Back of the Book
The human mind, so involved in worldly pursuits, finds it very difficult to withdraw itself getting knocked about by the world. A mind, thus preoccupied, knows not how to withdraw. At such times, only God or a man of discrimination can help us see light.
The Sanat Kumaras approached Lord Brahma, the Creator, with such a problem. Lord Brahma confessed to being too preoccupied and therefore had no solution to offer. The Supreme Lord then appeared as 'Hamsa' - the Swan and gave the knowledge of the Truth. This episode of the Bhagawatam is called Hamsa Geeta.
The lucid commentary by Swami Tejomayananda helps us understand the problem and seek a practical solution, thereby giving us a head start towards our quest for Truth.
The basic scriptures of the Hindus are the Vedas or Sruti (the Rg Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda), the Smrti-s (the Ramayana and Mahabharata), and the Puranas (Visnu Purana, Siva Purana etc.).
Veda Vyasa composed the eighteen puranas. There is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion regarding them. Some consider them to be only imaginary and meaningless stories or myths written for entertainment or for lessons to be learnt. For instance, some doubt the very existence of Shri Rama and Shri Krishna, believing them to be mythical figures.
The word purana means that which is ancient. Since the purans reveal the eternal Truth, they are ancient and yet ever new. They are the means for that which is, and that which is possible to be (sambhava pramana). The Vedas reveal the Truth that already exists by removing the ignorance that veils it (ajnana jnapakam). The puranas too do the same. Moreover they also reveal that which is possible to exist (sambhava).
Many scientific theories begin as hypothesis or propositions to be proved. They become discovered facts once they are experimented upon. In many cases that which started as science fiction has become reality, e.g. space travel, robots etc. Some technological advancements were imaginations or hopes in the past. A few examples are computers, clones etc. Therefore, that which appears strange, meaningless, impossible, or fantastic may very much have been possible in the past or become possible in the future. The puranas talk of that which was possible in the past and that which is in the present or may be possible in the future. In the puranas all is not in the realm of possibilities. It also has historical facts and symbolic or metaphorical stories. For example, the Puranjaya Upakhyana in the Bhagavata Purana is a metaphorical story.
Generally the puranas deal with the following five topics:
1. Sarga: Creation of the fundamental elements.
2. Pratisarga: Special or specific creations from these elements.
3. Manuantara: Manu could be called as minister of dharma, whose job is to establish dharma in creation. This happens through various incarnations, devotees, and their teachings. A manuantara describes the term of rule of various Manus.
4. Vamsa: The description of various dynastic orders like Surya Vamsa and Candra Vamsa.
5. Vamsanucarita: The lives and deeds of the various rulers and sages who appeared in these dynasties.
The Bhagavata Purana
It is the most popular of the puranas and has 18,000 verses. It is called a mahapurana, not because of its size (Padma Purana is more voluminous) but because of its content and popularity. When Lord Shri Krishna was to end His sport on this earth, the people were very sad. The Lord consoled them by infusing His power into the Bhagavata Purana which would be ever available to all. Hence it is considered as the very form of the Lord. Being the form of the Lord, it also reveals the Lord and hence is called Bhagavata. One who goes through a medical college is expected to emerge as a doctor. Similarly, one who studies the Bhagavata is expected to become a devotee.
The Bhagavata Purana has twelve cantos. The first two are:
1. Adhikari: It describes the qualifications of a student for the knowledge of the Bhagavat through the story of Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna.
2. Sadhana: Talks of the means to be adopted to purify oneself.
3. The remaining 10 cantos are:
Atra sargo visargasca sthanam posanam utayah
Manvantaresanukatha nirodho muktih asrayah.
1. Sargah describes the creation of the fundamental elements.
2. Visargah is the special or specific creations made from the fundamental element.
3. Sthanam describes the Lord as the very place of abidance of the creation.
4. Posanam shows us how the Lord nourishes. His creation through His Grace (posanam tad anugrahah).
5. Utayah are the inner compulsions or inherent tendencies in man that lead him to rebirth and suffering. This is explained in Utayah.
