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Bhakti's Distress is Dispelled
Shri Narada said, "To establish bhakti, jnana and vairagya, I will perform a jnana-yajna by reciting the Shrimad Bhagavatam as was spoken by Shri Sukadeva Gosvami. Please explain where this yajna should be performed. You are the knower of the Vedas, therefore please explain the glories of the Shrimad Bhagavatam as spoken by Shri Sukadeva Gosvami. Also please explain the proper procedure and duration for the recitation."
The Kumaras replied, "O Narada, you are very humble and discriminate.1 We will explain everything to you, so kindly hear from us. Near Haridvara there is a bathing place or ghata on the bank of Ganges called Ananda.2 Many saintly persons reside there and demigods and perfected beings visit frequently. The place abounds with various types of trees and creepers and the sand is soft and appealing. The beautiful ghata decorates a solitary point on the river.3 The fragrance of lotus flowers fills the air and lions and tigers dwell with no animosity toward other animals.4 Go there and effortlessly start this jnana-yajna, for by the medium of this katha, a novel rasa will become manifest. You will see Bhakti appear along with Jnana and Vairagya, who have become decrepit. Wherever there is recitation of Shrimad Bhagavatam, bhakti, jnana and vairagya automatically become manifest. By the sound of Bhagavatam they will become young and energetic."5
Shri Suta Gosvami said, "After saying this, the Kumaras desiring to drink the nectar of Shrimad Bhagavatam, arrived at the bank of the Ganges, along with Narada. The news spread all over the earth and throughout the three planetary systems. Those devotees who harboured any taste for hearing the Lord's pastimes, came in haste to drink the nectar. Sage like Bhrgu, Vasistha, Cyavana, Gautama, Medhatithi, Devala, Devarata, Parasurama, Visvamitra, Sakala, Markandeya, Dattatreya, Pippalada, Vyasa, Parasara, Chayasuka, Jajali, Jahnu, and all such great saintly persons arrived there along with their family members and disciples. Besides them, the Vedas, the Upanisads, Mantra, Tantra, the seventeen Puranas and the six philosophical systems came in their personified forms. Sacred rivers like the Ganges, sacred ponds like Puskara, holy ksetras like Kuruksetra, sanctified forests like Dandaka, all the directions, majestic mountains like the Himalayas, the demigods, Gandharvas, and even Danavas came there to hear hari-katha. Those who were not inclined to come out of excessive pride, were brought by the great sage Bhrgu who had expertly convinced them. The Kumaras then sat on a beautiful seat offered by Shri Narada and resolved themselves to recite Shrimad Bhagavatam. In the front of the audience sat Vaishnavas, renunciants, brahmacaris, and Shri Narada Muni sat in front of them. On the one side sat the sages and on the other the demigods. One place hosted the Vedas and Upanisads, and another the holy places. In yet another place sat the women, while all around could be heard, "All glories! All glories!" as conches resounded and people decorated each other with coloured powder and flowers. Some demigods alighted from their airplanes and from the sky others showered flowers on the audience."
Suta Gosvami said, "In this way the worship was performed and then everyone sat with an attentive mind. The Kumaras began reciting the glories of Shrimad Bhagavatam before the sage Narada. "Now we will describe the glories of Bhagavatam, which by hearing, one attains liberation. One should always hear Shrimad Bhagavatam, for just by doing so, the Lord sits in one's heart. Bhagavatam has 18 000 verses in twelve cantos and is a dialogue between Shri Sukadeva and King Pariksita.6 The living entity wanders in this world owing to ignorance, until he hears the Bhagavatam Shri Sukadeva Gosvami recited. Indeed there is no need to hear many scriptures and Puranas as this simply causes confusion. Shrimad Bhagavatam alone is sufficient to grant liberation. That house where Bhagavatam is recited daily becomes a holy place and those who reside there become free from all sins. Thousands of horse sacrifices and hundreds Vajapeya sacrifices cannot compare to one sixteenth of the benefit of hearing Shrimad Bhagavatam. O sages, sins reside in a person's body only until he properly hears Shrimad Bhagavatam . The benefits offered by the Ganges, Gaya, Kasi, Puskara, or Prayaga cannot compare to those derived from hearing the Bhagavatam. If you at all desire the supreme destination, then you should daily recite at least one half, or even on fourth of a Shrimad Bhagavatam sloka. There is no difference between Omkara, Gayatri Mantra, Purusa-sukta, the three Vedas, Shrimad Bhagavatam, the twelve syllable mantra, the twelve features of the sun god, Prayaga, Kala which manifests as a year, brahmana, agnihotra sacrifice, a cow, fasting on ekadashi, Tulasi, spring season and the Personality of Godhead, Krishna. A person who hears Shrimad Bhagavatam day and night and understands its meaning, becomes free from the sins committed in millions of lives. There is no doubt about it. The person who daily recites even one half or one fourth of a verse of Shrimad Bhagavatam gets the benefit of performing the Rajasuya sacrifice (horse sacrifice). Daily recitation of the Bhagavatam, meditation on the Personality of Godhead, the watering of Tulasi, and rendering service to the cow, are all considered equal. If a person hears a verse from the Shrimad Bhagavatam at the time of death, the Lord becomes pleased and grants him residence in Vaikuntha.
