Finding the Essence of the Supreme Lord’s Mercy
BHAUMA: On the EARTH
The ancient history of this book
Uttara inquires from her son, Parikshit
Worshiping Lord Madhava at Prayaga
Narada praises the Prayaga brahmana
The brahmana refutes Narada’s praise
The brahmana sends Narada to the southern king
Narada visits the southern kingdom
Narada praises the southern king
The king refutes Narada’s praise
The king directs Narada to the demigods
The king points out Indra as the best demigod
DIVYA: In HEAVEN
Narada sees Vamanadeva and Indra
Narada praises Indra
Indra refutes Narada’s praise
Indra directs Narada to Lord Brahma
Narada sees the Mahapurusha on Brahmaloka
Narada praises Brahma
Lord Brahma refutes Narada’s praise
Lord Brahma directs Narada to Lord Shiva
PRAPANCATITA: Beyond the MATERIAL WORLD
Narada visits Shivaloka
Narada praises Lord Shiva, who becomes angry
Narada argues that Shiva is very dear to Krishna
Narada praises Parvati
Lord Shiva refutes Narada’s praise
Lord Shiva sends Narada to the residents of Vaikuntha
Parvati praises the goddess Sri
Narada wants to visit Vaikuntha
Shiva reminds Narada that Krishna is present on earth
Lord Shiva praises Prahlada
BHAKTA: The DEVOTEE
Narada visits Prahlada in Sutala-loka
Narada praises Prahlada
Prahlada refutes Narada’s praise
Prahlada directs Narada to Hanuman
Narada meets Hanuman
Narada praises Hanuman
Hanuman refutes Narada’s praise
Hanuman directs Narada to the Pandavas
Hanuman declines to go to Hastinapura
Hanuman praises the Pandavas, especially Yudhishthira
PRIYA: The BELOVED
The Pandavas greet Narada
Narada praises Krishna and the Pandavas
Yudhishthira refutes Narada’s praise
Bhima refutes Narada’s praise
Arjuna refutes Narada’s praise
Nakula and Sahadeva refute Narada’s praise
Draupadi refutes Narada’s praise
Kunti refutes Narada’s praise
Kunti directs Narada to the Yadavas
Narada sees the Yadavas in Dvaraka
Narada praises the Yadavas
The Yadavas direct Narada to Uddhava
PRIYATAMA: The Most BELOVED
Narada arrives at Krishna’s palace
Narada praises Uddhava
Uddhava praises the Vraja-vasis
Rohini blames Krishna for the condition of Vraja
Rukmini defends Krishna
Satyabhama confirms Krishna’s anxiety
Balarama blames Krishna for not returning to Vraja
Krishna appears and asks Uddhava’s advice
Devaki and Padmavati advise Krishna
Uddhava advises Krishna to return to Vraja
Padmavati and Rohini quarrel
Balarama appeals to Krishna to save Vraja
PURNA: The Complete PERFECTION
Brahma arranges for Krishna’s relief
Krishna is brought to Nava-vrindavana
Krishna talks to Nanda and Yashoda
Krishna goes to the forest to play
Krishna talks to Radha
The ladies are overwhelmed in love
Krishna sees the ocean and Dvaraka City
Balarama explains the situation
Garuda brings the two brothers back to Dvaraka
The ladies glorify the gopis of Vraja
Krishna scolds Satyabhama
Krishna describes the love of the Vraja-vasis
Krishna tells why He married His queens
Krishna describes His happiness in Vraja
Uddhava changes Krishna’s mood
Krishna greets Narada and thanks him
Narada accepts boons from Krishna
Narada joins Krishna for lunch
Narada returns to Prayaga
Parikshit advises Uttara to worship Madana-gopala
From the Mangalacarana invocation
vividha-madhurimabdhih ko ’pi kaishora-gandhih
gata-parama-dashantam yasya chaitanya-rupad
anubhava-padam aptam prema gopishu nityam
jayati—all glorifies; nija—of His own; pada-abja—lotus feet; prema—love; dana—for giving; avatirnah—to Him who descended; vividha—of various; madhurima—kinds of sweetness; abdhih—an ocean; kah api—a certain; kaishora—of youth; gandhih—who has the fragrance; gata—who has obtained; parama—of the topmost; dasha—stage; antam—the extreme; yasya—whose; caitanya—of Sri Chaitanya; rupat—by the form; anubhava—of transcendental experience; padam—the situation; aptam—who has obtained; prema—the love; gopishu—residing in the gopis; nityam—eternally.
