The Importance of Hearing Śrīmad Bhāgavata

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Hearing about Kṛṣṇa is the first step in bhakti. There are various scriptures that describe stories about Kṛṣṇa. Among them, Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇam is the supreme. Therefore, hearing it is the supreme. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī states this in the following two short anucchedas of Bhakti Sandarbha.

Anuccheda 260

The Preeminence of the Words of Bhāgavata Purāṇa

Even among the complete range of bhagavat-kathā that is available to be heard, hearing Śrīmad Bhāgavata is supremely preeminent. This is because it consists of extraordinarily powerful words of the nature described below (tādṛśa-prabhāvamaya-śabda) and also because it abounds with supreme aesthetic relish (parama-rasamaya).

The first of these two characteristics is indicated in the following verse of Śrīmad Bhāgavata: 

dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo ‘tra paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ
vedyaṁ vāstavam atra vastu śivadaṁ tāpa-trayonmūlanam
śrīmad-bhāgavate mahāmuni-kṛte kiṁ vā parair īśvaraḥ
sadyo hṛdy avarudhyate’tra kṛtibhiḥ śuśrūṣubhis tat-kṣaṇāt

In this Śrīmad Bhāgavata, which has been revealed by the great sage [Vyāsa], the supreme mystical path of those who are free from envy and established in the state of authentic being is disclosed, utterly devoid of all deception. Herein, the [one and only] ontologically real existent, which grants auspiciousness and uproots the threefold miseries, is the subject to be known and immediately realized. Is it the case that by [hearing] other scriptures, the Supreme Omnipotent Īśvara can be at once captured within the heart? [No, indeed.] Yet He is so captured by the virtuous in the precise moment that they become desirous to hear the Bhāgavata. (SB 1.1.2)

The word mahā-muniḥ, “the great sage,” here refers to Śrī Bhagavān, whose lotus feet are worthy of being honored by all greatly realized beings (mahat). The question, kiṁ vā paraiḥ, “What need is there of any other literature?” or “Is it the case that by [hearing] other scriptures [Īśvara can be at once captured within the heart]?” demonstrates the natural exalted status (svābhāvika-māhātmyam) of the words of Śrīmad Bhāgavata.

Anuccheda 261

Śrīmad Bhāgavata Abounds with Rasa

The fact that Śrīmad Bhāgavata abounds with supreme rasa, the second characteristic mentioned in the previous anuccheda, is expressed in the following verse:

sarva-vedānta-sāraṁ hi śrī-bhāgavatam iṣyate
tad-rasāmṛta-tṛptasya nānyatra syād ratiḥ kvacit

This beautiful Bhāgavata is indeed celebrated as the essence of all Vedānta [i.e., the Upaniṣads]. One who is enraptured by the immortal nectar of its aesthetic relish (rasa) will not experience attraction (rati) for any other scripture. (SB 12.13.15)

The rasa, or aesthetic relish, of Śrīmad Bhāgavata is immortal nectar (amṛta). The verse refers to one who is enraptured by the nectar of this rasa.

Commentary

In Tattva Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī established that the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is the most authoritative scripture in the matter of the self-disclosure of the complete Absolute Truth, para-tattva. But this is not its only greatness (māhātmyam). It is also the preeminent means to experience the Truth directly. Moreover, it is glorious by virtue of its divine author, its quintessential message, and even the very nature of its words. This is to say, that even if a listener or a reader does not understand the meaning of the Bhāgavata’s words, they still exert a powerful influence, like a potent medicine ingested unknowingly. Furthermore, the glory of Bhāgavata Purāṇa is because of its original speaker, Śukadeva, who is celebrated as nitya-viṣṇujana-priya, “the ever-beloved of Bhagavān’s devotees.”

An example of the transformative power of the Bhāgavata’s words is evidenced in the case of Śukadeva himself. From his very birth, his consciousness was completely absorbed in the bliss of Brahman, sva-sukha-nibhṛta-cetāḥ (SB 12.12.68). He left home immediately after his birth, without undergoing any education (anupetam, SB 1.2.2). Yet, when he inadvertently heard a few verses depicting the enchanting līlās of Kṛṣṇa, his essential being was irresistibly drawn to them (ajita-rucira-līlākṛṣṭa-sāraḥ, SB 12.12.68). Upon this internal transformation, initiated simply by hearing a few of the Bhāgavata’s words, He returned to his father Vyāsa and studied the Bhāgavata Purāṇa from him in full (SB 2.1.8). Therefore, Śrī Vyāsa questions, “What need is there for any other scripture?” (SB 1.1.2). This is a rhetorical question to stress the greatness of Śrīmad Bhāgavata. According to Śrīdhara Svāmī, the question kiṁ vā paraiḥ is syntactically connected to the words īśvaraḥ sadyo hṛdy avarudhyate. He interprets it as follows: “Is it the case that by hearing other scriptures (paraiḥ śāstraiḥ) or by undertaking other methods advocated in those scriptures (tad-uktaṁ-sādhanair vā), Īśvara can be at once captured within the heart?” He adds that the word vā in the question implies “derision” or “critical insinuation” (kaṭākṣa), meaning that such is certainly not the case.

Anyone who has developed a taste for Śrīmad Bhāgavata would not relish any other scripture, because nothing else compares to it. A person who has enjoyed a delicious freshly cooked meal will not be interested in some stale and rotten food. Consequently, Vyāsa exhorts all rasikas to drink the rasa of the Bhāgavata up to liberation and beyond (pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam ālayam, SB 1.1.3).

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