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The Meeting of Narada Muni and Bhakti Devi
We offer our humble obeisances unto Lord Shri Krishna, whose transcendental form is bliss personified. He is the cause of the creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe and the destroyer of the three types of miseries.
We pay our humble obeisances to Shri Sukadeva Gosvami who is like the Supersoul. He left home immediately after taking birth, though he had not undergone any samskaras, or purificatory ceremonies. Upon his departure,, his father out of separation followed him calling, "O my son! O my son," but only the trees responded.
Once in the forest of Naimisaranya, Shri Saunaka Rsi, the best of sages who are expert in tasting krishna-katha, put some questions to Suta Gosvami after paying obeisances. Shri Saunaka said, "O Suta Gosvami, your knowledge dispels the darkness of ignorance like millions of suns. Please recite the nectarean pastimes of Lord Krishna, which are like tonic for the ears. How can one increase the discrimination that results from knowledge of devotion and renunciation of the material world?1 How do Vaishnavas get relief from the illusion created by Maya? In Kali-yuga the general populace is demonic, please explain, therefore, the best means to purify those who are troubled by various types of tribulations. O Suta Gosvami, please describe that sadhana, or most auspicious purifying process that will take one to Krishna. A touch-stone can give only material happiness and the kalpa-vrksa tree can at most grant heavenly opulence, however, when the spiritual master is pleased he can give the eternal abode of the Lord - the Vaikuntha planet -- which is not achieved even by the yogis."
Shri Suta Gosvami said, "O Saunaka, your heart is full of love for the Personality of Godhead. After proper deliberation, therefore I will give you the essence of all conclusions, which will destroy the fear of birth and death and increase the flow of devotion which is the chief cause of Lord Shri Krishna's happiness. Please hear it attentively. Shri Sukadeva Gosvami recited Shrimad Bhagavatam in Kali yuga to absolutely destroy fear of the snake of death. There is no superior means than this for the purification of the mind. One attains the Shrimad Bhagavatam, however, only after accumulating pious activities for many life times.
"When Sukadeva Gosvami sat among the sages and prepared to recite Shrimad Bhagavatam to Pariksita Maharaja,2 the demigods, who are expert in accomplishing their work, approached him with a pot of nectar. They offered humble obeisances and said, 'Please accept this pot of nectar and in exchange give us the nectar of hari-katha. Let King Pariksita drink this, and let us drink the nectar of Shrimad Bhagavatam.'
"At that time Shri Sukadeva Gosvami thought, 'Where is a piece of glass and where is a transcendental gem? How can one compare these two? What is the question of comparing this material nectar, though celestial, with the transcendental nectar of Shrimad Bhagavatam?'3 In this way Sukadeva Gosvami made fun of the demigods. He did not consider them proper recipients of hari-katha, because they are devoid of pure devotional service. Hence, hearing the Shrimad Bhagavatam is rare even among the demigods.
"Lord Brahma was astonished to learn that Pariksita Maharaja became liberated just by hearing Shrimad Bhagavatam. In Satyaloka, he put the Shrimad Bhagavatam on one end of a scale and all other processes for obtaining liberation on the other. Upon seeing the Shrimad Bhagavatam tilt the scale, all the sages present were struck with wonder. They asserted that in Kali-yuga only hearing and reciting Shrimad Bhagavatam, which is non different from the Personality of Godhead, can immediately relieve one from material distress. If one hears it according to the proper process (as described in chapter six), it will certainly grant bhakti. Previously the most merciful Kumara brothers recited Shrimad Bhagavatam to the sage Narada. Although Shri Narada had heard it from lord Brahma, the Kumaras gave him the opportunity to hear it according to the recommended process."4
Shri Saunaka asked, "Where did the learned Narada, who is free from material bondage and constantly travels all over the universe, meet those great sages? How did his interest in hearing hari-katha and in knowing the specific rules and regulations for hearing it develop?"
Suta Gosvami replied, "Now I will narrate an episode that is full of devotion. Shri Sukadeva, who considers me his surrendered disciple, told it to me in confidence. Once, the Kumaras went to Visala (Badrinatha) to get the holy association of saintly people.5 There they met Narada Muni.
"The Kumaras said, 'O brahmana, why do you appear so dejected and full of anxiety? Where have you come from, and where are you going so quickly? You appear like a person in complete anxiety owing to loss of wealth.6 This is not befitting a person like you, who is completely free from material attachment. Please explain the reason for this.'
