Srimad Bhagavata Purana
By Jaya Gaursundar Dasa GauraVanacari
Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa
Just as Gaṅgā is the greatest of all rivers, Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa is greatest among all Purāṇas. When we worship Mother Gaṅgā the reservoir of holy water, we take palm full water from the river and with devotion we put it back into the river. Similarly this humble attempt of writing on the topic of Bhāgavata Purāṇa is done even though this Purāṇa is the reservoir of everything. It is like taking any paraphernalia for worshiping the supreme Lord which originates and belongs to Him and offering back to Him with love and devotion. From this reservoir I am taking bits and peace and repeating here for my own purification and spiritual satisfaction similar to the feeling of satisfaction a hungry man has for every morsel of food he eats. The more one eats while hungry, the more one feels satisfaction and strength. Before glorifying this Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa, I offer respectful obeisances unto the Personality of Godhead, Nārāyaṇa, unto Nara-nārāyaṇa Ṛṣi, the super most human being, unto mother Sarasvatī, the goddess of learning, and unto Śrīla Vyāsadeva, the author. nārāyaṇaṁ namaskṛtya naraṁ caiva narottamam
devīṁ sarasvatīṁ vyāsaṁ tato jayam udīrayet. Long ago this essential anthology of all the Purāṇas was spoken by the infallible Lord Nara-Nārāyaṇa Ṛṣi to Nārada, who then repeated it to Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana Vedavyāsa. Vyāsa later spoke it to Sarasvatī, the goddess of learning. That is why first offering respects to Nara-Narayana Ṛṣi and Sarasvatī.
Introduction: Bhāgavata Purāṇa is also known as Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahā Purāṇa, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam or Bhāgavata. Definition of Bhāgavata Purāṇa is given in Garuda Purāṇa (Quoted in CC M.25.143-144)as follows: artho ‘yaḿ brahma-sūtrāṇāḿ bhāratārtha-vinirṇayaḥ gāyatrī-bhāṣya-rūpo ‘sau vedārtha-paribṛḿhitaḥ purāṇānāḿ sāma-rūpaḥ sākṣād-bhagavatoditaḥ dvādaśa-skandha-yukto ‘yaḿ śata-viccheda-saḿyutaḥ grantho ‘ṣṭādaśa-sāhasraḥ śrīmad-bhāgavatābhidhaḥ
The meaning of the Vedānta-sūtra, the full purport of the Mahābhārata, the commentary of the Brahma- gāyatrī, and fully expanded with all Vedic knowledge is present in Bhāgavata Purāṇa/Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the supreme Purāṇa, and it was compiled by the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His incarnation as Vyāsadeva. There are twelve cantos, 335 chapters and eighteen thousand verses.
According to Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (1.1.4-5), there are two kinds of educational systems: One deals with transcendental knowledge [parā vidyā] and the other with material knowledge [aparā vidyā]. All the Vedas along with their corollaries belong to the inferior system of material knowledge [aparā vidyā] As far as the Vedic literature is concerned; the Vedānta-sūtra is accepted as the parā vidyā. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is an explanation of that parā vidyā. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives the actual meaning of the Vedānta-sūtra. Author of Vedānta-sūtra is Vyāsadeva, and he himself has explained those aphorisms in the form of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Thus Śrīmad- Bhāgavatam is bona fide commentary on the Vedanta-sutra by the same author, Srila Vyāsadeva. Any literature giving information about the spiritual world, spiritual life, spiritual identity and the spirit soul is called parā vidyā. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam does not have anything to do with the materialistic way of life; it gives transcendental information to educate people in the superior system of parā vidyā. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam itself (12.13.18): Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the spotless Purāṇa. It is most dear to the Vaiṣṇavas because it describes the pure and supreme knowledge of the paramahaṁsas. This Bhāgavatam reveals the means for becoming free from all material work, together with the processes of transcendental knowledge, renunciation and devotion. Anyone who seriously tries to understand Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, who properly hears and chants it with devotion, becomes completely liberated.
śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ purāṇam amalaṁ yad vaiṣṇavānāṁ priyaṁ
yasmin pāramahaṁsyam ekam amalaṁ jñānaṁ paraṁ gīyate
yatra jñāna-virāga-bhakti-sahitaṁ naiṣkarmyam āviṣkṛtaṁ
tac chṛṇvan supaṭhan vicāraṇa-paro bhaktyā vimucyen naraḥ
Although Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is counted among the Purāṇas, it is called the spotless Purāṇa. Because it does not discuss anything material, it is liked by transcendental Vaiṣṇava devotees. The subject matter found in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is meant for paramahaṁsas. A paramahaṁsa is one who does not live in the material world and who does not envy others. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, devotional service is discussed to arouse the living entity to the transcendental position of jñāna (knowledge) and vairāgya (renunciation). As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.12):
tac chraddadhānāḥ munayo jñāna-vairāgya-yuktayā
paśyanty ātmani cātmānaṁ bhaktyā śruta-gṛhītayā
“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.” Supreme Absolute Truth personally revealed this incomparable torchlight of knowledge Śrīmad–Bhāgavatam, the great supplement of Vedic literature, which is equal to all the Vedas, to Brahmā. Brahmā then spoke it to the sage Nārada, who narrated it to Kṛṣṇa-Dvaipāyana Vyāsa. Śrīla Vyāsa delivered it to his son, the greatest of sages, Śukadeva Gosvāmī after extracting the cream (sāraḿ sāraḿ) of all Vedic literatures and histories of the universe ”sarva-vedetihāsānāḿ sāraḿ sāraḿ samuddhṛtam”(SB 1.3.41) at the end of the Dvāpara-yuga. adhītavān dvāparādau pitur dvaipāyanād aham (SB 1.2.8)Śukadeva Gosvāmī then mercifully spoke it to Mahārāja Parīkṣit. He said to Mahārāja Parīkṣit ‘my dear King, although I was fully situated in the transcendental position, I was nonetheless attracted to the pastimes of Lord Kṛṣṇa.’ The total number of verses in all the Purāṇas is four hundred thousand and with itihāsas (histories) verses amount to 525,000, the largest number of verses known in human society. Bhāgavatam is the great supplement of Vedic literature, which is equal to all the Vedas. While the Vedas cover many subjects necessary for human civilization, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is a purely transcendental literature whose purpose is to awaken our love for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. It deals exclusively with subjects about the Supreme Personality of Godhead our relationship with Him, and the process for realizing that relationship. All the verses give detailed accounts of Supreme Lord’s names, forms, nature, personality, devotees, activities, residences, and much more. Śrīmad means “beautiful” or “opulent,” and Bhāgavatam means “related to God.” Hence, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam can be translated as “The Beautiful Story of God.” It is the literary incarnation of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa and is therefore non-different from Him. Lord Himself manifested as Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Therefore Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam should be worshiped as respectfully as we worship the Lord.
All religious activities which are materially motivated are completely rejected from this Purāṇa. The reading matter is so arranged that one is sure to become a God-realized soul at the end of finishing the first nine cantos. The tenth canto is distinct from first nine cantos because it deals directly with the transcendental activities of the Personality of Godhead Śrī Kṛṣṇa Bhāgavatam’s eighteen thousand verses contain hundreds of conversations between self-realized kings, yogis and sages of the ancient world on the subject of how to achieve perfection in life, including descriptions of various incarnations and activities of Śrī Kṛṣṇa —the Supreme Person—and His devotees throughout history. It covers several topics like ancient atomic calculations of time, accurate astronomical readings taken 5,000 years ago, descriptions of life on other planets, detailed study of the development of the embryo in the womb from the moment of conception, and prediction of Buddha’s arrival 2,500 years earlier and much more.
A conditioned soul is one who has forgotten Kṛṣṇa suffers the threefold miseries of material existence. Saintly persons (sādhus), Vaiṣṇava devotees of the Lord, preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness on the basis of the Vedic literature. It is only by their mercy that the conditioned soul is awakened to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. māyā-mugdha jīvera nāhi svataḥ kṛṣṇa-jñāna jīvere kṛpāya kailā kṛṣṇa veda-purāṇa –“The conditioned soul cannot revive his Kṛṣṇa consciousness by his own effort. But out of causeless mercy, Lord Kṛṣṇa compiled the Vedic literature and its supplements, the Purāṇas.
