Listen to podcast
Continuing the explanation of the second chapter of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with verse twelve:
tac chraddadhānā munayo
paśyanty ātmani cātmānaṁ
paśyanty ātmani cātmānaṁ
“The seriously inquisitive student or sage, well equipped with knowledge and detachment, realizes that Absolute Truth by rendering devotional service in terms of what he has heard from the Vedānta śruti.”
Only a rare few human beings are inspired to seek the Absolute Truth and make the sacrifice that search requires. These thoughtful munis differ in their conceptions of what they are looking for, as described in the previous verse. They all look within the self they know to find the unknown Supreme Self, but each kind of muni looks in his own way. Those whose ideal is Brahman realize themselves within the Lord and creator of this world. Those who look to the Paramātmā meditate on that inner controller within their own hearts. And those who aspire to achieve Bhagavān can see Him not only within their minds but, as implied by the word ca (“and”) in the phrase ātmani cātmānam, with their own eyes they can also see Him on the outside and taste the sweetness of His personality.
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī comments that devotional service begins by first hearing about it from a spiritual master, after which one can then put the teachings into practice. For those who know properly the meaning of bhakti, the word indicates service to the Supreme Lord beginning with the practices of hearing and chanting. According to this verse, everyone who wants to realize the Supreme Truth in whatever feature needs to engage to some extent in bhagavad-bhakti to achieve his desired perfection. Those who focus their attention on Brahman and Paramātmā, if they want to be successful, should also hear and chant about the Personality of Godhead.
As Sūta Gosvāmī has said, the practice of devotional service naturally empowers one with knowledge and detachment. The jñānīs and yogīs cultivate these two as separate disciplines, but devotees of the Supreme Lord are only interested in the jñāna and vairāgya that develop automatically from bhakti practice and evoke loving attraction to the Lord. Kṛṣṇa, speaking to Uddhava, forbade His devotees from separately pursuing either, and in Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s opinion, neither is integral for the development of pure devotion.
Even pure devotees of the Supreme Lord may sometimes be interested in also knowing His Brahman and Paramātmā aspects. Because they are faithful to the Lord, that desire is no deviation, and it is easily fulfilled by the power of bhakti. Without bothering with the dry disciplines of jñāna and yoga, the Lord’s devotees can have everything achievable by both. Such is the benefit of thoughtfully performing devotional service. Those who practice bhakti thoughtlessly may take many years or lifetimes to transcend ignorance and selfish attachments.
The other necessary quality of devotional practice, which perfects it, is its being śruta-gṛhītā, based on hearing the perfect revelation of the Vedas. The word śruta here first of all implies hearing from śruti, the original Vedas. Among the śrutis, the Upaniṣads present the essential philosophy of the Vedas to train intelligent human beings for realization of the Supreme Truth. The Upaniṣads are also called Vedānta, “the culmination of the Vedas,” and Śrīla Veda-vyāsa wrote the Vedānta-sūtras to explain and reconcile what the Upaniṣads teach. But in our age the Upaniṣads and other śrutis are not the only foundation of śruta-gṛhītā bhakti. Because nowadays hardly anyone is able to study and understand all the śrutis – even one branch of them – or the Vedānta-sūtras, the only way to correctly understand the Vedic message now is through studying the Purāṇas and epics like the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa. For the followers of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, śruta-gṛhītayā means learning devotional service from the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
Śrīla Prabhupāda points out in his purport that the difference between the lowest level of devotion and the intermediate stage is knowledge and detachment. The devotional education of hearing from and serving the book Bhāgavata and the person Bhāgavata is Lord Caitanya’s recommended way to rise from the third to the second class of bhakti. This system is fully equivalent to study of the Vedānta-sūtras. But the true Bhāgavata devotees serve the book Bhāgavata faithfully; they don’t exploit it for their own purposes. As long as third-class devotees hear from materialistic Bhāgavatam reciters they remain third class. Without following the instructions of Vedic scripture, devotional practice is an impotent pretense. Sincere devotees should reject cheap, imitation bhakti, and should never recognize pretenders as authorized. But when devotees faithfully hear the Vedic message from bona fide teachers, they can hope to achieve realization of the Supreme in all His three features.