Condensed by S. S. Cohen
What distinguishes the Bhagavata Purana from the other monumental works which claim to be the workmanship of Vyasadeva or Badarayana, and gives it the supreme sanctity it possesses in the eyes of the pious Hindus, is not only its exhaustive account of the life of the Lord's fullest manifestation on earth as Sri Krishna Avatara, but His fullest teaching to His beloved disciple Uddhava on the eve of His withdrawal from the world, which sometimes goes by the name of Uddhava Gita. This teaching, not withstanding what the historians say of its age and authorship, is regarded by many as a development and an elucidation of the instructions He had given to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and form the celebrated Bhagavad Gita.
The difference in the teachings of those two masterpieces does not actually exist save in the characters of the persons to whom they were respectively addressed, the circumstances in which they were delivered, and the developments of their themes. Great seers, ancient and modern, did not fail to recognise and extol the superiority of the Bhagavata in this last respect, namely, in its lucid expositions reiterated again and again in a variety of forms, in different contexts, and from every possible angle of vision, with or without illustrative anecdotes, by a number of sages - Sukadeva, the Divine Rishabha, his nine ascetic sons, Lord Kapila, the celestial Narada and many others, - and, above all, by the Supreme Teacher, Sri Krishna Himself, so that no room is left for misinterpretation or partisan interpretations, as is the case with the pithy, distilled expositions of the Bhagavad Gita.
The contemplative student should not be misled by the easy presentation and widely diffused instructions of the Bhagavata to permit a single useful point to slip into oblivion. He will then find all his questions answered, even those of which he has been vaguely aware but unable mentally to grasp or formulate, and all his problems solved. Therefore to allow its blazing light to dispel the darkness of primeval avidya from the mind, constant repetitions and an intensely close study of it are most essential.
S. S. Cohen, Vellore, 1965
Installation of the Preacher
After Sri Krishna, the Lord of Yoga and Defender of the righteous, fulfilled His mission on earth and ascended to His abode, closing the Dwapara age and heralding the age of Kali, known as Kaliyuga, wherein the lowest gunas were to be ascendant to disturb men's minds and corrupt their hearts, the sages anxious to mitigate the hardships of the new era and realise the Lord, gathered together in the forest known as Naimisharanya and started a great sacrifice, which was to take a thousand years to complete. It was in that holy assembly that Srimad Bhagavata, which has been conceived by the great sage Vedavyasa, also called Badarayana, to teach the Bhagavata Dharma (the Supreme Religion) or the highest worship of God, was recited by Ugrasrava Suta, who had been present at the time when the sage Suka, the son of its author, expounded it to King Parikshit on the bank of the Ganges.
Vishnu Avataras - I - IX Prahlada - Narasimhavatara
Narada now takes up the story of Prahlada, Hiranyakasipu's five-year-old son, who was one of the most exalted souls that ever lived and a great devotee of the Lord. Although a daitya by birth, like his other three brothers, he was completely free from demoniacal propensities. Even the gods who were the enemies of his race spoke in high terms of his noble traits and spiritual merits in their meetings. The deeds and glory of Sri Vishnu, Whom he saw everywhere and in Whose arms he left himself carried, filled his heart and mind from infancy, which alarmed his demon father, who thought it an unnatural "obsession" in a daitya.
The royal Asura quivered and barked:
"I see that you are destined to die now, O braggart! But I want you for just one second to think if there is a Lord in all the three worlds other than I. You seem to conceive a being who pervades everything. If so, he must surely be in this pillar. Let him show himself and protect you from my sword."
So saying, the King struck the pillar of the throne-room with his fist with great vehemence and drew his sword to cut off his son's head. But great was his dismay when from the rose the sound of a crash so terrific that it reached the seventh world of Brahma and brought down all the denizens of the spheres, who thought the hour of universal dissolution had struck. Out of the pillar, issued a mighty Being, who was neither man nor lion, but both man and lion - Narasimha - of an immense, magnificent stature, and stood in the middle of the room with eyes, face, hair and mane shedding an indescribable lustre all around. He had a number of arms, a short, thick neck, a broad chest, a tongue as sharp as the edge of a razor, tremendous teeth and claws. He was the Lord armed with their sharpest weapons, took fright and scattered like chaff before a hurricane. Hiranyakasipu lifted his mace to strike Him, but, forestalling him, Narasimha caught him as the hawk catches a snake and then let him go, as if in play. The asura then drew his sword to cut Him, but the Lord roared with a man's laughter and a lion's roar and seized him again, bent him on His thighs, tore his bowels and heart with His claws, and threw his carcass on the ground. He then turned His countless arms against his thousands of followers, who rushed at Him with their weapons, and despatched them all, and in one leap He sat on the dead King's throne. Showers of flowers fell on Him from the celestial hosts who had watched the fight. Brahma, Shiva, Indra, siddhas and Rishis, all the gods and goddesses with their retinue sang hymns of praise to the Supreme Narayana and there was universal rejoicing in heaven and on earth. Yet Lord Narasimha continued to quiver so much that neither Lord Shiva, Brahma, nor even Sree, his Beloved Consort Herself, dared to approach Him. Brahma thought it best to send to Him child Prahlada, who slowly approached, bowed low and prostrated full length on the ground before Him. The Lord out of the fullness of His love, placed His hand on his head and raised him to his feet. But the touch completely transformed the little devotee: it swept away all the inhibitions and the latent impressions which he had carried from the past birth to the present and revealed to him the pure Being - the true nature of the Lord - which thrilled his heart and diffused joy to his whole frail body.
