Srimad Bhagavatam- A Comprehensive Blend of Bhakti, Jnana, and Vairagya

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Essence of the Bhagavatam
Though introductory in form, the 1st Skandha is deemed as a  supplement to the 10th Skandha in extolling the life and glory of  Krishna and to generate devotion to Him. The very first verse in the Bhagavatam  (1.1.1) overflows with the nectar of Jnana, supreme knowledge. Here Krishna is  posited as Purnavatara (complete incarnation), in a category different from  other incarnations where He is spoken as a Kala or Amsa (part). The statement  that Krishna is the Bhagavan Himself - (krishnastu bhagavan svayam) finds a place in this Skandha.(1.3.28)

Verse 1.1.1 says “He  from whom the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe take place;  who is both the material and the instrumental cause of it; who is omniscient;  who is the only One having self-mastery, being the one independent entity; who  illumined the mind of Brahma with the Vedic revelation whose wisdom is the  wonder of even the greatest of sages; in whom the worlds, the manifestation of  the three Gunas subsist in reality without in the least affecting Him, just as  the combination of  the material elements  like fire, water and earth subsist in their causes without changing their  elemental nature; in whose light of consciousness there is no place for  anything false - on that Truth Supreme we meditate (satyam, param, dhimahi).

What is that Supreme  Truth on which we meditate?  It is that  from which the universe has come, in which it now rests and to which it will  ultimately go.

This verse contains  three words from the Brahma Sutra like “janmadi asya yatah”. Hence the  Bhagavatam is discussing the very same subject matter, Brahman, which was  discussed in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita in a manner easily  understandable to the ordinary man, employing the means of love for the form of  the supreme, Saguna Brahman, the Bhagavan.

According to the  Upanishads the ultimate reality is the Brahman, the source of the manifested  universe, which is of the nature of pure Consciousness. It is non-dual. One  view is that the manifested universe is unreal. But Bhagavatam says that if the  universe has come from Brahman, the supreme Reality, it cannot be unreal  because so long as it is associated with that Reality it is also real. The  verse says seeing the One in the many, the whole universe of many ceases to be  unreal. Just as a zero gains value by putting the digit one before it, the  universe is real only through the existence of that one Reality, Brahman, in  it. Because the One is there in the many, the universe is not unreal.

The Bhagavatam extols  that Infinite One who makes the world real. It tells us to find the One in the  many. Then the world of many will cease to be unreal. This idea is the bedrock  for the philosophy of devotion or Bhakti expounded in the Bhagavatam.  This Upanishadic truth of seeing the One in many,  identity-in-difference, is also the basis of teachings of Yoga in the Bhagavad  Gita.

The famous utterance in  the Rig Veda “ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti” - ‘Truth is One, but  sages call it variously’ is the basis for the Indian religious thought of  non-duality behind the diverse religions and the religious freedom that  flourished in this country. This eternal truth that the paths are many but the  goal is one is reflected in the Bhagavatam. It says “Knowers of Truth declare  that the Truth of one and the same non-dual, infinite, Consciousness is called  Brahman or the Absolute by the Jnanis, paramatman or the Supreme Self by the  mystics and Bhagavan or the Blessed Divine by the Bhaktais.”(1.2.11)

When a question was  raised as to how a Jnani can also be a Bhakta it said “it is true that sages  who are absorbed in the Self are free from all bondages. But they are endowed  with spontaneous devotion which is not motivated by any self-centered desire. Such  is the inherent attractiveness of Sri Hari that even such contemplatives  steeped in Atman-Consciousness, are drawn to Him.” (1.7.10)

The 2nd Skandha is  considered as the nucleus of the original Bhagavtam over which subsequent ideas  were built upon. The popularly known Chatushloki Bhagavatam, which is the soul  of the Bhagavatam, occurs in this Skandha.

In Chatushloki Bhagavatam  (consisting of only four short verses), Lord Narayana explained to Brahma, the  creator, the entire philosophical essence of the Bhagavatam (2.9.32-35) in four  divisions viz. 1.Brahma Tattva 2.Maya Tattva 3.Jagat Tattva and 4.Jijnasya Tattva  as follows.