‘śāstra-guru-ātma’-rūpe āpanāre jānāna ‘kṛṣṇa mora prabhu, trātā’ — jīvera haya jñāna –“The forgetful conditioned soul is educated by Kṛṣṇa through the Vedic literatures, the realized spiritual master and the Supersoul. Through these, he can understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead as He is, and he can understand that Lord Kṛṣṇa is his eternal master and deliverer from the clutches of māyā. In this way one can acquire real knowledge and can come to understand how to attain liberation.
sarvajña munira vākya — śāstra-‘paramāṇa’ āmā-sabā jīvera haya śāstra-dvārā ‘jñāna’ — “The Vedic literatures composed by the omniscient Mahāmuni Vyāsadeva are evidence of all spiritual existence. Only through these revealed scriptures can all conditioned souls attain knowledge.
The material miseries of the living entity can be directly mitigated by the linking process of devotional service. But the mass of people do not know this, and therefore the learned Vyāsadeva compiled this Vedic literature. anarthopaśamaḿ sākṣād bhakti-yogam adhokṣaje lokasyājānato vidvāḿś cakre sātvata-saḿhitām (SB 1.7.6)
Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu declared that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the spotless sound representation of all Vedic knowledge and history. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the summum bonum of life, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa personified. We must therefore accept Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as the direct representation of Lord Kṛṣṇa. It is the literary incarnation of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa and is therefore non-different from Him. One who can see Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam can see also Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa in person because they are identical. There are selected histories of great devotees who are in direct contact with the Personality of Godhead. It is compiled by Śrīla Vyāsadeva, the incarnation of God. It is meant for the ultimate good of all people, and it is all-successful, all-blissful and all-perfect. It propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart (SB 1.3.40. P). This Bhāgavata Purāṇa is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Kṛṣṇa to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the Age of Kali shall get light from this Purāṇa. kṛṣṇe sva-dhāmopagate dharma-jñānādibhiḥ saha
kalau naṣṭa-dṛśām eṣa purāṇārko ’dhunoditaḥ (SB 1.3.43)
Importance and of Historical account of Bhāgavata Purāṇa:
All the Vedas are emanations from the breathing of the Supreme Being and they are Sruti, Smrti, and Purāṇas. Originally preserved through oral tradition, the Vedas were first put into writing by Srila Vyāsadeva—editor of the Vedas. Purāṇas are the oldest historical records of the activities of Rsi’s and Rājarsis. There are eighteen Purāṇas divided according to nature of people in three modes of material nature, six of each Purāṇas namely Sāttvika, Rājasika and Tāmasika Purāṇas. After compiling the eighteen Purāṇas, Vyāsadeva, composed the entire Mahābhārata, which contains the essence of all the Purāṇas. It consists of over one hundred thousand verses and is filled with all the ideas of the Veda. In one of the opening chapters, the narrator explains that the sage Vyāsadeva, who wrote portions of the Vedic literature and compiled the rest, felt dissatisfied despite his accomplishments. So he told his spiritual teacher that he felt strangely empty despite completing such a monumental task. His preceptor replied that he needed to explore more pure and spiritual topics, especially knowledge of Krishna. Under the order of his guru, he then embarked on writing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which is considered the ripe fruit of the tree of the Vedas. Srila Vyāsadeva was inspired to present their profound essence in the form of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and as his own commentary on Vedanta-sutra, the essence of all theistic knowledge. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives direct information of the mellow derived from service to Kṛṣṇa therefore it is above all other Vedic literatures. Besides it is compiled by the great sage Vyāsadeva (in his maturity) and is sufficient in itself for God realization then what is the need of any other scripture? śrīmad–bhāgavatemahā–muni-kṛte kiḿ vā parair īśvaraḥ? Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself originally spoke Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to Brahmā and then continued to speak this literature through the agency of Nārada Muni, Dvaipāyana Vyāsa, Śukadeva Gosvāmī and other great sages. In other words, whenever saintly devotees vibrate Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, it is to be understood that Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself is speaking the Absolute Truth through the agency of His pure representatives. Anyone who submissively hears this literature from the Lord’s bona fide devotees transcends his conditioned state and becomes qualified to meditate upon the Absolute Truth and serve Him. Bhagavad-gītā is the sound incarnation of the Lord because it is spoken by the Supreme Lord, and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the sound representative of the Lord because it was spoken by the incarnation of the Lord about the activities of the Lord. The Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa spoke the Bhagavad-gītā specifically and eradicated all pretentious principles of religiosity. And prior to His departure from this material world, He empowered Śrī Vyāsadeva through Nārada to compile the messages of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and thus both the Bhagavad-gītā and the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam are like torchbearers for the blind people of this age. Just as Arjuna was placed into material confusion so that Bhagavad-gītā might be spoken, so King Parīkṣit, a pure, liberated devotee of the Lord, was cursed to die so that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam might be spoken. Actually, King Parīkṣit is viṣṇu-rāta, eternally under the protection of the Lord. Śukadeva Gosvāmī liberated the king from his so-called illusion to exhibit the merciful nature of a pure devotee and the enlightening effect of his association.
Content of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: The main theme running throughout the Bhāgavatam is the science and practice of bhakti-yoga, devotional service to the Supreme Person. Bhagavad-gītā is the preliminary study of the Bhāgavatam. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam begins where the Bhagavad-Gita leaves off, since it goes even further into the nature of reality and the relationship between all beings and the Absolute. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is a treatise that explains the science of God in detail, including His creation, His eternal activities, the path to attain Him, and the lives of some of His great devotees. There are 12 cantos, or subdivisions, and each area of knowledge is presented in a separate canto. The cantos are: Creation, The Cosmic Manifestation, The Status Quo, The Creation of the Fourth Order, The Creative Impetus, and Prescribed Duties for Mankind, The Science of God, Withdrawal of the Cosmic Creations, Liberation, The Summum Bonum, Krishna’s Final Instructions, and The Age of Deterioration. Ten subject matters in S.B. known as Amnaya are: 1) Sarga- Canto 3, 2) Visarga- Canto 4, 3) Sthanam- Canto 5- description of planetary system. Sumeru, sapta dvipa. Etc. 4)Posanam- canto 6- Describes E.g. Ajamil, Vrtrasura and their surrender. 5)Utaya- Canto 7 –describes divine nature an opposite of it, demoniac nature. 6)Manavantaras- canto 8 – Story of Gajendra from previous millennium. 7)Isanukatha- Canto 9- Describes different incarnations of the Lord. 8) Nirodha- Canto 10- uproots anarthas. E.g. yoga means cittavrtti nirodha. 9) Mukti- Canto 11- Uddhava gita, by hearing attentively one gets liberated. And 10)Asraya- Canto 12 – Taking shelter of Krishna by chanting His Holy name. Other topics include the subtle and gross movements of time, the generation of the lotus from the navel of Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, the creation of demigods, animals, demoniac species of life, cosmology, genealogy, geography etc. It also discusses how Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and Lord of the universe, descended into this Yadu dynasty, how He took birth in the home of Vasudeva, and how He then grew up in Gokula — all this is described in detail.
