one-and-different nature of the Absolute Truth has been imparted for the well-being of everyone. Mental speculators mislead people by trying to establish the energy of the Lord as absolute, but when the truth of simultaneous oneness and difference is understood, that truth is more pleasing than the imperfect concepts of monism and dualism. By understanding the Lord’s simultaneous oneness with and difference from His creation, one can immediately attain freedom from the threefold miseries – miseries inflicted by the body and mind, by other living entities, and by acts of nature, over which we have no control.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam begins with the surrender of the living entity unto the Absolute Person. This surrender is made with full awareness of the devotee’s oneness with the Absolute Person and, at the same time, his eternal position of servitorship toward Him. In the material conception one falsely thinks himself the Lord of all he surveys; consequently he is always troubled by the threefold miseries of life. But as soon as one comes to know his real position in transcendental service, he at once becomes freed from all the above-mentioned threefold miseries. The position of servitor is wasted in the material conception of life. In an attempt to dominate material nature, the living entity is forced to offer his service to the relative material energy. When this service is transferred to the Lord in pure consciousness of spiritual identity, the living entity at once becomes free from the encumbrances of material affliction.
Over and above this, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the personal commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra by Vyāsadeva after he had attained maturity in spiritual realization. He was able to write it by the mercy of Nārada. Śrīla Vyāsadeva is an incarnation of Nārāyaṇa, the Personality of Godhead; therefore there is no question about his authority. Although he is the author of all Vedic literature, he specifically recommends the study of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam above all other books. In other Purāṇas various methods for worshiping demigods are mentioned, but in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam only worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is mentioned. The Supreme Lord is the whole body, and the demigods are different parts of that body. Thus one who worships the Supreme Lord need not worship the demigods, for the Supreme Lord is at once fixed in one’s heart. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu distinguished Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from all other Purāṇas by recommending it as the spotless Purāṇa.
The transcendental message is received through the ears, by the method of submissive hearing. A challenging attitude cannot help one receive or realize the transcendental message; therefore in the second verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam the word śuśrūṣu is used. This word indicates that one should be eager to hear the transcendental message. The desire to hear with interest is the primary qualification for assimilating transcendental knowledge.
Unfortunately, few people are interested in patiently hearing the message of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The process is simple, but the application is difficult. Those who are unfortunate will find time to hear ordinary social and political topics and all sorts of idle talks, but when they are invited to join an assembly of devotees to hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, they are reluctant to attend. Or they will indulge in hearing portions of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam they are unfit to hear. Professional reciters of the Bhāgavatam indulge in reciting the portions dealing with the confidential pastimes of the Supreme Lord. These portions appear to be sex literature. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is meant to be heard from the beginning, and those who are fit to assimilate the messages of Bhāgavatam are mentioned in the very beginning (SB 1.1.2): The bona fide audience fit to hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam consists of those who have performed many pious deeds. But any intelligent person, by thoughtful discretion, can come to believe in the assurances of the great sage Vyāsadeva and patiently hear the messages of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in order to realize the Supreme Personality of Godhead directly. One need not struggle through the different Vedic stages of realization, for one can quickly be lifted to the position of paramahaṁsa simply by agreeing to patiently hear the message of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The sages of Naimiṣāraṇya told Sūta Gosvāmī that they intensely desired to understand Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. They were hearing from Sūta Gosvāmī about Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they were never satiated by these discussions. People who are really attached to Kṛṣṇa never stop wanting to hear more and more about Him.
Lord Caitanya therefore advised Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī: “Always read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and try to understand each and every verse. Then you will actually understand the Brahma-sūtra. You say that you are very eager to study the Vedānta-sūtra, but you cannot understand the Vedānta-sūtra without understanding Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.” He also advised Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī to always chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. “By doing this you will very easily be liberated. After liberation you will be eligible to achieve the highest goal of life, love of Godhead.”
The Lord then recited many verses from authoritative scriptures like Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the Bhagavad-gītā and the Nṛsiṁha-tāpanī Upaniṣad. First He quoted this verse from the Bhagavad-gītā (18.54):
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
“When one actually becomes self-realized, knowing that he is Brahman, he becomes happy and joyful, and he no longer feels any lamentation or hankering. Such a person sees all living entities on an equal level, and he becomes a pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Next He quoted a statement from Śaṅkarācārya’s commentary on the Nṛsiṁha-tāpanī Upaniṣad (2.5.16); this statement says that when a person is actually liberated he can understand the transcendental pastimes of the Supreme Lord and thus engage in His devotional service. Lord Caitanya also quoted a verse from the Second Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.1.9), in which Śukadeva Gosvāmī states that although he was elevated to the liberated stage and free from the clutches of māyā, he was still attracted by the transcendental pastimes of Kṛṣṇa. Consequently he studied Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from his great father, Vyāsadeva.
Next Lord Caitanya quoted another śloka from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.15.43), which deals with the Kumāras. When the Kumāras entered the temple of the Lord, they were attracted by the aroma of the flowers and tulasī leaves offered to the lotus feet of the Lord with pulp of sandalwood. Simply by the Kumāras’ smelling the aroma of these offerings, their minds turned to the service of the Supreme Lord, although the Kumāras were already liberated souls. It is stated elsewhere in Bhāgavatam (1.7.10) that even if one is a liberated soul and is actually free from material contamination, he can still become attracted to rendering the Supreme Lord devotional service that is causeless and unhampered by any material propensity. This is because God is so attractive. And because He is so attractive, He is called Kṛṣṇa.
In this way Lord Caitanya began to discuss the ātmārāma verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī. Lord Caitanya’s admirer, the Maharashtriyan brāhmaṇa, related that the Lord had earlier explained this verse in sixty-one different ways. Everyone assembled was very eager to hear the different versions of the Lord’s explanation of the ātmārāma śloka, and since they were so eager, Lord Caitanya again explained the śloka in the same way that He had explained it to Sanātana Gosvāmī. Everyone who heard the explanations of the ātmārāma śloka was amazed. Indeed, everyone considered Lord Caitanya to be none other than Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself.