The standard of valid knowledge

(based on Sri Jiva Goswami's Tattva-sandarbha, 9-26)

"Admission of ignorance is the first step in developing knowledge."

Four defects of the conditioned beings
Vedas as the source of transcendental knowledge
Itihasas and Puranas superior to the Vedas
Puranas superior to the Itihasas
Puranas and the three modes of nature
Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam) as the topmost pramana
Srimad Bhagavatam as the natural commentary on the Vedanta
Commentaries on the Srimad Bhagavatam
Sukadeva Goswami as the speaker of the Srimad Bhagavatam
Srimad Bhagavatam expounds the supreme good

Four defects of the conditioned beings

Since even most learned people are subject to four kinds of defects, confusion (pramada), inadvertence (bhrama), cheating (vipralipsa) and imperfection of senses (karanapatava) etc., and more importantly, since they are incapable of grasping the essentially supernatural and inconceivable reality, their means of acquiring knowledge by sense-perception etc. will prove unreliable.

Vedas as the source of transcendental knowledge

Therefore, realizing that these (pratyaksa etc.) cannot serve as proper means for proper knowledge, let us turn to the Vedas themselves as we seek to comprehend that reality which transcends all and yet is the substratum of all, whose nature is inconceivable and wondrous - to the Vedas, whose utterances have no earthly origin, being the source of all knowledge, both material and spiritual, and having been handed down in an unbroken line of succession from time immemorial.

This is confirmed by the following scriptural statements: Brahmasutra 2.1.11 ("If it be argued that since mere reason provides no solid ground on which to base our position, then we will find some other means of inference on which to base our position, we reply 'no, you will end up in the same difficulty'."); Mahabharata, Bhismaparva 5.12 ("One should not apply reason to those realities which are inconceivable; for it is the essence of the inconceivable to be distinct from the material objects.") Brahmasutra 1.1.3 ("Since the scriptures are the source [of the knowledge of Brahman]."); Brahmasutra 2.1.27 ("This is verified by Sruti, since scriptures are the source [of the knowledge of Brahman]."); and Bhagavata Purana 11.20.4 ("O Lord, this Vedas of yours is the supreme 'eye', by virtue of which the demigods, forefathers and mortals apprehend those things beyond the range of perception, regarding even the highest goal and the means of attainment.").

Itihasas and Puranas superior to the Vedas

And here, since the Vedas are at present difficult to go through completely (due to unavailability of complete text and decrease in human memory) and hard to comprehend - for even the sages who sought to ascertain their meaning contradict one another - we will examine sabda in the form of Itihasa and Puranas alone, both of which partake of the nature of Vedas, and serve to ascertain the meaning of the Vedas. Furthermore, these portions of the Vedas which are not known on their own can only be inferred by examining Itihasa and Puranas. For these reasons, it is evident that in the present age, Itihasa and Puranas are alone capable of generating true knowledge.

Thus we find in the Mahabharata and Manu-smrti, "One should supplement the Vedas with Itihasa and Puranas" (MBh, Adiparva 1.267); and elsewhere, "Purana' is so called because it completes (Purana)." For just as a chipped gold bracelet can not be filled with lead, so also the Vedas cannot be supplemented by something non-Vedic.

The identity of Itihasa and Puranas with the Rg Veda etc., with respect to their transcendental origin, is expressed in the Madhyandina Sruti itself: " the same way, my dear, what is know as the Rg Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda, Itihasa, Purana... has been breathed forth from that Supreme Lord." (Br.U. 2.4.10)

Therefore, it is stated in the Prabhasa Khanda of the Skanda Purana; "In ancient times, Brahma, the grandsire of the demigods, practiced severe austerities. As a result, the Vedas became manifest along with the six auxiliary branches and the pada and krama texts. Then the entire Purana, the embodiment of all the scriptures, unchanging, composed of the eternal sabda, sacred, and consisting of a hundred crores (of verses) issued forth from Brahma's mouth. Listen carefully to the different divisions of that (Purana): the Brahma Purana is first..." (Sk.P. 2.3-5) The figure "a hundred crores" is known to be the number (of verses) which exist in Brahmaloka.

"He [Brahma] manifested the four Vedas, known as Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva, one after the other, from his four mouths, beginning with the one facing east." (Bh.P. 3.12.37) "Then, the all seeing Lord manifested Itihasa and Puranas, the fifth Veda from all of his mouths." (Bh.P. 3.12.39) Here the actual word "Veda" is used with reference to Itihasa and Puranas. Elsewhere we find: "The Purana is the fifth Veda;" "Itihasa and Puranas are said to be the fifth Veda;" (Bh.P. 1.4.20) "He taught the Vedas, with the Mahabharata as the fifth." (MBh, Moksadharma 340.11) etc.

