Srimad Bhagavatham – A Spiritual Insight Introduction
Srimad Bhagavatham is one of the most sacred and important of the Puranas present. It is considered as the Mahapurana amongst the 18 Puranaas. The authorship of Srimad Bhagavatham is ascribed to Veda Vyaasa (the author of the Puranaas and the one who systemized the Vedas). Ancient scholars put the date of Srimad Bhagavatham to around Adi Sankaracharya’s time period (which is considered as around 800 AD). But tradition has it that Srimad Bhagavatham was written by Veda Vyaasa himself. The very word Bhagavatham means Song about the Lord who is filled with Bhaga or aishwaryaas or auspicious qualities (astha aishwaryaas). Bhagavatham is not a mere Purana which speaks just about the Lord and his leelas or plays, but it is a Purana in which one can find the ultimate reality embedded in the form of stories. Each of the chapter in Bhagavatham, each story in the Bhagavatham has some deep import to be told with respect to the ultimate reality of Brahman or Consciousness or Self – one without a second. This makes Bhagavatham a very important work for ardent seekers of the reality. Since the reality as propounded in the Upanishads is not easily apprehended by normal people, Vyaasa took up the task of writing Bhagavatham (and other puranaas – why Bhagavatham was written will be taken up in a later posting). Bhagavatham puts forth the reality in the form of beautiful stories & discussions between various disciples ranging from Saunaka sages, Brahma, Uddhava amidst others to Gurus or teachers ranging from Suta, Vishnu, Krishna among others.Srimad Bhagavatham has a total of 18000 slokas split across 12 Skandaas. Each skanda is further split into various chapters. These chapters have slokas which explain the ultimate reality through various stories, descriptions of the Lord, his sportive plays among other things.
Srimad Bhagavatham is in the form of a dialogue between Suta and Saunaka Sages. Suta was the disciple of Vyaasa to whom Vyaasa taught the Puranaas and Vedas along with his own son Suka. Suta tells that Bhagavatham was taught by Suka to King Parikshit in 7 days learning which Parikshit attained the immortal state of Self or Consciousness here in this world itself (before being bit by the snake Takshakan). The Bhagavatham Saptaaham is famous and performed in various places (as Suka explained it to Parikshit in 7 days). These seven days the slokas of Bhagavatham is chanted and stories also told. This Saptaaham is considered sacred and satisfies any desires the individual has (whoever attends it gets his desires fulfilled). Bhagavatham – Its Study & the Aim
The study of Bhagavatham not as just mere stories about the Lord propounding or giving importance to devotion (normal lower devotion), but as propounding the ultimate reality through various stories is the aim of the series which has been started from today. We will try to look into Bhagavatham, some of its slokas, its stories through a spiritual view trying to apprehend what the stories point out to us about the reality & how it can be implemented in normal day-to-day life which in turn will confer eternal bliss to the individual. The main purpose of Bhagavatham
Normal people have been conveyed the wrong notions that Bhagavatham is a Bhakthi Grantha meant only for devotional people & the devotion propounded in Bhagavatham are meant only for people who worship Vishnu etc.
Yes, Bhagavatham has devotional stories and sportive plays of Lord Vishnu and his various avatars. But Bhagavatham is not a grantha which propounds Bhakthi mainly. Bhagavatham is a work which is filled with spiritual knowledge, knowledge about Brahman, knowledge about the non-dual reality of Self or Consciousness.
Bhagavatham itself says about its purpose in the 12th Skanda
Sarva Vedaantha saaram yad brahma aatmaikya lakshanam
Vasthu Adviteeyam tannishtam kaivalyam ekam prayojanam The unity of Brahman and Atman which is the aim of Vedanta or all Upanishads – that reality which is non-dual & one without a second – being established in that reality which is ONE alone and absolute is the aim of Bhagavatham. What is the ultimate reality propounded in the Upanishads which Bhagavatham explains through various stories?