All glories to that inconceivable Lord who descended to bestow the gift of perfect love for His own lotus feet. He is an ocean filled with many kinds of sweetness, and He always bears the fragrance of fresh youth. In His form as Sri Chaitanya He has realized the last extreme of transcendental experience, the love residing eternally in the gopis.
The purpose of this book is to explain bhakti, pure devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the bestower of bhakti. He also bestows both material enjoyment and liberation, or oneness with the Supreme, but one who has bhakti relishes an abundance of happiness far greater than even the ecstasy of liberation, what to speak of the petty happiness of material enjoyment.
Moreover, the devotion described here focuses solely on the lotus feet of Sri Krishna, the master of the gopis of Sri Nanda-vraja, or Vrindavana. Such bhakti consists of prema, pure love of God, and not only ordinary prema but the special kind that follows the mood of the residents of Vrindavana. That prema is the ultimate perfection of love, in which the devotee has absolutely no interest in anything separate from Krishna. As the last chapters of this book will show, the devotees who worship the Lord with such pure devotion achieve the highest possible success: they live forever in the world called Goloka, far above Vaikuntha, the official kingdom of God. There in Goloka, according to their pleasure, they freely enjoy the company of Lord Krishna, Sri Nanda-kishora.
Srila Sanatana Goswami will fully present all these ideas as this narration unfolds, but first he invokes auspiciousness in this verse and the following nine verses. As if begging for his Lord’s rarely obtained mercy, he praises the Lord’s supreme greatness. The first word, jayati, “all glories,” indicates that the author’s most worshipable Lord excels everyone else. Although the words jaya and jayati are commonly used to glorify practically anyone or anything, here jayati expresses excellence in its most unrestricted sense, the final limit of perfection, in which the Supreme Lord freely distributes devotion for His own all-attractive lotus feet. He does this by revealing the charm of His beauty, personal qualities, and pleasure pastimes. Although the devotion He gives away is imbued with pure prema—the rarest of treasures meant for the most elevated souls—He grants it even to those who are fallen and wretched.
Who is this most generous Lord? He can never be adequately described, for He is an unlimited ocean of various kinds of attractiveness—beauty, fine character, and so on. His attractive features, therefore, are fathomless, all-expansive, and perpetual. Describing the attraction of the Lord’s beauty, Sri Sanatana Goswami states that Sri Krishna has the fragrance of youth, a constant special presence like the scent of a flower. In other words, even as an infant and a child He exhibits the perfect beauty of full-blown youth. Thus Lord Kapiladeva said to His mother in the Third Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.28.17):
santam vayasi kaishore
“The Lord is eternally very beautiful, and He is worshipable by all the inhabitants of every planet. He is ever youthful and always eager to bestow His blessings upon His devotees.”
Since the possessor of such eternal youth, Sri Krishna, enjoys His private pastimes in the remote realm of Goloka, one might doubt whether contact with Him is possible for souls conditioned by material nature. Is it not beyond the scope of good fortune for ordinary persons to hear about and understand the uniqueness of devotion to Krishna? Since this book attempts to make public the secret glories of Krishna, one might therefore ask whether writing such a book is not a hopeless endeavor. The author answers that doubt conclusively in this verse.
Before mentioning Sri Krishna’s other unique qualities, he first refers to the Lord’s exceptional generosity. Lord Krishna descended from Goloka to the earth five thousand years ago, to the district of Mathura, to charitably give pure love for His own lotus feet. By thus appearing personally, the Lord made His special mercy readily obtainable. Although one may also correctly say that He descended to kill Kamsa and other evil kings, He has unlimited energies that could achieve such a minor purpose. Making pure love of God available by appearing Himself was therefore His primary purpose because no deputized person could have done it on His behalf. Queen Kunti therefore says in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.8.20):
katham pashyema hi striyah
“You Yourself descend to propagate the transcendental science of devotional service unto the hearts of the advanced transcendentalists and mental speculators, who are purified by being able to discriminate between matter and spirit. How, then, can we women know You perfectly?” Srila Sridhara Svami has paraphrased this prayer in his commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam: “How can we women see You, who have appeared as an avatara to make even self-satisfied saints take to devotional service by attracting them with Your personal qualities?”
