I am often asked about verse 10.2.32 from the Bhagavata purana. Proponents cite this verse to support the mistaken notion that the jīva can fall from Brahman. That is, after death, the jīva can attain Brahman, but it will fall down from there eventually, back into the material world.
In this article, I examine the commentary of Śrī Viśvanātha on this verse. As we shall see, he explains the verse very differently. The verse is as follows:
ye’nye’ravindākṣa vimukta-māninastvayy asta-bhāvād aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ |āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥpatanty adho’nādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ
I will first translate Śrī Viśvanātha’s commentary on this verse and then conclude with a translation of the verse. I include my comments as usual below each translation.
First, he shows the continuity of thought from the preceding verse,
vaiṣṇavānām eva bhavārṇavo goṣpadībhavati
Only for the Vaiṣṇavas, the ocean of worldly existence is like a small puddle.
by way of contrast:
ye tu tava viśuddha-sattvamaya-vapuṣi māyā-bhānavanto jñāninas teṣāṁ tu sudustaro bhīma eva |
In contrast, it is indeed huge, being very difficult to cross, for those jñānis who consider that [Bhagavān’s] viśuddha-sattva-body is made of māyā.
Here the word jñāni refers to jñāna-yogīs. There are different types of jñāna-yogīs, and one type is mentioned above. He cites a verse to support this point:
kṛcchro mahān iha bhavārṇavam aplaveśāṁ ṣaḍ-varga-nakram asukhena titīrṣanti | tattvaṁ harer bhagavato bhajanīyam aṅghriṁ kṛtvoḍupaṁ vyasanam uttara-dustarārṇam || [bhā.pu. 4.22.40] iti yathā sanat-kumāreṇoktam |
As Sanata Kumāra has said:
Those who desire to cross the ocean of birth and death, which is infested with the crocodiles of the mind and five senses, yet who are without a boat in the form of the shelter of Īśvara, undergo great tribulation in this attempt by undertaking difficult means, such as jñāna . Consequently, you should adopt the worshippable feet of Bhagavān Hari as your boat and cross over this insurmountable ocean of misery. ( SB 4.22.40 )
and another from the Bhagavad-gītā:
teṣāṁ [gītā 12.5] iti yathā bhagavatāpi,
kleśo ’dhikataras teṣām avyaktāsakta-cetasām avyaktā hi gatir duhkhaṁ dehavadbhir avāpyate
As Bhagavān also has said:
The misery of those whose minds are attached to the unmanifest is greater, because the goal of the unmanifest is attained with difficulty by embodied beings.
and yet another from the Bhāgavata:
naiṣkarmyam apy acyuta-bhāva-varjitaṁ na śobhate jñānam alaṁ nirañjanaṁ [bhā.pu. 1.5.22] iti yathā nāradenāpi
and as even Nārada has said:
Even naiṣkarmya – jñāna , or “the awareness that pertains to the very nature of Brahman,” which frees one from all taints ( nirañjanam ), is inadequately illuminating if devoid of devotional affect ( bhāva ) for Bhagavān Acyuta [Śrī Kṛṣṇa]. What then can be said of motivated action [ kāmya – karma ], which is always inauspicious, or even of unmotivated action ( akāraṇam ), when not offered to Bhagavān? ( SB 1.5.12 )
Now he turns to the verse in question, SB 10.2.32:
tathaiva devā apy āhuḥ—ye iti |
In the same way, the devas state this verse:
He will now explain individual words in the verse, which are bolded below
anye ukta-lakṣaṇebhyas tvad-anugṛhītebhyaḥ sadbhyo bhinnāḥ |
anye means different from the sat, who are favored by you, and who have the already stated characteristics [in the previous verse].
aravindākṣeti tat-kṛpāvalokana-mādhuryānanubhavina iti bhāvaḥ |
aravindākṣa conveys the sense that they do not experience the sweetness of His merciful glance.
vimukta-mānina iti tvad-bhaktā yathā saṁsārottīrṇā api saṁsāri-māninaḥ, tathā evaite saṁsāra-madhya-patitā api vimukta-māninaḥ |
The meaning of vimukta-manina is as follows. As your devotees, although having already crossed saṁsāra, think themselves to be saṁsāris, in the very same manner, these jñāni think themselves to be vimuktas (liberated), although they are fallen in the midst of saṁsāra.
The jñānis being discussed in the verse are in the midst of saṁsāra. The verse is not at all discussing the fall of those who, after death, have attained Brahman. It is discussing those who think that they are liberated. He will specify what it means to ‘fall’ later, but first he discusses the cause of the fall (this indeed is the sequence in the verse):
tatra hetuḥ—tvayy aravindākṣe madhurākāre asta-bhāvāt māyā-śābalya-mananena prīty-abhāvāt |
The reason for this is stated – because they lack prīti (asta-bhāvāt ) as they consider the mixture of māyā in your lotus eyed sweet form.
