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Gītōpadēśa in Puranas – Part III

Challenging times impose a tremendous amount of pressure on the human psyche and often drives them to the ends of sanity.  Ironically these are the very times when man is most drawn towards spirituality in an attempt to find some semblance of peace.  Sanatana Dharma has a rich repository of timeless wisdom embedded among the millions of verses and pages that have transcended millions of years.

Bhagwan in his role of “pōsaka / pālaka” i.e. one who sustains the universe takes upon himself to provide guidance or set an example for the creation to imbibe. In the previous two articles, we analyzed the wisdom shared by Yama in the form of Yama-Geetha in two different contexts.

Yama as a teacher is a recurring theme across our puranas. He is often the teacher who endows timeless wisdom to the one seeking the same. Katha Upanishad is built on the premise of the dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa. While this discourse is of immense value and deserves a separate commentary, there are nuggets of wisdom embedded within them.

In Katha Upanishad, valli II, Yama having tested Nachiketa’s resolve, starts to impart the divine knowledge eagerly requested by the latter. The first shloka of this valli is of supreme significance

अन्यच्छ्रेयोऽन्यदुतैव प्रेय-

स्ते उभे नानार्थे पुरुषँ सिनीतः ।

तयोः श्रेय आददानस्य साधु

भवति हीयतेऽर्थाद्य उ प्रेयो वृणीते ॥ १॥

anya̍c chreyo ‘nyad u̱taiva preyaste

u̱bhe nā̱nārthe̍pu̱rusagu̍m sinītah |

tayo̍h śreya ā̱dadā̍nasya sādhu

bhavatihī̱yate ‘rthād ya̍u preyo vrnīte||

Yama said, Different are the paths of good and pleasant. Different are indeed their purposes, but both bind one. Of these two, it is well for one who takes hold of the good; But one who choses pleasant, loses the very object of human life.

The question arises, what is the object of human life? Vishnu Purana has some interesting anecdotes where the purpose of manava janma on Bharatha varsha is considered to be a gateway to the ultimate goal of an atman i.e. mukti / liberation. In the above statement, pleasant is linked with the pleasures of life like family, wealth, prosperity etc. This leads to the question, what is good?

Multiple commentaries on Katha Upanishad deal with the definition of good and pleasant in multiple forms. However, there is a common point of convergence that avidya (ignorance) leads to suffering in samsara and hence, the path of good starts with vidya, which in the current context is the Brahmajñāna.

In this article, we look at another incident from Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāa, wherein Bhagwan Maha Vishnu took the form of Sri Kapila Bhagwan and imparted the wisdom of Brahmajñāna to his own mother Devahuti.

Kapila’s birth

Brahma, the father of all creations, created his sons and commissioned them with the task of continuing the process of creation and populating the universe. One of his sons, Kardama proceeded to the banks of Saraswati and spend several years performing tapas. Pleased by his austere penance, Bhagwan Sriman Narayana appeared before him and requested him to ask for boons.

Overwhelmed with joy and ecstasy at the sight of the supreme Paramatma, Kardama was at a loss of words. Yet he manages to offer rich tributes to the omnipresent Bhagwan and requests him for a perfect wife to satisfy his father’s wishes. He also requests for non-attachment to worldly objects and ability to perform worldly duties dispassionately.

Pleased by the devotion of Kardama, Narayana said, “I know what is in your mind. I have chosen a wife for you whom you will meet in two days’ time. She will be the ideal wife to you and nine daughters will be born to you who will marry Marichi and other rsis. This will ensure that you have followed your father’s commands. I will then be born to you and establish the Sāṅkhya philosophy on earth”

There is a very interesting event of significance attached to this incident. Sriman Narayana was overjoyed with the devotion of Bhakta and tears of joy flowed down from his eyes. These tears fell near the ashram on the banks of River Saraswati forming a small lake called Bindusaras.

As preordained, Swayambhu Manu along with his wife Shatarupa visited the ashrama of Kardama and offered their daughter Devahuti to Kardama in marriage.