Srila Sanatana Goswami has first referred to Sri Krishna’s magnanimity in this invocation verse. Now he continues to describe Krishna’s characteristics and how they contribute to His purpose of distributing pure love of Godhead. The second half of the verse indicates the sweet charm of Krishna’s pleasure pastimes. Krishna is the darling of the young cowherd women of Vraja, whose love for Him never fails. By alluding to this love, the verse hints at the meaning of the exalted ten-syllable Gopala mantra,which will play an important role in the second part of Sri Brihad-bhagavatamrita.
Not only has the Lord freely distributed prema to many fortunate souls, but He always has great love for His devotees, beginning with the gopis of Vrindavana (prema gopishu nityam). In general, Lord Krishna feels affinity for His devotees in response to the particular ways they love Him. But because the love the gopis feel for Him is completely unconditional, natural, unmotivated, and causeless, they have always been more dear to Him than anyone else, and they always will be. The gopis’ unsurpassed spiritual status should therefore never be questioned. As shown by the word nityam (“eternally”), He is never indifferent to the gopis or dissatisfied with them. Sri Narada and other authoritative devotees will confirm this in their own words later in Sri Brihad-bhagavatamrita,in the description of “The Glories of Goloka.”
Again, someone may doubt the possibility of ever understanding the Vrindavana gopis’ love for Krishna. Indeed, as long as one’s mind is even slightly affected by lust, anger, and greed, one cannot begin to appreciate the sublime purity of their love. But by the powerful mercy of Krishna in His most recent appearance on earth, these impediments can be overcome with wonderful ease.
Although Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is none other than Lord Krishna Himself, He has descended to exhibit the true nature of prema-bhakti. Thus He manifests in Himself the ecstatic mood of the gopis, their ever-increasing love for Sri Krishna, which is reflected proportionately in Krishna’s ever-expanding love for them. This revelation is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s priceless contribution to the world’s welfare, by which He becomes the only real friend of the unhappy and degraded. He has thus allowed persons of our modern times to directly experience the mutual love of Krishna and the gopis. And those who can understand the gopis’ perfect love can properly understand the superexcellence of Lord Krishna. By mentioning these matters, Srila Sanatana is outlining the basic theme of his book. The first part of Sri Brihad-bhagavatamrita will pursue the question of where the Lord’s mercy ultimately resides. The conclusion is that the gopis are His most beloved devotees and that their love for Him is the highest achievement of life. Since the author has personally experienced this truth, it will not be difficult for him to describe it for our benefit. There are no grounds for doubt. Therefore Vaishnavas should hear everything in this book with full confidence.
shri-radhika-prabhritayo nitaram jayanti
yasam harau parama-sauhrida-madhurinam
nirvaktum ishad api jatu na ko ’pi shaktah
shri-radhika—Sri Radhika; prabhritayah—beginning with; nitaram—especially; jayanti—all glories; gopyah—to the gopis; nitanta—very much; bhagavat—to the Lord; priyata—as being dear; prasiddhah—those who are famous; yasam—whose; harau—for Lord Hari; parama—supreme; sauhrida—of the affection; madhurinam—the charm; nirvaktum—to begin describing; ishat—a little; api—even; jatu—possibly; na kah—no one; api—even; shaktah—is capable.
All glories above all to the gopis, headed by Sri Radhika, who are famous as the Lord’s dearmost devotees. No one can even begin to properly describe the charm of their supreme affection for Sri Hari.