He now explains the word aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ, which he glosses as aviśuddha-jñānāḥ:
avajānanti māṁ mūḍhā mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritaṁ [gītā 9.11] iti bhagavad-ukta-mauḍhyād aviśuddha-jñānāḥ kāmādi-nirjaya-mūlakāntaḥ-karaṇa-śuddhimattvād utpannam api jñānaṁ na viśuddhim ity arthaḥ |
Because they are foolish as stated by Bhagavān in this verse:
“Being unacquainted with My supreme existence as the almighty ruler of all beings, the bewildered deride Me as having accepted a [perishable and limited] human body” (gītā 9.11),
they are [called in the verse as] aviśuddha-jñānāḥ. The sense is that even the jñāna which is generated owing to the purity of the antaḥ-karaṇa, rooted in victory over lust and other desires, is not pure.
tad api kṛcchreṇa tapaḥ-śama-damādi-kṛcchra-janitena vijñānena paraṁ padaṁ jīvan-muktatva-daśāyām āruhya eteṣāṁ guṇī-bhūta-bhaktyā yuktatvaṁ jñeyam, tāṁ vinā parama-padārohāsambhavāt |
Even that vijñāna is produced through hardship associated with austerities, control of the mind, control of the senses, and so on. By that jñāna, having attained to the state of jīvan-mukti [they fall]. They should be understood to be endowed with guṇī-bhūta-bhakti [a modicum of bhakti]. This is because without this type of bhakti, it is not possible to climb to the state of jīvan-mukti.
Śrī Viśvanātha identifies precisely where the fall occurs from, and it is not from Brahman. The fall occurs from the state of jīvan-mukti, which means the state of ‘liberation while living’. He cites verses to support this point. First:
śreyaḥ-sṛtiṁ bhaktim udasya te vibho kliśyanti [bhā.pu. 10.14.4] ity-ādes
O almighty Lord, those who discard bhakti unto You, which is the means to supreme blessedness, and strive instead to attain realization of the radically unqualified Absolute, are left in the end with nothing more than their own labor, like those engaged in threshing coarse husks devoid of grain. ( SB 10.14.4 )
The point is that even Brahman cannot be attained without bhakti.
tāṁ vinā jñānasya marīcikā-jalāyamānatvāt tato’dhaḥ patanti |
Without bhakti, jñāna is like a mirage appearing as water, which causes the jñāni to fall down.
Now he considers an objection:
nanu, bhakti-sattve katham adhaḥ patanti ?
But, why do they fall given that [guṇī-bhūta] bhakti is present?
The reply is as follows:
tatrāhuḥ—na ādṛtau māyikatva-buddhyā yuṣmad-aṅghrī yais te |
Because of considering you to be made of māyā, they have not respected your feet.
He now provides a clear summary:
ayam arthaḥ—jñānināṁ jñānāṅga-bhūtā bhaktir dvividhā—bhaktiṁ vinā jñānaṁ na siddhyed iti śāstrājñayaiva kiñcin-mātrī-kriyamāṇā, bhajanīya-bhagavad-vigrahādiṣu māyika-buddhyā vā anādaravatī ādara-rahitā ca | ādyayā teṣāṁ tapaḥ-śama-damādimatāṁ bahu-kālenāvidyā-nirasanīṁ vidyām utpādya brahma-bhūtatva-daśāyām utpādya sahasaivāntardhīyate, te vimukta-mānina evocyante, na tu vastuto jīvan-muktāḥ, bhaktyāham ekayā grāhyaḥ [bhā.pu. 11.14.21] iti bhagavad-ukteḥ |
The sense is as follows. Bhakti, as a limb of jñāna of the jñānis, is of two types: bhakti that is performed to a very small extent [obeying] the order of śāstra that without bhakti, jñāna cannot bear fruit, or bhakti performed considering the worshipable Bhagavān’s form as made of māyā; [the two types of bhakti can be classified] as disrespectful and devoid of respect. The first type of bhakti (disrespectful bhakti), after generating vidyā after a long time which destroys avidyā of those jñānis who are observing austerities, mind-control, sense-control etc., and generating the state of brahma-bhūtatva, disappears quickly. These jñānis are called vimukta-mānis only, and not factually jīvan-muktas, because Bhagavān has stated that He is attainable by bhakti alone (SB 11.14.21).
