Glorious Questions, Glorious Answers
The scene has already been set. The great devotee-king Parīkṣit Mahārāja (whose death was only a week’s time away) sat amidst the leading sages of yore, who had assembled in time from all over the universe to hear the nectar of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam from the lotus lips of Śukadeva Gosvāmī (śuka-mukhād amṛta-drava-saṁyutam) on the banks of the River Ganges. The Second Canto begins with answers to the questions made by Parīkṣit Mahārāja in the last chapter of Canto One.
The king, specifically asked about the way to perfection for all persons, especially for one who is about to die, as well as, what should and shouldn’t a person hear, chant, remember and worship. Śukadeva Gosvāmī begins to answer by first glorifying the questions asked by him; stating that such questions are indeed beneficial and the answer, being accepted by great sages, is equally as glorious.
Highlights of the Canto
Readers of the Bhāgavatam will now for the first time, hear the great sage Śukadeva Gosvāmīspeak. Although his personality and presence was meticulously described in the earlier canto, it is substantial to note that he only begins narrating from the Second Canto onwards. Also, the four seed verses of the entire Bhāgavatam, known as the catuḥ-ślokī are given by Lord Viṣṇu to Brahmā in a quoted conversation.
Strikingly, in this very same conversation (in Chapter 6), Śrīla Prabhupāda draws conclusively how both the śruti-śāstras (Ṛg Veda’s Puruṣa-suktā) and the smṛti-śāstras (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam) are in agreement with one another – thus indirectly defeating those who only claim faith to the śrutis. In addition to this, the universal form is described thrice (in Chapters 1, 6 and 10) for different purposes. Finally, towards the end of this Canto, the ten topics of the Bhāgavatam are presented and defined.
Superiority of Bhakti Yoga Established
Śukadeva Gosvāmī begins the Second Canto by answering Parīkṣit Mahārāja’s second question first. He condemns the attached householders and compares them to a bull attached to a pole by its nose, due to their nature of wasting time and facility of the human form of life. He proclaims that for one desiring freedom from fear; one should hear about, glorify and remember the Supreme Lord, thus naturally suggesting that Bhakti-yoga (especially the chanting of the Holy Names, harer nāmānukīrtanam) to be the ultimate concluding path for salvation even for the practitioners of other methods of self-realization (jñāna, yoga, karma).He substantiates this by quoting his own personal example as a transformed impersonalist. He then takes the example of Khaṭvāṅga Mahārāja, of one who perfected his life in just a moment (muhūrta) by Bhakti-yoga.
Naturally, the narration of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam would have ended with this conclusion but due to the various kinds of sages assembled (jñāna-kāṇḍīs, karma-kāṇḍīs or devatā worshipers and aṣṭāṅga-yogis) who were still unconvinced of the power of Bhakti, Śukadeva Gosvāmī was thus inclined to systematically defeat all the processes and conclusively establish Bhakti-yoga as the supreme process. He begins with detailed disintegration of the Aṣṭāṅga-yoga system, their two paths of attached and unattached yogis, their objects of meditation (Virāṭ-rūpa and Paramātmā, respectively), its detailed form and features, the ṣaṭ-cakra-yoga process and finally Brahman realization (liberation).
He states that all these descriptions were spoken by Lord Vāsudeva to Brahmā previously. He then concludes by restating that there is no better auspicious path than that which produces prema (love) for the Lord, he adds that even Brahmā, after scrutinizing study the Vedas thrice, agreed to this conclusion.
Next, Śukadeva Gosvāmī turns his attention to the worshipers of various demigods. He begins by saying how people with various desires are inclined to worship particular demigods for the fulfilment of that desire. But for one who has broader intelligence, he will worship the Lord by bhakti-yoga whether one is with desires, without desires or desiring liberation (akāmaḥ sarva-kāmo vā mokṣa-kāma).Ending this section in brief, he explains that even a demigod worshiper can eventually worship the Supreme Lord if he gets the association of pure devotees. He then rhetorically asks,“Who wouldn’t take up to such a magnanimous process [Bhakti-yoga] that’s full of bliss and approved by great authorities?”
Nārada- Brahmā saṁvāda
After another such concluding statement, the sages at Naimiṣāraṇya were perplexed, “Has the narrations of the Bhāgavatam ended?” They urge on Sūta Gosvāmī to continue speaking by asking what else did Pariksit Maharaj inquire from Śukadeva Gosvāmī. They began to motivate him by graphically comparing the various limbs of a materialistic person who is not interested in kṛṣṇa-kathā as worthless, thus indirectly glorifying the process of hearing and the subject matter of Kṛṣṇa simultaneously.
