Tag Archives: atma

Consciousness in Deep Sleep, Science and Shastra

Question: I have heard that in the Gauḍīya sampradāya, the ātman is conscious as well as aware of itself. In Advaita Vedānta, the ātman is mere consciousness. Can you please explain how the ātman is aware of itself since in deep sleep we are the awareness (consciousness) but still not aware (conscious) of anything?

Answer: The problem with hearing is that you are not sure whether what you have heard is right, partly right, or wrong. When you pose a question, please refer to śāstra. This is my request. Otherwise, it becomes my responsibility to defend what you have heard. Or, it is better that you ask those from whom you hear these things.

Question: I apologize for not giving references. I read it in your short e-book called “The Self and Free Will in Chaitanya Samprayada.” I am quoting it here.

Ātmā possesses consciousness and is self-aware

Ātmā is not mere consciousness. It is an entity that possesses consciousness. It is consciousness itself, and it possesses consciousness. Therefore, it is described as “self-luminous” (svayam-prakāśa). Objects like a table or a book, for example, are not self-illuminating. They need to be illuminated by a light source before they can be seen. A light bulb, however, is self-illuminating, it illuminates itself as well as objects in its vicinity. But a light bulb is not aware of what it illuminates, because it is insentient, inert. Ātmā is not only self-illuminating but also self-aware. Ātmā illuminates itself and the body, and is conscious of the things it illuminates, including itself. For this reason, ātmā is called cid-rūpa, “sentient by nature.” Although self-luminous like a bulb, however, ātmā does not reveal the body to others, but only to itself. This concept of ātmā is in contrast to the notion of Advaita Vedānta, where ātmā is proclaimed to be mere consciousness, rather than possessing consciousness. In that school consciousness is only seen as the nature of ātmā, but not as its attribute.

How are we (the ātmā) self-aware in deep sleep? According to Advaitins, we are just pure awareness, not being aware of anything (in deep sleep). The ātmā is not aware of itself in Advaita Vedanta. How are we self-aware in deep sleep, according to the Gauḍīya sampradāya?

Answer: So your question is only about self-awareness in deep sleep. What about in the wakeful state? Are you not aware of yourself in the wakeful state? Do you need help of someone else to tell you that you exist? Certainly not. 

We are all aware of ourselves in the wakeful state. Therefore, we use the word “I” to refer to ourselves. This sense of “I” belongs to the ātmā. In the conditioned state, we identify with our body and mind, therefore, we also use the word “I” to refer to these. If the ātmā did not have the sense of “I,” it would not be able to identify with the body etc. To identify with something, first you have to have the sense of “I.” Otherwise, who is identifying with whom? This does not need deep philosophical knowledge. If we have the sense of “I” in the wakeful state, it should also be present in the state of deep sleep. There is no reason for it to disappear in deep sleep.

So the ātmā has a sense of “I” in deep sleep also but it is not aware of it because it is disconnected from everything. That is why when one wakes up, one only remembers, “I slept well.” Such remembrance is only possible if one has experienced it. Experience is not possible without the sense of “I.” And the sense of “I” is not possible without consciousness.




Question: Why do our scriptures clash with the pratyakṣa pramāṇa of science? A few things seem similar but a major part of the śāstra is contrary to our direct experience. Can you elaborate on this?

Answer: To which direct experience are you referring specifically? Unless you refer to something specific, how can I answer you?

Question: Can you explain the 8.4 million species mentioned in the Purāṇas?

Answer: Very interesting question. Now can you tell me how it clashes with the pratyakṣa pramāṇa of science? Has science counted the total number of species all over the universe? I am not aware if this. Assuming that that they have done so, please give the number as per the pratyakaṣa pramāna of science.  When śāstra says there are 8.4 million species, you also need to consider if the definition of śāstra for species matches with that of science. My understanding is that they do not match. The word used by śāstra is yoni, which is loosely translated as species. But śastra says there are some 400 000 yoni of human beings. This certainly cannot pertain to “species”. What it really means is body types.

What I am most amazed is that you wrote: “A few things seem similar but a major part of the śāstra is contrary to our direct experience.” And when I asked you to list the contradictions, you came up with just one, and you did not give any proof of the contradiction. 


Where Does the Drive for Happiness Come From?

Every living being, not just human beings, has a drive for happiness. It is a natural tendency from birth and is not something acquired by training. Whether someone is learned or illiterate, cultured or uncultured, rich or poor, theist or an atheist—everyone hankers to be happy.  The nonhumans such as birds, animals, and aquatics avoid pain and prefer to be in a comfortable environment. Like human beings, they may not make big plans for enjoyment but certainly, they avoid misery by all possible means. Even plants have the intelligence to avoid obstruction to their growth. Thus, based on our own experience and logic, we could hypothesize that the drive for happiness is inherent in the ātmā. Let us examine if this hypothesis is supported by śāstra.