Over the course of time, Devahuti conveys her desire to become a mother to her husband, while fully acknowledging the grace of Narayana to her illustrious husband. Kardama understood the desire of his beloved wife and constructs a Vimana through his Yogic powers. The vimana could travel at the speed of Vayu and the couple lost track of time.

Devahuti gave birth to nine daughters over time and Kardama realised that it was time they are back on earth. Devahuti fully knew that her husband would abandon the Gr̥hasthāśrama as soon as she becomes a mother so she requests her husband to teach her the secret to be rid of the fear of samsara.

When his wife breaks down in tears, Kardama pacifies her and says, “Don’t worry and don’t think you are unfortunate. Sriman Narayana himself has promised to be born as your son. So who else can be more fortunate than you? Prepare yourself.. You need to perform one of the severest of vratas. He will teach you the Brahmavidyā and help to break all the knots that are keeping you tethered to this world. Through you, the entire human race will learn a very valuable lesson”.

Devahuti performed the practices prescribed by Kardama and over a period of time became pregnant.

तस्यां बहुतिथे काले भगवान्मधुसूदन: ।
कार्दमं वीर्यमापन्नो जज्ञेऽग्निरिव दारुणि

॥ŚB 3.24.6॥

In due course of time, Bhagwan Sriman Narayana entered her womb and stayed like a fire hidden within an ārni . One point of interest to note is that ārni  i.e. hidden fire within the ambers, resembling life is a recurring theme across our various scriptures. In Praśnōpaniat, question 4 shloka 3, there is a detailed treatise on this concept with deep linking to various states of sleep.

After marrying off his daughters, Kardama wishes to tread the path of renunciation. He worships Narayana who is in the womb of Devahuti and expresses his desire to be freed from all worldly bondages. Pleased by his devotion, Bhagwan says,

एतन्मे जन्म लोकेऽस्मिन्मुमुक्षूणां दुराशयात् ।
प्रसंख्यानाय तत्त्वानां सम्मतायात्मदर्शने

॥ŚB 3.24.36॥

My appearance in this world is especially to explain the philosophy of khya, which is highly esteemed for self-realization by those desiring freedom from the entanglement of unnecessary material desires.

Bhagwan gives permission to Kardama to become a Sanyasi and tread the path of renunciation and break all worldly attachments. He also promises to teach Atma Vidya to his mother and help her to realise him.

With Bhagwan’s blessings, Kardama goes to a forest to practice sanyasa and overtime attains the lotus feet of Bhagwan. Young Kapila stayed with his mother in the ashrama on the banks of Bindusaras Lake.

Kapila Geeta

In Śrīmad Bhagavadgītā ‘s fifteenth chapter i.e. Purushottama Yoga, Bhagwan Sri Krishna says,

न रूपमस्येह तथोपलभ्यते
नान्तो न चादिर्न च सम्प्रतिष्ठा |
अश्वत्थमेनं सुविरूढमूल
मसङ्गशस्त्रेण दृढेन छित्त्वा || 3||
तत: पदं तत्परिमार्गितव्यं
यस्मिन्गता न निवर्तन्ति भूय: |
तमेव चाद्यं पुरुषं प्रपद्ये
यत: प्रवृत्ति: प्रसृता पुराणी || 4||

The real form of this tree is not perceived in this world, neither its beginning nor end, nor its continued existence. But this deep-rooted aśhvatth tree must be cut down with a strong axe of detachment. Then one must search out the base of the tree, which is the Supreme Lord, from whom streamed forth the activity of the universe a long time ago. Upon taking refuge in Him, one will not return to this world again.

Krishna talks about the inverted Asvattha tree which needs to cut down with the axe of detachment. This is a very often quoted verse in most of the spiritual discourses and articles.

