Understanding the Pastime of Bharata Maharaj

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    Hare Krishna Prabhuji

    Dandavat pranam

    Prabhuji I recently came accross your blog and forum, it has really helped me a lot to appreciate the practical relevance of Vedic philosophy. I never imagined that Vedic philosophy will be able to solve some real fundamental issues in science. Also I could appreciate the depth Vedic understanding. I am very grateful for that.

    Recently I was reading Canto 5 in that the following verse comes.


    I have following questions, they are related to the translation and purport.

    1. Does past karma of a devotee gets completely finished as soon as he starts devotional service? How does karma in case of devotees work?

    2. Apparently it seems that the opinion of Sukdev Goswami and Srila Prabhupada to be contradictory. How to understand and reconcile this?

    Apart from this I also wanted to clarify some principles.

    1. Should we even think to reconcile such statements or just read them and accept what Prabhupada said?

    2. Is having such doubt in the statement shows a lack of faith in the words of Srila Prabhupada as Acharya and a pure devotee of Lord?

    I am sorry if in any way I might have used any wrong word but these are the doubts constantly coming in my mind, I will be grateful if you could resolve them.


    Ashish Dalela

    For past karma, you can read this:


    The confusion here is due to the term svārabdha-karmaṇā which can be contrasted to prārabhda-karmaṇā. The term svārabdha means “self-started” and the term prārabhda means “previously started”. When we normally talk about karma, we generally mean prārabhda. But svārabdha is also a category. It is harder to understand it. But I will try to explain it to the best of my ability.

    However, there are also scenarios, where God punishes not due to a person’s past crimes but for spiritual reasons. For example, punishment is sent to accelerate spiritual progress, because when we suffer, we remember God more than otherwise. Then, sometimes, punishment is sent just to glorify the devotees, so that others can see how the devotee is patient under hardship. While these two might seemingly be due to Prārabhda, they are interventions by Lord Vishnu. The symptom of that intervention is that the suffering can be more than Prārabhda or less than Prārabhda.

    The above quote is from the above-mentioned answer. They are not the result of prārabhda. This category is called svārabdha. But it is not totally independent of previous actions.

    In the Rāmāyana, there is an explanation of why Lord Rāmachandra appeared. Several reasons are given and this is one of those. At one time Nārada became a little proud of his renunciation and told Lord Viṣṇu: I have now conquered Your māyā. Then Lord Viṣṇu arranged an imaginary wedding place in which an imaginary beautiful girl was getting married. Nārada saw that girl and was smitten. He asked Lord Viṣṇu to make him look just like Hari. Lord Viṣṇu said: So be it. Hari also means monkey. Lord Viṣṇu made Nārada’s face like a monkey’s. Nārada happily went to the wedding but did not get the girl. He was flustered. Then he sat near the bank of a river and looked at his reflection in the water and saw the monkey-face. He then cursed Lord Viṣṇu: Just as I have been separated from my (māyā) wife, in the same way, you will be separated from your (māyā) wife. As you have made me a monkey, you will be forced to live and take help from monkeys. Lord Viṣṇu then took off the influence of māyā, and Nārada immediately realized his foolishness and begged for forgiveness from Lord Viṣṇu. He understood that māyā can never be conquered. She is infinitely more powerful than the soul. But She can reduce or remove Her effect if we become a devotee. But Lord Viṣṇu also took Nārada’s curse upon Himself to appear in this world as Lord Rāmachandra.

    You see, there is no animosity here. There is no competition. There is no jealousy or aversion. But it is not pure bhakti either. A mistake is made and it is regretted. Through that regret one progresses, such as when Nārada realized that māyā can never be conquered. If She is not affecting us, it is the mercy of the Lord. It is not our power or conquest. That attitude is not pure devotion.

    There are many examples like this, such as the cursing of Jaya and Vijaya by Four Kumāra, where these two doorkeepers are cursed because they have become a little arrogant. They prevent the Four Kumāra from visiting Lord Viṣṇu while He is sleeping. They are cursed because of their arrogance not because they prevented the Four Kumāra. When doorkeepers stop the Four Kumāra, they get a superiority complex. They think that they are better than the Four Kumāra because they can stop them. There is no power if you say yes to everything. There is power if you say no. So, doorkeepers get this attitude that because they can deny someone, therefore, they are superior to them.

    There is a lesson here too: We have to serve the Lord but not think that we are superior. Jaya and Vijaya are serving the Lord, but they have got some attitude of superiority in that service. Hence, the Four Kumāra cursed them to correct that sense of superiority. But there is no animosity or jealousy. There is no aversion toward the Lord. The curser and cursed are both devotees of the Lord.