In Paramātma Sandarbha (Anuccheda 19–46), Śrī Jiva Gosvāmī does an exhaustive analysis of the svarūpa of the jīva or ātmā. In Anuccheda 19, he first cites verses from Padma Puṛānā delineating the svarūpa of the jīva: 

The letter m [in Oṁ] signifies the jīva, “the witness of the presentational field of the body” (kṣetrajña), who is always dependent upon and subservient to the Supreme Self, Paramātmā. He is [constitutionally] a servant of Bhagavān Hari only and never of anyone else. He is the conscious substratum, endowed with the attribute of knowledge. He is conscious and beyond matter. He is never born, undergoes no modification, is of one [unchanging] form, and situated in his own essential identity (svarūpa). He is atomic [i.e., the smallest particle without any parts], eternal, pervasive of the body, and intrinsically of the nature of consciousness and bliss. He is the referent of the pronoun “I,” imperishable, the proprietor of the body, distinct from all other jīvas, and never-ending. The jīva cannot be burnt, cut, wetted, or dried, and is not subject to decay. He is endowed with these and other attributes. He is indeed the irreducible remainder (śeṣa) [i.e., the integrated part] of the Complete Whole. (Padma Purāṇa, Uttara-khaṇḍa 226.34–37) 

Next, he cites some verses from a work of Jamātṛ Muni of Śrī Sampradāya:

The ātmā is neither god, nor human, nor subhuman, nor is it an immovable being [a tree, mountain, and so on]. It is not the body, nor the senses, mind, vital force, or the intellect. It is not inert, not mutable, nor mere consciousness. It is conscious of itself and self-luminous; it is of one form and is situated in its own essential nature.

It is conscious, pervades the body, and is intrinsically of the nature of consciousness and bliss. It is the direct referent of the pronoun “I,” is distinct [from other individual selves] in each body, atomic [i.e., the smallest particle without further parts], eternal, and unblemished.

It is intrinsically endowed with the characteristics of knowership [cognition], agency [conation], and experiential capacity [affectivity]. Its nature by its own inner constitution is to be always the unitary, irreducible remainder [i.e., the integrated part] of the Complete Whole, Paramātmā.

There are about 21 characteristics of the jīva mentioned in these verses. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī elaborates on each of them in the following anucchedas. There is no mention of a “drive for happiness” in this list, nor does Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi mention it while elaborating on these characteristics. He does not mention it anywhere in his entire analysis of the intrinsic nature of the jīva.

Then how can we account for the constant desire and endeavor to be happy, which we all experience? It is certainly not something that we have acquired, because even animals and birds have it. The clue to the answer is found in the twelfth characteristic, cid-ānanda-ātmaka, “intrinsically of the nature of consciousness and bliss.” This sounds perplexing since it seems contrary to our experience of having a constant drive for bliss or happiness. It is as absurd as seeing a person desperately looking for food after stuffing himself with his favorite meal. If the jīva or self is intrinsically blissful, then why should it search for happiness outside? This is explained by Śri Jīva Gosvāmī in Anuccheda 28 while commenting on this quality, i.e., cid-ānanda-ātmaka, as follows—tatra tasya jaḍa-pratiyogitvena jñānatvaṁ, duḥkha-pratiyogitvena tu jñānatvam ānandatvañ ca—“Because the self is not inert [lit., because of its being the counter positive of inertness], it is of the nature of consciousness, and because of its being the counter positive of misery, it is of the nature of consciousness and bliss.” The meaning is that a jīva is intrinsically conscious and devoid of any misery. Just as not being inert is equated to consciousness, so also freedom from misery is equated to happiness or ānanda. In other words, not being miserable is also a type of ānanda or happiness. The other types of happiness are material happiness—martyānanada; the happiness of experiencing the qualityless Absolute —brahmānanda; and the happiness of devotional love—bhaktyānanda or premānanada.  

Most of the happiness that we experience is nothing but the cessation of suffering or discomfort. When we have discomfort, we feel happy when it is removed. Almost all the happiness that we experience in our material lives is preceded by discomfort. We enjoy food because we feel the discomfort of hunger. If we suffer from heat, we enjoy a cool place. Every desire that we have is a disturbance because it takes us away from our svarūpa, or our natural position. When a desire is fulfilled, we feel happy—not because the object of desire gave us happiness, but because the disturbance caused by the desire disappeared. Because of focusing on the object of our desire, we mistakenly think that the acquired object is the source of our happiness. If the object of desire was the source of happiness, we should always attain happiness from it. But such is not the case. We have all experienced that the very object, position, or action that we intensely hankered for does not give us the same amount of happiness that it gave when we first achieved it. The level of happiness that it gives diminishes over time, and after some time, it may not give any happiness at all. Rather, it may become a source of trouble or discomfort. There are people in the world who possess the object or position for which we hanker but if you observe them, they may not be that blissful. This is because they have their own list of desirable objects or positions. Thus, Kṛṣṇa says that the objects of sense enjoyment are verily the source of misery (Gītā 5.22).

In our svarūpa, there is neither misery nor a drive to attain happiness. The drive for happiness is a thought, feeling, or emotion in the mind, which is external to the ātmā. It manifests only when we are connected to the mind. We experience this every night. When we are in a state of dreamless sleep, we have no thoughts, feelings, or emotions. We have no experience of misery, even if we are suffering from an intense disease or pain. This is because in dreamless sleep, we are disconnected from the mind. This freedom from suffering is experienced as a type of happiness. Thus, upon awakening, we have the experience, “I slept deeply and happily. I did not know anything.” No one says, “I slept deeply and miserably. I did not know anything.” If the drive for happiness was in the svarūpa of the jīva, then we should also experience it in dreamless sleep. Upon waking, we should say, “I slept very deeply and was hankering for happiness.” No one has such an experience. 

The conclusion is that neither śāstra nor our experience supports the idea that we have an intrinsic drive for happiness. The drive for happiness comes only when we identify with the material mind-body complex because in this state, we are not situated in our svarūpa. Not being situated in our svarūpa creates a state of disturbance. Thus, a drive emerges in us to dispel this sense of disturbance. This drive is mistakenly understood to be rooted in the ātmā. 