If it were not the case (that Itihasa and Puranas are Vedic in nature), then the characterization of them as the "fifth" in the preceding verses would be unwarranted, since only things of the same kind can be combined to form a single sum. It is stated in the Bhavisya Purana: "That which is known as the Mahabharata is Krsna Dvaipayana's (i.e. Vyasa's) fifth Veda." We also find in the Chandogya Upanisad of the Kauthumiya Sakha: "Sir, I have learned the Rg Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the fourth, or Atharva Veda, as well as Itihasa and Purana, the fifth Veda among the Vedas" (Ch.U.7.1.2) Thus is refuted the well known belief that the terms, Itihasa and Purana occurring in Br.U. 2.4.10 refer merely portions of the four Vedas themselves. Therefore it is stated, "The Brahma Purana is first..."

Vayu Purana explains why Itihasa and Puranas are considered the fifth Veda: "Thus almighty Lord, Bhagavan (Vyasa) appointed me [Suta Goswami] to be the authoritative expounder of Itihasa and Puranas. (At first) the Yajur Veda alone existed; he arranged that into four parts. The four Hotrs (priests) arose within; thereby did he create yajna (sacrifice). Along with the Yajur Veda came the office of the Adhvaryu priest, with the Rg Veda that of the Hotr priest; with the Sama Veda, that of the Udgatr priest; and with the Atharva Veda, that of the Brahma priest." (Va.P. 60.16-18) "(Then) O Best of the twice born, (Vyasa), skilled in the meaning of Puranas, assembled the Puranas (and Itihasa) by (gathering together) ukhyanas, upakhyanas, and gathas. This remaining portion also falls within that (original) Yajur Veda: this is the conclusion of the sacred scriptures." (Va.P. 60.21-22)

Moreover, in the formal study of the scriptures, known as brahmayajna, the use of Itihasa and Puranas is indicated by the words "the Brahmanas, Itihasa and Purana". This would also not be possible were Itihasa and Puranas not Vedic in nature.

Therefore the Supreme Lord declares in the Matsya Purana: "O best of the twice-born, realizing that, in course of time, men become unable to comprehend the (original) Purana, I assume the form of Vyasa, in every age, and summarize that Purana." (Ma.P. 53.8-9) "In every Dvapara Yuga, the Purana consisting of four lakhs (of verses), is divided into eighteen parts and manifested in the world of mortals. Even today, the (verses) number a hundred crores in the world of the devas. The four lakhs found here represent a condensed version of that (original Purana)." (Ma.P. 53.9-11)

And the fact that Suta said "This remaining portion also falls within that original Yajur Veda" shows that the four lakhs of verses which represent the most significant portion of that (original Purana), having found their way into the world of mortals as a concise summary of the essential parts of that Purana, do not represent a separate composition.

The same idea is demonstrated in the Vayaviya Samhita of the Siva Purana by discussing the Puranas alongside of the Vedas: "The Lord (Vyasa) summarized the four Vedas and divided them into their four sections. Since he divided the Vedas (vyastaveda), he is remembered by posterity as "Vedavyasa". The Purana was also condensed into four lakhs (of verses). Even today, (the verse) number a hundred crores in the world of the devas." (Si.P. 1.33-34) Here, the word "condensed" means "condensed by him (i.e. by Vyasa)". And the names "Skanda", "Agneya", etc. (by which the various Puranas are known) refer either to those who first declared them, or to those who arranged them. Therefore, if one sometimes hears (the Puranas) spoken of as non-eternal, it is merely with reference to the fact that they are sometimes manifest and sometimes unmanifest. Thus, the Vedic nature of Itihasa and Puranas is proved.

Nevertheless, sutas [bards] and others are allowed access to the Puranas as they have the right to chant the name of Krsna, which represents, the choicest fruits of the creeper of all the Vedas". As declared in the Prabhasa Khanda (of the Skanda Purana): "O Best of the Bhrgus, the name of Krsna is the sweetest of the sweet, the most auspicious, the choicest fruit of the creeper of all the Vedas, of the nature of pure consciousness. If sung but once, whether with devotion or with contempt, the name of Krsna will transport a mere mortal to the other shore." As stated in the Visnu Dharma: "He who utters the two-syllable word 'Hari' reaps the fruits of the study of the Rg Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda." And the ability (of Itihasa and Puranas) to determine the meaning of the Vedas is mentioned in the Visnu Purana: "On the pretext of describing the events of the Mahabharata, he has illustrated the meaning of the Vedas. The Vedas all find a firm resting place in the Puranas - about this there is no doubt."

