The Bhagavata Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 780,972 words | ISBN-10: 8120838203 | ISBN-13: 9788120838208

This page describes Rishabha’s discourse on the Path of Liberation which is chapter 5 of the English translation of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the eighteen major puranas containing roughly 18,000 metrical verses. Topics include ancient Indian history, religion, philosophy, geography, mythology, etc. The text has been interpreted by various schools of philosophy. This is the fifth chapter of the Fifth Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 5 - Ṛṣabha’s discourse on the Path of Liberation

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Ṛṣabha said:

1. (My) dear sons! This human body in the world of embodied beings, does not deserve to be devoted to pleasures which lead to misery, and which are fit for animals (like dogs and swine) feeding on excrement. It is fit for penance devoted to the realization of the Lord, and which purifies the mind; and pure mind leads to the infinite bliss of absorption into Brahman.

2. The wise say that service rendered to the great is the gate to fiṇal liberation, while association with those who are attached to women, is the entrance to hell (or saṃsāra). They are (really), the great who are of balanced mind, serene and composed, free from anger, friendly and righteous.

3. They (only are the great) who regard love unto me as the highest objective of human life, and who entertain no liking for people who are engrossed in maintaining their bodies

only, and have no attraction to houses (householder’s life) and are devoid of desire for anything beyond the bare necessities of life (lit. maintenance of the body).

4. When one attempts to gratify one’s senses (with their objects of pleasure), one certainly (loses discretion and) becomes wreckless, and commits sins only. I do not approve of (the repetition of) such (sinful) acts which (having been perpetrated in the previous existence) caused the body which, though really (unreal and) transitory, became a source of trouble to the Soul.

5. So long as one does not enquire into the real nature of the soul, it remains obscure[1] due to ignorance[2]. So long as the actions (karmas) are being performed, the mind persists in its disposition to activity (karmas) and a mind so disposed binds down the Soul to the body.

6. In this way, while (the real nature of) the Soul remains obscured by avidyā (nescience), the previous karmas (of man) tend his mind to perform more activities. He is not liberated from the bonds of the body, so long as he does not entertain love and devotion to me (Vāsudeva).

7. When one (the jīva) becomes careless about one’s own interest, and even though possessing the power of discrimination does not realise the activities and functions of organs of sense as unreal and unconnected with him, he fails to bear in mind his real nature. Ignorant as he is, he gets into a householder’s life (lit. a home with the provision of sexual enjoyment) and undergoes misery (of three types) therein.

8. They (the learned ones) call this stage of matrimonial union of a man with a women as the knot of their mutual hearts which reciprocally binds them. (This is in addition to the knot of the identification of their body with the Soul,—the knot which exists already in their individual hearts. It is this marital knot that deludes a man to regard the house, landed property, sons, relatives and wealth as being himself or his own.

9. When this strong knot of the heart, viz., the mind which continues to be hard by the past karmas (of the jīva), becomes loose, (then alone) a man becomes absolved of the (deluding) man-wife relation. He (then) shakes off ahaṃkāra (ego, the cause of the bondage), becomes free, and attains to the highest position, viz., Mokṣa.

10. Through devotion to me, the pure Self and preceptor; through service unto me; through freedom from thirst (for worldly enjoyment), by endurance of the pairs of opposite states like pleasure and pain; through understanding that the life of jīva is subject to miseries everywhere (even in the other world); through an enquiring spirit (into the nature of the truth); through penance and abstention from karmas (performed) for attainment of desires:

11. By actions done for my sake; by (listening to and recounting) my stories all the time; through association with persons who regard me as the only Deity; only by glorifying my excellent attributes; through freedom from the feeling of enmity, by impartiality and evenmindedness, through tranquillity and self-restraint; and through a desire (and attempt) to dispel the (false) notion of the identity of the Self with the body, house (property etc.), Oh sons.

12. Through proper studies in the scriptures dealing with the Soul (ātman); by living in seclusion; through control of breath, senses, organs and the mind; through absolute faith in the truth (or scriptures and the word of saintly people); through observance of strict celibacy; through eternal vigilance in performance of sacred duties; through control of speech (for abstention from studying the false doctrines and for observing silence).

13. Through clearsightedness realizing my presence everywhere, through wisdom illumined with Śāstric knowledge and experience; by means of deep concentration, a clever man, endowed with courage, perseverance and discrimination should strive to get rid of the subtle body, the limiting condition known as ego (ahaṃkāra).

14. One should always remain vigilant and by the means, as taught (by the śāstras or the preceptor) should completely cut asunder the bondage in the form of the knot (of ahaṃkāra) in the heart which has been caused by Nescience (avidyā); for that (knot) is the reservoir of all (previous) karmas. Having done so, he may cease to adopt these means.