Effect of studying/ Reading SB: Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramātmā [Supersoul] in everyone’s heart, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee. hṛdy antaḥ stho hy abhadrāṇividhunotisuhṛtsatām. By regular attendance in classes on the Bhāgavatam all that is troublesome to the heart is almost completely destroyed. naṣṭa-prāyeṣv abhadreṣunityaḿbhāgavata–sevayāby serving devotees one gains affinity for hearing the messages of Vāsudeva. śuśrūṣoḥśraddadhānasyavāsudeva–kathā–ruciḥ.Therefore, tasmād with one-pointed attention, ekenamanasā one should constantly hear about, glorify, remember and worship the Personality of Godhead – bhagavān sātvatāḿ patih śrotavyaḥ kīrtitavyaś cadhyeyaḥ pūjyaś canityadā. Parīkṣit Maharaja also tells how hearing this great literature clarifies the aim of life and palpably invokes the presence of Lord Krishna within one’s heart: praviṣṭaḥ karṇa-randhreṇa svānāṁ bhāva-saroruham
dhunoti śamalaṁ kṛṣṇaḥ salilasya yathā śarat — The sound incarnation of Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Soul (i.e., Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam), enters into the heart of a self-realized devotee, sits on the lotus flower of his loving relationship, and thus cleanses the dust of material association, such as lust, anger and hankering. Thus it acts like autumnal rains upon pools of muddy water. (SB 2.8.5) A brāhmaṇa who studies the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam achieves firm intelligence in devotional service, a king who studies it gains sovereignty over the earth, Vaiśya acquires great treasure and a śūdra is freed from sinful reactions. Srila Prabhupada writes: “Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the transcendental science not only for knowing the ultimate source of everything but also for knowing our relation with Him and our duty toward perfection of the human society on the basis of this perfect knowledge.” And “By sufficient hearing of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the polluted aim of life, trying to enjoy matter, will subside, and the people will be able to live a peaceful life of knowledge and happiness.” Bhāgavata Purāṇa propounds the highest truth. As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhāgavatam, by this culture of knowledge the Supreme Lord is established within his heart. ‘vedyaḿ vāstavam atra vastu śiva-daḿ tāpa-trayonmūlanam’. Patient, respectful, and submissive hearing of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is a powerful force in awakening Bhakti to Lord Kṛṣṇa.
The Glories of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:
Of the innumerable collections of spiritual teachings found in Vedic literature, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is considered the topmost. Vedic literature is sometimes said to be a “desire tree,” a tree that can yield whatever one might desire. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the most complete and authoritative exposition of Vedic knowledge – covering everything from the nature of the self to the origin of the universe. Among all the Purāṇas, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the best, and it is the dearest thing to the Vaiṣṇavas. It reveals that spotless, supreme knowledge accessible to the paramahaṁsas and it also reveals the process by which one can become free from the reactions of material work — a process enriched with knowledge, renunciation and devotion.
śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ purāṇam amalaṁ yad vaiṣṇavānāṁ priyaṁ
yasmin pāramahaṁsyam ekam amalaṁ jñānaṁ paraṁ gīyate
tatra jñāna-virāga-bhakti-sahitaṁ naiṣkarmyam āviskṛtaṁ
tac chṛṇvan su-paṭhan vicāraṇa-paro bhaktyā vimucyen naraḥ – Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the spotless Purāṇa. It is most dear to the Vaiṣṇavas because it describes the pure and supreme knowledge of the paramahaṁsas. Anyone who seriously tries to understand Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, who properly hears and chants it with devotion, becomes completely liberated. The word pāramahaḿsyam indicates that even completely liberated souls are eager to hear and narrate Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Those who are trying to be liberated should faithfully serve this literature by hearing and reciting it with faith and devotion
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is accepted as the essence of all Vedic literature and Vedānta philosophy. Whoever tastes the transcendental mellow of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is never attracted to any other literature. sarva–vedānta–sāraḿhiśrīmad–bhāgavatamiṣyatetad–rasāmṛta–tṛptasya nānyatra syād ratiḥkvacit ( SB 12.13.15)
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives direct information of the mellow derived from service to Kṛṣṇa. Therefore Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is above all other Vedic literatures. ‘kṛṣṇa–bhakti–rasa–svarūpa‘ śrī–bhāgavatatāteveda–śāstrahaiteparamamahattva (CC M. 25.150)
kṣetrāṇāṁ caiva sarveṣāṁ yathā kāśī hy anuttamā
