The scriptural texts are present in this world in order to discipline us. Observing that our non-devotional sense-perception and mental state are extremely difficult to suppress, the śāstra keeps them regulated and properly disciplined, without which we will never attain auspiciousness. From this perspective, the śāstra is most qualified – the process of disciplining has been termed as ‘śāstra’.
Within this world, these śāstras are principally followed in two ways. The first kind of śāstra appears from the imagination of great men – these can help us attain some momentary auspiciousness. The second kind of śāstra is called śrauta-śāstra. They have descended on this earth through the śrauta-paramparā (the disciplic succession of hearing) as the pure transcendental flow of knowledge for bestowing auspiciousness to the world at large.
The books born out of the imagination of men that have established themselves as śāstra are based on the path of the avaroha-mārga (ascending knowledge), or the realm of worldly experience – this deals with dharma, or the performance of good deeds to earn pious credits; artha, or the perfect attainment of false self-interests; kāma, or the total fulfilment of all material desires, and mokṣa, or self-destruction as a result of pseudo-renunciation stemming from developing distaste for the above-mentioned types of gratification. Whatever is conceived and established based on the aforementioned self-interests are thus categorised as the avaroha-mārga and are based upon mutual convenience and inconvenience. They provide some information on temporary, relief and conveniences in this world or the next, but they cannot bestow supreme benefit or true auspiciousness. Disciplinary statements born out of the ordinary experiences of the limited senses that are characteristically filled with anxieties pertaining to this finite world are subject to the fourfold defects of bhrama, pramāda, vipralipsā and karaṇāpāṭava, and can never benefit the ātmā. How is it possible to bring about eternal benefit to the atma when one is afflicted by non-spiritual or material thinking?
Yet the second kind of śāstra has descended through the medium of śrauta (hearing) in the disciplic succession of mahājanas from the infinite infallible Vaikuṇṭha-loka as the sermons of Bhagavān, and is devoid of the fourfold defects discussed previously. Since it is coming from Bhagavān, who is pūrṇa-satya-svarūpa (the personification of complete truth), jñāna-svarūpa (the personification of transcendental knowledge) and ānanda-svarūpa (the personification of bliss) through the disciplic succession of His dear unalloyed devotees, it is capable of revealing the true path of auspiciousness to the jīvas who are constitutionally the Lord’s eternal servants. But this śrauta-śāstra has not manifested in equal proportion in all parts of the world. Depending on time, place, circumstances, mentality etc. they have appeared differently, or due to various understandings of their meaning. The fact that Bharata-varṣa is the forerunner and teacher on spiritual topics is a universal truth. For this reason the extent to which the complete truth manifests and reveals itself in Bharata is not possible anywhere else. There is no trace of any self-promotion in this declaration. This is now accepted by all.
Just as all categories of worldly elements can be scientifically evaluated, similarly in the world of dharma, the most qualified of people can evaluate differences in the śāstra. Perhaps ordinary people can distinguish between glass and diamonds, but apart from a jeweller no one can understand the qualities found amongst different gradations of elements within diamonds. Similarly, men who are most experienced in the world of dharma can evaluate the gradations of the śāstra by comparing them with proper standards of evaluation.
Although there are more than a thousand philosophies and ideologies known as ‘dharma’ that are present in this world, they are not all of equal value. Hence the saying, Yata mata tata patha (“All paths lead to the same goal”) is worth nothing. Again, there is no rule in the world of supreme transcendence that the religion followed by the majority of the population must be considered the best. There was a time when the Buddhist religion was very influential in the world and was practiced by a large number of people – but it cannot be said to be the best system of dharma. Our understanding of dharma cannot be based upon the strength of public opinion. One must properly understand the symptoms of genuine dharma and accordingly learn to perceive what is not dharma. One needs to analyse all the constituents, the lack of which leads to adharma and the addition of which leads to the preservation of dharma. Naming everything as equal and classifying them as the same is merely a symptom of ignorance. One should minutely judge the unique characteristics of everything.
Of the numerous ideologies present in the world that go by the name of dharma, some of them are steps towards bhāgavat-dharma, while some are merely perverted thoughts. When we are lazy or we lack faith in proper analysis and discrimination, then we become negligent and declare, “Whatever’s there is all fine! There is no necessity to create any disturbance.”
Even for ordinary things like politics etc. that are fleeting in nature and give momentary pleasure, we are unable to simply accept them blindly without spending so much of our energy going through various types of analysis. But when it comes to dharma we hastily come to a conclusion without thinking and deliberating upon it! Religious people never compromise in this manner. When even worldly affairs cannot be properly understood without minutely analysing them, then how can it be proper that a spiritual path can be accepted without discrimination?
