“Narada was actually a son of a maidservant. He had no opportunity to go to school. He was simply assisting his mother, and fortunately his mother rendered some service to the devotees. The child Narada also got the opportunity and simply by association achieved the highest goal of all religions, devotional service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2 Purport)
Friend1: Alright, I got a tough one for you.
Friend2: Go for it. I’m ready.
Friend1: I’m not sure you’ll be able to tackle this one. It’s pretty tricky. I’m getting a headache just thinking about it.
Friend2: Give it a shot. I’ll help you get your thoughts out, if necessary.
Friend1: Thank you. Okay, it’s about the two concepts of nitya-baddha and nitya-mukta.
Friend2: Okay. Sometimes nitya-mukta is also described as nitya-siddha. Basically the same meaning.
Friend1: Right. The first means eternally bound. Wherever they find themselves in the timeline of reincarnation, the person is bound to the modes of material nature.
Friend2: They are under maya, or illusion.
Friend1: The second refers to a living entity who is always liberated. They are never under the modes of material nature.
Friend2: They inherit this property from God Himself, though technically none of those terms even apply to Him.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: There is no such thing as liberation for Him since He is never bound. Maya is His energy, after all. He can never fall into illusion. So to say He is liberated is to imply that the modes of nature, goodness and passion and ignorance, can have some influence over Him, which they can’t.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: But anyway, you have the two terms correct. I’m guessing your question relates to the nitya aspect, which means “eternal.”
Friend1: Right. If someone is nitya-baddha, doesn’t that mean all hope is lost for them? How are they going to get liberation if they’re always conditioned?
Friend2: That’s a good question.
Friend1: And don’t nitya-siddhas come to this world every now and then? There is the example of Narada Muni.
Friend2: Yes. He is one of the most famous spiritual masters in history. His disciples are the who’s-who of Vedic teachers and accomplished writers.
Friend1: We know that the bona fide spiritual master is liberated. Only a liberated person can rescue someone who is bound. The nitya-baddha cannot help another nitya-baddha escape from the clutches of rebirth.
Friend1: If Narada is eternally liberated, how was he the son of a maidservant in a previous birth? Doesn’t a past birth point to reincarnation? I thought the devotees are saved from taking birth again? This is what Krishna promises in the Bhagavad-gita. The people who worship Him go to His planet, from where they never have to return.
punar āvartino ‘rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)
Friend2: These are good questions. I can see why you’d be confused.
Friend1: Is that your way of getting out of answering? I told you it might be too difficult to explain.
Friend2: It’s not, really. First off, no one is ever doomed forever. The people who are envious of God the person get cast into the lower species, where they act as demons. Krishna confirms this in the Bhagavad-gita.
tān ahaṁ dviṣataḥ krūrān
kṣipāmy ajasram aśubhān
āsurīṣv eva yoniṣu
“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.19)
Still, as a living being, there is always a choice in action. That is the meaning to independence. At any point, even the worst person can choose the path of devotion. When they do so in earnest, the result is guaranteed. It doesn’t matter where they were before.
Friend1: Then how are they nitya-baddha?
Friend2: Nitya-baddha means you can’t find any point in their timeline, going either forward or backward, where they were liberated. It means that as far as you can trace, they have been conditioned by the modes of nature.
Friend1: Then what is nitya-siddha?
Friend2: It means that you can find a point in the timeline where they became liberated. Like with Narada Muni. The fact that he was the son of a maidservant previously has no bearing on his liberated status. We know that in the future he became a pure devotee. He is still that way today. Thus he is always liberated. He comes to the earth through the Supreme Lord’s will. Otherwise he would remain in the spiritual world. They say that no one falls from Vaikuntha, the home of God the person. Vaikuntha is the place free of anxiety. Sometimes people depart from there on assignment, but this doesn’t mean they have fallen into maya.
Friend1: I see. Here is the natural follow up question to that. If we can get liberated in the future, does it mean that we have always been nitya-siddha? Does it mean that we are on assignment and are just unaware of it?
Friend2: Could be. You never know. Only Shri Krishna remembers our previous births. Only He can answer that question.
Friend1: What is the point to teaching us about nitya-baddha and nitya-siddha then?
Friend2: To let you know that you don’t get liberation automatically. If you are conditioned now, it is not by some magic that you’ll break free from reincarnation. You have to make the choice towards the divine light. You have to work to be free of desires for material gain, renunciation and mystic perfection. And once you do make that choice, you don’t ever have to go back. You’ll remain a siddha forever, as long as you stay with devotion. It’s not that complicated, really; it’s just that time and space are beyond the scope of the faculties of the material brain.
Previously as maidservant’s son Narada came,
Through prasadam from sages liberated became.
Doesn’t mean that conditioned was he,
Since from obstruction was free.
For nitya-baddha nowhere to find,
A point of devotion in time’s long line.
For nitya-siddha liberation is there,
Life of devotion residence is where.