Moreover, even if (Itihasa and Puranas) are considered to belong to the class of sastras which illuminate the meaning of the Vedas, still, they excel all others due to the eminence of their expounder (Vyasa). As stated in the Padma Purana, "Vyasa knows that even Brahma and the others know not. He knows all that is known, while what is known to him is beyond the reach of others." As stated in the Skanda Purana: "Others have borrowed bits and pieces from the ethereal realm of Vyasa's mind for their own use, just as one would remove objects from a house and use them.

The same idea is found in the Visnu Purana, in the words of Vyasa father, Parasara: "Then, in this twenty-eight yuga cycle, my son, the Lord Vyasa, took the one Veda, consisting of four parts, and divided it into four. All the other 'Vyasas', and myself as well; also arrange the Vedas just as the wise Vedavyasa had arranged them. Therefore, know for certain that the different branches of the 'Vyasas' in the four yugas were created for this reason alone. O Maitreya, know that Krsna Dvaipayana (Vyasa) is the Lord Narayana Himself; for one who on earth but He could have composed the Mahabharata?" (Vi.P. 3.4.2-5)

And in the Skanda Purana: "In the Krta Yuga, the knowledge which had issued forth from Narayana remained intact. It became somewhat distorted in the Treta Yuga and completely so in the Dvapara Yuga. When, due to the curse of the sage Gautama, knowledge turned into ignorance, the bewildered demigods led by Brahma and Rudra, sought shelter with the benign, refuge-giving Narayana, and informed Bhagavan Purusottama of their purpose in coming. And the great Yogi, the Lord Hari Himself, descended, taking birth as the son of Satyavati and Parasara, and rescued the fallen Vedas."

Puranas superior to the Itihasas

The word "Vedas" in the preceding verse indicates both Itihasa and Puranas as well. It is thus established that the study of Itihasa and Puranas alone leads to the highest good. And of these, it is the importance of Puranas alone which is seen; for it is stated in the Narada Purana: "O Fair One (Parvati), I consider the significance of the Puranas to outweigh that even of the Vedas. The Vedas all find a firm resting place in the Puranas - about this there is no doubt. He who looks down on the Puranas will take birth in the womb of an animal, and even if well-behaved and peaceful, will find no refuge anywhere."

As stated in the Prabhasa Khanda of the Skanda Purana: "O Best of the Twice-born, I consider the significance of the Puranas to be unchanging, like that of the Vedas. The Vedas all find a firm resting place in the Puranas - about this there is no doubt. The Veda is afraid of those of little knowledge, thinking 'They will twist my meaning'; and so the meaning of the Veda was fixed in ancient times by means of Itihasa and Puranas. For what is not found in the Vedas, O twice-born, is found in Smrti; and what is not found in either, is related in the Puranas. He who knows the four Vedas, together with the Vedangas and Upanisads, without knowing the Puranas, is not to be thought of as wise." (Sk.P. 2.90-93)

Puranas and the three modes of nature

But now, even though the authoritative nature of Puranas has been thus established, the same doubt still remains i.e. since the Puranas are also not available in their entirety, and since they are chiefly concerned with establishing the superiority of various deities, their meaning is also difficult to comprehend for modern man of meager intelligence. As stated in the Matsya Purana: "A Purana should consist of five parts, as opposed to an Akhyana. The glory of Hari is greater in sattvika scripture; the glory of Brahma is greater in rajasika scriptures; and that of Agni and Siva greater in tamasika scriptures. In mixed scriptures the glory of Sarasvati and the pitrs is said to be greater." (Ma.P. 190.13-14)

The name "Agni" in the preceding verse refers to the various sacrifices which are offered in the different fires. The conjunction ca in the phrase sivasya ca indicates that Siva's consort, Parvati is also meant. The term "mixed kalpas" refers to the many scriptures composed of sattva, rajas and tamas. "Sarasvati" refers to various deities indicated by Sarasvati, who is the embodiment of various words. And the pitrs refers to the sacrificial acts which lead to the attainment of the world of the forefathers, as declared in Sruti: "Through karma one attains Pitrloka." (Br.U.1.5.16)

The categories into which the various well-known Puranas fall are described in the Matsya Purana itself, based, solely on stories concerning the different kalpas; but what means can be adopted by which the relative importance of these Puranas can be determined? If we base our decision on the relative importance of the three gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas, then, on the strength of such statements as "From sattva comes knowledge" (Bh.G.14.17) and "Sattva is the basis for the realization of Brahman", we will have to conclude that only sattvika Puranas etc. are capable of leading us to the highest truth.

