bhidyate hṛdaya-granthiś chidyante sarva-saṁśayāḥ
kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi dṛṣṭa evātmanīśvare
Thus the knot in the heart is pierced, and all misgivings are cut to pieces. The chain of fruitive actions is terminated when one sees the Self as master.
Attaining scientific knowledge of the Personality of Godhead means seeing one's own self simultaneously. As far as the identity of the living being as spirit self is concerned, there are a number of speculations and misgivings. The materialist does not believe in the existence of the spirit self, and empiric philosophers believe in the impersonal feature of the whole spirit without individuality of the living beings. But the transcendentalists affirm that the soul and the Supersoul are two different identities, qualitatively one but quantitatively different. There are many other theories, but all these different speculations are at once cleared off as soon as Śrī Kṛṣṇa is realized in truth by the process of bhakti-yoga. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is like the sun, and the materialistic speculations about the Absolute Truth are like the darkest midnight. As soon as the Kṛṣṇa sun is arisen within one's heart, the darkness of materialistic speculations about the Absolute Truth and the living beings is at once cleared off. In the presence of the sun, the darkness cannot stand, and the relative truths that were hidden within the dense darkness of ignorance become clearly manifested by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, who is residing in everyone's heart as the Supersoul.
In the Bhagavad-gītā (10.11) the Lord says that in order to show special favor to His pure devotees He personally eradicates the dense darkness of all misgivings by switching on the light of pure knowledge within the heart of a devotee. Therefore, because of the Personality of Godhead's taking charge of illuminating the heart of His devotee, certainly a devotee, engaged in His service in transcendental love, cannot remain in darkness. He comes to know everything of the absolute and the relative truths. The devotee cannot remain in darkness, and because a devotee is enlightened by the Personality of Godhead, his knowledge is certainly perfect. This is not the case for those who speculate on the Absolute Truth by dint of their own limited power of approach. Perfect knowledge is called paramparā, or deductive knowledge coming down from the authority to the submissive aural receiver who is bona fide by service and surrender. One cannot challenge the authority of the Supreme and know Him also at the same time. He reserves the right of not being exposed to such a challenging spirit of an insignificant spark of the whole, a spark subjected to the control of illusory energy. The devotees are submissive, and therefore the transcendental knowledge descends from the Personality of Godhead to Brahmā and from Brahmā to his sons and disciples in succession. This process is helped by the Supersoul within such devotees. That is the perfect way of learning transcendental knowledge.
This enlightenment perfectly enables the devotee to distinguish spirit from matter because the knot of spirit and matter is untied by the Lord. This knot is called ahaṅkāra, and it falsely obliges a living being to become identified with matter. As soon as this knot is loosened, therefore, all the clouds of doubt are at once cleared off. One sees his master and fully engages himself in the transcendental loving service of the Lord, making a full termination of the chain of fruitive action. In material existence, a living being creates his own chain of fruitive work and enjoys the good and bad effects of those actions life after life. But as soon as he engages himself in the loving service of the Lord, he at once becomes free from the chain of karma. His actions no longer create any reaction.
This is the stage of complete liberation. In the previous verse it was said, bhagavat-tattva-vijñānaṁ mukta-saṅgasya jāyate [SB 1.2.20]. This means that the science of God, or the science of Absolute Truth (bhagavat-tattva), becomes manifest to the liberated soul. Sometimes we find that someone poses as a great devotee very much advanced in spiritual understanding, but he cannot even give up smoking cigarettes. That means he's not liberated. For one who actually has a taste for spiritual life, all material attachments diminish to nil. This is the sign that one is actually liberated.
The first statement in the present verse is bhidyate hṛdaya-granthiḥ, "factual understanding of God cuts the knots in the heart." Material life begins with the strong knot in the heart called sex desire. A man hankers for a woman and a woman hankers for a man, and their mutual attachment begins their material life. Not only in human society but also in animal society, bird society, insect society, you'll find this sex attachment. This is the primary hṛdaya-granthiḥ, knot in the heart.
Therefore in the Vedic civilization the first lesson a student learns is brahmacarya, celibacy. Abstaining from sex is not such an easy thing: it requires tapasya, training in austerity. One has to practice how to control the mind and the senses. At present, far from being taught to practice tapasya, the university students are given all kinds of luxuries. Especially in the Western countries, the boys and girls are educated together, and they even live in the same building. So there is no question of brahmacarya. Rather, the hard knot of sex desire binds their hearts more and more.