Whoever places the Bhagavatam on a golden throne and donates it to a devotee certainly attains the association of the Personality of Godhead. A person who does not hear even a part of Shrimad Bhagavatam during the whole of his life, lives just like a candala or an ass. The purpose of his birth is only to give delivery pains to his mother. A person who has not even heard one verse of the Bhagavatam is very sinful and although living, is actually dead. His life is an utter waste and simply a burden for the earth. This is the statement of Lord Indra, the chief among the demigods. Indeed it is not very easy to get an opportunity to hear Shrimad Bhagavatam. Only a very pious person gets such an opportunity. O Narada, you are very intelligent and the abode of mysticism. Hear this katha with attention. There are no rules restricting the time or date for hearing Bhagavatam.7 Considered best is that one should hear Bhagavatam while keeping a vow of celibacy and truthfulness.8 But for the people in Kali-yuga this is very difficult. Therefore, Sukadeva Gosvami explained a special process for hearing that should be known. In Kali-yuga the minds of people are always disturbed and thus it is very difficult for them to perform pious activity and follow rules and regulations for a long period. He has recommended, therefore, a process of hearing the Bhagavatam in seven days, which is called saptaha sravana, or saptaha yajna.
Whatever benefit one derives from hearing Bhagavatam during the month of Magha or anytime, Sukadeva says, that one gets the same benefit by the process of Saptaha. Because people in general are short-lived, always sick, and unable to control their minds, the process of hearing Shrimad Bhagavatam in seven days is offered in Kali-yuga.9 That benefit which is unattainable through penance, yoga and mystic trance, can be readily attained by properly hearing the Bhagavatam through the process of Saptaha. There is no greater vrata, penance, sacrifice, service to a holy place, meditation, or knowledge than hearing Bhagavatam through the Saptaha Yajna."
Saunaka said, "O Suta Gosvami, you have made very wonderful statements! Certainly Bhagavatam must describe about Lord Krishna, who is the source of Brahma, but how is it possible that this is a better process of liberation then even the path of knowledge?"
Suta Gosvami said, "O Saunaka, when Lord Krishna was about to leave this earthly planet to go to His own abode, He spoke the eleventh canto to Uddhava. Upon hearing it, Uddhava asked, "O Govinda You have fulfilled Your purpose with respect to Your devotees and as You prepare to return to Your abode, there is one doubt in my mind. Please hear it and grant me solace. kali-yuga will begin immediately, and various types of vicious qualities will become manifest. Saintly people will become demonic and the earth will become over burdened. Then who will give her shelter? O lotus-eyed Lord, but for You, I do not see anyone who can protect the earth. O Lord, You are very dear to Your devotees and merciful to the saintly persons, therefore, please do not leave. O Lord, You appeared here only for the benefit of Your devotees, so how will Your devotees maintain their lives in your separation? To meditated on Your impersonal feature is very miserable, therefore please do something.10
"Hearing these words of Uddhava at Prabhasa, the Lord devised a solution to give shelter to His devotees. O Saunaka, He invested all His power in the Shrimad Bhagavatam along with Himself in His unmanifest form. We should know, there, that Shrimad Bhagavatam is the personification of the Lord in the form of sound. One who serves, hears, or even sees the Shrimad Bhagavatam becomes free from all sin. In Kali-yuga, therefore, hearing Bhagavata Saptaha is the chief religion and superior to all other means. In Kali-yuga this is the only principle which removes sin and relieves the misery of unfortunate people. It gives them the power to conquer lust, anger, and greed. It is very difficult for the demigods to get relief from Maya, so then, how can mortal beings be expected to become free from her? Hearing Saptaha, therefore, is the correct means to be freed from the clutches of Maya."11
Suta Gosvami said, "O Saunaka, while the Kumaras were explaining the glory of Saptaha to Narada Muni, a very wonderful thing happened in that assembly. Bhakti appeared along with her two sons, who had now regained their youth. She was loudly and repeatedly chanting "Shri Krishna! Govinda! Hare! Murare! O Lord Narayana! Vasudeva! All the assembled people saw that Bhakti had become beautiful by wearing the imports of the Shrimad Bhagavatam as ornaments.12 The sages then began discussing how it was that Bhakti had manifested herself in the assembly, from where had she come, and so on."
