Approaching the Catuh-Sloki of Srimad-Bhagavatam
Published on May 29th, 2011 | by Harmonist staff4
In explaining the first verse of his mangalacarana of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, the most venerable Sri Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami cites the well-known catuh-sloki, or four essential verses, of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. He does so while elaborating on the opening words of his text: vande gurun. Sri Krsnadasa wants to stress that Krishna instructs his devotees from within and is thus the original siksa guru, who is represented externally in the form of a saint. Because Brahma’s experience of Sri Krishna’s instruction was internal, these Bhagavata verses surrounding Brahma’s antara-darsana serve well as scriptural evidence in support of the author’s contention. While these important Bhagavata verses support the premise of the author, they also contain the very gist of the precepts of Sri Caitanya, and therefore Krsnadasa appropriately places them at the onset of the text. Let us explore their significance.
The Bhagavata depicts Brahma in search of his source at the dawn of creation. In answer to his soul searching, Brahma hears a mandate in the form of two Sanskrit syllables that represent the essence of meaningful life: ta and pa—tapa. The Sanskrit word tapa implies “heating”; here it refers to the fire of self-sacrifice—a life of devotion. It is by the fire of self-sacrifice that one moves forward in this world, for if there is anything to gain in this world it is to be found in the act of giving. Give and grow; give and know; give and live a life worth living. And if we are to give comprehensively, we must do so without motive, while directing our giving to the center, by which the circumference and all within its circle will be served. Following this directive, Brahma proceeded to meditate on these two syllables. He sat in meditation for years on end and eventually, the center of all sacrifice personified, Sri Krishna, appeared within his heart. At that time, Brahma asked Krishna four questions: two concerning sambandha (a conceptual orientation to Krishna bhakti), one concerning prayojana (the goal of bhakti-sadhana), and one concerning abhideya (the performance of bhakti):
- What is the nature of your form in all respects? (sambandha)
- How do your various energies interact? (sambandha)
- What is the nature of your lila filled with prema for you? (prayojana)
- How can I attain you? (abhideya)
Sri Krishna replied to Brahma’s questions in six verses, two of which preface and explain the four essential verses that follow. These four essential verses answer Brahma in the order of his questions and thus deal with sambandbha, prayojana, and abhideya, in this order. The following is a paraphrasing of the essence and far-reaching implications of these six verses, as revealed by the principle Gaudiya acaryas.
1. Please take this confidential knowledge of my opulence (jnana) and the special and more confidential knowledge of my sweetness (vijnana) in relation to my original form—svayam bhagavan. I give this knowledge to you in theory (jnana) although it is the secret of sacred sound—sastra. It is now yours to realize (vijnana). It culminates in the mystery of the highest love for me—prema (rahasyam), which is attended by various bhavas (tad angam) and is attained by raganuga sadhana-bhakti supported by vaidhi sadhana-bhakti in the form of hearing and chanting about and meditating on me (tad angam). Now you should endeavor to tread this path of prema.
2. I bless you that you may realize in prema all that I, the cowherd son of Nanda, am—my form, qualities, nature, activities, and existence. Let these be awakened within you by my mercy.
3. Knowledge of my form is this: I existed along with my eternal retinue—both in Vaikuntha in my form as Narayana and in my confidential abode, Goloka—in the form of a cowherd before the world of material experience was manifested from me. I am the cause and also the effect of the world itself, in that the world is constituted of my energies and nothing more. It is I who also oversee the world and enter into it in the form of countless avataras. When, by my arrangement, the world again becomes unmanifest, I continue to exist along with my associates and abode.
4. You ask about my sakti. My saktis are dependent upon me and they do not exist apart from me. Under the influence of my maya-sakti, the jiva-sakti perceives value in that which appears unrelated to me and is also unrelated to the jiva itself. Such perception is only a reflection of that which has real value; it is only darkness, not the light of my svarupa-sakti, which gives prema to the jiva-sakti.
5. The nature of prema is very confidential. It is something like the gross elements, which while all-pervasive are at the same time localized within the bodies of the jivas. Similarly, although I myself am all-pervasive, I simultaneously appear within the hearts of my prema-bhaktas. Indeed, in prema I appear within their hearts and outside their hearts, standing in front of them. My mother saw me to be all-pervasive, but with the rope of her love she tied me up and I could not escape. I am the supreme controller, but at the same time I am controlled by my devotees’ prema. My lila is behind everything and yet at the same time it appears on Earth. I am one with everything and different from it at the same time, and this inconceivable metaphysical reality is the canvas on which the art of my pastimes of prema are drawn.