And so, the Bhāgavatam continues with Parīkṣit Mahārāja’s further questions on creation and sub-creation of the material world. Before beginning to answer these enquiries, Śukadeva Gosvāmī meditates and offers his prayers to the Lord in a series of poetic verses. He then answers the question by quoting a famous conversation between Nārada Muniand Lord Brahmā. Nārada Muni too had asked his father and guru such similar questions about creation (6 questions). Unfortunately though, he was under a false impression that Brahmā was the ultimate supreme authority of creation.On the other hand, he was also somewhat sceptical of that conviction, since Brahmā too had underwent severe austerities – hinting of a Superior Divine power than Brahmā.
Brahmā destroys his false convictions by establishing the true status of the Lord and himself. Brahmā then begins answering facts about Creation (mainly kāraṇa-sṛṣṭi [creation of material elements, senses, etc.] and very briefly on kārya-sṛṣṭi [creation of material bodies]), but ultimately showing how behind all phases of it, is the hand of the Supreme Lord Vāsudeva. He then gives the description of the virāṭ-rūpa (second description of Universal Form in Canto Two) to establish the Lord as the material and effective cause.
After explaining about the Puruṣāvatāras, Brahmā now desires to describe the Līlāvatāras, the various incarnations of the Lord. He stresses how nothing is independent of the Lord and that Nārada should further expand and disseminate this Bhāgavatam, as was explained by the Lord to Brahmā.
After hearing how Nārada was entrusted with the mission of preaching Bhāgavatam, Parīkṣit Mahārāja was curious to hear about his preaching exploits (narrated throughout Bhāgavatam). He encouraged Śukadeva Gosvāmī to speak further by describing how the sound vibration of the Lord’s names acts upon the heart of a devotee. For the benefit of those assembled sages, Parīkṣit Mahārāja asks about the difference between the Lord and the jīva (that since everything is Nārāyaṇa – are they also equal?), the various energies of the Lord and how He carries out His pastimes. Śukadeva Gosvāmī answers this by quoting the conversation between Brahmā and the Lord, in which similar questions were asked.
Once, when Brahmā was created, he was perplexed as to how to begin with the process ofsub-creation, byproviding suitable bodies to living beings in the material world. Thus, he began performing austerities, being inspired by a mysterious voice. Being pleased with him, the Lord appeared and showed him the divine vision of His own abode, Mahā Vaikunṭa-loka. Thereafter, Brahmā puts forward questions about the nature of Lord’s form and His energies (much similar to Parīkṣit’s questions) and the Lord replies in a condensed coded form (catuḥ-ślokī), the original four verses of the Bhāgavatam and thus Brahmā, resumes his activities of sub-creation.
Ten topics of Bhāgavatam
Śukadeva Gosvāmī states that the very same Bhāgavatam which was heard by Brahmā from the Lord was given to Nārada (after expanding it) and it contains ten topics. Nārada (after expanding it further) spoke it to Vyāsadeva. Therefore, having said that the Bhāgavatam contains ten topics, Śukadeva Gosvāmī begins to explain the definitions of each one andmentions that ultimately, all the first nine topics are tailored to specifically describe the tenth topic (āśraya) through stories and historical recounts. In reply to Parīkṣit Mahārāja’s earlier questions about creation, Śukadeva Gosvāmī now begins to describe kārya-sṛṣṭi in more detail.
He begins with descriptions of Garbhodakaśāyī-Viṣṇu entering the universe and manifesting the virāṭ-rūpa (third description of Universal Form in Canto Two), to show how living entities get their material bodies based on the element of desire. He goes on to say that the Lord ultimately doesn’t directly involve in the activities of the material world (creation, destruction and annihilation) but rather contracts it to His external energy, māyā. The sages of Naimiṣāraṇya, remembering about the mention of Vidura (in Canto One), who went on a pilgrimage and met with the great sage Maitreya Muni, requested Sūta Gosvāmī to describe that meeting and their discussions thereof.
Sūta Gosvāmī expresses wonder that it was at this very instance that Parīkṣit Mahārāja too had asked some questions to Śukadeva Gosvāmī and the latter answered based on Vidura-Maitreya saṁvāda, which is the subject matter of the Third and Fourth Cantos.
Sections in this Canto:-
Chapter 1-3: Supremacy of Bhakti over others paths
Chapter 4: Further question’s by Pariksit Maharaja and Śukadeva Gosvāmī glorifies Lord
Chapter 5-7: Answers by quoting conversation between Narada and Brahma
Chapter 8: Further questions by Pariksit Maharaja
Chapter 9: Answers by quoting conversation between Brahma and Lord (catuh-sloki)
Chapter 10: Ten topics of Bhagavatam and brief summary of the chapter