But then (it might be asked), how can you reconcile the divergent views which are propounded by means of various arguments with regard even to the highest truth? If you propose that the entire significance can be determined merely by studying the Brahmasutra, composed by the Lord Vyasa himself in order to fix the meaning of all the Vedas and Puranas, the followers of the other sages who wrote sutra texts will not accept your proposal. Furthermore, someone might interpret the significance of these cryptic and terse sutras in a distorted manner; how then can one know which one represents the correct interpretation?

This issue could be settled once and for all if only you could point to one among the many scriptures, which exhibits the characteristics of a Purana, is divinely composed, represents the essence of all the Vedas, Itihasas and Puranas, is based on the Brahmasutra, and is available throughout the land in its complete form.

Well said! (we reply), for you have just described the very Bhagavata Purana which we consider to be the sovereign ruler of all pramanas.

Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam) as the topmost pramana

Even after manifesting the complete body of Puranas, and composing the Brahmasutra, Bhagavan Vyasa was still not content, and so he composed a book which serves as a natural commentary on his own Brahmasutra, which was revealed to him in samadhi, and which alone illustrates the common significance of all the scriptures as seen by the fact that it begins by referring to the Gayatri, characterized as a concise statement of the significance of all the Vedas. For its true nature has thus been described in the Matsya Purana: "That is to known as the Bhagavata, which, basing itself on the Gayatri describes dharma in all its fullness, and which narrates the slaying of the asura Vrtra. Whoever will make a copy of this Bhagavata and offer it away, mounted on a throne of gold on the full moon day of Bhadra month, will attain the supreme goal. This Purana is said to contain eighteen thousand (verses)." (Ma.P. 53.20,22)

The word Gayatri in the preceding verse refers to the word 'dhimahi', which is always found in Gayatri and thus serves as an indicator of Gayatri, and the complete meaning of Gayatri; for an outright quotation of this mantra, which is the prototype of all mantras, would not have been proper. The fact that the Bhagavata has the same significance as that of the Gayatri is seen in the phrases janmadyasya yatah ("from whom comes the origin etc. of the universe") and tene brahma hrda ("who revealed the Veda [to the creator Brahma] through his heart")(Bh.P. 1.1.1), which form identical explanations regarding the substratum of the entire universe and the ability to inspire the workings of the intellect, with those of the Gayatri. The word dharma in the phrase dharmavistarah signifies the "supreme dharma", for it is declared in the Bhagavata Purana itself: "The supreme dharma, devoid of all ulterior motives, is found in this Bhagavata." (Bh.P. 1.1.2) And it will be made clear in a subsequent section that dharma is characterized only by such practices as contemplation etc. of Personality of Godhead.

Thus, we also find in the Skanda Purana, Prabhasa Khanda: "That is to be known as the Bhagavata which, basing itself on the Gayatri, describes dharma in all its fullness, and which narrates the slaying of the asura Vrtra. And that is known in the world as the Bhagavata, which has its origin in tales concerning the gods and men who live in the Sarasvata kalpa. Whoever will make a copy of this Bhagavata and offer it away, mounted on a throne of gold on the full moon day of Bhadra month, will attain the supreme goal. This Purana is said to contain eighteen thousand (verses)." (Sk.P. 2.39-42) And these same lines are found in the Agni Purana as well.

And in another Purana cited by the commentator (Sridhara): "That is known as the Bhagavata which contains descriptions of the Brahmavidya of Hayagriva and accounts of the slaying of Vrtra, which opens with reference to the Gayatri, and which consist of twelve skandhas and eighteen thousand (verses)." And the fact that the term "Hayagrivabrahmavidya" from the preceding verse occurs alongside of the phrase "the slaying of Vrtra" shows that the reference is to Narayanavarma" (the armour of Narayana). The name "Hayagriva" in this verse refers to the horse-headed Dadhici, who inaugurated the knowledge of Brahman known as "Narayanavarma". The fact that he bore the head of a horse is established in the sixth skandha (Bh.P. 6.9.52) with the phrase "having the name 'Asvasiras' ('Horse-headed')"; and the fact that "Narayanavarma" signifies "Brahmavidya" is indicated in the verse cited by Sridhara in his commentary on Bh.P. 6.9.52: "Hearing this, Dadhici, the son of Atharva, having been respectfully received by the twins Asvins, instructed them in the Pravargya ceremony and the Brahmavidya, fearful of breaking his promise to them."

