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yajanti hi su-medhasah
“In the age of Kali intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krishna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons, and confidential companions.”
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
Shri Jiva Gosvami begins the mangalacarana of his Bhagavata-sandarbha with this text from Shrimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.32). The word mangala-acarana literally means “enacting auspiciousness,” and this enactment is usually done poetically, by means of a sanctifying invocation. Traditionally in India authors were expected to start all their serious works with one or more verses of mangalacarana. The oft-cited reasons for doing so were that the invocation helps remove obstacles and assure the successful completion of one’s book, and also that beginning one’s work in this way conforms to the precedent set by cultured authorities (nirvighnayai tat-purtaye shishtacara-pariprapta...mangalam acarati [Baladeva Vidyabhushana, Sukshma-tika on Govinda-bhashya 1.1.1]). Though it is undeniable that many inferior writers have followed the tradition with mediocre results, in the hands of a great author the mangalacarana can concisely summarize his whole message and immediately establish an elevated level of discourse.
Shrila Krishnadasa Kaviraja lists the purposes the mangalacarana can serve after completing his own invocation at the start of Shri Chaitanya-caritamrita: :
se mangalacarana haya tri-vidha prakara
vastu-nirdesha, ashirvada, namaskara
“The mangalacarana involves three processes: defining the objective, offering benedictions, and offering obeisances” (Cc. Adi 1.22). Shri Jiva Gosvami has accomplished the first of these purposes in this opening verse of the Tattva-sandarbha, and in the following seven verses, which continue the mangalacarana, he will reiterate this purpose and also accomplish the other two.
By first citing a verse from Shrimad-Bhagavatam instead of following the general practice of composing a showcase verse of his own, Shri Jiva Gosvami turns our attention without undue formalities to the Bhagavatam itself, the vastu (subject) of Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha. The Bhagavatam is unique even among the eighteen major Puranas. It is more coherently organized than others, its style is more elegant, and more than any other Purana it focuses on a single theme: the supremacy and all-attractiveness of svayam bhagavan, the original Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna. Each of the standard schools of Vaishnavism implicitly trusts the Bhagavatam and studies it regularly. The followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu especially revere it as their primary scripture. Since Shri Jiva was the protege of his uncles Rupa and Sanatana, who were directly working under the personal instructions of Lord Chaitanya, it was natural for Jiva to be imbued with an intimate affinity for Lord Chaitanya and for His favorite source of inspiration, Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
Here at the beginning of the mangalacarana and throughout the Sandarbhas we find that Shri Jiva forgoes opportunities to display his poetic eloquence. Such an encyclopedic work of systematic philosophy as this demands from its author a concise, straightforward presentation, and so in the Sandarbhas Shri Jiva expresses himself tersely in prose, though he was certainly a brilliant poet, as anyone who has read his Gopala-campu can attest.
Because the Sandarbhas are a commentary on Shrimad-Bhagavatam, they inherit the Bhagavatam’s own subject, namely the Supreme Lord Krishna along with His avatara expansions and generations of devotees. This additional vastu (substance) is also indicated in the first mangalacarana verse. Shri Jiva Gosvami has taken the verse from the section of the Bhagavatam’s Eleventh Canto recounting a long conversation between King Nimi and the nine Yogendra sages that ranges over a number of theological topics. Nimi asked Yogendra Karabhajana about the Supreme Lord’s yuga-avataras, His special incarnations who appear once in each age to teach human society the particular method of spiritual development appropriate for that age. (The general Puranic scheme of ages measures the current age, Kali-yuga, as lasting 432,000 years, five thousand of which have passed; preceding it were three other yugas—Satya, Treta, and Dvapara—the first four times as long as Kali, the second three times as long, and the third twice as long.) Karabhajana said that the yuga-avatara in Satya-yuga has a white complexion, dresses as a brahmacari celibate student, is known by the names Hamsa, Vaikuntha, and others, and teaches meditational devotion. Karabhajana explained that the Treta-yuga avatara has a red complexion, is known by the names Vishnu, Yajna, and others, and teaches the rituals of Vedic fire sacrifice as the method of devotional service appropriate for that age.
Describing the avatara during the Dvapara Age, Karabhajana said that He has a dark blue complexion, wears yellow garments, is addressed in prayer as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha, and teaches worship of the Supreme throughy the combined methods of the Vedas and tantras. Though Karabhajana does not explicitly identify this yuga-avatara, one can easily recognize Him to be Krishna, the son of Vasudeva. Then, reaching the point of our mangalacarana verse, Karabhajana introduces it by stating,
iti dvapara urvisha/ stuvanti jagad-ishvaram
nana-tantra-vidhanena/ kalav api tatha shrinu
“O King, in this way people in Dvapara-yuga glorified the Lord of the universe. In Kali-yuga also people worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead by following various regulations of the revealed scriptures. Now kindly hear of this from me” (Bhag. 11.5.31).
Some contend that Lord Vishnu does not appear as a yugavatara in Kali-yuga. Indeed, one of Vishnu’s descriptive names is Tri-yuga, which apparently means that He manifests Himself in three ages—Satya, Treta, and Dvapara—but not in Kali, the most corrupt age, when even lesser demigods avoid visiting the earth. There is some Puranic evidence supporting this view: Shri Jiva Gosvami, in his own commentary on Shri Tattva-sandarbha (known as Sarva-samvadini), cites the following verses from the Vishnu-dharmottara Purana:
pratyaksha-rupa-dhrig devo/ [DDB1]drishyate na kalau harih
kritadishv eva tenaiva/ tri-yugah paripathyate
kaler ante ca samprapte/ kalkinam brahma-vadinam
anupravishya kurute/ vasudevo jagat-sthitim
“The Supreme Lord Hari does not appear in a visibly manifest form in the Age of Kali. He appears only in the three ages starting with Krita [Satya], and so He is called Tri-yuga. But at the end of the Kali Age Lord Vasudeva reestablishes order in the world by causing the appearance of Kalki, the proponent of absolute truth.” Prahlada Maharaja makes a similar statement in his prayers to Lord Nrisimha in the Seventh Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam:
lokan vibhavayasi hamsi jagat-pratipan
dharmam maha-purusha pasi yuganuvrittash
channash kalau yad abhavas tri-yugo ’tha sa tvam
“In this way, my Lord, You appear in various incarnations as a human being, an animal, a great saint, a demigod, a fish, or a tortoise, thus maintaining the entire creation in different planetary systems and killing the demoniac principles. According to the age, O my Lord, You protect the principles of religion. In the Age of Kali, however, You are covered, and therefore You are known as Tri-yuga” (Bhag. 7.9.38). The venerable Bhagavatam commentator Shridhara Svami gives his gloss on this prayer: vibhavayasi palayasi hamsi ghatayasi kalau tu tan na karoshi yatas tada tvam channo ’bhavah, atas trishv eva yugeshv avirbhavat sa evam-bhutas tvam tri-yuga iti prasiddhah. “You [usually] engage in protecting [the devotees] and killing [the demons], but not in Kali-yuga, for at that time You are covered. Therefore, since you appear only in three yugas, you are known as Tri-yuga.”. Later, in his comments on the Eleventh Canto, when he comes to the verse krishna-varnam tvishakrishnam, Shridhara Svami reads tvishakrishnam as the euphonic combination of tvisha krishnam (“having a blackish complexion”) instead of tvisha akrishnam (“having a nonblackish complexion”), which is grammatically allowable because of the inherent ambiguity of the combination. Based on this reading of tvishakrishnam, Shridhara Svami identifies the avatara being described as Shri Krishna, making Him the yugavatara for both Dvapara and Kali.
But Shridhara Svami wrote his commentary a few hundred years before the advent of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the worshipable Lord of Jiva Gosvami and all other Gaudiya Vaishnavas. They consider Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who initiated the devotional method of sankirtana, congregational chanting of the names of God, to be the actual yuga-avatara for Kali. Lord Chaitanya fits the description channah kalau, the hidden avatara in Kali-yuga, because He consistently played the role of a simple devotee of Krishna, refusing to admit He was Krishna Himself. Lord Chaitanya greatly respected Shridhara Svami’s explanation of Shrimad-Bhagavatam and did not like to hear any criticism of his opinions, but we cannot expect the commentator to have predicted the Lord’s future covert appearance. In any case, if he did know of it, he did not publically reveal this insight.
In his Sarva-samvadini Shrila Jiva Gosvami states that the Vishnu-dharmottara’s denial of a yugavatara in Kali may apply to other Kali-yugas but not to the present one. As Shri Jiva explains, we are living in the twenty-eighth Kali-yuga of the seventh manvantara of the day of Brahma called Shveta-varaha-kalpa. Only once in each day of Brahma—meaning once every 8,640,000,000 years—does the Personality of Godhead Shri Krishna descend to the earth in His original form. This rare descent of Lord Krishna did in fact occur during our present cycle of ages, just before Kali-yuga began five thousand years ago. Krishna is not just another avatara but is the ultimate source of all forms of God. When He appears, His unlimited potency overrules the general pattern and He comes again in Kali-yuga. Thus Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who displayed His pastimes in Bengal and elsewhere some five hundred years ago, is Krishna Himself, not an avatara of Krishna exhibiting only some of the Supreme Lord’s potencies. Lord Chaitanya coincidentally accepts the role of yugavatara, but to regard Him as that and nothing more would be a gross underestimation of His greatness. The Gaudiya Vaishnavas’ realization that Lord Shri Krishna and Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu are one and that Lord Chaitanya is the deliverer of Kali-yuga easily reconciles with Shridhara Svami’s opinion that Shri Krishna Himself is the yugavatara for both the Dvapara and Kali ages.
The principal thesis of this first Sandarbha, Shri Tattva-sandarbha, is that Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the perfect scriptural authority. The other Sandarbhas will demonstrate how the Bhagavatam perfectly reveals the glories of Lord Krishna and of devotional service to Him. As Shrinatha Cakravarti has written in his Chaitanya-manjusha,
aradhyo bhagavan vrajesha-tanayas tad-dhama vrindavanam
ramya kacid upasana vraja-vadhu-vargena ya kalpita
shastram bhagavatam pramanam amalam prema pum-artho mahan
ittham gaura-mahaprabhor matam atas tatradaro nah parah
“The Supreme Lord to be worshiped is the son of the King of Vraja. His personal abode is Vrindavana. The most favorable mode of serving Him is that practiced by the young maidens of Vraja. The scripture Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the spotless source of reliable knowledge, and pure love of God is the supreme goal of human life. Such are the opinions of Gaura Mahaprabhu, and we therefore respect them implicity.”
The Bhagavatam is such a complete revelation of all the Supreme Truth’s potencies that it can enlighten the various understandings of Vaishnava acaryas both before and after Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance. For example, directly following the verse krishna-varnam tvishakrishnam, Karabhajana Yogendra addresses two beautiful prayers to the Mahapurusha. The followers of Lord Chaitanya understand that these prayers are offered to Him, the Mahaprabhu, while Shridhara Svami inteprets them more generically, removing them from the context of the description of the yugavataras.
dharmishtha arya-vacasa yad agad aranyam
maya-mrigam dayitayepsitam anvadhavad
vande maha-purusha te caranaravindam
“O Mahapurusha, I worship Your lotus feet. You gave up the association of the goddess of fortune and all her opulence, which is most difficult to renounce and is hankered after by even the great demigods. Being the most faithful follower of the path of religion, You thus left for the forest in obedience to a respectable superior’s words. Out of sheer mercy You chased after the fallen conditioned souls, who are always in pursuit of the false enjoyment of illusion, and gave them the true object of all desire” (Bhag. 11.5.34). The devotees of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu understand this verse as a summary of His pastimes: Cursed by an angry brahmana (arya-vacasa) to lose all happiness in family life, Lord Chaitanya entered the renounced order (aranyam) and left His wife Vishnupriya, even though she is directly His eternal consort, the goddess of fortune (rajya-lakshmim).
Shridhara Svami reads the same lines differently: Ordered by His father (arya-vacasa) into exile in the forest (aranyam), Lord Ramacandra gave up His royal opulence (rajya-lakshmim). For Shridhara Svami, maya-mrigam means “the golden deer that was the sorcerer Marici in disguise,” and dayitaya ipsitam means “desired by His beloved Sita”; that is, Lord Rama chased after the false deer because His wife wanted to have it. The Gaudiya acarya Vishvanatha Cakravarti repeats Shridhara Svami’s explanation in his commentary but then adds another: Maya-mrigam means “the living entities who are entangled in material life, seaking out the illusion of wife, children, wealth, and so on” (mayam kalatra-putra-vittadi-rupam mrigayati anveshyatiti maya-mrigah samsaravishto janah). Dayitaya means “out of compassion,” and ipsitam means “object of desire.” In other words, Lord Chaitanya pursued the deluded souls to attract them to the better life of Krishna consciousness. Both these interpretations are grammatically and logically feasible.
In his Sarva-samvadini Shri Jiva explains the phrase krishna-varnam tvishakrishnam as follows: Lord Chaitanya is Krishna Himself, yet His complexion (tvisha) is akrishnam, not dark blue but golden. Krishna-varnam means “containing the syllables krish-na,” as in the name Krishna Chaitanya, the brahmacari name given to Lord Chaitanya by His spiritual master Keshava Bharati. Or, alternatively, Lord Chaitanya always describes (varnayati) the glories of Shri Krishna under the spell of remembering His own blissful pastimes as Krishna; out of His supreme compassion He also describes these glories to everyone else. Or, although He does not appear in the dark-blue form of Krishna, by the brilliance of His golden effulgence (tvisha) He nevertheless inspires everyone with realization of Krishna (krishna-varnam); therefore those who see Him also see Krishna. Or, although to the general populace He is not Krishna but a devotee, to a few intimate followers He offers a revelation (tvisha) of Himself as the same Shyamasundara with dark-blue complexion (krishna-varnam).
Each avatara of Vishnu should be identifiable by His special bodily features and ornaments (angas and upangas), His personal weapons (astras), and His associates (parshadas). According to Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana in his commentary on the Tattva-sandarbha, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appears with all of these identifying features (sangopangastra-parshadam): His main limbs (angas) are Lord Nityananda and Lord Advaitacarya; His ornaments (upangas) are principal followers like Shrivasa Thakura; even though in this appearance Lord Vishnu does not directly kill demons, with His weapons (astras) of the holy names of God He kills the demonic spirit lurking in every heart in Kali-yuga; and He has His regular associates (parshadas), such as Gadadhara Pandita and His servant Govinda.
Thus the Eleventh canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam verifies that Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the yugavatara for the current age. Further verification is found in the Tenth Canto, where Vasudeva’s priest, Garga Muni, says the following during the name-giving ceremony for his new-born son Krishna:
asan varnas trayo hy asya/ grinato ’nu-yugam tanuh
shuklo raktas tatha pita/ idanim krishnatam gatah
“Your son Krishna appeared previously in three different colors, assuming His forms according to each age. He has been white, red and yellow, and now He is dark blue” (Bhag. 10.8.13). The white incarnation was Lord Hamsa, the yugavatara for Satya-yuga; the red incarnation was Lord Yajna, the yugavatara for Treta-yuga; and dark-blue Krishna appeared in Dvapara-yuga. By a simple process of elimination, the yellow yugavatara must appear in Kali-yuga. Garga Muni is referring to a previous Kali-yuga, but in the current Kali Age the yugavatara is also yellow (pita): He is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Golden Avatara. Fully aware of this and of the fact that no attempt at spiritual advancement can be succesful without following the lead of the current age’s yugavatara, Shri Jiva Gosvami first dedicates Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha to the glorification and service of Lord Chaitanya.
Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana remarks that Lord Krishna became non-krishna, or golden, when His own dark-blue complexion was covered by the effulgence (tvisha) of His beloved consort, Shrimati Radharani. This comment hints at the more confidential purpose Lord Krishna had in appearing as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, namely, that He assumed the mood and complexion of own pleasure potency to experience for Himself the love that only She knows.
Purport by BBT Translators
natva krishnadasa-varyam prabhupadam tattvartha-dam
bhashatikan karomy aham shri-vaishnavanam tushtaye
“After paying my obeisances to the best among Lord Krishna’s devotees, Shrila Prabhupada, who has imparted knowledge about the essence of Vedic literature, I write this translation and commentary for the satisfaction of the Vaishnavas.”[new2]
In the Vedic culture every undertaking begins with an invocation, technically called mangalacarana. The purpose is to invoke the blessings of the Supreme Personality of Godhead so He may remove any obstacle to the completion of the work. This book, Shri Shat-sandarbha, is a detailed treatise on the Lord’s name, fame, abode, qualities, pastimes, and associates. As such, it is already all-auspicious and thus needs no invocation. Shrila Jiva Gosvami nonetheless performs mangalacarana, following in the footsteps of the previous acaryas and setting an ideal example for his readers.
A book’s mangalacarana is of three types and may have one or more verses. The three types are:
Namas-kriyatmaka: paying obeisances to one’s teacher(s) or worshipable deity, or to both.
Ashir-vadatmaka: praying to the Lord for His blessings, bestowing blessings upon the readers, or exclaiming “All glories to the Lord!”
Vastu-nirdeshatmaka: summarizing the subject matter of the book.
Often the mangalacarana will also describe four essential elements of the book, called anubandha-catushtaya:
adhikari ca sambandho vishayash ca prayojanam
avashyam eva vaktavyam shastradau tu catushtayam
“At its beginning a book must describe these four items: the qualifications of the person who may read the book (adhikari), the connection between the book and its subject (sambandha), the subject itself (vishaya or abhidheya), and what the reader will gain by reading the book and following the path it prescribes (prayojana).” In modern books these four items are usually covered in the introduction.
It is significant that Shrila Jiva Gosvami begins his mangalacarana with a quotation from Shrimad-Bhagavatam and not with an original verse. By doing so he shows his reverence for Shrimad-Bhagavatam and his surrender to the instructions of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, for whom Shrimad-Bhagavatam was the supreme scriptural authority. Shrila Jiva Gosvami also implies that in the Shat-sandarbha he will analyze the Bhagavatam and establish its superiority over all other scriptures. In addition, this verse establishes that his worshipable Deity is Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
The opening verse was spoken by Karabhajana Rishi in response to a question Maharaja Nimi posed concerning the Lord’s color, name, and mode of worship in the various yugas. In this verse Karabhajana Rishi describes the Lord’s incarnation in Kali-yuga, and in so doing he indirectly reveals that Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna-varnam indicates one who describes the pastimes of Lord Krishna to others or who always chants “Krishna, Krishna.” Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu certainly meets this criterion for being krishna-varna. Varnam also means “class” or “category.” So krishna-varnam may also indicate one who is in the same class as Krishna. Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is krishna-varna in this sense because He is nondifferent from Lord Shri Krishna. Varna also means “letter” or “word,” and thus krishna-varnam also indicates one whose name has the word Krishna in it—in this case Shri Krishna Chaitanya.
Other meanings of varna are “fame,” “form,” “outward appearance,” “quality,” and “ritual.” One may apply all these meanings to the phrase krishna-varnam and thus understand it to indicate Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. For example, krishna-varnam may indicate one whose fame is like Krishna’s or whose form is like Krishna’s.
In Sarva-samvadini, a supplementary commentary to Shri Shat-sandarbha by Shrila Jiva Gosvami himself, he explains that Lord Chaitanya is referred to as krishna-varna because people were reminded of Lord Shri Krishna just by seeing Him. Another reason is that although Shri Chaitanya displayed a golden complexion to the common man, to His intimate associates He sometimes appeared blackish. [DDB3]Finally, krishna-varna also means one who is blackish like Krishna, but in the case of Lord Chaitanya krishna-varna must refer to His inner complexion. This Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains in the next Text.
The compound word tvishakrishnam may be broken as tvisha akrishnam, giving the meaning “whose bodily hue is not blackish.” In Shrimad-Bhagavatam (10.8.13), Garga Muni tells Nanda Maharaja:
asan varnas trayo hy asya grihnato ’nu-yugam tanuh
shuklo raktas tatha pita idanim krishnatam gatah
“Your son Krishna appears as an incarnation in every millennium. In the past He assumed three different colors—white, red,[DDB4] and yellow—and now He has appeared in a blackish color.”
According to Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the Supreme Personality of Godhead had a white complexion when He appeared in Satya-yuga, a reddish one in Treta-yuga, and a blackish one in Dvapara-yuga. So by the process of elimination the word akrishnam, “non-blackish,” must indicate the incarnation with a yellow complexion—that is, the golden avatara, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Garga Muni’s mention of His yellow color “in previous yugas” may refer either to Lord Chaitanya’s previous appearances or to His future appearances, but Garga Muni uses the past tense because he is mentioning the yellow incarnation along with other incarnations who had appeared in the past. The usage is similar to what a person might say if he saw a householder and fifteen brahmacaris walking on the road: “The brahmacaris are coming.” Yet another consideration is that Gargacarya may have used the past tense to hide Krishna’s future incarnation as Lord Chaitanya. Garga’s purpose would have been to avoid confusing Nanda Maharaja and to play along with the Lord’s plan to appear in Kali-yuga as the channa-avatara, or hidden incarnation. This last reason is why the Vedic scriptures only indirectly refer to Lord Chaitanya’s incarnation.
In the Bhagavad-gita (7.25) Lord Krishna says, naham prakashah sarvasya yoga-maya-samavritah: “Because the veil of Yogamaya covers Me, I am not manifest to everyone as I am.” This declaration specifically applies to the Lord’s appearance in Kali-yuga as Shri Krishna Chaitanya. Prahlada Maharaja also refers to Lord Chaitanya when he says in Shrimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.38), channah kalau yad abhavas tri-yugo ’tha sa tvam: “O Lord, Your incarnation in Kali-yuga is hidden, or confidential, and therefore you are called Tri-yuga, one who incarnates in three yugas [namely Satya, Treta, and Dvapara].” Here the word channa (“covered”) also signifies that Lord Chaitanya is Lord Krishna covered by the mood and complexion of Shri Radhika. The Naradiya Purana (5.47) also foretells the Lord’s appearance as a devotee:
aham eva kalau vipra nityam pracchanna-vigrahah
bhagavad-bhakta-rupena lokan rakshami sarvada
“The Lord said: ‘Concealing My real identity, O vipra [Markandeya Rishi], I appear in Kali-yuga in the garb of a devotee and always protect My devotees.’”
Tvishakrishnam may also be broken up as tvisha krishnam, meaning “one whose complexion is blackish.” Although Lord Chaitanya’s complexion was golden, He is Lord Krishna Himself, and thus the words tvisha krishnam indicate His original form as Lord Krishna, which He revealed only to certain devotees, such as Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya.
Sangopangastra-parshadam means “with His limbs, ornaments, weapons, and associates.” According to Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana, Lord Chaitanya’s limbs are Lord Nityananda Prabhu and Advaita Acarya, His ornaments are Shrivasa Thakura, Shrila Haridasa Thakura, and others, His weapons are the holy names, which dispel ignorance, and His associates are Gadadhara, Govinda, and the many other devotees who stayed with Him in Jagannatha Puri.
Sangopangastra-parshadam may also refer to Lord Chaitanya’s form as Shri Krishna, which He showed to His intimate devotees. This form has beautiful limbs decorated with ornaments (such as the Kaustubha gem), which act like weapons by attracting one’s mind toward Lord Krishna and thus killing one’s demoniac mentality. The Lord’s ornaments are also associates of His, since they are living persons and are His devotees.
The words yajnaih sankirtana-prayair yajanti hi su-medhasah convey the following meaning: The Vedas recommend many processes for worshiping the Supreme Lord, but in Kali-yuga the wise worship Him by chanting His holy names congregationally. Lord Chaitanya inaugurated this process and is thus called the father of the sankirtana movement.
Su-medhasah means “people of fine intelligence.” The implication is that less intelligent people will worship the Lord in other ways and that outright fools will oppose the sankirtana movement. Sankirtana is very dear to Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He Himself was always absorbed in performing sankirtana, and He enjoined everyone to participate, declaring it the [DDB5]universal remedy for all the defects of Kali-yuga. Shukadeva Gosvami confirms this in Shrimad-Bhagavatam (12.3.51, 52):
kaler dosha-nidhe rajann asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krishnasya mukta-sangah param vrajet
krite yad dhyayato vishnum tretayam yajato makhaih
dvapare paricaryayam kalau tad dhari-kirtanat
“My dear king, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the names of Krishna one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom. Whatever result was obtained in Satya-yuga by meditating on Vishnu, in Treta-yuga by performing sacrifices, and in Dvapara-yuga by serving the Lord’s lotus feet can be obtained in Kali-yuga simply by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.”
Shrila Jiva Gosvami’s worshipable Deity is Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Therefore Jiva Gosvami begins his topmost literary achievement by quoting a verse about Shri Chaitanya from Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the supreme scriptural authority for all time. This is a vastu-nirdeshatmaka mangalacarana.
antah krishnam bahir gauram
kalau sankirtanadyaih smah
Gopiparanadhana: In this Age of Kali we have taken shelter of Krishna Chaitanya by congregationally chanting the Lord’s holy names and performing other devotional practices. Blackish within but golden without, He exhibits all His opulences, beginning with His bodily features.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
This original verse by Shri Jiva Gosvami restates the previous text. In the first line he glosses krishna-varnam as meaning antah krishnam, “internally Krishna Himself,”[DDB6] and tvishakrishnam as bahir gauram, “outwardly appearing golden.” Gaura (“Golden One”) and Gauranga (“Golden-limbed One”) are names of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He displayed the spiritual opulences proving He is God (darshitangadi-vaibhavam), but not in the usual ways. Unlike such incarnations as Lord Varaha and Lord Nrisimha, He did not kill great demons, and unlike Lord Krishna, He did not exhibit amorous pastimes that violated ordinary morality. Instead, the distinctive opulences of Lord Chaitanya were His all-attractive pure love of Krishna and the unprecedented kindness He showed to His devotees and to the unfortunate, deluded people of this world. Those with clear intelligence can understand that Lord Chaitanya’s activities are far beyond the ability of a mortal being. He was more generous than any previous avatara, including Lord Krishna Himself, who advised in the Bhagavad-gita (18.66):
sarva-dharman parityajya/ mam ekam sharanam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo/ mokshayishyami ma shucah
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear” Thus Lord Krishna demanded full surrender before He would give His full mercy. When He appeared 4,500 years later as Lord Chaitanya, however, He put aside that demand and freely gave love of God to whoever would hear and chant Krishna’s names according to His instructions.
Devotees who receive the mercy of Lord Chaitanya know directly the power of that mercy, and anyone who takes shelter of such devotees will also begin to experience its influence. Any person in this age who honors Lord Chaitanya as the Supreme Lord and faithfully follows His simple teachings will become an ideal Vaishnava, with the saintly qualities described in Shrimad-Bhagavatam (3.25.21–23) by Lord Kapila, the incarnation of the Supreme Lord born in Satya-yuga as the son of Devahuti:
titikshavah karunikah/ suhridah sarva-dehinam
ajata-shatravah shantah/ sadhavah sadhu-bhushanah
mayy ananyena bhavena/ bhaktim kurvanti ye dridham
mat-krite tyakta-karmanas/ tyakta-svajana-bandhavah
mad-ashrayah katha mrishtah/ shrinvanti kathayanti ca
tapanti vividhas tapa/ naitan mad-gata-cetasah
“The symptoms of a sadhu are that he is tolerant, merciful, and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime. Such a sadhu engages in staunch devotional service to the Lord without deviation. For the sake of the Lord he renounces all other connections, such as family relationships and friendly acquaintances within the world. Engaged constantly in chanting and hearing about Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, ]the sadhus do not suffer from material miseries, for they are always filled with thoughts of My pastimes and activities.”
The special dispensation of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names—was considered in other ages suitable only for the most advanced spiritualists, not for those who are still inclined toward materialism or impersonalism. But by the mercy of Lord Chaitanya this process is now freely available to all. One who chants the Hare Krishna maha-mantra approaches the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His most intimate relationship with His feminine counterpart, Shrimati Radharani; there are several dangerous offenses that a careless practioner can commit in this mode of worship, any of which will impede the good effects of chanting. Only by Lord Chaitanya’s special order has the Hare Krishna maha-mantra recently been made universally available. Lord Chaitanya has requested every man, woman, and child in the universe to chant Hare Krishna, promising that if we chant under His guidance He will protect us from our offenses.
Although Kali is the most corrupt of ages, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has made it auspicious:
kaler dosha-nidher rajan/ asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krishnasya/ mukta-sangah param vrajet
“My dear King, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about the age: Simply by glorifying Krishna one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.
krite yad dhyayato vishnum/ tretayam yajato makhaih
dvapare paricaryayam/ kalau tad dhari-kirtanat
“Whatever result was obtained in Satya-yuga by meditating on Vishnu, in Treta-yuga by performing sacrifices, and in Dvapara-yuga by serving the Lord’s lotus feet can be obtained in Kali-yuga simply by chanting the glories of Krishna” (Bhag. 12.3.51–52).
Therefore the most discriminating and fortunate people are eager to participate in Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana movement. Even residents of higher planets and of the spiritual world, who otherwise do not come near the earth during Kali-yuga, are attracted:
kritadishu praja rajan/ kalav icchanti sambhavam
kalau khalu bhavishyanti/ narayana-parayanah
“My dear King, the inhabitants of Satya-yuga and other ages eagerly desire to take birth in this Age of Kali, since in this age there will be many devotees of the Supreme Lord, Narayana” (Bhag. 11.5.38).
As in His other appearances, when the Supreme Personality of Godhead came to this world as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu He brought with Him many intimate companions from His eternal abode. These parshadas were related to the Lord in various ways, and among the most confidential of these associates were six devotees from Goloka Vrindavana in the conjugal mode of loving service to Krishna (madhurya-rasa), who joined Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes as the Gosvamis of Mathura Vrindavana. The six Gosvamis exemplified the perfection of love of God in separation, living out their lives in extreme renunciation and apparent pain in the absence of Krishna but in fact all the while immersed in the immeasurable bliss of remembering Him in one another’s company.
Lord Chaitanya entrusted them with the tasks of restoring the forgotten sites of Krishna’s pastimes in the area of Vrindavana and of writing books to establish the principles of devotional practice for this age. Jiva Gosvami took his birth as the nephew of Rupa and Sanatana, the leaders of this group. He carried their work forward into the next generation.
Purport by BBT Translators
Here Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains the meaning of the opening verse. Lord Krishna, whose complexion is blackish, covered Himself with the golden complexion of Shrimati Radharani to appear in Kali-yuga as Krishna Chaitanya. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but His purpose is to show us how to be devotees of the Lord. For this reason it is not readily apparent that He is the Supreme Lord, and so Shrimad-Bhagavatam describes Him as “the hidden incarnation.” Or, alternatively, the words antah krishnam bahir gauram here may be taken to mean not that Lord Chaitanya is blackish within and golden without but that He is Krishna within though outwardly appearing as Gaura, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Shrila Jiva Gosvami also indicates here that one can please Lord Krishna Chaitanya by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
Darshitangadi-vaibhavam means that Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu manifested His opulence through His limbs and associates. His body was so beautiful that just by seeing Him people would be inspired to surrender to Him. He also manifested His supremacy through Nityananda Prabhu and other associates who preached the chanting of the holy name. This phrase can also mean that Lord Chaitanya manifested the ’greatness of his associates by engaging them in distributing love of Godhead.
By using the plural form “we” in the phrase “we take shelter of Shri Krishna Chaitanya,” Shrila Jiva Gosvami includes the readers of Shri Shat-sandarbha. He invites them to join him in taking shelter of Lord Chaitanya by participating in the sankirtana movement, the universal process for pleasing the Supreme Lord and attaining deliverance. By using the plural Shri Jiva also implies that Lord Chaitanya’s teachings are not limited to a particular sect or nationality.
So far Shrila Jiva Gosvami has described his worshipable Deity. Next he performs ashir-vadatmaka-mangalacarana, invoking auspiciousness by declaring the glories of his spiritual masters.
yau vilekhayatas tattvam
jnapakau pustikam imam
Gopiparanadhana prabhu: All glories to Shrila Rupa and Shrila Sanatana in the land of Mathura! Having enlightened me in the true science, they are inspiring me to write this book.
BBT: All glories to Shrila Rupa Gosvami and Shrila Sanatana Gosvami in the land of Mathura! They have engaged me in writing this book to broadcast the essential truth about the Supreme Lord.
Purport by Gopiparandhana prabhu
As Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana discusses in his Tattva-sandarbha commentary, this verse fulfills the second and third purposes of a mangalacarana, namely offering blessings and paying respects. Jiva Gosvami had a blood relationship with Rupa and Sanatana as their nephew, the son of their brother Shri Anupama. But spiritually the relationship between Rupa, Sanatana, and Jiva was more formal: Rupa Gosvami accepted, revered, and obeyed his older brother Sanatana Gosvami as his guru, the prime director of his spiritual life. Shri Jiva, in turn, considered himself a surrendered disciple of Shrila Rupa Gosvami. In this verse, then, the author is honoring his spiritual master and grand–spiritual-master, and by praising them he automatically offers respects to all their predecessors and to Supreme Lord.
The title Shrila means “endowed with the blessings of Shri, the goddess of fortune and consort of Lord Vishnu” For Rupa and Sanatana these blessings took the form of their great knowledge, detachment, and spiritual discipline. Jayatam literally means “may they be victorious” or, in other words, “may they manifest their superexcellence.” Rupa, Sanatana, and later Jiva especially showed their excellence in the land of Mathura, the best place in the universe for practicing pure Krishna consciousness. Their lives became successful when each of them, one after another, overcame difficult obstacles and finally reached Mathura-mandala. In that most sacred of districts they lived sometimes in Vrindavana and sometimes at other sites such as Govardhana and Radha-kunda. They and the other Gosvamis founded temples for the Deities of Krishna who preside over the town of Vrindavana. Shrila Sanatana Gosvami founded the Radha-Madana-mohana temple, Shrila Rupa the Radha-Govindaji temple, and Shrila Jiva the Radha-Damodara temple.
Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana states that the verb jayati (“is victorious”) here expresses excellence beyond that of all other saintly persons, indicating that all Vaishnavas owe respect to Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami. In this way the current verse offers blessings to all the devotees of the Lord by reminding them to acknowledge the supremacy of these two transcendental brothers. And because Jiva Gosvami considers himself among the general mass of Vaishnavas, he is hinting in this verse that he ialso feels obliged to maintain a reverential attitude toward them.
Shri Jiva Gosvami is especially grateful to Rupa and Sanatana for the enlightenment and inspiration in Krishna consciousness he received from them. They revealed the Absolute Truth, tattva, to him. Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana points out that the Vishva-kosha dictionary assigns a few definitions to this word tattva: tattvam vadya-prabhede syat svarupe paramatmani. “Tattva (‘truth’) means a kind of verbal proposition, the essential substance of something, or the Supreme Soul.” In accordance with these meanings of tattva, what Rupa and Sanatana revealed to Jiva was the Supreme Personality of Godhead along with His entire retinue. To Shri Jiva they were jnapakau, imparters of knowledge, but not in the ordinary sense. They gave their student the kind of knowledge received only from teachers who are entirely free from material motivations.
A sentiment of belief in God is the beginning of spiritual progress, but one cannot make substantial advancement without seriously committing oneself to following a living representative of God. A disciple’s initiating spiritual master and his instructing spiritual master (or masters) are his direct, personal link with the entire line of previous acaryas, and through them to the Personality of Godhead. A spiritual master must know his disciple’s individual spiritual needs so that he can engage the disciple in practical devotional service to Krishna for his purification. The spiritual master establishes the individual mood of devotional service to be followed by the disciple. Thus only when a conditioned soul becomes a Vaishnava’s disciple does he establish his link with spiritual reality. The process is not just an institutional formality but an essential step for one who wants to reach God consciousness.
Purport by BBT Translators
Here Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains his reason for composing the Shat-sandarbha. He is doing so at the behest of his spiritual masters, Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis, who are also his uncles. Jiva Gosvami studied under them, and they asked him to compile their teachings into a book for the benefit of all. This request is indicated by the word jnapakau, which literally means “those who like to teach others.”