The fact is that we have the drive to be situated in our svarūpa. Our svarūpa is devoid of misery, and thus we strive to remove misery. In the conditioned state, we identify with the mind-body complex and consider it to be our svarūpa. But this is only an illusion. Our mind and body are always in a state of flux. Our system functions to remain balanced. We also work to remain balanced—free from all mental and physical disturbances. We feel that something is missing in us and therefore think that if we can acquire what is missing, then we will be happy. This is a natural drive that we all have. Whenever we feel happy, we are closer to our self. Suffering means going away from our self. Self-realized people do not experience this drive for happiness because they do not identify with their mind-body complex. They experience a state free from misery. Kṛṣṇa defines this as yoga (Gītā 6.23)—taṁ vidyād duḥkha-saṁyoga-viyogaṁ yoga-saṁjñitam—“Know that state which is devoid of any contact with pain to be yoga.” 

Thus, mukti is defined as giving up the identification with that which is not one’s self and becoming situated in our self—muktir hitvānyathā-rūpaṁ svarupeṇa vyavasthitih (SB 2.10.6). The word mukti means to be free [from misery]. It does not mean happiness. Becoming free from misery is a type of happiness. When we move away from our self, we suffer. Thus, Patañjali defines yoga as disassociation from mental modifications—yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (Yoga Sūtra 1.2). This results in being situated in one’s self—tadā draṣṭuḥ svarupe ’vasthānam (Yoga Sūtra 1.3). In this way, we see that mukti and yoga as defined by Kṛṣṇa, as well as by Patañjali, are the same. 

Because our self is devoid of misery, it is called the object of love, prīti-āspada. Having attained it, one is never disturbed by anything. It is considered the supreme attainment (Gītā 6.22). Even in the material world, we love everything that we think is ours. The body and things related to the body appear as objects of love only when we consider them as related to our self. When we stop considering things or persons as belonging to us, we become indifferent to them. We enjoy material objects only as long as we consider them ours. In other words, we put ourselves into something and then derive pleasure from it. Truly we relish our self in external objects, relationships, and positions. By relating with them, we erroneously think that we are situated in our self. This is a mistaken state of mukti and is an outcome of ignorance about our true self. Real happiness, however, comes only from bhakti because Bhagavān is the Self of our self, as said by Śukadeva, “Know Kṛṣṇa to be the Self of everyone’s self” (SB 10.14.55). 

Satyanarayana Dasa

Spiritual Bodies and the Internal Potency

Question: Would you please explain about spiritual body of the jīva? When the jīva enters spiritual realm of Kṛṣṇa, does the soul get a beautiful spiritual body? Or does the soul already possess such an eternal body, which is with us right now?

Answer: The soul does not possess any body. It is formless. It is granted a body when it enters into the spiritual world. An example of this is seen in the life of Śṛī Nārada as described in Śrīmad Bhāgavata

Question: What exactly does it mean that the spiritual world is cinmaya? Is everything cetanā there? Does this mean that the stones, rivers, etc. in the spiritual world also have consciousness?

Answer: Yes, everything there has consciousness. There is nothing inert there, although objects like stones or a table and chairs may appear like inert objects. Everything in the spiritual world is constituted of antaraṅgā-śakti.


Question: In Paramātma Sandarbha, it is stated: “The living entities devoted to the Lord are blessed by His internal potency. They are not of the internal potency themselves. Still, they get to serve the Lord and associate with Him directly.”

Nitya siddhas are residents of Vaikuṇṭha and have transcendental bodies constituted of sat, cit, and ānanda. These are the qualities of the Lord’s internal potency. How is it they are not the internal potency of the Lord?

Answer: Just as in the material world, you have material body, but you are not material, i.e., bahiraṅgā-śakti. Similarly, in the spiritual world, you have a body of antaraṅgā-śakti, but you remain taṭasthā. The difference, however, is that in the spiritual world, there is no duality because both the ātmā and antaraṅgā-śakti are conscious.


Question: In 36th verse of Rāsa-līlā chapter of SB, it says, “The Lord accepts a human form.” Who is the one who accepts that form? My understanding was that Kṛṣṇa’s body is eternal bliss and the essence of all rāsas. If God has to accept a human form for the pleasure of His devotees, then who is God? Does He have a body?

I went through the ṭīkās of Viśvanātha, Sanātana Gosvāmī, and Jīva Gosvāmī but only Jīva tries to defend the point of Kṛṣṇa being the shelter of Brahman. Viśvanātha and Sanātana just echo the verse—“The Lord takes the human form.”  So we can also conclude that Nārāyaṇa is the Bhagavān who takes the human form. 

Answer: The problem with such type of questions is that the questioner disregards everything else and gets hung up only on one verse and becomes disturbed. This verse is part of a chapter, which is part of an entire book. Therefore, this verse cannot go against so many other verses which repeatedly explain that His body is eternal, transcendental, and non-material. I am not giving any references for this because I am sure you know them. So, my reply is that you should not see a single verse independently but in the light of what has been said earlier about Kṛṣṇa’s form.

The meaning of the word āśritaḥ or āsthitaḥ (whichever reading you take, verse 10.33.37 in the Gita Press edition) is “manifesting.” All it means is that Kṛṣṇa performed these līlās, manifesting His human form in this world. He has a transcendental body that is invisible to mortal eyes. When He descends on earth, He makes His body visible to the people of this world. This is the meaning of “taking a human form.” It means making Himself visible.