Because one can achieve the favor of the Personality of Godhead only by pleasing His dearest devotees, this verse describes the supreme excellence of the gopis of Vrindavana. Among them, Sri Radhika is the best, and therefore Her name is mentioned first. The gopis should be offered special honor because although the Supreme Lord may sometimes lose interest in other devotees or become dissatisfied with them, He never becomes uninterested in the gopis. All pure devotees therefore acknowledge the supremacy of the gopis’ pure devotion. The Lord Himself tells the gopis:
na paraye ’ham niravadya-samyujam
sva-sadhu-krityam vibudhayushapi vah
ya mabhajan durjara-geha-shrinkhalah
samvrishcya tad vah pratiyatu sadhuna
“I am not able to repay My debt for your spotless service, even within a lifetime of Brahma. Your connection with Me is beyond reproach. You have worshiped Me, cutting off all domestic ties, which are difficult to break. Therefore please let your own glorious deeds be your compensation.” (Bhag. 10.32.22)
The gopis are famous as the dearmost devotees of the Lord. The deep affection with which Sri Krishna cherishes them is generally considered so clearly self-evident that the supremacy of their devotion is beyond any need to prove. Still, in exuberant devotion for the gopis, Srila Sanatana Goswami mentions here that no one can describe even an atomic particle of the sweet intimate love the gopis feel for the all-attractive Krishna. So wonderful is their reciprocation with Him that Krishna Himself does not have the words to describe it.
The Brihad-Bhagavatamrita by Sanatana Goswami is a consummate rendering in Sanskrit verse of Vaishnava devotional spirituality as inspired by Krishna-Chaitanya, or simply Chaitanya (1486–1533). Analogous in some respects to Dante’s Paradiso and more closely akin to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, it depicts not one but two parallel spiritual odysseys. The first is of Narada, the paradigm of the devout Vaishnava saint/sage; the other is of Gopa-kumara, a simple lad in search of God. The former travels across India and into heavenly realms in search of those devotees, human or divine, to whom God Krishna has been most merciful. In the course of his quest, Narada encounters ever more profound and dedicated embodiments of devotion (bhakti) to Krishna. Each of these deferentially redirects him to others yet more devout—and yet more favored by Krishna—than themselves. The dialogues en route—subtly interpreted in an extensive auto-commentary—are so designed as to instruct, edify, and inspire devout readers or listeners. The lad, Gopa-kumara, likewise, provides the occasion for progressive spiritual discovery as one follows his pilgrimage from one realm to another in search of ever more sublime and quintessential manifestations of the divine.
Narada’s search culminates in the paradoxical revelation that the devotees most favored by Krishna—those whose devotion to Him is most perfect and intense—are gopis, simple (though divine) cowherd girls who are in torment when their beloved Krishna is absent from them. Gopa-kumara’s quest leads to the discovery that God Krishna reveals Himself most perfectly in the idyllic heavenly realm of Goloka (and in the terrestrial Vrindavana), where He sports eternally as youthful lover of the gopis and playmate of the cowherd boys.
Within the framework of this dual spiritual odyssey and an extensive commentary, Dig-darshini, the sixteenth-century author, Sanatana Goswami, analyzes with delicate nuances and orchestrates in masterly fashion the theology-cum-psychology of loving devotion (prema-bhakti) to Krishna as epitomized by Chaitanya. To readers already familiar with the Puranic Hindu pantheon and imagery and appreciative of the Vaishnava commitment to prema-bhakti to God Krishna, the luxuriant transcendental scenes and unrestrained displays of ecstatic devotion need not seem exotic. But the vividness and novelty of many vignettes and the poignant emotional vulnerability of Krishna may evoke surprise and wonder even among seasoned Vaishnava devotees. If, of course, one does not see the point of what Sanatana was doing, one need not read on. But even the reader new to the cosmology, mythology, and theology of Vaishnava devotion, if reasonably patient and attentive, may find in the Brihad-bhagavatamrita and Dig-darshini a remarkably incisive, consistent, and revealing exploration of human spirituality and religious psychology.
