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guṇato me na vastutaḥ
na me mokṣo na bandhanam
In this chapter the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, explains the different characteristics of conditioned and liberated life, the symptoms by which one can recognize saintly persons, and the various processes of devotional service to the Lord. In the previous chapter, Uddhava inquired from the Lord how conditioned and liberated life are possible. The Lord now replies that Uddhava’s question is somewhat superficial, since the pure spirit soul is never entangled in the material energy of the Lord. The living entity imagines a false connection with the three modes of nature and accepts the material body as the self. The living entity therefore suffers the consequences of his own imagination, just as one suffers the illusory activities of a dream. This does not indicate that the material world is illusory in the sense that it is nonexistent. The material world is certainly real, being the potency of the Personality of Godhead, and the living entity, being the superior potency of God, is also real. But the living entity’s dream of being part and parcel of the material world is an illusion that drags him into the contradictory state called material conditioned life. The living entity is never actually baddha, or bound up, since he merely imagines a false connection with the material world.
Because there is ultimately no permanent connection between the living entity and matter, there is no actual liberation. The living entity, being eternally transcendental to the inferior material energy of the Lord, is eternally liberated. Lord Kṛṣṇa reveals that in one sense the living entity is factually not bound up and thus cannot be liberated. But in another sense, the terms bondage and liberation can be conveniently applied to indicate the particular situation of the individual soul, who is the marginal potency of the Lord. Although the individual soul is never actually bound to matter, he suffers the reactions of material nature because of false identification, and thus the term baddha, or “bound up,” may be used to indicate the nature of a living entity’s experience within the inferior energy of the Lord. Since baddha describes a false situation, freedom from such a false situation may also be described as mokṣa, or liberation. Therefore the terms bondage and liberation are acceptable if one understands that such terms only refer to temporary situations created by illusion and do not refer to the ultimate nature of the living entity. In this verse Lord Kṛṣṇa states, guṇasya māyā-mūlatvān na me mokṣo na bandhanam: the terms liberation and bondage can never be applied to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, since He is the Absolute Truth and the supreme controller of everything. Lord Kṛṣṇa is eternally the supreme transcendental entity, and He can never be bound by illusion. It is the duty of the illusory potency of the Personality of Godhead to attract the living entities to ignorance by creating the false impression of a blissful existence separate from Lord Kṛṣṇa. The illusory conception of existence apart from the Personality of Godhead is called māyā, or material illusion. Since Lord Kṛṣṇa is the supreme absolute controller of māyā, there is no possibility that māyā could have any influence over the Personality of Godhead. Thus the term bandhanam, or “bondage,” cannot be applied to the eternal, blissful and omniscient Personality of Godhead. The term mokṣa, or “liberation,” indicating freedom from bandhana, is equally irrelevant to the Lord.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura has commented on this verse as follows. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is endowed with great spiritual potencies. Because of mundane concoction, the conditioned soul imagines that the Absolute Truth is devoid of variegated spiritual potencies by which He may enjoy blissful life. Although the living entity is the spiritual potency of the Lord, he is presently situated in the inferior, illusory potency, and by engaging in mental speculation he becomes bound in conditioned life. Liberation means that the living entity should transfer himself to the spiritual potency of the Lord, which can be divided into three categories — hlādinī, the potency of bliss; sandhinī, the potency of eternal existence; and saṁvit, the potency of omniscience. Since the Personality of Godhead is eternally endowed with a pure existence of bliss and knowledge, He is never conditioned or liberated. The living entity, however, being entangled in the Lord’s material potency, is sometimes conditioned and sometimes liberated.
The neutral, original state of the three modes of nature is called māyā. When the three modes of nature interact, one of them will become powerful, subordinating the other two modes until another mode becomes prominent. In this way, the three can be distinguished in their variety of manifestation. Although the threefold material potency expands from the Personality of Godhead, the Lord Himself in His personal form is the actual abode of the three spiritual potencies, namely eternality, bliss and knowledge. If one desires to become free from the entanglement of conditioned life within the material sky, called the kingdom of māyā, one must come to the spiritual sky, wherein the living entities are filled with bliss, possess eternal spiritual bodies and engage in the loving devotional service of the Lord. By developing one’s eternal, spiritual form in the loving service of the Lord, one immediately transcends the duality of conditioned life and impersonal liberation and can directly experience the spiritual potencies of the Lord. At that time there is no possibility of false identification with the material world.
Realizing oneself to be eternal spirit soul, the living entity can understand that he is never truly connected to matter, because he is part of the superior energy of the Lord. Therefore, both material bondage and liberation are ultimately meaningless within the reality of the spiritual sky. The living entity is the marginal potency of the Lord and should exercise his free will to engage in the pure devotional service of the Lord. By reviving one’s eternal, spiritual body one can understand oneself to be a minute particle of the spiritual potency of the Lord. In other words, the living entity is a minute particle of eternity, bliss and omniscience, and thus in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness there is no possibility of his being carried away by the illusion of the three modes of nature. In conclusion, it may be stated that the individual living entity is never actually entangled in matter and is thus not liberated, although his illusory state may be accurately described as entangled and liberated. On the other hand, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is eternally situated in His own spiritual potencies and can never be described as being bound up, and thus there is no meaning to the concept of the Lord’s freeing Himself from such a nonexistent condition.