lobhādayo ye ’budha-linga-bhāvāḥ
tathāpi daṇḍaṁ bhagavān bibharti
dharmasya guptyai khala-nigrahāya
kutaḥ — how; nu — certainly; tat — of that (existence of the material body); hetavaḥ — the causes; īśa — O Lord; tat-kṛtāḥ — produced by one’s connection with the material body; lobha-ādayaḥ — greed and so forth; ye — which; abudha — of an ignorant person; linga-bhāvāḥ — symptoms; tathā api — nevertheless; daṇḍam — punishment; bhagavān — the Supreme Personality of Godhead; bibharti — wields; dharmasya — of the principles of religion; guptyai — for the protection; khala — of wicked persons; nigrahāya — for the chastisement.
How, then, could there exist in You the symptoms of an ignorant person — such as greed, lust, anger and envy — which are produced by one’s previous involvement in material existence and which cause one to become further entangled in material existence? And yet as the Supreme Lord You impose punishment to protect religious principles and curb down the wicked.
This complex philosophical statement by Indra may be analyzed as follows: In the first line of this verse, Indra refers to the main idea expressed at the end of the previous verse — namely, that the great currents of material existence, which are based on ignorance, cannot possibly exist within the Supreme Lord. The words tad-dhetavaḥ and tat-kṛtāḥ indicate that something causes the modes of nature to manifest, and that they in turn become the cause of that which caused them. In the second line of this verse, we find that it is material feelings such as greed, lust, envy and anger that cause the modes of nature to manifest and that are themselves caused by the modes of nature.
The explanation of this seeming paradox is as follows: When the conditioned soul decides to associate with the material qualities, he becomes contaminated by those qualities. As stated in the Gītā (13.22), kāraṇaṁ guṇa-saṅgo ’sya sad-asad-yoni-janmasu. For example, in the presence of a seductive woman, a man may give in to his lower instincts and try to enjoy sex with her. By his deciding to associate with the lower qualities of nature, those qualities manifest in him very powerfully. He is overwhelmed with lust and driven to try again and again to satisfy his burning desire. Because his mind has been infected by lust, all that he does, thinks and speaks will be influenced by his strong attachment to sex. In other words, by choosing to associate with the lusty qualities of nature, he has caused them to powerfully manifest within himself, and eventually those lusty qualities themselves will cause him to accept another material body suitable for affairs governed by those qualities.
The lower qualities, such as lust, greed, anger and envy, are abudha-liṅga-bhāvāḥ, symptoms of ignorance. Indeed, as indicated by Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī in his commentary, the manifestation of the modes of nature is synonymous with the manifestation of a particular material body. It is clearly explained throughout the Vedic literature that the conditioned soul receives a particular body, gives it up and then accepts another simply because of his involvement with the modes of nature (kāraṇaṁ guṇa-saṅgo ’sya). Thus to say that one is participating in the modes of nature is to say that one is accepting particular types of bodies suitable for the particular material qualities one is involved with.
An ignorant bystander might have simplistically interpreted Kṛṣṇa’s pastime of lifting Govardhana Hill as follows: The residents of Vṛndāvana were obliged by Vedic principles to make certain offerings to the god of heaven, Indra. Child Kṛṣṇa, ignoring the position of Indra, usurped these offerings and took them for His own pleasure. When Indra tried to punish Kṛṣṇa and His associates, the Lord frustrated Indra’s attempt, humiliated him, and exhausted his pride and resources.
But this superficial interpretation is refuted in this verse. Here Lord Indra addresses Śrī Kṛṣṇa as bhagavān, indicating that He is not an ordinary child but in fact God. Therefore Kṛṣṇa’s punishing Indra was part of His mission of protecting religious principles and curbing down the envious; it was not a display of material anger or of greed for the offerings meant for Indra. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is pure spiritual existence, and His simple, sublime desire is to engage all living beings in the perfect, blissful life of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Kṛṣṇa’s desire to make us Kṛṣṇa conscious is not egotistical, since ultimately Kṛṣṇa is everything and Kṛṣṇa consciousness is objectively the best consciousness. Lord Indra is really the humble servant of Kṛṣṇa, a fact he is now beginning to remember.