CC Madhya 19.17
bhāgavata vicāra karena sabhāte vasiyā
Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī used to discuss Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in an assembly of twenty or thirty learned brāhmaṇa scholars.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura gives the following commentary on the words bhāgavata vicāra. As confirmed in the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (1.1.4-5), there are two kinds of educational systems:
dve vidye veditavya iti, ha sma yad brahma-vido vadanti — parā caivāparā ca. tatrāparā ṛg-vedo yajur-vedaḥ sāma-vedo ’tharva-vedaḥ śikṣā kalpo vyākaraṇaṁ niruktaṁ chando jyotiṣam iti. atha parā yayā tad akṣaram adhigamyate.
“There are two kinds of educational systems. One deals with transcendental knowledge [parā vidyā] and the other with material knowledge [aparā vidyā]. All the Vedas — the Ṛg Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda and Atharva Veda, along with their corollaries, known as śikṣā, kalpa, vyākaraṇa, nirukta, chanda and jyotiṣa — belong to the inferior system of material knowledge [aparā vidyā]. By parā vidyā one can understand the akṣara — Brahman or the Absolute Truth.” As far as the Vedic literature is concerned, the Vedānta-sūtra is accepted as the parā vidyā. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is an explanation of that parā vidyā. Those who aspire for liberation (mukti or mokṣa) and introduce themselves as vaidāntika are also equal to those groups aspiring to improve religion (dharma), economic development (artha) and sense gratification (kāma). Dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa are called catur-varga. They are all within the system of inferior, material knowledge. Any literature giving information about the spiritual world, spiritual life, spiritual identity and the spirit soul is called parā vidyā. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam does not have anything to do with the materialistic way of life; it gives transcendental information to educate people in the superior system of parā vidyā. Sanātana Gosvāmī was engaged in discussing the bhāgavata-vidyā, which means he discussed transcendental superior knowledge. Those who are karmīs, jñānīs or yogīs are not actually fit to discuss Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Only Vaiṣṇavas, or pure devotees, are fit to discuss that literature. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam itself (12.13.18):
yasmin pāramahaṁsyam ekam amalaṁ jñānaṁ paraṁ gīyate
yatra jñāna-virāga-bhakti-sahitaṁ naiṣkarmyam āviṣkṛtaṁ
tac chṛṇvan supaṭhan vicāraṇa-paro bhaktyā vimucyen naraḥ
Although Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is counted among the Purāṇas, it is called the spotless Purāṇa. Because it does not discuss anything material, it is liked by transcendental Vaiṣṇava devotees. The subject matter found in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is meant for paramahaṁsas. As it is said, paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ vedyam. A paramahaṁsa is one who does not live in the material world and who does not envy others. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, devotional service is discussed to arouse the living entity to the transcendental position of jñāna (knowledge) and vairāgya (renunciation). As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.12):
paśyanty ātmani cātmānaṁ bhaktyā śruta-gṛhītayā
“The seriously inquisitive student or sage, well equipped with knowledge and detachment, realizes that Absolute Truth by rendering devotional service in terms of what he has heard from the Vedānta-śruti.”
This is not sentiment. Knowledge and renunciation can be obtained through devotional service (bhaktyā śruta-gṛhītayā), that is, by arousing one’s dormant devotional consciousness, Kṛṣṇa consciousness. When Kṛṣṇa consciousness is aroused, it relieves one from fruitive activity, activity for economic improvement and material enjoyment. This relief is technically called naiṣkarmya, and when one is relieved, he is no longer interested in working hard for sense gratification. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is Śrīla Vyāsadeva’s last, mature contribution, and one should read and hear it in an assembly of realized souls while engaging in devotional service. At such a time one can be liberated from all material bondage. This was the course taken by Sanātana Gosvāmī, who retired from government service to study Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with learned scholars.