Sin and Karma for Different People

Question: I have been arguing with myself about the meaning of the following verse, particularly whether or not repetition of sin does or does not create more karma. Could you please have a brief look and comment on this?

patitanaḿ na patakam
autpattiko guṇaḥ sańgo
na śayanaḥ pataty adhaḥ

Bhagavat (11.21.17). I find the BBT translation here clearer than the one of the Gita Press:
“The same activities that would degrade an elevated person do not cause falldown for those who are already fallen. Indeed, one who is lying on the ground cannot possibly fall further. The material association that is dictated by one’s own nature is considered a good quality.”

The concept of na zayanaH patatyadhaH, if you lie on the floor you cannot fall any deeper, fascinated me from first reading. This verse confirms once more my opinion that ignorance is an excuse, and sin and virtue are relative (autpattiko guNaH sango), though, as the BBT commentary prudently warns us, this verse and its principle does not provide a license to sin to initiated Vaishnavas. As for the statement na zayanaH pataty adhaH (“One who lies down cannot fall any deeper”), repeating a sin does create more karma – in the orient women often turn to prostitution if they untimely lose their honour, thinking it is all lost anyway. However, one should not think that, because of a perceived loss of virtue, a repetition of the same sin will not cause accumulation of more bad karma. Sridhara Swami comments on this verse: dosasya kvacid dosatvabhave gunatve codaharanam darsayati. samanasya tasyaiva karmanah sura-panader acaranam apatitanam patana-hetur api jatya karmana va patitanam punah patakam adhikara-bhramsakam na bhavati, purvam eva patitatvat. ato’tra dosasyapi dosata nastity arthah ‘One man’s fault is another man’s virtue or at least lack of fault. It is the same act (samana karma), but if an apatita (brahmin or Vaishnava) drinks alcohol, it is the cause of his/her falldown, but for those anyway fallen (shudras or non-devotees) this does not cause further degradation because it is their normal way to be. Thus, though it is a flaw (for some) there is no flaw.”

It seems the phrase autpattiko guNaH sanga can be interpreted in 2 ways – ‘material association that is dictated by one’s own nature’, and ‘sex for procreation’ (autpattika sanga), because Sridhar Swami continues: tatha sango’pi yo yater dosah, sa grhasthasyautpattikah purva-svikrto na dosah, api tu gunah. rtau bharyam upeyat ity-adi-vidhanat. “Sanga (sex) is a fault for a sannyasi, but not for the grihastha if he/she indulges in it for procreation – then it is a virtue instead. The Shrutis say ‘rtau bharyam upeyat’ – the wife must be approached in the season.”

Answer: The above verse is not a blanket allowance for the ignorant to sin. The verse is spoken for spiritualists and not for ignorant people. After this the Lord also speaks of the whole process of degradation, akin to the one described in Gita in the sangat sanjayte kamah verse. [BG 2.62]

Although one sleeping on the ground will not fall because there is nowhere to fall, if he keeps on sleeping he will be so much caught in tamas that he will have tough time getting up. Similarly, if an ignorant person continues doing an activity which is forbidden for a spiritualist, he may not incur sin (meaning going to hell, since he is already in hell), but he will make his samskaras stronger which will condition him. In his commentary Sridhara Swami specifically writes that a sudra will not fall down by drinking liquor because there is nothing lower than that, but this does not mean that if a sudra indulges in blatant drinking he will not be conditioned by it.
Yes sin and piety are relative.