"Shri Narada replied, 'I came here considering the earth to be the best of planets. Although I travelled to Puskara, Prayaga, Kasi, Godavari, Haridvara, Kuruksetra, Shriranga and Setubandha, I could not find peace in any of those holy places. At present, Kali yuga the friend of irreligion, has completely afflicted the whole earth. Now truthfulness, austerity, cleanliness, mercy and charity are nowhere to be seen. The fallen living entities take pleasure in telling lies and are simply engaged in filling their bellies.7 They are lazy, less intelligent, unfortunate, and always disturbed. Those who are called saintly are actually pretenders. Though they appear renounced, they accumulate wealth, women, and paraphernalia for sense pleasure. Women rule the family and the brother-in-law is the consultant. People sell their daughters out of greed, and husbands and wives always quarrel. The holy places, asramas of saintly people, and rivers are under the control of the yavanas, who are against Vedic religion.8 They have destroyed many temples and therefore yogis, siddhas, jnanis and religious people are not to be seen. The processes of liberation are completely burnt to ashes in the fire of Kali-yuga. In this age people sell grains in the market, the brahmanas charge fees to teach,9 and women thrive by prostitution.10
"Thus witnessing the defects of Kali-yuga and wandering over the face of the earth, I reached the bank of the Yamuna where Lord Krishna had performed various pastimes. O best of sages, please hear about the wonder I saw there. A beautiful woman was sitting in a dejected mood while two old men lay unconscious in front of her breathing very quickly. While trying to bring them to consciousness, the young women would sometimes cry. At times she would look around as if searching for her protector, the Supersoul. She was served by hundreds of women who were fanning and trying to console her. I saw this whole scene from afar and out of curiosity went near them. Upon seeing me, the young lady stood up and spoke very piteously. She said: "O saintly person, please stay here for a moment11 and dispel my distress. Your auspicious vision destroys the sins of materialistic people. By your words I will get relief from misery and become peaceful. Only by great fortune can one get darsana of a person like you."
I inquired, "O virtuous lady, who are you and who are these two men lying here? Who are these ladies serving you? Please explain the cause of your distress in detail."
The lady said, "My name is Bhakti, and these two are my sons Jnana and Vairagya.12 By the influence of time they have become old and decrepit.13 These women are the holy rivers, such as the Ganges. They have come here to serve me.14 Although I am directly being served by these ladies, still I am not peaceful.15 O sage, whose only wealth is austerity, though it is well known, please hear my story carefully and grant me solace. I was born in the land of Dravida, in South India, and I grew up in Karnataka. I was respected in the state of Maharastra, but when I came to Gujarata, I lost my youth.16 Rogues influenced by Kali-yuga broke my limbs and for a long time I remained in that condition and thus, along with my sons, I have become very weak and impotent. Upon coming to Vrndavana, I regained my youth and beauty, but my two sons, who are lying here, are still old and tired.17 I will leave this place and travel to foreign lands,18 but I feel sad owing to the plight of my sons. We always remain together, so why is it that I am young and they are old? It should be that the sons are young while the mother is old. I am astonished by this and so I lament. You have mystic power and are most intelligent, therefore, please explain this to me."
Narada said, "O chaste lady, from within my heart I see the cause of your misery, therefore I advise you not to lament. Lord Hari will shower all auspiciousness upon you."
Suta Gosvami said, "The best of sages, Shri Narada, understood the reason in a moment and said, 'O beautiful lady, hear attentively from me. Because of this ruthless age (Kali-yuga), good behaviour, yoga, and austerities have all become lost. People are addicted to cheating, irreligious behaviour, and are like the demon Agha, sin personified.19 At present, saintly people are unhappy and demonic people are enjoying sense gratification. Under these circumstances, if an intelligent man maintains his fortitude, then he is considered a scholar. By and by the earth is becoming a burden for Lord Sesa. At present it is not even worth seeing, what to speak of touching, and I see no auspiciousness anywhere. Everyone neglects you and your two sons. Because of worldly attachment to sense gratification, people are blind. Owing to their negligence,, you have become decrepit. It is only due to the glory of Vrndavana that you have become young again. This land is very auspicious because devotion always dances here. However, your two sons are being neglected and thus their health is failing,20 but by the touch of Vrndavana they remain asleep and breathing."