Since the Bhagavata is dear to the Lord and cherished by His devotees, it is the most sattvika (of Puranas). As stated in Gautama's question to Ambarisa in the Padma Purana: "O King, do you recite the Bhagavata in front of Hari, containing accounts of the King of Daityas (Hiranyakasipu) and (his son) Prahlada?" (Pa.P., Uttara Khanda 22.115)

In the same section, Gautama instructs Ambarisa in the greatness of the Vyanjuli vow: "One should remain awake throughout the night (of the 'Vyanjuli Mahadvadasi) and listen to compositions concerning Visnu: The Bhagavad-gita, the Thousand Names of Visnu, and the Purana taught by Suka (the Bhagavata). These bring contentment to Hari, and should be recited with great care."

Elsewhere in the same section, "O Ambarisa, if you wish to put an end to the cycle of birth and death, listen daily to the Bhagavata taught by Suka, and recite it also with your own lips."

And in the Dvarakamahatmya from the Prahlada Samhita of the Skanda Purana: "He who remains awake (on the Harivasara) and recites the Bhagavata with devotion, in the presence of Hari, attains the abode of Visnu, together with his entire family."

Srimad Bhagavatam as the natural commentary on the Vedanta

And in the Garuda Purana: "This composition is exceedingly perfect. It contains the meaning of the Brahmasutra and determines the meaning of the Mahabharata. It functions as a commentary on the Gayatri and fortifies the meaning of the Vedas. It is the Sama Veda of Puranas, declared by Bhagavan Himself. It contains twelve skandhas, numerous vicchedas, and eighteen thousand (verses), and goes by the names Srimad Bhagavata."

"It contains the meaning of the Brahmasutra": that is, it represents a natural commentary on the sutras. Previously, it had been revealed in the heart (of Vyasa) in a subtle form; that was then summarized and made manifest in the form of sutras. Later, that appeared in its expanded form as the Bhagavata itself. Therefore, since the Bhagavata represents a self revealed commentary on the Brahmasutra, it follows that only those modern, self-styled commentaries which are in consonance with the Bhagavata are to be respected."

It determines the meaning of the Mahabharata": that is, it contains the determination of the meaning of that Mahabharata which is characterized as follows: "The Mahabharata is extolled as determining the significance of all the scriptures. In olden times, Brahma and the other devas, along with all the rsis, gathered together at the command of Vyasa, and weighed the Mahabharata against all the Vedas. The scales tipped in favor of the Mahabharata. (Therefore) because of its greatness (mahattva) and its heaviness (bharavattva), it is known as the Mahabharata."

The import of the Mahabharata is explained in Srimad Bhagavatam. And the meaning of both revolves around Lord alone. Thus, the following verses are uttered by Janamejaya to Vyasa in the Narayaniya section of the Moksadharma (Mahabharata): "O Brahma, O treasure-house of austerities, just as fresh butter is extracted from curds and sandalwood from the Malaya mountains, the Upanisads from the Vedas and the nectar from herbs, so too, by churning the ocean of the highest wisdom with the churning rod of knowledge, have these nectar-like words which you have uttered, based on stories concerning Narayana, been extracted from the legends found in the Mahabharata, strewn throughout these hundred thousand verses." (MBh, Moksa-dharma 170.11-14)

Also in the third skandha it is said: "(O Maitreya even your friend, the sage Krsna Dvaipayana (Vyasa), felt a desire to describe the virtues of Lord, and so narrated the Mahabharata, in which the hearts of men are drawn towards stories concerning Hari, through repeated accounts of lower pleasures."

"Its functions as a commentary on the Gayatri": for it is so explained in those sections of the Visnudharmottara etc. which contain expositions on the Gayatri, that Lord alone is described in detail (in the Gayatri). A similar explanation will also be given in this regard in the commentary on Bh.P. 1.1.1.

"It fortifies the meaning of the Vedas": that is, by virtue of the Bhagavata, the meaning of the Vedas is fortified. Therefore it is said, "One should supplement the Vedas with Itihasa and Purana." (MBh, Adiparva 1.267)

The following Bhagavata verse, quoted in the Vrata Khanda (of the Caturvargacintamani) of Hemadri determines the meaning of the Mahabharata to be equivalent to that of the Vedas: "The sage Vyasa compassionately composed the epic Mahabharata, with the idea in mind that it would lead to the welfare of women, sudras and fallen twice-born who are not entitled to hear the three Vedas, and are thus deluded as to what action would lead to their ultimate good." (Bh.P. 1.4.25) Thus according to this view, the phrase "it determines the meaning of the Mahabharata" should be interpreted to mean "the meaning of the Mahabharata is determined in the Bhagavata as being equivalent to that of the Vedas."

