Extracts from the Srimad Bhagavatam

Book Three

This discourse is between Lord Kapila (an avatar of the Supreme Vishnu) and His earthly mother Devahuti.


Lord Kapila now turns to the means of attaining liberation.

"Just as the sun is unaffected by the movement, colour, quantity, warmth, etc., of the water in which it is reflected, so is the Atman unaffected by the experience of the body in which He resides. Yet when He gets deluded by the actions of the gunas and mistakes them for his own, He loses the knowledge of Himself as well as the peace which is inherent in that knowledge. Instead He imagines in Himself the evil which is inseparable from action.

Thence starts karma (destiny) for Him, which pushes Him into all sorts of wombs in the long process of transmigration. Just as a dreamer continues to suffer dream sorrow so long as he remains in the dream, so the Purusha continues to suffer birth and death so long as He attributes to Himself the actions of the gunas, which appear as the objects of sense.

Self-control, non-violence (ahimsa), reverence for those who have realised the Purusha as distinct from prakriti, devotion to Me, study of My Nature, even-mindedness, friendliness towards all beings, contentment, contemplative habits, seclusion, and mental composure are the means of breaking the self-identification with the actions of the gunas, transcending the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Gunas transcended, the Purusha will perceive Himself as He really is by nature as clearly as seeing the sun with one’s eyes. This is Liberation or direct experience of Brahman, the substratum of prakriti.”

Devahuti remarked:

“Purusha and prakriti, O Lord, are said to be interdependent,* inseparable, like water and its taste, milk and its colour. How can there be freedom for the Purusha, as Jiva, for whom bondage has already taken place? Even if this bondage is surmounted by investigation into the categories, it may return again by the actions of the gunas.”

Kapila answered:

“Prakriti will not return if persistently assailed by the above-mentioned method, O Mother, but gradually disappears like the matchstick that kindles the sacred fire and gets itself consumed by its own flame. Although it is the source of all trouble, it ceases to harm the jiva who has attained absolute freedom, like the dream suffering which ceases to afflict the dreamer the moment he wakes.

“He who takes to the contemplation of the Self for many lives loses the taste of even Brahmaloka and attains the supremely blissful Realisation called Final Beatitude in this very life. If he also renounces the siddhis (supernormal powers) acquired in the course of his practice, this perfect yogi will not fail to attain My immortal State, over which death has no power.”

* Devahuti’s doubt resembles that of Uddhava and is common to those who have no clear idea of the nature of prakriti, which they often identify with Shakti. Prakriti is not eternal like Purusha, because it is jada, insentient, unintelligent and merely the property of Purusha. It is said to be eternal only in the sense of its dependence on Purusha, whether unmanifest (pradhana), or manifest (gunas) like the qualities of a person which do not exist apart from him, so that the claim of interdependence between Purusha and prakriti is absurd.

As for the relation of Prakriti to Shakti, which is Purusha itself in active creation, it may be illustrated by the relation of a mighty tree to the life-energy which keeps it as a living organism after having caused its growth from a tiny living seed. Prakriti consists of all the perceptible characteristics of the tree: height, thickness, shapes and colours of its branches, leaves and roots, their smells and tastes, etc. All these change and finally perish; whereas Shakti, its life-energy principle, is indestructible, as its very name, life or existence, denotes. In the animal and man the intelligence of this life-energy becomes patently obvious. This is the jiva which the Bhagavata like the Upanishads, identifies with Brahman. At the other end it is the absolute indestructible atomic energy which forms the substance of the “inanimate” physical universe. See also the answer of Sri Krishna to Uddhava.


Kapila, who has so far dealt with the path of knowledge or the nirguna (formless) method of attaining Liberation, now turns to expound the Saguna (with gunas or form) method, which enjoins the practice of virtues (usually called yama and niyama) with the object of diverting the mind from its old evil habits to the renunciation of everything other than the form of the Lord, on which it has to be focused.