Are Bhakti and Rasa Inherent in the Jiva?

The following Questions and Answers are not included in the Jiva Tattva book. 

Question: In the first prayer of the Vedas to Śrī Kṛṣṇa (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.87.14, translation by Bhanu Swami), it is said—aga-jagad-okasām akhila-śakty-avabodhaka te, “You who awaken all the energies of the moving and nonmoving embodied beings …”  In this connection, Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura comments, “You, by your mercy, awaken all the śaktis for executing jñāna and bhakti.” Similarly, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī comments, “Since matter is inert, and the operating of its śaktis is similar, to awaken them, you use your svarūpa-śakti, with spiritual form. Awaking the spiritual cit-śaktis is also caused by the svarūpa-śakti since it is the shelter of all śaktis.” All this seems to indicate that bhakti is an inherent potency in the jīva that is awakened by Bhagavān’s grace. Any comments?

Answer regarding Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary: You have cited the second half of the sentence from Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura’s commentary. The first half of the sentence says, “After creating intellect, senses, etc. of all jīvas, just as you awaken all śaktis for performing material actions (karma-karaṇa-śaktīḥ) and also the śakti to experience the outcome of their karma (karma-phala-śaktīḥ) ….” The remaining sentence states—“… in the same way, for attaining You in the form of Brahman, Paramātmā, or Bhagavān, by Your grace, You alone awaken the śaktis to execute jñāna-yoga and bhakti …”

By this, if you conclude that bhakti is in the jīva and is awakened by Bhagavān’s grace, then by the force of the same logic, you have to accept that the material energy to perform material karma and to experience the outcome of material karma would also be within the jīva. This energy is certainly material. But I am sure that this is not acceptable to you because it goes against śastra, which states that the jīva is beyond the guṇas. I do not need to cite references for that since they are well known.

To avoid this issue, the opponent may say that in the first case, the meaning of the verb udbodhayasi (which is a gloss on the word avabodhaka in the verse) is “gives” and in second case, it is “awakens.” Then the jīva is free of the guṇas.

My reply is that such a solution has the defect of vākya-bheda or splitting the meaning. This is considered a defect as per Mīmāṁsā. It is also called ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya. To put in simple words, it means that I accept only the back part of the hen, because it delivers eggs, and not the front part, because that needs to be fed. In other words, I accept what is convenient and reject what is troublesome.

Even if we accept such a solution, it goes against the verse itself. In the verse, the Śrutis address Bhagavān as “one who upholds all energies within Himself” (samavaruddha-samamsta-bhagaḥ). If the potencies of material action or jñāna or bhakti are accepted within jīva, then it militates against the Śruti address. But if the meaning of udbodhayasi is taken to be “gives,” then there is no contradiction. It also matches with the opponent’s view of parokṣavāda, stated later in one of the pūrvapakṣas. 

Answer regarding Jīva Gosvāmī’s comment: Here also I would like to go back one sentence and show what Jīva Gosvāmī really means. He is commenting on the third quarter of the verse—aga-jagad-okasām-akhila-śakti-avabodhaka. “Aga means “always stable,” or the Vaikuṇṭḥas; jagad means “the unstable or temporary,” or the Brahmāṇḍas. These are the residences (okasām) of the jīvas. The jīva has two types of potencies—material [constituting the material body] and spiritual. You are the avabodhaka (lit., “one who awakens”) of all the śaktis. Avabodhaka means the giver of potency even to the two śaktis, śakti-dāyaka.” Here Jiva Gosvāmī very explicitly glosses the word avabodhaka as “giver.” So I do not understand how this indicates that bhakti is inherent in the jīva.

Question: In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.21.37, Śrī Kṛṣṇa mentions to Uddhava that He personally established the oṁkāra within every living entity, which would be another way to say that the Vedas are inherent in the jīva, since they emanate from oṁkāra. And on top of that, since oṁkāra is the Absolute Truth with all potencies (brahmaṇānanta-śaktinā), then we could say that the Absolute is in the heart of all jīvas in the form of oṁkāra, which includes all of the Absolute’s potencies, including His svarūpa-śakti. But now they lie in the jīva in a dormant condition, and are awakened when receiving the mantra from the guru.

Answer: Such types of arguments do not carry much weight because they take something out of context. In this chapter, Kṛṣṇa is explaining the principles of vice and virtue related to karma, as well as the secret meaning of the Vedas.

If we accept this argument, then we can also say that the mantra that one receives from guru “to awaken one’s dormant bhakti” is also within one’s heart. After all, all the mantras are contained within oṁkāra; then there is no need to accept a guru. Such a conclusion is very absurd and contradicts Kṛṣṇa’s own words when He says that one should accept a guru (SB 11.10.5, 11.20.17, 11.27.9).

If the opponent argues that the mantra is in the heart but is dormant; and therefore, we need the mantra from the guru to awaken the dormant mantra in the heart—then, by the same argument, we will need bhakti from the guru to awaken the dormant bhakti in the heart. 

