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CAITANYA-BHAGAVATA IS MEANT
FOR THE COMMON MAN & CAN BE READ FIRST,
EVEN BEFORE SRIMAD-BHAGAVATAM
Cc Adi 8.36 purport
Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the authoritative reference book from which to understand devotional service, but because it is very elaborate, few men can understand its purport. Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the original commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, which is called nyaya-prasthana. It was written to enable one to understand the Absolute Truth through infallible logic and argument, and therefore its natural commentary, Shrimad-Bhagavatam, is extremely elaborate. Professional reciters have created the impression that Shrimad-Bhagavatam deals only with Krishna’s rasa-lila, although Krishna’s rasa-lila is described only in chapters 29 through 33 of the Tenth Canto. They have in this way presented Krishna to the Western world as a great woman-hunter, and therefore we sometimes have to deal with such misconceptions in preaching. Another difficulty in understanding Shrimad-Bhagavatam is that the professional reciters have introduced bhagavata-saptaha, or seven-day readings of the Bhagavatam. They want to finish Shrimad-Bhagavatam in a week, although it is so sublime that even one verse of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, if properly explained, cannot be completed in three months. Under these circumstances, it is a great aid for the common man to read Shrila Vrindavana dasa Thakura’s Chaitanya-bhagavata, for thus he can actually understand devotional service, Krishna, Lord Chaitanya and Nityananda. Shrila Rupa Gosvami has said:
aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatayaiva kalpate
“Devotional service to the Lord that ignores the authorized Vedic literatures-the Upanishads, Puranas, Narada-pancaratra, etc.-is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society.” Due to misunderstanding Shrimad-Bhagavatam, people are misled regarding the science of Krishna. However, by reading Shrila Vrindavana dasa Thakura’s book one can very easily understand this science.
From Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s notes on Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura:
Sarasvati Thakura read both Chaitanya-bhagavata & Chaitanya-charitamrita 108 times and told others to do likewise, expecting everyone to do that. Of course, it's doubtful if anyone did, but the idea was meant to read again and again and absorb the mind in Gauranga just as Mahaprabhu liked to hear the stories of Dhruva and Prahlada Maharaja. Sarasvati Thakura said to read Chaitanya-bhagavata first then Chaitanya-charitamrita, and then Shrimad-Bhagavatam. The reason being that Chaitanya-bhagavata is very easy reading for all kinds of people because it has no difficult philosophy and is mostly lila. Chaitanya-charitamrita is also very attractive with some very difficult sections also. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam the language is difficult Sanskrit.
Once, when Jotisekhara was new in the Math, Sarasvati Thakura asked him if he was reading Chaitanya-bhagavata when he said "No", he told him he should read it early in the morning, before mangalarati, at 5.00am. Jotisekhara said it would be difficult for him to read so early, because he had a bad cough. Sarasvati Thakura said, "Starting from tomorrow, you read from 4.00am - 5.00am. Read it clearly and loudly and it will clear any cough in your throat." Sarasvati Thakura said the Chaitanya-bhagavata and Chaitanya-charitamrita, even though in Bengali verse, are full of all sastric conclusions, and he recommended them, along with Shrimad-Bhagavatam. (especially the sections on Dhruva Maharaja, Prahlada-charita, the story of Prahlada, and Kapiladeva's instructions). He recommended all of these to be read 100 times.
He did not recommend reading the Gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam, but Chaitanya-bhagavata, except learned scholars, whom he would recommend to read the Gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam. For the ordinary Bengali he recommended Chaitanya-bhagavata and Krishna Prema Tarangini, a Bengali verse edition of Shrimad-Bhagavatam by Bhagavatacarya, a disciple of Lord Chaitanya.
Gaudiya Vaishnava scholars generally consider Chaitanya-charitamrita to be the most important biography of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, even more so than Chaitanya Bhagavata, in as much as it deals with: (a) the philosophy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in great detail and (b) the highest ecstasies of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, which are referred to only somewhat in Chaitanya Bhagavata.
Sarasvati Thakura himself would generally explain philosophy very deeply, but he said that Chaitanya Bhagavata is more important than Chaitanya-charitamrita for the common man because it is a lila-grantha. Without describing so much about philosophy, it describes the lila of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and is therefore easy for the common man to follow and understand the philosophy. Even though Sarasvati Thakura himself mostly explained philosophy, he said that philosophy is only for the greatly learned people, and for the common men Chaitanya Bhagavata is more important. So he said, "Read Chaitanya Bhagavata from time to time." If anyone came to him he would ask them if they had read Chaitanya Bhagavata. He often asked people this, including non-devotees. He recommended that for ordinary people, the first Vaishnava literature they read be Chaitanya Bhagavata. He recommended to everyone to first read Chaitanya Bhagavata, then Prema Bhakti Chandrika, then Shrimad Bhagavatam.
O.B.L. Kapoor, being a learned scholar from Allahabad, the Hindi speaking part of India, was instructed by Sarasvati Thakura to learn Bengali, so as he could study the original Bengali texts of the Chaitanya Bhagavata and the Chaitanya-charitamrita, etc. Sarasvati Thakura liked other Gaudiya Math members who were also learned and non-Bengalis, to learn Bengali for this reason.
Once, in Dhaka, he told Sundarananda Vidyavinoda to give a series of lectures on the Gita in colleges. Although generally he would have people go to the Bhagavatam or Vaishnava literatures immediately (of course the Gita is also a Vaishnava literature but it is considered to be for beginners) - the books which deal exclusively with bhakti and which are not used by other schools, as the Chaitanya Bhagavata, Prema Bhakti Chandrika, Shrimad Bhagavatam. These books Sarasvati Thakura recommended to people to go to directly. His understanding was that the Gita was for the people in varnasrama; karmis, jnanis, yogis; then they may come to bhakti. But in the case of the people amongst whom he was preaching, he wanted them to take directly to bhakti (don't get hung-up)
From the introduction of Shri Chaitanya-carita Mahakavya by Shrila Murari Gupta, translated by Bhaktivedanta Bhagavata Swami:
In order to create another flood of gaura-kathă to inundate the dull minds of Kali-yuga’s materialists and water the seeds of bhakti lying dormant in their hearts, all of Lord Chaitanya’s biographies must be translated and profusely distributed in all mediums. Although some of these various texts describe the same Personality of Gaurahari, and may appear to narrate the same incidents of the Lord’s life, still due to the undiminishing and ever-increasing blissful nature of transcendental subject matters, navă-navăyamăna, there is no point of satiation for the attentive reader of gaura-kathă. Even if one hears repeatedly the same histories of the golden avatăra, one’s enthusiasm will not wane. Rather, an ardent longing to exclusively hear, chant and remember gaura-kathă will develop, while simultaneously an aversion to the transitory topics of the bahir-mukhi (materialists) will arise, and thereby one will surely achieve the perfectional stage of human life-love of Krishna. As the Gaudiya Vaishnavas sing:
bhaja gaurănga, kaha gaurănga, laha gaurăngera năma re
ye jana gaurăhga bhaje, se haya ămăra prăřa re
Worship Gaurănga! Speak about Gaurănga! Take Gaurănga’s names! Whoever worships Gaurănga, he is the breath of my life.