The śrauta-śāstras neglect worldly experiences and by frustrating such temporary endeavours, they descend from above out of their mercy for the jīvas. When we come under the influence of selfishness we develop a perception of worldly objects. It is possible that different types of people with different levels of intellectual capacity can have various understandings of religious scriptures based upon their individual selfish propensities. Like us, it is natural even for tiny creatures like insects, flies etc. to have self-fulfilling ideas on material objects. Therefore it is not entirely unnatural even for śrauta-śāstras to have different meanings based on individual selfishness.
Only those things that explain the complete truth are capable of fully satisfying our real or eternal necessity. That truth descends through the medium of śruti from a realm beyond our senses and spiritually penetrates our aural reception, and through this process it nullifies all sensory defects. The senses, being overwhelmed by false perceptions, were in a state of anxiety, but now those false perceptions are eradicated and are substituted with real knowledge. Frustrating the perception developed from worldly experience gathered by people, this knowledge descends on earth through the medium of aural disciplic succession. The Vedas have descended on earth in the form of sermons of the supreme Lord. The power of our material senses is defeated by a place beyond their reach – the Vedas have descended from that arena. Therefore the proof of the Vedas is self-evident. The best of men within this world that belong to the society of Āryans accept the Vedas. Yet in several places there is criticism of the Vedas, such as when Bhagavān said:
yām imāṁ puṣpitāṁ vācaṁ pravadanty avipaścitaḥ
veda-vāda-ratāḥ pārtha nānyad astīti vādinaḥ
“O Pārtha, those with small intelligence misinterpret the Vedas and claim there is no divine principle in creation. Thus they glorify those statements that are pleasing to their senses.” (Gītā 2.42)
kāmātmānaḥ svarga-parā janma-karma-phala-pradām
kriyā-viśeṣa-bahulāṁ bhogaiśvarya-gatiṁ prati
“Because their hearts are filled with selfish desires and their goal is the higher planets, they prescribe many rituals that award higher birth, wealth and power and lead to enjoyment and opulence.” (Gītā 2.43)
traiguṇya-viṣayā vedā nistraiguṇyo bhavārjuna
“The Vedas deal with subjects in the three modes of material nature. O Arjuna, become transcendental to these three modes.” (Gītā 2.45)
In all these places the Vedas have been accepted. The Vedas are like a kalpataru (desire tree) or a kāma-dhenu (wish-fulfilling cow). Therefore they can be interpreted from different directions such as karma (fruitive activity), jñāna (speculative knowledge) or upāsana (devotional worship). In Karma-kaṇḍa it is said:
“For the purpose of giving encouragement, the Vedas promise material results.” (Bhāg. 11.3.46)
Thus, they instruct their followers not to restrict themselves to karma only. Again it is said:
na buddhi-bhedaṁ janayed ajñānāṁ karma-saṅginām
“The wise should not disturb the minds of the ignorant who are attached to their selfish activities.” (Gītā 3.26)
Here it is forbidden to withdraw the intelligence of karmīs from karma. In this way, while looking for the real meaning of mutually conflicting references, in most cases they become trapped in impersonalism. The Vedas have been manifested for a very long time. Scholars understand the Vedas by means of following vyākaraṇa (grammatical rules), nirukta (etymological interpretations) etc. This is the practice followed in the world at present. If help is taken to understand the Vedas through this method, danger is inevitable. But there is no possibility of any danger if one is dedicated to the path of āmnāya-paramparā or guru-paramparā.
yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau t
asyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ
“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.23)
In all the statements of the śruti, following the flow of the āmnāya paramparā has been universally recognised. Otherwise the strength of our feelings based upon our intuitive knowledge will lead us to an impersonal conclusion.
The meaning of the Vedas is fulfilled with the help of the Dharma-śāstras, or Saṁhitās and Purāṇas. The very concise ṛgs or mantras in the Vedas that are left unexplained are explained in detail with proper examples in the Purāṇas.
itihāsa-purāṇābhyāṁ vedaṁ samupabṛṁhayet
“Knowledge of the Itihāsa and the Purāṇas is essential to understand the Vedas.” (Mahābhārata. Ādi-parva 1.267)
The Purāṇas are not concocted stories. The aim of the Purāṇas is to clearly explain in detail the meaning of the Vedas by citing practical examples. Whatever tattvas in the Vedas that have the probability of being interpreted in multiple ways have been given complete explanations through the examples found in the Purāṇas and their proper significance has been explained. For the people in general it is especially convenient to grasp the meaning from the Purāṇas as compared to the original Vedas.
Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana Vyāsadeva himself has divided the Vedas and revealed them as the eighteen Purāṇas. Although some Purāṇas are named after sages like Mārkaṇḍeya, those specific sages have not revealed those particular Purāṇas. On the basis of their questions and answers, the Vedas have revealed themselves based on differences in qualification. In ancient times there were one hundred crore of ślokas in these eighteen Purāṇas, but those have disappeared with time and only four lakhs of ślokas are still existing. The Mādhyandina Śruti and the Kaumudī branch of Sāma Veda have declared the Purāṇas as the Fifth Veda. Women, śūdras and fallen brāhmaṇas have no eligibility to read the Vedas, but the Purāṇas are accessible to all. They are more merciful due to the predominance of the Holy Name within them and therefore they bestow eligibility to all. Therefore the Purāṇas should not be considered inferior to the Vedas, rather they are more adorable to us.
These eighteen Purāṇas are divided into three categories – goodness, passion and ignorance. In the Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa it is mentioned that Viṣṇu, Nārada, Garuḍa, Varāha, Padma and Bhāgavata are Purāṇas in the mode of goodness; Brahmaṇḍa, Brahma-vaivarta, Mārkaṇḍeya, Bhaviṣya, Vāmana and Brahma are Purāṇas in the mode of passion; Matsya, Kūrma, Liṅga, Śiva, Skanda and Agni Purāṇa are famous as being in the mode of ignorance. In the Purāṇas that are in mode of goodness, the greatness of Śrī Hari has been primarily described. It has been discussed the most. If one wants to understand the real meaning of śrauta-kathā it is absolutely necessary to take shelter of those Purāṇas in the mode of goodness. Again, out of the six Purāṇas in the mode of goodness, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is the best to be followed. Vyāsadeva has conserved the essence of the Vedas as sūtras in his text on Vedānta. He did this again by composing the Bhāgavata explanation which is considered the essence of all the Purāṇas. Therefore, from this consideration, it can safely be accepted to be the purport of the Vedas. According to Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī all the characteristics of a Purāṇa are fully present within the Bhāgavata. The true purport of the Vedas is fully preserved in it. It has neither creation nor destruction. Sometimes it unmanifests due to our misfortune. Initially, even though this Śrīmad Bhāgavata manifested from the Supreme Lord in a minute form within the heart of Brahma, by the mercy of Nārada it blossomed into its present form in the heart of Vyāsa. In other Purāṇas such as the Garuḍa Purāṇa it is said that the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is the purport of the Brahma-sūtras, it is the commentary on the gāyatrī-mantra, it is the purport of the Mahābhārata and it is decorated with the meanings of all the Vedas. Some people have tried to include the Devī Bhāgavata within the eighteen Purāṇas and prove that the Śrīmad Bhāgavata was written by some modern author. Dayānanda Sarasvatī, Wilson etc. tell us that it was written by Vopadeva. Vopadeva belonged to the Thirteenth Century. He composed books like hari-līlā etc. based on the conclusions of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata. For this reason he has been erroneously concluded as the author of the Bhāgavata. But in his book Mukta-caritā he has mentioned the name of Ācārya Śrīdhara, the commentator on the Bhāgavata. Again Madhvacarya in the Eleventh Century has utilised it as an infallible proof in the book Bhāgavata-tātparya. The Stavavali collection of Śaṅkarācārya can be understood to be written on the basis of the language and topics of the Bhāgavata.
The Bhāgavata has given its own introduction:
kṛṣṇe sva-dhāmopagate dharma-jñānādibhiḥ saha
kalau naṣṭa-dṛśām eṣa purāṇārko ’dhunoditaḥ
“After Krsna returned to His abode along with religious principles, divine knowledge etc, this sun-like Purāṇa has appeared to enlighten those who have no spiritual vision in the age of Kali.” (Bhāg. 1.3.46)
The non-dual Absolute Vrajendra-nandana has Himself manifested as the Śrīmad Bhāgavata.