Then the question arises, what is the use of that dormant bhakti in the heart if we need to receive bhakti from the guru? Rather, it has gaurava-doṣa, the defect of prolixity. Moreover, there is no śastric statement supporting such a view. On the other hand, there are plenty of references stating that bhakti has to be received from a devotee or Kṛṣṇa. For that, please see my book Jīva-tattva.Jiva Tattva cover page

Now coming to the exact meaning of the Bhāgavatam verse 11.21.37. The verse does not say that the oṁkāra is placed inside the ātmā. It is in the material body. Read the preceding verse, which explains how the Veda manifests in the prāṇa, manas, and indriya. Then verse 11.21.37 explains how it manifests because of Bhagavān. There is no mention that oṁkāra is inside the jīva or ātmā. This is more clearly stated earlier in verse 11.12.17. There, the word guha, or cave, is used to indicate the heart as the seat of nāda. Jiva Gosvamī and Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura have written elaborate commentaries explaining the four levels of sound called parā, paśyantī, madhyamā, and vaikharī. The first three are unmanifest and the fourth is what comes out of mouth. All these are outside the jīva in the material body. The first three are in the cakras Mulādhāra, Maṇipūra, and Viśuddhi respectively. Thus, there is no dormant oṁkāra with dormant śaktis inside the jīva.

Question: Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.6.39 also says that oṁkāra automatically manifests in a purified heart, but when the senses are active externally, they cannot hear it. And this verse mentions that oṁkāra has avyakta-prabhava, or unmanifest power. In other words, all of the power of the Absolute is placed within the jīva in the form of oṁkāra, but at the present moment, such power is avyakta or unmanifest in the conditioned state.

Answer: There is no mention in the verse that oṁkāra is inside the jīva. Even you write, “oṁkāra automatically manifests in a purified heart.” It is stated that oṁkāra is avyakta-prabhava or has unmanifest power. It is svarāṭ or self-manifest. Svarāṭ means that it manifests by itself, not because of some sādhanā. This is the nature of spiritual things—the Holy Name, the Dhāma, Bhagavān, etc. But that does not mean that they are inside the jīva.

Question: A similar idea comes from the word tene in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.1.1, which is said to come from tanoti, which is translated as “expand.” In other words, this section seems to indicate that Vedic knowledge was not imparted to Brahma, but was expanded from his inner heart, thus implying that knowledge of the Vedas lies inherent in the heart of everyone and, in this regard, so does bhakti itself, since śāstra is nondifferent from Bhagavān and His potencies.

Answer: Please read the commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī on this verse. He clearly writes that Bhagavān is the giver of knowledge as well as the giver of mokṣa: tena itīti. Tadevaṁ jñāna-pradatvena mokṣa-pradatvam api darśitam. Śrīdhara Svāmī glosses tene as prakāśītavān or illuminated. Viśvanātha Cakravartī glosses tene as prakāśayāmāsa or illuminated. This means that Bhagavān illuminated Brahmā in knowledge of the Vedas. No commentator writes that Bhagavān expanded the Vedic knowledge already existing within Brahmā’s heart. In SB 2.9.30, Bhagavān Himself tells Brahmā, “Take this knowledge spoken by Me”—gṛhāṇa gaditam mayā. He did not say, “Now let me expand the knowledge lying in your heart.” Moreover, remember that the heart is not part of the ātmā. So your proposal, “thus implying that knowledge of the Vedas lies inherent in the heart of everyone,” does not prove that it is inherent in the ātmā.

Question: Bhagavad Gītā 2.16 mentions “from that which changes, there is no existence, and from that which is eternal, there is no change.” So according to this verse, it seems that if the ātmā is something now (without bhakti) and becomes something else (with bhakti), then that condition is defined here by the Gītā as nonexistent. And on the opposite side, for the svarūpa to be an eternal reality, then there cannot be any change, which would suggest that since the svarūpa of the jīva doesn’t change, then bhakti is eternally there.

Answer: You must have a different reading of this verse. There is no word for “change” in the standard reading. The words used are asat (not real), bhāva (existence), abhāva (nonexistence), and sat (real). I see no word for “change.”

Question: Also in Gītā 7.26, Śrī Kṛṣṇa mentions that He knows everything that has happened in the future, everything that is taking place in the present, and everything that will occur in the future. So, in connection to the latter statement, we could say that the svarūpa of the jīva is inherent in the sense that Kṛṣṇa knows it. If Kṛṣṇa already knows which svarūpa we will have, then how it is not fixed?

Answer: Yes, that could be one meaning, but not the only meaning. The other possible meaning is that He knows which svarūpa you will get. Then also, it can be fixed. Fixed does not mean that it is fixed inside the ātmā.

The meaning of the verse, however, is something else. You can refer to the commentaries of our ācāryas for that. The meaning given by you is totally out of context. Kṛṣṇa has a certain intention that He wants to convey to Arjuna. We should try to understand that and not impose our ideas onto His words. Misinterpreting śāstra is a major offense, because it does not please Kṛṣṇa. Twisting His words to suit your purpose cannot be pleasing to Him.

Question: Verses 2.4.190 to 2.4.192 from Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta seem to indicate that Kṛṣṇa places different tastes in the hearts of every living entity. Sanātana Gosvāmī seems to confirm this in his commentary to these three verses. So even if bhakti/prema/siddha-deha is not inherent, the subtle form of our svarūpa is a taste for a particular type of seva, which is inherently present in the jīva. And in this line, sādhusaṅga wouldn’t be the cause of the particular taste in the jīva, but rather would be the cause for that taste to become manifest.

Answer: You are contradicting yourself in your own words. First you write, “places different tastes in the hearts of every living entity.” Then you write, “taste for a particular type of seva, which is inherently present in the jīva.” Are you equating “heart” with jīva? How is that possible? The heart or citta is material and thus changes. The jīva is spiritual and unchanging. In the commentary, there is no mention that the taste is inside the jīva.