Previously Shrila Rupa and Shrila Sanatana were glorious in Bengal as ministers of Hussein Shah[new7]. Now they are glorious in the land of Mathura, which is itself glorious, being the place of Lord Krishna’s pastimes. To be glorious in this land means to have the wealth of krishna-prema, love of Godhead, which is the most rare possession. To show this achievement Jiva Gosvami adds the honorofic “Shrila” before their names. “Shrila” signifies that Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis are endowed with transcendental knowledge, renunciation, devotional service, and love of God. Shrila Jiva Gosvami prays that through the Shat-sandarbha these two great souls may manifest their opulence and glory for the welfare of others.
According to Sanskrit grammatical rules, the pronoun imam (“this”) is used for objects near at hand. Since at this point Jiva Gosvami is in the process of writing the Shat-sandarbha, his mention here of pustikam imam (“this book”) may seem a defect. Baladeva Vidyabhushana comments, however, that because the book already exists within the author’s mind, his usage is proper.
ko ’pi tad-bandhavo bhatto
vivicya vyalikhad grantham
Gopiparanadhana: A friend of theirs, a Bhatöa scholar from a family of South Indian brahmanas, composed the original edition of this book after studying the writings of venerable Vaishnavas.
BBT: Shri Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami, a friend of Shri Rupa’s and Shri Sanatana’s born in a South Indian brahmana family, compiled the original version of this book based on the works of venerable Vaishnavas.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
Here Jiva Gosvami gives credit to Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami as the original author of Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha. Gopala Bhaööa first conceived of the project, extensively researched the writings of Vaishnava authorities—Ramanuja, Madhva, Shridhara Svami, and others—and compiled his findings into notes. It was upon these notes that Shri Jiva Gosvami later based the Sandarbhas. Shrila Gopala Bhaööa’s exalted place among the six Gosvamis of Vrindavana is so well known that Shri Jiva’s poetic understatement in this verse only serves to underscore the depth of his appreciation for his senior.
The title Bhaööa belongs to a certain class of scholarly brahmanas who specialize in prescribing for the public appropriate atonements for sins. That Gopala Bhaööa had such a prestigious birth was certainly not the extent of his glory. His family did come from the Bhaööa subcaste, but much more significantly they were advanced devotees of the Lord whose association Lord Chaitanya Himself enjoyed.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has provided information about Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami’s life in a purport to Shri Chaitanya-caritamrita (Adi 10.105): “Shri Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami was the son of Venkata Bhaööa, a resident of Shri Rangam. Gopala Bhaööa formerly belonged to the disciplic succession of the Ramanuja-sampradaya but later became part of the Gaudiya-sampradaya. In the year 1433 shakabda (A.D. 1511), when Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was touring South India, He stayed for four months during the period of Caturmasya at the house of Venkata Bhaööa, who then got the opportunity to serve the Lord to his heart’s content. Gopala Bhaööa also got the opportunity to serve the Lord at this time. Shri Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami was later initiated by his uncle, the great sannyasi Prabodhananda Sarasvati. Both the father and the mother of Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami were extremely fortunate, for they dedicated their entire lives to the service of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. They allowed Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami to go to Vrindavana, and they gave up their lives thinking of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. When Lord Chaitanya was later informed that Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami had gone to Vrindavana and met Shri Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami, He was very pleased, and He advised Shri Rupa and Sanatana to accept Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami as their younger brother and take care of him. Shri Sanatana Gosvami, out of his great affection for Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami, compiled the Vaishnava smriti named Hari-bhakti-vilasa and published it under his name. Under the instruction of Shrila Rupa and Sanatana, Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami installed one of the seven principal Deities of Vrindavana, the Radha-ramana Deity. The sevaits (priests) of the Radha-ramana temple belong to the Gaudiya-sampradaya.”
Purport by BBT Translators
The Source of Shri Shaö-sandarbha
Shrila Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami was the son of Venkaöa Bhaööa, the head priest of the temple of Lord Ranganatha at Shri Rangam, where the Shri-vaishnava sect had[DDB8] its headquarters. It was in Venkaöa’s home that Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stayed for the four months of the rainy season during His tour of South India. There He and Venkaöa discussed philosophy, as is known from the Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, chapter nine, and the Bhakti-ratnakara, first wave. At that time Gopala Bhaööa was a young boy, and he learned the intricacies of Gaudiya-vaishnava philosophy directly from Shri Chaitanya. Later he studied the writings of the eminent Vaishnavas of the Shri-sampradaya. On Lord Chaitanya’s order Gopala Bhaööa later moved to Vrindavana, where he established the temple of Shri Radha-ramana. He is one of the great authorities on Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings.
As we shall learn further on, the venerable Vaishnavas Shrila Jiva Gosvami refers to here as sources for Shrila Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami include Shri Ramanujacarya, Shri Madhvacarya, and Shridhara Svami. Shrila Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami culled the essence from the works of these previous acaryas and Vaishnava scholars and then composed a book explaining the essential truths about Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That book is the basis for the present work. In this way Jiva Gosvami hints at the authenticity of his work, for by basing it on Shrila Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami’s book he implies that the work is authoritative, free of concocted ideas.
kritva likhati jivakah
Gopiparanadhana: That first edition of this work was a rough draft, with some parts in topical order and others not, and with some parts only suggestive fragments. So I, an insignificant Jiva, have carefully gone over the manuscript and rewritten it more systematically.
BBT: Some parts of this first book by Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami were in correct sequence, and some were not. Some parts were incomplete or lost. Now, after careful study, Jiva is rewriting this book in the proper sequence.
Purport by Gopiparandhana prabhu
Since no copies of Shrila Gopala Bhaööa’s original notes are known to exist, we cannot say just what in the Sandarbhas Shrila Jiva Gosvami borrowed from him. But judging from this verse and from the coherence and sheer volume of the Sandarbhas in their present form, we can conclude that the material and its organization must be largely Shri Jiva Gosvami’s own. Here Jiva humbly credits Shrila Gopala Bhaööa for doing the important part of the work, just as Shrila Sanatana Gosvami credited him for Shri Hari-bhakti-vilasa.
In any case, novelty was not considered much of a virtue in India’s brahminical tradition of philosophy. Much more valued was loyalty to one’s own school of thought. A theoretician’s task in traditional India was not to invent new schemes of ideas. Rather, each philosophical author started with what the original founder of his school had taught and what generations of commentators had added in elaboration; he then tried to elucidate once more the same ideas without contradicting them, adapting them to the language, level of culture, and special concerns of the current generation. He would also deal with issues raised by contemporary opponents.
Thus faithfulness to one’s school of philosophy was the ideal, although in some schools—for example Nyaya epistemology—writers expressed only token respect for their predecessors’ opinions, especially in later centuries. But among the Vedantists, adherence to the opinions of previous acaryas is not merely a matter of intellectual integrity but is an essential spiritual principle. Vaishnava Vedantists do not try to discover reality on their own strength, individual or collective, but depend on revealed knowledge recorded in standard scriptures (shastra) and received through ancient lines of disciplic succession (guru-parampara).
yasya deve para bhaktir/ yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah/ prakashante mahatmanah
[DDB9]“If someone has unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Lord and equal devotion for his own spiritual master, then his intelligence becomes broad and everything described in these texts reveals itself clearly to him” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 6.23).
Purport by BBT Translators
Homage to Shri Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami
The following question may arise: If Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami had already composed a work on this subject, why should Rupa and Sanatana have engaged Jiva Gosvami in compiling a similar work? Jiva Gosvami replies in this verse: His mission is to complete the task that Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami began and to set the material in proper order. In the previous two verses Jiva Gosvami has already established that his work is not a product of his imagination but is based on the authority of the scriptures and previous acaryas.
By using the word jivaka, Jiva Gosvami makes a pun on his name. Jivaka means “a petty soul,” or else it can be taken as the name of the author. Out of humility the author refers to himself here in the third person. The suffix kan is used in this context in a diminutive sense, to indicate that a humble soul is writing.
As jivanugas, or followers of Shrila Jiva Gosvami, we may prefer to interpret jivaka in other ways. We may, for example, apply the definition jivan kapayati bhagavatartha-pradanandeneti jivakah: “One who makes the living beings emit ecstatic sounds by supplying them with the esoteric meaning of Shrimad-Bhagavatam [through his Bhagavata-sandarbha] is jivaka.” Or, alternatively, jiva-svarupa-sambandhabhidheya-prayojanan kayati varnayatiti jivakah: “One who explains the nature of the jiva, his relation with the Lord, the process by which he can achieve the ultimate goal of life, and also that ultimate goal—such a person is jivaka.” Or, jivayati jivan krishna-prema-pradaneneti jivo, jiva eva jivaka iti svarthe kan: “One who infuses life into living beings by giving them love of Krishna is [DDB10]jiva or, equivalently, jivaka.” Finally, the word jivaka may also be formed by applying to the root jiv the suffix -aka in the sense of “blessing.” In this case jivaka means “the person who confers blessings on the living entities.”
tenaiva drishyatam etad
anyasmai shapatho ’rpitah
Gopiparanadhana: Only those who have no desire other than to worship the lotus feet of Lord Krishna should read this book; everyone else I warn off with my curse.
BBT: This book may be studied only by one whose sole desire is to serve the lotus feet of Lord Shri Krishna. I warn everyone else not to read it.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
Shri Jiva Gosvami does not intend his Bhagavata-sandarbha to be polemical. Rather, his purpose is to explain Shrimad-Bhagavatam, a scripture that must be trusted to be correctly understood. Only in a few places will he confront opposing opinions, such as in his discussion of Shankara’s Advaita-vada later in Shri Tattva-sandarbha. Therefore here he plainly advises those who want to argue over differing opinions that this is not the right book for them. Best if they stop right here. If such critical speculators proceed, when they reject the opinions of saintly authorities like Shridhara Svami and Dvaipayana Vyasa, they will create unfortunate karmic reactions for themselves, or at least they will certainly fail to understand the Bhagavatam’s transcendental message.
Shri Jiva’s cursing some of his readers is not as cruel or fanatic as it may seem, because he is in fact sincerely concerned for their spiritual development. A pure Vaishnava advances everyone’s welfare by everything he does, even his condemnation of offenders. The Dharma-shastras state that a criminal who is punished by the government escapes much of the sinful reaction he would otherwise have to suffer in future lives. Similarly, an offender benefits from a compassionate Vaishnava’s curse. The Tenth Chapter of Shrimad-Bhagavatam’s Tenth Canto tells how when the two demigods Nalakuvara and Manigriva appeared naked in front of Narada Muni, he cursed them to take birth on earth as two trees in the yard of Nanda Maharaja in Vraja. This curse proved to be the cause of their perfection, for after some years baby Krishna Himself uprooted them and granted them liberation from material life.
Practicing Vaishnavas, however, should not indulge in the brahminical prerogative of casting curses as long as they themselves have not yet become truly humble. A devotee of the Lord should see no one as his enemy, what to speak of trying to harm someone out of vengefulness. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught a devotional attitude of complete tolerance and simplicity:
trinad api su-nicena/ taror iva sahishnuna
amanina mana-dena/ kirtaniyah sada harih
“One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.” (Shishkashöaka 3).
Well-intentioned non-Vaishnava readers may very well ask what they are supposed to do now, having been categorized as offenders and told not to continue reading. They may also question why this translation of the Sandarbhas is even being published and made generally available. The simplest answer to the second question is that our spiritual master, Shrila Prabhupada, asked for it. Shrila Prabhupada received instructions from his spiritual master, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, that publishing the great works of standard Vaishnava acaryas is the most effective way to increase God consciousness in this confused age. Nowadays the world is filled with lavishly funded propaganda for the purchase and consumption of material things, in the face of which only the most vigorous counter-advertisement for things of spiritual value will even be noticed. When Lord Chaitanya was present on this planet, He organized His followers to perform sankirtana publicly, singing and dancing in glorification of God on the city streets. But five hundred years later, unfortunately, many people are unaware of the sacred history of sankirtana and view the devotees’ street chanting as foolish. As Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura told Shrila Prabhupada, a kirtana party playing karatalas and mridanga drums on a street corner may be heard for one or two blocks, but the printing press is “the big mridanga”; it can be heard all over the world.
Therefore Shrila Prabhupada wanted his disciples to make publishing and distributing Krishna conscious literature their first priority, even at the risk of sometimes commiting the offense of “preaching the glories of the Lord to the faithless.” At the end of the Bhagavad-gita (18.67), Krishna told Arjuna:
idam te natapaskaya/ nabhaktaya kadacana
na ca shushrushave vacyam/ na ca mam abhyasuyati
“This confidential knowledge should not be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.” Despite this direct injunction from Lord Krishna Himself, Shrila Prabhupada chose to present Bhagavad-gita As It Is, aiming at the most general possible audience, and he had his disciples print and sell millions of copies in English and dozens of other languages. In this regard Shrila Prabhupada commented that the Vaishnava acaryas, representatives of the Supreme Lord, sometimes show even more mercy than the Lord Himself: “The Lord explicitly forbade the Gita’s being spoken to those who are envious of the Lord. In other words, the Bhagavad-gita is for the devotees only. But it so happens that sometimes a devotee of the Lord will hold open class, and in that class not all the students are expected to be devotees. Why do such persons hold open class? It is explained here that although everyone is not a devotee, still there are many men who are not envious of Krishna. . . . Simply by hearing the Bhagavad-gita, even a person who does not try to be a pure devotee attains the result of righteous activities” (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, purport to 18.71).
So we humbly suggest to our readers who do not consider themselves Vaishnavas, please approach this book with respect for Shrila Jiva Gosvami and the authorities he cites. Let the book speak for itself. Carefully study Shrila Jiva’s arguments and you will find that they are very reasonable, consistent, and illuminating.
Purport by BBT Translators
Qualifications of the Reader
Here Shrila Jiva Gosvami defines the adhikari, the person qualified to read Shri Shaö-sandarbha. Shri Jiva is writing only for those whose sole desire is to serve Lord Krishna. He bars all others from reading this work. What prompts him to do so is not fear that critics will find defects in his work; since he is working under the order and supervision of learned Vaishnavas, namely Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami, and since all his statements will be based on scripture, there is no question of defects. Rather, it is out of compassion that Jiva Gosvami says that the Shaö-sandarbha “may be studied only by one whose sole desire is to serve the lotus feet of Lord Shri Krishna.” His intention is to prohibit those who have no desire to engage in devotional service from reading his book. In the Shaö-sandarbha he intends to establish the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead with great logic and force and with scriptural reference. Such a book will displease those who have no desire to be devoted to the Supreme Lord, since they cannot tolerate His glorification. If such persons happen to read this book, they may become offensive toward the Lord and His devotees and thus bring hellish miseries upon themselves. For their benefit, therefore, Shri Jiva pens this statement forbidding them to read Shri Shaö-sandarbha.
In the Bhagavad-gita (18.67), Lord Krishna imposes[DDB11] a similar restriction on Arjuna:
idam te natapaskaya nabhaktaya kadacana
na cashushrushave vacyam na ca mam yo ’bhyasuyati
“This confidential knowledge may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.”
In this Text the word eka (“only”) significantly means that even among those desiring to render service to Lord Krishna, none should harbor personal ambition in his heart and misuse Shri Shaö-sandarbha for gaining profit, adoration, and distinction.
Finally, here Shrila Jiva Gosvami indicates indirectly that in Shri Shaö-sandarbha he will establish service to Lord Krishna as the supreme goal of life.
atha natva mantra-gurun
sandarbham vashmi lekhitum
Gopiparanadhana: Now I bow down to my initiating spiritual master and to my spiritual masters who taught me the meaning of Shrimad-Bhagavatam. Having done this, I declare my desire to present this encyclopedic work, Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha.
BBT: After offering obeisances to my initiating spiritual master and to those spiritual masters who taught me the meaning of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, I wish to write this book called Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
There is ancient precedent in the rituals of Vedic sacrifice for declaring one’s sankalpa or solemn intent to carry out some sacred work. A brahmana who has uttered the sankalpa at the beginning of a fire sacrifice is obliged to maintain his adherence to truth by finishing the sacrifice at any cost. In the complex soma sacrifices, the yajamana—the person for whom the sacrifice is being peformed—chants the sankalpa-mantras and accepts a danda (wooden rod) symbolic of his vow and a deer-skin on which he must sit throughout the ritual performances to remain purified.
The infrequently used word sandarbha, which appears in the title of the Bhagavata-sandarbha and also again in this verse separately as a descriptive term, has been defined as follows (anonymously):
gudharthasya prakashash ca/ saroktih shreshöhata tatha
nanartha-vatvam vedyatvam/ sandarbhah kathyate budhaih
“The wise call a composition sandarbha when it elucidates a deep subject matter, focuses directly on essentials, is excellently composed, conveys various complex ideas and is readily understandable.” In a more general sense sandarbha can also mean simply “a written work.” It is likely that no other author has used the word in the title of a book.
Purport by BBT Translators
After showing reverence to his teachers, Shrila Jiva Gosvami names his book in this verse. He calls it Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha because in it he will explain the essential meanings of the Bhagavata Purana (Shrimad-Bhagavatam). To explain the term sandarbha, in his commentary on this Text Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana quotes a well-known verse of unknown origin:
gudharthasya prakashash ca saroktih shreshöhata tatha
nanartha-vatvam vedyatvam sandarbhah kathyate budhaih
“A literary work that explains the confidential aspects of a subject, incorporates its essence, explains the superiority of the subject, gives its various meanings, and is worth learning is called a sandarbha by learned scholars.”
The Bhagavata-sandarbha is also called the Shaö-sandarbha because it contains six books, the Tattva-, Bhagavat-, Paramatma-, Krishna-, Bhakti-, and Priti-sandarbha. Each sandarbha is an analysis of the subject stated in its title, and each is based on Shrimad-Bhagavatam. Shrila Jiva Gosvami also wrote a verse-by-verse commentary on Shrimad-Bhagavatam called the Krama-sandarbha, and this is sometimes referred to as the seventh sandarbha.
Both Vaishnavas and others have written many essays and treatises on Shrimad-Bhagavatam, but among them all these six works stand as the most exhaustive exposition of the Bhagavata philosophy. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada joined all the other acaryas coming in succession after Shrila Jiva Gosvami in praising him as the greatest Vaishnava philosopher of all time. Shrila Prabhupada called Shri Shaö-sandarbha “the last word on the teachings of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.” Thus it is clear that Shrila Jiva Gosvami is perfectly justified in giving the title sandarbha to his work.
In the next Text, while giving blessings to his readers, Jiva Gosvami indirectly explains the subject matter of the Shaö-sandarbha, the process presented in the book by which one can attain the goal, and the goal itself.
yasya brahmeti samjnam kvacid api nigame yati cin-matra-sattapy
amsho yasyamshakaih svair vibhavati vashayann eva mayam pumamsh ca
ekam yasyaiva rupam vilasati parama-vyomni narayanakhyam
sa shri-krishno vidhattam svayam iha bhagavan prema tat-pada-bhajam
Gopiparanadhana: Lord Krishna’s abstract feature of pure spiritual existence often goes by the name Brahman in the texts of the Vedas. His partial expansion as the Lord of creation regulates the material nature (Maya) and exerts His control through further personal expansions. A single manifestation of His personality, called Narayana, rules sovereign in the transcendental sky beyond this universe. May that same Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, be pleased to grant pure love for Himself to those who worship His lotus feet in this world.
BBT: The feature of Lord Krishna as pure consciousness, without any manifest characteristics, is called Brahman in some portions of the Vedas. In another feature He expands as the Purusha, who controls the external potency, Maya, by His many plenary portions. In yet another of His principal forms He is present as Narayana in the spiritual sky, Vaikunöha. May that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, bestow love for Himself on those who worship His lotus feet in this world.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
With this verse Shrila Jiva Gosvami concludes his mangalacarana. Here he praises Lord Krishna, wishes the blessing of love of God on His devotees, and also leads directly into the main discussion of Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha, since the revelation of Krishna and His expansions and energies constitutes the whole substance of Shrimad-Bhagavatam. Throughout the Sandarbhas, especially in Shri Krishna-sandarbha, Shrila Jiva will elaborate in great detail upon everything he mentions in this verse.
This verse mentions three different manifestations of the Absolute Truth realized by various seekers and identifies all three as expansions of the original Godhead, Shri Krishna. Some understand the Absolute Truth abstracted from His personality, as the perfect source of all existence, one without a second. The Upanishads teach this view, which appeals to philosophers who prefer that the truth remain impersonal. Others conceive the same Supreme as nothing more than the creator of this world, for they cannot imagine that God has more important business of His own. Still others strive to know the Supreme in His form as Narayana (Vishnu), Lord of the infinite spiritual world and object of worship for devotees awestruck by His supremacy. Ultimately, however, the Absolute Truth is Shri Krishna, the Supreme Person, who shares intimate exhanges with the best of His devotees, placing Himself in positions equal to and even subordinate to theirs. Only those who have taken shelter of the Absolute Truth in this original, most confidential form can experience pure love of God. Technically, one may also call love of God in official reverence purely, but it is not of the same transcendental order of perfection as that experienced by Shri Krishna’s associates. Fear of God as the creator and judge of this world is only peripherally spiritual, and when the Lord’s personality has been relativized and His essence reduced to something nameless and formless, one can no longer have any real relationship with Him at all.
When one perceives the Absolute Truth vaguely, having failed to approach Him with devotion so that He reveals His distinctive personal qualities, one identifies Him impersonally as the perfect existence of pure consciousness. As mentioned above, this level of realization is taught in the Upanishads, the special portions of the Vedas that comprise their philosophical culmination (Vedanta). In the Upanishads we find such statements as satyam jnanam anantam brahma (“The Absolute Truth is real existence and consciousness, unlimited”; Taittiriya Up. 2.1) and astity evopaladhavyah (“It can only be known to the extent of saying ‘It exists’”; Kaöha Up. 6.13). In this way the Vedas provide an impersonal understanding of the Supreme. But those who are empowered with the vision of pure devotion can also perceive the personality of the Supreme in these Upanishadic statements. In fact, the Upanishads specify many qualities of the Absolute Truth that it should not have if it were purely impersonal. For example, the Taittiriya Upanishad follows its statement that “Brahman is real existence and consciousness, unlimited” with a detailed description of Brahman as ananda-maya, “ecstatic,” and as rasa, “the taste of personal reciprocations”: raso vai sah, rasam hy ayam labdhvanandi bhavati (“He is the reservoir of pleasure; one who realizes Him as rasa also becomes ecstatic,” Taittiriya Up. 2.7).
God as the creator of this world is called the Purusha or Puman. He is an expanded form of Krishna named Karanodakashayi Vishnu, the Personality of Godhead sleeping in the spiritual Causal Ocean. He is the Lord of Maya, material nature, and exerts His absolute control over her simply by glancing at her once, agitating her equilibrium by injecting the countless conditioned living enities into the millions of egglike material universes that have emanated from the pores of His own body. Into each of these universal eggs Lord Vishnu enters as His further expansion, Garbhodakashayi Vishnu, who lies down in the water that fills the bottom half of the universal shell and directs the subsequent evolution of creation. Through the Garbhodakashayi Vishnu in each universe appear the Personality of Godhead’s various pastime incarnations—Lord Matsya, Lord Varaha, and many others. The activities of Karanodakashayi Vishnu and His expansions constitutes the meaning of the phrase amshakaih svair vibhavati vashayann eva mayam: “[He] regulates the material nature (Maya) and exerts His control through further personal expansions.”
Lord Narayana is the expansion of Krishna who in the infinite realm of Vaikunöha rules with inconceivable splendor (vilasati). He is technically called a vilasa expansion of the original Godhead because, although He is in essence fully God, He displays not quite all of Krishna’s attributes. Shri Jiva Gosvami hints at this vilasa status by using the verb vilasati here. Vaikunöha lies beyond the boundaries of material creation; it is the transcendental sky, the perfect, eternal world inhabited by the Supreme Lord, His consorts, and His surrendered servants. All the residents of Vaikunöha—both those who never fall to this world and those who have recovered their spiritual status—enjoy the Lord’s mercy in the form of opulence equal to His and full facility to serve Him in personal, loving relationships.
God is one. In His original and fullest manifestation He is Krishna, the cowherd boy of Vrindavana, and to increase His own pleasure He expands Himself unlimitedly and still remains the same Supreme Person. This original Godhead Shrimad-Bhagavatam designates svayam bhagavan:
ete camsha-kalah pumsah krishnas tu bhagavan svayam
“All the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the
plenary portions of the Lord, but Lord Shri Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead” (Bhag. 1.3.28). As Shrila Jiva Gosvami will show us in the course of Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha, Shrimad-Bhagavatam recommends with great emphasis, repeatedly and unequivocally, that all success in human life is achieved by attaining pure Krishna consciousness, which is best cultivated through the easy process of hearing and chanting Krishna’s glories. Because the practice of Krishna consciousness pleases the Supreme Lord, He gradually frees His devotees from material entanglement and awakens in their hearts their dormant love for Him.
Purport by BBT Translators
The Essence of Shri Shaö-sandarbha
Although one without a second, Lord Shri Krishna has limitless expansions. His feature that manifests as dazzling effulgence, without form, qualities, or opulences, is called Brahman in some sections of the Vedas. Some transcendentalists worship this undivided, formless aspect of the Absolute, considering it the ultimate reality. For such persons the Absolute Truth, Lord Krishna, appears as impersonal Brahman. This feature of the Lord is described in the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.1.1): satyam jnanam anantam brahma. “Brahman is eternal, conscious, and unlimited.”
Another aspect of Lord Krishna is His controlling feature called the Purusha. There are three such Purusha expansions. The first is Karanodakashayi Vishnu, who lies in the Causal Ocean and is the Supersoul of the entire material creation. The Lord has only one Karanodakashayi Vishnu expansion, also called Maha-Vishnu. He activates the material energy with His glance. The second Purusha is Garbhodakashayi Vishnu, the Supersoul expansion within each of the innumerable universes. He is the source of the various lila-avataras, the Supreme Lord’s pastime incarnations, who appear in the various universes. The Supreme Lord delegates the responsibility for creating each universe to one of the innumerable Brahmas, each of whom is born from the lotus flower growing from Garbhodakashayi Vishnu’s lotus navel. The third Purusha is Kshirodakashayi Vishnu, who expands as the Supersoul in all life forms, and indeed in every atom.[DDB12]
These three Purushavataras are also called Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha, respectively. Krishna controls the material nature through the agency of His Purusha incarnations. A summary description of these three Purusha manifestations is given in the Satvata-tantra (cited by Rupa Gosvami in his Laghu-bhagavatamrita 1.25):
vishnos tu trini rupani purushakhyany atho viduh
ekam tu mahatah srashöri dvitiyam tv anda-samsthitam
tritiyam sarva-bhuta-stham tani jnatva vimucyate
“Lord Vishnu has three forms called Purushas. The first is Maha-Vishnu, who is the creator of the total material energy [mahat], the second is Garbhodakashayi Vishnu, who is situated within each universe, and the third is Kshirodakashayi, who lives in the heart of every living being. He who knows these three becomes liberated from the clutches of Maya.”
Beyond the material creation is the spiritual sky (para-vyoma), which contains the various spiritual planets, called Vaikunöhas. The chief Deity in the spiritual sky is Lord Narayana, a vilasa expansion of Lord Shri Krishna. The Laghu-bhagavatamrita (1.15) defines a vilasa form as follows:
svarupam anyakaram yat tasya bhati vilasatah
prayenatma-samam shaktya sa vilaso nigadyate
“When the Lord expands into a form that appears different from His original form but has almost all His original qualities, that form is called a vilasa expansion.”
Lord Krishna in His two-handed form is svayam bhagavan, the original Personality of Godhead. This svayam-rupa is described in the Laghu-bhagavatamrita (1.12): ananyapekshi yad rupam svayam-rupah sa ucyate. “That form of the Supreme Lord which is not a dependent expansion of some other form is called svayam-rupa, a ‘self-sufficient form.’” The Lord’s svayam-rupa is grounded in itself and is the basis of all other forms. It is completely independent, second to no other form. In Shri Krishna-sandarbha Shrila Jiva Gosvami will explain all this in greater detail. Here he briefly describes the essence of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, giving us a seed that he will cultivate until it gradually grows into the tree of Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha.
Words have an integral relationship with their meaning, or reference, and in Sanskrit linguistics this relationship is called vacya-vacaka-sambandha. Similarly, a book has an integral relationship with its subject through the meanings of the words that constitute it. In the present Text the phrase sa krishnah indicates that svayam bhagavan, Lord Shri Krishna, is the subject (vishaya) of the Shaö-sandarbha. By this phrase Shrila Jiva Gosvami establishes the vacya-vacaka-sambandha between his book and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Shri Krishna.
The process (abhidheya) for realizing Lord Shri Krishna is devotional service to His lotus feet, a fact indicated by the words tat-pada-bhajam. The purpose (prayojana) of this process is to attain love of Godhead, indicated by the word prema. In this way Shrila Jiva Gosvami here alludes to the four introductory topics mentioned in Text 1: the subject of the book, the book’s relationship with the subject, the process of achieving the final purpose, and the final purpose itself. In the next Text he explicitly states these four and explains the means of acquiring valid knowledge about them.
athaivam sucitanam shri-krishna-tad-vacya-vacakata-lakshana-sambandha-tad-bhajana-lakshana-vidheya-saparyayabhidheya-tat-prema-lakshana-prayojanakhyanam arthanam nirnayaya tavat pramanam nirniyate. tatra purushasya bhramadi-dosha-catushöaya-dushöatvat sutaram alaukikacintya-svabhava-vastu-sparshayogyatvac ca tat-pratyakshadiny api sa-doshani.
Gopiparanadhana: The previous verse has alluded to a few topics: Shri Krishna; sambandha, or the relation between Shri Krishna and the words that describe Him; abhidheya, what is enjoined to be done, or in other words the recommended practice of worshiping Him; and prayojana, the final goal, which is love for Him.
Before we can elucidate these topics we must first settle the question of pramana; i.e., we must determine a reliable means of ascertaining facts. To start with, an ordinary person’s means of knowing—sensory perception and so on—are imperfect: they are tainted by his four defects, beginning with incorrect judgment, and moreover they are simply inadequate for establishing contact with a reality whose nature is supramundane and inconceivable.
BBT: Four topics were suggested in the previous Text: Shri Krishna as the subject (vishaya), the connection between Him and the words describing Him (sambandha), service to Him as the recommended process to be performed (abhidheya or vidheya), and pure love for Him as the final purpose (prayojana).
Now, to understand these topics we should first determine the means of acquiring valid knowledge. Human beings are bound to have four defects: They are subject to delusion, make mistakes, tend to cheat, and have imperfect senses. Thus their direct perception, inference, and so forth are deficient, especially since these means of knowing cannot help them gain access to the inconceivable spiritual reality.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
After invoking auspiciousness in his mangalacarana, the author of a work of philosophy in the brahminical tradition is next expected to justify his book by stating how it fulfills the anubandha-catushöaya, or “four prerequisites.” These requirements are often said to comprise vishaya, sambandha, adhidheya, and prayojana: The author should establish his vishaya, “subject matter,” showing that the book he is writing has a specific, well-defined topic. He should show the sambandha, or “connection” between the topic (vacya, what needs to be described in words) and his book (vacaka, the words that fulfill this need), convincing the readers that his presentation is going to be relevant to the stated subject and adequately explain it. He should also indicate the adhidheya, the practical method he will provide so that his readers can [DDB13]realize the subject, and the prayojana, the higher purpose to be achieved by this realization.
Systematic thought in India is called darshana (“vision”), a word with different connotations than the Greek term philosophia (“love of knowledge”). Indian philosophy is generally intended not for amateurs but for those who are serious about achieving their own full potential in life. In other words, one who practices philosophy should aim at some form of substantial self-realization. Therefore a serious work in any school of darshana should not only theoretically describe its topic but also relate it to the readers’ self-realization under the headings of abhidheya and prayojana. This requirement implies that an author claiming to be an authority on darshana should be fully realized himself, at least within the scope of his topic. Since he is responsible for teaching his readers the effective means by which they can achieve a definite goal, he will be regarded as unreliable if he is only speculating about his subject.
In this first prose anuccheda (“section”) of Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha, Shrila Jiva Gosvami points out that the preceding verse has already stated the anubandha-catushöaya. Shri Krishna is the subject of the Bhagavatam and of the Sandarbhas. The Bhagavatam is fully competent to describe Krishna—His personality and expanded energies—and the Sandarbhas will be an exposition of the Bhagavatam by an experienced and authorized representative of a Bhagavata school whose eminent members include Madhva Muni and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Shrila Jiva’s words in the preceding verse, sa krishnah and bhagavan iha svayam (“that same Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead”), concisely express that Krishna as He is portrayed in Shrimad-Bhagavatam is Himself the Absolute Truth in all its aspects, personal and impersonal, complete and partial. In the same final line of the verse, the phrase tat-pada-bhajam (“for those who worship His lotus feet”) describes in essence the recommended means for realizing Shri Krishna, i.e., the standard method of bhakti-yoga, devotional service, which begins with hearing and chanting about Him. The word prema identifies the final goal achieved by bhakti-yoga, namely transcendental love for Krishna, in which a devotee enjoys his own personal relationship with the Lord forever.
The overall plan of the Sandarbhas is as follows: The first sandarbha, Shri Tattva-sandarbha, will prove the sambandha; this is Shrila Jiva Gosvami’s thesis that Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the most appropriate source of useful knowledge in Kali-yuga and that it thoroughly describes Lord Krishna. The Bhagavata-, Paramatma-, Krishna- and Bhakti-sandarbhas will explain the methods of devotional thought and activity on the basis of statements from Shrimad-Bhagavatam. and the Priti-sandarbha will discuss pure love of God according to the Bhagavatam.
But, as Shrila Jiva Gosvami says here, “before we can elucidate these topics we will first have to settle the question of pramana.” We need to ascertain how, in general, human beings can arrive at a correct understanding of things. Pramana, as defined in the epistemology of the Nyaya darshana, means prama-karana, “an instrumental cause of true knowledge” (Nyaya-bhasha 5). “True knowledge” (prama) is further defined as yatharthanubhava, “perception that agrees with the facts” (Nyaya-bhasha 7). (Nyaya authors have also given analytic definitions for “instrumental cause,” “perception” and several other connected terms, but we need not deal with these here.) The Nyaya theory of pramana is accepted by Vaishnava acaryas with some modifications, but it is not the only version; each school of thought in India has its own conception of prama and pramana—what true knowledge is, to what extent it can be achieved, and how. Buddhist logicians, for example, do not like to define true knowledge as a correspondence to real things because they deny that any “things”, that any reality extends in time and space beyond the raw phenomena of each separate moment. Buddhists instead define truth in terms of consistency and of capacity to inspire purposeful activity: avisamvadakam jnanam samyag jnanam (“True knowledge is knowledge which does not create contradiction”; Nyaya-bindu 1).
Vedic philosophers also differ concerning what the valid pramanas are. In the Sarva-samvadini Shri Jiva Gosvami mentions ten different pramanas accepted by various philosophic schools. Shri Jiva states, in agreement with other Vaishnavas and Vedantists, that only the first three of these are primary, the other seven being derivative applications of them. The most basic pramana is sensory perception (pratyaksha). When oneof our senses contacts its object and our mind chooses to give the received sensation attention, knowledge has been created. Within its natural limits this knowledge should be considered valid, as long as the senses and mind are functioning properly. Since all the other pramanas start from pratyaksha and extend it, they depend on its validity. One who insists on always distrusting the evidence of his senses will have no basis for participating in philosophy or, for that matter, in any meaningful aspect of life.
The second major pramana is logical inference (anumana), the instrument of knowing that recognizes an unperceived fact on the basis of the its being known to accompany another fact that is perceived. The Nyaya school often gives the following classic example:
1. There is fire on the mountain.
2. The reason is that there is smoke.
3. Wherever there is smoke there is fire, as in a kitchen.
4. Indeed, on the mountain there is smoke.
5. Therefore there is fire on the mountain.
This example uses the five-step style of syllogism preferred by the Nyaya logicians: First, the claim to be proven is stated (pratijna). Second, the observed fact that will prove it (hetu) is stated. Third, the general premise (vyapti) is stated—that what is to be proven is a fact whenever the hetu occurs, and at least one instance of this combination is cited (udaharana). Citing an instance (“as in a kitchen”) roots the argument in concrete reality and makes it difficult to introduce absurd arguments. (Without this provision, “formal” logic as practiced by Western philosophers and the Buddhists has to recognize as valid arguments like “All flowers in the sky are pink,” because formally “A implies B” is false only in the case that A is true and B false; “A is a flower in the sky” is always false, so the inference is always true.) Fourth, the reason is confirmed to be present in the specific situation under consideration (upanayana). Finally, the conclusion is drawn that in situation under consideration what was to be proven is true (nigamana). An inference is considered valid when none of its constituents is defective, but outside of pure mathematics and trivial arguments there is always an element of uncertainty about the vyapti, in this case the general premise that “wherever there is smoke there is fire.” Such a premise is necessarily based on induction—the accumulation of enough experience in kitchens and other places to allow one to believe that whenever there is smoke there is fire—and this kind of reasoning is never completely certain. Modern science suffers from this same unavoidable weakness.