15. A king, a teacher or a father who desires to attain to my region or regards my grace as the highest object in life, should thus instruct his subjects, pupils or sons who are ignorant of the Truth. (If they do not abide by his teaching) he should not get angry with them. Deluded as they are with the path of karma (as the path of real happiness), he should not direct them to perform karmas. What[3] advantage would a man reap by misdirecting the blind (i.e. ignorant ones to perform action (karmas) with a desire to get their fruit) and make them fall into the abyss (of saṃsāra).

16. People (involved in saṃsāra) have no insight (to know) in what lies their own (real) good. (Hence) they, being overwhelmed with (a powerful) lust for enjoyment of pleasures, desire for objects of sensual enjoyment. They entertain enmity with each other, for a particle of (insignificant pleasure). Deluded as they are, they have no idea of the unending misery (as a result of such hostility).

17. Seeing an ignorant person steeped in Nescience, what learned and compassionate person who himself knows the Truth, will misdirect him to the wrong path, just as one does not lead astray a blind man who has missed his way.

18. He who would not, or is incompetent to, liberate a a person (whether he/she be a pupil, relative, an offspring or a wife or a devotee) from involvement in saṃsāra, is not a real preceptor (even though he may claim to be so) or a real, relative, father or mother or husband or a deity.

[Bhāvāratha Dīpikā followed by VC., Siddhāntapradīpa, Bālaprabodhini and Bhaktamanorañjanī explains the implication as follows: If a preceptor would not or is incapable of leading his pupil to Liberation, he should not claim preceptorship and accept anyone as his pupil, and the pupil should disown such a teacher and leave him. Similarly, a man should not procreate a child or a mother should not accept one in her womb if he or she is incompetent to guide the child to Salvation. There is no sin in disowning such a father or mother as was done by Prahlāḍa in the case of his father and Bharata about his mother Kaikeyī. Such a deity is not a real deity and should not accept worship from a devotee and the devotee should ignore such a deity as was done by Khaṭvāṅga].

19. This body of mine (which, by my free will, appears human in form) is beyond comprehension (as I am not an ordinary human being). For my heart is definitely pure unalloyed sattva wherein abides righteousness (dharma). Since non-righteousness has been already expelled by me far behind, the noble ones call me Ṛṣabha (the most excellent).

20. All of you are born from my heart (which comprises of nothing but pure sattva). You should, therefore, without entertaining any jealousy, serve your brother, the noble-minded Bharata. That will render service unto me and will be (the real execution of duty of) protecting the subjects.[4]

21. Among the (animate and inanimate) created beings, creepers (which spread by themselves) are extremely superior. Higher than these (creepers) are reptiles (and other mobile creatures like insects) which can move from place to place; better than these are beasts which are gifted with intelligence; superior to them are the human beings; higher than men are pramathas (goblins, spirits) to whom are superior Gandharvas (celestial singers) and Siḍdhas (a demi-god tribe endowed with supernatural power); higher than these are followers of gods (such as Kinnaras).

22. Higher than these are Asuras (demons) to whom gods, whose leader is Indra, are superior; greater than these are Dakṣa and other sons of god Brahmā; among them Bhava (Lord Śiva) is the greatest. Brahmā is superior to god Śiva whose power or birth is derived from Brahmā; I am superior to him (Brahmā, and I regard Brāhmaṇas adorable as my own God.

23. Oh Brāhmaṇas! As I do not regard any other being as comparable equal to Brāhmaṇas, I cannot see any being superior to them. I do not enjoy the oblations offered to the sacrificial fire with that much relish, as I enjoy to the full, the food liberally offered by men to these Brāhmaṇas with faith.

24. It is the Brāhmaṇas who have maintained in this world my glorious, ancient, eternal body (the Vedas). In them are found the eight great excellences such as) most sanctifying sattva, tranquillity of the mind, control of senses. Truthfulness, grace, asceticism, the spirit of endurance and knowledge of the reality. (Who can be then superior to Brāhmaṇas?).

25. Though destitute of everything, Brāhmaṇas who cherish deep devotion to me seek nothing of me, although I am superior to the Supreme-most god (Brahmā), possess infinite power etc. and am competent to confer heavenly blessings and Liberation (Mokṣa). How can they crave for any other blessing (like kingdom etc.)!

26. Oh my sons, at every step, you should look upon all mobile and immobile beings as my place of residence. That alone will be my real worship by you whose mind (sight)is unprejudiced by jealousy etc.