So, to cut the knot of sex desire and other knots binding the heart, one must follow two parallel lines: On one side a person should cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and on the other he should try to give up all his bad habits. Both sides must be there if he wants to advance. For example, when a person is diseased the doctor prescribes some medicine, and at the same time he instructs the patient in what to eat and what not to eat. That is the proper way of treatment. It is not that the patient can eat whatever he likes and if he simply takes the medicine he will be cured. Similarly, it is nonsense to think that you can do whatever you like and if you simply chant Hare Kṛṣṇa you will become spiritually advanced. You have to practice tapasya by voluntarily accepting a little inconvenience. For instance, we have instructed that everyone in our Kṛṣṇa consciousness society must give up illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication, and gambling. In addition, all our students must rise early in the morning (before four), take a bath, attend maṅgala-ārati, and study the scriptures. These are all austerities, in which we voluntarily give up things we may like and accept things we may not like. Of course, if a person takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness seriously, Kṛṣṇa helps him become qualified in all these matters.
The next statement in the present verse is chidyante sarva-saṁśayāḥ, "all doubts are cut to pieces." One who is not advanced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness has so many doubts. He may even doubt that he is the soul, not the body. But as soon as he becomes fully conversant in the science of God (bhagavat-tattva-vijñānam [SB 1.2.20]), all his doubts are wiped away he knows with certainty, "I am a spirit soul, an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa."
Next the Bhāgavatam says, kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi: "the chain of fruitive action and reaction is terminated." We are bound up in this material existence due to our karma, fruitive actions. According to your past karma you have your present body, and you are preparing your next body by how you are acting now. All human beings have certain common factors—two hands, two legs, one head—but each body is different because everyone's karma is different. So, we have to stop this karma. How? Kṛṣṇa explains in the Bhagavad-gītā (3.9),
yajñārthāt karmaṇo 'nyatra loko 'yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya mukta-saṅgaḥ samācara
If you simply work for Kṛṣṇa, then you will not be bound up by karma. Otherwise, whether your activities are good or bad by ordinary calculation, you will be bound up by the karmic reactions.
So, one who is fixed in devotional service to Kṛṣṇa is actually liberated from all material bondage. But as soon as you deviate from devotional service, Kṛṣṇa's illusory energy (māyā) will immediately capture you. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu gives the perfect analogy in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 22.31):
kṛṣṇa-sūrya-sama; māyā haya andhakāra
yāhāṅ kṛṣṇa tāhāṅ nāhi māyāra adhikāra
Kṛṣṇa is just like the sunshine, and māyā is just like darkness. Wherever the sun shines, there is no possibility of darkness. So keep yourself always in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Then there will be no possibility of māyā, which forces us to engage in fruitive activities (karma).
Concerning the eradication of karma through devotional service, the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.54) says,
yas tv indragopam athavendram aho sva-karma-
karmāṇi nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhājāṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
"From Lord Indra, the King of heaven, down to the small insect known as the indra-gopa, everyone is enjoying or suffering the results of his karma. But a devotee's karmic reactions are burned up by the Lord Himself."
You can be promoted to the post of Indra, the King of heaven, provided you have performed sufficient pious activities, just as you can become a high-court judge if you have sufficient education. All the great demigods—Indra, Candra, Sūrya, Brahmā—have achieved their posts on account of their great pious activities, called puṇya-karma. Similarly, the hogs, dogs, and other animals are suffering in their respective bodies due to pāpa-karma, impious activities. So, everyone is suffering or enjoying the reactions of his karma and in this way remaining bound up in this material world. It is very easy to understand. But, karmāṇi nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhājām: [Bs. 5.54] the karma of those who have taken to Kṛṣṇa consciousness in devotional service is burned up. In other words, for the devotees of Kṛṣṇa there are no karmic reactions. If you sow a chickpea in the ground, it will grow into a plant, but if you fry a chickpea and then sow it in the ground, it will not grow. So we should fry our karma by devotional service. Then our activities will not produce any karmic reaction.
Unless you have completely eradicated your karmic reactions, you cannot be promoted to the spiritual world. In other words, as long as you continue to perform fruitive activities, you'll have to accept some type of material body, birth after birth. Therefore Lord Ṛṣabhadeva says in the Fifth Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.5.4),
nūnaṁ pramattaḥ kurute vikarma
yad indriya-prītaya āpṛṇoti
na sādhu manye yata ātmano 'yam
asann api kleśada āsa dehaḥ
"Those without knowledge of the spirit soul are mad after materialistic activities, and they perform all kinds of sinful activities simply for sense gratification. Such activities are inauspicious because they force one to accept an abominable body in the next life."
For a devotee, however, there is no more karma, and so there is no more material body. Kṛṣṇa confirms this in the Bhagavad-gītā (4.9): tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti mām eti. After giving up his present body, a devotee does not get another material body, but rather in his spiritual body he goes back home, back to Godhead.
The same idea is expressed in the present verse of the Bhāgavatam: kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi dṛṣṭa evātmanīśvare. Freed of all karmic reactions, the devotee fully realizes his relationship with God, thinking "I am an eternal servant of God, or Kṛṣṇa." And because he realizes his actual identity, he always engages in pure devotional service. That is the perfection of life.