6. Manvantara describes the term of rule of Manu.
7. Sanukatha describes the various glories of the Lord and His devotees through stories.
8. Nirodhah describes the process of dissolution.
9. Muktih gives knowledge that leads to liberation.
10. Asrayah describes the Lord as the very substratum of the creation, the very refuge of all, the essence of all knowledge and the goal of all beings. This Truth is variously called Brahman, paramatma, Bhagavan etc. (brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavaneti kathyate-Bhagavata).
The purpose of the previous cantos is to understand this essential nature of the Lord (dasamasca visudhyartham navanam iha laksanam- Bhagavata).
The Eleventh Canto (Muktih Skandah)
The tenth canto elaborately describes the sports of Shri Krishna. It is considered by devotees as the very soul of the text. However, the eleventh canto has its own unique place of importance. It gives great knowledge by which man attains liberation. Liberation is defined here as 'renouncing the false or mistken identity about oneself and abiding in one's true nature' (muktirhitva'nyatha rupam svarupena vyavasthitih).
It is a wonder that we suffer? We think ourselves to be finite entities when we are the infinite Truth. It would be a surprise if we did not suffer. Knowledge of the Truth alone can therefore liberate us from this bondage of ignorance.
This canto, being predominantly knowledge oriented, is considered difficult by some. It has famous stories like Navayogi Katha etc. The great saint Eknath has written a beautiful commentary called Eknathi Bhagavat on this chapter alone.
Dialogue between Shri Krishna and Uddhava
Shri Krishna was preparing for his departure from this earth. Uddhava, his great devotee and friend, was distraught at the very thought of living without Shri Krishna. Filled with great sorrow, he approached Shri Krishna and pleaded with him not to leave. The Lord gave knowledge to Uddhava, advised him to abide in it and spread it to others. This dialogue between Shri Krishna and Uddhava is called Uddhava. Gita, which is part of the eleventh canto of the Bhagavata.
The Lord incarnates to establish dharma (dharmasamsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge - Gita IV.8). He does this through his way of life and deeds, and also by imparting knowledge. He taught Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurushetra and we got the immortal Bhagavad Gita. Here he teachers Uddhava.
Knowledge is the very foundation of dharma. Therefore in the Gita the Lord praises spiritual knowledge as the king of all forms of knowledge, the royal secret, holy, great, that which can be directly experienced, the foundation of dharma, which is easily grasped by noble souls, and imperishable (rajavidya rajaguhyam pavitram idam uttamam, pratyaksavagamam dharmyam susukham kartumavyam- Gita IX-2)
The essence of Shri Krishna's teaching to Uddhava is that 'all that is perceived by the senses and experienced by the mind is an appearance, an illusion, or a projection of the mind. Abide in the Truth, which is the substratum of the world and the illuminator of all experiences. Remain ever steadfast in 'Me' alone (kenapi upayena manah krsne nivesayet).
This is difficult for most of us because of our extroverted tendencies. We feel we will never overcome them. One who has suffered from fever for fifteen days may get dejected and depressed. Remaining at the level of the problem, we can never solve it completely. When we rise above the problem, the problem itself dissolves.
A villager was overshelmed by the skyscrapers and fast traffic in a metropolitan city. Thereafter when he was flying out of the city, he happened to glance out of the plane's window. From there, the skyscrapers looked tiny and the traffic slow. Similarly, the qualities of the mind (sattva, rajas, and tamas) or the inherent tendencies overwhelm us. We feel we will never be rid of their suffocating hold. The thirteenth chapter of the this canto begins with the solution to our problems. It shows how we can rise above these limiting qualities and liberate ourselves. In this chapter, the Lord appears in the form of a Swan and expounds the teaching, and it is therefore called "Hamsa Gita".
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