The Bhagavata

Its Philosophy, Its Ethics, and Its Theology

by Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinode Thakura

We love to read a book which we never read before. We are anxious to gather whatever information is contained in it and with such acquirement our curiosity stops. This mode of study prevails amongst a great number of readers, who are great men in their own estimation as well as in the estimation of those who are of their own stamp. In fact, most readers are mere repositories of facts and statements made by other people. But this is not study.

The student is to read the facts with a view to create, and not with the object of fruitless retention. Students like satellites should reflect whatever light they receive from authors and not imprison the facts and thoughts just as the Magistrates imprison the convicts in the jail! Thought is progressive. The author's thought must have progress in the reader in the shape of correction or development. He is the best critic, who can show the further development of an old thought; but a mere denouncer is the enemy of progress and consequently of Nature.

"Begin anew," says the critic, because the old masonry does not answer at present. Let the old author be buried because his time is gone. These are shallow expressions. Progress certainly is the law of nature and there must be corrections and developments with the progress of time. Bur progress means going further or rising higher. Now, if we are to follow our foolish critic, we are to go back to our former terminus and make a new race, and when we have run half the race another critic of his stamp will cry out: "Begin anew, because the wrong road has been taken!" In this way our stupid critics will never allow us to go over the whole road and see what is in the other terminus. Thus the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two greatest enemies of progress. We must shun them.

The true critic, on the other hand, advises us to preserve what we have already obtained, and to adjust our race from that point where we have arrived in the heat of our progress. He will never advise us to go back to the point whence we started, as he fully knows that in that case there will be a fruitless loss of our valuable time and labor. He will direct the adjustment of the angle of the race at the point where we are. This is also the characteristic of the useful student.

He will read an old author and will find out his exact position in the progress of thought. He will never propose to burn the book on the ground that it contains thoughts which are useless. No thought is useless. Thoughts are means by which, we attain our objects. The reader who denounces a bad thought, does not know that a bad road is even capable of improvement and conversion into a good one.

One thought is a road leading to another. Thus the reader will find that one thought which is the object today will be the m eans of a further object tomorrow. Thoughts will necessarily continue to be an endless series of means and objects in the, progress of humanity. The great reformers will always assert that they have come out not to destroy the old law but to fulfill it. Valmiki, Vyasa, Plato, Jesus, Mohammed, Confucius and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu assert the fact either expressly or by their conduct.

The Bhagavata like all religious works and philosophical performances and writings of great men has suffered from the imprudent conduct of useless readers and stupid critics. The former have done so much injury to the work that they have surpassed the later in their evil consequence. Men of brilliant thoughts have passed by the work in quest of truth and philosophy, but the prejudice which. they imbibed from its useless readers and their conduct prevented them from making a candid investigation. Not to say of other people, the great genius of Raja Ram Mohan Roy the founder of the sect of Brahmoism, did not think it worth his while to study this ornament of the religious library. He crossed the gate of the Vedanta, as set up by the Mayavada construction of the designing Shankaracharya, the chosen enemy of the Jains, and chalked his way out to the unitarian form, of the Christian faith, converted into an Indian appearance.

Ram Mohan Roy was an able man. He could not be satisfied with the theory of illusion contained in the Mayavada philosophy of Shankar. His heart was full of love for Nature. He saw through the eye of his that he could not believe in his identity with God. He ran furiously from the bounds of Shankar to those of the Koran. There even he was not satisfied. He then studied the pre-eminently beautiful precepts and history of Jesus, first in the English translations and at last in the original Greek, and took shelter under the holy banners of the Jewish Reformer. But Ram Mohan Roy was also a patriot. He wanted to reform his country in the same way as he reformed himself. He knew it fully that truth does not belong exclusively to any individual man or to any nation or particular race. It belongs to God, and man, whether in the Poles or on the Equator, has a right to claim it as the property of his Father.