The ultimate reality is ONE alone. The reality is termed variously as Brahman, Atman, Paramaatman, Ishwara, Consciousness etc. All these are various synonyms for the non-dual reality, one without a second. This ultimate reality alone is present – whatever is present, whatever was present, whatever will be present is this reality of Consciousness alone. The world & its objects are mere superimpositions or illusions seen in this ultimate reality of Consciousness. This is very well known through the logic of Anvaya-Vyatireka. What is Anvaya-Vyatireka Yukthi???
Anvaya is co-existence and Vyatireka is co-absence. If Consciousness is there, the world is there or present– this is Anvaya yukti.
If Consciousness is not there, the world is not present – this is Vyatireka yukti.
This tells us that Consciousness is independent and the reality on which the world depends for its existence. Such a world can never occur or appear in Consciousness which is one without a second (nothing different from it, either internal or external, exists). Therefore the world is only an illusion seen in Consciousness & hence unreal – as the snake seen in rope is an illusion and therefore unreal, as the dream world seen in the dreamer is an illusion and therefore unreal.
Therefore, Consciousness alone is the ultimate reality. There is nothing present here apart or different from Consciousness. Whatever is present is Consciousness alone. That Consciousness everyone already is. This Consciousness is full or perfect as there is nothing different from it to limit it or make it imperfect (a thing becomes full when it pervades everything – and Consciousness is the only thing present therefore it is full. A thing becomes imperfect when it mixes with other objects either internally or externally, but since Consciousness is one without a second – there is no second object to make it imperfect & hence it is Perfect). As Upanishads proclaim, eternal bliss is the nature of the object which is FULL or PERFECT (Poorna or Bhuma as Chandogya Upanishad terms it). Therefore, Consciousness is of the nature of Bliss also. Since, Consciousness exists by itself and also gives existence to other objects which are illusions in it – Consciousness is of the nature of Existence also. Therefore the ultimate reality is Brahman or Self which is of the nature of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss Absolute (Absolute as there is no limitation or other thing apart from it from the ultimate perspective). And this Self or ultimate reality we all are. Hence we all are blissful in nature. Then why don’t I realize it & get eternal bliss????? This is because the Consciousness is now limited due to ignorance. As the happiness achieved when rope is known as rope is not there when the rope is perceived as snake, similarly when Consciousness is not known in its real nature as unlimited but it is superimposed on the body and the mind (which are mere illusions alone in the Consciousness), the happiness that one gets is limited by the body and the mind. Hence we don’t experience eternal bliss & at times only sorrow & suffering in the world.
The moment a person realizes his own real nature of Consciousness, the limitations are removed as ignorance is removed through knowledge of the Self & as a result of this the eternal bliss is rejoiced (which is the inherent nature of everyone).
All effect in the world are to achieve eternal bliss alone. Everyone knowingly or unknowingly are searching for this happiness alone. But we forget that our very nature is Bliss and we have to search and get it in ourselves, & thereby search for happiness in the external world & its objects (which are mere illusions & hence give temporary happiness leading to sorrow & sufferings in the long run). The aim of various Vedanta works are only to remove the ignorance about one’s own real nature of Consciousness (one without a second). Is Anvaya-Vyatireka propounded by Adi Sankara or is it found in Upanishads and various other works????
Bhagavatham itself mentions Anvaya Vyatireka Yukti in many places. Vishnu when he instructs Brahma in Chatushloki Bhagavatham (2nd skanda or Bhagavatham) says
Etaavadeva jijnaasyam tattva jijnaasunaatmanah
Anvaya vyatirekaabhyaam yad syaad sarvatra sarvadaa This alone is to be known by seekers of Knowledge – what is present beyond time and space (at all times & at all places) through the logic of Anvaya and Vyatireka. The very starting sloka of Bhagavatham says
Janmaadi asya yathah – anvayaad itarathah That which is the cause for birth, death (or as per Brahma Sutra – for creation, protection and destruction) – through anvaya and itarathah (means vyatireka) (meaning know it through anvaya vyatireka yukti).