Lord Krishna I-II - Prologue
The curtain now rises on the most splendid and most colourful scenes of the Bhagavata.
Lord Narayana, resolving to descend to the earth in His full glory in the most potent (purana) avatara of Himself, is born in Mathura as the Lord Krishna from Devaki, preceded by hosts of celestials, who, likewise, took birth not only as humans - friends, relatives, gopis and ministers - but also as cows, deer, snakes, etc., to assist Him in His purifying mission and give Him on earth the comforts and delights which He enjoys in His celestial abode - Vaikuntha.
As the story unfolds and draws nearer to familiar scenes in his own life, the king Parikshit grows insistent on the fullest details possible to make him forget, he says, the tormenting fast, which he has vowed to carry out unto death, and ends with a eulogy of Sri Suka, saying: "Hunger and thirst no longer afflict me, O omniscient Sage, now that I am drinking the nectar which drops from your lips."
Rising to the occasion, the Sage answers:
"You have made, O Jewel of saintly kings, a right resolve, which has resulted in your hunger for the Lord's stories, which purify him that recites and him that listens to them, like the water which has been touched by His sacred feet."
XXXIII Rasa Dance
The gopis now realised the nature of Krishna's love, which, they knew, would never forsake them, and felt supremely happy. In the abandonment of joy, they proposed to dance the Rasa on the sandy bank of the Yamuna, which is a dance in which men and women form a circle, each man standing between two women encircling their necks with his arms and, as there were then no men other than Krishna, He multiplied Himself to the number of women and stood between them. The celestials, not wanting to miss this unique spectacle, came in their hundreds, with their musical instruments beating and their consorts decked with jewels and bursting with curiosity. The Rasa started in a medley of sounds, of celestial kettle drums, gandharvas' choral songs, and the jingling of the gopi's bangles, anklets and the thousands of bells which ring clapping and interlocking of hands, billowing breasts, loosened girdles and hair, fluttering garments, and voices trembling with love, the gopis shimmered like lightning flashes in a thick cloud, charmingly unconscious of their attitudes. As the excitement of the dance grew hotter, the gopis behaved strangely in their love frenzy. One pitched her voice to a piercing treble, which her Krishna applauded with a "Bravo!" Another clasped the shoulders of Krishna who was by her side, letting her bangles and jasmin crown slip off. A third held his arm, smelt its fresh-lily fragrance, and kissed it. A fourth gopi rubbed her cheek against His and received from his mouth the half chewed betel. A fifth pressed His hand to her bosom, as if fatigued and needed a support.
The mad Rasa dance went on and on. The celestial women, smitten with jealousy for Krishna's amorous alliance with mere mortals, fainted in their aerial cars and the moon-god along with his twenty-seven wives (stellar houses), struck with wonder, forgot his journey in the sky, stopping the night's movement towards its end. By multiplying Himself, Krishna enjoyed the cumulative love of all the gopis simultaneously, though He is ever in the enjoyment of the bliss of His own self. With His own hands He wiped the drops of sweats from His companions' faces with the tenderness of a lover, which thrilled and maddened the damsels still more. Suffocated by their embraces and bedaubed with the saffron paint of their breasts, Krishna finally entered the river Yamuna, where He was sportfully pelted with a mass of water from all sides. Bath over, they all came out and started roaming with supreme ecstasy in the groves and woodlands of Brindavan in that endless night, which in effect, consisted of many nights.
King Parikshat, interrupting Suka, asked:
"We are taught that Lord Krishna took birth among men with the supreme purpose of promoting dharma and suppressing adharma. How could He transgress His own laws by taking so much liberty with other men's wives, He whose desires are all fulfilled? What could His intentions have been in perpetrating such repugnant acts?"