The Kumaras then said, "Bhakti has now appeared from the import of the Bhagavata-katha. Hearing this, Bhakti and her two sons humbly submitted. 'In Kali-yuga we were almost lost but now you have rejuvenated us. Please explain where we can reside.'
The Kumaras responded, "You award the Personality of Godhead to your devotees, and you sever the bonds of this material world, therefore with great patience and fortitude you should reside in the hearts of the devotees of Lord Krishna. The defects of Kali-yuga may overpower the whole universe but they will not be able to so much as glance at you."
Upon hearing the words of the Kumaras, Bhakti entered the hearts of the Lord's devotees. The devotees in whose heart Bhakti resides many appear impoverished, but they are most glorious and opulent, because abandoning His own abode, the Lord Himself comes to reside in their heart, being tied by the rope of devotion. The Bhagavatam is the personification of the Lord on earth and its glory cannot be described in words. Anyone who hears or recites Bhagavatam becomes an associate of the Lord, so what is the purpose of religious principles without it?"
Comments on Chapter Three
1. Knowledge comes to a humble and discriminate person.
2. Haridvara means the gateway to Lord Hari, and Ananda means bliss. Bliss is in the vicinity of the Lord. Going to Haridvara means becoming favourable to the Lord and giving up the atheistic mentality. In this mood the Bhagavatam reciter will taste bliss.
3. One should bath one's mind with beautiful thoughts of Lord Hari. The Ganges represents the flow of transcendental knowledge. "Solitary place" means the absence of improper association.
4. When one is in transcendental knowledge he gets free from envy and material attachment.
5. Sound, or sabda pramana, is the only means to acquire transcendental knowledge.
6. Some scholars propose that Bhagavatam refers to the Devi-bhagavatam, which also has 18 000 verses and twelve cantos, but this statement soundly defeats their claim because the Devi-bhagavatam was not spoke by Shri Sukadeva Gosvami.
7. Bhagavatam is transcendental and should be heard whenever one has the opportunity, for a moment passed, never returns.
8. If one neglects these rules he will not understand the actual message of Shrimad Bhagavatam.
9. Something is better than nothing, therefore, at least for seven days one should follow the rules and regulations for hearing Shrimad Bhagavatam. As far as the devotees are concerned however, 'seven days' means everyday just as when people say "I do this seven days a week", and what they mean is I do this every day of the year.
10. Worship of impersonal Brahman is very difficult, and more so for the people of Kali-yuga. Therefore, no one should waste valuable and limited life in such a fruitless pursuit.
11. This statement is directed to the common man, for if he is instructed to hear Shrimad Bhagavatam daily, he will immediately reject the proposal. But after deliberation he may conclude, "If hearing it for only one week has so many wonderful benefits, then why not hear it everyday?" Therefore, Saptaha is a preaching technique for dull people. Moreover, if one submissively hears Shrimad Bhagavatam from a pure devotee, he will surely get free from the clutches of Maya. There is no exaggeration in this statement.
12. Just hearing Shrimad Bhagavatam is devotional service, but understanding it and meditating on its meaning is like decorating Bhakti.
nimna-ganam yatha ganga
devanam acyuto yatha
vaishnavanam yatha sambhuh
purananam idam tatha
Just as the Ganga is the greatest of all rivers, Lord Acyuta the supreme among deities and Lord Sambhu (Siva) the greatest of Vaishnavas, so Shrimad Bhagavatam is the greatest of all Puranas.
(Shrimad Bhagavatam 12.13.16)