Religion includes four primary subjects, namely pious activities, economic development, satisfaction of the senses, and finally liberation from material bondage. Irreligious life is a barbarous condition. Indeed, human life begins when religion begins. Eating, sleeping, fearing, and mating are the four principles of animal life. These are common both to animals and to human beings. But religion is the extra function of the human being. Without religion, human life is no better than animal life. Therefore, in human societies there is some form of religion which aims at self-realization and which makes reference to man's eternal relationship with God.
In the lower stages of human civilization, there is always competition to lord it over the material nature or, in other words, there is a continuous rivalry to satisfy the senses. Driven by such consciousness, man turns to religion. He thus performs pious activities or religious functions in order to gain something material. But if such material gains are obtainable in other ways, then so-called religion is neglected. This is the situation in modern civilization. Man is thriving economically, so at present he is not very interested in religion. Churches, mosques or temples are now practically vacant. Men are more interested in factories, shops, and cinemas than in religious places which were erected by their forefathers. This practically proves that religion is performed for some economic gains. Economic gains are needed for sense gratification. Often when one is baffled in the pursuit of sense gratification, he takes to salvation and tries to become one with the Supreme Lord. Consequently, all these states are simply different types of sense gratification.
In the Vedas, the above-mentioned four activities are prescribed in the regulative way so that there will not be any undue competition for sense gratification. But Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is transcendental to all these sense gratificatory activities. It is purely transcendental literature which can be understood only by the pure devotees of the Lord who are transcendental to competitive sense gratification. In the material world there is keen competition between animal and animal, man and man, community and community, nation and nation. But the devotees of the Lord rise above such competitions. They do not compete with the materialist because they are on the path back to Godhead where life is eternal and blissful. Such transcendentalists are nonenvious and pure in heart. In the material world, everyone is envious of everyone else, and therefore there is competition. But the transcendental devotees of the Lord are not only free from material envy, but are well-wishers to everyone, and they strive to establish a competitionless society with God in the center. The contemporary socialist's conception of a competitionless society is artificial because in the socialist state there is competition for the post of dictator. From the point of view of the Vedas or from the point of view of common human activities, sense gratification is the basis of material life. There are three paths mentioned in the Vedas. One involves fruitive activities to gain promotion to better planets. Another involves worshiping different demigods for promotion to the planets of the demigods, and another involves realizing the Absolute Truth and His impersonal feature and becoming one with Him.
The impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth is not the highest. Above the impersonal feature is the Paramātmā feature, and above this is the personal feature of the Absolute Truth, or Bhagavān. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives information about the Absolute Truth in His personal feature. It is higher than impersonalist literatures and higher than the jñāna-kāṇḍa division of the Vedas. It is even higher than the karma-kāṇḍa division, and even higher than the upāsanā-kāṇḍa division, because it recommends the worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa. In the karma-kāṇḍa, there is competition to reach heavenly planets for better sense gratification, and there is similar competition in the jñāna-kāṇḍa and the upāsanā-kāṇḍa. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is superior to all of these because it aims at the Supreme Truth which is the substance or the root of all categories. From Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam one can come to know the substance as well as the categories. The substance is the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Lord, and all emanations are relative forms of energy.