Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.1, Part Four
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Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.1.1, Part Four
Continuing the explanation of the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with its last word, dhīmahi:
This suggestion, “let us meditate,” is spoken in the plural form because the speaker, Vyāsadeva, is addressing his disciples and readers. Dhīmahi is also the last word of the Gāyatrī mantra. The Brahma-gāyatrī mantra, which civilized human beings chant three times daily, gradually purifies its chanters to the point of liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Then, having achieved liberation, a devotee of the Supreme Lord can begin to chant the Lord’s names with pure love. Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī characterizes the Gāyatrī mantra as brahma-vidyā, a meditational discipline that evokes realization of the Absolute Truth. That the text of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam begins with an allusion to the Gāyatrī in its first verse indicates that it is also brahma-vidyā. According to the Matysa Purāṇa (53.20), yatrādhikṛtya gāyatrīṁ / kīrtyate dharma-vistaraḥ: “In the Bhāgavatam, which announces its beginning with the Gāyatrī mantra, all the principles of spiritual life are enunciated.” In the context of the Bhāgavatam, dharma means only the purest principles of religion; as the next verse will affirm, all imperfect conceptions of spiritual duty are rejected in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, including the pursuit of impersonal liberation. Pure religion is founded on service to the Supreme Lord and meditation on His glories.
Gāyatrī is the original Vedic meter from which all mantras of the Vedas expand. The Brahma-gāyatrī mantra should not be given away without proper initiation, so it is not proper to reveal it in full in any book. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam therefore merely hints at the mantra by the single word dhīmahi, and the meter of this first verse of the Bhāgavatam is not the Gāyatrī’s meter. The verse does, however, faithfully express the meaning of the Gāyatrī mantra.
Janmādy asya yataḥ in the first line describes the Supreme Truth with His potencies of creation, maintenance, and destruction, in the same way as the seed syllable om expresses this idea at the beginning of the Gāyatrī. The reference to tri-sarga, “threefold creation,” alludes to the Gāyatrī’s invocation of bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ. In both this Bhāgavatam verse and the Brahma-gāyatrī mantra, it is implied that the three worlds of the created world do not exist separately from the Supreme Lord. The word svarāṭ describes that Truth as the supreme light, the source of the sun’s illumination. And tena brahma hṛdā, with reference to the spiritual education of Lord Brahmā, implies a prayer asking for similar inspiration with divine intelligence. In other words, “May the Supreme kindly empower my intelligence for studying this book.”
The Matysa Purāṇa’s list of special features of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which distinguishes it from other books that also claim the title Bhāgavatam, continues with mention of Lord Indra’s killing the demon Vṛtra, related in the Sixth Canto, and a recommendation of giving the Bhāgavatam as a gift on the full-moon day of Prauṣṭhapada, the month of Kṛṣṇa’s birth; this act of charity will earn one entrance into the kingdom of God.
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī summarizes the whole statement of this first verse of the Bhāgavatam thus: We should meditate on that Supreme Truth who grants existence to all beings, who is the foundation of everything, who is untouched by all kinds of faults, who is inately endowed with omniscience and all other virtues, who is the underlying agent of all the activities of the living beings, who is the bestower of liberation, and who comprises in full eternal knowledge and bliss. These several characteristics identify the object of this prayer definitely as the original Personality of Godhead, not any lesser deity. The imperative form of the word dhīmahi, “we should meditate,” points to Kṛṣṇa consciousness as the highest aim that can be achieved in life.
In the invocation verse that begins Śrīnātha Cakravartī’s commentary on the Bhāgavatam, we are told that Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu considered Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam the most perfect scriptural authority, pramāṇam amalam. These words echo the Bhāgavatam’s own claim at the very end of the work (12.13.18), śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ purāṇam amalaṁ yad vaiṣṇavānāṁ priyam: “Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the spotless Purāṇa, most dear to the Vaiṣṇavas.”
Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana Vyāsa is the special incarnation of the Supreme Lord for presenting the Vedic literature anew for the current age of confusion. He edited the original Vedas and taught them to his students. He compiled all the supplementary Vedic literatures, including the Mahābhārata and Purāṇas. After all his work was otherwise complete, he was advised by his guru Nārada to add one last contribution, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. As a major Purāṇa, the Bhāgavatam discusses ten categories of topics, beginning with the creation of the universe. One who studies the entire work carefully will understand these ten topics, the first nine of which serve to prepare students for understanding the tenth, the Supreme Lord in His original form of Kṛṣṇa and His wonderful pastimes with His devotees in Vṛndāvana, Mathurā, and Dvārakā.
The ācāryas Jīva Gosvāmī and Viśvanātha Cakravartī have offered more confidential interpretations of this first verse, reading it as glorification of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in His eternal abode and also of His intimate dealings with the gopīs of Vṛndāvana. These ācāryas’ commentaries can be consulted for details.
This ends the explanation of the first verse.