The virtues are: Doing one’s duties to the best of one’s ability, refraining from prohibited acts, contentment, service of saints, abandonment of all external religious practices, living in seclusion in places which are free from danger, non-violence in thought, word and deed, non-thieving, continence, purity of body and mind, charity, moderation in eating, control of breath and body, study of the Scripture and contemplation of the form of Lord Vishnu.

Breathing exercise is recommended to steady and prepare the mind for meditation. As the gold sheds its dross when heated, so does the mind shed its impurity by the fire of breathing. Having attained the requisite calm, the yogi should fix his mental eye on the splendour of the Lord’s countenance and figure, visualising every part of them; eyes, ear, nose, hands, legs, garments, decorations, etc., in meticulous detail. In course of time this will wear away the mind and will dissolve it into Brahman, one’s immortal Self.

Kapila concludes:

“The yogi who has firmly established himself in his own pure Being now realises that the actions and experiences which he has so far attributed to himself have been so perceived through avidya born of illusion. Although his body continues to live and enjoy the senses, it henceforth moves and acts as directed by Providence until the store of retribution (karma) which has caused it comes to an end; but the yogi himself heeds it as little as the drunken man heeds his loin-wrap whether it is on or off him; for he no longer sees it as himself to be attentive to it. The subject now stands completely apart from the object (the body) and perceives himself in all beings, all souls. Just as fire is the same everywhere but assumes different shapes in different pieces of wood, so is the subject one only, although he appears to be in multitudes of bodies.”


Devahuti asks about the Yoga of Devotion (Bhakti-yoga), which is said to be the object of all spiritual investigations, and about the nature of Time (Kala) who rules everything from Brahma downward and concludes with a hymn:

“You have come down, O Lord, to spread the light of yoga everywhere like a spiritual sun and awaken those who, having been blinded by the unreal objects of sense and by attachment to action, lie asleep in abysmal darkness.”
Kapila replies:

“The Yoga of Devotion, O mother, is manifold, differing according to the natural propensities of the devotees.

He who takes Me as separate from himself and worships Me with a mind which is full of anger, violence, jealousy and hypocrisy, his is tamasic devotion (the lowest).

He who worships Me through an image different from, and external to himself, with the motive of gaining worldly power, fame, offspring or a desired object, his devotion is rajasic.

The devotee who worships Me in expiation of his sins or who, as a duty, surrenders all his actions to Me as distinguished from himself, his devotion is sattvic.

But the devotion of him who is motiveless and whose love towards Me, the Dweller in all hearts is like the uninterrupted flow of the sacred Ganga towards the ocean: it is the highest yoga called the unqualified Bhakti yoga, which transcends the gunas and for which he forgoes the five forms of bliss offered by Me as a reward for his devotion, namely-

1. Salokya (dwelling in My own abode)
2. Sarshti (siddhis)
3. Samipya (residing ever in My presence in a form)
4. Sarupya (assuming a form like Mine)
5. Sayujya (absorption into My Being). This devotee attains My very State.

“Attending spiritual discourses, chanting holy names, and residence with saints purify the mind and develop devotion to Me without great effort. Just as a perfume is carried by the wind to the organ of smell, so is devotion to Me carried through these means to the mind that has acquired steadiness by the practice of yoga.

The worship of Me, the inner Ruler of all beings, through an idol is disrespectful and a mock worship. He who ignores My Supreme Nature and stupidly represents Me by an idol is like him who pours oblations over ashes (rather than over the sacred fire).

“Again he who is full of anger hates Me in the body of another, imagining him to be different from himself and bears malice to living beings. This man can never find peace, and I am never pleased with him even if he worships My image with the costliest materials, O sinless Mother, I frighten with the terror of death him who makes distinctions between himself and others, because I am their very Self.