Question: Some devotees say that the reason for us accepting a particular type of sādhusaṅga and not another in our first contact with sādhus is because there is already some inherent taste in us that drives us towards a particular form of association.

Answer: I will agree if you can give some śāstric reference for this. Wherever there is mention of getting sādhusaṅga or bhakti, the most common word used is yadṛcchayā (see SB 11.20.8, 11.20.11, 11.2.24, 6.14,14). According to the context, this word is translated in different ways such as “somehow or other,” “by the will of God,” “by the will of providence,” etc. But nobody translates it as “according to inherent taste.” This word is also used in Gītā 2.32 in the sense of “by its own accord.”

Question: Some devotees will say that since Kṛṣṇa is fond of parokṣavāda, our Gosvāmīs have presented this siddhānta indirectly, and in time some contemporary Gauḍīya luminaries have shown their actual intention, by mentioning how even if bhakti or prema is not inherent, at least some particular taste for a specific rasa is already included in each jīva.

Answer: Anyone can say anything. That does not make it siddhānta. The siddhānta is already explained in śāstra and in the works of the Gosvāmīs. There is not a single statement anywhere that says that bhakti or taste is inherent in the ātmā. Parokṣavāda does not mean that it is never stated explicitly. It means that it is not stated directly to unqualified people. Moreover, even if it is never stated directly, the function of a commentator is to unpack the hidden meaning. Otherwise, no one will ever understand it and then śāstra would lose its very purpose. 

Question: Some devotees say that since the spiritual body is fully conscious, if it’s not within us, then it is another entity separate from us. So when we eventually enter the spiritual body, who of the two will “be in charge?”

Answer: They will not be two, but one. There is no duality in the spiritual world. This is the principle of acintya-bheda-abheda. The duality exists at the material level. Duality is due to the ātmā being conditioned by prakṛti.

Question: Some devotees apply the theory of “nitya-vartma-kāla” in this connection—in the spiritual world, there is a permanent “eternal present.”  They say that the moment we will enter the spiritual world is “now,” but since we are in māyā, we have no experience of what it means to live in an eternal present.

Answer: I have no idea what the argument is here. All I can say is that it is not enough that some devotees have this or that notion. Our authority is śāstratasmāt śāstram pramāṇam te (Gītā 16.24), and not somebody’s notion. Moreover, we have to have the organic meaning of śāstra. It is not enough to cite that part of śāstra which seems to suit your purpose and to reject the rest. That is called ardha-kukkuṭi-nyāya.


Please find more questions and answers on this topic in our Jiva Tattva publication. 


New Book Release: Jiva Tattva!

This long awaited book conclusively deals with the nature of the living being as per the Gauḍīya School of thought and related aspects. It also deals with various misconceptions about the jīva that are prevalent in Vaiṣṇava circles.

Knowledge about the jīva is gained from śāstra. However, if one does not know how to interpret it properly, śāstra can be misunderstood. It is for this reason that there are differences of opinion about the nature of the jīva in different groups of spiritualists. In this book, some basic principles are discussed that govern how śāstra is meant to be understood at different levels and how its true intentions are realized. 

On any spiritual path, including bhakti, there are three factors involved: the practitioner, the practice, and the goal to be achieved. To be successful in one’s spiritual practice, one must have a clear understanding of all three of these factors. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī calls them sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana, respectively. As a practitioner on the path of bhakti, one must know one’s identity and relationship with Kṛṣṇa clearly. To practice bhakti successfully, one should also know what bhakti is and how it is to be practiced. And finally, one must have a clear understanding of the goal one is aspiring for in one’s practice. Jiva Tattva primarily focuses on providing authoritative knowledge about the practitioner, the jīva.

The main points that have are established are as follows: 

  1. The jīva is an eternal conscious being belonging to Kṛṣṇa’s intermediary potency (taṭasthā-śakti) and has the potential to act, know, and experience.
  2. In the conditioned state, the jīva is under the influence of Kṛṣṇa’s external potency, called māyā.
  3. The conditioning of the jīva has no beginning.
  4. The conditioning of the jīva can come to an end by the grace of bhakti.
  5. Bhakti is attained by the grace of a devotee or Kṛṣṇa.
  6. Bhakti is not dormant within the svarūpa of the jīva.
  7. When a jīva becomes perfected in bhakti, he is awarded a spiritual body at the time of giving up the physical body.
  8. The spiritual body is not dormant or inherent within the svarūpa of the jīva.
  9. The spiritual bodies attained by perfected jīvas exist eternally in the spiritual world and a particular spiritual body suitable to each particular perfected jīva is awarded to them for their eternal service to Bhagavān.
  10. Once the jīva attains a spiritual body, the jīva is never again conditioned by māyā.
  11. No jīva ever falls from the spiritual abode back down in the material world of māyā.
  12. There is no such thing as taṭastha region and thus there is no fall-down from there.

Jiva Tattva cover pageYou can order the book here from our Onlinestore. 

Interactions between the Ātmā and the Mind

Question: Who feels pain and pleasure in the conditioned stage? Is it the soul or the mind?

Answer: The mind feels it.

Question: From where does viveka or the faculty to choose between wrong and right come? Does it come from the buddhi or ātmā?

Answer: It comes from buddhi.

Question: Does the soul have intrinsic mind, intelligence and ego?

Answer: No it doesn’t. 

Question: Does the soul act only as a source of consciousness (e.g. battery power for a car), while always needing the external mind, intelligence and ego? Is this true even in the spiritual world?