It is theoretically possible to create a philosophy that accepts the validity only of pratyaksha-pramana, sense perception. The version of materialism ascribed to Carvaka Muni was one attempt to do this. Carvaka is said to have denied both logic and the law of karma. He is famous for preaching,
rinam kritva ghritam pibet jived yavat sukham jivet
bhasmi-bhutasya dehasya kim punar-agamo bhavet
“Eat ghee even if you have to go into debt for it. As long as you are alive, live happily. After your body has been burned to ashes, how will it ever return to this world again?” A world-view without inference is very limited, however, and invites ridicule from rival philosophers:
carvaka tava carv-angi jarato vikshya garbhinim
pratyaksha-matra-vishvaso ghana-shvasam kim ujjhasi
“My dear follower of Carvaka, since you have faith only in the direct evidence of your senses, why are you sighing so deeply to see your lovely wife, now pregnant by some other man?” (Vedanta-syamantaka 1.6)
Buddhist logicians recognize only pratyaksha and anumana as valid pramanas. In their opinion, only immediate sense perception is strictly speaking reliable but inference can also be put to practical use although it is founded on the mere useful fictions of persistent things and general categories.
The third pramana, called shabda, was never accepted by the Indian materialists and Buddhists, and it is also little understood by us in the modern world, where we have been conditioned by the predominance of science and critical thought. A standard definition of shabda-pramana is apta-vakya, “the words of a reliable authority.” Who is a reliable authority depends on what field of knowledge is being studied. If one’s mother is a simple woman with no reason to deceive, she can be trusted as an authority on who one’s father is. Any honest person who has seen things we have not should be trusted to provide us information otherwise difficult or impossible to obtain. Everyone relies on such knowledge from apta-vakya in day-to-day life, even those who proudly declare they have no faith in any authority.
According to the Sarva-samvadini, these are the other pramanas proposed by various schools:
(4) Arsha, the authority of sages. Knowledge gleaned through this pramana is based on statements by gods and rishis. Arsha is just a kind of shabda-pramana.
(5) Upamana, analogy. Using this pramana, one can derive knowledge from such comparisons as “the creature called a gavaya is similar to a cow.” A forest-dweller may tell this to a city-dweller who has no knowledge of gavayas, and when the city-dweller visits the forest and sees a gavaya the analogy will give him correct understanding. Upamana is thus an application of shabda and pratyaksha.
(6) Arthapatti, conjecture from an otherwise unexplainable situation. Devadatta is fat, but no one ever sees him eat during the day, so therefore he must be eating at night. This kind of reasoning is a form of anumana, sometimes called negative hypothetical deduction.
(7) Abhava, nonexistence. This pramana gives knowledge of an object’s absence from the fact of not seeing it. Abhava has been analyzed as a special variety of pratyaksha, where the object of perception is not a positive thing but the absence itself.[DDB14]
(8) Sambhava, inclusion. When we conclude that someone with a thousand dollars also possesses a hundred dollars, we are employing sambhava to acquire knolwedge. This pramana is a form of simple mathematical deduction.
(9) Aitihya, tradition. We employ this pramana when we receive knowledge through a chain of informants without knowing the original speaker. Aitihya can be identified as shabda if in fact we can establish the reliability of the authority without even knowing his identity.
(10) Ceshöa, gesture. When we make something known by literally pointing at it, we are employing ceshöa. This is a tacit variation of shabda together with pratyaksha.
Shri Bhagavata-sandarbha is concerned with the highest kind of knowledge obtainable, personal realization of the Absolute Truth. Shri Jiva Gosvami emphatically asserts in the present anuccheda that for this purpose all pramanas are unreliable in the hands of imperfect humans. Every person in this world tends to make four kinds of mistakes in perceptive judgment: bhrama, confusing one thing for another, as when one sees a tree at dusk and thinks it is a man; pramada, inattentiveness because of having one’s attention turned elsewhere, as when one fails to notice that someone close by is singing a song; vipralipsa, [DDB15]the desire to deceive others, as when a teacher fails to divulge some useful information to his students; and karanapaöava, weakness of the senses, as when even with a focused mind one cannot discern some object. Because of these natural faults, it is impossible for any mortal to be [DDB16]perfectly reasonable on his own strength, no matter how diligently he tries.
Dharma, the eternal principles of human responsibility, stood originally like a mighty bull with four legs—self-control, cleanliness, mercy, and truthfulness. Each yuga in the cycle of four has seen a loss of one of these legs of dharma, to the point where now only one leg remains in Kali-yuga, respect for truth. Thus in our materialistic age science is the predominant belief system. We are supposed to have faith in the collective endeavor of the scientific community, trusting that science will eventually succeed in conquering nature for the perfect, eternal happiness of mankind. We are encouraged to assume that the truths science gives us are firm and unquestionable. But this faith is naive: like every other human pramana, the inductive scientific method is prone to error. Fifty years ago, the findings of medical research indicated that tobacco smoke was harmless to the human body and even beneficial for the lungs and heart. Backed up by the best available scientific findings of the day, a cigarrete company in 1945 could hire Ronald Reagan to dress as a doctor in magazine advertisements and recommend that his patients could improve their health by smoking more cigarettes. This mistake due to the weakness of anumana-pramana has resulted in untold suffering for millions.
The ordinary means of acquiring knowledge are especially inadequate for learning about the Absolute Truth, which is not a measurable thing of this world and which refuses to reveal itself to speculators and skeptics. Although physical scientists may claim to know the basic laws of nature, knowledge of these laws reveals only the relative truths of how mechanical forces interact and how we can manipulate them for our own aims. Such incomplete knowledge falls far short of knowledge of the bsolute Truth, which requires knowing not only how to use things but also what their ultimate causes and purposes are. The laws of physics tell us how to measure and predict the physical forces at work among objects, but they say nothing about what or who first brought these forces into being, nor about why these forces and objects exist.
Many consider Henry Ford one of the practical geniuses of the twentieth century. He foresaw the usefulness of mass-produced automobiles and devised the means to realize this vision. He saw a desirable purpose in this, better mobility for the common citizen, but his material vision could not foresee other, unexpected results of the automobile. Hundreds of thousands of unmarried couples would use it for parking in secluded places, resulting in hundreds of thousands of unwanted births and abortions. Domiciles and workplaces would be separated by up to a hundred miles, causing great inconvenience and social dislocation. In cities around the world, the air would be filled with carcinogens and other poisons. And all due to the inadequacies of anumana-pramana.
A basic premise of spiritual science is that there is a unity underlying all existence, an Absolute Truth, and that thus everything has definite causes and purposes. As long as human intelligence ignores this premise, it remains sadly inadequate.
Purport by BBT Translators
Without knowing the purpose of a book, a prospective reader is unlikely to take a keen interest in it, so in the previous Text Shrila Jiva Gosvami outlines his subject and purpose. Now, with the phrase tad-bhajana-lakshana-vidheya, he states that devotional service as explained in the Vedic scriptures is the process for achieving the final goal, prema-bhakti. But before one practices any important process he should have correct knowledge about it. Thus the need arises for discerning the various means of acquiring valid knowledge. This portion of Tattva-sandarbha therefore deals with Vaishnava epistemology. Jiva Gosvami first establishes the validity of his means of acquiring knowledge before analyzing the four topics mentioned in the previous Text. In English the word “knowledge” means valid knowledge. In Sanskrit, valid knowledge is called prama, and a means of acquiring it is called pramana. Sometimes the word pramana is used to mean “proof,” “evidence,” or “authority.”
Jiva Gosvami is concerned with establishing an infallible means of acquiring knowledge. Ordinary human beings use various means to acquire knowledge, but none of these is infallible. This fallibility is due to the four inherent defects found in all ordinary humans. Without exception every ordinary human being has the tendency to be deluded (bhrama), makes mistakes (pramada), has a cheating propensity (vipralipsa), and has imperfect senses (karanapaöava).
Bhrama, or mistaken identification, is of two kinds. The first is identification of the body as the self. Everyone is born with this delusion, but how completely we identify with our body depends on our attachment to it. Because of this defect we mistake the temporary, [DDB17]miserable sense objects as permanent sources of pleasure. The second kind of mistaken identification occurs when we think we perceive something that in fact is not present, as in the case of a mirage or hallucination.
Pramada, the second of the four defects, is our tendency to become deluded because of inattention. If our mind is not connecting with a particular perceiving sense—the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, or skin—we do not get the knowledge it can supply. For example, we may sit through a lecture but miss portions of it because our mind is wandering.
The third defect is vipralipsa, the propensity to cheat. Material conditioning causes us to consider ourselves the material body, which, being temporary, can never give us real happiness. But still out of delusion we seek happiness through sense gratification. When we fail to obtain this to our full satisfaction, we take to cheating to improve our chances. Friends cheat friends, politicians cheat the public, and so on. Even in spiritual life a so-called guru will cheat his disciple [DDB18]by teaching some materialistic philosophy as the absolute truth, or an insincere disciple will try to cheat his guru by pretending to follow the guru’s orders when he’s not.. This cheating propensity manifests on all levels of material existence.
The last of the four defects is karanapaöava, imperfect senses. We have five perceptive senses—the eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and skin. Each of these functions only within a limited range. The human eye, for instance, can see light between infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths, but there are many other wavelengths the eye cannot discern—radio waves, x-rays, and so on. Even within the visible range our eyes cannot see clearly if the light is too bright or too dim, if the object is too far or too close, or if the eyes themselves are diseased[DDB19]. Upon analysis, each sense will reveal a similar built-in limitation.
The conclusion is that since these four defects make perfectly reliable knowledge about material objects a rare achievement, perfect knowledge about the transcendental realm is altogether impossible by the means we commonly accept. This premise is the cornerstone of Vedic epistemology. Of course, after[DDB20] acknowledging these four defects one will find the quest for a reliable pramana to be an exacting challenge.
Among India’s philosophical traditions there are a total of ten pramanas, or means of acquiring valid knowledge. Each philosophical school recognizes a certain combination of these as valid and may present arguments to support its opinion. These ten traditional pramanas, with the three most important ones listed last, are as follows:
1. Arsha: the statements of an authoritative sage or demigod. There are many exceptional sages, such as Kapila, Gautama, and Patanjali, who founded their own schools of philosophy. Naturally these authorities’ opinions differ, and therefore the Mahabharata (Vana-parva 313.117) says, nasav rishir yasya matam na bhinnam: “One is not considered a philosopher if his opinion does not differ from the opinions of other philosophers.” Since these philosophers are all profound thinkers, we take their utterances seriously, but an ordinary person can hardly determine which philosopher’s opinion is correct. For Vaishnavas, the criterion for judging whether a particular arsha opinion is valid is whether it conforms to the principal pramanas (numbers 8, 9, and 10 below)[DDB21].
2. Upamana: comparison. We can identify something about which we have no prior knowledge after it has been compared to a familiar object. Suppose we have seen an ordinary cow but never a gavaya (forest cow), and someone tells us that a gavaya resembles a cow. Then we may recognize a gavaya when we see one.
3. Arthapatti: presumption. By this means we assume an unknown fact or facts to account for some known fact or facts that are otherwise inexplicable. For example, if we know that fat Devadatta does not eat during the day, we can safely assume he must eat at night. Otherwise his stoutness is inexplicable.
4. Abhava: absence. Failing to perceive an object by means of a suitable sense is considered perception of the absence of that object. For example, a book is a suitable object for visual perception, and the eyes constitute the suitable means for this perception. Thus when one does not see a book on a table, one is experiencing the book’s absence. Such abhava is classified as a separate category of perception because in it there is no actual contact between the object and the sense instrument, as there would be in ordinary sensory perception. What is perceived is the object’s absence.
5. Sambhava: inclusion. This pramana is based on our common experience that a larger quantity includes some smaller quantity. For example, if we know someone possesses a hundred dollars, we automatically know he possesses one dollar, five dollars, ten dollars, and so on. This kind of reasoning, based on the principle of inclusion, is called sambhava.
6. Aitihya: tradition. This pramana is applied when some accepted fact is known by common belief or tradition but the original source of that knowledge is unknown. For instance, there is a popular belief that the Pandavas built the Old Fort in what is now New Delhi. There is no written proof or scriptural authority to support this belief, but it has been passed down for generations to the present day and is nearly universally accepted as corresponding to fact.
7. Ceshöa: gesture. This pramana comes into play when one learns something from a knowledgeable person’s gestures or from symbols. For instance, we may make a “V” sign with our fingers to indicate victory, or a pujari may show the Deity mudras to convey certain messages
8. Pratyaksha: direct perception. Directly perceiving something with our senses can be the means to either valid or invalid knowledge. But only that sense perception which leads to valid knowledge should be considered pramana. Sense perception is the principal means of acquiring knowledge in this material world. Both theistic and atheistic philosophers accept pratyaksha-pramana as one of the means to valid knowledge. Direct perception is of two types—external and internal. An external perception occurs when we acquire knowledge through the senses. In an internal perception we acquire knowledge directly through the mind, as when we perceive emotions such as pain, pleasure, love, and hate. In the Bhagavad-gita (15.7) Lord Krishna lists the mind as the sixth sense (manah-shashöhanindriyani).
Because of our four inherent human defects, pratyaksha is not always a reliable means with which to acquire valid knowledge. For one thing, its scope is limited only to the present, since it cannot extend into the past or future[DDB22]. Moreover, it is limited only to material things. According to Shrila Jiva Gosvami, however, perfect devotees who achieve direct perception of the Lord, His abode, and His associates through spiritual trance all have pure senses and have transcended the four defects. For such persons pratyaksha is a reliable source of knowledge because their sense perception is completely pure. Lord Krishna confirms this in the Ninth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (9.2) when He says that “this knowledge leads to direct realization of transcendence by experience (pratyakshavagamam).” And in the sixth chapter (Bg. 6.21) the Lord likewise assures Arjuna that in the state of transcendental trance, samadhi, a devotee acquires perfect knowledge through his purified intelligence and transcendental senses (buddhi-grahyam atindriyam vetti). This experience of pure Vaishnavas is called vaidusha-pratyaksha, and it is flawless.
9. Anumana: inference based on generalized experience. The word anumana literally means “knowing after.” Based on repeated experience or authoritative verbal testimony, one arrives at some probable general principle, called vyapti (“invariable concomitance”). One can then apply this principle in specific cases to deduce unknown facts.
Inference is of two kinds, for oneself and for others. An example of inference for oneself, which is less formal, is the process of reasoning a person goes through when he repeatedly sees, in the kitchen and elsewhere, the concomitance between smoke and fire and arrives at the general principle “Wherever there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Then if he sees smoke hanging over a mountain in the distance, he may recall the principle and conclude, “There is a fire on the mountain.”
Inference for others uses a five-step syllogistic formula. After arriving at an inferred conclusion for himself, a person uses this method to enable others to infer the same conclusion. The syllogistic format is as follows:
1. Proposition: There is a fire on the mountain.
2. Reason: Because there’s smoke..
3. General principle and example: Wherever there’s smoke, there’s fire, as in the kitchen.
4. Application: There is smoke over the mountain.
5. Conclusion: Therefore there is a fire on the mountain.
If there is any error in perceiving the reason or any deviation in the universal generalization, the inference will be faulty and its conclusion unreliable. In the above example, if the observer mistakes clouds over the mountain for smoke or sees the smoke just after rain has extinguished the fire, his deduction that a fire is burning on the mountain will be wrong. Like pratyaksha, therefore, anumana is not a foolproof means of acquiring knowledge.
10. Shabda: revealed knowledge. Shabda literally means sound, but as a pramana it refers to meaningful, articulate sound spoken or written by an apta-purusha, a trustworthy person who is an authority on the matter in question. In its ultimate sense the term shabda refers to revealed knowledge that concerns the transcendental reality and that has come from reliable authorities free from the four human defects. This kind of shabda differs from the language used in mundane transactions, which is called paurusheya-shabda and is not always reliable. For Shrila Jiva Gosvami, shabda-pramana is restricted to the revealed knowledge of the Vedas. It is called apaurusheya-shabda, revealed knowledge from a superhuman source. It originated with the Supreme Personality of Godhead and is received in disciplic succession from a bona fide guru. Apaurusheya-shabda is therefore the perfect pramana because it is free from the four defects.
At present, people who fail to accept the authority of apaurusheya-shabda-pramana generally fall into two groups: those in the first group doubt the very existence of a transcendental reality beyond the empirical world; those in the second group accept the existence of such a reality, and may even accept the principle of hearing from apaurusheya-shabda-pramana as a means of knowing about it, but unfortunately they also accept one or more paurusheya sources of shabda-pramana as apaurusheya. Members of the first group usually favor knowledge gained through their own sensory experience. Yet like everyone else they constantly rely on knowledge imparted to them through sound. In our practical day-to-day life we depend on knowledge transmitted from parents, teachers, books, magazines, TV, radio, and numerous experts. Hearing from authorities enhances the extent of our learning, and if we were to dispense with it we could not function in our complex modern society. Those who consider sensory experience superior to shabda forget that we gain most of our knowledge by hearing second hand or reading, not by immediate perception. Direct experience is a great teacher, but it is nonetheless severely vitiated by the four human defects, and also by the great expenditure of time it takes to acquire it. Moreover, we cannot directly experience past or future events. So even though those in the first group actually accept the principle of shabda, because the shabda they accept imparts to them only empirical knowledge and is therefore all paurusheya, they remain skeptical about the existence of transcendental reality. Ultimately, no amount of raw sensory experience or paurusheya-shabda can ever give us access to the transcendent, spiritual reality, for it is a simple fact that neither of these means is at all reliable for understanding transcendence. For that, apaurusheya-shabda-pramana is our only hope. This brings us to the second group—those who accept both the existence of a transcendental reality and the principle of hearing from apaurusheya-shabda-pramana to learn about it. For them, Shrila Jiva Gosvami elaborately explains in the next Texts what constitutes genuine apaurusheya-shabda-pramana.
Unlike pratyaksha, shabda is not limited in scope only to the present time. It extends into the past and future as well. It is the most powerful tool for conveying knowledge from one person to another, especially if they are greatly separated by time or space, which is almost always the case when one wants to understand the spiritual realm. For all these reasons philosophers in virtually all of India’s orthodox traditions accept apaurusheya-shabda-pramana as the flawless means for acquiring transcendental knowledge.
Like other followers of India’s orthodox philosophical traditions, Shrila Jiva Gosvami (as we have already mentioned[DDB23])[DDB24] calls apaurusheya-shabda-pramana shabda-pramana and equates the latter with the Vedas. The Vedas alone can deliver knowledge of the spiritual reality, which lies beyond all our sensory perception. As explained in the next Text, the Vedas are not human creations: they are manifest from the Supreme Lord (vedo narayanah sakshat; Bhag. 6.1.40), who is free from all defects.
In his Sarva-samvadini, while discussing the principle of shabda-pramana, Shrila Jiva Gosvami writes: tathapi bhrama-pramada-vipralipsa-karanapaöava-dosha-rahita-vacanatmakah shabda eva mulam pramanam. anyesham prayah purusha-bhramadi-dosha-mayatayanyatha-pratiti-darshanena pramanam va tad-abhaso veti purushair nirnetum ashakyatvat tasya tad-abhavat. Although there are ten means of acquiring knowledge, shabda is the primary process because all other means are made unreliable by the four human defects. In all other processes it is difficult for an ordinary person to tell whether or not the knowledge gained is valid.
Although different schools of philosophy accept various combinations of the ten pramanas, Shrila Jiva Gosvami follows in the footsteps of Madhvacarya by accepting pratyaksha (direct perception), anumana (inference) and shabda (revealed knowledge) as the only valid means by which one can acquire knowledge and subsuming the other pramanas under them. Pratyaksha and anumana can serve as assistants to shabda, but whenever pratyaksha and anumana contradict shabda, we should give preference to shabda-pramana.
Here are some scriptural references showing the importance of these three pramanas:
pratyaksham canumanam ca shastram ca vividhagamam
trayam su-viditam karyam dharma-shuddhim abhipsata
“A person serious about executing the responsibilities of human life should try to understand the three processes of direct perception, inference, and hearing the various Vedic scriptures”(Manu-samhita 12.105).
ady-anta-vad asaj jnatva nihsango vicared iha
“[Lord Krishna said:] ‘By direct perception, logical deduction, scriptural testimony and personal realization one should know that this world has a beginning and an end and so is not the ultimate reality. Thus one should live in this world without attachment’” (Bhag. 11.28.9).
In Shrimad-Bhagavatam (11.19.17) Lord Krishna includes aitihya (tradition) with sense perception, inference, and shabda as a means of acquiring knowledge, but in fact aitihya is usually considered a kind of shabda, although not necessarily apaurusheya-shabda.
By accepting only three of the ten pramanas, Jiva Gosvami does not exclude the other seven. His opinion is that pratyaksha, anumana, and shabda include the other seven pramanas, as follows: Upamana, arthapatti, sambhava, and ceshöa are varieties of anumana; abhava is a kind of pratyaksha; and arsha and aitihya are kinds of shabda.
Next Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains the process suitable for determining the vishaya (the subject), the sambandha (the connection between the vishaya and the words describing it), and the prayojana (the final goal).
tatas tani na pramananity anadi-siddha-sarva-purusha-paramparasu sarva-laukikalaukika-jnana-nidanatvad aprakrita-vacana-lakshano veda evasmakam sarvatita-sarvashraya-sarvacintyashcarya-svabhavam vastu vividishatam pramanam.
Gopiparanadhana: Therefore direct perception and so on are unreliable sources of valid knowledge. We want to understand that object which transcends everything and is the shelter of everything, and whose nature no person can conceive or imagine. For this purpose our source of knowledge can only be the Vedas, which are comprised of nonmaterial sound The Vedas alone should be our pramana because they are [DDB25]externally self-manifest and from them in fact have been derived all departments of knowledge, mundane and spiritual, among all schools of thought in human society since time immemorial.
BBT: Consequently, for us who are inquisitive about that which is beyond everything yet the support of everything—that which is most inconceivable and wondrous in nature—direct perception, inference, and so on are not suitable means of gaining knowledge. For this purpose the only suitable means is the Vedas, the transcendental words that have been the source of all mundane and spiritual knowledge passed down among all schools of thought in human society since time immemorial.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
However useful ordinary sense perception, logic, and expert opinion may be in their proper realms, these means of knowing cannot approach the transcendental reality, which no ordinary person has ever seen or inferred. That higher reality simply cannot be reached by any human capacity; only when it chooses to reveal itself can anyone know it. In Vedic terms, the process of knowing the Absolute Truth must be descending rather than ascending (avaroha-pantha instead of aroha-pantha). The Absolute Truth makes itself known by shabda-pramana (word of authority) that is apaurusheya, not created by any mortal being.
Authentic scriptures of various cultures reveal aspects of the Absolute Truth, but among these scriptures the Vedic literature distinguishes itself by the scope of its revelation. The Vedas and their supplements offer a great variety of approaches to the Absolute for people in different situations in life and on different levels of spiritual development. The Vedic corpus includes thousands of separate texts, yet when we carefully study the whole we find it very consistent. Many generations of reputable, discriminating brahmanas have been satisfied to direct their lives according to Vedic authority, not only because their parents did so but because they themselves have experienced the practical benefits. By living according to the Vedic standards of self-control in body and mind, one becomes peaceful, clear-headed, and fit to understand the highest purposes of life.
This anuccheda of Shri Tattva-sandarbha calls the Vedas the source of all kinds of knowledge “mundane and spiritual, among all schools of thought in human society since time immemorial.” In other words, all human knowledge comes from the Vedas; the various branches of worldly scholarship and even corrupted and faulty teachings all derive from the original Vedic knowledge. In Shrimad-Bhagavatam (11.14.3–8) Lord Krishna outlines the history of Vedic knowledge in human society:
kalena nashöa pralaye vaniyam veda-samjnita
mayadau brahmane prokta dharmo yasyam mad-atmakah
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: By the influence of time, the transcendental sound of Vedic knowledge was lost at the time of annihilation. Therefore, when the subsequent creation took place, I spoke the Vedic knowledge to Brahma because I Myself am the religious principles enunciated in the Vedas.
tena prokta sva-putraya manave purva-jaya sa
tato bhrigv-adayo ’grihnan sapta brahma-maharshayah
“Lord Brahma spoke this Vedic knowledge to his eldest son, Manu, and the seven great sages headed by Bhrigu Muni then accepted the same knowledge from Manu.
tebhyah pitribhyas tat-putra deva-danava-guhyakah
manushyah siddha-gandharvah sa-vidyadhara-caranah
kindevah kinnara naga rakshah-kimpurushadayah
“From the forefathers headed by Bhrigu Muni and other sons of Brahma appeared many children and descendants, who assumed different forms as demigods, demons, human beings, Guhyakas, Siddhas, Gandharvas, Vidyadharas, Caranas, Kindevas, Kinnaras, Nagas, Kimpurushas, and so on.
bahvyas tesham prakritayo rajah-sattva-tamo-bhuvah
yabhir bhutani bhidyante bhutanam patayas tatha
yatha-prakriti sarvesham citra vacah sravanti hi
“All of the many universal species, along with their respective leaders, appeared with different natures and desires generated from the three modes of material nature. Therefore, because of the different characteristics of the living entities within the universe, there are a great many Vedic rituals, mantras, and rewards.
evam prakriti-vaicitryad bhidyante matayo nrinam
paramparyena keshancit pashanda-matayo ’pare
“Thus, due to the great variety of desires and natures among human beings, there are many different philosophies of life, which are handed down through tradition, culture, custom, and disciplic succession. There are other teachers who directly support atheistic viewpoints.”
Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana comments that when it is not apaurusheya, shabda-pramana is subject to the human imperfections of ordinary speakers and hearers. Each authority presents “final” theories, only to be corrected by his successors. In the words of the Mahabharata (Vana-parva 313.117), nasav rishir yasya matam na bhinnam (“No one is considered a sage who does not have his own opinion”).
In his Sarva-samvadini Shrila Jiva Gosvami has a good deal to say about the superiority of shabda-pramana, even the shabda spoken by ordinary human authorities. Shabda alone is the basis of all correct knowledge because a person can never be certain that an instance of one of the other pramanas is not faulty, a perverted reflection of the true instrument (pramana-abhasa). Apaurusheya-shabda, however, is free from the influence of the four human defects in perception. Therefore all the other pramanas depend completely on its authority, just as a powerful king’s ministers depend completely on his direction and good will. Shabda-pramana is independent of the other pramanas. Although sometimes the others assist shabda, still shabda is free to overrule any of them, while the others can never contradict the facts shabda has established. Shabda alone, moreover, is the only effective means for gaining knowledge of matters the other pramanas cannot penetrate.
When employed by an infallible perceiver, however, any pramana can be a source of reliable knowledge. For example, not only ordinary persons but also those in perfect knowledge can exercise pratyaksha, direct sense perception. And the pratyaksha of one who uses his senses infallibly, as does God or His faultless servant, is undeniable evidence. When the Supreme Lord explains reality as He sees it or an inspired messenger of the Lord conveys His pratyaksha without distortion, we can trust that the words spoken are true. Such infallible pratyaksha is indeed, is the origin of apaurusheya-shabda-pramana. The pratyaksha of imperfect perceivers, however, is always more or less doubtful. For example, the audience in a movie theater may be fooled by an expertly constructed model of an actor’s head and think that the actor has actually been decapitated. Shabda evidence is free from such doubt. The speaker’s authority certifies as doubtless statements like “There is snow in the Himalayas” and “There are jewels in this mine,” regardless of the hearers’ ignorance about these things. When an expert on special effects explains how a model of the actor’s head was constructed for his death scene, the audience has received definitive information and need no longer entertain the idea that the actor was killed. As a matter of epistemological principle, no fact is absolutely certain until an appropriate authority verifies it; in our eclectic age many may not like to acknowledge this principle, but it is natural and in practice even radical skeptics obey it.
Shabda-pramana is independent of the dictates of pratyaksha. For example, in a place where several others were present, a Vedic teacher asked his student, “How many people do you see here?”
The student counted the teacher and eight others he could see and answered, “Nine.”
“No, think again.”
When the student could not understand what was wrong with his answer, the teacher explained, “There are ten. You are the tenth person.”
In this case a mistaken perception was immediately corrected by an authoritative statement. As soon as it entered the student’s ears, his confusion was removed.
Pratyaksha can render assistance to shabda as far as it is able, as in confirming the authoritative statement “Fire will melt ice.” But in other cases it can do nothing to help, as when a mother says, “My son, you were in my womb in the city of Mathura.” Shabda can overrule pratyaksha, as when a person is cured of a snakebite by potent mantras, one of which states, “You were bitten by a snake, but now there is no more poison in you.” Pratyaksha cannot overrule statements of shabda, such as “Cow dung is pure.” A foreigner visiting India may perceive cow’s feces as unclean and be puzzled when he sees it used for cleansing sacred temples, but the Indians all know from traditional authority that actually it is very antiseptic. Shabda alone is also the most effective pramana for gaining knowledge of things that are difficult to see directly; astronomers gladly accept the authority of an ephemeris rather than bother to calculate for themselves the positions of each object in the sky they need to observe.
Someone might suggest that a better standard of truth than appeal to authority is “what everyone’s shared perception establishes” (sarva-pratyaksha-siddham). This definition of truth, however, is impossible to apply; everyone cannot be brought together in one place to share the same perceptions, and it is impossible even in different locations to conduct a complete survey of everyone’s experience. If the definition is modified to “what the perception of many people establishes” (bahu-pratyaksha-siddham), then truth can never be certain but will become an object of controversy whenever more knowledgeable judgment disagrees with the majority opinion.
Anumana (inductive-deductive inference) is also sometimes erroneous, and so it also must yield the place of honor to shabda. An argument’s general premise can be faulty in various ways, as when reasoning involves vishama-vyapti, a too broad or too narrow generalization. One may posit “There is fire on this mountain because there is smoke,” unaware that the billowing smoke seen on the mountain is from a fire that has just a moment before been extinguished by rain. Shabda-pramana makes up for this innate weakness in anumana; someone who knows the actual situation better can explain, “My dear cold travelers, don’t expect to find any fire on this mountain, despite the smoke you observe. I just saw the rain extinguish the fire there. But over on that other mountain you will find a fire.”
Some logicians may disagree with this analysis, objecting that in this instance of arguing from smoke to fire the reason (smoke) is not actually present, a fault technically called hetv-abhasa (“a defective reason”) of the variety svarupasiddha (“inconclusive on the grounds of the cited reason not occuring in the situation”); when all the elements of an inference are free from defect, however, the conclusion is guaranteed to be true. We answer this objection is answered by pointing out that no matter how elegantly we define the theoretical distinctions of defective and nondefective reasons, in real life we can never be fully sure that the reason we give for drawing a conclusion is not defective. There may be any number of conditions under which the appearance of smoke is an insufficient hetu for inferring the presence of fire: what we think is smoke may really be fog, or the mountain may be exuding some poisonous gas. Indeed only after the fact, when we have seen the fire, can we sure that the reason was not defective; what is supposed to prove the conclusion must, conversely, be proven by the conclusion. This is a serious logical fault—mutual dependence of the proven and its proof, or in other words circular reasoning. In addition, the sense perceptions that must precede the construction of an inference may themselves be faulty. For both these reasons, even when one’s logic is formally sound the conclusions one draws may contradict reality.
Shabda-pramana acts independently of anumana in authoritative statements like “You are the tenth person.” Anumana can assist shabda as far as its capacity allows. For example, those who have not heard of the special qualities of diamond may infer that, like other stones, it can be cut by steel. After hearing how exceptionally hard diamond is, however, these same persons will reformulate their argument: steel can cut most stones but not diamond.
Shabda sometimes overrules logic, as when we hear from medical experts that an infected burn should be treated by being cauterized, or that some bitter foods like ginger become sweet after being digested. Anumana cannot contradict what shabda has established, as in a pharmaceutical dictum like “This herb eliminates excesses of all three dhatus.” Shabda can effectively inform us of things inaccessible to anumana, like the daily movements of heavenly bodies.
Since both pratyaksha and anumana are thus secondary in relation to shabda-pramana, certainly the other recognized pramanas, all derivatives of these three, are also subordinate. Beginning with pratyaksha, all the pramanas other than shabda are powerless to give anyone knowledge of the higher purposes of life. Human beings share these other pramanas with animals, who search for their food and other needs with the help of acute senses and simple reason. A cat knows that when it pretends to be affectionate its human masters provide everything; remembering and logically applying this general principle, the cat succesfully manipulates its human family again and again. But animals never achieve spiritual realization from the knowledge gained by their pramanas, and neither do humans who have not recognized shabda-pramana. It has been observed that infants develop real human understanding only when they receive verbal input from their parents; if they are raised without being talked to often, even with all other needs taken care of they grow up dull and inarticulate.
In his Sarva-samvadini Shrila Jiva Gosvami continues to describe the special nature of shabda-pramana. This additional commentary is presented in Appendix 1 at the end of this book.
Purport by BBT Translators
The Vedas Are the Original Source of Knowledge
As already noted, direct perception and inference depend on sense perception, which is limited only to empirical objects and vitiated by the four human defects. Thus direct perception and inference are inadequate by themselves for completely understanding anything beyond our senses. By tracing the chain of causes in material creation, we can infer that something exists beyond our sense perception, but inference can take us no further, leaving us unable to identify it; nor can inference yield valid knowledge about abhidheya, the process for realizing it. We can acquire such knowledge only from revealed scripture, the Vedas, which are not the creations of mortal beings and so are free from the four defects of human nature. The Vedas appeared from the Supreme Lord at the dawn of creation, a fact confirmed in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad (6.8): yo brahmanam vidadhati purvam yo vai vedamsh ca prahinoti tasmai. “That Supreme Lord created Brahma at the beginning of creation and gave him the Vedas.” The term anadi-siddha, as used in this Text, means that the Vedas were not written at a particular date but exist eternally, like the Lord. They first manifested in this universe within the heart of Lord Brahma, the oldest created being: tene brahma hrida ya adi-kavaye (Bhag. 1.1.1); then they were handed down through disciplic succession. The Vedas provide both material and spiritual knowledge. Knowledge about such common phenomena as the trees, water, land, and sky originally came from the Vedas, along with the knowledge of the divisions of duties for various people according to their psycho-physical natures. As the Manu-samhita (1.21) states:
sarvesham tu sa namani karmani ca prithak prithak
veda-shabdebhya evadau prithak-samsthash ca nirmame
“Lord Brahma learned the names of various objects and the duties of various classes of people from the words of the Vedas, and thus he could propagate the manifest divisions of names and duties.”
Over time, there developed different cultures and languages that obscured the original Vedic culture.
For acquiring transcendental knowledge, the Vedas (shabda-pramana ) is the only effective means. The Vedas inform us about the soul’s existence beyond the body, about the planets of the spiritual world, and about the Supreme Lord, His pastimes, and other matters. All these subjects are beyond the reach of our sensory and mental faculties. Without the method of shabda, such philosophers as the Buddhists,[DDB26] who do not accept the Vedas, cannot justifiably say anything positive about transcendence, let alone the way to attain it. Shabda-pramana is so important that although Vaishnavas count Lord Buddha among the incarnations of the Lord on the strength of Vedic testimony, they reject h[DDB27]is philosophy because it was not based on shabda-pramana.
