Bhagwat Kathakar in USA

Shrimad Bhagwat Katha Sudha 

The Shrimad Bhagwat is one of the most sacred books of the Hindus. 
 
It gives a tremendous insight, a profound vision, and an entirely new perspective to the person who hears the narrative. On hearing, a person is never the same. There is a complete metamorphosis, a complete transformation, literally a new birth. Atman (soul) by it’s own nature is sovereign – it cannot by nature be bound – whatever bondages felt are sheer illusions of the mind. Shrimad Bhagwat provides that light which enables Jeeva (human being) to experience the wonderful freedom of liberation. One feels, "Yes, I am free!" Shrimad Bhagwat expresses this philosophy through the narration of the life stories of 24 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Amongst these, the tenth volume of the Shrimad Bhagwat narrates in infinite detail, the story of Lord Krishna. Since all 24 incarnations are of Lord Vishnu, it is a vitally important scripture for the Vaishnavites.
 
Written by Sage Ved Vyasa the Bhagwat leaves no topic untouched – social, political, and economic systems – all these have been covered and commented upon by him. Not just issues relating to self-liberation but even our day-to-day problems have been effectively resolved in Shrimad Bhagwat. Hence it can be emphatically stated that Shrimad Bhagwat is an exposition, which explains human life very clearly, it is a direction leading to the ultimate liberation of the soul. It is therefore an important guide for the conduct of human beings in all their affairs.  
 
Ordinarily, reading and listening to Shrimad Bhagwat is a week long Anushthan (a religious commitment), but even an entire lifetime may not be enough to understand it in depth and explain it to others. It is such a wonderful, sublime scripture but King Parikshit had only seven days to live and it is said that by listening to such a seven-day narration of Bhagwat Katha King Parikshit attained liberation! Not by death but by emancipation from ignorance and fear.
 
 
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Thus Shrimad Bhagwat liberates us from fear, problems, and ignorance. In essence, this is the crux of Shrimad Bhagwat. Content wise, it comprises three main dialogues or principal conversations – one that of Shukadevji and King Parikshit, second between Sutji and Shaunak and other Rishis at Naimisharanya and the third between Vidurji and Maitreya on the banks of the river Ganga. These three principal conversations convey the voluminous Bhagwat beginning and ending with the dialogue between Sutji and Shaunak and other Rishis.
 
This four quatrain (8 verses) of Bhagwat was voiced by Shri Narayan Bhagwan and heard by Brahmaji as narrated in the second volume. Brahmaji then narrated the same four verses (shlokas) to Narada who in turn conveyed to Sage Ved Vyasa but told him that this was only formularized, now expand it’s (Vyasa) purview. The seat from where such knowledge is expounded and explained in detail is called ‘Vyas Peetham’. For this very reason we call the narrator of Shrimad Bhagwat ‘Vyas’. It is more a qualitative noun than a personal noun. Thus Vyasa elaborated the four shlokas (verses) in 9000 verses spread over 335 chapters and 12 volumes. Then Bhagwan Ved Vyasa taught it to Shukhdeva, who then narrated it to King Parikshit. Sutjii in Namisharanya to Shaunaka and other Rishis conveys the same conversation. All the different periods of these separate conversations are mentioned in Shrimad Bhagwat.
 
The narration of Shrimad Bhagwat Katha is arranged for many reasons; raising funds to help medical institutions or provide medical relief to people affected by natural calamities, to fund and raise school/colleges and help rural development. But it is mainly arranged for the upliftment and welfare of the people and society, who, by listening to the katha would understand God and learn the way to reach him, helping inducing spiritual growth within themselves and most importantly becoming righteous and virtuous human beings. In the olden days it was primarily arranged when there was a death in the family. Amidst the encircling gloom of sadness and acute depression, the katha narration created a major transformation, bringing to a grief ridden family solace, comfort, equanimity and a philosophic vision. The Bhagwat Katha drew them out of their sorrow and removed them from their mourning. Therefore the Bhagwat Katha is described as
"Shoka Moha Bhayapaha", that which destroys attachment and consequently removes sorrow and fear. By listening to ‘Shrimad Bhagwat Katha’, devotion (Bhakti) pervades our heart and minds. This devotion destroys attachment, sorrow and fear from our minds. What is this devotion or ‘Bhakti’? It is nothing but love!
 