On these grounds he claimed the truths inculcated by the Western Savior as also the property of himself and his countrymen and thus he established the Samaja of the Brahmos independently of what was in his own country in the beautiful Bhagavata. His noble deeds will certainly procure him a high position in the history of reformers. But then, to speak the truth, he would have done more if he had commenced his work of reformation from the point where the last reformer in India left it. It is not our business to go further, on this subject. Suffice it to say, that the Bhagavata did not attract the genius of Ram Mohan Roy. His thought, mighty though it was unfortunately branched like the Ranigunj line of the Railway, from the barren station of Shankaracharya, and did not attempt to be an extension from the Delhi Terminus of the great Bhagavata expounder of Nadia. We do not doubt that the progress of time will correct the error, and by a further extension the branch line will lose itself somewhere in the main line of progress. We expect these attempts in abler reformers of the followers of Ram Mohan Roy.

The Bhagavata has suffered alike from shallow critics both Indian and outlandish. That book has been accursed and denounced by a great number of our young countrymen, who have scarcely read its contents and pondered over the philosophy on which it is founded. It is owing mostly to their imbibing an unfounded prejudice against it when they were in school. The Bhagavata, as a matter of course, has been held in derision by those teachers, who are generally of an inferior mind and intellect. This prejudice is not easily shaken when the student grows up unless he candidly studies the book and ruminates on the doctrines of Vaishnavism. We are ourselves aware of the fact. When we were in the college, reading the philosophical works of the West and exchanging thought with the thinkers of the day, we had a real hatred towards the Bhagavata. That great work looked like a repository of wicked and stupid ideas, scarcely adapted to the nineteenth century, and we hated to hear any arguments in its favor. With us then a volume of Channing, Parker, Emerson or Newman had more weight than the whole lot of the Vaishnava works. Greedily we poured over the various commentations of the Holy Bible and of the labors of the Tattwa Bodhini Sabha, containing extracts from the Upanisads and the Vedanta, but no work of the Vaishnavas had any favor with us. But when we advanced in age and our religious sentiment received development, we turned out in a manner Unitarian in our belief and prayed as Jesus prayed in the Garden.

Accidentally, we fell in with a work about the Great Chaitanya, and on reading it with some attention in order to settle the historical position of that Mighty Genius of Nadia, we had the opportunity of gathering His explanations of Bhagavata, given to the wrangling Vedantist of the Benares School. The accidental study created in us a love for all the works which we find about our Eastern Savior. We gathered with difficulties the famous Karchas in Sanskrit, written by the disc iples of Chaitanya. The explanations that we got of the Bhagavata from these sources, were of such a charming character that we procured a copy of the Bhagavata complete and studied its texts (difficult of course to those who are not trained up in philosophical thoughts) with the assistance of the famous commentaries of Shridhar Swami. From such study it is that we have at least gathered the real doctrines of the Vaishnavas. Oh! What a trouble to get rid of prejudices gathered in unripe years!

As far as we can understand, no enemy of Vaishnavism will find any beauty in the Bhagavata. The true critic is a generous judge, void of prejudices and party spirit. One who is at heart the follower of Mohammed will certainly find the doctrines of the New Testament to be a forgery by the fallen angel. A Trinitarian Christian, on the other hand, will denounce the precepts of Mohammed as those of an ambitious reformer. The reason simply is, that the critic should be of. the same disposition of mind as that of the author, whose merits he is required judge. Thoughts have different ways. One, who is trained up in the thoughts of the Unitarian Society or of the Vedanta of the Benares School, will scarcely find piety in the faith of Vaishnavas. An ignorant Vaishnava, on the other hand whose business it is to beg from door to door in the name of Nityananda will find no piety in the Christian. This is because, the Vaishnava does not think in the way in which the Christian thinks of his own re ligion. It may be, that both the Christian and the Vaisnava will utter the same sentiment, but they will never stop their fight with each other only because they have arrived at their common conclusion by different' ways of though. Thus it is, that a great deal of ungenerousness enters, into the arguments of the pious Christians when they, pass their imperfect opinion on the religion of the Vaishnavas.

