15.02 ORIGINATION OF BHAGAVATAM
After the Mahabharata War ends, Yudhishtira rules at Hastinapura for 32 years. The child Parikshit is born very soon after the end of the war. He is named Parikshit because of a very peculiar circumstance. The child, has seen the Lord right when he was in the mother’s womb, on the occasion of the astra aimed at the womb by Ashvattama. That vision of the Lord stayed in his mind even after his coming out of the womb and so the child keeps on examining each face that meets his eyes, to find out whether it was that face that showed up to him in the womb. This inquisitiveness is ‘parIkShA’; the one who continuously inquires is ‘ParIkshit’.!
When the Pandavas leave for the forest on their way to leave the world one by one, Parikshit is coronated King. He was such a just and famous ruler that the entire earth comes under his sway without any war. Of the four yugas Kali is the fourth and is the lowest in terms of morals, justice and prosperity. According to the cosmic calendar, Kali-yuga started in 3102 B.C.E. Around this time King Parikshit bumps into the Kali-Purushahimself. It happened this way. When the King was touring the country, at Kurukshetra he sees a person in royal robes with a stick in hand torturing acow and a bull. When accosted the person does not reply. The King asks the animals directly: 'Who is this that is torturing you?'. The bull was actually Dharma-devata himself (and the cow was Goddess Earth). The bull replies: (shlokas I – 17 – 18 to 20)
“It is very difficult to ascertain the particular miscreant who has caused our sufferings, because we are bewildered. Some, who deny all sorts of duality, declare that one's own self is responsible for his personal happiness and distress. Others say that superhuman powers are responsible, yet others say that activity is responsible, and there are others who maintain that nature is the ultimate cause. There are also some thinkers who believe that no one can ascertain the cause of distress by argumentation, nor know it by imagination, nor express it by words. O King, please judge for yourself”.
And now comes the King's reply (shloka 22, which is a remarkable shloka):
dharmaM bravIShi dharmaj~na dharmo'si vRRiSha-rUpa-dhRRik /
yad-adharma-kRRitaH sthAnaM sUchakasyApi tad-bhavet //
Meaning: O you, who are in the form of a bull! You must be no other than dharma-devatA himself! You know the truth of religion, and you are speaking according to the principle that the consequence of perpetrating an irreligious act also applies to one who talks about the perpetration.
Thus it follows -- even though it is difficult to agree with the point -- that, even pointing out (or speaking about) the doer of adharmic activities or events is itself adharma. This is a subtle point about dharma that does not surface in any of our ethical codes.
The Bhagavatam has innumerable subtle shlokas of this kind in unexpected contexts and on unpredictable situations. We might be touching on a few of them as we go along.
The King ordered the Kali-purushha to go away beyond his land. But the latter said: Wherever I go I see you wielding your bow and arrow and aiming at me. Please point out to me that place where I have to live. And the King readily pointed out four places (I – 17 – 38)(: Gambling (dyUtaM), Drinking (pAnaM), Prostitution (striyaH) and Murder (sUnA). The Kali-purushha pleaded for one more place. And Gold (jAta-rUpaM) was granted as the fifth place. It thus turns out that (I – 17 -39)
untruth (anRRitaM), infatuation (madaM), lust (kAmaM),
passion (rajas), and enmity (vairaM)
are the abstract qualities in which kali-purushha has his sway.
Carrying on with the story we come to the most important incident in Parikshit’s life which led to the BhagavataM. Once while he was hunting in the forest and was following a deer, overcome by thirst and fatigue, he entered an Ashram where he saw a Rishi sitting in samAdhi. The King asked for water but there was no response from the Rishi. Nor was he welcomed or received with honours naturally due to him as a guest and a king. He was upset and it turned into anger. As he walked out in that mood, he saw a dead snake on the ground. He lifted it up by the tip of his bow, threw it around the neck of the meditating Rishi, and went his way. That was his nemesis!
The young son of the Rishi, who was himself a Rishi in his own right, came home and saw the havoc done to the person of his father who was still in his samAdhi. The youngsters who were playing around told him what had happened. Enraged by what he learnt, he immediately made the purifying Achamana (ritual sipping of water) and issued forth a curse: On the seventh day from now, the great serpent named ‘takshhaka’ will bite him (to death). When his father awoke from his samAdhi, he was saddened to hear about the curse issued by his son to the great King. He felt that the King had been given too much of a punishment for this childish prank of his and so he wanted the King to know of his impending death. The enlightened sage that the rishi was, did not mind the insult done to his person for,
Since the Atman is independent of the guNas, generally the enlightened ones, even though involved by others in the ups and downs of the material world, are neither elated nor distressed.
prAyashaH sAdhavo loke parair-dvandveshhu yojitAH;
na vyathanti na hRRishhyanti yata AtmA agunAshrayaH
(I – 18 – 50).