6. The means to attain me—to attain prema—is thus: first of all, one must be interested in understanding the highest truth. Such interest will be best served at the feet of the guru. Therein one will systematically learn the nature of karma, jnana, yoga, bhakti, and how prema-bhakti is the highest truth. The guru will teach all of these things and thus directly and indirectly explain the glory of prema-bhakti, drawing from the sacred texts and thereby making the student one-minded. One must then follow me in the form of the guru by enthusiastically rendering service. This means at all times and in all circumstances—those favorable and those unfavorable—making this effort one’s life and soul.
Here we find that in the first introductory verse to the catuh-sloki of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sri Krishna tells Brahma that he is giving him theoretical knowledge (jnana) from revealed scripture, the sruti. He says that this knowledge is very confidential because it brings one closer to Bhagavan than any other knowledge found in the sruti, including knowledge of the likeness between the atma and Paramatma. Krishna then tells Brahma that this knowledge, when applied, leads to realization (vijnana) of an eternal relationship with Bhagavan. Thus he says that in the catuh-sloki he will give Brahma sambandha jnana, which is both theoretical knowledge that informs one’s bhakti and realized knowledge that informs it further. Theoretical knowledge is relative to sadhana-bhakti while realized knowledge pertains to bhava-bhakti. In sadhana-bhakti one is informed by scriptural knowledge that strengthens one’s faith and fosters humble submission and the relinquishing of separate interests; whereas, in bhava-bhakti one has retired the identity and ego of exploitation that is based on such interests and in their place, as a result of complete identification with the object of one’s love (Sri Krishna), one realizes a spiritual serving ego and identity in relation to Bhagavan. It is this identity that is suitable for participating in his lila.
Furthermore, jnana and vijnana in this introductory verse also refer to knowledge of Krishna’s opulence and knowledge of his sweetness, respectively.1 Knowledge of his opulence, by which he can be overtly recognized as God, directly nourishes the ideal of reverential love of God and indirectly nourishes the ideal of intimate love of God. It serves the ideal of intimate love of God indirectly by way of clearly identifying the perfect object of love, in whom all possibilities of love—not merely reverential love—can be realized. Thus Sri Krishna is seen as the God of gods, as the source of even Narayana. However, it is knowledge of his sweetness, characterized by his intimate loving exchanges with his eternal associates, that directly fosters intimate love of God. Both of these two types of knowledge, along with knowledge of his saktis and their relationship with one another, are specific examples of the sambandha-jnana that Krishna speaks about in his first two verses of the catuh-sloki.
Two other important points are raised in the first two introductory verses: Krishna stresses that Brahma must make an effort, and Krishna assures Brahma that he will bless him. Mercy and effort go hand in hand on the bhakti–marga. In the first verse he stresses effort in relation to embracing the limbs of sadhana-bhakti (tad angam). He later explains this sadhana (abhideya-tattva) in the fourth verse of the catuh-sloki. He also mentions the mysterious and confidential (rahasyam) goal of sadhana-bhakti, prema (prayojana tattva) and its ingredients of various bhavas (tad angam), all of which he explains in the third verse of the catuh-sloki. His blessing and the assurance of his mercy are found in the second introductory verse. In the first and second verses of the catuh-sloki, Krishna instructs Brahma in sambandha-jnana, knowledge of his form, his principle saktis, and how they interact between themselves and with the Godhead, making the world of our experience and Sri Krishna’s abode. Thus he answers Brahma’s four questions.
- These two words are used at the beginning of the Gita’s ninth chapter (jnanam vijnana sahitam), In his Gita commentary, Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura explains them as I have here: knowledge (jnana) of Krishna’s godliness and special knowledge (vijnana) of his sweetness. To my knowledge, previous acaryas have not interpreted them in this way here in the Bhagavata. Nonetheless the Bhagavat itself walks a tight rope of tension between these two aspects of the Godhead, showcasing Krishna’s sweetness in the midst of establishing his Godhood. [↩]