This eternal knowledge was however promulgated earlier by Devahuti, who in the search of Atma Vidya, requests her son Kapila,

तं त्वा गताहं शरणं शरण्यं
स्वभृत्यसंसारतरो: कुठारम् ।
जिज्ञासयाहं प्रकृते: पूरुषस्य
नमामि सद्धर्मविदां वरिष्ठम्

॥ŚB 3.25.11॥

Devahuti continued: I have taken shelter of Your lotus feet because You are the only person of whom to take shelter. You are the axe which can cut the tree of material existence. I therefore offer my obeisance unto You, who are the greatest of all transcendentalists, and I inquire from You as to the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti and between spirit and matter.

Devahuti requests the path to mukti i.e. salvation. She requests Kapila to explain the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti which are indeed forms of the same eternal Bhagwan. She requests to learn this knowledge which will alleviate her from the bondages of births & deaths and attain salvation.

Kapila or Kapila Vasudeva as he was known then smiles and explains the secrets of the one yoga, which will help to destroy the bondages of pain and pleasures i.e. samsara and attain mukti. This yoga is also known as khya Yoga.

The first principle that Kapila teaches his mother is a lesson that needs to be assimilated and imbibed by one and all. Mind is the cause of all bondage and limits the freedom. When mind is influenced by the three gunas viz., sattva, rajas and tamas, one of the gunas become predominant.

चेत: खल्वस्य बन्धाय मुक्तये चात्मनो मतम् ।
गुणेषु सक्तं बन्धाय रतं वा पुंसि मुक्तये

॥ ŚB 3.25.15॥

The stage in which the consciousness of the living entity is attracted by the three modes of material nature is called conditional life. But when that same consciousness is attached to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one is situated in the consciousness of liberation.

Kapila clearly explains the resultant impact of the two paths that could be tread upon by the mind. On one end, if the mind gets influenced by the tri-gunas, it become entangled within the emotions and attachments of the loukika samsara. On the other hand, if the same mind attaches itself to the supreme Bhagwan, such an atman could achieve the elusive mukti from all bondages i.e. cycle of births and deaths.

After explaining about the mind, Kapila explains that one needs to transcend the feelings of “I” and “Mine” to achieve a state where material happiness and distress don’t impact any further.

ज्ञानवैराग्ययुक्तेन भक्तियुक्तेन चात्मना ।
परिपश्यत्युदासीनं प्रकृतिं च हतौजसम्

ŚB 3.25.18

In that position of self-realization, by practice of knowledge and renunciation in devotional service, one sees everything in the right perspective; he becomes indifferent to material existence, and the material influence acts less powerfully upon him.

Kapila explains that jnana i.e. knowledge about Bhagwan, vairagya i.e. non-attachment and bhakti i.e. devotion towards the Paramatma enables an atman to become indifferent to the material world &become immune towards the influences of the external forces.

Jnana, Vairagya and Bhakti forming the three tenets towards mukti form a recurring theme across various scriptures and shastras. Adi Shankara also requests for jnana-vairagya from Mata Annapoorneshwari, the presiding deity of Kashi in his famous Annapoorna Stotram.


(Salutations to Mother Annapoorna) O Mother Annapoorna, You Who are always Full (with the gift of Food and Blessings), You Who are the Beloved of Shankara

O Mother Parvati, Please grant me the Alms of Your Grace, to awaken within me Spiritual Knowledge and Freedom from all Worldly Desires.

Kapila goes on to explain that Bhakti is the easiest path towards Mukti, yet another theme that is recurring across various treatises and discourses in our rich dharma.

Kapila explains that Sanga i.e. attachment is one imperishable quality within a man. However, if one channelises the same attachment towards Bhagwan in the form of bhakti, the doors to mukti are opened.

प्रसङ्गमजरं पाशमात्मन: कवयो विदु: ।
स एव साधुषु कृतो मोक्षद्वारमपावृतम्

॥ŚB 3.25.20॥

Every learned man knows very well that attachment for the material is the greatest entanglement of the spirit soul. But that same attachment, when applied to the self-realized devotees, opens the door of liberation.

Kapila explains that attachment to Narayana helps one to free themselves from the bondage to other things. This is the easiest method to realise the elusive mukti.