Since the composition known as the Srimad Bhagavatam and characterized by the phrase "based on the Gayatri" is thus concerned with Lord alone, it may be said to serve as a commentary on the Gayatri which is itself concerned solely with Lord. Therefore it is stated, "That is to be known as the Bhagavata which, basing itself on the Gayatri, describes dharma in all its fullness..." A similar detailed explanation is presented in the expository account of the Gayatri found in the Agni Purana. A brief survey of that account is given below.

"That 'light' (mentioned in the Gayatri) is the supreme Brahman, for the word bhargas indicates the light of consciousness." (Ag.P. 216.3)

"That 'light is Lord Visnu, the source of the origin, preservation, and dissolution of the universe. There are some who repeat the name 'Siva' (in place of Visnu), some 'Sakti', 'Surya', or that of other deities, while the Agnihotr priests repeat the name 'Agni'. Verily it is Visnu who has assumed the form of Agni and the rest, and is praised in the Vedas etc. as Brahman." (Ag.P. 216.7-9)

A similar explanation will also be given in this regard in the commentary on Bh.P. 1.1.1. And in the concluding section of the Bhagavata, the final line of verse 12.13.19, beginning tac chuddham, is identical in import with the explanation of the Gayatri found in the Agni Purana: "Let us meditate on the eternal, pure, supreme Brahman, the everlasting light, and the highest Lord, (thinking) 'I am the light, the supreme Brahman, in order to attain liberation." (Ag.P. 216.6,7) Here, the phrase "I am Brahman" indicates a kind of meditation in which one assumes an attitude of identity between oneself and Brahman in order to be fit for worship according to the principle "One who is not himself divine may not worship the divine." The verb dhyayema ("Let us meditate") means "May I, and all of us as well, meditate."

But then, on the strength of this verse, one would expect to find the adanta stem in the Gayatri as well. This can be explained, however, with the help of Panini Sutra 7.1.39 Supam Suluk as an instance of a Vedic irregularity in which the singular accusative ending -am is replaced by the ending -su.

And in the prose passages which praise the sun as the object of worship in the Gayatri (Bh.P. 12.6.67-69), the sun should not be viewed as an independent entity, but rather as indicating Paramatma, rendering those passages free from blemish. The words of Saunaka at the end of the Bhagavata are similarly to be understood: "Tell us, who are full of faith, of the manifestations of Hari, in the form of the sun." (Bh.P. 12.11.28)

And the 'light' (mentioned in the Gayatri) does not refer to that which dwells in the physical sun alone, for, as indicated by the word varenya ("most excellent") from the Gayatri and the word para ("supreme") from the Bhagavata (1.1.1 and 12.13.19), its application extends as far as the majesty of isvara. Therefore it is stated in the Agni Purana, "Through meditation, the purusa can be seen dwelling in the disc of the sun. (But) the supreme abode of Visnu, Brahman, is alone real and ever auspicious." (Ag.P. 216.16,17) That is, through meditation, the purusa, who manifests as the indweller within the disc of the sun which will itself perish at the time of dissolution, so that the inhabitants of the three worlds may worship Him, can be seen, i.e. worshiped. But the supreme abode of Visnu, in the form of Vaikuntha, is alone real, unchanging in the past, present, and future, free from all disturbances, since it partakes of the nature of Brahman.

After thus explaining the Gayatri, the Agni Purana also makes use of the verse beginning with yatradhikrtya gayatrim (Ag.P. 272.6) in the section which deals with the characteristics of Puranas. Thus we find the following verses: "The Agni Purana considers the Gayatri to be concerned with Lord alone, who is held therein to be the source of the origin, preservation, and dissolution of the universe. The Bhagavata, characterized by the phrase, 'based on the Gayatri', ever flourishes throughout the earth." Thus is the origin of the Bhagavata demonstrated to be based on the Gayatri.

And the earlier statement regarding the Sarasvata Kalpa is also appropriate since Sarasvati, whose distinguishing characteristic is speech illustrative of Lord, represents the essence of the Gayatri. As stated in the Agni Purana, "It is called Gayatri since it sings (gayati), or reveals, Vedic texts, the divine light, and the vital forces. It is called Savitri (the daughter of the sun) since it has the power of enlightening. And since speech represents the essence of the sun, it is also called Sarasvati." (Ag.P. 216.1,2)