Here Śrī Viśvanātha makes a very important point. The vimukta-mānis, that is, those who think they are liberated, are not truly jīvan-muktas- they are not liberated while living in the body. That is, they may attain this state temporarily, but they cannot sustain it. He provides the reason:
bhaktiṁ vinā tat-padārthasyāparokṣānubhavālābhāt, bhagavad-aparādha-sambhavāc ca dagdhānām api karmaṇāṁ punaḥ prarohād adhaḥ patanti ca |
Not attaining direct experience of the tat-padārtha because of an absence of bhakti, and because of the possibility of offense to Bhagavān, even those karmas which were burnt again sprout up, and thus they fall down.
The word tat-padārtha refers to Brahman, which is the referent of the word ‘tat’ in the famous sentence, ‘tat tvam asi’. The problem is that the guṇī-bhūta-bhakti elevates them to jīvan-mukti, but only temporarily, because bhakti does not tolerate their offense of disrespect to Bhagavān.
He now provides examples of this principle:
yad uktaṁ rathayātrā-prasaṅge śrī-viṣṇu-bhakti-candrodaya-dhṛtaṁ purāṇa-vacanaṁ— nānuvrajati yo mohād vrajantaṁ jagad-īśvaram | jñānāgni-dagdha-karmāpi sa bhaved brahma-rākṣasaḥ || iti | vāsanā-bhāṣyotthāpitaṁ pariśiṣṭa-vacanaṁ ca— jīvan-muktā api punar bandhanaṁ yānti karmabhiḥ | yady acintya-mahā-śaktau bhagavaty aparādhinaḥ || iti |
In the Viṣṇu – bhakti – candrodaya , the following verse is cited from another Purāṇa in regard to the Rathayātrā festival:
A person who out of delusion does not follow Parameśvara while He rides in His chariot becomes a brahma – rākṣasa [the ghost of a brāhmaṇa who led an unholy life], even if he had previously burnt all his karma in the fire of jñāna. ( Viṣṇu – bhakti – candrodaya )
And a statement to this effect is found in the Bhagavat – pariśiṣṭa cited in the Vāsanā – bhāṣya :
Even jīvan – muktas fall into the bondage of karma again if they become offenders to Bhagavān, who has inconceivable supreme power. ( Bhagavat – pariśiṣṭa )
Note that the examples provided are of jīvan – muktas, that is, those who are liberated while living in the material body. He concludes:
dvitīyayā tu teṣāṁ brahma-bhūtatva-daśām utpādya avidyā-vidyayor uparāme’py anuparamantyā tat-padārtha-sākṣātkāram anubhāvyamānā jīvanmuktāḥ siddhā eva syuḥ | yad uktaṁ— brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā na śocati na kāṅkṣati | samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām || bhaktyā mām abhijānāti yāvān yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ | tato māṁ tattvato jñātvā viśate tad-anantaram || [gītā 18.54-55] iti ||32||
The second kind of bhakti [where there is an absence of respect but not disrespect] having generated the state of brahma-bhūtatva, persists despite the cessation of both avidyā and vidyā. This bhakti causes the jīvan – muktas to have a direct experience of tat-padārtha (Brahman), and thus they certainly become siddhas. This is stated in the Gītā:
Having realized Brahman and being peaceful, one neither grieves nor hankers for anything. Being equal to all beings, one attains supreme devotion to Me. Through that supreme devotion, one fully realizes Me in truth, what the extent of My glories are and who I am in My essential nature. Thereafter, on knowing Me in reality through such devotion, one enters into Me [achieves sāyujya liberation].
Putting together his explanations, I can now translate the verse:
ye’nye’ravindākṣa vimukta-māninas tvayy asta-bhāvād aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ |
āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ patanty adho’nādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ
Those of impure jñāna, who are different from the sat [who are favored by you and have the characteristics mentioned in the previous verse], think themselves to be liberated [although they are fallen in the midst of saṁsāra] because they lack prīti [as they consider the mixture of māyā] in your lotus eyed [sweet] form. Attaining the state of jīvan-mukti with hardship [associated with austerities, control of the mind, control of the senses, and so on], they fall down [from that state], because they have dis-respected your feet.
Verse 10.2.32 states that those who think they are liberated (vimukta-mānis), fall from the temporary state of being liberated while living in the body (jīvan-mukti), owing to the offense of thinking Bhagavān to be material.
Those who are free from such an offense, do not fall from the state of jīvan-mukti, and after death, attain Brahman.’
The state of jīvan-mukti is attained by guṇī-bhūta-bhakti.
Verse 10.2.32 does not state that there is any kind of fall possible from Brahman.
The attainment of Brahman after death is a permanent state.