So he insists his son should go to the royal palace and inform the king about the curse. Even before this is done, the King has already regretted his action and was prepared to receive any curse arising out of his action. When he was told that his death had been ordained by a ‘takshaka’ bite in barely seven days, he immediately renounced everything, went to the banks of the Ganges, and sat there in remorseful prayer and meditation. The word got around and in no time a large number of sages, rishis, and devotees gathered there, in anticipation of participation in a noble spiritual gathering. The King Parikshit asked the assembled sages to tell him what he should do in the remaining seven days of his life to merit what everybody desires – a release from birth and death.
Lo and Behold. The sixteen-year old boy-sage Shuka arrives from nowhere. The entire august assembly rises up to give the great sage a standing respectful welcome. King Parikshit asks him the million-dollar question: What is the way of perfection for one who is about to die? Please let me know what a man should hear, chant, remember and worship, and also what he should not do. (I -19-38).
And here begins Shuka’s Bhagavata recital. In the previous yuga his father Vyasa taught him this Bhagavatam. Vyasa was taught by Narada and Narada got it from Creator Brahma, his father.
The Lord absolute Himself gave this to Brahma.
When the time comes for leaving this mortal coil, says Shuka, one should renounce everything and practising ‘prAnAyAma’ control the mind to go inward. The cosmic form of the Lord, from bottom to top, should be meditated on. There is nothing greater than bhakti to the Transcendental Supreme, Vasudeva. He is the One about whom you should hear, sing, and remember.
*shrotavyaH kIrtitavyashca smartavyo bhagavan nRRiNAM* II – 2 – 36.
He is the One who should be propitiated, irrespective of what you want or do not want; you may want everything or nothing. You may want moksha. In all cases it is the Supreme Almighty that you have to worship.
The Lord absolute taught the gist of this even before the beginning of creation on Day 1 – that first day of Brahma was called BrAhma-kalpa -- toBrahma Himself in just four shlokas. These four shlokas are known as “chatus-shlokI bhAgavataM”. They are considered to be the essential core of the entire Bhagavatam. In the words of the Lord, they are: (II – 9 – 32 to 35)
It is I, who was existing in the beginning, when there was nothing but Myself. There was nothing else, neither Being nor non-Being nor anything which transcends them. That which you see now is also Me, and after annihilation what remains will also be Me.
Whatever appears in the Atman, be it a reflection-like appearance where there is nothing of value, be it a darkness-like non-existence where there is existence, all this is to be considered as my mAyA .
Know thou that just as the universal fundamental subtle elements appear to have entered into the cosmos but in reality there is no such ‘entry’, so also I appear to have pervaded into everything but in reality there is no ‘pervasion’.
By the two exercises of logic known as ‘anvaya’ and ‘vyatireka’ what is known to exist everywhere and every time is the only thing to be known by those who seek to know the truth of the Atman.
aham-evAsam-evAgre nAnyad-yat sad-asat-paraM /
pashcAd-ahaM yad-etacca yo’vashishhyeta so’smyahaM // 32 //
RRite’rthaM yat-pratIyeta na pratIyeta cAtmani /
tad-vidyAd-Atmano mAyAM yathA’’bhAso yathA tamaH //33//
yathA mahAnti bhUtAni bhUteshh-vuccAvaceshh-vanu /
pravishhTAny-apravishhTAni tathA teshhu na teshh-vahaM //34//
etAvadeva jij~nAsyaM tattva-jij~nAsunAtmanaH /
anvaya-vyatirekAbhyAM yat syAt sarvatra sarvadA //35//
The logic terms ‘anvaya’ and ‘vyatireka’ are to be explained thus. Consider the Self as the string in which every non-Self is strung like beads. The fact that the Self is the continuity part of the string in all that is non-Self is called anvaya. The fact that the Self itself is separate from the non-self just as the string is separate from the beads, is called vyatireka. (For English translations from three modern commentators, GO TO 15.3
At the end of the four shlokas the Lord adds a rejoinder to Brahma. Says He: “Establish Yourself in this by the highest samAdhi. Then throughout all your work of Creation in every kalpa you will never be deluded” (II – 9 – 36). This can be taken as God’s Commandment to all humanity in all their works. This is the highest teaching.