CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam
After the conversion of the Māyāvādī sannyāsīs to the path of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, many scholars and inquisitive people visited the Lord at Benares. Since it was not possible for everyone to see Caitanya Mahāprabhu at His residence, people stood in lines to see Him as He passed on His way to the temples of Viśvanātha and Bindu Mādhava. One day, when the Lord visited the temple of Bindu Mādhava with His associates – Candraśekhara, Paramānanda, Tapana Miśra, Sanātana Gosvāmī and others – He sang:
haraye namaḥ kṛṣṇa yādavāya namaḥ
gopāla govinda rāma śrī-madhusūdana
When the Lord sang in this way, chanting and dancing, thousands of people gathered around Him, and when the Lord chanted, they roared. The vibration was so tumultuous that Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī, who was sitting nearby, immediately joined the crowd with his disciples. As soon as he saw the beautiful body of Lord Caitanya and saw how He was dancing with His associates, Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī joined and began to sing: “Hari! Hari!” All the inhabitants of Benares were struck with wonder upon seeing the ecstatic dancing of Lord Caitanya. But Lord Caitanya checked His continuous ecstasy and stopped dancing when He saw the Māyāvādī sannyāsīs. As soon as the Lord stopped chanting and dancing, Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī fell at His feet. Trying to stop him, Lord Caitanya said, “Oh, you are the spiritual master of the whole world, jagad-guru, and I am not even equal to your disciples. You should therefore not worship an inferior like Me, for actually I am not even equal to the disciple of your disciple. You are exactly like the Supreme Brahman, and if I allow you to fall down at My feet, I will commit a very great offense. Although you have no vision of duality, for the sake of teaching the people in general you should not do this.”
“Previously I spoke ill of You many times,” Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī replied. “Now in order to free myself from the results of my offense, I fall down at Your feet.” He then quoted a verse from the Vedic literature which states that even a liberated soul will again become a victim of material contamination if he commits an offense against the Supreme Lord. Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī then quoted a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.34.9) regarding Nanda Mahārāja’s being attacked by a serpent who had previously been a worshipable Vidyādhara. When the serpent was touched by the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, he regained his previous body and was freed from the reactions of his sinful activities.
When Lord Caitanya thus heard Himself equated with Kṛṣṇa, He mildly protested. He wanted to warn people in general not to equate the Supreme Lord with any living entity. Although He was the Supreme Lord Himself, He protested against this comparison in order to teach us. Thus He said that it is the greatest offense to equate anyone with the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa. Lord Caitanya always maintained that Viṣṇu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is infinite and that the living entities, however great they may be, are but infinitesimal. In this connection He quoted a verse from the Padma Purāṇa which is found in the Vaiṣṇava tantra (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 1.73): “A person who equates the Supreme Lord with even the greatest of demigods, such as Brahmā and Śiva, must be considered a number-one atheist.”
“I can understand that You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa,” Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī continued, “and even though You present Yourself as a devotee, You are still worshipable because You are greater than all of us in education and realization. Therefore by blaspheming You, we have committed the greatest offense. Please excuse us.”
How a devotee becomes the greatest of all transcendentalists is stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (6.14.5):
muktānām api siddhānāṁ
koṭiṣv api mahāmune
“There are many liberated souls and perfected souls, but out of all of them he who is a devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is best. Such a devotee of the Supreme Lord is always calm and quiet, and his perfection is very rarely seen, even among millions of persons.” Prakāśānanda then quoted another verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.4.46), in which it is stated that one’s duration of life, prosperity, fame, religion and the benediction of higher authorities are all lost when one offends a devotee. Finally Prakāśānanda quoted Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.5.32, which says that although all the misgivings of the conditioned soul disappear at the touch of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one cannot touch His lotus feet unless one receives the benediction of the dust of the lotus feet of the Lord’s pure devotee. In other words, one cannot become a pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead unless he is favored by another pure devotee of the Lord.
“Now I am taking shelter of Your lotus feet,” Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī said, “for I want to be elevated to the position of a devotee of the Supreme Lord.”
After talking in this way, Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī and Lord Caitanya sat together. “Whatever You have said concerning discrepancies in the Māyāvāda philosophy is also known by us,” Prakāśānanda said. “Indeed, we know that all the commentaries on Vedic scriptures by Māyāvādī philosophers are erroneous, especially those of Śaṅkarācārya. Śaṅkarācārya’s interpretations of the Vedānta-sūtra are all figments of his imagination. You have not explained the aphorisms of the Vedānta-sūtra and verses of the Upaniṣads according to Your imagination but have presented them as they are. Thus we are all pleased to have heard Your explanation. Such explanations of the Vedānta-sūtra and Upaniṣads cannot be given by anyone but the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since You have all the potencies of the Supreme Lord, please explain the Vedānta-sūtra further so that I may be benefited.”