The Lord says that before creation I alone existed. All things gross and subtle and the maya which causes them did not exist.  After creation also I alone exist. That world which is seen as the universe is also just me.  After the pralaya also I alone will exist- Brahma Tattva.
1. Maya is that which appears to be there without it  actually being there.  Maya makes the  unreal appear, and the real difficult to perceive.  The Lord states that Maya takes place in Him,  and He uses Maya as his power, but He is beyond Maya and is untouched by it.  Maya is thus the creative power of the Lord. Due to Maya the supreme changeless  reality itself appears as the world, but it does not actually become the  world.  Maya is beyond the grasp of the mind  or intellect - Maya Tattva.
2. The five great elements – space, air, fire, water and  earth seem to have entered all beings and at the same time not entered them  too.  Similarly, the Supreme Reality  seems to be in all beings, yet not in them too.   This apparently contradictory statement can be explained through the  example of clay in a clay pot. The clay, which existed before the pot was made,  has only assumed a different form and is now known as a pot. Similarly, before  creation, Reality existed and it is this Reality that appears as the world now.  The world of names and forms is ever in the Lord; He has not pervaded it (occupied  it) after it was created! The Lord, being the material cause of the entire  universe is immanent in all beings and yet he transcends them all- Jagat  tattva.
3. The only true calling of the seeker is to realize  through the technique of Anvaya (presence) and Vyatireka (absence) that it is the Self alone that exists everywhere at all times.  The Lord is trying to focus our attention on the  awareness that it is consciousness that exists during the three states of  existence – waking, dream and deep sleep.   The three stages do not co-exist at the same time.  But consciousness is aware of the presence of  all these states. There is the anvaya of the Self, while there is vyatireka of the three states as they negate each other - Jijnasya tattva.
4. The Lord gave this teaching to  Brahma and told him that abidance in the Self will ensure that he would not get  deluded in the different cycles of creation – Kalpa and Vikalpa.  This is how Brahma got the knowledge of how  to create this world.  In other words,  with knowledge and devotion, karma will not bind one.

According to Shridharacharya this means that Bhagawan is anadi, ananta, and advitiya The teaching of the Chatushloki Bhagavatam is elaborated in the entire Bhagavatam.

The 3rd Skandha contains Kapila’s teachings to his mother, Devahuti, which came to be known as Kapilopadesh or Kapila Gita, the Philosophy of Love and Knowledge.  The salient features of these teachings are:

It is the mind which is responsible for both bondage and liberation. If the mind is turned towards worldly things it leads to bondage and if it is turned towards the Lord it leads to liberation. To orient the mind towards the Lord, it has to be purified by removing the dirt of “I” and “Mine”. (3.25.16) Satsanga is a necessary step towards this goal which finally leads to detachment (3.25.20 & 24). Kapila then gives an elaborate exposition on Jnana and Bhakti which lead one towards Vaikuntha.

In the 4th Skandha we find a passage “each individual soul is nothing but Brahman, the Supreme Being. Because of desires it got into and identified itself with a body-mind-intellect complex and forgot its original form and nature which is the cause for all the miseries of human life. Even when the individual soul forgets the Lord, the latter does not forget the Jiva even for a single moment and teaches him as a Guru “I am you; you are none else and you are myself alone.”(4.28.62)

The 5th Skandha contains a schematic description of the Brhmanda or the universe, a detailed description of the earth, heavenly regions above the earth, subterranean regions below the earth, a vivid description of twenty-eight kinds of narakas or purgatories where the erring Jivas are purified through suffering. We may keep in mind that the purpose of drawing such a schematic picture of the universe formulating it as the physical body of the Divine is not to instruct us in geography or astronomy but to teach us that by looking at that gross form the subtle spiritual tattwa or essence or principle behind that which is Reality can be grasped and visualized, a kind of projecting viswa rupa darshana on our mental screens.

Here comes the famous saying of Brahma “So long as one continues to live with the six enemies (shad ripus) in the form of desire (kama), anger (krodha), greed (lobha), delusion (moha), arrogance (mada) and jealousy (matsarya) even one retires to a forest, one will continue to be fear-ridden and cannot hope to have any peace of mind. For the wise person, engaged in contemplation of the Self, having controlled his senses, even remaining as a householder will not cause any harm to his spiritual interests.” (5.1.17)

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