The ultimate reality that there is only Consciousness here – alone can confer eternal bliss to the individual. The study of Bhagavatham helps us to gain clear conviction of this reality and the means to it through various stories (which are easy to remember) in which the import has been well conveyed (though hidden).
Starting from today, we will try to learn the various stories of Srimad Bhagavatham not just as stories but as spiritually conveying the reality and the means to it. There is one another work of Ramana Maharshi than Upadesa Saram which is called Sat Darshanam (Ramana wrote the original in tamil which was translated into Sanskrit by Kavya kanta Ganapathi Muni). This work is not as easy as the Upadesa Saram. It propounds Knowledge at its highest level. If the seeker who is learning it doesn’t have the intellectual maturity and purity of mind, the work will be of no use to such a person & it will turn him into the opposite direction than which is being intended. Hence we will take up Sat Darshanam once Srimad Bhagavatham is completed. We will also try to learn Srimad Bhagavatham quoting Maharshi’s works & statements wherever they convey the same meaning. Commentaries on Srimad Bhagavatham
There are many commentaries on Srimad Bhagavatham. The most famous of them is the commentary of Sridhara Swamin (the great Advaita Krishna devotee). Then there is the commentary of the famous dvaita acharya Madhvacharya. There are many other commentaries also on Srimad Bhagavatham. We will be trying to concentrate on Srimad Bhagavatham based on the Upanishads and in the light of Ramana Maharshi’s works & Sankara’s works. We will be following mainly the Malayalam work of Bhagavatha Hridhayam written by Prof. Balakrishnan Nair (Mahopadhyaya in Sanskrit, MA Hindi, MA Sanskrit, MA Malayalam, the author of commentaries in Malayalam on the Prasthanaa Traya of Upanishads, Gita, Brahma Sutra, commentaries on Vidyaranya’s Panchadashi and Jeevanmuktiviveka, commentary on Yoga Vasistha, commentaries on the works of Sri Narayana Guru).
Purpose of this Study of Srimad Bhagavatham
The very purpose of this study is to gain devotion towards the ultimate reality & pursue the path to the ultimate reality through various stories which makes one to remember the reality through these stories easier. As mentioned by Srimad Bhagavatham itself about its purpose, the aim of this study is to be established in the ultimate reality which is one’s own real nature & thereby rejoice in the eternal bliss of the Self. This being achieved or realized removes all obstacles of ignorance & the desires that create various problems (sorrows & sufferings) in the world. After this, there remains nothing to be done in the world, there remains nothing to be achieved – whatever happens becomes a mere play or drama put on by the Ultimate reality of Consciousness (which alone exists). The drama itself is only an illusion in the reality – therefore any action in the drama doesn’t affect the person or the Consciousness (each person) & the person becomes liberated even while living – jeevanmukta which is the ultimate aim of each human being & of the Upanishads. Let me offer my salutations to the Lotus feet of Sri Veda Vyaasa, the author of Srimad Bhagavatham, to the Lotus Feet of Ramana Maharshi, to the Lotus Feet of AMMA (my Guru Mata Amritanandamayi Devi), to the Lotus Feet of Prof. Balakrishnan Nair listening to whose lectures from the age of 12 - this individual has grown, to the Lotus Feet of Paramaguru Adi Sankaracharya and lastly to the lotus feet of each and every one in the world who are of the nature of Consciousness and Bliss.