For Vaishnava devotees in the tradition of Chaitanya, the Brihad-bhagavatamrita and its commentary constitute a foundational text of great value. Sanatana Goswami was the most senior of the authoritative scholar-devotees deputed by Chaitanya to formulate the appropriate theology of prema-bhakti to Krishna. Sanatana’s poetic narrative, supplemented by its commentary, is the most thorough and penetrating statement of his theological ideas and spiritual sensibilities. Significantly, I think, this, his most ambitious work, takes the form of narrative and dialogue. Though the Brihad-bhagavatamrita is carefully structured in its organization, it is dramatic and imaginative in its overt form. Though based on the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, of which it aspires to express the essence, or nectar (amrita), it is not in the form of a commentary as such. It is itself a Purana-like tale which, though composed by Sanatana, is told as if an ancient discourse by King Parikshit to his mother, Uttara. Like a Purana, it presents exemplary personages, memorable incidents, and striking imagery. All of this serves to nourish the reflection and meditation, i.e., the smarana (lit. remembering), of devout readers or hearers. The content of the text is words, but these are picture words rather than book words. They evoke the experiential basis upon which secondary theoretical and practical elaboration may be built. By expressing his own conception of loving devotion to God in the form of the dual odysseys of Narada and Gopa-kumara, Sanatana was in effect endorsing literary narrative of a poetic and dramatic sort as a preferred means for passing on to subsequent generations the crucial experience (anubhuti) of loving devotion.
For devotees of Krishna in the modern world who are not fluent in Sanskrit, access to Sanatana’s foundational poem must be by translations or paraphrase. There are several in Bengali and Hindi and perhaps in some other Indian languages. In English there is a translation of the Brihad-bhagavatamrita by Sriman Bhakti Prajnan Yati Maharaja from the Sree Gaudiya Math (Madras), but none, so far as I know, of the Dig-darshini. The present edition includes translations by Gopiparanadhana Dasa of both the basic poem and its commentary (plus appendices, glossary, etc.). This is an extraordinary labor of love! The Brihad-bhagavatamrita alone contains some 2,500 Sanskrit verses, each requiring painstaking care even when (wisely) being rendered into idiomatic English prose rather than metrical verse. The commentary is considerably longer and, although in Sanskrit prose, is far from easy to convey in readable accurate English. Yet the task has been done and done well, an impressive achievement indeed.
When I began to examine the proofs for this book, I was pleased to find that Gopiparanadhana Dasa’s English prose version reads clearly and crisply. Moreover, it conveys the excitement, wonder, and devotion of spiritual discovery that animates Sanatana’s own composition. The more I read, the more fascinated I became with Sanatana’s novel and brilliant retelling of themes emanating from the Srimad Bhagavata (but developed into much that is not found explicitly in that revered text). Depictions of progressively more intense and intimate modes of loving devotion build to a climax in the remarkable portrayal of Krishna at Dvaraka, depressed and anguished in absence from Radha and the gopis and restored to “normal” consciousness only by an artful ruse.
The further I read, the less was I conscious that I was reading a translation, so naturally does one unit of the narrative flow into the next. When I did shift to the task of comparing portions of the translation with the Sanskrit, I was pleased to discover that the English prose is indeed very faithful to the Sanskrit original. One might quibble over the choice of certain idiomatic English phrases, but even these convey the basic sense. From the literal meaning of the original, little is left out, and very little is added, in the passage from Sanskrit to English. Inevitably, of course, some resonance is lost in any transition from poetic verse to prose translation. But, fortunately, because the Brihad-bhagavatamrita is mostly narrative and dialogue, it lends itself more readily to prose rendering than would other types of poetic verse. I would like to think that Sanatana Goswami would welcome his modern prose translator as a kindred spirit and an able expositor of his work.
The Dig-darshini, being itself prose, but prose in the peculiar form of Sanskrit textual commentary, presents the translator with a different set of challenges. In size, it is twice the length of the document which it interprets. In form and function, it resembles the complex footnotes of modern scholarship. In orientation, it assumes broadly ranging acquaintance with traditional Vaishnava themes, Sanskrit religious literature, and technical points of devotional aesthetics, theology, and philosophy. Faced with such challenges, many a translator—and, if not he or she, then the publisher—would resort to a paraphrase that drastically cuts down the size and simplifies the scholarship of the commentary and perhaps introduces an ersatz ideological or rhetorical interpretation in place of the more demanding and sophisticated orientation of the author.
