“My dear Lord, please pacify your anger completely and hear patiently whatever I submit before you. Please turn your kind attention to this. I may be very poor, but a learned man takes the essence of knowledge from all places, just as a bumblebee collects honey from each and every flower.” (Mother earth speaking to Maharaja Prithu, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.18.2)
Friend1: What would your advice be to someone who is interested in learning about the bhakti culture or God in general?
Friend2: Those are two very different things.
Friend1: How so?
Friend2: Bhakti is a way of life. The objectives are clearly defined, as are the different ways to practice. God, meanwhile, is open for interpretation.
Friend1: Well, that’s what I’m asking. Say they want to know God for sure, beyond doubts.
Friend2: “Now hear, O son of Pritha [Arjuna], how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.1)
Friend1: There you go. Quoting from the Bhagavad-gita means that you would recommend reading that book.
Friend2: Oh, for sure. A version with a proper commentary.
Friend1: Isn’t that up for interpretation?
Friend2: That’s the problem. The conversation has a specific context. The acknowledged teacher had a specific relationship to the acknowledged disciple. That sacred talk descends to us for a reason. We should respect it by at least properly identifying both individuals.
Friend1: And you’re saying that there are versions of the Bhagavad-gita that don’t do that?
Friend2: Absolutely. The commentator will say to understand the work symbolically only. Another person will say that Arjuna and Krishna did not exist. Another will opine that Krishna is not actually God Himself, though the verses say otherwise.
Friend1: Okay, so to learn about God a person should read Bhagavad-gita, as it is. Anything else?
Friend2: The Shrimad Bhagavatam.
Friend2: Bhagavad-gita is God talking, giving the basic overview of spiritual life. The work is complete in its presentation of knowledge, but the Bhagavatam gives more details about God. It describes who He is, how He creates, what the living entities go through, and most importantly, how He enjoys.
Friend1: Is that it, then? Don’t need to read anything else? What about the Ramayana?
Friend2: Sure, you could read that. The Mahabharata. The many Puranas. Anything that is authentic Vedic literature.
Friend1: Alright, but what about books from the other faiths of the world? Shouldn’t a person read the Bible, both Testaments, the Koran, and things like that?
Friend2: A person can, if they want, but it’s not necessary.
Friend1: Doesn’t a wise person take knowledge from everywhere? For example, if I’m learning about economic theory, I would want to read every side. I will want to study Keynes as much as I study Hayek. That way I am aware of every point of view. From there I can make an informed decision.
Friend2: Well, it’s definitely a good idea to be familiar with every angle of vision. There is even a verse in the Bhagavatam that says this.
Friend1: Oh? I didn’t know that.
Friend2: It’s when mother earth, in the form of a cow, is speaking to Maharaja Prithu. She says that the wise person takes knowledge from many different sources, like the bumblebee collecting honey from different flowers.
Friend1: Okay, so doesn’t that support my argument?
Friend2: It would, except the Bhagavatam already covers every point of view. So does Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.
Friend1: I’m not sure what you mean.
Friend2: The human being can have so many different desires. There are as many dharmas to fulfill those desires. Dharma in this context is a kind of religion. It’s a set of procedures for reaching your objective.
Friend1: What are some of the desires?
Friend2: Life in the heavenly region. Increased wealth while on earth. A long duration of life. These are some of the more positive ones, at least according to our understanding. Then there are negative desires as well. World domination. Harm to other people. Victory in competition, which automatically means defeat for someone else.
Friend1: And there are dharmas for each of these things?
Friend2: Sure. And you will find them described in Vedic literature, which is compared to a blossoming desire tree. The reason I mentioned the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam is because these works make you aware of the many different desires. They also present the best option, which is bhakti-yoga. The simple way to categorize all other desires is to know karma, jnana and yoga. Karma is fruitive activity, aimed at enjoyment for the material body. Jnana is knowledge, with the goal of eventually quitting the body and merging into the attribute-less light of Brahman. Yoga is mysticism, with the goal of achieving a siddhi, or perfection.
Friend1: I see. And bhakti is different?
Friend2: It is love and devotion dedicated specifically to God the person. You see how complicated this can get. To make the decision for bhakti is not easy, especially if you are not aware of who God is. That’s why the bhakti shastras are so important. Serving Krishna is like watering the root of the plant. Everything else gets nourished in the process. If you know Krishna, you will essentially have complete knowledge.
Vedas great I can tell,
But why not study others as well?
Like to this and that religion going,
For other points of view knowing.
Actually just from in reading’s seat,
Bhagavatam with knowledge complete.
Every desire human mind with can live,
Bhakti best solution each time to give.