The Bhagavata Purana

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

This page describes How the Jiva is Ensnared in Samsara which is chapter 10 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 tenth chapter of the Eleventh Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 10 - How the Jīva is Ensnared in Saṃsāra

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

The Lord said:

1. Alertly observant of the righteous duties (prescribed in the Pāñcarātra and other Vaiṣṇavite systems) taught by me, completely dependent on me, one should, without entertaining any desire (for the fruits of his actions), observe the course of duties prescribed for one’s respective social class (varṇa), stage of life (āśrama) and family traditions[1].

2. With his mind purified (by the observance of his prescribed duties—dharma), he should (always) note how all the endeavours of embodied beings, who, believing objects of sense pleasures to be real[2], are addicted to them and are frustrated, leading them to the contrary results.

3. Just as the objects seen in the dream-state, or the hallucinations of a day-dreamer have no existence in reality and are futile (as they present both desirable and undesirable things unrelated to the main objective of human life), similarly, the notion of difference (in relation to Ātman as a celestial being, human being) caused by Guṇas is illusory or meaningless.[3]

4. A person who is solely devoted to me should perform disinterestedly[4] the obligatory (e.g. Sandhyā, pañcamahāyajñas and occasional (e.g. Śrāddha for ancestors) types of acts but should abstain from acts (to be performed for the fruits thereof)[5]. But a person who has entered into the investigation of the nature of the Soul or god need not respect and follow the injunctions of the Vedas, prompting the performance of (sacrificial and other) acts.

5. One who has exclusively devoted himself to me should continuously practice the five vows (such as non-violence, truth, possessionlessness) known as Yama and occasionally vows (such as penance, charity, silence) called Nīyama. He should wait upon his spiritual preceptor, who is full of serenity, has realized me (as his Self) and is devoted to me.

6. Such a disciple should be free from pride, envy; he should be alert, watchful, free from attachment. He should be patient, thoroughly devoted to the preceptor, keen on knowing the truth; he should not try to find fault with others and should not waste of his words unnecessarily.

7. He should be indifferent and unattached to his wife, children, house, lands, relatives, property, etc.[6] He should realize that all his purpose is common to all.

8. The Soul is distinct from both the subtle and the gross bodies.[7] He is the seer (the witness) and self-illuminating even as the fire which illumines and burns is different from the fuel that, is burnt and lighted up.

9. Just as a fire which has entered into the wood and is burning it, assumes the qualities i.e. states of that piece of wood such as coming into existence, going out of existence, its smallness and bigness and its varieties of forms (but is itself distinct from the fuel), so does the Ātman which is distinct from the body, assume the states of the body[8] (Though he has no birth, death, growth, size, forms, etc.)

10. For what is called the body is created out of the (three) guṇas of (the Māyā of) Lord Puruṣottama and the saṃsāra (the cycle of birth and deaths) is the consequence of the false identification of the Soul with the body. It is only through the real knowledge of the (distinctness between the body and the) Ātman that this misapprehension of saṃsāra is removed.[9]

11. This being the case, by means of deep investigation (into reality), a person should properly realize that the absolute, transcendental soul abiding in the product (viz. his body) is different from the body, and then gradually dispel the. misapprehension that this phenomenal world is real.

12. The spiritual preceptor is the supporting (lower) piece of wood and the pupil is the supported (upper) piece. Instruction is the process of friction (or joining together of these pieces), and the knowledge is the fire that brings happiness[10]

13. This highly purified[11] intellect (of the capable disciple) (when sharpened by the spiritually capable teacher) drives off the Māyā which is caused by Guṇas. Burning down (i.e. dispelling) guṇas (objects of senses and senses) and the universe that is created by them, this intellect too, automatically disappears like fire, when the fuel is completely consumed.