Not so the present translator and publisher. Both Gopiparanadhana Dasa and the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust are to be commended for respecting Sanatana’s auto-commentary as it is, in all its bulk and sophistication. The Brihad-bhagavatamrita and Dig-darshini together comprise a classic of religious literature whose integrity ought not be compromised. On a narrow scale, it is a classic in that it is the template for the theology and spiritual psychology that have remained authoritative for the Chaitanya Vaishnava tradition. And though till now scarcely known beyond that tradition and those who study it, it is—or merits being so recognized—a classic on a global scale as well. Sanatana Goswami’s chef d’oeuvre is a masterful exploration, grounded in Vaishnava devotional faith, of human spirituality and religious psychology, for the first time being made accessible in its entirety to the English-reading world.
As the translator acknowledges, the English version of the Dig-darshini is a paraphrase, not a line-by-line translation. As such, it does not replace a close reading of the Sanskrit original for scholars equipped to do one. But, as the translator points out (and illustrates in the appendices), the paraphrasing is largely a matter of arrangement, not of selective excision or augmentation. From the portions of Volume One that I have compared closely, it is evident that Gopiparanadhana Dasa has managed to retain virtually all of the content of the original commentary, though with considerable rearrangement to facilitate reading. Were it his aim to produce a rigorously literal English rendering, some of his paraphrasing of Sanatana’s formulations might well have to be revisited. But, all things considered, he has done an admirable job of conveying the informational content and spiritual verve of the author—without bowdlerizing or truncating—in an idiom understandable to patient and attentive (though not necessarily expert) readers. I presume that the level attained in Volume One has been maintained through Volumes Two and Three.
There is a special significance to this publication over and above its making accessible to readers of English a Sanskrit classic of spiritual literature. This is the first publication by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust of a major Vaishnava theological text which disciples of the late Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada have accomplished without his immediate presence. It follows the widely disseminated versions of the Bhagavad-gita in many languages and multi-volume translations of the Srimad Bhagavata Purana and the Chaitanya-charitamrita, each of which is accompanied by an elaborate commentary. These prior publications were substantially the work of Prabhupada himself, with certain of his Sanskrit-trained devotees, including Gopiparanadhana Dasa, serving as apprentices. The appearance of the Brihad-bhagavatamrita thus marks a new phase of textual theological scholarship by members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. They have, as it were, come into their maturity as responsible for faithful transmission of the Chaitanya Vaishnava tradition of prema-bhakti, loving devotion to God Krishna. What better way to assure fidelity to the words and spirit of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his circle of immediate disciples than to enable devotees and attentive seekers to read, hear, and visualize the foundational texts of those very scholar-devotees who had experienced the charismatic presence of Krishna-Chaitanya himself!
Joseph T. O’Connell, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, St. Michael’s College,
University of Toronto
Research Associate, Oxford Centre
for Vaishnava and Hindu Studies
The hero’s quest for the extraordinary—an ever-recurring theme in literature—reflects the urge of every heart at its noblest to discover the full possibilities of life. Anyone dissatisfied with the scant potential of mundane existence is naturally stimulated by the prospect of finding, even vicariously, a world of greater liberty. There should be some better place for the soul. Why should happiness be so elusive, and why should confusion and resentment always shroud the mind’s eye, making it unable to see clearly what’s in front of it?
Srila Sanatana Goswami’s Brihad-bhagavatamrita is a gemlike example of the quest genre, but different from the sort commonly encountered in fable and fiction. Narada and Gopa-kumara, the respective heroes of this book’s two parts, are searching for a key to fulfillment much subtler than wealth, influence, mundane love, the Fountain of Youth, or even the Holy Grail. Narada has vast experience of the cosmos, Gopa-kumara is illiterate and naive, yet they share the same vision of what is most valuable. What both want is not to conquer or exploit on any level, but to explore the mystery of selfless service. As Narada already knows, and Gopa-kumara will gradually learn, the superior mode of life they seek is personal and defined by the interplay of those who take part in it, rather than by material laws of nature.
The cynosure of the spiritual world in which Sanatana Goswami and his protagonists feel at home is one special person, the object of the selfless love Narada and Gopa-kumara value above all. Narada knows this special person, Krishna, as the prince of the Yadus, and Gopa-kumara contemplates Him as a young cowherd like himself. Srila Sanatana takes it for granted that Krishna-Gopala is supreme, that Krishna is the creator and controller of everything, and leaves the task of proving it to his brother Rupa Goswami, who later takes it up in his Laghu– (“smaller”) bhagavatamrita. Here in the Brihad– (“bigger”) bhagavatamrita the main questions are in whom and in what realm is love for the Supreme Person most intimately known.