27. My propitiation is therefore the dedication of the activities of the mind, speech, sight and other sense-organs to me. Without such propitiation one shall not be able to free himself from the noose of death in the form of great delusion.”

28. The divine Lord whose name was Ṛṣabha and who was the greatest well-wisher of all, exhorted his sons, even though they were well disciplined, as the exhortation was meant for the world as well. Possessor of great power as he was, he exemplified the path. He intended to exemplify the path of the Paramahaṃsas (recluses of the highest order) which is characterised by devotion, knowledge and renunciation, of great sages who are habituated to tranquillity and self-control and who have desisted from the path of karma. Having installed on the throne for the protection of the earth, Bharata, the eldest of his hundred sons, who was (himself) a great devotee of the Lord and devoted to the votaries of the Lord as well, retained the possession only of his body and renounced everything else in the house. With the sky as his clothing, and with, scattered dishevelled hair like a madman, he enshrined within himself the Āhavanīya fire, and set out from Brahmāvarta.

29. He took a vow of absolute silence and kept quiet even though spoken to by men. Behaving like a stupid, blind, dumb, deaf person or like a ghost or a mad person, he put an appearance of an Avadhūta (a sage who has renounced all worldly attachments and connections) who has lost all the sense of his body.

30. With his mind remaining unperturbed, he wandered all alone over the world. (While wandering) in cities and towns, mines and hamlets, flower gardens and the habitations at the foot of mountains, military camps and cowpens, settlements of cowherds, caravans, hills and forests, hermitages of sages and such other places wherever he went, on every road he was maltreated by the dregs of human society. He was threatened, belaboured, was urinated over, spat at, pelted with stones, showered with dust, subjected to stinking odours and to words of abuse. Like an elephant harassed by flies, he ignored these, as he never assumed any ego-hood as being his own self or as belonging to him the unreal habitat in the form of the body which is wrongly called real. He was established in his own essential glory, realising both being and non-being.

31. His hands, feet and broad chest were very delicate; his long and big arms, shoulders and neck, charming face and other limbs of the body were beautifully disposed. His beautiful face was brightened up with a spontaneous smile as he was by nature charming; he appeared beautiful with his reddish, large and refreshing eyes which were like petals of full blown lotus; his cheeks, ears, neck and nose were shapely and captivating; by the superb gracefulness of his face, he made the god of Love enter into the hearts of the damsels of the town; his face was adorned with profuse ringlets of matted and golden locks of hair overhanging it. His uncared-for body covered with dust (like an avadhūta), he appeared to be possessed by a devil.

32. When the Lord found that this world was opposed to his practice of Yoga, he regarded it reprehensible to offer any resistance to it. He accepted the vow to lead the life like an ajagara (python). It was in a lying position that he ate, drank, chewed, passed urine, execrated till his limbs were daubed with faeces.

33. The wind perfumed with the fragrance of his faeces filled with sweet smell the whole country within a radius of ten yojanas.

34. Similarly, adopting the mode of life of a bull, deer and a crow, he behaved like a bull, a deer and a crow and drank, ate, chewed, urinated while going, staying, sitting or lying down.

35. In this way Lord Ṛṣabha, the dispenser of Liberation, adopted various modes of life useful for the practices of yoga. He had no environment like a physical body to prevent his mind i.e. power of direct cognition. He realised his highest bliss in all-pervading ātman who is Lord Vāsudeva, the inner controller of all beings. He was, by nature, fully possessed of yogic power such as travelling through the space, acquiring the speed of mind, the power of becoming invisible and of entering the body of another, the faculty of seeing objects distant in time and space and such other powers. Oh King, he did not welcome at heart these super-natural powers which came to him unsolicited.

Footnotes and references:


Parābhavaḥ [Parābhava]—The real nature of the soul is dominated over by the body.—Bhāvāratha Dīpikā (2) Is dependent on karma (VC., Bhāvārtha-dīpikā-prakāśa). (3) Misery.—VS. (4) Involved in Saṃsāra characterised by the recurrence of birth and death (Siddhāntapradīpa).


Cf. jñānāgniḥ sarva-karmāṇi bhasmasāt kurute / Bhagavad Gītā 4.37.


Bhāgavata Candrikā offers no comment on this line, presumably due to the deletion of the line kam...... garte in his text of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa


Padaratnāvalī thinks that this is an exhortation to serve Hari. He inter­prets: You should sincerely resort to Hari who is mightier than the mighty, loves to support the subjects and is the shelter of all. Through your loving devotion to me, Liberation is just on the palm of your hand. Bharata to whom you serve will be serving me who abide in the subjects whom he protects.

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