Origin of the Jiva and Beginningless Karma

Question: Can you explain where the jivas have their origin. I understand it is in Paramatma, but Krsna also says that the living entities are his eternal fragmental parts (Gita 15.7). So what exactly does it mean?

Answer: The simple principle, which I am sure you know, is that Bhagavan has three distinct saktis, namely antaranga, bahiranga and tatastha. The Jiva is neither part of antaranga nor of bahiranga sakti. Jiva is part only of tatastha sakti. Paramatma is in charge of bahiranga as well as tatastha sakti. Therefore, truly speaking, jiva is part of Paramatma’s tatastha sakti. This is stated by Shri Jiva Gosvami in Paramatma Sandarbha.

There are three Paramatmas, namely Karanadakasayi Vishnu, Garbhodaksayi Vishnu, and Ksirodaksayi Vishnu. Karanodaksayi Vishnu is the Paramatma for the aggregate material nature (samasti prakriti) and the aggregate, or samasti, jivas. Garbhodaksayi Vishnu is the Paramatma for the individual universe, and Ksirodaksayi Vishnu is the Paramatma for the vyast, or individual, jivas.

If there is total annihilation, or samasti pralaya, then all jivas enter into Karanodaksayi Vishnu. But really speaking, it never happens. There are always some universes manifest and some are dissolving. Universes are at different stages of a cycle. Everything is cyclic. But even if you consider a total annihilation, then Karanodaksayi Vishnu enters into Sankarsana (part of caturvyuha in paravyoma , or Vaikuntha) with the totality of prakriti and the jivas, i.e., samasti bahiranga and tatastha saktis. When it is time to create, then Karanodaksayi Vishnu manifests from Sankarsana along with the complete material nature and the jivas.

So when Krsna says mamaivamsa jivaloke, He means that jiva is part of Paramatma’s tatastha sakti. Paramatma is His part, so there is nothing wrong in His statement.


Karma without Beginning

Question: I’ve been having a discussion with someone about the topical issue of the origin of the soul, and have argued in favor of the traditional Vedāntic viewpoint of beginningless, or anādi karma. The person I’ve been debating subscribes to a less-than-literal reading of the word anādi, and believes karma is not actually without beginning, but that jīvas originally lie in a dormant state within Brahman, and their karma has to be actuated at some point, prior to which there is no karma as such. I naturally disagreed with this but would still like to hear from you as to whether my understanding is scripturally sound.

Title page: "In Vaikuntha not even the Leaves Fall"Answer: Yes, your understanding is proper because anadi means beginningless. Karma is literally beginningless. There are no statements in scripture indicating that it is not beginningless. Sanskrit language is very precise and doesn’t lack words to convey a meaning. If karma were anything else than beginningless, other words would have been used.

In so many places the word anandi has been used in scripture and by commentators such as Sri Jiva Gosvami, BaladevaVidybhusana and Visvanath Cakravarti Thakura. If the word anadi in some particular verse had meant anything else, they would have made it very clear in their commentaries. While commenting on BG 13.20 (in some editions 19), both Baladeva and Visvanath Cakravarti clearly state that the conditioning of the jiva is beginningless:

Prakriti and jiva [and their combination] are without origin. Also, in SB 11.22.10 Krsna very clearly says that the jiva is covered by beginningless ignorance: anādy-avidyā-yuktasya.

However, we have to understand that karma per se is not beginningless. It is perpetual, because every individual karma has a beginning and an end. If jiva is in Brahman and karma were actuated at a particular point, then what kind of karma would such a jiva get? Does he/she start with a zero karma? If yes, how would he/she relate with anybody or anything in this world? What would cause him/her to have a first material body, which is supposed to be the product of past karma and the field for the future karma?

Question: During the course of the discussion, the classes of living entities in existence were equally touched upon, and there ensued a comparison of the terms nitya-siddha and nitya-baddha. In particular, the following point was put forward:

‘I think this misconception of some jivas never having to undergo sadhana starts with a misunderstanding of what Jiva Goswami wrote in Paramatma Sandarbha:
tadevamananta eva jIvAkhyAs taTasthAH zaktayaH. Tatra tAsAM vargadvayam. Eko vargo’nAditaH eva bhagavadunmukhaH, anyas tvanAditaH eva bhagavat-parAGmukhaH-svabhAvatastadIya jJAna-bhAvAt tadIya-jJAnAbhAvAcca.

“In this way the marginal energies called jivas are unlimited. They have two classes. One class is devoted to the Lord beginninglessly (anadi) and the other is not devoted to the Lord beginninglessly (anadi). This is because the former class of jivas naturally have knowledge of the Lord and the second class of jivas naturally do not have knowledge of the Lord.”

Now it would appear as if this supports the idea of two inherently different classes of jivas, if what he says is taken in the wrong way.

Answer: Yes, it is true that there are two different classes of jivas and it is clearly stated in this text—one is nitya mukta and the other one is nitya baddha. How can it be taken in the wrong way?

Question: That makes Krishna out to be especially merciful to some jivas, and less so to others. That would contradict Krishna’s teaching in the Gita, where he says he is equal to all.