tathā purāṇa-vrātānāṁ śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ dvijāḥ (SB 12.13.17) – O brāhmaṇas, in the same way that the city of Kāśī is unexcelled among holy places, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is supreme among all the Purāṇas. Very first text of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam defines the Absolute Truth it makes clear that because the book is intended for people serious about spiritual progress, it will not deal with sectarian religious ideas, philosophical conjecture, or worldly concerns. The second text describes the Bhāgavatam and defines actual religion and promises that anyone who reads the book systematically will achieve the spiritual success meant for all human beings. As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of the Bhāgavatam, by this culture of knowledge the Supreme Lord is established within his heart (SB.1.1.2) – The proper method for receiving this transcendental message is to hear it submissively. A challenging attitude cannot help one realize this transcendental message. One particular word is used herein for proper guidance. And the third text invites humankind to taste the Bhāgavatam’s sweetness. The word is śuśrūṣu. One must be anxious to hear this transcendental message. The desire to sincerely hear is the first qualification an invitation to Taste the Bhāgavatam’s sweetness (SB. 1.1.3) In this śloka it is stated that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is not only a superior literature but is the ripened fruit of all Vedic literatures. In other words, it is the cream (sāraḿ sāraḿ) of all Vedic knowledge. Considering all this, patient and submissive hearing is definitely essential. With great respect and attention, one should receive the message and lessons imparted by the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead– dharmaḥsvanuṣṭhitaḥpuḿsāḿviṣvaksena–kathāsuyaḥ notpādayed yadiratiḿśramaevahikevalam
Only the pure and saintly devotees who are parama-bhāgavatam — a topmost devotee of the Lord and bhagavat-jana-parāyaṇam — a follower of the devotees of the Lord, brāhmaṇas and Vaiṣṇavas; take interest only in topics glorifying the infallible Supreme Lord. Even completely liberated souls are eager to hear and narrate Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Those who are trying to be liberated should faithfully serve this literature by hearing and reciting it with faith and devotion. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is ‘ādhyātma deep’ – lamp or sun for devotees. For materialistic fools/demons, or even jñānis and impersonalists it is bewildering like Mohini Avatāra. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is tricky. The eleventh canto is for jñānīs. They will think that jñāna is ultimate. Therefore, non-devotees get cheated because they accept something else other than Bhakti as ultimate. However, devotees will relish everything in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam because it is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, and pastimes and so on of the unlimited Supreme Lord and it is full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest. tad vāg-visargo janatāgha-samplavo yasmin prati-ślokam abaddhavaty apināmāny anantasya yaśo ’ṅkitāni yat śṛṇvanti gāyanti gṛṇanti sādhavaḥ – (SB 12.12.52)
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is full of prayers in which emotions of a person who is praying are expressed. For example Vṛtrāsura in his prayer compares himself as baby bird eagerly waiting for mother to come and provide food and shelter. Next compares with a calf that is running towards mother cow for food and shelter and last as a lover.
How to study or hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is Śrīla Vyāsadeva’s last, mature contribution, and one should read and hear it in an assembly of realized souls while engaging in devotional service. Srila Prabhupada writes that ‘The only qualification one needs to study this great book of transcendental knowledge is to proceed step by step cautiously and not jump forward haphazardly as with an ordinary book. It should be gone through chapter by chapter, one after another. Hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from a pure Vaiṣṇava and learn from him. Study the Bhāgavatam from the person Bhāgavatam. Person Bhāgavatam is the self-realized bona fide spiritual master, and through him only can one understand the lessons of Bhāgavatam in order to receive the desired result.’ The Vedic scriptures, especially the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, consistently glorify the importance of hearing divine sound to achieve the highest spiritual perfection. One attains ultimate destination simply by hearing from the mouths of pure devotees about the character and activities of pure devotees who always think within their hearts of the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead, who awards His devotees liberation. [SB 3.13.4] . Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.17-21) verses systematically describe how our devotion to Krishna gradually evolves when we submissively hear the transcendental vibrations of Krishna’s holy names and pastimes. One who is genuinely humble and who has total faith in the words of the scriptures can achieve this love for the Lord. If enough time is devoted to hearing and discussing these two scriptures, going back to Godhead is assured. The Padma Purana strictly warns us against hearing from non-devotees. Quoting from Padma Purāṇa, Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī has strictly forbidden us to hear about the activities of the Lord and His devotees from the mouths of nondevotee:
avaiṣṇava-mukhodgīrṇaṁ pūtaṁ hari-kathāmṛtam śravaṇaṁ naiva kartavyaṁ sarpocchiṣṭaṁ yathā payaḥ –“One should not hear anything about Kṛṣṇa from a non-Vaiṣṇava. Milk touched by the lips of a serpent has poisonous effects; similarly, talks about Kṛṣṇa given by a non-Vaiṣṇava are also poisonous.” One must be a bona fide devotee, and then he can preach and impress devotional service upon his listeners. Srila Prabhupada elaborates: “The words or songs of a person not fixed in Vaishnava behavior, not strictly following the rules and regulations and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, should not be accepted by pure devotees.”