14-16[12]. If you believe in the multiplicity of these agents or doers of Karmas and the enjoyers of the (consequent) pleasures and pains, and in the eternity and separateness of the world, the Time, The Śāstras and individual Souls (as the Mīmāṃsakas do), if you hold that all objects have a continuity (or eternity) while they undergo constant change, and that the intelligence becomes changed according to the forms of different objects perceived by it, O Uddhava, even if this be the case, due to frequent (forced) associations (of the Soul) with different bodies and due to the force of the division of Time, all embodied souls are repeatedly subjected to the different states of births, deaths, etc.

17. Even here (from your argument) it becomes obvious that there is absence of free will in the case of doers of actions and there is no choice for the experieṇcers of pleasures and pains. What happiness can there be to one who is dependent (and at the mercy of others)?

18.[13] Not an iota of real happiness exists for those embodied souls who are learned (and expert in the technique of performing Vedic Karmas; nor is misery the lot of the ignorant; Hence, the sense of pride (of knowing the correct technique of performance of Karma) is vain and futile.

19. Even though some people happen to know the means of obtaining happiness and averting miseries (and the principle of Free Will be accepted), even such knowers are ignorant of the means of counter-acting (successfully) the power of Death.

20. What achievement of object or a desire can give happiness when Death is near him? No object can give pleasure to a victim who is being led to the place of execution.

21. The heavenly happiness promised by Vedas is also vitiated with envy, jealousy, termination and decay, as in the case of pleasure experienced on the earth. And there are many impediments and chances of failure in the accomplishment of desires as in the case of Agriculture.

22. Even if a religious act is properly performed without any impediment in its successful conclusion, listen to the nature of the celestial position attained by him.

23. Having worshipped gods (like Indra, Varuṇa, etc.) by performance of sacrifices in this world, the sacrificer goes to the celestial world. He enjoys like a god heavenly pleasures that he has earned through his meritorious acts.

24. In a lustrous celestial car (provided with all luxuries) earned by his meritorious acts, he, wearing a rich, attractive dress, sports with the celestial damsels while being glorified by Gandharvas in song.

25. While sporting with the heavenly nymphs in a celestial car which is adorned with small jingling bells, and which goes according to the will of the occupant, he is so absorbed in celestial pleasures that he is not aware of his impending fall.

26. He heartily enjoys himself in the heaven so long as the fund of his merits is not exhausted. But when the balance of merits is exhausted, he is pushed down by Time and he falls down reluctantly.

27. If, due to the association with unrighteous people, a person takes delight in impiety or loses control over his senses, being passionate and libidinous, he becomes miserly, avaricious and addicted to women and heartlessly injurious to living beings.

28. He kills animals in violation of Śāstric injunctions and worships the hosts of goblins and ghosts therewith. Such a person inevitably falls into various hells and ultimately enters the hell of terrible darkness (i.e. is born as an immobile).

29. What happiness can there be to a mortal person who, in the present birth (as a human being) perpetrates deeds that result in miseries and in consequence of which acts, he has to assume another body?

30. Regions and their rulers whose span of life extends to the end of a Kalpa (432 million years) are afraid of me. Even god Brahmā whose life is of two Parārdha years fears Me.

31. Guṇas i.e. senses and organs create (i.e. are the cause of) Karmas; a guṇa (like Sattva etc.) motivates the senses to actions. This Jīva, being endowed with sense-organs, enjoys the fruits of his acts.

32. So long as the unbalanced condition of guṇas prevails, manifoldness (and difference) will be projected on Ātman (which, as a matter of fact, is one). As long as the (apparent) multiplicity in the Soul remains, the state of dependence (of the Jīva) shall persist.

33. So long as the dependent state of the Jīva continues, there will be fear from God. Hence, those who take resort to guṇas become overcome with grief and delusion.

34. When there is an imbalance in the three guṇas of Māyā (and there is agitation of the guṇas), ignorant people call me by various names such as Time (Kāla), Soul (Ātman), scriptures (Āgama), the World (Loka), the Nature (Svabhāva) and Dharma.

Uddhava asked:

35. How is it that the Ātman, though associated with and present in the guṇas of the body, is not bound by them? Or if he be independent, how does he get involved in them? (What is the correct position in the matter) O Lord.