All orthodox schools of philosophy in India, whether monistic or dualistic, consider the Vedas apaurusheya, not written by any mortal being. Many modern scholars, however, dispute the divine origin of the Vedas. They suggest various dates for the composition of the Vedas, and while most of them agree that the Vedas were composed before 1500 B.C., they disagree about the exact time of their composition. They have yet to arrive at a definitive conclusion.
Here Shrila Jiva Gosvami says that the Vedas are beginningless and are the source of various kinds of knowledge coming down through many schools of thought since time immemorial. The phrase sarva-purusha, “all persons,[DDB28]” indicates that the knowledge was passed on not only by human beings but also by superhuman beings, such as the demigods and divine sages. These traditions of thought all originate with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is infallible in all respects and thus completely untainted by the four human defects. Moreover, Shrila Jiva Gosvami has already shown (in Text 9) how unreliable are the alternatives to the Vedic authority. If, as he has established, only apaurusheya-shabda can give access to transcendental reality, how could the Vedas then have been written or compiled by human beings? If Jiva Gosvami allowed that human authors composed the Vedas, he would be contradicting his own previous dismissal of human knowledge as imperfect.
[DDB29]Those scholars who contest the apaurusheya origin of the Vedas, claiming that they are human compilations, have no conclusive proof to back up their claim. Refusing to consider the Vedas’[DDB30] own statements about their origin and purpose, these scholars merely assume that the Vedas are not authoritative and speculate about their true origin. Their motive is clear, for accepting the Vedic version would put an end to the speculative philosophical tradition; it would oblige them to accept the Vedic description of ultimate reality. On account of being too attached to the speculative, or ascending, method of knowledge, however, such scholars and philosophers rather insist that the Vedas are of human origin, regardless of their inability to produce any proof of their claim. Indeed, the theory that the Vedas [DDB31]have a human composer is a recent development advocated by persons who did not come in disciplic succession. They were mostly outsiders who refused to believe that India had much of importance to offer the world in the realm of philosophy and who had their own motive for minimizing the Vedic traditions—namely, their eagerness to convert India to Christianity. They certainly were not impartial judges of the Vedas’[DDB32] origin.
On the other side, great scholars and saints like Shankaracarya, Madhvacarya, Ramanujacarya, Kumarila Bhaööa, and Rupa Gosvami all accepted the Vedas as apaurusheya and eternal. These exalted authorities are famed for their renunciation, knowledge, and selflessness. Contemporary mundane scholars who contest the divine origin of the Vedas naturally fail to place their faith in the opinions of these authorities, but, as we have p[DDB33]ointed out, such materialistic scholars are not free from ulterior motives, nor do their character and conduct compare favorably with those of the great acaryas.
Another consideration, and an important one, is that the Vedas themselves repeatedly enjoin that one who wants to understand the spiritual knowledge they teach must first approach a guru in disciplic succession. Vedic knowledge is verifiable; it is not just a collection of abstract ideas. But to realize the truth of Vedic knowledge one must approach a bona fide guru. Mundane scholars, however, tend to be proud of their textbook knowledge and flout this requirement, all the while considering themselves authorities on Vedic knowledge. In reality, by not applying themselves to this knowledge in the prescribed way they ensure that for them the door to its mysteries will ever remain locked. The attempts of these hapless scholars to understand the Vedas without joining an authorized disciplic succession are like someone’s trying to taste honey by licking the outside of a honey-filled jar. Their labor is futile and their analysis and conclusions are useless.
By contrast, the great Vaishnava acaryas all became Vedic authorities by virtue of their scrupulously following the injunction to surrender to a guru coming in disciplic succession. As far as sincerity and credibility are taken into account, therefore, the evidence weighs heavily in favor of the saintly acaryas. In any case, a seriously interested person can always take up the Vedic process himself and personally verify the Vedic conclusions. Granted, this requires some effort, and it is of course much easier to offer glib speculations denying the Vedas’ authority than to discipline oneself and follow their instructions. Ultimately, however, the Vedas’ scholarly detractors can never prove their claims.
And even if someone proposes that just as modern science is evolving, so the Vedas evolved over a period of time, then the question arises, Why in recorded history have people stopped making further refinements o[DDB34]n the Vedas? [DDB35]If the Vedas indeed have a human source, they should have been revised and improved over time, and new, improved versions should be available; but this is not the case. [DDB36]Rather, North or South, East or West, the same standard readings of the Vedas are found, and no older or newer versions are seen anywhere. [DDB37]The Vedic saints have developed a meticulous system for protecting the word order of the Vedic texts. Changing even a single syllable is considered criminal. Thus the Vedas are rightly called shruti, or that which is heard from the guru unchanged, with proper intonation and accent of the syllables. [gpd38]
The Vedas are unique. Can one imagine that in a particular field of science or art we will reach the apex in knowledge and produce one standard book accepted by all, making all other books in that field obsolete? Is it conceivable that no one would[DDB39] make any further changes or additions to such a book, and that this book would[DDB40] become worshipable to the people interested in that field? The reasonable, unbiased answer is no, and yet this is precisely the case with the Vedas, for they are free of defects, having emanated from the perfect source, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But if someone says yes, then there is no reason for debate over the authority of the Vedas.[DDB41]
In addition to the spiritual knowledge it contains, the Vedic literature has references to many modern scientific achievements. The Vedas have sections on astronomy, medicine, yoga, music, drama, dance, algebra, civil engineering, and so on. The list is long indeed. These are all arts and sciences that were practiced in India centuries before the dawn of their modern counterparts. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Shrila Prabhupada writes in his introduction to Shrimad-Bhagavatam, “The authority of the Vedas is unchallengeable and stands without any question of doubt. The conch shell and cow dung are the bone and stool of two living beings. But because they have been recommended by the Vedas as pure, people accept them as such because of the authority of the Vedas.” It has been proven by scientific experiment that cow dung is antiseptic and medicinal. It would be simplistic, therefore, to brush aside the Vedas as manmade. Had this been the case, renowned thinkers and powerful logicians like Shrila Jiva Gosvami and Shrila Madhvacarya would have taken no stock in them.
Still one may question the eternal nature of the Vedas on the grounds that any scriptural references in support of them will necessarily come from the Vedas themselves. In logic, citing evidence that relies on itself for proof of legitimacy is called circular reasoning and is unacceptable. The Vedas may thus appear tainted with this defect of svashraya, or begging the question, relying as they do on themselves to establish their own authority.
Circular reasoning would be a serious defect, but a closer look shows that the Vedas are an exception to this fallacy. That the Vedas rely on themselves to establish their authority is not a defect; rather it is logical and sensible. It simply affirms their absolute, transcendental nature, since if some other source were needed to confirm the authority of the Vedas, the authority of that new source would surpass that of the Vedas. In such a case an inquisitive person would be obliged to discard the Vedas and begin all over again analyzing the new source’s authenticity. Before long this new source would need confirmation from yet another source. This could go on ad infinitum. But the absence of such a superior source with reference to the Vedas shows that the authority of the Vedas as apaurusheya-shabda-pramana is final.
Logically, therefore, no other pramana can substantiate the Vedas. And that is why the Vedas are traditionally accepted as “mother.” When a person wants to know who his father is, he cannot find out by direct perception, nor by inference or deduction. To know for sure who h[DDB42]is father is he has to accept his mother’s testimony. We similarly have to accept the revealed knowledge of the Vedas to learn about the reality beyond our sensory and intellectual power.
The theories advanced by some scholars about the Vedas’ mundane origin are unreliable and untenable because these scholars have not studied the Vedas in a bona fide disciplic succession. Because of the scholars’ four human defects and their being impelled by ulterior motives[DDB43]—desires for degrees, reputation, research funding, and the like—divine arrangement has barred them from gaining real insight into the Vedas. These scholars will readily admit that to understand any complex material subject one needs the help of experts in that field, but somehow they reject the necessity of a bona fide guru for understanding the Vedas. They do not know that in the case of the Vedic literature submission to a guru is an absolute requirement. This prerequisite serves as a kind of password protecting the Vedas against insincere persons who would try to exploit or refute them. In the Bhagavad-gita (7.25) the Supreme Lord affirms:
naham prakashah sarvasya yoga-maya-samavritah
mudho ’yam nabhijanati loko mam ajam avyayam
“I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My Yogamaya, and therefore they do not know that I am unborn and infallible.”
This statement is relevant both when the Lord comes to this world in person and when He reveals Himself in scripture. The Lord has given the conditioned souls the method by which they can approach Him, and that method begins with taking knowledge from a bona fide disciplic succession. Those unwilling to thus qualify themselves can have no real access to Him, even if they study the Vedas on their own for many lifetimes.
In summary, owing to the absence of any conclusive proof of the Vedas’ being authored by a mortal being, and by the logic known as the law of the remainder (parisheshya-nyaya), as well as on the authority of the great acaryas and saints coming in the bona fide disciplic successions, and ultimately by accepting the testimony of the Vedas themselves, we reasonably conclude that the Vedas exist eternally and are an infallible source of knowledge.
Next, Shrila Jiva Gosvami shows that inference cannot be an independent means for understanding the Absolute Truth.
tac canumatam ‘tarkapratishöhanat’ ity-adau ‘acintyah khalu ye bhava na tams tarkena yojayet’ ity-adau ‘shastra-yonitvat’ ity-adau ‘shrutes tu shabda-mulatvat’ ity-adau
vedash cakshus taveshvara
shreyas tv anupalabdhe ’rthe
Gopiparanadhana: The conclusion stated in Text 10 is corroborated in such statements as the following:
“Because logical conjecture is never conclusive” (V.s. 2.1.11).
“Logic cannot explain things that are inconceivable” (Mahabharata, Bhishma-parva 5.22).
“Because scripture is the source of knowledge about [the Absolute Truth]” (V.s. 1.1.3).
“Because revealed scripture, on the other hand, is based on shabda-pramana” (V.s. 2.1.27).
“For the forefathers, demigods, and human race, O Lord, the Vedas are your own perfect eye. They are the best instrument for seeing what cannot ordinarily be perceived and for ascertaining the goals and means of progressive life” (Bhag. 11.20.4).
BBT: The following scriptural statements confirm this conclusion [Text 10]:
1. “Logic has no sure basis” [DDB44][Vedanta-sutra 2.1.11].
2. “One should not use logic to try to understand what is inconceivable” [Mahabharata, Bhishma-parva 5.22].
3. “Scriptures are the source of knowledge of the Absolute Truth” [Vedanta-sutra 1.1.3].
4. “The Vedas are the source of knowledge of the Absolute Truth” [Vedanta-sutra 2.1.27].
5. “O Supreme Lord, Your Veda is the supreme eye for the forefathers, demigods, and human beings. By it they can understand Your form and qualities, along with the highest goal of life and the means for attaining it, none of which can be ascertained otherwise” [Shrimad-Bhagavatam 11.20.4].
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
The Vedas have no human author, but among human beings the most universally respected authority on the Vedas is Shrila Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa. Just before the beginning of this Kali-yuga, five thousand years ago, he edited all the texts of the Vedas to make them accessible to the less intelligent people of our age. For this accomplishment he earned the title Veda-vyasa, “editor of the Vedas.” In addition, as his personal contribution to Vedic understanding Vyasadeva composed two great works, the Vedanta-sutra and Mahabharata. The Vedanta-sutra is a systematic commentary on the essential Vedic knowledge contained in the Upanishads. In it Vyasadeva proves that the Vedas focus on one goal consistently (samanvaya), namely realization of the Supreme Truth (Brahman); he describes the relationships between Brahman and His energies (sambandha), various spiritual practices for achieving association with Brahman (abhidheya), and the sublime results of these practices (prayojana). The Mahabharata is a vast epic history primarily dealing with a civil war fought between factions of the Kuru dynasty during the time Shri Krishna was manifest on the earth, and it also includes narrations on hundreds of other topics. The chief heroes of the Mahabharata are the five ideal sons of Maharaja Pandu; Lord Krishna is also present throughout, but for the most part He remains in the background, allowing His devotees to take center stage in the drama.
To substantiate his proposition that the Vedas are the most perfect source of shabda-pramana, Shri Jiva Gosvami here cites Dvaipayana Vyasa’s own opinions from these two works, plus a statement from another preeminent Vaishnava, Uddhava. Tarkapratishöhanat is part of an argument in the Second Chapter of the Vedanta-sutra. Under considerations is an opposing claim that one can discover the Absolute Truth by logic.
Tarkapratishöhanat is the answer to the opposition. The sutra implies the unspoken words “No, logical conjecture is not sufficient for realizing the Supreme” and then continues “because it is never conclusive.” The word tarka in its more technical sense indicates the prelogical mental process of sorting out a number of possible premises, imagining the consequences of each one, and eliminating those that are obviously inappropriate. Here is an instance of tarka concerning our example of the fire on the mountain: “I want to prove that there is fire on this mountain. Why do I believe this? Because the air is getting warmer? No, the sun’s coming out from behind the clouds could cause that. Because there is smoke on the mountain? Well, if there weren’t any fire there wouldn’t be any smoke.” This kind of educated guessing may be fruitful in a limited range of logically analyzable situations, but it can never enter the materially immeasurable range of transcendence. As the Upanishads declare,
naisha tarkena matir apaneya
proktanyenaiva su-jnanaya preshöha
“My dear boy Naciketa, this understanding cannot be attained by tarka. To be realizeable as spiritual truth it has to be spoken by someone with special authority” (Kaöha Up. 1.2.9).
In the verse from the Mahabharata, acintya means “inconceivable” in the sense of “impossible to explain materially because it is a phenomenon of a higher, transcendental nature.” Among the “things” (bhavah) of this inconceivable, spiritual nature are the Supreme Lord’s personal qualities and His playful activities. There are ways to know these, but tarka is not one of them.
Having cited these negative opinions, Shri Jiva gives the next three statements to show the positive alternative. Shastra-yonitvat is the third sutra of the Vedanta-sutra. It resolves a doubt about how one should search out the object of devotional meditation, Lord Hari—whether by one’s own reason or by the direction of scripture. Some may argue that according to the Upanishadic statement gautamadyair mantavyah (“Gautama and others realized Him mentally”), logic is suitable for realizing the Lord. “No,” this sutra replies, “anumana is not the means for knowing Him, because scripture is ‘His source.’” Yoni literally means “womb,” and in this context it signifies not “place of His generation” but “source of knowledge about Him.” Shastra, Vedic scripture, is where He is revealed. This idea accords with the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad’s prototypical inquiry tam tv aupanishadam purusham pricchami (“I want to ask about the Supreme Person, who is known from the Upanishads”; Brihad-aranyaka Up. 3.9.26).
Shrutes tu shabda-mulatvat is from the same section of the Vedanta-sutra as tarkapratishöhanat. Brahman is the creator of this world, but how does He avoid the fatigue and anxiety other creators suffer? Because He created everything simply by desiring to do so, as stated in the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.6): so ’kamayata bahu syam prajayeya (“He desired, ‘Let Me become many; let Me create progeny.’”). But how can the scripture say something like this, which direct perception denies?[DDB45] Shrutes tu shabda-mulatvat: “Because revealed scripture, unlike sense perception, is based on shabda-pramana.” Shabda-pramana alone is the verification of the Vedas’ authority. When other pramanas seem to contradict what the Vedas say, the contradiction is only apparent. Vedic shruti is irrefutable.
Uddhava, the speaker of the verse from Shrimad-Bhagavatam quoted in Text 11, was one of Lord Krishna’s closest friends and advisers in the Yadu capital, Dvaraka. As the best student of Brihaspati, the teacher and priest of the demigods, Uddhava was a renowned Vedic scholar. More importantly, however, he was an intimate devotee of the Personality of Godhead. Krishna trusted him to convey His personal messages to the gopis, who were grieving in Vrindavana because of His absence. To meet and talk with the gopis as Krishna’s representative, Uddhava must have been able to appreciate the most refined moods of love of God. Just before Lord Krishna ended His pastimes on earth, He spoke extensively to Uddhava about the science of devotional service; these instructions are recorded as the Uddhava-gita in the Eleventh Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam. In this verse Uddhava declares that the the Vedas’ authority is superhuman because it is actually the authority of the Supreme Lord; through the Vedas the Lord reveals the deliberations of His own intelligence and offers the divine vision of His personal viewpoint to those who will accept it.
Purport by BBT Translators
The Authority of the Vedas
Here, using scriptural evidence, Shrila Jiva Gosvami confirms the conclusion about inferential knowledge he reached in the previous Text. Having argued that logic is not the most reliable means of acquiring knowledge, and having used logic to establish this conclusion, he now presents appropriate Vedic references as the final proof. Again, one should not think that Jiva Gosvami is guilty of circular reasoning because he resorts to the Vedas themselves to confirm an assertion about the Vedas. The Vedas are self-luminous like the sun. Just as the sun illuminates itself, independent of any other source of light, so only the Vedas can establish themselves as an infallible pramana. As explained in the previous Text, this self-confirmation is not a defect in the process of shabda-pramana, or verbal revelation, because if the Vedas indeed convey knowledge of the Absolute Truth, we can justifiably look to the Vedas themselves to confirm their own authority. And those who have approached Vedic knowledge in the prescribed way have corroborated by their own realization that the Vedas do describe the Absolute Truth.
Another consideration is that our objective is to know the inconceivable reality, and after analyzing all the sources of knowledge we find that no source but the Vedas affords us the opportunity for achieving this objective. If all the best logicians, nuclear physicists, astrophysicists, and other leaders in various departments of science and philosophy who lived in the past, live in the present, and will live in the future could somehow assemble and deliberate together, they would be unable to shed any light on the nature of transcendence. Any theory this assembly might propose would only be a subjective speculation, liable to endless refutations and counterrefutations. Understanding the futility of such endeavors, Shrila Jiva Gosvami has gone directly to the heart of the matter by citing Vedic authority.
Shrila Vyasadeva presented the conclusion of all the Vedas in the concise aphorisms of the Vedanta-sutra, also called the Brahma-sutra. Sutra 2.1.11 is tarkapratishöhanat: “Reason has no sure basis.” In other words, logic has no absolute stance because its results are always subject to revision. [DDB46]Both deductive and inductive reasoning are based on human perception and intelligence, which are unreliable owing to the four inherent human defects mentioned earlier. And since different people have varying capacities and types of intelligence, the opinions they derive from their own intelligence also vary. Logical reasoning therefore has its limitations; it is inconclusive in transcendental matters except when supported by the scriptures. In his Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.1.46), Shrila Rupa Gosvami quotes a verse from Bhartrihari’s Vakya-padiya (1.34) to this effect:
yatnenapadito ’py arthah kushalair anumatribhih
abhiyukta-tarair anyair anyathaivopapadyate
“Expert logicians may establish their proofs with great endeavor, but these proofs will simply be contradicted by stronger logicians establishing newer conclusions.” The truth of this statement is confirmed in the fields of modern science and philosophy, where there is endless theorizing about the origins of the universe and the meaning of life.
[DDB47]Shrila Jiva Gosvami also cites the Mahabharata’s claim that because logic is limited one should not use it to try to understand inconceivable realities. For example, by mere logic one will certainly fail to understand such childhood pastimes of Lord Krishna’s as His dama-bandhana-lila, in which His mother bound Him up with ropes. When mother Yashoda tried to tie Krishna to a grinding mortar, she was amazed to find that when she joined all her ropes together the new length of rope was still too short! Yet the black thread around Krishna’s waist did not break, nor did His waist become inflated. Such inconceivable behavior by the Absolute Person is entirely beyond the reach of all logical faculties; one can understand it only by accepting the authority of Vedic testimony, shabda-pramana.
Still, although logical reasoning is not a reliable independent method in the quest for knowledge of the absolute, this does not mean all logic is useless. The very idea that logic is not fully reliable is itself known through the use of logic supported by scripture. We should certainly use our reason in trying to understand the statements of the Vedas. The Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad (2.4.5) thus states, atma va are drashöavyah shrotavyo mantavyo nididhyasitavyo maitreyi: “The Self, my dear Maitreyi, should be realized, and so it should be heard about, reflected on, and deeply meditated on.” Here the word mantavyah refers to logical understanding. We should apply logic to properly understand the Vedic injunctions, but we should reject logic that runs counter to their conclusions. Mere logic can never supersede the opinions of the Vedas, which are free of the human defects.
While discussing this topic in his Sarva-samvadini, Shrila Jiva Gosvami quotes the Kurma Purana:
purvaparavirodhena ko ’nv artho ’bhimato bhavet
ity-adyam uhanam tarkah shushka-tarkam tu varjayet
“Conjecturing about the meaning of a scriptural passage by referring to the statements preceding and following it is called proper logic. One should abandon dry logic, however.”
We find excellent examples of dry logic among speculative philosophers. These thinkers generally use their reason to prove a preconceived opinion, and in their stubbornness they of course fail to maintain any objectivity. They disregard scriptural injunctions that do not support their conclusions. They have no success in applying their method to ultimate matters because no one can penetrate the inconceivable transcendental plane by any amount of speculation. [DDB48]The philosophical musings of such persons amount to no more than a futile mental exercise with no tangible result. No matter how profound and mesmerizing their vision, it is inevitable that some other powerful logician will eventually defeat them. The Vedas enjoin, therefore, that those who seek the Absolute Truth should abandon dry logic, but not all logic. Indeed, in the Bhagavad-gita (10.32) Lord Krishna Himself declares that logic aimed at understanding the Absolute as it is presented in scripture is one of His opulences: vadah pravadatam aham. “[DDB49]Among logicians I am the conclusive truth.” Thus Shrila Jiva Gosvami is right in accepting anumana as one of the principal means of gaining valid knowledge.
Jiva Gosvami next cites two more Brahma-sutras (1.1.3 and 2.1.27), which state emphatically that one can understand the Absolute Truth only from the revealed scriptures. He then concludes by quoting from Shrimad-Bhagavatam to show that not only human beings but even superhumans like the demigods need the Vedas’ help. Thus he emphasizes the need for everyone—humans, subhumans, and superhumans—to rely on the Vedas as the flawless means for understanding the Absolute Truth.
In the next Text Shrila Jiva Gosvami begins his demonstration that the Puranas are even more important for us than the Vedas.
tatra ca veda-shabdasya samprati dushparatvad duradhigamarthatvac ca tad-artha-nirnayakanam muninam api paraspara-virodhad veda-rupo vedartha-nirnayakash cetihasa-puranatmakah shabda eva vicaraniyah. tatra ca yo va veda-shabdo natma-viditah so ’pi tad-drishöyanumeya eveti samprati tasyaiva pramotpadakatvam sthitam.
Gopiparanadhana: We should consider that at present the authoritative statements of the Vedas are impossible for anyone to study completely, that their meaning is very difficult to construe, and that even the sages who have explained them in commentaries disagree among one another. For these reasons we would be well advised to turn our attention to the shabda-pramana of the Itihasas and Puranas, which are subsantially nondifferent from the Vedas and which explain them definitively. Since by referring to the Itihasas and Puranas one can decipher those Vedic texts whose purport is not self-evident, the Itihasa-Purana has been accepted as the appropriate source for correct knowledge in our times.
BBT: But at present it is difficult to study the Vedas in their entirety or to understand them. In addition, the great thinkers who have commented on the Vedas interpret them in contradictory ways. We should therefore study the Itihasas and Puranas, since they are Vedic in nature and are conclusive in determining the Vedas’ meaning. Moreover, with the help of the Itihasas and Puranas we can infer the meaning of the unavailable portions of the Vedas. Thus at present only the Itihasas and Puranas constitute the appropriate source of valid knowledge.
tatha hi mahabharate manaviye ca ‘itihasa-puranabhyam vedam samupabrimhayet’ iti ‘puranat puranam’ iti canyatra. na cavedena vedasya brimhanam sambhavati na hy aparipurnasya kanaka-valayasya trapuna puranam yujyate.
Gopiparandhana: Thus both the Mahabharata [Adi-parva 1.267] and the Manu-samhita state, “One should complete the Vedas with the Itihasas and Puranas.” And elsewhere it is said that “The name Purana comes from the word ‘completion’ (purana).” The Vedas cannot be made complete by what is not also Veda, just as one should not fill the missing part of a broken gold bangle with cheap tin.
BBT: This is why the Mahabharata [Adi-parva 1.267] and Manu-samhita state, “One should complement one’s understanding of the Vedas with the help of the Itihasas and Puranas.” And elsewhere it is stated, “The Puranas are called by that name because they complete (purana).” One should not try to “complete” or explain the meaning of the Vedas with something that is not Vedic in nature, just as one should not finish an incomplete gold bracelet with lead.
nanu yadi veda-shabdah puranam itihasam copadatte tarhi puranam anyad anveshaniyam. yadi tu na na tarhitihasa-puranayor abhedo vedena. ucyate vishishöaikartha-pratipadaka-pada-kadambasyapaurusheyatvad abhede ’pi svara-krama-bhedad bheda-nirdesho ’py upapadyate.
Gopiparandhana: [DDB50]“But,” someone may object, “if the Vedas include the Puranas and Itihasas, we are going to have to identify as Purana something different from what the word commonly means. Otherwise the Itihasas and Puranas will not be nondifferent from the Vedas.”
This objection is answered as follows: the Puranas and Itihasas are in fact nondifferent because the whole unified collection of words, expressing one particular message, has apaurusheya authority. Despite this nondifference, however, separate categories of texts have become designated in terms of differences of intonation and exact order.
BBT: But, one may object, if the Itihasas and Puranas are actually included as part of the text of the Vedas, we need to identify some other Puranas than those we are familiar with; otherwise the Itihasas and Puranas would not qualify as nondifferent from the Vedas.[DDB51]
To this we reply that the Itihasas and Puranas are nondifferent from the Vedas inasmuch as both kinds of literary works have no human author and present the same detailed knowledge. Nonetheless, there is some difference between them with regard to intonation and word order.
rig-adibhih samam anayor apaurusheyatvenabhedo madhyandina-shrutav eva vyajyate ‘evam va are ’sya mahato bhutasya nihshvasitam etad yad rig-vedo yajur-vedah sama-vedo ’tharvangirasa itihasah puranam’ ity-adina.
Gopiparanadhana: This nondifference of the Vedas and the Itihasa-Purana—on the grounds of the Itihasa-Purana being as apaurusheya as the Rig Veda and other Vedas—is implied in the passage of the Madhyandina-shruti beginning “Thus indeed the breath of this Supreme Being constitutes the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharvangirasa Veda, Itihasa, and Purana” [Brihad-aranyaka Up. 2.4.10].
BBT: The Madhyandina-shruti [Brihad-aranyaka Up. 2.4.10] implies the oneness of the Itihasas and Puranas with the Rig and other Vedas in terms of the apaurusheya nature all these works share: “My dear Maitreyi, the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas, as well as the Itihasas and Puranas, all appear from the breathing of the Supreme Being.”
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
Because the Vedic sound directly emanates from the intelligence of the Supreme Being, all the Vedas and their numerous supplements form a unified whole. They are expressions of one and the same consciousness. The intelligence of the Supreme is infinite and communicates with the variously limited intelligences of His countless creatures in an unlimited number of ways. In the words of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita (4.11), ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham: “I reciprocate with each soul exactly according to how that soul relates to Me”. Thus the Vedic literature appears as many separate books in a number of categories of texts that seem to have been written at different times, for different purposes, in different styles of language, and by authors with different convictions and different levels of knowledge. The Vedas explain themselves in another way, however, and if we are willing to look at the entire Vedic literature from its own point of view instead of with the attitude of critical analysis, then with some scrutiny we can see the true picture: the apparent diversity of the texts is in fact due not to their being written by different authors but to their being spoken for several different audiences.
Vedic literature is divided into two main kinds of texts, shruti and smriti. Shruti (“what has been heard”) is eternal, revealed scripture received in this world by rishis in their meditation and repeated unchanged through disciplic chains of teachers and disciples. Smriti (“what has been remembered”) is literature composed by the sages in their own words and reflecting the message of shruti without having to maintain the same exact wording in the same order perpetually. The four Vedas are considered shruti, including in each Veda the Samhita collections of hymns and incantations, the Brahmana ritual interpretations, the more esoteric interpretations of the Aranyakas, and the philosophical Upanishads. To ordinary perception, the language and contents of the Samhitas, especially of the Rig Veda Samhita, seem the most archaic. The Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads appear to be afterthoughts, speculations by later generations about the meaning and purpose of the Samhitas; they are written in a variety of successively “newer” dialects, gradually approaching “classical” Sanskrit. The Upanishads seem an altogether different sort of work, discussing as they do otherworldly concerns hardly touched upon in the “older” ritual shruti. There are many superficial reasons, therefore, for critical scholars to disregard the Vedas’ own claim to being a single, coherent whole. Not understanding the methods of shabda-pramana, the unfortunate Indologists can only try to dissect the separate organs of the Vedic corpus, unaware that the organism is actually alive.[DDB52]
From one viewpoint, a particular plant’s stages of growth—its seed, sprout, flower, and fruit—are quite distinct events that occur at different times. Viewed another way, however, the plant’s stages of growth are part of a timeless cycle: there have been many earlier generations of plants of the same kind, and there will many more in the future. Each new instance of the plant simply copies the permanent genetic plan. In essence, the seed of the species is no older than its fruit. Similarly, we can understand that the eternal Vedas temporarily display parts of themselves to human perception at various historical points in the cycle of ages. Shrimad-Bhagavatam calls Shri Krishna svayam bhagavan, the “original Personality of Godhead,” or in other words the oldest person; but the Bhagavatam also describes Lord Krishna’s appearance on earth as an avatara in the dynasty of the moon-god, fifty-six generations after its founder. The Vedas, being co-eternal with the Supreme Lord, also descend to earth at specific times. Thus the language of the Rig Veda can appear to be an ancestor of “later” Sanskrit, though in reality the two are simultaneously existing dialects of the same language, one liturgical and the other vernacular.
Various sages composed different kinds of smritis. Some wrote handbooks to explain the details of Vedic sacrificial performances—Shrauta-sutras for major sacrifices and Grihya-sutras for rituals performed at home. Manu and others compiled lawbooks, the Dharma-shastras. But especially important for the spiritual education of the general public are the Itihasas (epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata) and the Puranas. These works are written in simple, spoken Sanskrit and aim at explaining all aspects of Vedic knowledge to nonspecialists, often through entertaining historical narrations. Although both the Itihasas and the Puranas describe the ancient history of the universe, the Itihasas generally concentrate on single heroes or events, while the Puranas deal with an assortment of topics. There are eighteen major Puranas, including Shrimad-Bhagavata Purana, and at least as many secondary Puranas, or Upapuranas.
In Kali-yuga truly qualified brahmanas are rare. Those who are brahmanas in name only or who belong to the less-educated classes cannot make much sense of the shruti scriptures. There are simply too many shruti texts for anyone in our less intelligent age to read through, what to speak of comprehend. Tens of thousands of years ago this world was a different place, where educated people could understand subtle topics that are unfamiliar and inscrutable to us today. Extant commentaries on the Vedas, such as Sayana’s from the tenth century A.D., are too recent to provide reliable insight into the original intentions of the texts. The orthodox philosophical darshanas each claim Vedic connection, but all of them except Jaimini’s Mimamsa and Dvaipayana’s Vedanta merely pay lip service to apaurusheya-shabda-pramana while in practice ignoring it. Mimamsa minimizes the authority of the Upanishads and their approach to the Absolute Truth. Gautama’s Nyaya and Kanada’s Vaisheshika are involved only with the logic and structure of the physical world. In opposition to the opinions of the Upanishads, the atheist Kapila’s Sankhya and Patanjali’s Yoga consider material nature the prime cause of creation and the soul or God only a passive witness. In general, the standard darshanas disagree among one another on major points of epistemology and ontology. The existing commentaries on the ancient sutras of each of these schools were all written within the last two thousand years, long after the actual Vedic civilization had ceased to exist.
Therefore in the modern age the Itihasas and Puranas assume special value. Itihasa-puranabhyam vedam samupabrimhayet: “One should complete the Vedas with the Itihasas and Puranas.” Although the Vedas are complete in themselves, our modern understanding of them needs to be made more complete. As many authoritative sources attest, the Itihasas and Puranas are faithful to shruti, so much so that the Upanishads call them the fifth Veda. They are available and not difficult to understand. They give us access to ways of ancient wisdom that would otherwise be closed off.
The opposing opinion addressed in Text 13.2 centers on the view of some ritualistic brahmanas and impersonal Vedantists who acknowledge the authority of shruti but not of most smriti. According to them, when shruti texts mention Itihasas and Puranas and enjoin reciting them, the reference is not to the more recent texts now called such but to certain passages of the original Vedas. Some Vedic passages fit the functional definition of Itihasa narrations, such as the portion of the Rig Veda Samhita describing a conversation between the demigods and Lord Brahma (samyum prajapatim deva abruvan . . . yo brahmanayavaguret tam shatena yayatet) and the portion of the Nrisimha-tapani Upanishad (7) describing [DDB53]xxx (avacanenaiva procava. . . .) Other passages describe the creation of the universe in Puranic fashion, as in the Taittiriya Upanishad’s descriptions yato va imani bhutani jayante (“From that Surpeme everything in existence was generated”; Taittiriya Up. 3.1) and etasmad atmana akashah bhutah (“From that Supreme Soul, the sky came into being”; Taittiriya Up. 2.1). The opponents argue that if the recently composed, popular smritis were the real Itihasas and Puranas one could not correctly equate them with the perfect, eternal Vedas.
Shrila Jiva Gosvami replies by confirming that all the Vedic literature, from the Rig Veda through the Puranas, is essentially a single conception. Only because the language of the shruti differs from that of the smriti are they designated separately. The Vedic dialect pronounces each syllable with one of three intonations, which “classical” Sanskrit does not use. In shruti texts, the exact sequence of every syllable is perpetually fixed, whereas smriti can be spoken again in different words in each new cycle of ages.
Concerning the references Shrila Jiva Gosvami cites in this text, the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad is also referred to as the Madhyandina-shruti because the recension cited most often belongs to the Madhyandina branch of the Vajasaneyi White Yajur Veda. Since the Atharva Veda appeared in the meditations of two sages, Atharva and Angira, it is sometimes called the Atharvangirasa Veda.
Purport by BBT Translators
Difficulties in Studying the Vedas
In the previous Texts Shrila Jiva Gosvami has established that the Vedas—Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva—constitute the valid means of acquiring knowledge about the Supreme. Here he points out the practical difficulties involved with studying them nowadays.
The first difficulty is the unavailability of the complete text of the Vedas. Originally the Veda was one, and at the advent of the current age, Kali-yuga, Shrila Vyasadeva divided it into four: vyadadhad yajna-santatyai vedam ekam catur-vidham (Bhag. 1.4.19). Then, as explained in the Kurma Purana (52.19–20), Vyasadeva’s followers further divided the four Vedas into 1,130 branches:
eka-vimshati-bhedena rig-vedam kritavan pura
shakhanam tu shatenaiva yajur-vedam athakarot
sama-vedam sahasrena shakhanam prabibheda sah
atharvanam atho vedam bibheda navakena tu
[DDB54]“Formerly the Rig Veda was divided into 21 branches, the Yajur Veda into 100 branches, the Sama Veda into 1,000 branches, and the Atharva Veda into 9 branches.” Each of these branches has 4 subdivisions,[DDB55] called Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka, and Upanishad. So all together the Vedas consist of 1,130 Samhitas, 1,130 Brahmanas, 1,130 Aranyakas, and 1,130 Upanishads, a total of 4,520 titles. By the influence of time, however, many texts have been lost. At present only about 11 Samhitas, 18 Brahmanas, 7 Aranyakas, and 220 Upanishads are available. This constitutes less than 6% of the original Vedas.
The second difficulty one faces in trying to study the Vedas concerns their language. There are two varieties of Sanskrit, vaidika (“Vedic”) and laukika (“worldly” or “ordinary”), and the Vedas contain only the former. Years of study are required to become an accomplished scholar of ordinary Sanskrit, but if such a scholar wishes to understand Vedic Sanskrit he has to learn extra rules of grammar and a different vocabulary, which may require years of additional study. And even when the language of the Vedic verses is fathomed, these verses are so cryptic that one cannot possibly decipher them without hearing them explained by a bona fide guru in disciplic succession.
Another difficulty: Even before studying the Vedas one must study their six corollaries, or “limbs,” called Vedangas. These six limbs are shiksha, the science of pronunciation; kalpa, the process of performing sacrifice; vyakarana, the rules of grammar; nirukta, the meanings and derivations of difficult words used in the Vedas; jyotisha, astronomy and astrology; and chandas, Vedic meters. Each of these limbs is extensive and requires serious study.