Answer: This does not contradict Krsna’s teachings. Such a doubt arises by not understanding the word anadi, beginningless. Krsna is not creating some jivas as nitya baddha and others as nitya mukta. If that were the case, they would not be anadi. Just as Krsna Himself has no beginning, His energies also have no beginning. His tatastha (or intermediary) potency also has no beginning. This tatastha shakti has two divisions, which are also beginningless. This is what Jiva Gosvami is making the above statement. And anything which is beginningless is also causeless. It therefore does not contradict Krsna’s statement. He is equal to both of them. It would contradict his statement if he would have personally put some jivas under the influence of maya and spared the others.

Question: We know from śāstra that there are many, many more souls in the paravyoma than there are in the material world, and that most of these liberated beings have never been conditioned, i.e. they are nitya-siddha. Are these eternally liberated bhaktas, who have never been in touch with maya, then not jīvas at all, but another category of entity, e.g. expansions of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa?

Answer: In the spiritual world there are two types of devotees, the first category are those who are an expansion of the Lord. They do not belong to the tatastha potency. These are usually referred to by the word parsada. The devotees of the second category belong to the tatsatha potency. These devotees have never been conditioned and will never be conditioned by maya.

Question: Is it a fact that all jīvas, as he says, by definition have to undergo sādhana before they can attain the transcendental realm?

Answer: For the above mentioned reason it is not true that every devotee has to do sadhana to become perfect. Only those who are in the conditioned state, nitya baddhas, have to undergo sadhana to get freedom from their conditioning




4 thoughts on “Origin of the Jiva and Beginningless Karma”

  1. Dear Babaji,

    I was discussing with someone these and related issues. It occurred to me many years ago that the phrase, “life comes from life,” the motto of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, is misconstrued. In English we use the phrase “comes from” in a causal sense, thus “Yajnadatta comes from Shitalachaya” means his place of origin is that, or “humans come from chimps,” or “a plant comes from a seed,” or “the word two comes from dvi,” all of which express B is caused by A. Causality implies a beginning and origin, at least in normal English. But the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology is the Krishna and the jivasakti are co-eternals, both anadi, thus not in a causal relationship. In my view, it is a relationship of the Bhagavān “sustaining the being” of the jivasakti. Is that correct? If so, then “life does not come from life,” rather “life sustains life.” Also: Ramanujan said the prakrti is jada or acit, and Sankara said this is true on a superficial level. Is the mayashakti jada in Jīva Gosvāmin’s view?

    1. Good thinking.
      But maybe the verb “comes” in “life comes from life” is used in the sense of source, and not a cause. Just as Krsna says in Gita: aham sarvasya prabhavah – “I am the source of everything” (10.8). This can also be translated: “Everything comes from Me.”
      For example, one may say that milk comes from the milk-shop. It does not mean that milk-shop is the cause of milk.
      But I am not an expert in English language. If “comes from” is used only in causal sense then you are right. Even then one can argue that it is a figurative usage, a secondary usage, lakshana-artha.

      Maya-sakti is jada, but it has a presiding deity who is a conscious being.

  2. Hello,

    I have been looking for answer to the following question that could be backed up by some scriptural reference. What happens to panchakosha (5 sheaths) of jivatma after it attains freedom from its conditioned state of existence? According to Vedanta, atma sheds all the sheaths and merges into impersonal Brahman, becoming one and identical with it. From the perspective of Vaishnavism there are two atmas, vibhu-atma and anu-atma. Svami Sadananda Dasa talks about the relationship of atma and 3 bodies (deha):

    “The word atma is derived from the verbal root at (= to move, to go, extend to) and the suffix man, forming nouns. The word stem is atman, but the nominative is atma (atma- in compounds, for instance atma-like). Where the word atma is used without reference to coverings (for something that is given consciousness or life) as it is used in (1) or (2) for instance, atma means the one who or that which is unbounded, conscious, full of life, and without limitations of time and space extends everywhere.

    Used in the sense of the individual atma in the covering, the word atma means that the anu or infinitesimal cit-nature of the atma, in spite of being at the innermost centre of the coverings, pervades them to their limit (candana-binduvat = like a small drop of sandalwood oil).

    (1) and (2) are often called parama-atma or “the supreme atma”, to distinguish them from the concepts of the atma in (3) and (4).” (http://paramartha.info/atma)

    As far as I understand, in order to maintain its individuality, a jiva has to enliven (make conscious) something in order to be defined as jivatma. I have also read that jivatma within Brahmanda sheds or acquires sheaths depending on the Loka where it manifests. Different levels of Universe require different bodily constitution. For instance, at the level of Satyaloka only Anandamaya Kosha remains.

    What happens once it reaches transcendental realm/spiritual world which is nirguna? What sort of body does it get to maintain its individuality, and what is its composition?

    Thank you,


  3. When a Vaisnava jivatma becomes liberated, it sheds its subtle as well as the gross bodies. The pure atma is invested with a spiritual body, which is conscious, and has nature similar to atma. The subtle and gross bodies disintegrate and their constituents merge back into the corresponding tattvas of prakriti.
    One reference for this is Srimad Bhagavata Purana 1.5.28, and 1.5.29.

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