The great sage Atri said: O Lord Brahma, Visnu and Siva, you have divided yourself into three bodies by accepting the three modes of material nature, as you do in every millennium for the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the cosmic manifestation

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Expressions researched:
"The great sage Atri said: O Lord Brahmā, Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Śiva, you have divided yourself into three bodies by accepting the three modes of material nature, as you do in every millennium for the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the cosmic manifestation"

Srimad-Bhagavatam

SB Canto 4

The great sage Atri said: O Lord Brahmā, Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Śiva, you have divided yourself into three bodies by accepting the three modes of material nature, as you do in every millennium for the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the cosmic manifestation.

But since his heart was already attracted by the deities, somehow or other he gathered his senses, and with folded hands and sweet words he began to offer prayers to the predominating deities of the universe. The great sage Atri said: O Lord Brahmā, Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Śiva, you have divided yourself into three bodies by accepting the three modes of material nature, as you do in every millennium for the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the cosmic manifestation. I offer my respectful obeisances unto all of you and beg to inquire whom of you three I have called by my prayer.

Atri Ṛṣi called for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, jagad-īśvara, the Lord of the universe. The Lord must exist before the creation, otherwise how could He be its Lord? If someone constructs a big building, this indicates that he must have existed before the building was constructed. Therefore the Supreme Lord, the creator of the universe, must be transcendental to the material modes of nature. But it is known that Viṣṇu takes charge of the mode of goodness, Brahmā takes charge of the mode of passion, and Lord Śiva takes charge of the mode of ignorance. Therefore Atri Muni said, "That jagad-īśvara, the Lord of the universe, must be one of you, but since three of you have appeared, I cannot recognize whom I have called. You are all so kind. Please let me know who is actually jagad-īśvara, the Lord of the universe." In fact, Atri Ṛṣi was doubtful about the constitutional position of the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu, but he was quite certain that the Lord of the universe cannot be one of the creatures created by māyā. His very inquiry about whom he had called indicates that he was in doubt about the constitutional position of the Lord. Therefore he prayed to all three, "Kindly let me know who is the transcendental Lord of the universe." He was certain, of course, that not all of them could be the Lord, but the Lord of the universe was one of the three.