Bhakti said, "Why is it that King Pariksita did not kill this sinful Kali-yuga? Because of Kali-yuga all objects have lost their essence. Why does the most merciful Lord Hari tolerate irreligion? O sage, please remove this doubt. I feel pacified by hearing your sweet words."
Narada said, "O auspicious young lady, now that you have asked, please hear me with attention as I explain everything and thus relieve your misery. Kali-yuga took control and started obstructing auspiciousness the day Lord Krishna left this planet for His abode. When King Pariksita travelled on earth, conquering all the kings, he met Kali, who fell at his feet and took shelter of him. The king, who understood the essence of things just like the bumble bee, decided not to kill him because that goal which is not attainable by penance, yoga meditation, or samadhi, is easily attained in Kali-yuga simply by performing hari-kirtana.21 Although the king knew that Kali-yuga was useless, he spotted this one essential good quality, and understanding that this would make the living beings happy, he spared him. Because humanity is engaged in irreligious and immoral acts, everything has lost its essence. All objects, including the seeds of the earth, are ineffective.22 The brahmanas, being greedy for wealth, are performing Bhagavata-katha in peoples houses and therefore the essence of katha is lost.23 Immoral, atheistic, and sinful people have begun to reside in the holy places, causing the influence of those places to be lost. Those people whose hearts are always filled with lust, greed and anger make a show of performing austerities, thereby causing the essence of penance to be lost. Because people are unable to control their mind, they have taken shelter of greed, pretence, and immorality, and have given up the study of scriptures, causing the influence of jnana-yoga to be lost. Moreover, the pandits, or scholars, are only expert in producing children and enjoying sex like buffaloes. They are no longer expert in the process of liberation.24 Furthermore, there are hardly any Vaishnavas coming in bonafide sampradayas and there, everywhere all objects have become ineffective. This indeed, is due to the influence of Kali and is not the defect of anyone else. Therefore, although the lotus-eyed Lord resides near by, He tolerates this."
Suta Gosvami said, " O Saunaka, hearing these revealing words of Shri Narada Muni, Bhakti was very surprised. She replied, 'O saintly person, you are very glorious and it is my good fortune to have met you. Within this material world, association with a saintly person is indeed the cause of all perfection. Just by once meeting you, Shri Prahlada, the son of Kayadhu, conquered Maya, and by your mercy Dhruva Maharaja gained the Dhruva planet. You are the personification of all auspiciousness. I offer my obeisances unto you, the direct son of Lord Brahma.'"
Comments on Chapter One
1 That discrimination which is not related to Bhakti is useless. It can only make a person materially wise, because it has no superior purpose. Similarly, knowledge and renunciation are useful only when they arise from devotion, otherwise they make the heart dry and hard.
2 Pariksita Maharaja was cursed by the son of Samika Rsi to be bitten by a snake called Taksaka and die after seven days. When the king heard this, he renounced his kingdom and sat on the bank of Ganges intending to fast until death. Upon Sukadeva Gosvami's arrival, Pariksita Maharaja asked him to recite Shrimad Bhagavatam. Actually every living entity is cursed to die within seven days (from Sunday to Saturday). Death is compared to a snake that will pay everyone a visit. While everyone fears death, they do not use this fear to cultivate detachment. Rather, owing to ignorance, they become more attached. This is the difference between Pariksita Maharaja and the common man. Hearing Shrimad Bhagavatam makes a person free from the fear of death. That Pariksita Maharaja heard Shrimad Bhagavatam for seven days signifies that we should hear it everyday until our death.
3 Shrimad Bhagavatam is the property of the devotees of the Supreme Lord. Although demigods are also devotees, they are selfish and attached to enjoyment. This disqualifies them from drinking the nectar of Shrimad Bhagavatam. When one drinks heavenly nectar he loses his piety, but when one hears krishna-katha, he is freed from sin and his heart becomes purified, punya sravana kirtana (S.B. 1.2.17). This is the difference between heavenly nectar and the nectar of krishna-katha.
4 According to the Second Canto, Lord Brahma spoke the original four verses of the Shrimad Bhagavatam to Narada, who in turn instructed them to Shri Vyasa. The "proper process" refers to hearing the complete Shrimad Bhagavatam in seven days according to the guidelines given in chapter six.