36. By what characteristics is a bound or liberated Soul be recognised? How does he behave? With whom is he found sporting or wandering? What things does he enjoy or cast away? How does he lie or sit or go about?

37. O Acyuta! You are the foremost among those who solve problems. I am really confused. How can the same Ātman be both eternally bound and ever-free? Be pleased to explain this problem to me.

Footnotes and references:


EK. classifies Karma into four categories: nitya (to be performed daily), naimittika (occasional), Kāmya (performed for fulfilment of desire) and Prāyaścitta (expiatory). All these should be dedicated to the Lord. EB. 10.46-66.


tattva-jñānena (i) Realizing and contemplating the real nature of his soul and the Supreme Soul—Bhāgavata Candrikā

(ii) Definitely ascertaining the means of attaining Puruṣārthas (objects of human life)—Padaratnāvalī


Padaratnāvalī takes a contrary view: Just as dream-visions....and fancies of day-dreamers are different from reality and hence fruitless, similarly the notion of one-ness or identity is baseless as it is the apprehension of the faculties of the mind, but not of the essential-powers of the self.


Padaratnāvalī defines Nivṛtta Karma as that done with a correct understanding of Paramātman and done without any desire for return:

niṣkāmaṃ jñānapūrṇaṃ ca nivṛttam iti co'cyate


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā quotes a Smṛti text as authority. It means: ‘A person desirous of Liberation, from saṃsāra should not turn to kāmya (promising fruits in return) and niṣiddha (prohibited) karmas but only the daily obligatory (nitya) and occasional types of acts (karmas)’.


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā explains that as Ātmā abides in all bodies and thus all share the same purpose, viz. happiness, etc., there is no propriety of claiming them exclusively as his own. This leads to dispassion.


Padaratnāvalī: The individual Soul and the Supreme Soul are different and distinct interse from the body and other products of non-intelligent Prakṛti.


Padaratnāvalī: This is the view of the ignorant who identify the individual Soul and the Supreme Soul.


EK. compares the soul involved in Saṃsāra to a king who dreams that he is a beggar. When in the morning, the family priest comes and wakes him up he realizes that he is a king and not a beggar as he regarded himself to be so long. The spiritual preceptor is the priest and the Jīva involved in Saṃsāra is the dreaming King. When instead of aham (I), he realized So'ham (I am He—Brahman) then the misapprehension of Saṃsāra is dispelled.—EB. 10 303-321.


An echo of Tait. Upa.:

ācāryaḥ pūrva-rūpam / antevāsī uttara-rūpam /
vidyā sandhiḥ / pravacanaṃ sandhānam /
Tait. Upa. 1.3.2.

According to Padaratnāvalī, this knowledge burns down the grass in the form of the notion of identity between Jīva and [Brahm?].

(Jīvasya Brahmabhāvabuddhitṛṇa—dahanam /)


Vaiśāradī—pertaining to Viṣṇu who terminates the Saṃsāra characterised by pleasure and pain—Padaratnāvalī


Padaratnāvalī: (The gist only) The distinction between all jīvas is natural, and according to their mutual difference, they are invested with different bodies and the character of their knowledge differs naturally. Jīvas of the highest order are eternal, and from the point of tḥcir body, they are said to be bora; they enjoy only happiness while the second and third may experience a mixture of happiness and misery or only misery.

Bhāgavata Candrikā: Though the Pravṛtti Karma may be the means of achieving Puruṣārthas, all embodied beings are subjected to the six states of body (such as birth, youth, death and the consequent miseries) according to the species in which they are born, due to the influence of Time and its division.


Bhāgavata Candrikā: Experts in the technique of performance of Karmas find it very difficult to collect materials, etc. at the time of performance of the Karmas and arc nervous due to the transient nature of its fruits. Or Even great gods like Brahmā do not enjoy unmixed happiness, as they are aware of the end of the tenure of their office. But fools entertain futile egotism about it.

Padaratnāvalī: Even the wise, being attached to their bodies, have no real happiness. What need be said of the ignorant proud persons?

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