Srimad Bhagavatham – A Spiritual Insight- Story 1 Yajna at Naimisaranya Slokas (Skanda 1 Chapter 1)
Janmaadi asya yathah anvaya itarathah cha artheshu abhijnah svaraat
Dhaamna svena sadaa nirasthakuhakam Satyam param Dheemahi I contemplate on that Ultimate Reality from whom this world has taken birth, in which the world remains or exists, into which the world merges or gets destroyed – and that which is known through the logic of Anvaya and Vyatireka in the various objects of the world, who is all-knowing and ruler of the illusory world, who taught the reality to Brahma, without knowing whom the various saints falter into the illusion of Maya, in whom the world is unreal as the water seen in desert due to sunrays, who remains ever steadfast in his natural state beyond the powers of Maya. Nijamakalpatarorgalitham phalam shuka mukhaada amritadravasamyutam
Pibatha bhaagavatha rasamaalayam muhuraho rasikaa bhuvi bhaavukaah The fruit which has fallen out of the mouth of Shuka and is full of nectar and divine bliss & which has come from the wish-fulfilling tree of the Vedaas --- whose essence is Bhagavatham – O Seekers of the reality! Drink this essence in the world as long as the Ego remains. Naimishe animisha kshetre rishayah shaunakaadayah
Satram svargaaya lokaaya Sahasrasamamaasatah In Naimisharanya which is Animisha Kshetra (the abode of Animishan – one who is changeless which is Brahman or the Self), Seers (who seek after the reality) of Shaunaka and others started a yajna which lasts for thousand years for the attainment of sensual pleasures in heaven (attainment of Svarga is the highest worldly pleasure that one can attain and ordained by the Vedas). Ta ekadaa tu munayah praatar hutahutaagnayah
They (the Shaunaka Sages) once after completing their morning rituals approached Suta Ugrasrava (Suta is one whose father is Kshatriya and whose mother is a Brahmin) after properly washing his feet etc (with due respect and humility) and questioned his thus:
Athaakyaahi harerdheemannavataarkathaah shubhaah
Leela Vidadatah Svairam ishwarasya aatmamaayayaa Please tell us about that Avataaar and glory of Vishnu or the ultimate reality which is pure and auspicious in nature and whose leela or sportive play is this world created out of himself & out of his own Maya (which means the world is only an illusion). Explanation Srimad Bhagavatham starts with a beautiful description of the Ultimate reality and the statement that “Let us contemplate on the ultimate reality”. Any work in Vedanta or the scriptures will start with a propitiation of the Ultimate reality in the form of a God or in its real form itself. Here Bhagavatham beautifully brings out the description of the Ultimate reality of Brahman who is being offered prostrations in the form of contemplation in the first sloka itself. What is the Ultimate Reality????
The Reality is that from which the world has taken birth, in which the world exists & into which the world merges into at the time of destruction. The pot which comes from Mud and has Mud as its substratum and merges into Mud cannot be different from mud at all. Similarly the world cannot be different from the reality. This is what the first few worlds tell. Thus, the world is merely an illusion of names and forms in the ultimate reality of Brahman or Consciousness which is all-knowing – since it is the Only object present and it is the substratum of t he illusory world, it must be all-knowing. JANMAADI ASYA YATHAH – That from which world has come – this is the second sutra of Brahma Sutra. Taittiriya Upanishad says about the same
Yena sarvaani bhootani jaayanthe
Yena jaataani jeevanthi
Yat pratya abhisamvishanthi
Tad vijijnaasasva Tad Brahma ithi That from which all the beings have come, that in which all beings exist & that into which all beings merge – that is to be known, know that to be Brahman or Consciousness. How to know about the ultimate reality????
Through the logic of Anvaya and Vyatireka. If Consciousness is there, world is there – this is Anvaya or co-existence.
If Consciousness is not there, then world is not there – this is Vyatireka or co-absence. Therefore according to this logic, Consciousness is the reality & the world is only dependent on Consciousness. Consciousness is thus a CONSTANT & the world is a VARIABLE which depends on the CONSTANT (according to basic Mathematics). It is thus very well known that all variables only mere illusions in the CONSTANT which alone is real. Similarly the world is a mere illusion in the reality of Consciousness. Is Consciousness Brahman???