The Sage answered:
"Violating the principles of dharma by the Almighty carries no sin with it, Himself being the purifying agent, like the fire which cleanses all impurities. It is sinful and punishable in lesser beings. The poison, for example, which Shiva swallowed was impunity, would have been the death of any lesser person than Him. The intelligent man should shape his conduct according to the precepts enunciated and the rules laid down by the Great, and not according to their behaviour, which is not bound by any karmic law. The Lord appeared in a human body to shower His Grace on those who come in corporeal contact with Him, and create devotion in those who hear of the greatness of His deeds and life. As for the husbands of the gopi's, you must know that they never missed their wives, having by the powers of the Lord, had them all along by their sides.
When at long last shimmers of the dawn pierced the eastern sky, bringing the Rasa night to an end, the gopis, as commanded by Krishna, reluctantly tore themselves from Him and returned to their homes.
He who listens to this story with reverence, will be blessed with supreme devotion to the Lord and will acquire self-control and mastery* over lust.
* This should put an end to all doubts about Krishna's unexceptionable behaviour with the gopis, which has been the subject of much controversy by some who are apt to judge Him by the normal behaviour of householders. These chapters have left no doubt in the seekers' minds that this relationship was absolutely blameless, when even the gopis themselves acknowledged Krishna to be their "own eternal Self", and Krishna again and again reminded them (and us, incidentally), that "I do not outwardly answer love for love, so that the devotee may think of Me in his mind. Therefore, to establish in you constant devotion to Me in your mind I have made my body and my love invisible" (pp. 181-182). The people who criticise this scene most are the ones who rightly hold fast to the sanctity of conjugal rights, but miss the fact that these rights were not denied to the gopis' husbands, who by the Lord's own powers never missed their wives, whom they found all along by their sides. We have, moreover to remind them that the gopis and gopas were no ordinary mortals, but celestials who had taken special births for the Lord's purpose, for which they were rewarded by His bodily presence and contact, a privilege which was denied to them in their heavenly spheres.
Finally, Sri Suka's answer and this conclusion that the listener of this story will acquire "self-control and mastery over lust," should dissipate the last vestige of suspicion.
Uddhava Gita - XXVIII Truth is One only
Recapitulating the teaching of the Absolute, Krishna affirms that considering the existence of only one substance - Paramatman or Supreme Self - manifesting as Purusha and Prakriti, the seeker must desist from praising or condemning the actions and dispositions of others, which will make him fall in the delusion of duality and thus defeat his own purpose of attaining the oneness of the Self. In the world of duality where everything is false, unreal like a mirage, an echo, a reflection, the discrimination between good and bad does not arise, although it somehow affects the jivas. The one substance in both the creator and the created, the protector and the protected, the destroyer and the destroyed. The triputi (triad of percipient, percept, and perception) is the product of illusion, and thus does not exist. The knower of this truth as taught by the Lord, neither extols nor reviles anyone, but goes about unattached like the sun.
Uddhava declares that only two principles are involved in the person who suffers transmigration, soul and body, neither of which is capable of rebirth. The latter, he argues, disintegrates at death, and stands no chance of revival; the former is deathless, and, therefore, likewise cannot be reborn. Yet births and deaths are real. Who is it, he asks Krishna, who undergoes them (if neither the body nor the soul is reborn)?
The Lord answers:
"Notwithstanding the fact that the phenomena do not at all exist, yet so long as the contact between the unillumined jiva and the senses continues, transmigration does not cease. So long as the dreamer continues to be deluded by the dream objects, he continues to suffer dream sorrow, although this does not exist (but as sensations in him), and ceases when he becomes enlightened on waking. Grief, fear, birth and death affect the deluded part of the dreamer, the ego, and not his being or Self. True knowledge consists in distinguishing the Self, which is real, from the not Self, which is unreal. By the means spoken of before and by the Grace of a perfect Master, this distinction is clearly perceived, and the body is completely rejected as the non-Self. Just as space is not affected by the elements: fire, water, earth, etc., of which it is the container, so is the imperishable, all-containing Being not affected by the gunas. Efforts must be made to shun the not-Self until supreme bhakti cuts down rajas, the active qualities which are responsible for the illusion. Just as the disease that has not been radically cured is likely to recur again and again and afflicts its sufferer, so does the mind that teems with libidinous and karmic propensities bring about the fall of him who has not attained perfection in yoga (full Jnana). Imperfect yogis who fall from the path due to relationship with a family, disciples, etc., will in a future life, resume their yogic efforts at the point of interruption of their present endeavours, but will never take again to action. The unregenerate perform action till the last moment of their life, and are paid back in transient pleasure and pain, but the regenerate though seated in a body remain actionless, their thirst for enjoyment having been slaked by the bliss of Self-realisation. Being permanently established in the Self, they take no heed of the actions of the body, nor do they take for real the objects that fall within the ranges of their perception, no more than an awakened man concedes reality to the objects he has perceived in a dream. The body which has so far been identified with one's own Self, dear Uddhava, and which is actually the product of gunas and karma, now completely disappears in the light of Self-knowledge: not so the Self which can be neither perceived nor rejected (for the repudiator would still be the sentient Self itself, which remains as the absolute residuum). Just as the light of the sun dispels the darkness from the eye and reveals what has already been present but unseen, so does the realisation of Me dispel the darkness of the mind and reveal the Self, which has all along been invisibly present as the source of all experiences, the senses and speech, and which is self-luminous, beyond the reach of reason, words, births, time and space. The notion of difference in the absolute Self is entirely a delusion, for none exists other than itself. The claim of an irrefragable duality made by some arrogant dualists is utterly senseless.