‘One should rigidly avoid hearing the Bhāgavatam from an Māyāvādī or other nondevotee.’ Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.1.2) condemns hearing mundane topics devoid of spiritual value: śrotavyādīni rājendra nṛṇāṁ santi sahasraśaḥ
apaśyatām ātma-tattvaṁ gṛheṣu gṛha-medhinām – “Those persons, who are materially engrossed, being blind to the knowledge of ultimate truth, have many subject matters for hearing in human society, O Emperor.”
“To understand the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, one must approach a self-realized Vaiṣṇava.” Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī instructs the poet from Bengal: “yāha, bhāgavata paḍa vaiṣṇavera sthāne ekānta āśraya kara caitanya-caraṇe “If you want to understand Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam,” he said, “you must approach a self-realized Vaiṣṇava and hear from him. You can do this when you have completely taken shelter of the lotus feet of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.”(CC Antya 5.131) Śrīla Sūta Gosvāmī saidone should regularly hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from a self-realized Vaiṣṇava. By such hearing, one becomes pure: hṛdy antaḥ-stho hy abhadrāṇi vidhunoti suhṛt satām. As one thus hears the Bhāgavatam regularly and sincerely, and by renders service to the pure devotee, his heart is purified of all material contamination: naṣṭa-prāyeṣv abhadreṣu nityaṁ bhāgavata-sevayā (service to book Bhāgavata and person Bhāgavata) and loving service unto the Personality of Godhead, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact – bhagavaty uttama-śloke bhaktir bhavati naiṣṭhikī. (SB 1.2.18) In Caitanya-bhāgavata (antya 3.532) Srila Vrindāvan Dās Thakur has written, dui sthāne bhāgavata-nāma śuni-mātra — there are two bhāgavatas, the book Bhāgavata and the bhakta, devotee bhāgavata. We serve the book Bhāgavata by hearing from the bhakta-bhāgavata. To hear and explain the literatures is more important than just reading them. One can assimilate the knowledge of the revealed scriptures only by hearing (śravaṇa) and explaining (kīrtana). Only one who has properly grasped the transcendental knowledge from the right source by submissive hearing can properly explain the subject.
The simple process for studying the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam or any sacred scripture is given in the Brhad-aranyaka Upaniṣad. It says: atma va are drastavyah srotavyo mantavyo nididhyasitavyah – ‘O Maitreya! Always hear about, think about, meditate upon, and see all objects as they are related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Supersoul, Sri Hari.’ 1) Śravaṇam – collecting the information from the text, that is, hearing or reading the text, much like attentively listening to a lecture. 2) Mananam – reflecting on the subject matter 3) Nididhyasan – contemplating on how I can practically apply this text in my own life or how I can see all objects as they are related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Supersoul, Sri Hari and 4) Vandanam – praying for realization because words are combination of letters and anyone can make sound. Potency of sound or words comes when Lord decides which sound He wants to enter.
HH Sacinandana Swami gives analogy as follows: Collecting information is compared to just bringing food in front of the mouth, but not eating it. Hearing attentively or reading the text is like putting the food in mouth. Reflecting on what you have heard is like chewing the food. Nididhyasan, contemplating how you can apply what you have heard and then practically applying it, can be compared to swallowing. Finally digesting the food and being fully nourished by it, depends on the Supersoul, Sri Hari. Therefore it is compared to Vandanam or praying for realization.