To further complicate matters, with the advent of Kali-yuga human memory has grown weaker. In former times there were no books: a student could assimilate all knowledge from his spiritual master simply by hearing and remembering. But this is no longer possible. In this age the food, water, air, and even the very ether are all polluted, and all these factors have taken their toll on human memory, making it difficult to study even the available 6% of the Vedic texts, what to speak of the entire four Vedas and their branches. Shrila Jiva Gosvami therefore concludes that although the four Vedas are perfect shabda-pramana, in the present age it is impractical to study them thoroughly and thereby ascertain the Absolute Truth.
As an alternative, someone may suggest that since only a few of the Vedas are available and even they are difficult to understand, why not simply study the Vedanta-sutra, the definitive summary of the Vedic conclusions? To this Jiva Gosvami replies that various thinkers differ about the meaning of the Vedanta-sutra and so this method will likely just lead to confusion. Furthermore, important thinkers like Gautama, Kapila, and Jaimini adhere to other philosophies, so why should we accept only Vedanta rather than one of their theories?
For all these reasons we must admit that even with the help of the Vedas and Vedanta we will not be able to understand sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana. To solve this dilemma Shrila Jiva Gosvami proposes an alternative: study of the Itihasas and Puranas.
The Itihasas and Puranas are easier to understand than the Vedas because they are written in laukika Sanskrit, which is spoken, rather than Vedic Sanskrit, which is not. Furthermore, the esoteric meanings of the Vedas are more accessible in the Itihasas and Puranas because these works are narrated in story form. And whereas only the dvijas, the twice-born Vedic initiates, are permitted to study the Vedas, that restriction does not apply to the study of the Itihasas and Puranas:[DDB56] anyone may read them. Even the Puranas’ original speaker, Suta Gosvami, was not a twice-born brahmana. The Itihasas and Puranas convey the same conclusions as the Vedas, and since they come from the same source, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they are also free from the four human defects and thus qualify as perfect shabda-pramana. The Itihasas and Puranas should therefore be considered as reliable as the four Vedas.
But although the Itihasas and Puranas are one with the Vedas, this does not mean they are literally identical with them. Otherwise the words Itihasa and Purana would simply be names for certain special parts of the Vedas. The Vedas are written in Vedic Sanskrit, which necessarily involves three different tone accents—udatta (high), svarita (intermediate), and anudatta (low). In the Vedic language one word can actually be changed to another if the accent is changed. We see an example of this in the history of the demon Vritra, who was created by the chanting of a mantra during a sacrifice. This demon was supposed to kill Indra, but during the sacrifice the priests pronounced the mantra indra-shatro vivardhasva with the wrong accent. The result was just the opposite of what was intended: Indra killed Vritrasura.
Another significant difference between the four Vedas and the Itihasas and Puranas is the sequence of particular words, which is rigidly fixed in the Vedas. No one should change even one syllable of the Vedic texts, which have maintained their primeval arrangement of words since the beginning of creation. Techniques have been devised, such as pada-paöha, krama-paöha, ghana-paöha, and jaöa-paöha, for keeping the word order intact. But while no rewording or rearrangement of words is allowed in the Vedas, the Itihasas and Puranas need not be so rigidly preserved: their exact wordings are allowed to vary in different yuga cycles. Because no special techniques are used to keep the word order of the Puranas and Itihasas intact, we find slight differences from edition to edition.
Shrila Vyasa compiled the Itihasa called Mahabharata for people of this age specifically because they are not qualified to understand the Vedas. This is explained in Shrimad-Bhagavatam (1.4.25):
stri-shudra-dvija-bandhunam trayi na shruti-gocara
karma-shreyasi mudhanam shreya eva bhaved iha
iti bharatam akhyanam kripaya munina kritam
“Out of compassion, the sage thought it wise to do something that would enable those who were ignorant of how to act for their own welfare to achieve the ultimate goal of life. Thus he compiled the great historical narration called the Mahabharata for women, laborers, and friends of the twice-born because they do not have access to the Vedas.”
Shrila Jiva Gosvami says that the Puranas are called so because they make the Vedas complete. Does he mean the Vedas are incomplete? No, but the Puranas are a form of explanatory, supplementary literature that help us understand the terse, cryptic message of the Vedas. Like the Vedas, they convey knowledge of the Absolute Truth, and to do so they must be transcendental like the Vedas. The Skanda Purana (4.95.12) indicates the equal transcendental status of the Puranas, Itihasas, and Vedas as follows:
vede ramayane caiva purane bharate tatha
adav ante ca madhye ca harih sarvatra giyate
“In the Vedas, Ramayana, Puranas, and Mahabharata Lord Hari is glorified everywhere—in the beginning, middle, and end.”
The conclusion is that because the Itihasas and Puranas emanate from the same source as the four Vedas and have the same purport, they are also equally authoritative.
Next Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains more about how the Itihasas and Puranas are not inferior to the Vedas.
ata eva skande prabhasa-khande:
pura tapash cacarogram amaranam pitamahah
avirbhutas tato vedah sa-shad-anga-pada-kramah
tatah puranam akhilam sarva-shastra-mayam dhruvam
nitya-shabda-mayam punyam shata-koöi-pravistaram
nirgatam brahmano vaktrat tasya bhedan nibodhata
brahmam puranam prathamam ity-adi.
Gopiparanadhana: Therefore the Prabhasa-khanda of the Skanda Purana states, “In ancient times Brahma, the grandfather of the immortal demigods, executed severe penances. As a result, the Vedas became manifest, along with their six supplements, their word-for-word glosses, and their reordered texts. There then appeared the entire Purana, incorporating all scriptures. The Purana is unchanging, consists of eternal sound, is auspicious, and includes as many as one billion verses. It emanated from Lord Brahma’s mouth. Listen to the description of its divisions: First is the Brahma Purana. . . .”
BBT: The Prabhasa-khanda of the Skanda Purana [DDB57][2.3.5] therefore states: “Long ago, Lord Brahma, the grandfather of the demigods, performed severe penances, and as a result the Vedas appeared, along with their six supplements and their pada and krama texts. Then the entire Purana emanated from his mouth. Composed of eternal sound and consisting of one billion verses, it is the unchanging, sacred embodiment of all scriptures. You should know that of the various divisions of this Purana, the Brahma Purana is the first.”
atra shata-koöi-sankhya brahma-loke prasiddheti tathoktam tritiya-skandhe ca ‘rig-yajuh-samatharvakhyan vedan purvadibhir mukhaih’ ity-adi-prakarane:
itihasa-puranani pancamam vedam ishvarah
sarvebhya eva vaktrebhyah sashrije sarva-darshanah
ity api catra sakshad eva veda-shabdah prayuktah puranetihasayoh.
Gopiparanadhana: The figure of one billion mentioned here refers to the number of verses extant on Brahma’s planet. In a passage similar to the one quoted above from the Skanda Purana, the Third Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam has a passage that starts “Beginning from the front face of Brahma, gradually the four Vedas—Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva—became manifest” [Bhag. 3.12.37]. In this passage we find the statement “Then Brahma created the fifth Veda—the Puranas and the histories—from all his mouths, since he could see all the past, present, and future” [Bhag. 3.12.39]. Here also the word veda refers to the Puranas and Itihasas.
BBT: The figure one billion cited here refers to the number of verses existing in Brahma’s domain. Shrimad-Bhagavatam’s Third Canto gives a similar description in the passage starting with the words rig-yajuh-samatharvakhyan vedan purvadibhir mukhair: “Beginning from the front face of Brahma, gradually the four Vedas—Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva—became manifest” [Bhag. 3.12.37]. In this passage we find the statement “Then Brahma created the fifth Veda—the Puranas and the histories—from all his mouths, since he could see all the past, present, and future” [Bhag. 3.12.39]. Here the word veda is used specifically in reference to the Itihasas and Puranas.
anyatra ca ‘puranam pancamo vedah’:
itihasah puranam ca pancamo veda ucyate
vedan adhyapayam asa mahabharata-pancaman
ity-adau. anyatha vedan ity-adav api pancamatvam navakalpyeta samana-jatiya-niveshitatvat sankhyayah.
Gopiparanadhana: Elsewhere we find similar statements to the effect that “the Purana is the fifth Veda”: “The Itihasas and Puranas are called the fifth Veda” [Bhag. 1.4.20]. “He taught the Vedas along with the fifth of their number, the Mahabharata” [Mahabharata, Moksha-dharma 340.21].
If the Itihasas and Puranas were not Vedic, they would not be specified as “the fifth” in such statements as these, since counting necessarily involves things that belong to a same category.
BBT: And elsewhere it is said, “The Puranas are the fifth Veda,” “The Itihasas and Puranas are called the fifth Veda” [Bhag. 1.4.20], and “He taught the Vedas along with the fifth of their number, the Mahabharata” [M.Bh. Moksha-dharma 340.21].
If the Itihasas and Puranas were not Vedic, it would have been inappropriate for the preceding verses to include them as the fifth Veda, since normally one counts together only objects of the same kind.
‘karshnam ca pancamam vedam yan mahabharatam smritam’
iti. tatha ca sama-kauthumiya-shakhayam chandogyopanishadi ca:
‘rig-vedam bhagavo ’dhyemi yajur-vedam sama-vedam atharvanam caturtham itihasam puranam pancamam vedanam vedam’
Gopiparanadhana: Moreover, the Bhavishya Purana states, “The Veda written by Krishna [Dvaipayana Vyasa] is the fifth Veda and is known as the Mahabharata.” And the Chandogya Upanishad of the Kauthumiya branch of the Sama Veda states, “Sir, I have studied the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, the fourth or Atharva Veda, and the Itihasa-Purana, which is the fifth Veda.” And so on.
BBT: Also, the Bhavishya Purana states, “The fifth Veda, written by Shri Krishna-dvaipayana Vyasa, is called the Mahabharata.”
Another reference is found in the Chandogya Upanishad of the Kauthumiya school of the Sama Veda: “Venerable sir, I have studied the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas, and also the Itihasas and Puranas, which are the fifth Veda” [Kauthumiya Chandogya Upanishad 7.1.2].
ata eva ‘asya mahato bhutasya’ ity-adav itihasa-puranayosh caturnam evantar-bhutatva-kalpanaya prasiddha-pratyakhyanam nirastam. tad uktam ‘brahmam puranam prathamam’ ity-adi.
Gopiparanadhana: Thus is disproved the objection that denies the authenticity of the Itihasas and Puranas as we know them by presuming that the Itihasa and Purana mentioned in the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad’s statement about “the breath of this Supreme Being” are nothing more than certain parts of the four Vedas. The same is said by the words beginning “First is the Brahma Purana. . . .”
BBT: Thus is refuted the frequently raised objection that the Itihasas and Puranas, said in the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad to emanate from the breath of the Supreme Being, are included in the four Vedas and therefore have no separate existence. The same is stated in the words “Brahma Purana is the first . . .”(Skanda Purana). [DDB58]
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
These quotations from an assortment of sources, both smriti and shruti, further justify the Itihasas’ and Puranas’ reputation as equivalents of the Vedas. Smriti references like the passage cited in Text 13.4 from the Chandogya Upanishad are the primary evidence of the Itihasas’ and Puranas’ status as the fifth Veda, but Shrila Jiva Gosvami is also drawing from the Puranas themselves for additional insight. How four-headed Brahma manifests the Puranas along with the Vedas during his work of periodic re-creation is described in the verses from the Skanda Purana quoted in Text 13.1. Lord Brahma is the grandfather of the immortal (or more properly very long-lived) demigods, who descend from Marici and his other sons. Brahma does not create ex nihilo the already existing material cosmos, which after the annihilation at the end of each of his days lies dormant in his sleeping body. Nor does he create the eternal Vedas. Therefore the account of the Third Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam concerning his production of the Vedas uses the verb sashrije, “he sent forth”.
According to the Skanda Purana, from his mouths Brahma first manifested the Vedas and their integral supplements—the six Vedangas, the pada-paöhas, and the krama-paöhas. The six corollary texts known as the Vedangas present scientific information needed to properly recite the Vedas, understand them, and use them in rituals. The Shiksha-vedanga teaches correct pronunciation and intonation, as differently practiced by the schools of each Veda; Chandas is the theory of poetic meters; Vyakarana is grammar; Nirukta is Vedic lexicography, which explains the meaning and etymology of less familiar words; Jyotisha is astronomy, used for calculating the correct times for performing sacrificies; and Kalpa describes the details of rituals. The pada-paöhas (“word-by-word readings”) help in studying the Samhitas by providing a transcription of each word and word-compound in the forms they theoretically had before the many euphonic sound changes. To better assure exact memorization, the Samhitas are also meant to be recited phrase by phrase in the krama-paöhas (“reordered readings”), where the words are repeated in groups of two, each second word of a pair becoming the first word of the next pair. For example, a sequence represented by abcd in a Samhita becomes ab/bc/cd in the krama-paöha.
After manifesting the Vedas and these corollaries, Lord Brahma produced all the Puranas at once. The Skanda Purana describes them as summaries of the contents of all the Vedic scriptures (sarva-veda-mayam), unchanging (dhruvam) even though they are officially in the smriti category, expressions of the same transcendental sound of shabda-pramana as the Vedas (nitya-shabda-mayam), and all of them beneficial to study (punyam). The Puranas are said to contain altogether one billion verses (shata-koöi-pravistaram); the eighteen Puranas known on earth, however, contain a total of only 400,000 verses, having been condensed by Shrila Veda-vyasa from the one original Purana, which is still current on higher planets in its much longer version. (See Text 14.3.)
The statements cited from the Moksha-dharma and Bhavishya Purana specifically call the Mahabharata the fifth Veda. Of course, the Mahabharata is one of the important Itihasas, and more commonly all the Itihasas and Puranas together are termed the fifth Veda. In any case, strictly speaking there are four Vedas; references to a fifth are more or less poetical, based on the special apaurusheya status of the Itihasa-Purana. The Bhavishya Purana calls the Mahabharata the Karshna Veda because it was written by Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa.
These statements put to final rest the objection previously discussed, that the Itihasas and Puranas mentioned in shruti cannot be the ones edited by Veda-vyasa and open to the purview even of uneducated shudras. Hearing the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad’s enumeration of scriptures that proceed from the breath of the Supreme (Text 12.4), one might feel free to say that the Itihasas and Puranas mentioned there are not necessarily separate from the first-listed four Vedas. Now we see, however, that many other authorized scriptures place the Itihasas and Puranas in a category of their own, equal to but separate from the first four Vedas. The Skanda Purana, for example, after describing the emanation of the Vedas and then the Puranas from Lord Brahma, immediately lists the Puranas, beginning with the Brahma Purana. These are unquestionably the eighteen major Puranas edited by Shrila Vyasadeva.
Purport by BBT Translators
The Itihasas and Puranas Are Vedic
To substantiate the statement from the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad quoted in Text 12.4 (B.a. Up. 2.4.10), which establishes the Vedic nature of the Itihasas and Puranas, Shrila Jiva Gosvami here cites more evidence from the Puranas, Itihasas, and Upanishads. From these references the following is clear: The Puranas and Itihasas have the same source as the four Vedas and are in fact called the fifth Veda.
Shrila Jiva Gosvami here refers to the frequent objection that the Itihasas and Puranas cannot be the fifth Veda because they are part of the four Vedas. While explaining the above-mentioned statement from the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad, some followers of the Mimamsaka school claim that the words Itihasa and Purana refer to historical passages found in some parts of the Vedas and not to separate works. Examples of shruti statements sometimes considered Puranic are yato va imani bhutani jayante (“from whom these beings take birth”; Taittiriya Up. 3.1) and sa brahmana shrijati rudrena vilapayati harir adir anadih (“Lord Hari creates through Brahma and destroys through Rudra, but He Himself is the beginingless source of all”). These and similar passages are referred to as “[DDB59]Purana” because they deal with creation and destruction, which are among the subjects treated in the Puranas.
Mimamsakas further argue that over an immense period many of these original Puranic portions of the Vedas were lost and those that remained became difficult to understand. Therefore, the Mimamsakas propose, Shrila Vyasa mercifully wrote new Itihasas and Puranas for the benefit of the unintelligent people of Kali-yuga, and this is what is described in Shrimad-Bhagavatam (1.4.25). Hence the Itihasas and Puranas mentioned in the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad are part of the Vedas, not independent books, and therefore it is incorrect to conclude that they are the fifth Veda. This is the Mimamsakas’ argument.
Shrila Jiva Gosvami refutes this argument with references from the Vedas and also from the Itihasas and Puranas themselves. These citations confirm the Itihasas’ and Puranas’ status as the fifth Veda on the grounds that they emanated separately from Lord Brahma’s mouths. If they were only parts of the Vedas, there would be no reason for these authoritative scriptures to call them the fifth Veda. Moreover, there are many statements about the apaurusheya, Vedic nature of the Itihasas and Puranas in the Vedic Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Kalpa-sutras, Dharma-sutras, and Grihya-sutras, as well as in the Puranas, Itihasas, and other smriti texts. Here are a few of these statements:
ricah samani chandamsi puranam yajusha saha
ucchishöaj jajnire sarve divi deva divi-shritah
“The Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas appeared from the Supreme Lord along with the Puranas and all the demigods residing in the heavenly planets” (Atharva Veda 11.7.24).
sa brihatim disham anu vyacalat tam itihasash ca puranam ca gathash ca itihasasya ca sa vai puranasya ca gathanam ca narashamsinam ca priyam dhama bhavati ya evam veda.
“He approached the Brihati meter, and thus the Itihasas, Puranas, Gathas, and Narashamsis became favorable to him. One who knows this verily becomes the beloved abode of the Itihasas, Puranas, Gathas, and Narashamsis” (Atharva Veda 15.6.10, 12).
evam ime sarve veda nirmitah sa-kalpah sa-rahasyah sa-brahmanah sopanishatkah setihasah sanvakhyatah sa-puranah.
“In this way all the Vedas were manifested along with the [DDB60]kalpas, rahasyas, Brahmanas, Upanishads, Itihasas, anvakhyatas, and Puranas” (Gopatha Brahmana, Purva 2.10).
nama va rig-vedo yajur-vedah sama-veda atharvanash caturtha itihasa-puranah pancamo vedanam vedah.
“Indeed Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva are the names of the four Vedas. The Itihasas and Puranas are the fifth Veda” (Chandogya Up. 7.1.4).
mimamsate ca yo vedan shadbhir angaih sa-vistaraih
itihasa-puranani sa bhaved veda-para-gah
“One who thoroughly studies the Vedas along with their six limbs and the Itihasas and Puranas becomes a true knower of the Vedas” (Vyasa-smriti 4.45).
In the next Text Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains why the Itihasas and Puranas are counted as the fifth Veda.
pancamatve karanam ca vayu-purane suta-vakyam
itihasa-purananam vaktaram samyag eva hi
mam caiva pratijagraha bhagavan ishvarah prabhuh
eka asid yajur-vedas tam caturdha vyakalpayat
caturhotram abhut tasmims tena yajnam akalpayat
adhvaryavam yajurbhis tu rigbhir hotram tathaiva ca
audgatram samabhish caiva brahmatvam capy atharvabhih
akhyanaish capy upakhyanair gathabhir dvija-sattamah
purana-samhitash cakre puranartha-visharadah
yac chishöam tu yajur-veda iti shastrartha-nirnayah
Gopiparanadhana: These words spoken by Suta Gosvami in the Vayu Purana [60.16–18, 21–22] describe why the Itihasa and Purana are considered the fifth Veda:
"The Personality of Godhead [Shrila Vyasadeva] then chose me as an authorized speaker of the Itihasas and Puranas. At first there was only one Veda, the Yajur Veda. Vyasadeva divided it into four parts. Within these were manifested the ritual activities of the four kinds of priests, on which basis he arranged for the performance of sacrifice. With the yajur-mantras he arranged the activities of the Adhvaryu priests, with the rig-mantras those of the Hota priests, with the sama-mantras those of the Udgata priests, and with the atharva-mantras those of the Brahma priests.¼ O best of brahmanas, out of the akhyanas, upakhyanas and gathas Vyasadeva fashioned his summary of the Puranas, being thoroughly conversasant with the purport of the Puranas. Whatever was left over [from the division of the Veda into four] is considered Yajur Veda. Such is the definitive word on understanding the revealed scriptures."
BBT: In the Vayu Purana [60.16–18, 21–22] Suta Gosvami explains why the Itihasas and Puranas are considered the fifth Veda:
“Shrila Vyasadeva, the almighty Supreme Lord, accepted me [Suta Gosvami] as the qualified speaker of the Itihasas and Puranas. In the beginning there was only one Veda, the Yajur Veda, which Shrila Vyasa divided into four parts. These gave rise to the four activities called catur-hotra, by means of which Shrila Vyasa arranged for the performance of sacrifice.
“The adhvaryu priests carry out their responsibilities with yajur-mantras, the hota priests with rig-mantras, the udgata priests with sama-mantras, and the brahma priests with atharva-mantras.”
Suta Gosvami further states:
“O best of the twice-born, thereafter Shrila Vyasa, who best knows the meaning of the Puranas, compiled them and the Itihasas by combining various [DDB61]akhyanas, upakhyanas, and gathas. Whatever remained after Vyasa divided the Vedas into four parts was also Yajur Veda. This is the conclusion of the scriptures.”
brahma-yajnadhyayane ca viniyogo drishyate ’misham `yad brahmananitihasa-puranani' iti. so ’pi navedatve sambhavati. ato yad aha bhagavan matsye:
kalenagrahanam matva puranasya dvijottamah
vyasa-rupam aham kritva samharami yuge yuge
iti purva-siddham eva puranam sukha-sangrahanaya sankalayamiti tatrarthah.
Gopiparanadhana: We also see that the Itihasas and Puranas are employed in the recitation of the Brahma-yajna, as is enjoined, "[The texts to be recited include] Brahmanas, Itihasas and Puranas" [Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.9]. This could not be the case if the Itihasas and Puranas were not Vedic. The Supreme Lord says in the Matsya Purana [53.8], "O best of brahmanas, forseeing that in the course of time the Puranas will be neglected, I appear as Vyasa in each age and make an abridgement of them." According to what we have seen here, what the Lord means in saying this is "I edit the already existing Purana for easier assimilation."
BBT: The Puranas are also used in the formal study of the Vedas called brahma-yajna: yad brahmananitihasa-puranani. “The Itihasas and Puranas are Vedas” [Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.9]. If the Itihasas and Puranas were not Vedic, they would not be used this way in the brahma-yajna.
Therefore[NEW62] in the Matsya Purana [53.8–9[DDB63]] the Supreme Lord says, “O best of the twice-born, foreseeing that the Purana will gradually be neglected, in every age I assume the form of Vyasa and abridge it.” In other words, Shrila Vyasa condenses the already existing Purana so that people can easily comprehend it.
tad-anantaram hy uktam:
catur-laksha-pramanena dvapare dvapare sada
tad ashöadashadha kritva bhur-loke ’smin prabhashyate
adyapy amartya-loke tu shata-koöi-pravistaram
tad-artho ’tra catur-lakshah sankshepena niveshitah
Gopiparanadhana: Immediately after this the following is said: "In every Dvapara-yuga I divide the Purana into eighteen books totaling four hundred thousand verses, in which form they are disseminated on this earth. But even today on the planets of the demigods the Purana contains one billion verses. The purport of that original Purana is concisely incorporated in the four hundred thousand verse edition" [Matsya Pur. 53.9–11].
BBT: The Matsya Purana [53.9–11] also states, “The Purana consisting of four hundred thousand verses is divided into eighteen parts, in which form it is passed on by oral recitation here on earth in every Dvapara-yuga. Even today the original Purana of one billion verses exists in the worlds of the demigods. The essential meaning of that Purana is contained in the abridged version of four hundred thousand verses.”
atra tu `yac chishöam tu yajur-vedah' ity uktatvat tasyabhidheya-bhagash catur-lakshas tv atra martya-loke sankshepena sara-sangrahena niveshito na tu racanantarenety arthah.
Gopiparanadhana: Since it has been stated that "Whatever was left over is considered Yajur Veda," these four hundred thousand verses were not new compositions but the most useful portions of the original collected into an essential abridgement in this world of mortals.
BBT: Suta’s statement [quoted in Text 14.1] that “whatever remained after Vyasa divided the Vedas into four parts was also Yajur Veda” indicates that the essence of the original Purana formed the abridged version of four hundred thousand verses in the world of mortals. It is not a different composition.
Purport by Gopiparandhana prabhu
Ugrashrava Suta, the son of Romaharshana, learned the Puranas from his father, whom Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa chose from among his disciples to be the prime authority on Itihasas and Puranas. It is known from accounts in the Puranas that Ugrashrava also studies the Puranas from Vyasadeva directly. Therefore he says in the passage cited here from the Vayu Purana that it was Vyasadeva who authorized him as a Puranic bard. This does not contradict Shrimad-Bhagavatam's account of his being later appointed by Lord Balarama to replace his father as speaker at the great sacrifice at Naimisharanya after Romaharshana's unfortunate death there.
Ugrashrava here affirms the apaurusheya authority of the Puranas by tracing out their Vedic origin. Before Shrila Veda-vyasa's editing, there was only one undivided Veda. The four different kinds of mantras comprising the four basic Vedas were then mixed together indiscriminately, along with other explanatory and historical texts. Intelligent brahmanas before Kali-yuga were competent enough to locate the particular mantras they needed from the unordered collection. Only for the generally corrupt age of Kali is it necessary to divide the Vedas into separate books. The Bhagavatam's analogy to explain this process is that of a rich man's collection of rare jewels. An owner of many diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires who has been keeping them mixed in one box might have someone sort them out for him into four separate piles. After this has been done, nothing has changed substantially in the collection, only the order.
rig-atharva-yajuh-samnam/ rashir uddhritya vargashah
catasrah samhitash cakre/ mantrair mani-gana iva
"Shrila Vyasadeva separated the mantras of the Rig, Atharva, Yajur and Sama Vedas into four divisions, just as one sorts out a mixed collection of jewels into piles. Thus he composed four distinct Vedic literatures" [Bhag. 12.6.50].
Four categories of Vedic mantras exist eternally, each serving a different function through a different style of language. Rig-mantras praise the demigods who represent the personal powers of the Supreme Lord. The Hota priests who use them in sacrifices are compared to the master of ceremonies and his assistants at a feast, who invite the special guests, greet them and make arrangements for their satisfaction. The Adhvaryu priests are magicians who conjure up the sacrificial environment from simple objects in ordinary space and time. The yajur-mantras they chant effect mystic transformations through the power of the language of evocation. Examples of this special, creative mode of speech are sometime found in mundane life, as when a judge declares "I now pronounce you man and wife" or "I sentence you to be hung until dead. May God have mercy on your soul." The sama-mantras sung by the Udgata priests are extremely complex musical modifications of selected rig-mantras. Thoroughly permuted and interpolated with non-significant syllables, hardly recognizable as music to human ears, the sama songs accompany the more elaborate sacrificies in which soma is offered. The Brahma priests' atharva-mantras are mainly reserved for use when a mistake or inauspicious intrusion in the performance requires rectification. They are expressed in a language of incantation against various inimical forces.
According to this statement of the Vayu Purana, the original, combined Veda was known as Yajur Veda. One might question how this does not disagree with the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad's description of the breathing of Lord Vishnu creating the Vedas one after another, the Rig Veda being first [Text 12.4]. Shrila Radha-mohana Vacaspati, in his commentary on Shri Tattva-sandarbha--written not long after Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana's commentary but without reference to Shrila Baladeva's opinions--answers this objection. When the Rig and other Vedas are said to have appeared in distinct order from Maha-Vishnu at the beginning of this cycle of creation, what is being referred to is only their periodic re-manifestation. Perpetually all four co-exist, and because the yajur-mantras are the most prominent, the complete corpus can be called Yajur Veda by the hermeneutic rule, adhikyena vyapadesha bhavanti ("A name may be assigned according to the most prominent category of a mixed group.").
Following his division of the Veda into four, Shrila Vyasadeva fashioned portions of the remaining Yajur Veda material into the Itihasas and Puranas. The Puranas and epics are thus not human creations but as authorless as the Vedas. Specifically, the portions Vyasadeva used are called akhyanas, upakhyanas and gathas. Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana defines these: Akhyanas are Puranic texts according to the strict definition of five required topics. Upakhyanas are other historical accounts. Gathas are specially composed musical poems. In Shrila Baladeva's opinion, the words purana-samhitash cakre mean that Vyasadeva "fashioned his own summary of the Puranas," namely Mahabharata. Mahabharata is composed of akhyanas, upakhyanas and gathas as defined by Baladeva Vidyabhushana.
Radha-mohana Gosvami's opinion is different, that purana-samhitah refers to all the Puranas as a body. The followers of Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana in his disciplic succession should acknowledge the first priority of his opinion. In any case, both interpretations confirm the Vedic status of the Puranas. Shrila Radha-mohana Gosvami's commentary is considered also authoritative by knowledgeable Gaudiya Vaishnavas, and he does not contradict Baladeva Vidyabhushana on crucial matters. But there are some misled Vaishnavas who belittle Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana with the idea that he does not truly represent Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu; they favor Radha-mohana's commentary for its supossedly rival views, even though the commentary itself shows no clear indication that he had the intention of being Shrila Baladeva's philosophical adversary.
In the verse of the Matsya Purana quoted in Text 14.2, the Supreme Lord says "I appear as Vyasa in each age." "Each age" here means each cycle of ages. Krishna-dvaipayana Vyasa advented near the end of Dvapara-yuga, and as confirmed by the Vishnu Purana, a different person is empowered by the Personality of Godhead to take the role of Vyasa at the same time in each cycle of ages:
ashöavimshati kritva vai/ veda vyasta maharshibhih
vaivasvate 'ntare hy asmin/ dvapareshu punah punah
veda-vyasa vyatita ye/ ashöavimshati sattama
caturdha yaih krito vedo/ dvapareshu punah punah
"During this period of Vaivasvata Manu's reign, already twenty eight different exalted sages have edited the Vedas in one Dvapara age after another. Twenty eight Veda-vyasas have already come and gone, O best of souls, dividing the Veda into four parts in each Dvapara-yuga" [Vishnu Pur. 3.3.9–10].
Text 14.2 mentions the sacrifice called brahma-yajna. This is one of the five "great sacrifices" (panca-maha-yajnah) enjoined for every Vedic householder brahmana as daily atonment for the unavoidable violence he commits in the five "places of slaughter" in the house: the kitchen stove, the stone on which rice is ground, the broom, the spice mortar and the water pot. The demigods must be honored by deva-yajna, daily fire sacrifices. Revered forefathers are placated by pitri-yajna, xxxxxxxxx. Human beings are satisfied by hospitality to guests. All living beings are shown respect by bhuta-yajna, the symbolic offering of a portion of food from one's plate at every meal. The Vedic sages are thanked by performing brahma-yajna, recitation from various scriptures at the time of chanting the Gayatri mantra. The details of brahma-yajna are specified in various shrutis such as the Shatapatha Brahmana and Taittiriya Aranyaka.
Purport by BBT Translators
The Itihasas and Puranas Are the Fifth Veda
The Itihasas and Puranas are called the fifth Veda because they are derived from the original Veda, the Yajur Veda. This is explained in the section of the Vayu Purana that describes the catur-hotra priests. There are four kinds of ritviks, or priests, needed to perform a Vedic sacrifice, and their duties were originally all known from the Yajur Veda. But later on the Veda was divided into four parts for easy understanding and application. The duties of the four priests—adhvaryu, udgata, hota, and brahma—are known from each of these four divisions. The adhvaryu is associated with the Yajur Veda, and his duties include sanctifying the sacrificial paraphernalia and measuring the shape and size of the sacrificial arena. The udgata priest studies the Sama Veda and chants hymns during the sacrifice to propitiate the Lord. The hota priest decorates the altar, invokes the demigods, pours oblations, and chants the Rig Veda. The brahma priest is a student of the Atharva Veda and acts as the supervisor and coordinator of sacrificial ceremonies.
After Shrila Vyasa compiled the four Vedas, there still remained one billion verses from the original Yajur Veda. These verses became the original Purana, which is still available on the heavenly planets. Out of compassion for the people of Kali-yuga, Vyasadeva extracted five hundred thousand essential verses from this original Purana. Four hundred thousand of these He divided into the eighteen Puranas. The remaining verses formed the Itihasa called Mahabharata. The Itihasa and Puranas are therefore called the fifth Veda because they were produced from the original Veda. Another reason the Puranas and Itihasas are considered the fifth Veda, distinct from the other four, is that the priests of the four Vedas do not use the Puranas and Itihasas in sacrificial ceremonies, even though these works are studied along with the Vedas.
In his commentary on the Vishnu Purana (3.6.16), Shrila Shridhara Svami defines the terms akhyana, upakhyana, and gatha:
svayam-drishöartha-kathanam prahur akhyanakam budhah shrutasyarthasya kathanam upakhyanam pracakshate gathas tu pitri-prithivy-adi-gitayah
“An akhyana is a narration of something witnessed by the speaker, while an upakhyana is a narration of something the speaker has not witnessed but rather heard about. Gathas are songs about the forefathers and earthly beings.”
The words yac chishöam tu yajur-vedah (“The remaining part was also called Yajur Veda”; Vayu Purana 60.16.22) signify that the Itihasas and Puranas are apaurusheya, not composed by any mortal; thus they have the same authority as the Vedas, having been compiled by Shrila Vyasa from the Supreme Lord’s very breath. While compiling the Puranas and Itihasas He included some of His own statements to make the narration more easily comprehensible. For example, in the Bhagavad-gita the words “Arjuna said” and “Krishna said” are added by Shrila Vyasa to help the reader understand. But we should not consider even these added statements to have been written by a mortal being, since Vyasa is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. This is evident from the verse of the Matsya Purana quoted in the text.
Someone might raise the objection that from the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad (2.4.10) it is clear that the four Vedas individually appeared from the Supreme Lord. Why, then, is it said that Vyasadeva divided the one Veda into four parts? We reply that while it is true that each Veda individually emanated from the Lord, originally all four Vedas were collectively called the Yajur Veda because that Veda is much larger than the other three. Generally, the largest member of a set can represent the whole set. In Sanskrit this is called adhikyena vyapadesha bhavanti, or the law that the largest constituent represents the whole. A herd of cows with just a few buffaloes in it is still called a herd of cows, and the four fingers and one thumb are usually called the five fingers. Because the four Vedas had become disordered, Shri Vyasa rearranged the Vedic texts to help clearly define the duties of the four sacrificial priests. How the Vedas became mixed up because of a curse by Gautama Rishi will be told in Text 16.
In the next Text Shrila Jiva Gosvami further substantiates his conclusion about the Vedic nature of the Itihasas and Puranas, and he also explains the meaning of the name Veda-vyasa.
tathaiva darshitam veda-saha-bhavena shiva-puranasya vayaviya-samhitayam
sankshipya caturo vedamsh caturdha vyabhajat prabhuh
vyasta-vedataya khyato veda-vyasa iti smritah
puranam api sankshiptam catur-laksha-pramanatah
adyapy amartya-loke tu shata-koöi-pravistaram
iti. sankshiptam ity atra teneti sheshah.
Gopiparanadhana: The same picture is drawn, describing the Puranas in conjunction with the Vedas, in the Vayaviya-samhita [1.1.37–38] of the Shiva Purana: "The great master condensed the four Vedas and divided them into four parts. Because he separated the Vedas into parts, he is called Veda-vyasa. He also condensed the Purana into four hundred thousand verses, although even today it contains one billion verses on the planets of the demigods."
"Was condensed" (sankshiptam) here implies "by him" to complete the idea.
BBT: Similarly, the Vayaviya-samhita of the Shiva Purana indicates the Vedic nature of the Puranas by discussing their appearance along with the Vedas:
“The ingenious Lord abridged the Veda and then divided it [vyasta] into four. Therefore He became known as Veda-vyasa. He also summarized the Puranas in four hundred thousand verses, but in the heavenly planets they still comprise one billion verses” [Shiva Purana 184.108.40.206–38].