Answer: Yes. 

Question: Why can the soul not enjoy and experience pleasure as it is itself conscious?

Answer: It has no senses to enjoy.

Question: By doing sādhana, it is said that the citta gets purified. Then how are the bhajana memories transferred to the spiritual world with the soul as the citta is material?

Answer: They do not get transferred. Only the bhāva goes along with the ātmā. 

Question: Do the current material mind and ego get spiritualized and transferred into the spiritual world?

Answer: No. 

Question: As the soul does not have intrinsic mind, intelligence and false ego, why is it said that we have to watch all unwanted desires like lust, as a witness only and not entertain them? It is also said that we should think that we are totally different from the mind. Then how can a soul without intrinsic mind feel/realize that it is a soul, that it is spiritual and totally different from the material mind?

Answer: Everything is experienced only through the internal senses. There is no experience without them. In Gītā 6.12, Kṛṣṇa says that the happiness that is beyond the reach of the external senses can be comprehended only through the intellect, buddhi-grāhyam.

In Gītā 6.20, Kṛṣṇa says that when the mind, controlled by the practice of meditation, becomes still, one sees the ātmā through the ātmā (the internal sense):

yatroparamate cittaṁ niruddhaṁ yoga-sevayā
yatra caivātmanātmānaṁ paśyann ātmani tuṣyati

“When the mind, controlled by the practice of meditation becomes still, one rejoices only in the self and sees the self by the purified mind.”

Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī makes it clear that the word “ātmanā” here means internal sense, antaḥkaraṇa.

Question: Then how is the soul responsible for controlling the mind, choosing the right desire of the mind and acting accordingly, since buddhi, the decision making faculty, is also material and different from the soul?

Answer: Because ātmā is identifying with it. The problem is the identification. Mind, intellect and ahaṅkāra function because they are empowered by the ātmā. Ātmā does nothing by itself.

Question: Kṛṣṇa advises Arjuna in Gītā 18.65: “Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” So for whom is this advice given and who listens? For the soul, the mind or the intelligence?

Answer: For all three of them, because the soul identifies with the mind and intelligence. You are posing these questions with the understanding that the ātmā and the mind or intelligence are functioning independently as two separate units. The fact, however, is that in the conditioned state, the ātmā is never free of the conditioned material mind.

Question: If the advice is given to the mind, intelligence and false ego, then how is the soul responsible to accept the instruction and to act accordingly since it is different from buddhi, mind and false ego? Please explain how the soul takes this instruction.

Answer: The soul is not taking any instruction. At present, it is identifying with the mind and the instruction is for the complete unit.

Question: If buddhi controls the mind, then how is the soul responsible to get karma-phala for its next birth?

Answer: Because of the soul’s identification with the mind. 

Question: SB 11.11.29 (also quoted in CC, Madhya 22.78-80) says:

kṛpālur akṛta-drohas titikṣuḥ sarva-dehinām
satya-sāro ‘navadyātmā samaḥ sarvopakārakaḥ 

“A saintly person is merciful and never injures others. He is tolerant and forgiving, truthful, free from all envy and jealousy, and magnanimous by doing welfare to others.”

If all these transcendental qualities are the characteristics of pure Vaiṣṇavas, do they belong to the ātmā or to the mind? If they belong to the mind, then do they come under the mode of goodness?

Answer: For a devotee, the qualities manifest from bhakti

Question: When we listen to siddhānta or pastimes, how do they affect the ātmā? Or do they only affect our material mind, intelligence and ego?

Answer: There is no effect on the ātmā 

Question: Then how and when does the ātmā experience the bhajana-sukha?

Answer: All experience happens in the mind. 

Question: How do the soul and intelligence interact with each other?

Answer: There is no real interaction except that the soul makes the intelligence conscious. 

Question: If an accident happens to a jīvan-mukta, does he feel pain and pleasure? How does this feeling of pain and pleasure differ from that of a person in conditioned stage?

Answer: He feels it but is not influenced by it like a conditioned being.  

Question: In the verse: mayā-mātram idaṁ jñātvā, jñānaṁ ca mayi sannyaset, (“Understanding this to be māyā, one should surrender unto Me both that knowledge and the means by which he achieved it,” SB 11.19.1)—which knowledge has to be surrendered?

Answer: Knowledge of oneness with Brahman. 


Souls and Cells

Question: What happens at the time of conception? How does an ātmā choose a sperm or an egg cell? Does each sperm cell have an ātmā?

Answer: There are certain mysteries in this universe, which are not known to human beings. Karma, birth, and death are three such mysteries. These mysteries are under the control of Paramātmā, who is the regulator of this universe. How karma gets attached to a particular jīva and how it unfolds in future lives is not known to human beings. They will never be able to have complete understanding of these mysteries, even though science is presently trying hard to understand them.

The mechanism of birth and death, that is, how a particular ātmā takes a particular body, and how a particular ātmā gets a new birth after death, are two major mysteries about life. They can only be known by the sages. There are some hints of these mysteries in śāstra, but there is no detailed explanation available. 

The answer to your questions is hinted at in a Bhāgavata verse spoken by Śrī Kapila. (SB 3.31.1)

karmaṇā daiva-netreṇa jantur dehopapattaye

striyāḥ praviṣṭa udaraṁ puṁso retaḥ-kaṇāśrayaḥ

“By the action of daiva or Īśvara/Paramātmā, the impeller, a particular living being, taking shelter of the sperm of a man, enters into the womb of a woman for accepting a body.”