5 Visala is another name for Badrinatha. Lord Nara-Narayana, the presiding deity of Bharata-varsa resides there and this it is visited by many saintly people.
6 Generally a saintly person has no reason to feel either dejected or elated but when he sees the living entities suffering, he feels unhappy for them.
7 This is the prediction for the present age.
8 Yavanas refers to the Muslim rulers who invaded India at various times, beginning from the 11th century. They were inimical to Vedic religion and culture. Some were tolerant, some were atrocious. Some Muslim destroyed temples and even forcibly converted Hindus to Islam. They even imposed taxes on visitors to the holy places.
9 According to Vedic custom a brahmana should not charge for giving knowledge. He is allowed to accept donations for his maintenance or send his students to householders for begging food. This custom insured that only those who had interest in teaching would perform this service and unqualified people would not be interest. Because students did not pay fees, they remained indebted and obedient to their teachers. This system continued in India up until about 150 years ago when British rulers introduced change. Under the present system, good relations between student and teachers are non-existent and thus the whole educational process is degraded.
10 The exact Sanskrit is kaminyah kesasulinyah, which can also mean that women will cut their hair.
11 A saintly person does not speak with women unnecessarily.
12 Jnana and Vairagya are the natural offspring of devotion to the Lord (S.B. 1.2.7.).
13 "By the influence of time" indicates the age of Kali, in which people lose interest in transcendental knowledge and renunciation.
14 All the holy places are subservient to devotional service. They follow Bhakti. Therefore wherever a devotee goes, that places becomes holy.
15 Transcendental knowledge and detachment from sense gratification naturally follow Bhakti. (S.B. 11.2.43). And discrepancy in this principle implies disturbance in devotional service.
16 This briefly describes the history of the Bhakti movement in the age of Kali. There were many great Vaishnavas who appeared in the land of Dravida. Later on Ramanujacarya organised and propagated Vaisnavism under the banner of the Shri Sampradaya (S.B. 11.5.38-40). Madhvacarya appeared in the state of Karnataka and preached very vigorously, nurturing bhakti. In Maharastra there were some saints such as Tukarma in Pandarpura who propagated bhakti. But in Gujarata the people were more interested in accumulating wealth and thus bhakti was neglected. When one worships the deha (the body), the worship of Deva (the Lord), is neglected. When bhakti is weak then jnana and vairagya are automatically emaciated.
17 Vrndavana is the eternal abode of Lord Krishna and thus Bhakti naturally flourishes there. But, if one neglects hearing krishna-katha, then Jnana and Vairagya remain in a fainted state. They get covered by Maya. As Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita (5.15) ajnanenavrtam jnanam tena muhynati jantavah.
18 Idam sthanam parityajya videsam gamyate maya. This statement hints at Shrila Prabhupada's travel to the western world from Vrndavana. It is interesting to note that the Sanskrit proverb used in this sentence is in the passive voice (gamyate). This signifies that she (Bhakti) will be carried by someone. Because the Puranas are compiled by Shrila Vyasa, who is an incarnation of the Lord, it is not impossible for him to make such predictive statements.
19 Aghasura was a demon with the body of a python. He swallowed the innocent cowherd friends of Krishna, who later on killed him. Demonic persons, who trouble innocent people and seize their wealth, are like Aghasura.
20 At present in Vrndavana the study of devotional literature such as Shrimad Bhagavatam is being neglected and Vairagya is being replaced with cosy life. Yet the land has not lost its power.
21 Sage Karbhajana confirms this (S.B. 11.5.36).
22 The new varieties of grains, fruits and vegetables are hybrids. They yield more produce but are not as nutritious and delicious as the original varieties, which existed since time immemorial. We have experienced this ourselves because the hybrid seeds were introduced very late in India. For example chapatis made from contemporary wheat flour have less flavour, and the texture is not as pleasing as those of bygone years. They become dry and hard very quickly and are not as conducive to health as those made of the desi grain which is now extinct.
23 The purpose of Hari-katha is not to solve economic problems. Its real purpose is to nourish Bhakti along with Jnana and Vairagya.
24 All the above predictions can be confirmed by paying a visit to holy places like Vrndavana. That the "essence is lost" means one no longer sees their influence. If, however, one performs these activities as prescribed in the scriptures, he will fell the positive influence.