Of the inanimate creatures, the animate are higher.
Higher than the latter are those who have perceptions.
Superior to these are human beings, of whom those who belong to the four castes are better; and of the four the Brahmin caste is the best.
The knowers of the Veda are superior to the Brahmins
Superior to them is he who performs his duty well.
Superior to him is the man who works with detachment.
Higher than the latter is he who dedicates his actions, their fruits and even his body to Me, seeing no distinction between himself and Myself.
And I find him peerless and above all others who views all beings as himself. Respecting all as the dwelling places of the Lord, nay, as the Lord Himself, one should be humble in dealing with them even mentally.

“These are the various yogas, O Princess, following which one attains the Supreme Self, which is the absolute Brahman of the Vedanta and Supreme Purusha of the Sankhya. It is also Providence, Who dispenses karmas to the Jivas, as well as Time, who causes unceasing changes in things and phenomena and terror to those who identify themselves with the products of the gunas. Himself unborn, Time causes a beginning to the universe, and Himself endless He ends the universe, after having maintained it by making one individual spring up from another, etc.”

XXX – XXXII - Woman is Maya Personified

Lord Kapila continues:

“Being incessantly subjected to birth and death, man (jiva) remains blind to the blighting power of Time on everything he takes great pains to amass. Like the clouds which are unaware of the winds that drive them hither and thither, he stupidly entertains a belief in the permanence of all his acquisitions — property, position, family — and is struck down by grief and amazement when he loses them. In his anxiety to retain his possessions and nurture the very people who are the cause of his damnation, the foolish lout does not hesitate to commit any evil deed, even violence (against others).”

Kapila now describes the futile endeavours of the people who are attached to their bodies and their conditions after death. He also draws a lucid picture of the whole process of gestation from the moment the body is conceived in the woman’s womb to the moment of its birth, and warns the devotee to keep away from men who are fond of women’s company which kills all purity, truthfulness, benevolence, control of speech and mind, etc. Of all objects, he declares women to be the most desired, and infatuation for them the most complete, from which none is exempt but the strongest of beings. For even Brahma once fell victim to his daughter’s charm and pursued her in the form of a stag while she was in that of a hind.

“He who aspires to attain perfection in yoga”, Kapila counsels, “as well as he who has realised the Self must not consort with young women who are sure to lead him to perdition, for women are Maya personified, as dangerous as an open pit whose mouth is covered by grass. Likewise, a woman (devotee) should know that her present female body is the result of her attachment to women in previous lives and that the husband who gives her children, wealth and comforts is only My Maya and, thus, harmful to her.”

Kapila winds up by decrying the poor results of religious rites which are performed for worldly advantages by the deluded householder and which he calls the “dark path,” as against the glorious path of Renunciation which leads to the bliss of the Lord Himself. Summing up, he said:

“The Lord is naught but Absolute Consciousness, Transcendent Brahman, Supreme Purusha, which is attributeless, though to the outgoing senses He appears as objects possessing qualities such as sound, size, colour, etc. Renunciation of the qualities is the aim of all yoga, so that He may be perceived as He is in Himself, the yogi’s own Self.

“I have revealed to you, O revered Mother, the absolute truth about Purusha and prakriti and the way to realise it. The path of Jnana and the path of Bhakti which is free from the gunas, lead to the same Goal, known by the name Bhagavan (God). Just as the one and the same object is perceived differently as smell, as taste, as shape, as sound, so is the Lord realised in different ways: through service, penance, study of the Scriptures; through mind and sense control; through renunciation of action; through yoga, devotion and, finally, through Jnana.

“This teaching, O Mother, must not be imparted to a wicked person, nor to him who lacks modesty, nor to the arrogant, the immoral and, by no means, to the hypocrite. It should not also be taught to him who is attached to sensuous pleasure or whose mind is rooted in domestic life, nor to the one who is not My devotee. It may be certainly imparted to him who is full of reverence, devotion and meekness, who is sincere, friendly to all, or who has developed dispassion, serenity of mind, freedom from jealousy and, above all, to the one who is pure within and without and holds Me dearest of all. By listening to this My discourse one will end by attaining My State.”

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