Love is a sublime experience. It moves and spreads in all directions and becomes universal. When love becomes unending, human beings attain sainthood. The body becomes a temple – and the heart a priest! Slowly, but surely Shrimad Bhagwat enables one to reach that stage. When universal love and devotion is attained, the sorrow, attachments and fear vanish. Sorrow or mourning is connected with the past; attachment is connected with the present and fear with the future. These are the three factors that disturb everyone. Mourning the past, attachment for the present, and fear or worry for the future. And who does not long for peace? Whether a person is a theist or an atheist, everyone longs for peace. Everyone wants joy. When these three dominant influences vanish, one becomes quiet and lucid.
 
It is not that Bhagwat Katha liberates the departed soul alone. It even frees surviving members from sorrow, attachment and fear. Thus liberation is in a wider concept. It is not as if one is liberated only after one dies. It can be experienced even during a person’s lifetime, now and here also. That is the teaching of Shrimad Bhagwat Katha. 

Ramayana

Ramayana is again another important scripture of the Vaishnavs who worship Lord Vishnu in the form of Lord Ram. There are 24 incarnations of Lord Vishnu out of which 10 are more important and amongst the ten principal incarnations, the ones of Ram and Krishna are the most predominant. Of these two, Ram precedes Krishna.
 
It is believed that Ram is ‘Maryada Purushottama’ (the best exemplar of Restraint and Modesty) while Krishna is ‘Pushti Purushottama’ (the best exemplar of love and fulfillment). Ram’s life teaches us the way to lead a life of restraint and diffidence, while Krishna’s life teaches us the way of love and fulfillment. For people who worship Ram, Ramayana is extremely important. It narrates an ideal lifestyle, which we ought to follow. However much one may claim of being unaffected and independent, the fact remains that an individual is always influenced by his surroundings, society, media, etc. An individual is like a liquid that assumes the form of the container, whatever the shape. Hence when one listens or reads about an ideal character, he is inspired to be like that. When the characters of our scriptures inspire and motivate the society and the entire nation, people change. Once society and nations change, entire humanity changes for the better. This will help solve most of the problems affecting mankind. Politics is only a superficial arrangement, which cannot solve problems. Until people change themselves no solution can be found. For changing the people, Dharma (religion) has an important role to play. Ram is a Dharma incarnate. Everything that he does is Dharma. Hence to follow Ram in itself is following Dharma (religion).
 
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Considered to be the oldest poet known to man, Valmiki was the first to narrate and put in writing Ram’s story. It was in Sanskrit. Since then many poets and writers have written about Ram. Of the many versions of the Ramayana, two are very popular. The first being sage Valmiki’s Ramyana and the second Goswami Tulisidasji’s Ram Charit Manas composed in simple Avadhi language. It is the language of the area surrounding Ram’s birthplace. Tulsidasji would have never imagined that someday his work would be appreciated and admired all over the world. He basically aimed at making Ram’s story popular in the area where he lived. Hence he wrote it in a language, which was locally known and popular so that the local people would find it interesting try to read and understand it.
 
Ram Charit Manas has seven sections – 1) Bala Kanda 2) Ayodhya Kanda 3) Kishkindha Kanda 4) Sundar Kanda 5) Aranya Kanda 6) Lanka Kanda and 7) Uttara Kanda. All these sections cover various periods of Ram’s life. Preceding these seven sections the story of Lord Shiva has been narrated. It is in the form of a prologue to Ram’s story. Beginning with the conversation between Lord Shiva and Parvati, Ramayana is principally written in the form of three conversations. These conversations are between Sage Yagnavalka and Sage Bharadhwaja, between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and the third between Garuda and Kagabhushandiji. Just as there are three principal conversations in Shrimad Bhagwat, so also there are three principal conversations in Ramayana. The story of Lord Ram has been elucidated in detail in the Ramayana. Through Ram and other noble characters interacting with him one gets the message of an ideal happy life. If you are a brother, you should follow Bharat’s example. As a father, Dashrath’s. An aide should follow the example of Hanuman. A teacher should be like Vashishtha. The ideal roles of a husband, wife, friend, teacher, son etc. have been depicted and explained through the medium of Ramayana. Ramayana teaches the way of an ideal social life. 
 