Yes, Upanishad says it --- PRAJNAANAM BRAHMA – Consciousness is Brahman. Brahman means that which is seen as the world, that which is present everywhere. Consciousness is that which is seen as the world & it is Consciousness which is present everywhere (as the world is only Consciousness). Is the Self Brahman??? Am I Brahman????
Yes, I am of the nature of Consciousness because I means Existence. Existence is illumined by Consciousness alone (Existence is Consciousness alone). Therefore I am Brahman – Aham BRAHMA ASMI. This Self which is “I” is Brahman – AYAM ATMA BRAHMA Maharshi says in Upadesa Saram 23
Sattva bhaasikaa chitkva vetara
Sattayaa hi chit chittayaa hi aham There is nothing apart from Consciousness to illumine Existence. Therefore Existence is Consciousness & I am Consciousness (Since I always exist beyond time and in all the three times of past, present & future as the substratum of time). What is the example for the illusoriness of the world???
Anything that has to be proved in Vedanta is told with the help of a day-to-day life example. The world is illusory like water seen in desert due to the rays of the sun. The water in the desert doesn’t exist at all (for one who has known the reality of desert), but only seems to exist as an illusion in desert. Even if water is seen in the desert, it is not water that is being perceived but it is perception of desert alone. Hence, the water is unreal from the perspective of a person who knows the reality that there is no water in the desert. Similarly the world is temporary and changing & is only a mere illusion in the reality of Brahman or Consciousness. As the water is illusory for a person who doesn’t know the reality of desert (and hence perceives the desert), similarly the world is illusory for a person who doesn’t know the ultimate reality or hasn’t experienced it (and hence perceives the world). But for the person who knows that there is no world but only Brahman, the world is unreal. Hence Bhagavatham says that TRISARGO MRISHA – the three worlds are unreal. Then why is the world seen????
The world is seen because of ignorance of the ultimate reality. Once the reality is known, the world ceases to exist & only Brahman, one without a second exists. Now, the question comes who created the world (even though it is an illusion, it must have an illusory creator)???
Srimad Bhagavatham in accordance with Vedanta or Upanishads says that the world was created from Lord Brahma who was given the truth and the scriptures by Brahman or the ultimate reality.
Svetaswatara Upanishad proclaims
Yo Brahmaanam vidhadhaathi poorvam
Yo vai vedaascha prahinothi tasmai That Brahman who created Brahma in the first place & passed to him the four Vedas, I offer my prostrations to him. What is the cause of the illusory world???
Any thing or effect should have a cause. An illusory world also will have an illusory cause as well as a real cause. The real cause of the world (the word cause is only with respect to the illusory world – Brahman ceases to be the cause of the world once it is known) is Brahman or Consciousness. The illusory cause of the world is Maya which is the power of Brahman or Consciousness. The power of Maya is indescribable, it itself being an illusory power only of Consciousness. As it is an illusory power, it can create anything that cannot be proved through logic. Hence it is anirvachaneeya or indescribable. But once Brahman is known, Maya ceases to exist – it vanishes as it is only an illusory power which is created or exists only because of ignorance of the reality of Brahman. YA MAA SAA MAAYA – that which is not there is Maya. This is the ultimate reality of Maya or the illusory power of Brahman. But when a person sees the world, he has to accept Maya – the illusory power. Hence at that time it is YUKTIVIHEENA PRAKAASHASYA SAMJNA MAAYA – that which is beyond logic is called Maya. But for a realized self, there is no Maya (even though the world might be seen or Maya might be present – he doesn’t perceive it as he perceives only Brahman or the ultimate reality which is one without a second), but only Brahman or Consciousness.
It is very much obvious that the reality which is the substratum for the illusion will be beyond the illusion & unaffected by the illusion & controller of the illusion. Hence, Brahman or Consciousness is beyond Maya which is only an illusory power of itself. Hence, the Lord or Brahman is beyond Maya and controller of Maya. Hence Krishna says in Gita