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Falling Down or Coming Down?

Question: There are verses from various Purāṇas which talk about the jīva falling from Vaikuṇṭha. Could you kindly shed some light on these?

“The selfless devotee of Viṣṇu, after his death, achieves the abode of Viṣṇu, and being selfless, he never comes back from that place. Such of the devotees, as adore the two-armed Lord Kṛṣṇa, proceed to Goloka after death taking to a divine form. Such of the devotees as meditate upon the four-armed Viṣṇu, taking to divine form, go to Vaikuṇṭha. But the Vaiṣṇavas, who adore Viṣṇu purposefully, have to come back to the land of Bharata after staying in Vaikuṇṭha and are reborn as brāhmaṇas. After the passage of time, they also get turned into selfless devotees of Lord Viṣṇu because the Lord also bestows on them His devotion and spotless wisdom.” (Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa, Prakṛti Khanda, 26.27–31)

“Because we had given up our lives while touching a śālagrāma-śilā on the shore of the holy Gaṇḍakī River, we were instantly awarded four-armed forms and ascended to Vaikuṇṭha in an effulgent celestial chariot. We resided there for one hundred yuga cycles and then were transferred to Brahmāloka. In Brahmāloka, we resided for five hundred yuga cycles and then descended to Svargaloka, where we resided for four hundred yuga cycles. After residing in the heavenly planets, we were born in this mortal world. I can clearly remember how everything was made possible simply by the mercy of the śālagrāma-śilā and Lord Hari.” (Kalki Purāṇa, 25.14–17)

“Know that My Vṛndāvana is filled with bliss. One who enters it never again enters the world of birth and death. One who, after entering My forest, leaves and goes somewhere else is a great fool. O Śiva, it is as if he killed his own soul. Of this, there is no doubt.” (Śrī Sanatkumāra-saṁhitā, 163–4)

“The selfless devotees, after they quit their bodies, go to a place free from sickness or disease, pure and perfect. From there, they do not come back. The selfless devotees, assuming the divine forms, go to the Goloka and worship the Highest God, the Highest Self, the two-armed Kṛṣṇa. The selfish Vaiṣṇavas go to Vaikuṇṭha; but they come back to earth and get into the wombs of the twice-born. By degrees, they also become selfless when they certainly acquire pure undefiled bhakti.” (Devī Bhāgavatam 29.25–28)

“The one who performs the Ekādaśī-vrata during the bright or dark fortnight remains in Vaikuṇṭha up to the age of Brahmā. Thereafter he is reborn in the land of Bharata and undoubtedly achieves the devotion of Lord Visņu. With the influence of the same, he goes back to Vaikuṇṭha from where he never falls back.” (Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa, Prakṛti Khanda, 27.95–97)

“The results one achieves by performing sacrifices, such as the aśvamedha, rājasūya, bārhaspatya, trika, atirātra, vājapeya, and agniṣtoma, are easily achieved by hearing this prayer. If one recites or hears this prayer on Așṭamī in the month of Kārtika, he becomes qualified to reside in Vaikuṇṭha for thousands of kalpas. Thereafter, he goes to Brahmāloka, Śivaloka, or Indraloka, and then eventually returns to Vaikuṇṭha.” (Nārada-pañcarātra 5.6.9–11)

Although these verses don’t necessarily talk about any initial fall, they mention falling in various circumstances. How is this to be reconciled with the position of tato askhalanam—“There is no fall from there.” (Bhagavat Sandarbha, Anuccheda 63)

Answer: After reading such verses, one may think these people fell from Vaikuṇṭha. Such a doubt comes to mind because of not knowing the difference between “falling down” and “coming down” or “coming back.” For example, if you are on the roof of a building and by mistake go to the edge and slip or someone pushes you, and you fall to the ground, that is called a “fall down.” But if you take a lift or stairs and come down, that is not falling down. “Fall down” is an accident. It is not by will or any plan. Coming down is by choice or by a plan.

In all the references you have given, there is no mention of the word “fall down.” It is clear that these Vaiṣṇavas performed some sakāma-bhakti and were given the benefit of residing in Vaikuṇṭha for a certain period of time, and then they came back to the material world. It is just like going to svarga because of some meritorious deed. These people did not engage in bhakti to attain Vaikuṇṭha. They also did not perform bhakti to attain prema. Therefore, their entry into Vaikuṇṭha was not permanent. Even after returning to earth, they engage in bhakti, become pure devotees, and eventually go to Vaikuṇṭha permanently.

Otherwise, if coming down to the material world is always equated to a “fall down,” then the coming down of Bhagavān in His various forms would also be considered a “fall down.” The very word avatāra means “a descent” or “one who comes down.” Similarly, sometimes nitya-siddha pārṣadas or bhaktas come to the material world from Vaikuṇṭha to bless the conditioned beings. For example, Śri Rāmānujācārya is accepted as an avatāra of Śeṣa, and Śrī Nimbārkācārya as an avatāra of Cakra. Their coming down would also be considered a “fall down.” But certainly, that is not the case. In the same way, the coming back of the people described in the above-cited verses is not a “fall down.”