At first glance the structure of Brihad-bhagavatamrita may to modern readers seem repetitious, but the plot does have a logic of its own, which it develops the way classical Indian music develops themes, repeating them again and again with subtle embellishments. In Part One, for example, the same thing happens to Narada over and over: He goes to someone who is supposed to be Krishna’s most favored devotee, praises that person, and is rebuked, refuted, and redirected to someone else. Yet in this cyclic repetition we discern a progress, although not a linear one aiming at a single point. We learn much more than the simple fact that someone in particular is the greatest lover of God. Yes, the young gopis of Vrindavana are unquestionably Krishna’s best devotees, but for neophytes still addicted to material lust, merely establishing the gopis as a distant ideal is of little practical use, and may even be dangerous. By understanding that to emulate the gopis’ perfect devotion is extremely difficult, honest persons might feel frustrated, and the dishonest will imitate anyway and degrade themselves. Therefore Narada in his encounters with various devotees carefully traces out the real foundations and natural progress of pure devotion, in a way that readers can follow according to their own spiritual disposition.
Unlike the material existence we all know, in which survival depends on our ability to jockey ourselves into better positions than competitors and garner our share of the limited resources for control and enjoyment, on the transcendental plane of love of God the resources are unlimited, and everyone competes instead to prove that others are better than themselves. This remarkable quality, unknown in material life, is evident even in the sincere beginners in devotional practice whom Narada meets first, the brahmana of Prayaga and the southern king. They and the more and more elevated devotees of Krishna Narada visits—the king of heaven Indra, Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva, Prahlada, Hanuman, the Pandavas, the Yadus, and Uddhava—deprecate themselves, not from lack of self-esteem but out of complete honesty, in which they appraise from their own points of view who really has Krishna’s mercy. Narada, as an itinerant preacher, is the best person to undertake this survey of devotional attitudes. Not tied down to any particular place or situation, he is accustomed to meeting different ways of seeing things. And he has the good humor to tolerate being rebuffed by every saintly person he tries to glorify.
Gopa-kumara, the main character of the second part of Brihad-bhagavatamrita, is an innocent young cowherd from the vicinity of Krishna’s favorite hill, Govardhana. After a mysterious brahmana initiates him into the ten-syllable Gopala mantra, a yearning to search out Lord Gopala awakens in Gopa-kumara’s heart. Like Narada in Part One, Gopa-kumara searches throughout the material universe; but he also travels beyond, into the kingdom of God, Vaikuntha, and yet further to the most confidential realms of the kingdom of God—Ayodhya, Dvaraka, and Goloka. The final message of the second part of Brihad-bhagavatamrita is the superexcellence of Goloka Vrindavana, the personal abode of Krishna in His original identity as the darling son of the cowherds, the lover of the gopis.
Sri Rupa Goswami, who regarded his elder brother Srila Sanatana as his spiritual master, acknowledged indebtedness to Brihad-bhagavatamrita in his definitive textbook on devotional service, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.4.13):
“Our divine master has revealed in his Bhagavatamrita all the sweet conclusions of devotional philosophy, including its most confidential secrets.”
This edition of Brihad-bhagavatamrita is not the first English translation of the work, but is the first attempt to present in English the entirety of the author’s own commentary, which he called Dig-darshini. This commentary is invaluably helpful for studying Brihad-bhagavatamrita deeply. I have not translated the Dig-darshini verbatim, but have given a close paraphrase that includes almost all of Srila Sanatana’s points, with a few explanatory additions of my own. Typically for a Sanskrit scriptural commentary, the Dig-darshini includes grammatical and syntactic analysis of the text, which I have incorporated in the translation. The rest of the commentary is also uncongenial to being translated literally, because Sanskrit commentaries are written in a stylized prose whose meaning is more suitably conveyed in English by careful paraphrase than by literal translation. Readers who would like to see a sample of how my commentary derives from the Dig-darshini-tika may refer to page 763 in the appendixes.
