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

The next Skandha, the 6th, deals with the unknown and unpredictable but an essential factor, a X-factor, known as the Grace of the Lord (Anugraha) influencing whatever task we undertake.  The same factor was called as Daivam in the Bhagavad Gita (18.14). This factor is behind the story of Ajamila, a rank sinner who escaped from the clutches of death by his mere calling his son by his name ‘Narayana’ which is the name of the Lord. This also establishes the inherent power and holiness of the Divine name and hence the necessity of nama smaranam - chanting or reciting the Lord’s name by choice or by compulsion or by accident or even without any intention as Ajamila did.

The 7th Skandha is a peculiar one in the sense that it shows Bhagavan immanent even in the contrasting ideologies. He is not always with the constructive people but he is with the destructive people also thereby showing His all pervasiveness, inclusiveness and absence of partiality. His grace shines equally on all just as the moon shines equally on all waters, dirty and pure, in different vessels and ponds. But the manifestation of grace in different individuals varies according to one’s own prarabdha karma and vasanas. The main stories in this connection are that of Narada, Jaya and Vijaya, and Prahlada. The important point to note here is that the asuras bear immense hatred for Vishnu indirectly bordering on enormous attentiveness on the Lord which in the end leads them to purification and elevation. This is called vidvesa Bhakti or devotion through hatred and confrontation.

This Skandha contains the longest and the noblest hymn that Prahlada addresses to the Lord. This prayer is full of ideas of Bhakti and Jnana integrating them into a memorable lyric in praise of the Lord.

The Skandha also deals with the ideals of social system according to the varnas and ashramas which aim at developing the highest spiritual possibilities in men. Thirty virtues are listed here which are basic to all human beings irrespective of their varnas or castes.  These can be termed as the basic human obligations and comparable to the basic human rights as declared by the modern U.N.O. Some of them are truth, kindliness, austerity, purity, control of the mind, control of the senses, study of the scriptures, contentment and so on. (7.11.8-12)

Though the Ashrama of the Sanyasins is considered as the crown of human life, it is maintained that if a person lives according to the ideal prescribed for a householder, Liberation can be attained even while continuing to live at home provided he has deep rooted devotion to the Lord. (7.15.67)

The 8th Skandha is noted for its stories on the Liberation of the elephant King (Gajendra Moksham), the churning of the ocean of milk to obtain amrut (samudra manthan) and the slaying of Mahabali by Vishnu as Vamana (Dwarf). Of these three the story of Gajendra Moksham is of special significance for its content of Jnana. Once, the king of elephants, Gajendra, was in a helpless condition when he was caught by an alligator. He prayed to the Lord for redemption. This prayer is contained in Chapter 3 of this Skandha. It is etched in beautiful Sanskrit and is as popular for daily prayers as Vishnu Saharanam or Shata Rudriyam. This Chapter 3 is to the 8th Skandha as Chapters 6 to 29 going by the title Uddhava Gita for the 11th Skandha.

The prayer of Gajendra to Vishnu is the quintessence of the Path of Knowledge taught in the Bhagavad-Gita and further repeated in the Uddhava Gita. The significant point to note with regard to Gajendra’s prayer is that the entreaties and appeals of a feeble, powerless and vulnerable creature have been couched in the language of Jnana but fully coated with the sentiment of Bhakti.

The 9th Skandha deals with genealogy of the great kings that ruled the country and describes the achievements of some great rulers among them. This chapter is more academic in nature than of much interest to the modern reader.

The 10th Skandha is the heart of the Bhagavatam, the theme being the manifestation of Vishnu as Krishna and his lilas. This is the largest Skandha in the entire Bhagavatam consisting of 90 chapters spread over 3946 verses.

This is also the most popular portion of the Bhagavatam among the masses to such an extent that for them this canto alone is as good as the entire Bhagavatam. Among the various incidents, exploits, pranks etc described in this Skandha the most controversial is the Ras Lila which is criticized as an amorous adventure of Krishna rather than going into the philosophic connotation behind the episode. As it requires a separate full scale discussion and analysis it is not being dealt with in this essay.

The other important but less known item of philosophic importance is the 87th chapter of the Skandha dealing with the Vedas. King Parakshit asked the sage Suka “The Vedas, being constituted of words, can only describe material phenomena which can come within the scope of three Gunas of nature. How can they reveal Brahman, which is not a material object and which is beyond the three Gunas? “

Suka said “Meditate always on Hari who, as the creator designed this universe for the benefit of the Jivas. The creator, as its material cause, remains unaffected as its substratum during its creation, sustenance and dissolution. He is the Lord and director of matter and the Jivas. He enters into creation as Jiva, the Indwelling Spirit and directs its evolution into various world systems and bodies of living beings. He governs the Jivas providing them with food and other conditions for higher evolution. He, as the Guru, enables the Jivas, who take refuge in Him, to abandon identification with the body even in the waking state as in the state of sleep. He, being ever established in Bliss-Consciousness, without the slightest traces of ignorance, is capable of giving complete freedom from fear to all beings.”  Thus the Vedas describe the Self (Brahman) by negating the world as not Self. (10.87.45-50)

This glorious chapter of the Bhagavatam ends with a statement that by constant and continuous practice of hearing, singing about and remembering the extraordinary deeds of the Lord man’s devotion to Him grows day by day and thereby he attains to the state of the Lord overcoming the fear of death.

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