Here the word sankshiptam (“condensed”) implies “condensed by Him.”
skandam agneyam ity-adi-samakhyas tu pravacana-nibandhanah kaöhakadi-vad anupurvi-nirmana-nibandhana va. tasmat kvacid anityatva-shravanam tv avirbhava-tirobhavapekshaya.
tad evam itihasa-puranayor vedatvam siddham.
Gopiparanadhana: The names of Puranas like Skanda and Agni, however, pertain to the Puranas' speakers, in the same way as the names Kaöhaka and so on. Or else, they pertain to the conventional order in which they were composed. Therefore when we sometimes hear that the Puranas are not eternal, this is only in reference to their visible manifestation and disappearance.
Thus we have proven [in Texts 13–15.2] that the Itihasas and Puranas are Vedic.
BBT: The name of a Purana—Skanda, Agni, and so on—refers to its original speaker, as with the Kaöha Upanishad, which was promulgated by the sage Kaöha. Or else the name refers to the person who arranged the Purana’s contents. The reason the Puranas are occasionally described as impermanent is that they are sometimes manifest and sometimes not.
In this way[NEW64] the Vedic nature of the Itihasas and Puranas is established.
tathapi sutadinam adhikarah sakala-nigama-valli-sat-phala-shri-krishna-nama-vat. yathoktam prabhasa-khande:
madhura-madhuram etan mangalam mangalanam
sakrid api parigitam shraddhaya helaya va
bhrigu-vara nara-matram tarayet krishna-nama
Gopiparanadhana: That persons like Suta Gosvami had the privilege to speak the Itihasas and Puranas follows the pattern of the qualification for chanting the name Shri Krishna, which is the perfect fruit of the creeper of the entire Vedic shruti. As the Prabhasa-khanda states, "This name Krishna is the sweetest of the sweet, the most auspicious of all auspicious things. It is the perfect fruit of the creeper of the entire Vedic shruti. In essence it is pure, living spirit. O best of the Bhrigus, any human being who just chants this name even once, whether with faith or neglectfully, will become liberated."
BBT: Yet Suta and others who are not twice-born are qualified to recite the Puranas in the same way that every person is qualified to chant Lord Krishna’s holy name, the transcendental fruit of the creeper of all the Vedas. As stated in the Prabhasa-khanda [of the Skanda Purana]:
“O best of the Bhrigu dynasty, the holy name of Krishna is the sweetest of the sweet and the most auspicious of the auspicious. It is the transcendental fruit of all the Vedas and is purely spiritual and conscious. Whoever chants it but once, whether with faith or with contempt, is liberated.”
yatha coktam vishnu-dharme:
rig-vedo ’tha yajur-vedah sama-vedo ’py atharvanah
adhitas tena yenoktam harir ity akshara-dvayam
iti. atha vedartha-nirnayakatvam ca vaishnave:
bharata-vyapadeshena hy amnayarthah pradarshitah
vedah pratishöhitah sarve purane natra samshayah
Gopiparanadhana: And as the Vishnu-dharma also states, "One is considered to have studied the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda who has uttered the two syllables Ha-ri." The Vishnu Purana, furthermore, states that the Itihasas and Puranas explain definitively the meaning of the Vedas, in such verses as "On the pretext of writing the Mahabharata, Shrila Vyasa has revealed the Vedas’ meaning. Without doubt all the Vedas are given a firm foundation in the Puranas."
BBT: The Vishnu Dharma Purana states:
“A person who chants the two syllables ha-ri has already completed the study of the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas.”
And the Vishnu Purana affirms that the Puranas and Itihasas establish the meaning of the Vedas:
“On the pretext of writing the Mahabharata, Shrila Vyasa has explained the Vedas’ meaning. Without doubt all the ideas of the Vedas are given a firm foundation in the Puranas.”
kim ca vedartha-dipakanam shastranam madhya-patitabhyupagame ’py avirbhavaka-vaishishöyat tayor eva vaishishöyam. yatha padme:
dvaipayanena yad buddham brahmadyais tan na budhyate
sarva-buddham sa vai veda tad-buddham nanya-gocaram
Gopiparanadhana: Even though we understand that the Itihasas and Puranas are just two types of shastra among many which elucidate the meaning of the Vedas, still these two are special on account of the special status of their promulgator. As stated in the Padma Purana, "Even Brahma and other demigods do not know everything Dvaipayana Vyasa knows. He understands everything known to anyone else, but some things he knows no one else can comprehend."
BBT: Moreover, even if we count the Itihasas and Puranas among the books explaining the meaning of the Vedas, still they are unique because their compiler is so glorious. The Padma Purana says, “Brahma and others do not know what Bhagavan Veda-vyasa knows. Indeed, He knows everything known to others, but what He knows is beyond everyone else’s grasp.”
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa is omniscient because he is an empowered incarnation of God. "I appear as Vyasa in each age" (Text 14.2). Therefore everything Vyasadeva has written and edited is self-evident truth. In Bhagavad-gita (15.15) Lord Krishna claims that Vyasadeva is His own expansion: vedanta-krid veda-vid eva caham ("I am the author of Vedanta-sutra and the knower of the Vedas."). The Supreme Lord does not present Himself as the author, only as the perfect knower, of the Vedas, which are in fact co-eternal with Him.
Vyasadeva did two things with the Vedas: he condensed and divided them. These functions are expressed by two different verbs, sankship and vyas. His condensing the vast text of the Vedas did not violate their sanctity, but simply reflected the natural process of the Vedas' concealing some of their own complexity from the population of a less intelligent age. It is known from various sources that not all the Vedic mantras are available at any particular time, especially in Kali-yuga: In his Karma-mimamsa-sutra, Jaimini Rishi teaches methods for interpolating sacrificial instructions that he assumes were once specified in no longer available passages of the Brahmana shrutis. As described in the Twelfth Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, Yajnavalkya worshipped the sun-god to obtain a revelation of "new" yajur-mantras. In general, Vedic rishis receive mantras in their meditation. They are not authors, but transmitters. Their service is essential to human society because from time to time lost mantras need to be revived.
Both of his services of condensing and editing Shrila Vyasa also performed for the Puranas. The Puranas are eternal like the Vedas, and like the Vedas they are periodically forgotten. Vyasadeva's spiritual master Narada specifically instructed him to recompile the Puranas in the form in which they are known on earth.
The Puranas are not original compositions of their namesakes. Only some of them are named after their speakers, others after the deities they glorify. In either case, the names are fixed by eternal convention; it is a timeless fact that the first Purana is named after Brahma, but only coincidental that a certain jiva assumes the role of Brahma at the beginning of a cycle of creation to be the Purana's object of worship. The same situation can be observed among the Vedic shrutis. One branch of the Yajur Veda is called Kaöha or Kaöhaka, for example, because in each age a sage appears with the name Kaöha to become the teacher of this recession and pass it on to his disciplic succession, the Kaöhakas.
That only properly purified and trained brahmanas should be allowed to teach the Vedas is not merely a prejudice of caste-conscious ritualists; Vaishnava authorities also acknowledge this standard. Stri-shudra-dvija-bandhunam/ trayi na shruti-gocara: "Women, shudras and unqualified members of brahmana families should not even hear from the three principal Vedas" (Bhag. 1.4.25). A doubt may therefore arise: If the Itihasas and Puranas are Vedic, why was a lower-class person invited by the sages at Naimisharanya to speak them? Many of the most prominent sages in the universe had gathered at Naimisha Forest at the beginning of Kali-yuga to perform a one-thousand-year soma sacrifice in an attempt to help minimize the ensuing corruption of human civilization. But didn't they instead advance the age's degradation by asking Ugrashrava Suta, a half-caste descendent of a kshatriya man and brahmana woman, to become in effect their preceptor? Shrila Jiva Gosvami replies, that just as all human beings are authorized to chant the holy names of Lord Krishna even though these names are the most sacred essence of the Vedic hymns, the perfect fruit of the creeper of the entire nigama or shruti, similarly the Itihasas and Puranas are open for the study of everyone. Hari-nama, the holy names of God, are universally available on the authority of the orders of God Himself and the statements of revealed scripture; studying the epics and Puranas is authorized for all persons without restriction in the same way.
It is true that a mantra containing names of God is effective only when received by proper initiation from a representative of the mantra's disiciplic succession, and that in previous ages the names of Krishna and His internal pleasure potency were generally worshipped only by those who were already very purified, out of fear of the adverse effects of offenses against hari-nama. Therefore the Hare Krishna maha-mantra in particular is almost never mentioned openly in shruti or smriti. Nevertheless, in our current age Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has given automatic initiation to everyone by issuing His request that every man, woman and child in the universe chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. He has offered to take on His own head the reactions of our offenses against hari-nama when we chant according to His order.
Text 15.4 states that "Without doubt all the Vedas are given a firm foundation in the Puranas." According to Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana, this means that the Puranas help fortify the position of the Vedas by explaining parts of them that are difficult to understand and replacing other parts that are missing. Here the Mahabharata and Puranas have again been mentioned together as virtually equivalent. The Itihasas and Puranas are closely allied classes of literature, differentiated mostly by stylistic formalities. The Mahabharata and Puranas share the distinction of having passed through the hands of Dvaipayana Vyasa, even though the Dharma-shastras and Smriti-shastras compiled by lesser sages also present useful knowledge from the Vedas. Shrila Vyasadeva's unique genius was to find the eternal, universal essence of Vedic knowledge; the teachings of other sages was almost always limited in applicability to their own times and to certain social strata.
Verses have been cited here from the Vayaviya-samhita and the Prabhasa-khanda. These are major sections of two large Puranas, the 24,000-verse Shiva and 81,000-verse Skanda Puranas.
Purport by BBT Translators
The Itihasas, Puranas, and Vedas All Have the Same Origin
The word sankshiptam in the verse cited here from the Shiva Purana (220.127.116.11) is significant. It means “condensed,” not “composed.” Shrila Veda-vyasa, the literary incarnation of God, condensed the already existing Vedas. Then He took unused verses from that abridged portion and made them into the Puranas. Thus He did not create the Puranas as an original composition. This confirms that the Puranas, by virtue of their transcendental origin, are equal to the four Vedas. They are eternal and apaurusheya.
One may protest that since the Puranas have names such as Skanda and Agni they must have been composed by these persons, and so they are neither eternal nor apaurusheya. But if this were the case, the Vedas themselves would have to be considered noneternal compositions since their parts have names like Kaöha Upanishad and Aitareya Brahmana, which refer to the sages Kaöha and Aitareya. The explanation is that portions of the Vedas are named after certain sages not because the sages[DDB65] wrote those portions but because they were these portions’ main teachers and exponents. Since persons with names like Kaöha and Aitareya appear in every millennium, one should not think that before the appearance of the known Kaöha and Aitareya these names were meaningless words in the Vedas.
In the same way, several of the Puranas are named either after their first teacher or the person who rearranged them. It may sometimes be that over the course of time a certain Vedic work becomes less popular or is completely forgotten on this planet. Eventually some sage or demigod again speaks it, and then the book becomes known by his name. An example of this is given in Shrimad-Bhagavatam, where sage Yajnavalkya is described as receiving the Vajasaneyi-samhita of the Yajur Veda from the sun-god: “Satisfied by such glorification, the powerful sun-god assumed the form of a horse (vaja) and presented to the sage Yajnavalkya the yajur-mantras previously unknown in human society” (Bhag. 12.6.73). Just as the Lord seems to take birth and disappear like a mortal being, the Vedic literature similarly becomes manifest and unmanifest. Shrimad-Bhagavatam had become unmanifest at the end of the Dvapara-yuga, five thousand years ago. At that time Narada Muni instructed Vyasa to again reveal the Bhagavatam. If the Bhagavatam had not existed before, Puranas older than the Bhagavatam would not refer to it by name. In the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda, Gautama advises Ambarisha Maharaja, who reigned in the Satya-yuga, to study Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
Thus the Puranas are eternal, but sometimes they are manifest and sometimes unmanifest in human society. As the Lord is independent in His appearance and disappearance, so by His free will He speaks the revealed scriptures through the medium of various sages and gives these scriptures various names.
Another objection to the Itihasas’ and Puranas’ Vedic status may be stated as follows: In Shrimad-Bhagavatam (1.4.25) Suta Gosvami says, stri-shudra-dvija-bandhunam trayi na shruti-gocara . . . iti bharatam akhyanam kripaya munina kritam: “Women, laborers, and unqualified descendants of the twice-born have no access to the Vedas. . . .Therefore the sage [Vyasa] mercifully compiled the Mahabharata.” Since the Mahabharata, the foremost of the Itihasas, was written specifically for women and others with no access to the Vedas, how can the Itihasas be part of the Vedas? Moreover, in Text 13 of the same chapter, Shaunaka Rishi says to Suta Gosvami, manye tvam vishaye vacam snatam anyatra chandasat: “We consider you expert in all subjects except the Vedas.” So if Suta Gosvami was not expert in the Vedas yet was being requested to narrate the Puranas (specifically the Bhagavata Purana), how can the Puranas be part of the Vedas?
Anticipating these objections, Shrila Jiva Gosvami compares the privilege of studying the Itihasas and Puranas to that of chanting Krishna’s holy name, the choicest fruit of the Vedas. The holy name of Krishna is purely Vedic, yet anyone may chant it, including those who have no right to study the Vedas. Similarly, the Itihasas and Puranas are also purely Vedic, yet even a sincere shudra or outcaste can approach them, just as he or she may chant the holy name of the Lord.
As one can gain all perfection simply by chanting Lord Krishna’s holy name, which is the ultimate fruit of the Vedas, so one can learn the essence of the Vedas by studying the Itihasas and Puranas, even without studying the Vedas themselves. If one could not do so, then knowledge of how to attain perfection would be inaccessible to those who are barred from studying the Vedas because they are not twice-born.
Finally, even if one were to include the Itihasas and Puranas among other smriti scriptures written by saintly sages to explain the meaning of the Vedas, the Itihasas and Puranas occupy a unique place because of the eminence of their propounder, Shrila Vyasadeva, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord.
In the next Text Shrila Jiva Gosvami elaborates on how the Itihasas and Puranas are superexcellent by virtue of their compiler’s divinity.
vyasa-citta-sthitakashad avacchinnani kanicit
anye vyavaharanty etany uri-kritya grihad iva
tathaiva drishtam shri-vishnu-purane parashara-vakyam:
tato ’tra mat-suto vyasa ashöavimshatime ’ntare
vedam ekam catush-padam caturdha vyabhajat prabhuh
yathatra tena vai vyasta veda-vyasena dhi-mata
vedas tatha samastais tair vyasair anyais tatha maya
tad anenaiva vyasanam shakha-bhedan dvijottama
catur-yugeshu racitan samasteshv avadharaya
krishna-dvaipayanam vyasam viddhi narayanam prabhum
ko ’nyo hi bhuvi maitreya mahabharata-krid bhavet
Gopiparanadhana: The Skanda Purana says, "These others make use of small collections of ideas they have carved out from the infinite sky of Vyasadeva's mind. They take advantage of these borrowed ideas like people who pick up things discarded from someone else's house." In the same vein is this statement of Parashara Muni in Shri Vishnu Purana [3.4.2.–5]: "Then, during the period of the twenty-eighth Manu, the great master, my son Vyasa, divided the one Veda with four divisions into four separate books. In the same way as he, the brilliant editor of the Vedas, arranged their entire text into various books, so have other Vyasas in the past, including myself. O best of brahmanas, you can understand that thus in each of the rotations of the cycle of four ages a different Vyasa organizes the branches of the Vedas. But know that Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa is the Supreme Lord Narayana Himself. Who else on this earth, Maitreya, could be the author of the Mahabharata?"
BBT: The Skanda Purana states, “Just as a person picks up things in his own house and uses them, many people have taken knowledge from the sky of Vyasa’s heart for their own use.”
We find a [DDB66]similar statement in the Vishnu Purana [3.4.2–5], where the sage Parashara says, “Thereafter, during the twenty-eighth manv-antara, the Lord in the form of my son Vyasa took the one Veda, consisting of four sections, and divided it into four separate parts. Just as this intelligent Vyasa divided the Veda, previously all other Vyasas, including myself, also divided it. O best of the twice-born, understand that in every cycle of four yugas Vyasas come and arrange the Veda into various branches. But know, O Maitreya, that Shri Krishna-dvaipayana Vyasa is Lord Narayana Himself. Who else in this world could have written the great epic Mahabharata?”
narayanad vinishpannam jnanam krita-yuge sthitam
kincit tad anyatha jatam tretayam dvapare ’khilam
gautamasya risheh shapaj jnane tv ajnanatam gate
sankirna-buddhayo deva brahma-rudra-purahsarah
sharanyam sharanam jagmur narayanam anamayam
tair vijnapita-karyas tu bhagavan purushottamah
avatirno maha-yogi satyavatyam parasharat
utsannan bhagavan vedan ujjahara harih svayam
Gopiparanadhana: In the Skanda Purana we read, "Knowledge in this world was original generated from Lord Narayana. In the Krita-yuga it remained intact. In Treta-yuga it became somewhat corrupt, and in Dvapara-yuga altogether so. When knowledge had thus gradually transformed into ignorance because of Gautama Rishi's curse, the confused demigods headed by Brahma and Rudra went to ask protection from Narayana, the faultless provider of shelter. Informed of what they needed Him to do, He, the Personality of Godhead and greatest of mystics, descended to earth as the son of Parashara in the womb of Satyavati. In that form Lord Hari Himself restored the neglected Vedas."
BBT: The Skanda Purana further states, “In Satya-yuga the knowledge that emanated from Lord Narayana remained pure. It became somewhat polluted in Treta-yuga, and completely so in Dvapara-yuga. When ignorance had covered that knowledge because of Gautama Rishi’s curse, the demigods became perplexed. Led by Brahma and Rudra, they approached Lord Narayana, the Supreme Person and faultless protector, and told Him why they had come. On the request of the demigods, Lord Hari then descended as the great yogi Vyasa, son of Satyavati and Parashara, and re-established the forgotten Vedas.”
veda-shabdenatra puranadi-dvayam api grihyate. tad evam itihasa-purana-vicara eva shreyan iti siddham. tatrapi puranasyaiva garima drishyate. uktam hi naradiye:
vedarthad adhikam manye puranartham varanane
vedah pratishöhitah sarve purane natra samshayah
puranam anyatha kritva tiryag-yonim avapnuyat
su-danto ’pi su-shanto ’pi na gatim kvacid apnuyat
Gopiparanadhana: The word veda in this context also implies the Puranas and Itihasas.
Thus we have established that the best way to proceed is to examine the Itihasas and Puranas. Even among these two, moreover, there is evidence that the Puranas are more important. As stated in the Narada Purana, "O lovely one, I consider the message of the Puranas more important than that of the Vedas. Without doubt all the Vedas are given a firm foundation in the Puranas. Anyone who disrespects the Puranas will have to take his next birth as an animal; even if he is very self-controlled and peaceful, he will achieve no good destination."
BBT: Here the word veda also indicates the Itihasas and Puranas. Thus it is established that studying the Itihasas and Puranas is supremely beneficial. And of these two, the Puranas are more excellent. As stated in the Naradiya Purana, “O lovely one, I consider the Puranas more important than the Vedas because the Puranas firmly establish all the Vedic meanings. There is no doubt of this. One who disrespects the Puranas will take birth as a subhuman; even if he can expertly control his senses and mind, he can attain no good destination.”
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
Just as infinite space is all-accomodating, so the mind of Veda-vyasa encompasses everything there is to know. All Vedic rishis are greater than ordinary mystics who comprehend something of the Absolute Truth and Its energies for their own self-realization, but cannot express their experiences coherently for the benefit of others. The Vedic sages are not only mystics but expert communicators as well; they systematically teach practical means by which persons entangled in material life can also become self-realized. Of these sages, Dvaipayana Vyasa is incontestably the greatest. His own father, Parashara Rishi, student of Maitreya Rishi and narrator of the Vishnu Purana, attests to this. Previously, in the twenty-sixth Dvapara-yuga of this Vaivasvata-manvantara, Parashara himself was Vyasa, editor of the Vedas. As an incarnation of Narayana, however, Krishna Dvaipayana excels all the other Vyasas. He best knows the whole purpose of the Vedas.
With the progression of the four ages, the intelligence of living beings naturally decreases, and their understanding of the Vedas gradually weakens. Gautama Rishi's curse coincidentally helped accelerate this spontaneous process of degradation. Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana has summarized the Varaha Purana's account of this event: Gautama had once received a benediction that his fields would always produce abundant rice crops. So when the country surrounding his ashrama was struck by a severe drought he took the opportunity to host many learned brahmanas and feed them. The drought eventually ended and the brahmanas wanted to return to their villages, but Gautama did not want to let them leave. The brahmanas created an illusion of a cow to fool Gautama. Gautama touched the false cow and it appeared to fall dead. His guests pretended to be struck with horror over Gautama's killing a cow and took this as their pretext for leaving. Gautama then strictly observed the prescribed atonement for such an inauspicious act, only afterwards discovering that he had been deceived by the brahmanas. He angrily cursed them and all their colleagues to lose their Vedic knowledge.
The eternal Vedas never actually suffer corruption. But as the brahmana class, who are meant to study and teach the Vedas, fall from their standards of purity and neglect their responsibilities to society, true Vedic knowledge becomes more and more inaccessible. In its stead appear perverted forms of knowledge, materialistic and impersonal misinterpretations. This is described by the word utsanna in the Skanda Purana passage cited in Text 16.2; the word carries the several meanings of "forgotten," "neglected," "falling apart," and "decaying."
As Shrila Jiva Gosvami previously stated, the Itihasas and Puranas are especially important in Kali-yuga as means of access to Vedic knowledge. The Ithihasa epics and Puranas have the same apaurusheya authority as the Vedas, and they faithfully explain the Vedas, in this way revealing the higher purposes of life. Lord Shiva in the verses cited from the Narada Purana tells his wife Parvati that he considers the message of the Puranas more important than that of the Vedas. By this he means not that anything is lacking in the Vedas or that they can be improved on, but that the Purana's simple explanations are less likely to be misunderstood.
Purport by BBT Translators
The Compiler of the Itihasas and Puranas is Unique
To a large extent one can know the quality of a product by assessing the quality of the person who made it. By this criterion the Puranas and Itihasas are supremely excellent, since they were compiled by Lord Narayana Himself in the form of Shrila Vyasadeva.
Here Shrila Vyasa’s mind is compared to the unlimited sky, indicating that just as the sky accommodates all objects, so Vyasa’s mind contains all knowledge. Another significance of comparing Vyasa’s mind to the sky is that the sky is the medium for sound, which transmits knowledge. In other words, Vyasa’s mind is the medium for transcendental sound, which is the basis of all kinds of knowledge. All other thinkers, both on this planet and on higher planets, simply make use of the knowledge Shrila Vyasa has given. According to one Sanskrit saying, vyasocchishöam jagat sarvam: “The whole world tastes the remnants of Vyasa’s knowledge.” Any “new” idea one may find or conceive of already exists in [DDB67]His writings. Thus all the writers throughout history have borrowed from Him, directly or indirectly.
According to Parashara Muni, at the beginning of each Kali-yuga in the repeated cycle of four yugas, a vyasa, or “compiler,” arranges the Vedas. In the present reign of Manu, Parashara himself was the twenty-sixth Vyasa, and Shri Krishna-dvaipayana is the twenty-eighth. Of the twenty-eight Vyasas who have appeared until now, Krishna-dvaipayana is special because He is an incarnation of Lord Narayana. He appeared on the request of the demigods at the end of the Dvapara-yuga, after a curse spoken by Gautama Muni caused ignorance to cover the Vedic knowledge.
Chapter 171 of the Varaha Purana relates how Gautama Muni underwent severe austerities during a famine to please Lord Brahma. When Brahma offered Gautama a boon, the sage asked that he would be able to feed all his guests. The boon was granted, and benevolent Gautama fed his many brahmana guests for the duration of the famine. When rains finally came, the brahmanas wanted to leave his hermitage. As is the custom, however, Gautama asked them to stay a little longer, and they agreed. After some time they again wished to leave, but once again Gautama prevailed on them to stay a while longer. This happened a few times.
Finally the brahmanas, determined to leave, devised a plan. They made an illusory cow and left it near Gautama’s ashrama. In the early morning, when the sage was going to bathe, the animal blocked his path, and to drive her away he threw a few drops of water at her. At the first touch of the water, the cow fell down dead. The brahmanas immediately raised a hue and cry, declaring “We cannot stay here and accept food from a cow-killer!” and then they left for their respective residences. Later Gautama performed an atonement, and by his mystic power he could understand that he’d been tricked. So he angrily cursed the brahmanas that they would lose all their Vedic knowledge. In this way the Vedic knowledge became covered by ignorance during the Dvapara-yuga, and thus it was necessary for Vyasa to send forth the Vedas again.
From Lord Shiva’s statement that the Puranas are more important than the Vedas because they explain them, we should not conclude that absolutely no one should study the Vedas. Still, Vyasadeva’s [DDB68]verdict is that in Kali-yuga people are not intelligent enough to understand the true message of the Vedas, especially since there exists no authentic disciplic succession through which to acquire this understanding. We find, in fact, that those who attempt nowadays to study only the Vedas and Upanishads often end up taking to ordinary, fruitive activities or else to meditation on the impersonal Brahman, with the aim of merging into it. They do not come to the Vaishnava siddhanta, the perfect conclusion of Vedic understanding, which is realization of unalloyed devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The failure of modern-day students of the Vedas to understand their real message is proof that this message is not easy to discern in the present age. As Lord Krishna says in Shrimad-Bhagavatam (11.3.44), paroksha-vado vedo ’yam: “The Vedas speak indirectly.” Therefore, if we wish to learn the true conclusion of the Vedas in this age, it is more practical to study the Puranas.
However, a serious student who wants to understand the Puranas’ siddhanta must still seek out a guru in disciplic succession. This basic prerequisite of Vedic study is not waived when one approaches the Puranas. Indeed, Shrimad-Bhagavatam (11.3.21) emphatically declares, tasmad gurum prapadyeta jijnasuh shreya uttamam: “One who seriously wants to learn about the highest good in life must take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master.”
Next, Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains the three divisions of the Puranas.
skande prabhasa-khande ca:
veda-van nishcalam manye puranartham dvijottamah
vedah pratishöhitah sarve purane natra samshayah
bibhety alpa-shrutad vedo mam ayam calayishyati
itihasa-puranais tu nishcalo ’yam kritah pura
yan na drishöam hi vedeshu tad drishöam smritishu dvijah
ubhayor yan na drishöam hi tat puranaih pragiyate
yo veda caturo vedan sangopanishado dvijah
puranam naiva janati na ca sa syad vicakshanah
Gopiparanadhana: And in the Prabhasa-khanda of the Skanda Purana [3.121–24] we find the statement, "O best of brahmanas, I consider the purport of the Puranas as unquestionable as the Vedas themselves. Without doubt all the Vedas are given a firm foundation in the Puranas. Some time in the past the Vedas became afraid that "These people are going to distort my meaning because they are inadequately trained in proper hearing." But at that time the Itihasas and Puranas came forward to give the Vedas an unquestionable foundation. What cannot be found in the Vedas, O brahmanas, is found in the smritis, and what cannot be located in either is clearly described in the Puranas. O brahmanas, one who knows the Vedas along with their supplements and the Upanishads but does not know the Puranas is not really learned."
BBT: Furthermore, the Prabhasa-khanda of the Skanda Purana [5.3.121–24] states:
“O best of the twice-born, I consider the meaning of the Puranas to be as well established as that of the Vedas. Without doubt all the Vedas are given a firm foundation in them. Once, long ago, the Vedas became afraid of those who might hear from [DDB69]her insufficiently, and she thought, ‘This sort of person will distort my meaning.’ But then the Itihasas and Puranas helped the Vedas by firmly establishing her meaning. What cannot be found in the Vedas is found in the smriti, and what cannot be found in either is clearly explained in the Puranas. A person is not considered learned if he does not know the Puranas, O learned brahmanas, even if he has studied the four Vedas along with the Vedangas and Upanishads.”
atha purananam evam pramanye sthite ’pi tesham api samastyenapracarad-rupatvan nana-devata-pratipadaka-prayatvad arvacinaih kshudra-buddhibhir artho duradhigama iti tad-avastha eva samshayah.
Gopiparanadhana: Even though we have thus settled the question of the Puranas' authoritativeness, we need to next consider a doubt regarding their current status: Less intelligent people of modern times find it difficult to understand them because their original texts are not completely available and because for the most part they promote the worship of a variety of deities.
BBT: Next we must consider the following doubt concerning the status of the Puranas: Although their authority has been thus established [in the previous Texts], still it is difficult for the less intelligent men of the modern age to comprehend their ultimate meaning. The reasons for this difficulty are that the Puranas, like the Vedas, are only partially available and that in general the Puranas try to establish the supremacy of various deities.
yad uktam matsye:
pancangam ca puranam syad akhyanam itarat smritam
sattvikeshu ca kalpeshu mahatmyam adhikam hareh
rajaseshu ca mahatmyam adhikam brahmano viduh
tadvad agnesh ca mahatmyam tamaseshu shivasya ca
sankirneshu sarasvatyah pitrinam ca nigadyate
Gopiparanadhana: As the Matsya Purana [53.65, 68–69] states,"A historical text is a Purana if it has the five defining characteristics; otherwise it is known as an akhyana. In Puranas describing days of Brahma in the mode of goodness, the Supreme Lord Hari is mostly glorified. In those describing days in the mode of passion, there is especially glorification of Brahma. In those describing days in the mode of ignorance, there is glorification of Agni and of Shiva. In those describing mixed days Sarasvati and the Pitas are discussed."
BBT: As stated in the Matsya Purana [53.65, 68–69]:
“A history is called a Purana if it has the five defining characteristics; otherwise it is called an akhyana. The sattvic Puranas primarily glorify Lord Hari; the rajasic Puranas, Lord Brahma; and the tamasic Puranas, Lord Shiva and Durga, along with Agni. The Puranas in mixed modes glorify Sarasvati and the Pitas.”
atragnes tat-tad-agnau pratipadyasya tat-tad-yajnasyety arthah. shivasya ceti ca-karac chivayash ca. sankirneshu sattva-rajas-tamo-mayeshu kalpeshu bahushu. sarasvatya nana-vany-atmaka-tad-upalakshitaya nana-devataya ity arthah. pitrinam `karmana pitri-lokah' iti shrutes tat-prapaka-karmanam ity arthah.
Gopiparanadhana: Here glorification "of Agni [the fire-god]" means of Vedic sacrifices which are executed with offerings into various sacred fires. In the phrase "and of Shiva also," the word "also" implies "also of Shiva [his wife]." "During mixed days" means during the many days of Brahma in which goodness, passion and ignorance are all prominent. "Of Sarasvati" means of various demigods who are indirectly indicated by reference to her, since she is the presiding deity of various kinds of verbal expression. "Of the Pitas [celestial forefathers]" means of the ritual activities which lead to attaining them, in accordance with the shruti statement, "By Vedic rituals one achieves the world of the Pitas."
BBT: Here the word agni refers to the Vedic sacrifices performed by making offerings into various sacred fires. The word ca (“and”) in the phrase shivasya ca implies the wife of Lord Shiva. Sankirneshu (“in the mixed”) means “in the various Puranas in the mixed modes of sattva, rajas, and tamas combined.” Here sarasvatyah (“of Sarasvati”) means “of the presiding deity of speech” and, by implication, “of the various deities referred to in the numerous scriptural texts she embodies.” According to shruti, karmana pitri-lokah: “By fruitive activities one can attain the abode of the forefathers.” Thus here the word pitrinam (“of the forefathers”) refers to the fruitive rituals meant for attaining to the planet of the forefathers.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
It is impossible in Kali-yuga to understand the Vedas correctly without resort to the authority of the Puranas. In general in this age, even those who are supposed to be religious leaders are very often themselves victims of delusion and hypocrisy. We see this tendency all over the world. In India many apparently well educated and strictly religious brahmanas are actually confused about the purpose of life and the means of achieving it, mainly because they have failed to approach the right sources of knowledge. Some brahmanas claim to be purely Vedic, free from sentimental and fanatic idolatry; among these deniers of Puranic authority are the ritualists of the first millenium A.D. who followed the Jaimini-mimamsa interpretation of Kumarila and Prabhakara and the much more recent proponents of the Arya-samaja. These brahmanas presume to have direct access to the Vedas through the commentaries of their teachers, even though the manifest fruits of their so-called Vedic education are arrogance, atheism and entanglement in sense gratification.
Therefore, as we are told here from the Skanda Purana, the Vedas have just cause to fear abuse at the hands of the brahmanas of our age. Hearing the Vedas' call for help, the Puranas have come to their assistance. Their instructions are as trustworthy as the original words of the Vedas and are honored by every true brahmana, that is to say, by every honest person who has real intelligence and humility. What need is there for speculative commentaries on the Vedas when there their natural commentary is already available in the Puranas?
But this is the age of corruption, when even more definite guidance is needed to find the correct path of spiritual progress. Even the Puranas, which were easy enough to understand in earlier times, often bewilder their disoriented modern readers. Intended to appeal to people of many different natures, the Puranas encourage worship of demigods alongside that of the Supreme Lord. Demigod worship gradually purifies those who are too materialistic to be interested in pure devotional service. The actual history of the universe passes through varying cycles, "days of Brahma," during some of which the lower material modes of passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas) are prominent. At those times the Supreme Lord gracefully allows Lord Shiva and other servants of His to defeat Him in competition and otherwise seem superior. Puranas which describe events of these rajasic and tamasic kalpas thus superficially seem to raise demigods to the position of God. It is no wonder that imperfectly informed students of the Puranas cannot discern the unity of the Puranas' underlying message--that the powerful controllers and wonderful opulences of this universe are all energies of the supreme energetic, the Personality of Godhead. These readers have no capacity to appreciate the Hari-vamsha Purana's judgment,
vede ramayane caiva/ purane bharate tatha
adav ante ca madhye ca/ harih sarvatra giyate
"Throughout the Vedas and everywhere in the Ramayana, Puranas and Mahabharata, from the beginning to the middle to the end, the praises of Lord Hari are sung" [Mahabharata, Svarga-parva 6.93].
As a source of further confusion, not only are portions of the Puranas now missing, but in some cases these portions have been replaced with spurious substitutions. In recent centuries the brahminical community has become less and less familiar with several of the more rarely preserved Puranas, allowing unscrupulous scribes to distort the texts without detection. The only sure protection against such changed texts is the testimony of commentaries by reliable authorities. Over six hundred years ago Shrila Shridhara Svami commented on both Shrimad-Bhagavatam and the Vishnu Purana, taking special care to certify the wording of almost every verse; no such commentaries by standard acaryas exist, however, for the other Puranas, only citations of isolated passages.
The verses cited from the Matsya Purana enumerate the typical deities whose worship is promoted in each category of Purana. Theoretically, kalpa could be translated instead as "written work," but the verses immediate following these in the Matsya Purana show that "days of Brahma" is the intended meaning:
< find these verses >
"<translation>" This is also confirmed by the way the word kalpa is used in the next anuccheda (Text 18.1).
All eighteen major were spoken by Suta Gosvami at Naimisharanya and accepted by the sages there as authentic, but at the same time they are meant for three basically different target audiences, defined according to the three modes of nature. The situation of the individual Puranas is more complex, most of them displaying some mixture of the modes. For example, the pastimes of Lord Krishna and of Lord Ramacandra, which must be considered in the pure mode of goodness, are both described to some extent in every one of the Puranas. Lord Shiva specifies the basic division of six Puranas belonging to each mode in the forty-third chapter of the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda (236.18–21):
vaishnavam naradiyam ca/ tatha bhagavatam shubham
garudam ca tatha padmam/ varaham shubha-darshane
sattvikani puranani/ vijneyani shubhani vai
"O beautiful one, the Vishnu Purana, Narada Purana, the auspicious Bhagavata Purana, and the Garuda, Padma and Varaha Puranas belong to the mode of goodness. They are all considered auspicious.
brahmandam brahma-vaivartam/ markandeyam tathaiva ca
bhavishyam vamanam brahmam/ rajasani nibodhata
"Know that the Brahmanda, Brahma-vaivarta, Markandeya, Bhavishya, Vamana and Brahma Puranas belong to the mode of passion.
matsyam kaurmam tatha laingam/ shaivam skandam tathaiva ca
agneyam ca shad etani/ tamasani nibodhata
"And know that these six Puranas belong to the mode of ignorance: the Matsya, Kurma, Linga, Shiva, Skanda and Agni Puranas."
