Chapter One: The Question and the Arrangement
The Vishnu Purana has six sections (amsa-s). Each section has several chapters. The purana begins with the sloka:
Paraasaram muniuararn kritapaurvaanhikakriyam
Maitreyah paripapraccha pranipatyaabhivaadya cha
A diktat of the Upanishads is as follows: ‘Go in search of a good teacher to know the Truth.’ Maitreya, a student, stresses the meaning of this statement in his own unique way. [He feels] One’s intelligence is keen and clear in the early hours of the morning. Parasara Bhagavan has completed his morning work and is resting. Maitreya is his disciple. He wants to know from his teacher about the Supreme as the ‘eternal way’. He finds that this auspicious time is most appropriate for such ‘learning’. The teacher has already completed the morning rituals and so will not consider him an intrusion. Maitreya thinks this is the right time to receive teachings (This indicates that teaching should not come in the way of fulfilling one’s daily rituals. The rituals are important. After completing them, one may follow other pursuits).
Maitreya approaches his teacher formally to satisfy his own longing. He first prostrates (pranipaata), salutes the teacher and then repeats his family name (abhivaadana). He follows this with his request. [It is recommended that] One should not directly refer to the object of one’s search. One must come to it by asking about other, allied subjects. This is known as reverential enquiry (pariprasna). It may be noted that Krishna speaks to Arjuna even thus (IV 34): ‘You must follow this custom in the presence of the teacher. Only then will the learned ones be pleased and teach you.’
We may note an identical usage in the purana and the Gita too.
“Pranipatya, abhivaadya, paripaprachcha” are the words used in the verse quoted earlier. In the Gita (IV 34) you have, “Pranipaatena, pariprasnena, sevayaa”.
In the former we have verbal participles and a finite verb and in the latter, merely nouns. This is the only difference. In the Gita, Arjuna learnt about the method of questioning. Here Maitreya shows how to go about it. Further on, he speaks of his qualifications for learning about what he wants, and stresses that there is no one but Parasara who can help him.
[He says], “My teacher! Have I not learnt all the Veda-s from you? In the same way I received training in Dharmashatras, the limbs of Vedas like Sisha and Vyakarana. By your grace I have achieved proficiency in all the shastra-s. Even other learned ones who have mastered all shastra-s will not reject me as ignorant for I have achieved mastery of the shastra-s to their admiration. For all this, the main cause is your grace. Do grant me such kindness now also.
The subjects he wants to know
These are the subjects I wish to know: How was the world earlier? When is it going to be recreated? What is it from which the world gets created? What is its primal cause? How does it remain staid? Where has it gone to rest? Where will it go to rest? What are the measures of the five great elements? I want to know all about these and also about the birth of gods, the form and size of oceans, mountains, the sun and the rest, the dynasties of gods, the times of the Manus, long aeons (mahakalpa-s), the succession of aeons (kalpa-vikalpa-s) which are known as Brahma’s day, the four cycles of periods (yuga-s), the form of the deluge, the characteristics of periods (yuga dharma-s), the divine sages, the histories of kings, the manner in which Vyasa codified the Vedas and the duties bearing upon one’s caste and station in life (varnaashrama-dharma-s).
Do kindly favour me.” This is the summary of Maitreya Bhagavan’s queries. The purana proceeds in the manner of giving replies to these questions.
One who has realized the Supreme
Parasara comes forward to answer Maitreya who has asked his questions in the proper way. The questions are not merely about subjects like the creation of the world. They deal with the Supreme Brahman as well. Indeed, the world comes forth from the Parabrahman. The creation, sustenance and destruction of the world are but the stages of His play. ‘Isn’t He the Supreme who enjoys the endless play of creating the entire world, sustaining it and destroying it?’ Hence these are the allied questions (pariprasna-s).
As an answer, the Parabrahman will have to be explained. During this time, the disciple must listen to the teacher’s words with concentration. Only then will he gain steady illumination. Parasara thinks of all this. To make his disciple concentrate on what is being told to him, he conveys that he knows what he is speaking about. He also indicates how he came by such knowledge and recounts the life-stories of two great men from whom he gained wisdom. This forms his introduction. Only later does he give appropriate answers to the questions.
This passage reveals that when someone wants to teach others the higher knowledge of vedanta, one must remember with gratitude the help rendered by one’s teachers and illumine the lineage of teachers (guruparampara).
To be continued….
This English Commentary is written by smt Prema Nandakumar based on the tamil commentary written by H.H. 45th Azhagiyasingar of the Ahobila Mutt. His Holiness has ‘commented’ only on select chapters of the Vishnu Purana. The English translation faithfully follows the original in this aspect. Words that appear in square brackets [ ] have been placed there to serve as a link and do not form part of the original. Reproduced from Nrusimhapriya.
For Tamil commentary and Upanyasam of Vishnu Puranam, please visit: http://anudinam.org/category/stories/