Sri Ramanasramam takes great pleasure in publishing this fourth edition of the Srimad Bhagavata (condensed) by Sri S.S. Cohen. The first edition was published by the Chinmaya Mission in 1965, after which the author gave over the copyright to Sri Ramanasramam.
S.S. Cohen's keen intellect and insight, spiritually honed by his long association with Bhagavan Ramana, never fails to sift out the unadulterated essence, the uniquely practical and inspirational. All his writings are a testament to this exceptional quality, which is particularly evident in this present volume, the Srimad Bhagavata.
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. This sometimes goes by the name of Uddhava Gita. This teaching, notwithstanding 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 latter is purported to have been propounded in the midst of a great human crisis, which threatened to engulf millions of warriors who were fighting for a righteous cause. It was given to nip in the bud the despondency which was growing in the hearts of its foremost leaders. In contrast, Uddhava Gita is the direct, untrammeled, uninhibited teaching of a Master to His disciple, who had no other aim in life but to attain union with Him, and, as such, it is of the greatest practical value to those who seek to reach the same height, the State of the Lord Himself, which is the Supreme Enlightenment or Liberation. Srimad Bhagavata is, in effect, planned to resolve all the spiritual doubts of the ardent, self dedicated seekers of all ages. They are represented here by a great, pious king Parikshit who is sitting on his deathbed praying for light from the assembled sages, so to face calmly and with a purified, illumined mind the last solemn moments of his life. What is more, it creates in the seeker the fervent devotion, which can impel him to make the strenuous efforts which are needed for the fruition and consummation of his spiritual yearnings.
The difference in the teachings of these 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 recognize and extol the superiority of the Bhagavata in this last respect, namely, in its lucid expositions reiterated again and again. This is elucidated 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 other and, above all, by the Supreme Teacher, Sri Krishna Himself, so that no room is left for misinterpretations or partisan interpretations, as is the case with the pithy, distilled expositions of the Bhagavad Gita.
The Bhagavata Mahatmya (Padma Purana) says that Brahma, having weighed all the Scriptures against the Bhagavata, found the latter to outweigh them all, "because it is the embodiment of the Lord in this Kali age," that is, it stands for Him in His physical absence. When the four Kumaras told Narada that Bhakti, Vairagya, and Jnana (devotion, dispassion and knowledge respectively), the three padas (feet) on which the highest sadhana (spiritual discipline) stands, spontaneously rises in him who daily recites it, and Narada inquired as to the reasons why these do not result from the recitation of the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, they gave the pregnant answer that so long as the essence is not separated from the mass of the substance, as the butter is extracted from every particle of the milk, no benefit can be derives from it. This essence the spiritual butter is the Bhagavata, which has been churned out of the ocean of the Veda milk for the benefit of those "who are pure in heart, free from malice and envy, and are keen to hear it". (p.2).
The reader will have no need to go very far in search of the message of the Bhagavata: it is given to him at its very commencement in a clear, ringing note which is echoed again and again in the text to the very end.
"The highest good," it says, "consists in the attainment by the soul of its true, ultimate object, which is the realization of God, the absolute Reality, through complete surrender and selfless devotion
There can be no doubt that the object in being in a human body is not the gratification of the senses, nor the attainment of heaven through religious worship and pious acts, but the investigation into the ultimate Truth which goes by various names; Brahman, Paramatman, Bhagavan, etc., Who is one and indivisible admitting no duality or distinctions whatever. Rishis have realized this Truth as their very Self, as seated in their very hearts through study, devotion, and constant recital of this sacred Bhagavata." (p.3).
This puts in a nutshell the whole theme of the Bhagavata the essential purpose of the human life, the meaning of the absolute Reality, and the way of attaining it. It practically tells us that God is our very Self and that He can be realized through inquiry or knowledge (Jnana) generated by intense devotion (Bhakti) and detachment (Vairagya) the three padas mentioned above. There can be no rest from the ceaseless and hydra-headed misery of life till the realization of the truth of oneself is achieved. It is the inborn urge of the soul and the object of all its endeavours, whether it is conscious of it or not, to discover its own truth and release itself from this misery and from the bondage, which arises out of its ignorance of itself which it mistakes for its body. It is this wrong identification of the insentient body with the sentient soul or self that lies at the root of this troublesome samsara and of all human ills and it is for its eradication that all the Vedas have been written and all the sadhanas prescribed.
This may seem to imply that the Bhagavata is meant only for yogis who work for immediate redemption. But to say that it is not also for the householder and the ordinary man of calm mind who aspires for happiness in his own life and peace with the world, is saying only half the truth. For, apart from their narrative appeal and the devotion they induce, its lavish, kaleidoscopic legends are mines of wisdom which do not fail to impress themselves upon the character and conduct of the thoughtful reader, especially in these days when innumerable forces are at work to divert men's attentions from their deep-seated urge of self-fulfilment and self-knowledge to the transient satisfaction of their elementary needs by the easy, descending path of rank materialism.
For this reason this condensation attempts to bring out all the stories and the instructions given in the original, curtailing nothing but the least significant anecdotes, long lists of names which mean nothing to us today, constant iterations of ideas, hymns and accounts of the creation, and details which are likely to cause a flagging of interest in the modern reader.
In pruning these deterrents care has been taken to retain all the features, structure, and almost the very words of the original, especially in the dialogues, which form its most instructive parts, where I preserved them as quotations, using italics for the most significant dicta to draw earnest attention to them. I have, however, found it necessary to add my own interpretative remarks to bring clarity where needed, and these I placed in brackets to distinguish them from the text.
Readers who are not used to the Bhagavata will find in it frequent interruptions, lack of cohesion, and much chronological disarray in its stories, barring those relating to the life of Krishna. It has to be remembered that the author's supreme aim is to propound the sublime Truth, using the narrative as best suits his purpose, irrespective of historical sequence, to create both an atmosphere for his teaching as well as lasting impressions upon the reader's mind. Even a grihasta will feel uplifted by the moral lesions it imparts and by its devotional philosophy. It is, therefore, important to view the instructions, which are prodigally strewn all over the work, not as isolated discourses befitting the particular related events, and, thus, may be lost sight of no sooner read, but as essential parts of a whole system of knowledge to be carefully noted, co-ordinated and treasured in the memory. This is complete scripture by itself, as the Bhagavata Mahatmya (previously quoted) rightly claims it to be, which promises to lead directly to Jnana, the portals of the supreme Liberation, without the assistance of any other spiritual work.
The contemplative student should not be misled by this 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.
The Roman figures which headline the sections of this book represent the numbers of the corresponding chapters or discourses (adhyayas) in the original.
Back of the Book
What distinguishes the Bhagavata Purana 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, notwithstanding what the historians say of its age and authorship, is regarded by many as a development and an elucidation of the battlefield of Kurukshetra and form the celebrated 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.
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