The five topics which every Purana should include will be discussed later in Shri Tattva-sandarbha.
Purport by BBT Translators
Three Divisions of the Puranas
The verse from the Matsya Purana cited in text 17.3 mentions the five subjects that characterize a Purana. Another verse of the Matsya Purana (53.65) lists those subjects:
sargash ca pratisargash ca vamsho manvantarani ca
vamshyanucaritam caiva puranam panca-lakshanam
“The five subjects that characterize a Purana are creation, dissolution, genealogy, reigns of Manus, and the activities of famous kings.” Texts 57 and 61 of Shri Tattva-sandarbha discuss these five subjects in detail.
In the verses cited above from the Matsya Purana, the word kalpa means “scripture” or “Purana.” This is one of the various meanings of this word, as listed in the Medini Sanskrit dictionary (1.21.2): kalpa shastre vidhau nyaye samvarte brahmane dine. “Kalpa means [DDB70]‘scripture,’ ‘rule,’ ‘logic,’ ‘dissolution,’ and ‘day of Brahma.’”
The Puranas are divided according to the modes of material nature. The list of the Puranas belonging to each mode is given in the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda (236.18–21):
vaishnavam naradiyam ca tatha bhagavatam shubham
garudam ca tatha padmam varaham shubha-darshane
sattvikani puranani vijneyani shubhani vai
brahmandam brahma-vaivartam markandeyam tathaiva ca
bhavishyam vamanam brahmam rajasani nibodha me
matsyam kaurmam tatha laingam shaivam skandam tathaiva ca
agneyam ca shad etani tamasani nibodha me
“[Lord Shiva said:] ‘[DDB71]O beautiful lady, know that the Vishnu, Narada, Bhagavata, Garuda, Padma, and Varaha Puranas are in the mode of goodness, the Brahmanda, Brahma-vaivarta, Markandeya, Bhavishya, Vamana, and Brahma Puranas are in the mode of passion, and the Matsya, Kurma, Linga, Shiva, Skanda, and Agni Puranas are in the mode of ignorance.’”
The verses Shrila Jiva cites from the Skanda Purana imply that the Puranas are as good as the Vedas and should be accepted as such by anyone who accepts the Vedas’ authority. There are many commentaries on the Vedas, but the Puranas are the natural commentary because they were compiled by the Vedas’ compiler, Shrila Vyasa. Therefore one can understand the message of the Vedas by studying the Puranas alone, even without directly studying the Vedas. But study of the Vedas is incomplete in this age without study of the Puranas; therefore studying the Puranas is even more appropriate and practical for us than studying the Vedas. Furthermore, the statement from the Skanda Purana quoted in text 17.1—that no one can become learned without studying the Puranas—suggests that the Puranas are also more important than the Itihasas.
But just as we meet with difficulties in studying the Vedas in this age, we also encounter difficulties in studying the Puranas. The eighteen major Puranas and eighteen minor ones constitute a vast body of literature, and there are no current disciplic successions or authentic commentaries for most of these works. Portions of some Puranas are not available, and other Puranas have variant readings and interpolations. As with the Vedas, independent study of the Puranas yields no clear conclusion, because each Purana seems to establish a different deity as the supreme. The Shiva Purana proclaims Lord Shiva supreme, the Vishnu Purana, Lord Vishnu, and so on. The result is confusion for one who studies them without proper guidance. Such a student will not know whether to worship Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, or some other deity.
Shrila Jiva Gosvami gives the solution to this problem in the next Text.
tad evam sati tat-tat-kalpa-katha-mayatvenaiva matsya eva prasiddhanam tat-tat-purananam vyavastha jnapita. taratamyam tu katham syad yenetara-nirnayah kriyeta. sattvadi-taratamyenaiveti cet `sattvat sanjayate jnanam' iti `sattvam yad brahma-darshanam' iti ca nyayat sattvikam eva puranadikam paramartha-jnanaya prabalam ity ayatam.
Gopiparanadhana: Such being the facts, we can understand that the Puranas mentioned in the Matsya Purana are divided into natural categories according the kinds of days of Brahma they contain narrations of. But how can we define a hierarchy of these categories to determine which is superior? It might be suggested that this can be done with a hierarchy of the modes of nature--goodness, passion and ignorance. If so, we can conclude that Puranas and other scriptures in the mode of goodness have the most authority to teach us about transcendental reality, according to the reasoning of such statements as "From the mode of goodness knowledge develops" [Bg. 14.17] and "In the mode of goodness one can realize the Absolute Truth" [Bhag. 1.2.24].
BBT: This being the case[DDB72][—that Puranas are in various modes of nature—]the Matsya Purana classifies them in three divisions based on the stories found in them. But how can we determine the relative importance of the Puranas so that we can then learn about the other subjects under discussion, namely, sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana? If we use the three modes of nature as the basis for categorizing the Puranas, depending on such statements as “the mode of goodness produces knowledge” [Bg 14.17] and “the mode of goodness leads to realization of the Absolute Truth” [Bhag. 1.2.24], we will conclude that the Puranas and other such literature in the mode of goodness are superior means for gaining knowledge of the Absolute Truth.
tathapi paramarthe ’pi nana-bhangya vipratipadyamananam samadhanaya kim syat. yadi sarvasyapi vedasya puranasya cartha-nirnayaya tenaiva shri-bhagavata vyasena brahma-sutram kritam tad-avalokenaiva sarvo ’rtho nirneya ity ucyate tarhi nanya-sutra-kara-muny-anugatair manyeta. kim catyanta-gudharthanam alpaksharanam tat-sutranam anyarthatvam kashcid acakshita tatah katarad ivatra samadhanam.
Gopiparanadhana: Even so, what one standard can reconcile all these Puranas, which discredit one another with divergent opinions even when discussing the same Absolute Truth? Someone may point out that the powerful saint Shri Vyasa produced the Vedanta-sutra just to accomplish this task of determining the purport of the entire Vedas and Puranas; therefore, this person will propose, the meaning of all these scriptures should be ascertained by reference to the Vedanta-sutra. But then our conclusions will not be respected by followers of sages who wrote other sutras. And apart from that, certain authors have interpreted the Vedanta-sutra's very esoteric and terse aphorisms in such a way as to distort their meaning. What authority, then, can actually serve to reconcile all of this?
BBT: But even then, how can we reconcile the different inconclusive[NEW73] views regarding the Absolute Truth that the various Puranas put forward? Someone may propose study of the Vedanta-sutra as the solution, claiming that Bhagavan Vyasadeva compiled the Vedanta-sutra to present the decisive conclusion of both the Vedas and the Puranas concerning the Absolute Truth. But then the followers of sages who wrote other sutras may be dissatisfied. Moreover, since the aphorisms of the Vedanta are terse and extremely esoteric, and since they are also subject to varying interpretations, someone will always express a contrary idea about them. What, then, can resolve disputes concerning the Vedanta-sutra’s meaning?
tad evam samadheyam yady ekatamam eva purana-lakshanam apaurusheyam shastram sarva-vedetihasa-purananam artha-saram brahma-sutropajivyam ca bhavad bhuvi sampurnam pracarad-rupam syat. satyam uktam. yata eva ca sarva-pramananam cakravarti-bhutam asmad-abhimatam shrimad-bhagavatam evodbhavitam bhavata.
Gopiparanadhana: We would have such a basis of reconciliation, one might comment, if there were one scripture which fit the definition of a Purana, had apaurusheya authority, contained the essential ideas of all the Vedas, Itihasas and Puranas, gave support to the positions of the Brahma-sutra and was currently available in full on the earth. Well said, because you have called to mind our own most preferred authority, the emperor of pramanas, Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
BBT: This problem could be solved if there were one scripture that had the characteristics of a Purana, that had no human origin, that presented the essence of all the Vedas, Itihasas, and Puranas, that was based on the Vedanta-sutra, and that was available throughout the land in its complete form.
Well said, sir, because you have reminded us about our revered Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the emperor of all pramanas.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
Faced with the bewildering complexity of the Puranas--the non-linear chronology cutting across millennia and universes, the thousands of prehistoric personalities and the pantheon of deities--critical scholars most often dismiss the whole body of literature as an incoherent collection of competing sectarian mythologies. Indologist are free to think in this way if they choose, but in fact this freedom of judgment is also under the control of material nature. The way in which scholars filter what they see and form their opinions, and the influence they have on the public, are all part of nature's arrangement for keeping the secrets of transcendence concealed from the intrusions of material intelligence. Only by accepting the means of shabda-pramana on its own terms can anyone begin to penetrate these secrets.
yasya deve para bhaktir/ yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah/ prakashante mahatmanah
"If someone has unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Lord and equal devotion for his own spiritual master, then his intelligence becomes broad and everything described in these texts reveals itself clearly to him" (Shvetashvatara Up. 6.23).
As we have already discussed earlier, Shrila Jiva Gosvami is not interested in answering the skepticism of critical scholars in his Sandarbhas. He assumes that his readers are already convinced of the authority and consistency of the Vedic literature, an attitude which is much more likely to develop from the qualities of honesty and humility in one's heart than from the scrutinizing analysis of masses of information.
If we assume that there is a coherent purpose to the Puranas, our practical problem at this point is how to discover it. We need to identify a prime authority according to which all the other texts can be reconciled. In this anuccheda Shrila Jiva Gosvami first limits the candidates for primacy to the Puranas addressed to persons in the mode of goodness. These sattvic Puranas glorify the Supreme Lord Vishnu and His incarnations. But the mode of goodness in the material world is rarely found unmixed with the lower modes, and this is reflected in the Puranas. Several of the Puranas classified as sattvic describe mixed modes of worshiping God rather than pure devotional service. After reading all the sattvic Puranas one may therefore be left uncertain as to whether Lord Vishnu is ultimately a person with real qualities, or impersonal and formless, or a manifestation of the universal mind, or even a product of matter.
Casual readers of the Samhitas of the four Vedas usually see in them an unorganized assortment of praise and appeals offered to a large number of demigods. Many of these incompletely individualized deities seem nothing more than convenient personifications of forces of nature. Their personalities often overlap to the extent that it is difficult to clearly separate their identities. The Upanishads of each Veda correct this misunderstanding by elucidating the underlying reference throughout the Vedas to the one Absolute Truth, Brahman. The various deities of the Vedas and the energies of nature are shown in the Upanishads to be all integrally related to Brahman as Its expansions, borrowing Its own names, forms and functions:
seyam devataikshata hantaham imas tisro devata anena
jivenatmanupravishya nama-rupe vyakaravani. tasam
tri-vritam tri-vritam ekaikam karavaniti.
"That Lord looked and said, `Ah, let me enter these three lords along with this jiva soul, and expand names and forms. I will manifest each being's threefold nature'" (Chandogya Up. 6.3.2–3). The "three lords" indicated in this text are the three principles of created existence--the controlling demigods, the enjoying jivas, and their controlled and enjoyed bodies. Entering into this raw substance of creation, the Supreme distributed His own names and forms. Shri-narayanadini namani vinanyani rudradibhyo harir dattavan ("Lord Hari gave away His own names to Rudra and others, with the exception of certain names like Shri Narayana."). In the later phase of creation, the demigod Brahma periodically completes this work on behalf of his creator, using the eternal Vedas as his blueprint:
nama-rupam ca bhutanam/ krityanam ca prapancanam
veda-shabdebhyo evadau/ devadinam cakara sah
"In the beginning Brahma expanded the names, forms and activities of all creatures from out of the words of the Vedas" [Vishnu Pur. 1.5.63].
Because the Upanishads provide this insight into the essential meaning of the Vedas, they are called Vedanta, the culmination of the Vedas. Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa commented on the major Upanishads and reconciled their apparent contradictions in the concise codes of his Vedanta-sutra. By this composition, he established the Vedanta school of Vedic theology in our age. It was the standard style of the founders of orthodox brahminical philosophies to write in aphoristic sutras, leaving it to disciples who have been personally instructed to elaborate further explanations. But compared to the relatively mundane level of discourse of others sutras, like Gautama Rishi's Nyaya-sutra on epistemology and logic, the contents of Vyasadeva's Vedanta-sutra are particularly difficult. His aphorisms are virtually impossible to decipher without a commentary, and thus also easily misinterpreted. Earlier in Kali-yuga there existed a strong tradition of Vaishnava theistic interpretation of Vedanta-sutra, led by several prominent teachers like Bodhayana who are now known only from fragments quoted by Ramanuja Acarya and others in their later Vedanta commentaries. The prime reason for these earlier explanations being forgotten is that they were completely eclipsed by the popularity of Shankara Acarya's Shariraka-bhashya.
Written around 700 A.D. from the monistic Advaita point of view, in which the personal concept of Godhead is relativized as an inferior aspect of an ultimate Supreme beyond name and form, Shankara's commentary imposed a monopoly on the school of Vedanta for some centuries, until the great Vaishnava acaryas Ramanuja and Madhva responded with their own commentaries in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They and other Vaishnavas like Nimbarka and Vishnu Svami vigorously criticized Shankara's interpretation as not faithfully adhering to the Upanishads' intentions. Among the Shankara Advaitists and all four Vaishnava sampradayas, even up to modern times the main philosophic activity of both explanatory and polemic authors has been to present updated sub-commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra. On this basis the debate between the Advaita and Vaishnava camps has been continuing for over a thousand years.
When he established the Gaudiya branch of the Madhva-sampradaya, however, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu chose to forgo having a Vedanta commentary written as the keystone of His new theistic school. He preferred focusing attention on Shrimad-Bhagavatam, which He considered the natural commentary by the Vedanta-sutra's own author. Only in the early eighteenth century was Baladeva Vidyabhushana commissioned by Shrila Vishvanatha Cakravarti to compose a Vedanta commentary to answer the complaints of critics who demanded that the Gaudiya Vaishnavas defend themselves on the evidence of Vedanta-sutra.
Proposing Shrimad-Bhagavatam as the one Purana which can reconcile all scriptures and perfectly represent the philosophy of Vedanta, Shri Jiva Gosvami will now proceed to reveal the glories of the Bhagavatam in the rest of this Sandarbha and the others.
Purport by BBT Translators
Shrimad-Bhagavatam Is the Best [DDB74]Purana of All
The Matsya Purana, Chapter 53, gives the number of verses in each Purana and describes the benefits of donating each one on special days. In that same chapter Suta Gosvami speaks two and a half verses containing a formula for dividing the Puranas into three classes according to which one of the three modes of nature predominates. These three classes of Puranas[DDB75] glorify various deities, and commentators often try to establish their own favorite among these deities as supreme, arguing on the basis of logic and apparently conclusive scriptural references. One consequence of this partiality is that commentators tend to denigrate Puranas in a category different from their own: proponents of tamasic Puranas tend to reject the authority of the rajasic and sattvic Puranas, and proponents of rajasic and sattvic Puranas likewise reject the Puranas outside their group. But there cannot actually be several Absolute Truths; therefore the question of which Puranic deity is the one Supreme Truth remains to be settled.
For the unbiased seeker of the truth, Shrila Jiva Gosvami shows how to resolve the matter. He explains that sattva, or the mode of goodness, is clearly superior to passion and ignorance, as Lord Krishna confirms in the Bhagavad-gita (14.17):
sattvat sanjayate jnanam rajaso lobha eva ca
pramada-mohau tamaso bhavato ’jnanam eva ca
“From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, greed develops; and from the mode of ignorance develop foolishness, madness, and illusion.” Shrimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.24) also states, tamasas tu rajas tasmat sattvam yad brahma-darshanam: “Passion is better than ignorance, but goodness is best because it can lead to realization of the Absolute Truth.” In the passage where this verse appears, Suta Gosvami is explaining which form of worship produces the ultimate good. His opinion is that one can achieve the ultimate good only by worshiping Lord Krishna, the personification of pure goodness. The citation from the Matsya Purana in the previous Text states that the sattvic Puranas glorify Lord Hari, Krishna. By contrast, the rajasic and tamasic Puranas recommend worship of other deities. Such worship is in the lower modes of nature and does not lead to realization of the Absolute Truth.
Thus one can tell the modal quality of a Purana by seeing which deity it recommends for worship. Another way to tell is by seeing how it opens. In a sattvic Purana the questioner will approach a learned speaker and inquire from him about the Absolute Truth. In this vein the questioner may ask the speaker to elaborate on the nature of ultimate reality, the supreme religion for all, the ultimate benefit a human being can aspire for, how one should prepare for death, and so on. These questions allow the Purana’s speaker full freedom to explain these topics; as a self-realized teacher, free from all gross and subtle material desires and concerned only with the welfare of the inquirer and those who will hear the discourse, either then or in the future, the speaker replies with answers that are specific and unambiguous, leaving no room for misinterpretation or confusion. Examples of such sattvic Puranas include the Padma Purana, the Vishnu Purana, and, most prominently, the Bhagavata Purana, or Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
In the rajasic and tamasic Puranas, however, the questioners inquire about limited topics, those that do not address the ultimate concerns of life. In the Linga Purana, for example, the sages at Naimisharanya ask Suta Gosvami to narrate the glory of Linga, Lord Shiva. Although Suta Gosvami has fully realized the Absolute Truth and is perfectly competent to explain it, the questions here restrict him to speaking on the particular topic of Linga. He is not free to explain the deeper meaning of life. Since all rajasic and tamasic Puranas have this shortcoming, they cannot be reliable sources of knowledge about the essential topics of sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana.
The Puranas were arranged in different modes in response to the various desires and interests of the conditioned souls. Nevertheless, every Purana contains glorification of Lord Hari, the Absolute Truth. Shrila Veda-vyasa included this glorification so that even persons in the lower material modes could gradually develop interest in the Supreme Personality of Godhead by hearing or reading the tamasic and rajasic Puranas.
Someone might object that the statement cited above concerning the classification of the Puranas according to the modes does not itself come from a sattvic Purana and so should not be taken as authoritative. We reply that this classification is supported by numerous other statements as well, including some from such sattvic scriptures as the Padma Purana, which we have already cited in the previous Text. Nor is it true that the Puranas in the lower modes give no valid knowledge at all, since even they give some insight into absolute reality, what to speak of the insights they give into lesser topics. In addition, no statement in the Vedic literature specifically contradicts the verses cited here classifying the Puranas according to the modes of nature, and so we are left with no compelling reason to doubt the authenticity of this classification.
From this analysis we can conclude that in our quest for the ultimate shabda-pramana we need consider only the sattvic Puranas. As the Padma Purana states, sattvika moksha-dah proktah: “The Puranas in the mode of goodness lead to liberation.”
But even these sattvic Puranas have been understood in many ways by great thinkers. Some interpreters have found that they glorify the path of yoga as the best, others have concluded that they recommend bhakti as the highest path, and yet others have found that they promote the path of jnana (knowledge) as supreme.
Next Shrila Jiva Gosvami suggests the Vedanta-sutra as a possible basis of reconciliation. The Vedanta-sutra, written by Vyasadeva, certainly incorporates the essential understanding of the Vedas and the Puranas. But we must also consider that the dedicated followers of other sages who wrote philosophical sutras, such as Gautama and Patanjali, might not accept the Vedanta-sutra’s ideas. Even if these followers of other philosophers could somehow be convinced to change their minds by logical proof of the greater authority of the Vedanta-sutra, the situation is still problematic: The sutras of the Vedanta being terse and esoteric, acaryas of various persuasions have commented on them, and so it is difficult to decide whose opinion agrees with that of Shrila Veda-vyasa, the author.
For the seeker who has come this far along the way but finds himself sinking in the marshy confusion created by the various scriptures and their myriad commentators, Shrila Jiva Gosvami finally points out the high ground of the Shrimad-Bhagavatam. The Bhagavatam has the ten characteristics of a major Purana (discussed in Text 56); it is apaurusheya; it is the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra and thus constitutes the purport of all the Vedas, Itihasas, and Puranas; it is available in its entirety; it is respected by all Vaishnava acaryas, and also many others[NEW76]; it is the most popular of the Puranas; it has an intact tradition of Vaishnava commentaries; and it is the culmination of Shrila Veda-vyasa’s literary output, composed in His maturity.
By establishing Shrimad-Bhagavatam as the last word in Vedic scripture, Shrila Jiva Gosvami fulfills the will of Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who accepted the Bhagavatam as “the spotless Purana,” the supremely authoritative text.
In the next Text Jiva Gosvami explains that Shrimad-Bhagavatam has not been composed by a mortal and that it is the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra.
yat khalu sarva-purana-jatam avirbhavya brahma-sutram ca praniyapy aparitushöena tena bhagavata nija-sutranam akritrima-bhashya-bhutam samadhi-labdham avirbhavitam yasminn eva sarva-shastra-samanvayo drishyate sarva-vedartha-sutra-lakshanam gayatrim adhikritya pravartitatvat.
Gopiparanadhana: After bringing all the Puranas to light and compiling the Vedanta-sutra, the powerful sage Vyasa was still not satisfied. Therefore he then manifested as a product of mature meditation this Bhagavatam, the natural commentary on his own sutras. The coherent overview of all scriptures is found in this work, inasmuch as it begins under the auspices of the Gayatri mantra, which is distinguished as the foundational text for the purport of all the Vedas.
BBT: Indeed, Lord Vyasa was not satisfied even after compiling all the Puranas and the Vedanta-sutra. He therefore wrote Shrimad-Bhagavatam, which was revealed to Him in trance, as the natural commentary on His own sutras. In Shrimad-Bhagavatam we find the consistent reconciliation of all scriptures. That the Bhagavatam gives the essence of all scriptures is shown by its opening with the Gayatri mantra, the essential text incorporating the message of all the Vedas.
tathapi tat-svarupam matsye:
yatradhikritya gayatrim varnyate dharma-vistarah
vritrasura-vadhopetam tad bhagavatam ishyate
likhitva tac ca yo dadyad dhema-simha-samanvitam
praushöhapadyam paurnamasyam sa yati paramam gatim
ashöadasha-sahasrani puranam tat prakirtitam
Gopiparanadhana: In just this manner the Matsya Purana depicts the identity of Shrimad-Bhagavatam: "In the beginning of one of the Puranas the Gayatri mantra is the focus of discourse. In it all the ramifications of true religion are delineated, and the killing of the demon Vritra is described. The Purana which has these characteristics is known as Shrimad-Bhagavatam. A person who transcribes a copy of the Bhagavatam, places it on a gold lion-throne and gives this as a gift to someone on the full moon day of the month Praushöhapada will achieve the supreme goal of life. This Purana is said to have eighteen thousand verses" [Matsya Pur. 53.20–22].
BBT: The characteristics of Shrimad-Bhagavatam are further described in the Matsya Purana (53.20–22): “That Purana is known as Shrimad-Bhagavatam which explains the topmost principles of religion with reference to the Gayatri mantra and which tells of the killing of the demon Vritra. This Purana has eighteen thousand verses.[DDB77] Whoever writes out a copy of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, places it on a golden lion-throne, and presents it to someone on the full-moon day of the month of Bhadra (August-September) will attain the supreme goal.”
atra gayatri-shabdena tat-sucaka-tad-avyabhicari-dhimahi-pada-samvalita-tad-artha eveshyate sarvesham mantranam adi-rupayas tasyah sakshat kathananarhatvat. tad-arthata ca `janmady asya yatah' `tene brahma hrida' iti sarva-lokashrayatva-buddhi-vritti-prerakatvadi-samyat. dharma-vistara ity atra dharma-shabdah parama-dharma-parah `dharmah projjhita-kaitavo ’tra paramah' ity atraiva pratipaditatvat. sa ca bhagavad-dhyanadi-lakshana eveti purastad vyakti-bhavishyati.
Gopiparanadhana: The word gayatri here indicates the basic meaning of Gayatri, along with the one word dhimahi, which alludes to the Gayatri texts and invariably occurs within them; it would improper to utter in this context the actual Gayatri, the primeval form of all Vedic mantras. The meaning of Gayatri is found in the phrases "from whom proceed the generation, maintanance and destruction of this universe" and "He imparted the transcendental sound of the Vedas from within the heart" [Bhag. 1.1.1]. These two phrases express ideas identical to ideas contained in Gayatri, that the Supreme Truth is the shelter of all the worlds and that He is the inspirer of intelligence. In the phrase "all the ramifications of religion," the word "religion" (dharma) means "the supreme religion," since the Bhagavatam [1.1.2] states, "In this work the supreme religion is described, to the exclusion of all kinds of cheating religion." Such activities as meditation on the Personality of Godhead are the specific features of this supreme religion, as we will make evident later on.
BBT: Here the word gayatri indicates the meaning of the Gayatri mantra, which includes the word dhimahi. Dhimahi is an indicator of Gayatri, implying its purport; it would be improper to directly utter Gayatri itself, the origin of all Vedic mantras. The first verse of Shrimad-Bhagavatam [1.1.1] alludes to the meaning of Gayatri by the phrases janmady asya yatah (“by Him this universe is created, maintained, and destroyed”) and tene brahma hrida (“He revealed Vedic knowledge in the heart”). These phrases express the same meaning as Gayatri, describing the Lord as the basis of all the universes and as He who inspires everyone’s intellect.
The word dharma in the compound dharma-vistara refers to the supreme religion, as expressed in the Bhagavatam’s words,[DDB78] dharmah projjhita-kaitavo ’tra paramah [Bhag. 1.1.2]: “the supreme religion, devoid of all cheating propensities.” And, as will become clear in upcoming Texts, this dharma is indeed characterized by meditation on the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasadeva is the literary incarnation of the Supreme Lord. Thus he is often called Bhagavan, a title reserved for Lord Vishnu and for specially empowered servants of Vishnu like Lord Shiva. Nevertheless, Vyasadeva accepted the pastime of experiencing doubt. After organizing all the shrutis and composing the Vedanta-sutra and Mahabharata, he felt dissatisfied. He doubted how people in Kali-yuga would understand the mysteries of the Personality of Godhead's opulence and all-attractiveness, since in all the works he had produced these were never fully revealed.
kim va bhagavata dharma/ na prayena nirupitah
priyah paramahamsanam/ ta eva hy acyuta-priyah
"I think I mostly failed to describe the principles of devotional service to the Supreme Lord, which are dear both to perfect beings and to the infallible Lord" [Bhag. 1.4.31]. Although Shrila Vyasa thus knew already what the source of his dissatisfaction was, he needed to hear confirmation of this from his spiritual master Narada, and specific instructions on how to remedy the problem.
bhavatanudita-prayam/ yasho bhagavato 'malam
yenaivasau na tushyeta/ manye tad darshanam khilam
"Shri Narada said: You have not actually broadcast the sublime and spotless glories of the Personality of Godhead. That philosophy which does not satisfy the transcendental senses of the Lord is considered worthless" [Bhag. 1.5.8].
atho maha-bhaga bhavan amogha-drik
shuci-shravah satya-rato dhrita-vratah
"O highly fortunate one, your vision is completely perfect. Your good fame is spotless. You are firm in vow and situated in transcendence. You should think of the pastimes of the Lord in trance for the liberation of the people in general from all material bondage" [Bhag. 1.5.13].
tvam atmanatmanam avehy amogha-drik
parasya pumsah paramatmanah kalam
ajam prajatam jagatah shivaya tan
"Your Goodness has perfect vision. You yourself can know the Supersoul Personality of Godhead because you are present as the plenary portion of the Lord. Although you are birthless, you have appeared on this earth for the well-being of all people. Please, therefore, describe the transcendental pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Shri Krishna more vividly" [Bhag. 1.5.21].
Even pure devotees of the Lord suffer apparent forgetfulness of His presence and directions while living in this world in the mood of separation from Him. Thus sometimes a fully surrendered devotee thinks that he should first accomplish some business in this world before becoming a full-time preacher of the Lord's glories. Humbly feeling unqualified to assume the position of Vaishnava acarya, he makes plans for success as a businessman or scholar. But because he is sincere, the Lord arranges at the right time for him to be reminded of his higher duty. Shrila Vyasadeva followed this pattern in his transcendental pastimes, busying himself for a long time in teaching the worldly principles of ritualistic religion, material acquisition, sense enjoyment and impersonal liberation. When he finally realized the inadequacy of all he had done, he was ready to be redirected by his spiritual master.
Following Narada's advice, Vyasadeva sat in meditation at his ashrama in the Himalayas on the bank of the Sarasvati River. What he saw in his trance became the basis of the eighteen-thousand-verse Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the most natural commentary on his Vedanta-sutra for the simply reason that an author best knows the purpose of his own work. Shrimad-Bhagavatam is equivalent to the Vedanta-sutra because it also presents the definitive reconciliation of all scriptures. Both the Vedanta-sutra and Shrimad-Bhagavatam delimit the supreme tattva, the unifier of all truths--sarve veda yat padam amananti, "that reality which all the Vedas affirm" (Kaöha Up. 2.15). Only the Bhagavatam, however, fully explains that Supreme Truth in a way that every honest and sensible person can understand, irregardless of birth, training and past behavior.
Shrila Jiva Gosvami nexts highlights how Shrimad-Bhagavatam embodies the purport of the sacred Vedic mantra known as Gayatri. Every twice-born brahmana is enjoined to chant this mantra at the three junctures of the day--sunrise, noon and sunset. Gayatri is a direct expansion of the original Vedic syllable om, and from her expand all the other mantras; therefore she is known as the mother of the Vedas. There are twenty-four syllables in Gayatri, divided into three sections of eight syllables each. Like other Vedic and tantric mantras, Gayatri should be chanted only by those who have been properly initiated into it by a representative of an authentic disciplic succession. Sampradaya-vihina ye/ mantras te nishphala matah: "It is understand that whatever mantras you might chant will be fruitless if they have not been received through a bona fide sampradaya" [Padma Purana <ref>]. Thus as a general rule scriptures avoid giving away mantras gratuitously by quoting them verbatim; almost always some words or syllables are inverted or left out in citations. Shrimad-Bhagavatam in fact never directly quotes the Gayatri mantra, either in the first verse or anywhere else in its Twelve Cantos. Neither the original Brahma-gayatri or any of its variants appear anywhere in Shrimad-Bhagavatam, there are not even any verses in the twenty-four syllable Gayatri meter. The only literal fragment of Gayatri visible in the opening verse of the Bhagavatam is the one word dhimahi ("let us meditate").
tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah pracodayat.
"Let us meditate on the all-worshipful effulgence of the Supreme Lord, the giver of life. May He inspire our intelligence" [Brahma-gayatri, without the prefixed pranava and vyahriti].
janmady asya yato 'nvayad itaratash cartheshv abhijnah sva-raö
tene brahma hrida ya adi-kavaye muhyanti yat surayah
tejo-vari-mridam yatha vinimayo yatra tri-sargo 'mrisha
dhamna svena sada nirasta-kuhakam satyam param dhimahi
"Let us meditate upon Lord Shri Krishna because He is the Absolute Truth and the primeval cause of the all causes of the creation, sustenance and destruction of the manifested universes. He is directly and indirectly consious of all manifestations, and He is independent because there is no other cause beyond Him. It is He only who first imparted the Vedic knowledge unto the heart of Brahmaji, the original living being. By Him even the great sages and demigods are placed into illusion, as one is bewildered by the illusory representations of water seen in fire, or land seen on water. Only because of Him do the material universes, temporarily manifested by the reactions of the three modes of nature, appear factual, although they are unreal. We therefore meditate upon Him, Lord Shri Krishna, who is eternally existent in the transcendental abode, which is forever free from the illusory representations of the material world. We mediate upon Him for He is the Absolute Truth" [Bhag. 1.1.1].
Meditation on the Personality of Godhead, indicated by the injunctive verb dhimahi, comprises the essence of Krishna consciouness, the path of unalloyed devotional service. It is the same means of achieving the perfection of human life taught by the Vedas and Vedanta.
atma va are drashöavyah shrotavyo mantavyo nididhyasitavyo maitreyi.
"My dear Maitreyi, one should realize the Supreme Soul and come to see it directly. One should hear about that Soul, carefully think about It, and deeply meditate upon It" [Brihad-aranyaka Up. 4.5.6]
vedaham etam purusham mahantam
aditya-varnam tamasah parastat
tam eva viditvati mrityum eti
nanyah pantha vidyate 'yanaya
"I have realized this Supreme Person, effulgent like the sun, beyond the darkness of material illusion. One who knows Him goes beyond death. There is no other path to perfection" [Shvetashvatara Up. 6.15].
Purport by BBT Translators
Shrimad-Bhagavatam Is the Natural Commentary on the Vedanta-sutra
Shrimad-Bhagavatam contains the story of its own appearance as the crowning achievement of Shrila Vyasadeva’s literary efforts. First Shrila Vyasadeva arranged the four Vedas, and then He composed the great epic Mahabharata for the benefit of women, shudras, and others who cannot study the Vedas. Next He compiled the Puranas, the natural commentary on the Vedas, and then He provided the essence of the Vedas and Puranas in His Vedanta-sutra. But even after all this literary output, Veda-vyasa felt discontented, although He did not know why. Then His spiritual master, Narada Muni, came to His rescue:
jijnasitam su-sampannam api te mahad adbhutam
kritavan bharatam yas tvam sarvartha-paribrimhitam
“Your inquiries were full and your studies were also well fulfilled, and there is no doubt that you have prepared a great and wonderful work, the Mahabharata, which is full of all kinds of Vedic sequences elaborately explained” (Bhag. 1.5.3).
yatha dharmadayas cartha muni-varyanukirtitah
na tatha vasudevasya mahima hy anuvarnitah
“Although, great sage, you have very broadly described the four principles beginning with religious performances, you have not in the same way described the glories of the Supreme Personality, Vasudeva” (Bhag. 1.5.9.).
Following Narada Muni’s instruction, Shrila Vyasa meditated, and while He was in trance Shrimad-Bhagavatam was revealed to Him. Thus it is clear that Shrimad-Bhagavatam, which gave solace to Vyasadeva, is knowledge descended from the transcendental realm. In upcoming Texts Shri Jiva will show that it is also the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra.
Various Puranas mention the relationship between Shrimad-Bhagavatam and the Gayatri mantra. Considered the essence of the Vedas, Gayatri is supposed to be recited at dawn, noon, and dusk by every twice-born person (brahmana, kshatriya, and vaishya). According to Shridhara Svami in his Bhavartha-dipika, Shrimad-Bhagavatam begins with the Gayatri mantra. Commenting on the first verse of the Bhagavatam, he writes, dhimahiti gayatrya prarambhena ca gayatry-akhya-brahma-vidya-rupam etat puranam iti darshitam: “That the Gayatri phrase indicated by the word dhimahi begins this Purana shows that this work has the nature of the brahma-vidya [Vedic knowledge of the Supreme] called Gayatri.” Because Shrimad-Bhagavatam is based on Gayatri, the cream of the Vedas, it explains the topmost principles of religion. The Bhagavatam (1.1.3) thus calls itself “the ripened fruit of the wish-fulfilling tree of the Vedas” (nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam).
The recitation of Gayatri and other Vedic mantras is governed by strict rules regarding the person, time, and place, and also the purity of the chanter,[NEW79] but such restrictions do not apply to Shrimad-Bhagavatam. Since anyone may read the Bhagavatam, strictly speaking it would be improper for the Gayatri mantra to appear there in its original form. Gayatri is among the Vedic mantras, which only the twice-born are allowed to chant. That is why Shrila Vyasadeva expressed the form and idea of Gayatri in the Bhagavatam without using the actual mantra. Only one word from Gayatri, dhimahi, has been kept to indicate his intention, because it is a compulsory word in the mantra and carries its essence.
Another reason Vyasa did not write the original Gayatri in Shrimad-Bhagavatam is that doing so would have invited misinterpretation. Various schools of thought have explained Gayatri differently—as a meditation on impersonal Brahman, on the sun, on the fire-god, on Lord Shiva, and so forth. Only rarely is it understood to be a meditation on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva. But in Shrimad-Bhagavatam, Shrila Vyasadeva’s own commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, Vyasadeva delivers the complete and unambiguous meaning of Gayatri in the opening verse. He reveals that Gayatri is a meditation on the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His eternal consort, Shri Radhika. This meditation is indeed the highest dharma. In the 105th Text of Shri Paramatma-sandarbha, Shrila Jiva Gosvami will explain the Gayatri mantra in detail, and in the Krishna-sandarbha he will thoroughly analyze the Bhagavatam’s first verse and show it to be a meditation on Shri Shri Radha-Krishna.