The text I translated comes from three printed editions, those of Puridasa, Bhakti-shastri Goswami of the Shauri Prapannashrama, and Bhakti-shrirupa Bhagavata Maharaja of the Chaitanya Matha. All three editions are printed in the Bengali script and include the Dig-darshini commentary (in the Chaitanya Matha edition only for the second part). Sanatana Goswami too wrote his original manuscript in the Bengali alphabet, but we have chosen to print our Sanskrit text in the more widely known Devanagari. Our proofreaders and I carefully compared the three texts I consulted (one of which, Puridasa’s, notes variant readings from two manuscripts), and when different readings arose I made my own choices on which to use. I found that in each case the alternative readings almost never made an important difference in meaning, and the commentary and the logic of the text itself helped me choose. For those interested, I have noted in “Variant Readings of Sri-Brihad-bhagavatamrita” the alternative readings of the editions consulted.
Srila Sanatana Goswami, in his commentary and sometimes in the verses of Brihad-bhagavatamrita,cites hundreds of verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam and other scriptures, especially various Puranas and the Mahabharata. In several instances, the Bhagavatam verses as quoted by Srila Sanatana differ slightly from the text of the Bhagavatam published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Again, these differences almost never significantly change the meaning. I have used the author’s readings of these verses, even when they differ from the BBT version, and have listed the variants in “Readings of Srimad-Bhagavatam Verses that Differ from the BBT Edition.” Verses quoted from other Puranas and the Mahabharata I have simply given as Srila Sanatana presents them, with chapter and verse numbers taken from the Venkateshvara Press edition of the Puranas (reprinted by Nag Publishers and others) and the Pune critical edition of the Mahabharata. The other sources I have consulted are listed in the Bibliography.
While working on this book I have had the undeserved good fortune to be living at the location of Gopa-kumara’s story, Sri Govardhana, first on the shore of Manasi-ganga next door to Srila Sanatana Goswami’s bhajana-kutira, and more recently by the very side of Giriraja at Dana-ghati. I hope that some flavor of these all-ecstatic holy abodes has penetrated my ignorance and found its way onto these pages.
I am only a very imperfect servant of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his servants. I cannot pretend to have any profound understanding of Srila Sanatana Goswami’s revelation of the most sublime spiritual truths. I am also a clumsy writer. Only because this book has been expertly edited by my dear godbrothers Keshava Bharati Prabhu and Jayadwaita Swami is it now as readable as it is. They have worked hard to turn my crude manuscript into something that does justice to the original text, and for this I will be forever indebted. After dedicating nearly thirty years to the preaching mission of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Keshava Bharati Prabhu has now started an editing career that is already bearing wonderful fruit. Jayadwaita Swami was Srila Prabhupada’s own editor and is the one person who best knows the high standards of Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publishing. I am confident that anything passing his scrutiny must be acceptable to Srila Prabhupada and his predecessors.
I am also very thankful to my wife, Archa-murti, my old friend Dravida Prabhu, and Srimati Vishakha-priya for their editorial comments, to Kshama Dasi for skillful proofreading, to Durmada Prabhu for assistance in compiling “Variant Readings of the Text of Sri-Brihad-bhagavatamrita” and locating scriptural citations, and to Rasa-varshi Prabhu for helpful research. My thanks to our BBT publisher Brahma Muhurta Prabhu for his encouragement and commitment, to our production manager Govinda Madhava Prabhu, to our artist Dina-bandhu Prabhu, and to the other BBT devotees working on the book’s production in Sweden and elsewhere. My life belongs to the BBT, and I am grateful to be working under its shelter.
My thanks also to Purnananda Prabhu, Brahma Muhurta Prabhu, and Madhupati Prabhu for their financial contributions toward the first printing of this book.
I pray to the Vaishnava readers of this translation for their blessings and their tolerance of my faults. I want only that Srila Sanatana Goswami, Sri Vrindavana-dhama, and undeviating devotion to Sri Sri Radha-Madana-gopala receive the proper glorification they deserve.
at Giriraja Govardhana
Sri Rama-navami, April 12, 2000