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Suka Learning Bhagavata

"This Vedanta Sutra was compiled by Srila Vyasadeva and by the advice of His Spiritual master Srila Narada--Vyasadeva wrote a commentation of the Vedanta Sutra by compiling Srimad-Bhagavatam. So Srimad-Bhagavatam is the last gift of Srila Vyasadeva to represent an authorized commentation of the Vedanta Sutra and Lord Caitanya's mission is to preach this cult in every corner of the world in order to make the people really happy."

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Ved Prakash, 07-07-58

"In Srimad-Bhagavatam, Twelfth Canto, Thirteenth Chapter, verse 15, it is stated, "Srimad-Bhagavatam is the essence of all Vedanta philosophy. Any person who has become attached in some way or other to the reading of Srimad-Bhagavatam cannot have any taste for reading any other literature. In other words, a person who has relished the transcendental bliss of Srimad-Bhagavatam cannot be satisfied with mundane writings."

Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 12

After returning from his morning walk and accepting Guru-puja from the devotees, Srila Prabhupada would give morning Bhagavatam class.

"By regular attendance in classes on the Bhagavatam and by rendering of service to the pure devotee, all that is troublesome to the heart is almost completely destroyed, and loving service unto the Personality of Godhead, who is praised with transcendental songs, is established as an irrevocable fact."

Bhagavad-gita 1:2:18

Srila Prabhupada sat on the vyasasana to give morning class. Depending on the temple's layout, the vyasasana would either be located at the back of the temple room or off to the right side of the Deities (your left as you're facing Deities.) Today, the person giving morning class should be seated on an asana that is slightly raised, like a cushion or a pedestal, but not on a vyasasana of the same height as that used by Srila Prabhupada. The lecturer should be situated on the left side of Srila Prabhupada's murti or picture (right side, if facing him), or they may sit at the bottom or off to the side of Srila Prabhupada's vyasasana.

Class would begin with Srila Prabhupada singing Jaya Radha Madhava, which he sometimes had one of the devotees sing. Srila Prabhupada did not do a full kirtana or chant Hare Krsna at the beginning of class, as is sometimes done today, but simply sang Jaya Radha Madhava for no more than five minutes. Srila Prabhupada was very fond of this song, and once fell into a trance after singing the first two lines. After some time he came back into external consciousness and said, "Now just chant Hare Krsna." Srila Prabhupada said that this song is "a picture of Vrndavana. Everything is there -- Srimati Radharani, Vrndavana, Govardhana, Yasoda, and all the cowherd boys."

Next Srila Prabhupada himself or one of the devotees would chant Om Namoh Bhagavata Vasudevaya three times, as a call-and-response. It is understood that on the spiritual platform, everything to do with Krsna is non-different than Krsna. By chanting Om Namoh Bhagavata Vasudevaya, we are paying obeisances to Srimad-Bhagavatam, one of the principle Vaisnava revealed scriptures, as an incarnation of Sri Krsna. We recognize Vasudeva, who is the literary incarnation of Krsna and author of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, as being non-different from the Book Bhagavat on the spiritual platform.

We now begin reading Srimad-Bhagavatam, following the format Srila Prabhupada established for morning class:

  1. The lecturer announces the chapter, verse and title of the reading

  2. He then reads the Sanskrit verse, line by line, as a call-and-response. The lecturer recites the first line of the Sanskrit verse, and the congregation recites it back. This is repeated for all lines of the verse.

  3. The above step is then repeated.

  4. Three or four members of the congreation may now repeat this process, reading the Sanskrit verse line by line as a call-and-response. In this case, they read through the verse only once, not twice as previously done.

  5. The lecturer now chants all the Sanskrit verses, without repetition by the congregants.

  6. The lecturer now chants the word for word meaning, as call-and-response. First he reads the Sanskrit word, which is repeated, then he reads the English word(s), which members repeat. The word meanings are recited just once.

  7. The lecturer reads the English translation in small segments (a few words or a brief phrase at a time), and everyone repeats it back.

  8. The lecturer reads the entire English translation, with no response.

  9. The lecturer reads the entire Purport, then begins the lecture.

Since Srila Prabhupada's departure, there has been a developing tendency to embellish this process for giving morning class, adding elements that Srila Prabhupada didn't introduce. For example, some lecturers begin by chanting various mantras before the reading. While we can't say that such practices are unbonafide, it is not Srila Prabhupada's program. Such embellishments shorten the time spent reading Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Sampradaya Acarya's purports, which should be given the greatest possible facility. Consequently, we find these added elements to be undesirable.

Except on special occasions, Srila Prabhupada's morning Bhagavatam lecture typically lasted approximately 30 to 40 minutes. The tendency for lecturers to go on and on for long stretches is often a sign of pretension. Again, Srila Prabhupada demonstrated the perfect program. After the lecture, he would invite questions, to which he gave brief, on-point answers. This Q&A period would last for only ten to 15 minutes. It is inappropriate to ask generalized questions outside the theme of the class reading, or beyond the aspect of the philosophy presented by the lecturer. Answers to questions should be kept brief, rather than launching a whole new lecture.

If morning class is scheduled before greeting the Deities, then the class must be ended when curtains open. In this case it's good to plan a 15 minute time buffer after the lecture. Either that, or schedule the lecture for after the Deity Greeting. Srila Prabhupada did it both ways, depending on circumstances.

Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.

Jaya Radha Madhava

Recitation of Srimad-Bhagavatam

Translation and Purport by Srila Prabhupada

Srila Prabhupada's Original Srimad-Bhagwatams