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Newsletter by Krishna Kshetra Swami


Despite the emphasis on world order, the Bhāgavata is well aware that the world tends toward disorder and degradation. Politics gets dirty, power can corrupt, and people are unfair. The righteous live in a world where many things are beyond their control, and none more so than time. Time’s movement is a salient marker of the human condition, and thus the Purāṇa shows concern to systematically describe time—the passing of ages, the genealogies of kings, the movements of the planets, and the cycles of creation.

The Bhāgavata’s attention to these topics is not merely pedantic, the text sees cosmogony and cosmography as vital aids to yogic meditation. After all, the Bhāgavata is spoken at a crucial time in the history of the world: one age is ending and another, darker age is about to begin, when there is urgent need for delineation of practices conducive to human well-being and attainment of time’s transcendence. The Bhāgavata represents itself as having been spoken to a king who is bound by time: the righteous Parīkṣit has been cursed—for a breach of etiquette with a sage—to die in seven days, and so he resolves to spend these on the banks of the Ganges, listening to the Bhāgavata. This, he hopes, will give him release from this world of time (2.2.37).

—from “The Bhagavata Purana—Sacred Text and Living Tradition,” edited by Ravi M. Gupta and Kenneth R. Valpey


As long as anyone can remember, the gods and demons have been at war. But once, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa tells us, they declared a truce and decided to work together to extract the ambrosia of immortality from the sea. This story, the Churning of the Milk Ocean, may be seen as a microcosm of the Bhāgavata as a whole. It is one of the longest-running narratives in the Purāṇa, spanning eight chapters in book 8 (BhP 8.5–12). The themes latent within the narrative permeate the entire text; the values and anxieties expressed by the characters involved run throughout the Bhāgavata. Let us therefore paraphrase the story, paying attention to what it can tell us about the Purāṇa as a whole. Let us enter the world of the Bhāgavata.

The universe is faced with a grave problem—the gods have been defeated and rendered powerless by the demons, who now rule heaven. The world is in the hands of corrupt leadership, and thus dharma—world order and the practices for sustaining that order—has been compromised. The gods seek help from the demiurge Brahmā, who takes them all to the Supreme God, Vishnu. Vishnu’s advice is surprisingly pragmatic: cooperate with the demons for a common purpose.

—from “The Bhagavata Purana—Sacred Text and Living Tradition,” edited by Ravi M. Gupta and Kenneth R. Valpey