Religion includes four primary subjects: (1) pious activities, (2) economic development, (3) satisfaction of the senses, and (4) liberation from material bondage. Religious life is distinguished from the irreligious life of barbarism. Indeed, it may be said that human life actually begins with religion. The four principles of animal life—eating, sleeping, defending and mating—are common to both the animals and human beings, but religion is the special concern of human beings. Since human life without religion is no better than animal life, in real human society there is some form of religion aiming at self-realization and referring to one's eternal relationship with God.
In the lower stage of human civilization there is always competition between men in their attempt to dominate material nature. In other words, there is continuous rivalry in an attempt to satisfy the senses. Thus driven by sense gratificatory consciousness, men perform religious rituals and pious activities with the aim of acquiring some material gain. But if such material gain is obtainable in another way, this so-called religion is neglected. This can be seen in modern human civilization. Since the economic desires of the people appear to be fulfilled in another way, no one is interested in religion now. The churches, mosques and temples are practically vacant, for people are more interested in factories, shops and cinemas than in the religious places erected by their forefathers. This definitely proves that religious rituals are generally performed for the sake of economic development, which is needed for sense gratification. And when one is baffled in his attempt to attain sense gratification, he takes to the cause of salvation in order to become one with the supreme whole. All these activities arise with the same aim in view—sense gratification.
In the Vedas, the four primary subjects mentioned above are prescribed in a regulative way so that there will not be undue competition for sense gratification. But Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is transcendental to all these sense-gratifying activities of the material world. It is a purely transcendental literature, understandable by the devotees of the Lord, who are above the competition for sense gratification. In the material world there is keen competition between animals, between men, between communities and even between nations in an attempt to gratify the senses. But the devotees of the Lord are above all this. Devotees have no need to compete with materialists because they are on the path back to Godhead, back home, where everything is eternal and fully blissful. Such transcendentalists are a hundred percent nonenvious and are therefore pure in heart. Because everyone in the material world is envious, there is competition. But the transcendentalists, or devotees of the Lord, are not only free from all material envy but are also kind to everyone in an attempt to establish a competitionless society with God in the center. The socialist's idea of a society devoid of competition is artificial because even in the socialist states there is competition for the post of dictator.
It is a fact, therefore, that sense gratification is the central principle of materialistic life, whether based on the Vedas or simply on common human activities. There are three divisions of the Vedas. The first division (the karma-kāṇḍa) recommends fruitive activities by which people can advance to higher planets. Above this is the upāsanā-kāṇḍa, which recommends worship of the various demigods for the purpose of attaining their planets. Finally there is the jñāna-kāṇḍa, which recommends activities that enable one to reach the Absolute Truth and realize His impersonal feature in order to become one with Him. But the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth is not the last word. Above the impersonal feature is the Paramātmā, or Supersoul, and above that is the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives information about the personal qualities of the Absolute Truth, beyond the impersonal aspect. Topics concerning these qualities are greater than topics of impersonal philosophical speculation; consequently Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is given higher status than the jñāna-kāṇḍa division of the Vedas. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is also greater than the karma-kāṇḍa and upāsanā-kāṇḍa divisions because it recommends the worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the divine son of Vasudeva. The karma-kāṇḍa division of the Vedas is fraught with competition to reach heavenly planets for better sense gratification, and this competition is also seen in the jñāna-kāṇḍa and upāsanā-kāṇḍa divisions. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is above all of these because it aims only at the Supreme Truth, the substance or root of all categories.
In other words, from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam we can know the substance as well as the relativities in their true sense and perspective. The substance is the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the relativities are the different forms of energy which emanate from Him. Since the living entities are also His energies, there is nothing really different from the substance. At the same time, the energies are different from the substance. This conception is not self-contradictory. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam explicitly deals with this simultaneously-one-and-different philosophy—a philosophy also found in the Vedānta-sūtra, which begins with the janmādy asya sūtra.