Kapila illustrates this concept by explaining the qualities of a Sadhu or Sannyasin who renounces all worldly desires and is engaged only in ultimate devotion to the god i.e. Bhakti.

After explaining the qualities of Sadhu, Kapila recommends his mother to become acquainted or gain the SAT-SANGA i.e. company of sadhus, for they are capable of helping your mind to break away from the attachments.

त एते साधव: साध्वि सर्वसङ्गविवर्जिता: ।
सङ्गस्तेष्वथ ते प्रार्थ्य: सङ्गदोषहरा हि ते

॥ ŚB 3.25.24॥

O My mother, O virtuous lady, these are the qualities of great devotees who are free from all attachment. You must seek attachment to such holy men, for this counteracts the pernicious effects of material attachment.

Sat-sang is such a wonderful concept in the modern world. By rule of association, one becomes elevated to higher levels of conscious. Yet again, Adi Sankara breaches this topic in his timeless eternal classic, Bhaja Govindam.

Satsangatve nissangatvam
Nissangatve nirmohatvam
Nirmohatve nischalatattvam
Nischalatattve jeevanmuktih

Through the company of the good, there arises non-attachment; through non-attachment there arises freedom from delusion; through freedom from delusion there arises steadfastness; through steadfastness, there arises liberation in life

Kapila further explains that the company of Sadhus makes one familiar with the stories i.e. leelas of Bhagwan which generates happiness in the heart leading to a constant interest in him and only him. Kapila explains that the enjoyment of thinking about Bhagwan would become Bhakti.

Satsanga leads to Shraddha which leads to Rathi and ultimately to Bhakti. As one develops immense Bhakti for Bhagwan, the rest of the creation starts to blur in terms of attachment. The mind begins to focus eternally on the supreme Bhagwan. Such an individual’s intellect becomes sharp and keen, as the mind is no longer coloured or influenced by external forces.

Devahuti asks, “Son, I am an ignorant woman who hasn’t studied vedas or learnt many truths like sadhus. How can a simple person like me reach you? Which is the easiest path? ”

Kapila answers,

देवानां गुणलिङ्गानामानुश्रविककर्मणाम् ।
सत्त्व एवैकमनसो वृत्ति: स्वाभाविकी तु या ।
अनिमित्ता भागवती भक्ति: सिद्धेर्गरीयसी

॥ŚB 3.25.32॥

The senses are symbolic representations of the demigods, and their natural inclination is to work under the direction of the Vedic injunctions. As the senses are representatives of the demigods, so the mind is the representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The mind’s natural duty is to serve. When that service spirit is engaged in devotional service to the Personality of Godhead, without any motive, that is far better even than salvation.

“BHAKTI” – selfless devotional service to Bhagwan is the best path to reach him and is much better than mukti. Bhakti will not only grant ikya i.e. oneness with the lord, but also free them from the materialistic world. Mukti i.e. salvation will follow as a matter of course when one is steadfast on the path of Bhakti.

Kapila explains that the bhaktas of Sriman Narayana are dear to him and consider him as a son, friend, guide, well-wisher, beloved.  For a bhakta, Narayana becomes everything in the universe. Such bhaktas fear nothing in the world.

ज्ञानवैराग्ययुक्तेन भक्तियोगेन योगिन: ।
क्षेमाय पादमूलं मे प्रविशन्त्यकुतोभयम्

॥ŚB 3.25.43॥

The yogīs, equipped with transcendental knowledge and renunciation and engaged in devotional service for their eternal benefit, take shelter of My lotus feet, and since I am the Lord, they are thus eligible to enter into the kingdom of Godhead without fear.

The Yogis who have conquered their senses aren’t afraid of anything and reach him without any doubt.

Kapila goes on to explain the intricacies of Purusha and Prakriti, by revealing their inner secrets and their inner relationships to his mother.

Who is Purusha?