Lord Caitanya protested against being called the Supreme Lord: “My dear sir, I am an ordinary living entity. I cannot know the real meaning of the Vedānta-sūtra, but Vyāsadeva, who is an incarnation of Nārāyaṇa, knows its real meaning. No ordinary living entity can interpret the Vedānta-sūtra according to his mundane conceptions. In order to curb commentaries on the Vedānta-sūtra by unscrupulous persons, the author himself, Vyāsadeva, has already commented upon the Vedānta-sūtra by writing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.” In other words, the best explanation of a book is written by the author himself. No one can understand the author’s mind unless the author himself discloses the meaning of his words. Therefore the Vedānta-sūtra should be understood through Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the commentary written by the author of the Vedānta-sūtra.
Praṇava, or oṁ-kāra, is the divine substance of all the Vedas. Oṁ-kāra is further explained in the Gāyatrī mantra, exactly as it is explained in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In the Bhāgavatam there are four verses written in this connection, and these were explained to Brahmā by Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself. In his turn, Brahmā explained them to Nārada, and Nārada explained them to Vyāsadeva. In this way the purport of the verses of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam has come down through disciplic succession. It is not that anyone and everyone can make his own foolish commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra and mislead his readers. Anyone who wants to understand the Vedānta-sūtra must read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam carefully. Under the instructions of Nārada Muni, Vyāsadeva compiled Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with the purpose of explaining the aphorisms of the Vedānta-sūtra. In writing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Vyāsadeva collected all the essence of the Upaniṣads, the purport of which was also explained in the Vedānta-sūtra. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is thus the essence of all Vedic knowledge. That which is stated in the Upaniṣads and restated in the Vedānta-sūtra is explained very nicely in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
There is a verse in the Īśopaniṣad similar to one found in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (8.1.10), which states that whatever one sees in the cosmic manifestation is but the Supreme Lord’s energy and is nondifferent from Him. Consequently He is the controller, friend and maintainer of all living entities. We should live by the mercy of God and take only those things which are allotted to us according to our particular living condition. In this way, by not encroaching on another’s property, one can enjoy life.
In other words, the purport of the Upaniṣads, Vedānta-sūtra and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is one and the same. If one studies Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam carefully, he will find that all the Upaniṣads and the Vedānta-sūtra are nicely explained therein. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam teaches us three subjects: how to reestablish our eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord, how to act in that relationship and, lastly, how to achieve the highest benefit from it.
The four Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam verses beginning with aham evāsam evāgre (2.9.33–36) are the gist of the whole Bhāgavatam. These are nicely summarized by Lord Caitanya as follows: “I [Kṛṣṇa] am the supreme center for the relationships of all living entities, and knowledge of Me is the supreme knowledge. The process by which a living entity can attain Me is called abhidheya. By it, one can attain the highest perfection of life, love of Godhead. When one attains love of Godhead, his life becomes perfect.” The explanation of these four verses is given in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and Lord Caitanya gave a short description of the principles of these verses. He said that by mental speculation or academic education no one can understand the constitutional position of the Supreme Lord – how He is situated, His transcendental qualities, His transcendental activities and His six opulences. These can be understood only by the mercy of the Lord. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, one who is fortunate enough to receive the Lord’s favor can understand all these explanations by the mercy of the Lord.
The Lord existed before the material creation; therefore the material ingredients, nature and the living entities all emanated from Him, and after dissolution they rest in Him. When the creation is manifest, it is maintained by Him; indeed, whatever manifestation we see is but a transformation of His external energy. When the Supreme Lord withdraws His external energy, everything enters into Him. In the first of the four verses, the word aham is given three times to stress that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is full with all opulences. Aham is stated three times just to chastise one who cannot understand or believe in the transcendental nature and form of the Supreme Lord.
The Lord possesses His internal energy, His external, marginal and relative energies, and the manifestation of the cosmic world and the living entities. The external energy is manifested by the qualitative modes (guṇas) of material nature. One who can understand the nature of the living entity in the spiritual world can actually understand vedyam, or perfect knowledge. One cannot understand the Supreme Lord simply by seeing the material energy and the conditioned soul, but when one is in perfect knowledge, he is freed from the influence of the external energy. The moon reflects the light of the sun, and without the sun the moon cannot illuminate anything. Similarly, this material cosmic manifestation is but the reflection of the spiritual world. When one is actually liberated from the spell of the external energy, he can understand the constitutional nature of the Supreme Lord. Devotional service to the Lord is the only means for attaining Him, and this devotional service can be accepted by everyone and anyone in any country and under any circumstance. Devotional service is above the four principles of religion, culminating in liberation. Actually, even the preliminary processes of devotional service are transcendental to liberation, the highest subject of ordinary religion.
Therefore, irrespective of one’s caste, creed, color, country, etc., one should approach a bona fide spiritual master and hear from him everything about devotional service. The real purpose of life is to revive our dormant love of God. Indeed, that is our ultimate necessity. How that love of God can be attained is explained in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. There is theoretical knowledge and specific or realized knowledge, and perfect realized knowledge is attained when one realizes the teachings received from the spiritual master.