Back to Godhead has inevitably undergone changes over its sixty-year history. When Srila Prabhupada's disciples took up the service of producing the magazine, he gave them general guidelines and left most of the details up to them. Occasionally he would give specific instructions. One of those, which BTG editors have held sacrosanct ever since, was that each issue should contain an excerpt from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Once, when some disciples expressed concern that the spiritual content of BTG seemed to be declining, Prabhupada said, in effect, "At least the Bhagavatam is there."
The Srimad-Bhagavatam was at the heart of Prabhupada's mission. In a poem he wrote on arriving in America, he expressed his deep faith that the message of the Bhagavatam, which he had come to deliver, could rescue the people of the West from their debilitated spiritual condition.
I was in the U.S. Air Force when I came to Krsna consciousness and started reading the Bhagavatam. Because I wanted to live at the temple and serve there full time, I submitted my resignation from the Air Force. During the six-month wait for the resignation to be approved, I was excused from reporting for duty but had to spend my normal work hours in my room on the base. That proved to be a blessing: I had nothing else to do but read Prabhupada's books. I dove in. I especially loved reading theBhagavatam and felt that my concentration on its words was a perfect meditation.
The Bhagavatam is known among Vaisnavas as grantha-raja: "the king of books." Although listed as one of the eighteen Puranas, or Vedic histories, it is called "the spotless Purana." It stands above all other works because of its exclusive focus on topics related to Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In the very beginning of the Bhagavatam, we come across the striking assertion "What is the need of any other book?" The third text tells us that the Bhagavatam is the ripe fruit of the Vedic literature. The book abounds with praise from great saints who have realized its supreme position. They tell us that the Bhagavatam is God in book form, that it is sufficient in itself for God realization, that by reading it one becomes a pure lover of God, that once one gains a taste for hearing its message, all attraction for lesser topics gradually disappears, that it is meant for bringing about a spiritual revolution in the impious lives of the world's misdirected civilization.
"Bhagavatam" means "in relation to God." Anyone interested in learning about God as every human being should be need look no further than the Bhagavatam, which Prabhupada called the post-graduate study of spiritual knowledge. It is a guide book to the summit of human aspiration.
As with any subject, the science of God is best received from one who has mastered its intricacies. Since mastery of the knowledge presented in the Bhagavatam results in pure devotion to Krsna, we should be careful to receive its message only from Krsna's pure devotees, whose character and realizations qualify them to be His authorized representatives. Srila Prabhupada was undoubtedly among that esteemed group, and we can enter their company by taking advantage of his presentation of theSrimad-Bhagavatam, "The Beautiful Story of the Supreme Lord."