  • Atman inside everyone is Purusha.
  • One who has no beginning and no end.
  • Pervades everything, one who is eternal – There is nothing that doesn’t contain Purusha – Time is another form of Purusha.
  • Purusha is beyond the three gunas.
  • Prakriti is cause of conditioning of atman.
  • All 3 gunas in perfect equilibrium – Nirguna – State where there is no guna.
  • Purusha assumes two forms – Jivaatma and Paramaatma (Ishvara).

What is Prakriti?

  • Prakriti is made of two ingredients: Avarna Shakti and Vikshepa Shakti.
  • With time, the balance of gunas gets disturbed – One of the three gunas, mainly Rajas manifests itself followed by other two.
  • When the gunas come into action, Avarna and Vikshepa come into picture.
  • Gunas impact the Jivaatma.
  • Avarna makes a Jivaatma forget himself – Forget the true nature – This state is Avidya.
  • Avidya is the state of ignorance where one doesn’t know the truth about oneself.
  • With Avidya, Vikshepa comes into play.
  • Vikshepa is the form of illusion i.e. Maya which makes one consider unreal as real leading to agitation.
  • Avarna and Vikshepa together lead to avidya and maya.

The form of Purusha which is not impacted by the forces of Prakriti is called Paramaatma.


॥ŚB 3.32.22॥

My dear mother, I therefore advise that you take shelter of the Supreme Bhagwan, for His lotus feet are worth worshiping. Accept this with all devotion and love, for thus you can be situated in transcendental devotional service.

Kapila advises his mother that to free oneself of this Maya or illusion and reach a state where the forces of Prakriti doesn’t influence the Jivaatma, one needs to tread on the path of Bhakti. Bhakti alone is capable of bestowing both jnana and vairagya, essential to realise the lotus feet of Bhagwan.

When a bhakta realises that his only goal is to reach the lotus feet of Narayana and makes a concentrated effort towards the same, his veil of ignorance i.e. avidya is lifted. He will realise that Sriman Narayana is the only universal truth and nothing else matters.

Kapila further explains that Brahman or Purusha or Ishvara or Bhagwan is the one who seek him. The one who realises this eternal truth is Brahman himself. Realising the Brahman is not knowing, but becoming.

ज्ञानयोगश्च मन्निष्ठो नैर्गुण्यो भक्तिलक्षण: ।
द्वयोरप्येक एवार्थो भगवच्छब्दलक्षण:

॥ ŚB 3.32.32॥

Philosophical research culminates in understanding the Supreme Bhagwan. After achieving this understanding, when one becomes free from the material modes of nature, he attains the stage of devotional service. Either by devotional service directly or by philosophical research, one has to find the same destination, which is the Supreme Bhagwan.

Once you realise the eternal truth, you will KNOW you are the BRAHMAN. The Jivaatma will know that it is the Ishvara i.e. Paramaatma or Purusha.

Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga are in reality the same. One is no different from the other.

Kapila Vasudeva having completed his life objective of imparting the knowledge of Sankhya to the world through his mother, took her and went away.

After receiving this divine knowledge from her son, Devahuti practiced the Ashtaanga Yoga and focused her mind on the Brahman. Soon her avidya was burnt up and she reached the Brahmi state in no time.


In this article, Bhagwan Kapila Vasudeva’s divine teachings in the form of Sankhya Yoga elaborate the different paths to attain Mukti. This Geetha i.e. the divine words of the Supreme Bhagwan gives a framework for a common manava to follow and imbibe in his daily life.

The tenets of the divine Sankhya Yoga have persisted over time as can be observed through multiple references to the same context across other discourses like Srimad Bhagwad Gita or compositions of the universal teacher, Adi Sankara.


  • Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa – Gita Press (Kannada version)
  • Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa – Kamala Subramaniam
  • Eight Upanishads (with Sankara Commentary) – Swami Gambhirananda
  • The Principal Upanishads (with Madhava Bhasya) – Prof. K.T.Pandurangi
  • Katha Upanishad commentary –
  • Srimad Bhagwatha Purana shlokas & verses :
  • Srimad Bhagwad Gita shlokas and verses :

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