The important words to be noted in this verse are karmaṇā daiva-netreṇa. Karmaṇā means by action, daiva refers to Paramātmā, and netreṇa means “under the guidance” or “being impelled.” So the meaning of this verse is that an ātmā enters into the womb being attached to the sperm of the man. It is not that the ātmā, which is inside the sperm, takes the human body, but a specific ātmā is attracted to the sperm cell, being impelled by Paramātmā. This ātmā may enter inside the womb even without the sperm, if Paramātmā so wills. There are many stories about kings who had no progeny and then performed a yajña or whose wives were given a specific fruit to eat and then became pregnant. In the 6th chapter of the Ninth Canto, we find such a story about King Yuvanāśva: 

This king married one hundred wives, but he had no sons, and therefore he entered the forest. In the forest, the sages performed a sacrifice known as Indra-yajña on his behalf. Once, however, the king became so thirsty in the forest that he drank the water kept for performing yajña. Consequently, after some time, a son came forth from the right side of his abdomen (SB 9.6.25–30).

Another interesting story relates the birth of sage Jamadagni, the father of Paraśurāma:

There was a king named Kuśāmba, whose son Gādhi had a daughter named Satyavatī. Satyavatī was married to sage Ṛcīka. Once Satyavatī and her mother both requested Ṛcīka to bless them with a son. Ṛcīka took two pots of rice cooked in milk and empowered them with mantra. In one pot of sweet rice, he infused brāhmaṇa potency, and in the other, he infused kṣatriya potency, because he was a brāhmaṇa himself and wanted a son with brāhminical character for his wife Satyavatī. As her mother was a queen, he wanted a kṣatriya son to be born to her. Therefore, he made two separate pots for them. However, when Satyavatī brought the pot for her mother, the mother thought that the sage Ṛcīka favored his own wife and must have given a special pot of sweet rice to her. Therefore, she asked the daughter to exchange the pots. The daughter, being obedient to her mother and being ignorant of her husband’s intentions, gave her own pot to her mother and ate the sweet rice meant for her mother. 

As an outcome, Satyavatī and her mother both became pregnant. As the pregnancy advanced, Ṛcīka Muni could sense that the face of Satyavatī carried the radiance of kṣatriya potency. Upon inquiry, she innocently told her husband that she exchanged the pot with her mother. Hearing this Ṛcīka was upset and said that a kṣatriya son would be born to her. Satyavatī did not like that and begged her husband for a solution Being thus implored, Ṛcīka said that she would have a brāhmaṇa son, but her grandson would be of kṣatriya character. By the grace of sage Ṛcīka, Jamadagni, who had brāhminical character, was born to her. However, his son Parasurāma had the nature of a kṣatriya. Satyavatī’s mother, on the other hand, gave birth to Viśvāmitra who did very severe penances and acquired the status of a brāhma-ṛṣi. 

Another such incident is related in the Rāmāyaṇa with King Daśaratha:

As King Daśaratha was originally unable to have children, he reached out to the gods by performing an Aśvamedha, a horse sacrifice, and asked them to bestow a child upon him. King Daśaratha gained this magical substance that would ultimately lead to the birth of his sons.All three of his wives received portions of it. Instructed to divide the potion between his wives, King Daśaratha gave half to Kauśalyā due to her seniority, and the other half to Kaikeyīdue to his fondness for her. Unfortunately, this did not leave any for Sumitrā which caused Kauśalyā and Kaikeyī to each give her half of their portions. As Sumitrā technically received two servings, she bore two sons. Kauśalyā bore Rāma, Sumitrā bore twins, Lakṣmaṇa, and Śatrughna, and Kaikeyī bore Bharata.

 Although Lord Rāma is Bhagavān Himself and does not depend on such technicalities, still the stories convey the point that it is not just the semen that carries the soul. Similarly, there are stories that kings would do yajña to get a child (putreṣṭiyajña). One such example is King Drupada, who did such a yajña to get a son to kill Droṇācārya. As an outcome of this, Drṣṭadyumna and Draupadī were born from the fire of the yajña. Another example is Vṛtrāsura, who was Viśvāmitra’s son. He came out from the fire to kill Indra. 

From the above stories, you should understand that a separate ātmā takes shelter of a specific sperm and then combines with the ovum to become a zygote.

Question: If all cells have souls, when a sperm and an egg cell combine, what happens to the soul in the egg cell? [As the body gets the soul from the sperm].

Answer: The soul of the sperm and the ovum remain together in the zygote. The presiding soul of the body also remains there, separate from these souls. 

Question: Also, as the zygote divides to form the embryo and then the full body, by what program or mechanism do new souls get into the newly formed cells? Which of these daughter cells has the original soul (from the sperm)?

Answer: The new souls that come into the cells may come from the food eaten by the mother. None of the daughter cells have the original soul, which is separate.

Question: How does the master soul end up in the praṇavāyu area (near the heart), given that it was originally in a cell?

Answer: It was originally not in a cell, but outside, and it is already with praṇavāyu because every conditioned soul is attached to a subtle body, which contains the praṇavāyu. This is hinted at by Kṛṣṇa in Gītā 15.8–10. In fact, in 15.11, he also says that only yogīs can see this and not ordinary people. 

Question: Since the souls in individual cells suffer or enjoy according to the karma of the main soul, are these souls karmically linked somehow?

Answer: Yes, they are linked and therefore they end up together in the body provided by the main ātmā.