"There are those who practise sense-control and manage to keep the body strong and youthful and take to the practice of yoga with the view of acquiring siddhis. The wise look askance at them and at their futile endeavour to preserve a body which is as perishable as a fruit on a tree."
Epilogue - I - II Kali Makes Its Bow
The evil forces of the age will henceforth gather strength until the Kali spirit will be in its full stride, when righteousness, truthfulness, purity, benevolence, physical and mental vigour will reach their lowest watermarks. Wealth alone will then count against lineage, morality and personal merits; and might will replace right. Marital ties will be formed solely on the expectation of the maximum sexual delight, in disregard of personal virtues. Cheating will be the mainspring of business, and the Brahmins' only qualification will be the wearing of the sacred thread. Justice will be perverted and administered according to the size of the bribe received. Poverty will be adjudged as the test of impiety, and hypocrisy of goodness. Good deeds will be done for the sake of publicity and the materially strongest among the castes will rule the others. This is the darkest age which will torment the people with endless worries and a short span of life: thirty years will be the maximum age men can reach; thirty years of thirst and hunger, of stunted growth in mind and body, of heresy, loss of caste and of memory. Men will worship their wives and their wives' relatives, abandoning father, mother, sister and brother. Clouds will carry thunder and lightening but no rain. When the age will pass its nadir and its worst forces will have well-nigh spent themselves, the Lord will appear among the mortals in His sattvic form as a Kalki in house of Vishnuvasha, a noble Brahmin, in Shambala village. Riding His celestial horse Devadutta, He will exterminate robbers who bear royal names by the million, and will restore moral sense in the people till town and countryside will again enjoy peace and security. Then a new cycle of yugas will begin with Satya (the golden age) as its head, whose human generations will be imbued with great intellectual, moral and physical strength, possessing all sattvic qualities.
How to Escape the Kali Spirit
As for attaining the Supreme in the Kali age, Sage Suka asserts that the method is easier than in the other three yugas because of the strong opposition offered to the efforts for it by the evil forces of the age. While in Satyayuga Emancipation is attainable through intense concentration on Lord Vishnu, in Treta through sacrifice, in Dwapara through rituals, in Kali merely chanting His Name and singing His praise bring about detachment and Liberation.
XII - XIII The Glory of the Bhagavata Purana
The Suta gives a brief synopsis of the foregoing eleven skandas (books) and affirms that he who studies them with reverence and understanding will derive the same benefit as he would from the study of the Rigveda, Yajurveda, and Samaveda, which are the three steams flowing with honey, ghee and milk, put together. This Purana which is the quintessence of the Upanishads and which consists of eighteen thousand slokas, was revealed by the gracious Lord to Brahma. It is profusely illuminated with legends illustrating the Lord's plays and the glory to dispassion. Its theme is the one, secondless Reality which is the essence of the Vedanta and identical with the individual soul, and has Kaivalya (the attainment of this lone Reality) for sole object. He who develops a taste for it will relish nothing else. It occupies among the Puranas the place which the Ganges occupies among the sacred rivers, or Vishnu among the gods, or Kashi among the holy places of pilgrimage. It is faultless in its exaltation of the One Immaculate Consciousness, which is the goal of the Paramahamsas (the highest ascetics), and in its exposition of the cessation of all actions and self-dedication to dispassion, devotion, and spiritual enlightenment (vairagya, bhakti and jnana).
Let us contemplate the pure, perfect, eternal, absolute Reality which was graciously revealed by Lord Narayana in the beginning of creation to Brahma, and by Brahma to Narada, and by Narada to Vyasa, who imparted it to his son Suka, who imparted it to King Parikshit and redeemed him from the misery of transmigration.
Salutations to Sri Hari, the Dispeller of all fear, the chanting of Whose Name washes away all sins and puts and end to all suffering!