nigama-kalpa-taror galitaṁ phalaṁ
pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam ālayaṁ
muhur aho rasikā bhuvi bhāvukāḥ
“O rasikas, relish the mature fruit of the Bhāgavatam, the desire tree of the Vedas which emanated from the lips of Śuka. Therefore this fruit has become even more tasteful, although its ambrosial nectar was already relishable for all, including liberated souls.” (Bhāg.1.1.3)
The Śrīmad Bhāgavata is the matured fruit of the desire tree of the Vedas – it is naturally the real purport of the Vedas. If one studies the Śrīmad Bhāgavata along with Vedānta-sūtra, one will see that the Śrīmad Bhāgavata is the natural commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra. In Vedānta the necessity of brahma-jijñāsa (inquiry into Brahman) has been ascertained, and in the first sūtra the Vedānta has been further explained with, janmady asya yatah and it finally concludes with, anāvṛttiḥ śabdāt anāvṛttiḥ śabdāt. The Śrīmad Bhāgavata begins with the verse, janmādy asya yato ’nvayād itarataś cārtheṣv abhijñaḥ svarāṭ etc. and ends with the śloka, nāma-saṅkīrtanaṁ yasya etc. In this way the explanation of each and every sutra of the Vedanta can be harmonised with proper examples and ślokas from the Bhāgavata and they can be elaborately understood. Within them we can observe the amazing confluence of the Vedas, kavya (poetry) and the Purāṇas.
arva-vedetihāsānāṁ sāraṁ sāraṁ samuddhṛtam
“It is the extraction of the quintessence of all the Vedas and the Itihāsa.” (Bhāg. 1.3.41)
Within this Śrīmad Bhāgavata, the complete essence of all the Vedas and Itihāsa has been preserved.
sarva-vedānta-sāraṁ hi śrī-bhāgavatam iṣyate
tad-rasāmṛta-tṛptasya nānyatra syād ratiḥ kvacit
“The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is accepted as the essence of all the Vedānta. One who is satiated by the rasa of this book is never attracted to anything else.” (Bhāg, 12.13.5)
If one gets even a slight taste for the Śrīmad Bhāgavata one will not have attraction for anything else. In the Bhāgavata, the words, projhita-kaitava mean that it completely rejects any form of deception based on the four categories of selfish interests (dharma, artha, kāma, mokṣa) etc. and it manifests the real object of truth.
prthivite yata kathā dharma nāme cale
bhāgavata kahe tāhā paripūrṇa chale
“Whatever is going on in the world in the name of religion, the Bhāgavata states that it is all cheating.” (Jaiva Dharma)
The Bhāgavata makes such a great claim! It requires men of strong character to listen to its non-envious truth. The potencies of all truthful elements are surrendered unto it. The endeavours of all of our material senses fail in competing with it. Again, with its very help, the Lord, who is supremely independent of all things, becomes captured within a heart laden with a service mentality. Śrīmad Bhāgavata says that when one understands the supremely independent Lord, all the various material activities of humans become useless. Only He can reveal Himself, otherwise it is not possible to know anything simply by our personal endeavours.
na cānya eko ’pi ciraṁ vicinvan
“They can never understand Him, even after studying for a great length of time.” (Bhāg.10.14.29)
Without surrendering to Him, even if we search for very long time, the attempt to know about Him will be totally futile.
tasmād idaṁ jagad aśeṣam asat-svarūpaṁ
svapnābham asta-dhiṣaṇaṁ puru-duḥkha-duḥkham
tvayy eva nitya-sukha-bodha-tanāv anante
māyāta udyad api yat sad ivāvabhāti
“My Lord, this temporary material world, which is like a dream and thus we are suffering the miseries of material existence, trying to enjoy this dream. It has such potency because it has emanated from you, who are the source of everything. It is all your divine energy, though when we are bewildered, we see it as something separate.” Bhāg.10.14.22)
He is the root cause comprised of sacchidānanda (eternity, bliss and knowledge). The material world born through Māyā cannot even touch Him. The material world is not an essential part of the Lord. In spite of the jīva being spiritual by nature, it suffers various inconveniences when it is under the shelter of Māyā.
sa vai puṁsāṁ paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhokṣaje
ahaituky apratihatā yayātmā suprasīdati
“The supreme dharma for all humanity is that by which man can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be causeless and uninterrupted, to completely satisfy the self.” (Bhāg.1.2.6)
Here the path of abhidheya is being shown. He is beyond all the material senses. If a human being has unalloyed, natural and unbiased devotion towards Him, all of his anarthas are completely eliminated. The ātmā is then situated at its most convenient position.