The Ramayana and the Bhagwat both are principally devotional compositions. Both aim at making an individual a true devotee and a true lover. The Ramyana manifests the devotional aspects of human beings and thus removes or destroys their grievances.
 
Geeta And Geeta Gyana Yagnas

The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta is an integral part of Mahabhararta, which is our third important scripture. From Mahabharata, a vital section of 700 verses spread over 18 chapters has been compiled to form Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta. In the battlefield of Kurukshetra when Kauravas and Pandavas came face to face in armed conflict with their relatives, cousins and loved ones in opposite camps, it was natural for Arjuna to get confused and confounded. They were his cousins and relatives, how could he slay them? Although Pandavas had been wronged, betrayed, harassed and insulted, yet Arjuna’s mind witnessed an intense duel. He could not decide the right course of action for himself. He remembered all the wrongs, deceptions and tortures of the Kauravas, yet questions like "How can I fight them?" "What should one do in such a situation?" boggled his mind. These were perplexing questions, which posed a big problem for him. At that time Lord Krishna advised and guided Arjuna. He explained, "You are not fighting relatives; you are fighting intruders and aggressors. If one is fighting for selfish interests one should yield and leave. But if one is fighting for common good – for the entire society, then one must destroy the unrighteous, anti social elements." When a mother kills her unrighteous son, she does it because it is just and righteous." It was natural for Arjuna to grieve the situation he faced. People who are fighting for the cause of righteousness have to adopt the best possible means without taking into consideration their likes and dislikes of them as individuals. It is the most important principle. Hence this was a very significant event. The message and the guidance that Lord Krishna gave to Arjuna, the spiritual wisdom imparted by him, is termed Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta. It comprises the essence of all knowledge and wisdom expounded in the Upanishads.

 
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Bhagwad Geeta consists of the conversations between Dhritarashta and Sanjay, which contain in itself dialogues between Krishna and Arjuna. It basically talks of the larger interests of humanity and not of personal interests of the individual.
 
 
 
Geeta is written in a style, which exposes the truth of life in the minimum of words. Hence when we understand Geeta it needs to be expounded and elaborated. Then brevity is to be given a go by. There are many commentaries and expositions expounding the Geeta. Bhai Shri feels that the best commentaries and expositions on Geeta are - 1) Shrimad Bhagwat and 2) Ramayana. He looks at them in the following way. Geeta is a bird, one wing of which is Shrimad Bhagwat, the other Ramayana. But when the question of original principles arises, Geeta Gyana and Yagnas are conducted. A Geeta Gyana Yagna is a 5 -7 day or more ritual of expounding the philosophical truths in the Geeta and giving commentaries on it everyday. The same, which is historically and poetically, presented through the medium of Shrimad Bhagwat and Ramayana.
 
 
 
From Adi Shankaracharya to Mahatama Gandhi, innumerable great saints, thinkers and Philosophers have written about it. It has inspired people across the world. It has influenced and attracted great minds, that of Henri Thoreau and Martin Shin. In that sense, Geeta is truly a universal scripture. Read from start to the end and nowhere do you find the word ‘Hindu’ in it. It emanates from the mouth of Lord incarnate. It is not Krishna who speaks. It is the divinity in him that is aroused and which addresses Arjuna. When such divinity manifests, it speaks about the welfare of the entire humanity. Hence, it is an universal scripture. Geeta expounds truth and destroys all illusions. At any given time and in any given condition or status in life, Geeta assists you in deciding your duty and the righteous course of action that should be pursued. Its principles are applicable to everyone and not to any particular segment or religion. It is for the entire universe. Sometimes five-day sessions (lectures on Geeta) are arranged in the form of Geeta Panchahas. Ramayana sessions are for nine days (Naranhas), and Bhagwad sessions seven days (Saptahas). We have primary education unto 7th standard, then higher education for 5 years i.e. unto 12th standard and finally University education. Similarly, Ramayana is our primary education of seven skandhas, Shrimad Bhagwad is our higher education of 12 skandhas and Bhagwad Geeta is our graduation at University level of 18 chapters.