"It is the Sama Veda of Puranas": that is, just as the Sama Veda is the most perfect of Vedas, so is the Bhagavata the most perfect of Puranas. Therefore, we find in the Skanda Purana: "If the Bhagavata is not kept in one's house in the Kali-yuga, of what avail are collections of other scriptures by the hundreds and thousands? How can he be considered a Vaisnava who, in the Kali Yuga, does not keep the Bhagavata in his house? Even if he is a brahmana, he is lower than an outcaste. O Narada, O sage, wherever the Bhagavata is found in the Kali Yuga, there Hari goes together with all the demigods. O Muni, that pious soul who daily recites a verse from the Bhagavata reaps the fruits of the eighteen Puranas." (Sk.P.,Visnu Khanda 16.40,42,44,331)

For just as the Sama Veda brings out the one common theme running through the three kandas of the Vedas (karmakanda, jnanakanda, and upasanakanda), so does the Bhagavata demonstrate the fact that some of the other Puranas which are occasionally seen to partake of the nature of rajas and tamas, and do not appear to be concerned with Lord, ultimately find their resolution in Lord alone, as presented in the Bhagavata. Therefore it is said, "In the Vedas, Ramayana, Puranas and Mahabharata, Hari is everywhere praised, in the beginning, the middle and the end." The truth of this statement is demonstrated in the Paramatma-sandarbha.

"Spoken by the Lord Himself": this is to be understood in accordance with the concluding words of the Bhagavata: "Let us meditate on the Lord, who revealed the Bhagavata to Brahma..." (Bh.P. 12.13.19)

"It contains sata vicchedas": This phrase will not be discussed, out of fear of unduly lengthening this text.

Thus, Sridhara's interpretation of the phrase hemasimhasamanvitam as meaning "mounted on a throne of gold" is fitting indeed, for as has just been demonstrated, the Bhagavata occupies the position of sovereign ruler of all scriptures. Consequently, both the superiority of the Bhagavata, and the need for its repeated study are established in the Skanda Purana: "Of what avail are collections of other scriptures by the hundreds and thousands...? (Sk.P. 16.40) It is therefore thus established that in the present age those seeking to know the highest truth need only study the Bhagavata Purana.

Thus, even though there exists a variety of scriptures, it is the Bhagavata alone which is described as follows: "This Purana has risen like the sun for those bereft of sight in the Kali Yuga." (Bh.P. 1.3.44) It is thus demonstrated that, aside from the sun-like Bhagavata, no other scripture is capable of properly illuminating reality.

Commentaries on the Srimad Bhagavatam

The tantra known as Tantrabhagavata is considered, in the section of the Hayasirsa Pancaratra which classifies scriptures, to represent a virtual commentary on the Bhagavata. Actual commentaries on the Bhagavata include the Hanumadbhasya, Vasanabhasya, Sambandhokti, Vidvatkamadhenu, Tattvadipika, Bhavarthadipika, Paramahamsapriya, Sukahrdaya, etc. There also exists a variety of Nibandhas, composed by distinguished authors, well known for their particular interpretations, such as the Muktaphala, Harilila, Bhaktiratnavali, etc. The Bhagavata is also praised in the Danakhanda of Hemadri's Caturvargacintamani, in the section dealing with the gift of Puranas, as embodying the characteristics mentioned in the Matsya Purana (53.2-23). And in the Parisesakhanda of the same work by Hemadri, in determining the dharma appropriate to the Kali Yuga, in the Kalanirnaya section, the Bhagavata verse 11.5.36 is quoted: "The noble ones praise the Kali Yuga..."

Sankara, however, commonly accepted to be an avatara of Siva, realized the significance of the Bhagavata, characterized by utterances concerning the joys of bhakti which surpass even the joy of liberation, to be superior to his own doctrines and was afraid to upset the views found in this divinely composed exposition on Vedanta. He propagated the doctrine of Advaita at the command of the Lord in order that the latter's true nature might remain hidden. Still, Sankara desired his own words to be fruitful, and so touched on the Bhagavata indirectly, by describing in such works as his Govindastaka etc. certain events found only in the Bhagavata, such as Yasoda's amazement at the vision of the universal form (of Krsna), Krsna's theft of the gopis' clothes, etc.

Tradition has it that after seeing that Bhagavata has not only been avoided but actually respected by Sankara and fearing that other Vaisnavas might fall under influence of the improper commentaries written by Sankara's other disciples, such as Punyaranya etc., the revered Madhvacarya embraced the views of the Vaisnavas and wrote a different tatparya pointing out the true path: thus is it described by the Vaisnavas.