śreyaḥ-sṛtiṁ bhaktim udasya te vibho
kliśyanti ye kevala-bodha-labdhaye
teṣām asau kleśala eva śiṣyate
nānyad yathā sthūla-tuṣāvaghātinām
“O Lord, those who want to have a clear conception of You through their intellect find their attempts useless. Their endeavours end only in frustration, like those who try to beat rice from an empty husk.” (Bhāg. 10.14.4)
The path of bhakti is the best for the human being to attain the highest and ultimate type of auspiciousness. From bhakti the fourfold perfections (dharma, artha, kāma, mokṣa) and jnana etc. come automatically – there is no need for any separate endeavour. Whoever rejects bhakti and endeavours only to attain jnana finds that all their efforts end in failure. If one rejects the grain but uses the chaff, he will never get any rice. The end result only gives pain and exhaustion. This bhakti can only be obtained by sādhu-saṅga. This is not anyone’s personal whim.
satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvido
bhavanti hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ
taj-joṣaṇād āśv apavarga-vartmani
śraddhā ratir bhaktir anukramiṣyati
“In the association of devotees, discussion of My pastimes and activities is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and the heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes advanced on the path of liberation, and thereafter he is freed, and his attraction becomes fixed. Then real devotion and devotional service begin.” (Bhāg. 3.25.25)
When one truly associates with a sadhu and continues to hear about all the qualities of the Lord, very soon respect, attachment and devotion steadily develop within him. Sometimes when one attempts to search for non-differentiated Brahman, his gross and subtle bodies are seen to be annihilated, but if one is devoid of devotion then the position one obtains is temporary and one does not gain anything permanent. Needless to say, if the results of one’s activities are not offered to the Lord, then one will not gain anything. The only necessity is love for Bhagavān. If one performs pious works he can earn some fame for a few days in this world. After, one can attain some enjoyment in the perishable celestial planets, but what does one gain staying far away from ultimate auspiciousness? The satisfaction of the sense organs such as the eyes etc. is called kāma. When one comes to realise that these senses simply give pain, then one tries to attain liberation. The term mukti (liberation) does not mean self-annihilation.
muktir hitvānyathā-rūpaṁ svarūpeṇa vyavasthitiḥ
“Liberation is the permanent position of the living being when he attains his constitutional form.” (Bhāg. 2.10.6)
It is the awakening of the true identity of the jīva – to be rid of all other coverings.
harir hi nirguṇaḥ sākṣāt puruṣaḥ prakṛteḥ paraḥ
sa sarva-dṛg upadraṣṭā taṁ bhajan nirguṇo bhavet
“Lord Hari is nirguṇa (beyond the modes of material nature), the Supreme Person, transcendental to material nature, the all-cognisant witness. By worshipping Him, one similarly becomes nirguṇa.” (Bhāg.10.88.5)
The jīva also gets liberated from the modes of material nature such as goodness etc. and attains the nirguṇa plane when he performs bhajana of Hari, who is beyond material nature and who is Himself nirguṇa and the Supreme Person. Then one becomes established in his natural occupation of rendering service. It does not end merely by becoming liberated.
muktānām api siddhānāṁ nārāyaṇa-parāyaṇaḥ
su-durlabhaḥ praśāntātmā koṭiṣv api mahāmune
“O great sage, amongst millions of liberated and perfected persons, a devotee of Nārāyaṇa who is most completely satisfied is very rare.” (Bhāg. 6.14.5)
It is rare to fine one devotee amongst a crore of liberated souls. Mere liberation is not the ultimate aim.
sālokya-sārṣṭi-sāmīpya-sārūpyaikatvam apy uta
dīyamānaṁ na gṛhṇanti vinā mat-sevanaṁ janāḥ
“My devotees do not accept salokya (living on the same spiritual planet), sarsti (having the same opulence), sarupya (having the same spiritual form), samipya (to be a close associate), or sayujya (oneness with me)—even if I offer these liberations—in preference to serving Me.” (Bhāg. 3.29.13)
“Those who have a taste of the happiness of My service, spit at the prospect of mukti.” Only the Bhāgavata explains how one cannot even be attracted to the position of Parameṣṭhi Brahma, the position of Indra etc. in order to establish oneself in sevā-rasa (the transcendental mellows of devotional service). When one regularly reads, hears and studies the Bhāgavatam, then service to the Lord becomes easily attainable. Service without any personal motivation (ahaituki-sevā), the process of serving the Bhāgavata in various rasas such as śānta, dāsya etc. is described in the Bhāgavata in the purest way. Amongst the various religious scriptures the position of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata is unparalleled and topmost. The most intimate relationship with Bhagavān, who is akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti (the emporium of rasa), is described there. Mahāprabhu has personally revealed the greatness of the Bhāgavata and with the help of His own personal associates, who received Mahāprabhu’s mercy, He preached it. Now only Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭha is trying to preach the message of the Bhāgavata. Where is the recipient for such great charity? Nitya-līlā Praviṣṭa Oṁ Viṣṇupāda Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura has endeavoured to preach it on a grand scale. The charity of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is the greatest gift. The one who distributes its message is bhūridā (the giver of the greatest wealth). Therefore in the world of scriptures, no book is of the same stature as the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.