In the next Text of the Tattva-sandarbha, Shrila Jiva Gosvami further introduces the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, describing its distinguishing features and supporting his statements with scriptural references.
evam skande prabhasa-khande ca `yatradhikritya gayatrim' ity-adi
sarasvatasya kalpasya madhye ye syur naramarah
tad-vrittantodbhavam loke tac ca bhagavatam smritam
likhitva tac ca¼
ashöadasha-sahasrani puranam tat prakirtitam
iti. tad evam agni-purane ca vacanani vartante.
Gopiparanadhana: Similarly, the Prabhasa-khanda [1.2.39–42] of the Skanda Purana contains the statements, "Where the Gayatri mantra is the focus of discussion¼," "Among the various scriptures known on earth, that one which recounts the histories of the humans and demigods who lived during the Sarasvata-kalpa is called the Bhagavatam, and "A person who transcribes a copy of the Bhagavatam¼ This Purana is said to have eighteen thousand verses." There are also similar statements in the Agni Purana.
BBT: In the Skanda Purana, Prabhasa-khanda [18.104.22.168–42] we find a description of Shrimad-Bhagavatam similar to the one in the Matsya Purana:
“The Purana known as Shrimad-Bhagavatam recounts the deeds of humans and demigods in the Sarasvata-kalpa, explains the supreme religion in terms of Gayatri, and narrates the slaying of Vritrasura. It has eighteen thousand verses. . . . Whoever writes out a copy of the Bhagavatam, places it on a golden lion-throne, and presents it to someone on the full-moon day of the month of Bhadra will attain the supreme destination.”[NEW80]
These verses are also found in the Agni Purana [272.6, 7].
öika-kridbhih pramani-krite puranantare ca:
grantho ’shöadasha-sahasro dvadasha-skandha-sammitah
hayagriva-brahma-vidya yatra vritra-vadhas tatha
gayatrya ca samarambhas tad vai bhagavatam viduh
Gopiparanadhana: Another Purana cited as authority by the commentator [Shrila Shridhara Svami] also states, "That book is known as the Bhagavatam which contains eighteen thousand verses in twelve cantos, in which are described the meditation on the Supreme taught by sage Hayagriva and the killing of Vritra, and which begins with Gayatri."
BBT: Yet another Purana, cited by the Bhagavatam commentator Shridhara Svami, describes the characteristics of Shrimad-Bhagavatam thus:
“The Purana known as Shrimad-Bhagavatam has eighteen thousand verses divided into twelve cantos, begins with Gayatri, describes the Hayagriva-brahma-vidya, and narrates the slaying of Vritrasura.”
atra `hayagriva-brahma-vidya' iti vritra-vadha-sahacaryena narayana-varmaivocyate. hayagriva-shabdenatrashva-shira dadhicir evocyate. tenaiva ca pravartita narayana-varmakhya brahma-vidya. tasyashva-shirastvam ca shashöhe `yad va ashva-shiro nama' ity atra prasiddham narayana-varmano brahma-vidyatvam ca:
etac chrutva tathovaca dadhyann atharvanas tayoh
pravargyam brahma-vidyam ca sat-krito ’satya-shankitah
iti svami-öikotthapita-vacanena ceti.
Gopiparanadhana: Here the "meditation on the Supreme taught by Hayagriva" means the "Armor of Narayana" prayer, since it is mentioned alongside the killing of Vritra. The name Hayagriva here refers to the sage Dadhici, who had a horse's head. He initiated the meditation on the Supreme (brahma-vidya) known as the Narayana-varma. That he had a horse's head is established in the Bhagavatam's Sixth Canto [6.9.52] by the words "he who was called Horse-head (Ashva-shira)." That section of the Bhagavatam indeed presents the Narayana-varma as a brahma-vidya, and this identification is also confirmed by a verse cited by Shrila Shridhara Svami in his commentary, "Hearing this and feeling honored, Dadhici the descendent of Atharva, anxious not to break his promise, taught the two Ashvini-kumaras the pravargya method and the meditation on the Supreme."
BBT: The Hayagriva-brahma-vidya mentioned here (meaning “the doctrine of the Supreme taught by Hayagriva”)[DDB81] is “The Armor of Narayana” (Narayana-varma), since it is narrated in the same context as the killing of Vritra. The word haya-griva here refers to Dadhici, the sage with a horse’s head. He taught the knowledge of Brahman called Narayana-varma. His accepting a horse’s head and receiving the name Ashvashira (“horse-headed one”) are mentioned in Shrimad-Bhagavatam’s Sixth Canto [6.9.52], where these words are spoken: “he who has the name Ashvashira.” From a verse Shridhara Svami cites in his commentary on this Bhagavatam text we get further confirmation that the Narayana-varma is in fact a standard teaching about the Absolute:
“Upon hearing this and feeling honored, Dadhici, anxious not to break his promise, instructed the twin Ashvini-kumaras in the knowledge of the Pravargya sacrifice and Brahma-vidya.”
shrimad-bhagavatasya bhagavat-priyatvena bhagavatabhishöatvena ca parama-sattvikatvam. yatha padme ambarisham prati gautama-prashnah:
puranam tvam bhagavatam paöhase purato hareh
caritram daitya-rajasya prahladasya ca bhu-pate
tatraiva vanjuli-mahatmye tasya tasminn upadeshah
ratrau tu jagarah karyah shrotavya vaishnavi katha
gita nama-sahasram ca puranam shuka-bhashitam
paöhitavyam prayatnena hareh santosha-karanam
Gopiparanadhana: Shrimad-Bhagavatam is most pefectly in the mode of goodness because it pleases the Personality of Godhead and is very much prefered by the devotees of Godhead. As we find in the Padma Purana [Uttara-khanda 22.115], in the questions posed to Ambarisha by Gautama, "O ruler of the earth, do you sit in front of the Deity of Lord Hari and recite the Bhagavata Purana, including the story of Prahlada, the king of the demons?" Also in the Padma Purana, in the section glorifying Vanjuli Maha-dvadashi, Gautama instructs Ambarisha, "One should stay awake through the night, hearing narrations related to Lord Vishnu--the Bhagavad-gita, the Thousand Names of Vishnu and the Purana spoken by Shukadeva. These should be read aloud with careful attention to give satisfaction to the Supreme Lord Hari."
BBT: Since Shrimad-Bhagavatam is pleasing to the Supreme Lord and is His devotees’ favorite book, it is the supremely [DDB82]sattvic scripture. As stated in the Padma Purana, in Gautama Rishi’s question to Maharaja Ambarisha,
“O lord of the earth, do you recite the Bhagavata Purana before the Deity of Lord Hari, especially the history of the king of the demons, Prahlada Maharaja?” (Padma Pur.[DDB83], Uttara-khanda 22.115).
Again in the Padma Purana, Gautama further instructs Ambarisha, in the section glorifying the vow of Vyashjuli Maha-dvadashi:
“One should stay awake throughout that night and hear scriptures that narrate stories of Lord Vishnu and His devotees, especially the[DDB84] Bhagavad-gita, the thousand names of Lord Vishnu, and the Purana narrated by Shukadeva [Shrimad-Bhagavatam]. One should recite these with care, since they are pleasing to Lord Hari.”
ambarisha shuka-proktam nityam bhagavatam shrinu
paöhasva sva-mukhenapi yadicchasi bhava-kshayam
skande prahlada-samhitayam dvaraka-mahatmye:
shri-bhagavatam bhaktya paöhate hari-sannidhau
jagare tat-padam yati kula-vrinda-samanvitah
Gopiparanadhana: Elsewhere in the same work is the statement, "My dear Ambarisha, you should listen regularly to the Bhagavatam spoken by Shukadeva. Recite it with your own mouth also, if you want to see the end of your material life." And in the Prahlada-samhita of the Skanda Purana, in the section describing the glories of Dvaraka, "One who remains awake all night in front of the Deity of Hari reciting Shrimad-Bhagavatam with devotion will go to the Supreme Lord's abode with all his family."
BBT: And elsewhere in the Padma Purana we find this statement:
“O Ambarisha, if you wish to end your material existence, then every day you should hear the Bhagavatam that was narrated by Shukadeva, and you should also recite it yourself.”
Finally, we find the following statement in the Prahlada-samhita of the Skanda Purana, in the section describing Dvaraka’s glories:
“A person who stays up [on the night of Ekadashi] and recites Shrimad-Bhagavatam with devotion before the Deity of Lord Hari goes to the Lord’s abode along with all his family members.”
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
There is no doubt that the Bhagavatam is one of the main Puranas, since several Puranas included it in their lists of the eighteen Puranas, and no such lists exclude it. However, tantric worshipers of Devi, the consort of Lord Shiva, have raised a controversy over exactly which Bhagavatam is the one listed. They claim that their Devi-bhagavata is the real Bhagavatam among the eighteen major Puranas. Without directly embroiling himself in this controversy, Shrila Jiva Gosvami here cites several statements from other Puranas which include convincing evidence of Shrimad-Bhagavatam's place on the Puranic list of eighteen.
Actually, there are two Devi Puranas, both of which have been at times given the title Bhagavata on the grounds of their being dedicated to Bhagavati (Devi). Only one of two, the one called Devi-bhagavata, has features that lend some credibility to the idea that it may be the real Bhagavatam. It is eighteen thousand verses long in twelve cantos. It begins with a form of the Gayatri mantra: sarva-chaitanya-rupam tam adyam vidyam ca dhimahi/ buddhim ya nah pracodayat ("Let us meditate on that primal energy of knowledge, who embodies all living beings. May she inspire our intelligence."). A few episodes in the life of Prahlada are described in the Fourth Canto, although without revealing much of his true saintly character. Canto Six tells about the killing of Vritra. Thus five of the characteristics of the Bhagavatam mentioned in the Puranic verses quoted in anucchedas 19 and 20 are found in the Devi-bhagavata as well as in the Vaishnava Bhagavatam.
These verses list four other special characteristics, however, which the Devi-bhagavata fails to exhibit: 1) The Bhagavatam discusses events which occurred in the Sarasvata-kalpa, also known as the Shveta-varaha-kalpa, the day of Brahma in which Lord Vishnu's incarnation as a boar had a white body. 2) It describes the Brahma-vidya taught by Hayagriva. 3) It was spoken by Shukadeva. 4) It is a narration of Vaishnava character and should be recited in front of a Deity of Lord Vishnu.
The two verses cited from the Matsya Purana (Text 19.2) and the Skanda Puranas' Prabhasa-khanda (Text 20.1) share some of the same phrases, as does also the following verses from the Agni Purana [272.6–7]:
yatradhikritya gayatrim/ kirtyate dharma-vistarah
vritrasura-vadhopetam/ tad bhagavatam ucyate
sarasvatasya kalpasya/ proshöhapadyam tu tad dadet
"In the beginning of one of the Puranas the Gayatri mantra is the focus of discourse. In it all the ramifications of true religion are enunciated, and the killing of the demon Vritra is described. The Purana which has these characteristics is called Shrimad-Bhagavatam. It deals with the Sarasvata-kalpa and has eighteen thousand verses. One should give it as a gift on a gold lion-throne in the month of Praushöhapada."
The unidentified Puranic verse cited by Shrila Shridhara Svami specifies that the Bhagavatam describes the Hayagriva-brahma-vidya. Although Hayagriva is also the name of an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who appeared with a horse's head and spoke the Vedas to Lord Brahma, Shrila Jiva Gosvami here explains that this Hayagriva is different. He is the sage Dadhici, who taught the Ashvini-kumaras two specific vidyas, or systematic meditations on the Supreme for aspirants on various levels of realization. The Upanishads give instruction on several such vidyas, among them the pravargya taught by Dadhici, otherwise known as the prana-vidya, a meditation on the Supreme in the form of the air of life. The prana-vidya is introduced in a passage of the Chandogya Upanishad (1.11.4–5):
katama devateti. prana iti hovaca, sarvani ha va imani bhutani pranam evabhisamvishanti pranam abhyujjihate saisha devata.
"`Which is the controlling deity?' He answered, `It is prana, the air of life. All beings which exist enter within prana, and all rise up again from prana. That is the controlling deity.'" In the Vedanta-sutra (1.1.23), Shrila Vyasa offers the aphorism ata eva pranah to prove that the prana-vidya is a not just a depiction of a subtle physical energy but a transcendental meditation on Brahman. Baladeva Vidyabhushana explains in his Vedanta commentary, Govinda-bhashya: prano 'yam sarveshvara eva na tu vayu-vikarah. kutah? ata eva sarva-bhutotpatti-pralaya-hetutva-rupad brahma-lingad eva. "This prana is the Lord of all, not simple a transformation of the element air. Why? Because it is characterized as the Supreme, in terms of its being the cause of all beings' generation and destruction."
The second vidya which the Ashvinis learned from Dadhici is the Narayana-kavaca, a meditation on God in many of His personal forms for protection from various kinds of danger. The same Narayana-kavaca is recited in the eighth chapter of Shrimad-Bhagavatam's Sixth Canto (Texts 12–34), although in that instance it is being taught by a grand-disciple of Dadhici, the sage Vishvarupa, to Lord Indra. His Divine Grace Shrila Prabhupada gives more information on the story of Dadhici's teaching the brahma-vidya in a purport to his translation of Shrimad-Bhagavatam [6.9.52]:
"The following story is narrated by many acaryas in their commentaries:¼The great sage Dadhici had perfect knowledge of how to perform fruitive activities, and he had advanced spiritual knowledge as well. Knowing this, the Ashvini-kumaras once approached him and begged him to instruct them in spiritual science (brahma-vidya). Dadhici Muni replied, `I am now engaged in arranging sacrifices for fruitive activities. Come back some time later.' When the Ashvini-kumaras left, Indra, the King of heaven, approached Dadhici and said, `My dear Muni, the Ashvini-kumaras are only physicians. Please do not instruct them in spiritual science. If you impart the spiritual science to them despite my warning, I shall punish you by cutting off your head.' After warning Dadhici in this way, Indra returned to heaven. The Ashvini-kumaras, who understood Indra's desires, returned and begged Dadhici for brahma-vidya. When the great saint Dadhici informed them of Indra's threat, the Ashvini-kumaras replied, `Let us first cut off your head and replace it with the head of a horse. You can instruct brahma-vidya through the horse's head, and when Indra returns and cuts off that head, we shall reward you and restore your original head.' Since Dadhici had promised to impart brahma-vidya to the Ashvini-kumaras, he agreed to their proposal. Therefore, because Dadhici imparted brahma-vidya through the mouth of a horse, this brahma-vidya is also known as Ashvashira."
Purport by BBT Translators
The Characteristics of Shrimad-Bhagavatam
In this Text Jiva Gosvami gives special attention to establishing that the Bhagavatam glorified in the Puranas is Shrimad-Bhagavatam. He does this because some scholars of his time held that the Devi Bhagavatam, rather than Shrimad-Bhagavatam, was actually the Bhagavatam glorified in the Puranas. Like Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the Devi Bhagavatam is a Purana with twelve cantos, 18,000 verses, and an account of Vritrasura’s death, although its account of how Vritra was killed differs from the one in Shrimad-Bhagavatam. Also, when some traditional scholars read in the Puranas that on the full-moon day of the month of Bhadra one should donate the Bhagavatam mounted on a golden lion (hema-simha), they take this to mean the Devi Bhagavatam. This seems quite fitting, since Devi, or Durga, rides on a lion. (In the case of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, hema-simha is understood to mean “golden lion-throne.”)
Shrila Jiva Gosvami solves the controversy by citing references that list distinctive features of Shrimad-Bhagavatam: it begins with the Gayatri mantra, it contains the Hayagriva-brahma-vidya, the events it narrates happened in the Sarasvata-kalpa, and it was first spoken by Shri Shukadeva Gosvami to Parikshit Maharaja. Jiva Gosvami further supports his opinion by quoting from the Bhavartha-dipika, Shridhara Svami’s commentary on Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
The Devi Bhagavatam opens with a statement that appears to be based on Gayatri: om sarva-chaitanya-rupam tam adyam vidyam ca dhimahi, buddhim ya nah pracodayat. There are two reasons this statement should not be equated with Gayatri: First, nothing in it corresponds to the words savituh, varenyam, and bhargas from Gayatri. (By contrast, in Shrimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.1 there is such a correspondence.). Second, this statement is a meditation on Devi, but as Shri Jiva will show in the next Text, the object of meditation in Gayatri is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu.
Like Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the Devi Bhagavatam narrates the killing of Vritrasura, but in its account Indra kills Vritra with ocean foam empowered by Devi. Vritrasura performed severe penances for hundreds of years to please Lord Brahma. When Brahma appeared before him and offered a boon, Vritra asked that he would not be slain by any weapon made of iron or wood, or one that was dry or wet. After Lord Brahma granted this boon, Vritra attacked Indra and defeated him. Indra subsequently took help from Lord Vishnu, who entered Indra’s thunderbolt and also advised him to take the help of Devi and make a truce with Vritra. Indra then apparently befriended Vritrasura. But one day at dusk Indra surprised Vritrasura on a beach and slew him with his thunderbolt covered with foam, which was not a weapon of iron or wood and was neither wet nor dry.
The Devi Bhagavatam also makes no mention of the Hayagriva-brahma-vidya (the Narayana-varma). For all these reasons it is clear that the Bhagavatam referred to in the verse cited by Shridhara Svami is not the Devi Bhagavatam.
Hemadri, Ballalsena, Govindananda, Raghunandana, Gopala Bhaööa Gosvami, and Sanatana Gosvami have each written noteworthy dharma-shastras (books and essays on religious duties), in which they quote frequently from Shrimad-Bhagavatam but never from the Devi Bhagavatam. Ballalsena states in his Dana-sagara that only a few verses of Shrimad-Bhagavatam specifically recommend acts of charity. In contrast, the entire thirtieth chapter of the Devi Bhagavatam’s Ninth Canto deals exclusively with the glory of giving various kinds of charity. In addition, with the exceptions of Ramanujacarya and Nilakanöhacarya, all the great saintly commentators on Prasthana-trayi1 either wrote about Shrimad-Bhagavatam directly or at least cited it as a standard reference in their books. By contrast, neither Shankara, Madhvacarya, Vallabha, Lord Chaitanyadeva, or any other notable acarya ever cited the Devi Bhagavatam to support or prove any important statement.
The ninety-sixth chapter of the first part of the Naradiya Purana lists the topics of all twelve cantos of the Bhagavatam in order. This list fits Shrimad-Bhagavatam but not the Devi Bhagavatam. And the Padma Purana (Uttara-khanda 193.3), states:
puraneshu tu sarveshu shrimad-bhagavatam param
yatra prati-padam krishno giyate bahudharshibhih
“Among all the Puranas, Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the best. In every line great sages glorify Lord Krishna in various ways.” All this leaves no doubt that the Bhagavatam mentioned in the quoted [DDB85]Puranic verses is Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
Shrimad-Bhagavatam and other Puranas mention a demon named Hayagriva, and there is also an incarnation of Lord Vishnu called Hayagriva, who had a horse’s head. But because the Hayagriva mentioned in this section of the[DDB86] Tattva-sandarbha is connected with the slaying of the demon Vritra, Shrila Jiva Gosvami has identified him as the sage Dadhici. As told in the Sixth Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, after Vritra had conquered the demigods they approached Lord Vishnu for help. The Lord advised the chief of the demigods, Indra, to approach Dadhici and ask him for his body, which had been made firm by vows, penances, and knowledge of Brahman. The Lord told Indra to fashion from Dadhici’s bones a thunderbolt strong enough to kill Vritrasura.
Dadhici had previously taught the knowledge of Brahman to the Ashvini Kumara twins, although Indra had earlier forbidden him to teach them transcendental knowledge on the grounds that their medical profession disqualified them from learning it. Indra had threatened to behead Dadhici if he disobeyed, but Dadhici had already promised to teach the twins. The Ashvini Kumaras had solved Dadhici’s dilemma surgically: they severed his head and grafted a horse’s head in its place, knowing that Indra would eventually cut off that head and enable them to restore Dadhici’s original head. Dadhici then instructed them through the horse’s head. Dadhici became known as Hayagriva or Ashvashira (“horse-headed one”), and the transcendental knowledge he imparted became famous as the Hayagriva-brahma-vidya. As planned, Indra later severed Dadhici’s horse head and the Ashvini Kumaras restored his original head. Then, on the request of the demigods Dadhici offered his body to Indra, who used his bones to make a thunderbolt with which he killed Vritrasura. Earlier Dadhici had taught Tvashöa the same knowledge he had previously taught the Ashvini Kumaras, and Tvashöa in turn taught it to his son Vishvarupa. Vishvarupa taught it to Lord Indra as the Narayana Armor, which helped Indra defeat Vritrasura. Thus the Hayagriva referred to here is Dadhici, and the Brahma-vidya is the Narayana Armor. This is all described in the Sixth Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam and in the Bhagavatam commentaries of the Vaishnava acaryas.
Text 20.5 contains the term shuka-proktam, “recited by Shri Shuka.” From this term we should not infer that verses Shukadeva Gosvami did not speak, such as the First Canto, are not part of Shrimad-Bhagavatam. The Bhagavatam Vyasa revealed was complete, including future events and future statements by Suta and Shaunaka. Since Shrimad-Bhagavatam has been identified as having eighteen thousand verses and opening with a verse based on the Gayatri mantra, it must be that its first verse begins with the words janmady asya yatah and its last one ends with tam namami harim param.
Of the eighteen Puranas, six are meant for persons in the mode of ignorance, six for those in the mode of passion, and six for those in the mode of goodness. But Shrimad-Bhagavatam occupies a place of honor even among the sattvic Puranas. It is considered nondifferent from Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore it is parama-sattvika, a manifestation of pure goodness without any tinge of the material modes. Hareh santosha-karanam: it is pleasing to Hari, the transcendental Lord, who cannot be pleased by anything material. It is relished by His devotees, who scoff at the bliss of liberation, what to speak of the pleasure derived from reading something mundane. For this reason the sage Gautama recommends reciting Shrimad-Bhagavatam on Ekadashi, which is also called Hari-vasara, the day of Lord Hari. As the Skanda Purana (Vishnu-khanda 6.4.3) states:
shrimad-bhagavatasyatha shrimad-bhagavatah sada
svarupam ekam evasti sac-cid-ananda-lakshanam
“Shrimad-Bhagavatam and the Personality of Godhead are always of the same nature—possessed of eternal existence, full knowledge, and complete bliss.” And the Padma Purana (Uttara-khanda 198.30) confirms, shrimad-bhagavatakhyo ’yam pratyakshah krishna eva hi: “Without a doubt Shrimad-Bhagavatam is directly Lord Krishna.”
That Shrimad-Bhagavatam is nondifferent from Lord Krishna is confirmed in the Bhagavatam itself (1.3.43), where Suta Gosvami states that after the Lord’s disappearance the Bhagavatam appeared as His representative to enlighten the benighted people of Kali-yuga. The Padma Purana also confirms the oneness of the Bhagavatam and the Lord with this passage equating the Bhagavatam’s cantos with Krishna’s limbs:
padau yadiyau prathama-dvitiyau
tritiya-turyau kathitau yad-uru
nabhis tatha pancama eva shashöho
bhujantaram dor-yugalam tathanyau
kanöhas tu rajan navamo yadiyo
mukharavindam dashamam praphullam
ekadasho yash ca lalaöa-paööam
shiro ’pi yad dvadasha eva bhati
namami devam karuna-nidhanam
“The Bhagavatam’s First and Second Cantos are Lord Krishna’s feet, and the Third and Fourth Cantos are His thighs. The Fifth Canto is His navel, the Sixth Canto is His chest, and the Seventh and Eighth Cantos are His arms. The Ninth Canto is His throat, the Tenth His blooming lotus face, the Eleventh His forehead, and the Twelfth His head.
“I bow down to that Lord, the ocean of mercy, whose color is like that of a tamala tree and who appears in this world for the welfare of all. I worship Him as the bridge for crossing the unfathomable ocean of material existence. Shrimad-Bhagavatam has appeared as His very self.”
Next Shrila Jiva Gosvami demonstrates that Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra.
¼purnah so ’yam atishayah
artho ’yam brahma-sutranam bharatartha-vinirnayah
gayatri-bhashya-rupo ’sau vedartha-paribrimhitah
purananam sama-rupah sakshad bhagavatoditah
dvadasha-skandha-yukto ’yam shata-viccheda-samyutah
grantho ’shöadasha-sahasram shri-bhagavatabhidhah
Gopiparanadhana: The Garuda Purana states, "This is the most complete [of the Puranas]. It is the purport of the Vedanta-sutra, establishes the meaning of the Mahabharata, is a commentary on Gayatri, and completes the message of the Vedas. It is the Sama Veda among the Puranas, spoken directly by the Personality of Godhead. This work with twelve cantos, hundreds of chapters and eighteen thousand verses is called Shrimad-Bhagavatam."
BBT: And the Garuda Purana states:
“This Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the most perfect Purana. It is the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, it establishes the meaning of the Mahabharata, it is a commentary on Gayatri, it explains and expands the meaning of the Vedas, it is the Sama Veda of the Puranas, and it was spoken by the Supreme Lord Himself. It has twelve cantos, hundreds of chapters, and eighteen thousand verses.”
brahma-sutranam arthas tesham akritrima-bhashya-bhuta ity arthah. purvam sukshmatvena manasy avirbhutam tad eva sankshipya sutratvena punah prakaöitam pashcad vistirnatvena sakshat shri-bhagavatam iti. tasmat tad-bhashya-bhute svatah-siddhe tasmin saty arvacinam anyad anyesham sva-sva-kapola-kalpitam tad-anugatam evodaraniyam iti gamyate.
Gopiparanadhana: Saying that the Bhagavatam is the purport of the sutras of Vedanta means that it serves as their natural commentary. [Shrila Vyasadeva] first conceived of this in subtle form within his mind, then he summarized it as the Vedanta-sutra, and later he manifested Shrimad-Bhagavatam directly in its fully elaborated form. Inasmuch as this Bhagavatam has already appeared as the Vedanta-sutra's self-effulgent commentary, we can infer that the commentaries other, more recent authors have produced from their own heads are only worth paying attention to when they are faithful to the Bhagavatam.
BBT: Here the words brahma-sutranam arthah mean that Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra. First the Bhagavatam appeared in the heart of Shri Vyasadeva in a subtle form. He then summarized it in the form of the Vedanta-sutra, and later He expanded it into Shrimad-Bhagavatam as we know it. Since the Vedanta-sutra already has a natural commentary in Shrimad-Bhagavatam, whatever else more recent commentators have produced from their own brains should be taken seriously only when it is faithful to the version of Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
nirnayah sarva-shastranam bharatam parikirtitam
bharatam sarva-vedash ca tulam aropitah pura
devair brahmadibhih sarvair rishibhish ca samanvitaih
vyasasyaivajnaya tatra tv atiricyata bharatam
mahattvad bhara-vattvac ca mahabharatam ucyate
ity-ady-ukta-lakshanasya bharatasyartha-vinirnayo yatra sah.
Gopiparanadhana: "It establishes the meaning of the Mahabharata" means that in it is ascertained the meaning of the Mahabharata, whose characteristics are as stated: "It is said that the Mahaharata establishes the purport of all scriptures. Once long ago, Vyasadeva made the demigods headed by Brahma and all the sages place both the Mahabharata on one side of a scale and all the Vedas on the other. They found that the Mahabharata weighed more. Because it is so great (mahattvat) and so weighty (bhara-vattvat), it is called Mahabharata."
BBT: Concerning the phrase bharatartha-vinirnayah (“Shrimad-Bhagavatam establishes the meaning of the Mahabharata”), we find the following verses describing the Mahabharata’s importance in the Mahabharata itself [Adi-parva 1.272–74]:
“The Mahabharata is glorified because it contains the conclusions of all scriptures. Long ago, on the request of Shrila Vyasa, Lord Brahma and the other demigods came together with all the great sages and placed the Mahabharata on one side of a scale and the entire Vedas on the other. The Mahabharata, it turned out, weighed more because of its greatness (mahattva) and heaviness (bhara-vattva). For this reason it is called Maha-bharata.” The message of the Mahabharata, whose importance is as described here, is made clear in the text of Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
shri-bhagavaty eva tatparyam tasyapi. tad uktam moksha-dharme narayaniye shri-veda-vyasam prati janamejayena:
idam shata-sahasrad dhi bharatakhyana-vistarat
amathya mati-manthena jnanodadhim anuttamam
nava-nitam yatha dadhno malayac candanam yatha
aranyam sarva-vedebhya oshadhibhyo ’mritam yatha
samuddhritam idam brahman kathamritam idam tatha
tapo-nidhe tvayoktam hi narayana-kathashrayam
Gopiparanadhana: The Mahabharata also has its purport in the divine Personality of Godhead. Janamejaya states this to Shri Veda-vyasa in the Moksha-dharma section of the Mahabharata, in the Narayaniya sub-section, "This Narayaniya is an unexcelled ocean of knowledge, churned from the vast expanse of the Mahabharata's hundred thousand verses of stories with the churning rod of your wisdom. O brahmana, like yogurt churned from new butter, sandalwood brought from the Malaya Hills, the Aranyakas from the whole body of Vedas, or the nectar of life from medicinal herbs, so this immortal nectar of narrations has been distilled. It was spoken by you, O storehouse of austerity, and is full of descriptions of Lord Narayana."
BBT: Another way in which Shrimad-Bhagavatam establishes the meaning of the Mahabharata is that the message of both culminates in the Supreme Lord alone. That the Mahabharata’s message culminates in the Lord is evinced in the Narayaniya section of the Mahabharata’s Moksha-dharma portion [170.11–14], where Janamejaya says to Shrila Vyasadeva:
“O brahmana, abode of austerities, just as butter can be extracted from yogurt, sandalwood from the Malaya mountains, the Upanishads from the Vedas, and life-giving nectar from herbs, so by Your churning the ocean of the highest knowledge with the rod of Your intelligence, this Narayaniya has been extracted from the Mahabharata’s hundred thousand verses. The Narayaniya’s narrations are related to Lord Narayana and are sweet like nectar.”
Purport by Gopiparanadhana prabhu
All Vedic literatures, including the Puranas, are auspicious. They are all meant for the improvement of human civilization.
tatah puranam akhilam sarva-shastra-mayam dhruvam
nitya-shabda-mayam punyam shata-koöi-pravistaram
"After these appeared the entire Purana, incorporating all scriptures. The Purana is unchanging, consists of eternal sound, is auspicious and includes as much as one billion verses" (Skanda Purana, Prabhasa-khanda, quoted in Text 13.1). Each Purana has its own special suitability for some particular class of people, and thus each has a right to advertise its own excellence. Shrimad-Bhagavatam also takes many opportunities to declares its own glories. Nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam: "This Bhagavatam is the ripened fruit of the desire tree of the Vedas" [Bhag. 1.1.3].
nimna-ganam yatha ganga/ devanam acyuto yatha
vaishnavanam yatha shambhuh/ purananam idam tatha
"Just as the Ganga is the greatest of rivers, Lord Acyuta the supreme among deities and Lord Shambhu [Shiva] the greatest of Vaishnavas, so Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the greatest of all Puranas" [Bhag. 12.13.16].
It is only natural that each Purana encourages its own readers to take advantage of its teachings. Very remarkable about Shrimad-Bhagavatam, however, is the unique praise it receives in works that might be expected to be the Bhagavatam's rivals, like the Skanda, Padma and Garuda Puranas. Those who see the Puranas competing for the adherence of the faithful unjustifiably assume that the Vedic literature is not a coherent whole. But as a thorough study of the whole literature under proper guidance shows, the Puranas do present the true viewpoint of the Vedas and Vedanta. That the apparently conflicting voices of all these texts are in fact in perfect harmony should be a cause of reverence and amazement, of appreciation for the complex elegance of the Supreme Truth's personal incarnation in eternal sound, the total body of the revealed scriptures, shabda-brahma. In spite of all the promotion of demigods, the essential principles of eternal service to the one Supreme Lord are never contradicted in the Puranas. Demigods are allowed to display apparent superiority only by the sanction of their absolute master. Every Purana, in fact, shows respect to the Personality of Godhead by including some narration of the pastimes of both Shri Krishna and Lord Ramacandra. In the ultimate issue, due credit is given to the supreme controller Vishnu and to the supreme Vaishnava scriptural authority in the pure mode of goodness, Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
According to the statement cited here from the Garuda Purana, Shrimad-Bhagavatam elucidates the meaning of the Vedas, all the Puranas, the Vedanta-sutra, Mahabharata and the Gayatri mantra; in addition, it is said to have been spoken by the Supreme Lord and be the Puranic equivalent of the Sama Veda. These qualities are substantiated one after another in this and the next anuccheda.
Shrimad-Bhagavatam "establishes the meaning of the Mahabharata," which is a more appropriate source of knowledge for people of our age than the Vedas themselves, because in an interesting to read and easily understandible way it provides a digest of every important principle of Vedic knowledge. Its very name signifies its importance: Mahabharata is so called by virtue of its "greateness" (mahattva) and "weightiness" (bharavattva). It is an extremely elevated narration of the greatness of the noble dynasty of King Bharata, especially of the five sons of Pandu and their friend Shri Krishna. It is "heavy" in the literal sense of its size, containing over 75,000 verses even in its shortest recession, and known on higher planets in a full form of six million verses.
The confidential essence of the Mahabharata is its revelation of the Personality of Godhead, which is found in a few of its sections, including the Bhagavad-gita, Vishnu-sahasra-nama and Narayaniya. In Shrimad-Bhagavatam this same essence of the Vedas is amplified and expanded into a complete programmed course on the science of God consciousness. The Bhagavatam's importance and usefulness is thus proportionately greater than even that of the Mahabharata, in which the discussions of theistic topics are only isolated diversions from the main story. Therefore the acaryas following in the line of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu judge that Shrimad-Bhagavatam is higher authority than the Mahabharata, and that its version should be accepted when there is apparent contradiction between the two. For example, in the Adi-parva of the Mahabharata, King Parikshit reacts to the news that he has been cursed to die from a snakebite in seven days by trying to protect himself in a castle surrounded by moats. This must be reconciled with the account of the Bhagavatam, according to which Parikshit refuses to do anything to avoid the result of the curse. It is necessary to explain the Parikshit of the Mahabharata as a different person who had the same name in a previous day of Brahma.
Purport by BBT Translators
Shrimad-Bhagavatam Is the Natural Commentary on the Vedanta-sutra
Shrimad-Bhagavatam is one of the eighteen Puranas, but Shrila Vyasadeva wrote it after compiling the essence of the Vedas in the Vedanta-sutra and also composing the Mahabharata and Puranas. But, one might ask, if the eighteen Puranas had already been compiled, does this make Shrimad-Bhagavatam the nineteenth Purana?
In Text 21.2 Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains that this is not the case. Shrimad-Bhagavatam appeared first to Shrila Vyasa in a concise and subtle form, as one of the eighteen Puranas. Shrila Vyasa composed the Vedanta-sutra on the basis of this first edition of the Bhagavatam. Later, when He sat in trance in pursuance of Narada Muni’s order, the expanded form of Shrimad-Bhagavatam was revealed to Him as the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra. Shrimad-Bhagavatam and the Vedanta-sutra share the same subject, the Absolute Truth, and they describe the same principles of sambandha (the relationship between the soul and God), abhidheya (the process of attaining the supreme goal), and prayojana (the supreme goal, perfect devotion to the Lord). Many acaryas and scholars wrote later commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra, but only those that agree with Shrimad-Bhagavatam—such as those given by Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, and Baladeva Vidyabhushana—are bona fide.
Suta Gosvami alludes to Veda-vyasa’s composing two editions of Shrimad-Bhagavatam:
sa samhitam bhagavatim kritvanukramya catmajam
shukam adhyapayam asa nivritti-niratam munih
[DDB87]“The great sage Vyasadeva, after compiling Shrimad-Bhagavatam and revising it, taught it to His own son, Shri Shukadeva