Subjects of philosophy and theology are like the peaks of large towering and inaccessible mountains standing in the midst of our planet inviting attention and investigation. Thinkers and men of deep speculation take their observations through the instruments of reason and consciousness. But they take different points when they carry on their work. These points are positions chalked out by the circumstances of their social and philosophical life, different as they are in the different parts of the world. Plato looked at the peak of the Spiritual question from the West and Vyasa made the observation from the East; so Confucius did it from further East, and Schlegel, Spinoza, Kant and Goethe from further West. These observations were made at different times and by different means, but the conclusion is all the same in as much as the object of observation was one and the same. They all hunted after the Great Spirit, the unconditioned Soul of the Universe.

They could not but get an insight into it. Their words and expressions are different but their import is the same. They tried to find out the absolute religion and their labors were crowned with success, for God gives all that He has to His children if they want to have it. It requires a candid, generous, pious, and holy heart to feel the beauties of their conclusions. Party-spirit - that great enemy of' truth - will always baffle the attempt of the inquirer who tries to gather truth from religious work of their nations, and will make him believe that absolute truth is nowhere except in his old religious book. What better example could be adduced than the fact that the great philosopher of Benares will find no truth in the universal brother-hood of man and the common father-hood of God? The philosopher, thinking in his own way of thought, can never see the beauty of the Christian faith. The way, in which Christ thought of his own father, was love absolute and so long as the philosopher will not adopt that way of thinking he will ever remain deprived of the absolute faith preached by the western Savior. In a similar manner the Christian needs adopt the way of thought which the Vedantist pursued before he can love the conclusions of the philosopher. The critic, therefore, should have a comprehensive, good, generous, candid, impartial and a sympathetic soul.

What sort of a thing is the Bhagavata, asks the European gentleman newly arrived in India. His companion tells him with a serene look, that the Bhagavata is a book, which his Oriya bearer daily reads in the evening to a number of hearers. It contains a jargon of unintelligible and savage literature of those men who paint their noses with some sort of earth or sandal, and wear beads all over their bodies in order to procure salvation for themselves. Another of his companions, who has traveled a little in the interior, would immediately contradict him and say that the Bhagavata is a Sanskrit work claimed by a sect of men, the Goswami's, who give Mantras, like the Popes of Italy, to the common people of Bengal, and pardon their sins on payment of gold enough to defray their social expenses. A third gentleman will repeat a third explanation. Young Bengalis, chained up in English thoughts and ideas, and wholly ignorant of the Pre-Mohammedan history of his own country, will add one more explanation by saying that the Bhagavata is a book containing an account of. the life of Krishna, who was an ambitious and an immoral man! This is all that he could gather from his grandmother while yet he did not go to school. Thus the Great Bhagavata ever remains unknown to the foreigners, like the elephant of the six blind men who caught hold of the several parts of the body of the beast! But Truth is eternal and is never injured but for a while by ignorance.

The Bhagavata itself tells us what it is:

nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam
suka-mukhad amrta-drava-samyutam/
pibata bhagavatam rasam alayam
muhur aho rasika bhuvi bhavukah//
"It is the fruit of the tree of thought (Vedas) mixed with the nectar of the speech of Sukadeva. It is the temple of spiritual love! O! Men of Piety! Drink deep this nectar of Bhagavata repeatedly till you are taken from this mortal frame."

The Garuda-purana says, again:

sarva-vedetihasanam saram saram samuddhrtam/
sarva-vedanta-saram hi sri-bhagavatam isyate
tad rasamrta-triptasya nanyatra syad rati-kvacit//
"The Bhagavata is composed of 18,000 slokas. It contains the best parts of the Vedas and the Vedanta. Whoever has tasted its sweet nectar, will never like to read any other religious book."

Every thoughtful reader will certainly repeat this eulogy. The Bhagavata is preeminently the Book in India. Once enter into it, and you are transplanted, as it were, into the spiritual world where gross matter has no existence. The true follower of the Bhagavata is a spiritual man who has already cut his temporary connection with phenomenal nature, and has made himself the inhabitant of that region where God eternally exists and loves. This mighty work is founded upon inspiration and its superstructure is upon reflection. To the common reader it has no charms and is full of difficulty. We are, therefore, obliged to study it deeply through the assistance of such great commentators as Sridhara Svami and the divine Caitanya and His contemporary followers.

[BVML Home Page] Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura Page

Srila Bhaktivinode
Thakura Page