Sukadeva Goswami as the speaker of the Srimad Bhagavatam

The following statements, found in the Bhagavata itself are therefore appropriate. "(Vyasa) imparted this Bhagavata to his son (Suka), the best of the self-realized, representing the essential extracts from all the Vedas and Itihasas." (Bh.P. 1.3.41,42)

"The Bhagavata is considered to represent the essence of all Vedanta. He who is appeased by its nectar-like juice, has no taste for anything else." (Bh.P. 12.13.15)

"O connoisseurs of mellows here on earth, drink again and again, for all your days, the juice of the Bhagavata, the ripe fruit fallen from the wish-fulfilling tree of the Vedas, whose nectar-like juice flows from the lips of Suka (like the juice of a ripe fruit from the mouth of a parrot)." (Bh.P. 1.1.3)

"I seek refuge with (Suka), the son of Vyasa and most venerable of sages, who, out of compassion for worldly beings desirous of going beyond the blinding darkness (of ignorance), recited the 'secret one' among Puranas, of uncommon majesty, the essence of all Sruti, unparalleled, and the illuminator of Self-knowledge." (Bh.P. 1.2.3) It is thus indicated that the doctrines found in the Bhagavata are the overlord, as it were, of all other doctrines.

Suka took his seat in the midst of the assembly of all the sages, and fully exhibited his superiority over them by assuming the role of preceptor of Srimad Bhagavatam.

For it is said: "The world-purifying, high-souled sages went there with their disciples: Atri, Vasistha, Cyavana, Saradvat, Aristanemi, Bhrgu, Angira, Parasara, Visvamitra (the son of Gadhi), Rama, Utathya, Indrapramada, Idhmavaha, Medhatithi, Devala, Arstisena, Bharadvaja, Gautama, Pipalada, Maitreya, Aurva, Kavasa, Kumbhayoni, Dvaipayana (Vyasa), the venerable Narada, as well as other devarsis, brahmarsis, and rajarsis, including Aruna and others - for often holy men, on the pretext of making pilgrimage to a holy place, actually purify those place by their own presence. King Pariksit welcomed the assembled chiefs of the various holy clans, worshiping them with bowed head and the wise king again saluted the sages who were filled with joy, and, standing before them with joined palms, informed them of his intention." (Bh.P. 1.19.9-12)

Then (the king said): "Thus, O wise ones, having confided in you fully, let me ask a pressing question concerning duty. What pure action should be performed with all one's soul by those who are about to die? Please consider this jointly among yourselves." (Bh.P. 1.19.24)

As the king was asking this question: "(Suka), the son of Vyasa appeared, wandering about the earth at will, free from care, bearing no distinguishing marks, content within himself, in the garb of an avadhuta, and surrounded by children." (Bh.P. 1.19.25)

"The sages all rose from their seats... 'and' that most noble Bhagavan Suka, surrounded there by these most eminent brahmarsis, rajarsis and surarsis, shone brilliantly, like the moon surrounded by clusters of planets, constellations, and stars." (Bh.P. 1.19.28,30)

Even though Vyasa, Suka's guru, and Narada, his grand guru, were both present there, still, the Bhagavata flowed forth from Suka's lips in such a manner that it seemed to them as if they had never heard it before. This is the sense in which it is said that Suka instructed the two of them as well. As it was said "...whose nectar like juice flows from the lips of Suka". (Bh.P. 1.1.3) Thus, the superiority of the Bhagavata is seen in this sense also.

Srimad Bhagavatam expounds the supreme good

Those statements, then, which one hears regarding the superiority of other Puranas, such as the Matsya, etc., are only relatively true. But what is the need for so much argument? The Bhagavata is Krsna's very own representative. As stated in the first skandha: "Now that Krsna has returned to His own abode, along with dharma and knowledge, etc... this Purana has risen like the sun for those bereft of sight in the Kali Yuga." (Bh.P. 1.3.43,44)

The Bhagavata is thus seen to be endowed with all virtues, as demonstrated in the verse, "The supreme dharma, devoid of all ulterior motive, is found in this Bhagavata..." (Bh.P. 1.1.2) This fact is further demonstrated by the words of Vopadeva in the Muktaphala: "The Vedas, Puranas, and Kavya give council like a ruler, a friend, and a beloved, but the Bhagavata is said to give council like all three combined." Thus, even if some consider other Puranas to be dependent on the Vedas, the same supposition with regard to the Bhagavata is dispelled by the Bhagavata itself; this is also self-evident . Therefore the Bhagavata represents the highest form of Sruti. As it is said, "How then, did the dialogue between the royal sage Pariksit and the sage Suka come about, as a result of which this Satvati Sruti became manifest?" (Bh.P. 1.4.7)

And the fact that Vyasa composed the Bhagavata only after completing all of the other Puranas, as stated earlier, can be verified by examining the dialogue between Vyasa and Narada, recorded in the first skandha.