    When one advances in bhakti, he discovers faults in himself and deeply regrets those. Bilvamangala was a great devotee of the Lord, but he developed an attraction for a prostitute. He regretted it so much that he punctured his eyes with thorns and became blind. This is not due to prārabhda-karma. Bilvamangala’s blindness was not forced by the destiny of previous karma. He self-induced blindness on himself. Hence, this type of activity is called svārabdha-karma or self-started action. It has a basis in the previous action. It is devotional and spiritual but there is a tinge of contamination.

    Since a person has done something that should not be done hence it is called previous karma. Since it is not pure bhakti, therefore, it is called a karmic activity. But it is not like the ordinary actions of mortals. There is a big difference but it seems to us as if there is no difference. This different but seemingly not different type of activity is called svārabdha-karma. It is not prārabhda-karma.

    It is somewhat difficult to explain this technicality but it is not impossible. Prabhupāda is referring to this just as Sukadeva Goswāmi. There are sometimes flaws even in great devotees that have to be removed. Either they remove it themselves by self-punishment. Or, other devotees can remove it by cursing or punishing them. Or, the Lord makes an arrangement in which they realize their mistake and then correct it automatically. We have discussed one example of each of these categories.

    Similarly, sometimes the devotees are put in difficulty to glorify the devotees. In that process, the great qualities of the devotee are shown, and the devotee becomes even more attached to the Lord. When difficulties arise, then our spirituality is tested. When it is tested, it is slightly weakened and then strengthened, just like muscles are broken and then rebuilt by exercises. The new muscles are stronger than before. All these are not prārabhda-karma. They are also svārabdha-karmaA genuine devotee is subjected to incredible hardships by the Lord’s mercy to strengthen his devotion.

    When Prabhupada fell sick toward the end of his life, he explained a few times that his sickness is not the result of his karma. These things are sent by the Lord to increase His attachment. In one of the final videos, you will see Prabhupada say slowly: “Everything is moving by the will of Krishna. This consciousness is Krishna Consciousness”. In two sentences he summarized everything. These things are the result of his realization that even his sickness is the will of the Lord. Prabhupada had no anger or resentment about his sickness. He saw that as the will of Krishna. This is svārabdha or self-started. It is self-started because the devotee wants more intimacy with Krishna. We cannot understand these things because we haven’t progressed to this point. It takes a very long time to get to this.

    There is no contradiction here if we understand what svārabdha-karma means. The reality with almost everything in Vedic texts is that there are layers and layers of meaning. Everybody doesn’t understand all those layers. It takes time. But there is no harm in asking any question. We always encourage inquiry, questioning, and analysis. It is not considered an offense. Having doubts is not an offense. But it has to be satisfied by a proper type of inquiry and not a predetermined conclusion. Most of the time, most people arrive at predetermined conclusions due to their own ignorance. But otherwise, there is no harm in questioning. In fact, it is the method by which we progress.


    Hare Krsna Prabhuji, thank you for the detailed answer. I was having difficulty in understanding the following statement.

    Hence, this type of activity is called svārabdha-karma or self-started action. It has a basis in the previous action. It is devotional and spiritual but there is a tinge of contamination. Since a person has done something that should not be done hence it is called previous karma. Since it is not pure bhakti, therefore, it is called a karmic activity. But it is not like the ordinary actions of mortals.

    I am not able to get how you have explained previous karma. I would be grateful if you could please elaborate on it. Also, I wanted to ask some more questions to understand Bharat Maharaj’s Pastime

    1. Was the compassion Bharata Maharaja exhibited wrong? If no then, where exactly he went wrong to get so deviated?
    2. Was Bharata Maharaja becoming dear also svārabdha-karma?
    3. Also, as practicing devotees should we show compassion in such situations? Will there be any karmic reaction if we don’t show compassion?
    Ashish Dalela

    I am not able to get how you have explained previous karma

    The examples are pretty clear. Narada Muni became proud and said something that should not have been said. Jaya and Vijaya became proud and did something that should not have been done. Bilvamangala became attached to prostitute which was unwanted. If this is still not clear, then I don’t have a clearer explanation.

    Answers to your other questions involve speculation, which I’m not inclined to. Your original question was that Sukadeva Goswami and Prabhupada are saying contradictory things, which I have clarified. They are saying the same thing. Beyond this, what was going on in Bharata Maharaja’s mind, is not clarified. Whether this attachment was his own creation, or the mercy of the Lord based on his desire for perfection, is not clarified. So me saying it one way or another is speculation. I don’t want to do that.

    Compassion is not decried. But it is never at the cost of duty. For example, you can say that so many people are dying of cancer, so I must do someting for them. This is not your duty. But you can do something as long as it doesn’t hurt your primary duty. You cannot give all your wealth in charity to a cancer hospital and then tell your children: Sorry, you got to starve because I am feeling compassion for cancer patients.

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