Tag Archives: Vīrarāghava Ācārya

The Ontology of the Jīva – Part 3

 Verse Six

evaṁ parābhidhyānena
ṛtvaṁ prakṛteḥ pumān
karmasu kriyam
ṇair ātmāni manyate

Prakṛti is the entity that carries out material activities, but the ātmā thinks that the deeds done by prakṛti’s guṇas are his own deeds, because he completely absorbs his self identification in her.

Evam (“in this way”) refers to ātmā’s condition, described in previous verses, of having forgotten his true nature due to infatuation with prakṛti. Parābhidhyānena (completely absorbing his concentration in another being) indicates that the self (pumān) completely identifies with a being other than himself, prakṛti. This is why he thinks (manyate) that the deeds carried out by her qualities (guṇas) are actually his own deeds (ātmāni).

The conclusion is that the position of being an agent of material actions is not within the inherent nature of the self, ātmā-svarūpa. Rather it is merely a conception arising from his identification with prakṛti’s guṇa (sattva, rajas and tamas). The meaning is that all actions happen in the mind-body complex made of material nature but the self identifies with them as his own.

Verse Seven

tad asya saṁsṛtir bandha
āra-tantryaṁ ca tat-kṛtam
bhavaty akartur
ākṣiṇo nirvṛtātmāna

Because of this misconception, the jīva falls into the cycle of birth and death called samsara, and becomes bound. Even though the jīva is not the doer – he is the master, the witness, and blissful by nature – he thus becomes dependent.

As described in the previous verses, ātmā attains the association of prakṛti’s guṇas and becomes bound within them due to his extreme identification with them. The current verse adds that this leads the ātmā into birth and death, which makes him dependent on prakṛti and controlled by karma. This shows that the ātmā in this world is not constitutionally or intrinsically bound to prakṛti. The ātmā’s bondage is an acquired condition, not an inherent one.

To make this very clear, Lord Kapila also describes the constitutional nature of ātmā when not bound by prakṛti: The ātmā is inherently uninvolved with selfish material deeds (akartu), is an independent master (īśasya), is clear-sighted and unbewildered (sākṣiṇa), and exists blissfully without needs (nirvṛtātmāna).

 The word akartu (lit. non-doer) does not imply that ātmā is not the shelter of will or efforts, for there can be no action by the mind-body complex without the presence of ātmā. It means that ātmā is devoid of common material deeds, such as walking, etc. This is made clear by the next word, īśasya (lit. of the controller), which stipulates that ātmā is not inherently controlled by karma. The next word, sākṣiṇah (lit. of the witness) also makes this clear by stipulating that ātmā “has eyes” (sa-akṣi) and thus clear vision, and thus knowledge (which shows that ātmā possesses knowledge as an attribute, jñāna-gunaka). Indeed, the meaning of being a witness is to experience something directly. Thus the natural state of the ātmā is to directly witness reality. Knowledge of reality is therefore his inherent attribute (thus he can be described as jñāna-guṇaka).

The final word describing the inherent nature of ātmā is nirvṛtātmāna. This word stipulates that ātmā is intrinsically conscious by nature (thus he is described as jñāna svarüpa). This word is a compound of nirvṛta and ātmā. Examining the word nirvṛta will be helpful. This word is based on the root vṛ, joined to the prefix nir- and the suffix -kta.  The root vr means to cover, but when used with prefix nir it means to be happy, unobstructed. The suffix kta (which is usually applied in the sense of past perfect) has been applied on nirvr to convey the sense of “nature.”  Thus the word means, “One whose nature is ānanda, blissful.”

There is a statement from Śruti to support that ātmā is inherently blissful and free of worries by nature: nirvana māyā eva ayam ātmā (“This self is verily blissful”). Bliss is a sense of comfortable feeling. Naturally, if ātmā is independent and uncontrolled by karma (as stipulated by the term īśaya) then it has no worries and is blissful – for it has no contact with beginningless good and bad karma and instead has the eight natural qualities such as apahata pāpma, as described in Cāndogya Upanishad: ya ātmā apahatapapma vijaro vimrtyur visoko avijighatso apipasah  satyakamah  satyasankalpah (8.7.1) which says that the pure self is free from sin, old age, death, grief, hunger, thirst; and his desire and will are fulfilled.

This is Lord Kapila’s description of the nature of the pure living being free from any contact with prakṛti, having the nature of consciousness and having consciousness as his attribute, while endowed with the above stated eight qualities as part of his svarūpa. So, it is understood that the very nature of ātmā is unlimited, uncontracted, pure consciousness. But this consciousness can be covered by ignorance and become subject to karma. Karma forces consciousness to contract into various types of bodies, from Brahma to grass. When ātmā enters these various bodies, his consciousness becomes limited accordingly. Ignorantly identifying with that particular body, the conditioned ātmā instigates activities related to it. As a result, he becomes subject to karma and must experience pleasure and suffering, and continue to be implicated in the flow of the material world.

A doubt may arise:

“Ātmā is said to be conscious by nature and self-luminous (jñāna svarūpa and svayam prakasa). But when he identifies with a particular body, he is darkened by ignorance. What happens to his quality of self-luminosity? It appears to be lost. If the self-luminosity still existed, it would seem impossible for ātmā to be in darkness regarding his true self-identity. Thus it would not be possible for him to identify with any material form. If the self-luminosity is lost, his very nature of an eternal entity is destroyed.”

We reply:

That is not true. Ātmā has two types of jñāna, namely svarūpa-bhūta and dharma-bhūta. The first is the intrinsic nature, i.e. the nature of being consciousness, the second is the quality of possessing awareness and knowledge. The first one has no content in it except the sense of “I”. It is subjective consciousness. The second one is related to objects outside the self. It is objective awareness. The conscious, self-illuminating nature of the ātmā (jñāna-svarūpa) is not lost. The nature of the ātmā is eternally to be full of brilliant consciousness. But the attribute of being able to use that luminous consciousness to illuminate objects (dharma-bhūta-jñāna) is covered. The attribute is covered and contracted, not the intrinsic nature which sprouts the attribute.

A further doubt arises:

“OK, so you accept the loss of the attribute of knowledge, dharma-bhūta-jñāna. The question we ask is: How does ātmā lose this attribute? There seem to be only two possible implications. Either the illuminating power is obstructed by ignorance, or it is extinguished altogether. In either case the attribute of being self-illuminating is destroyed. Since this attribute is accepted as eternal, this raises a logical fallacy because something eternal cannot be destroyed.”

We reply:

Consciousness (jñāna) as an attribute of ātmā is intrinsic and therefore eternal, but we accept that it can expand or contract in a real sense. The sentient knowledge of the self is not “destroyed,” it merely undergoes change in the form of expansion and contraction, by the influence of karma. The illusion of identifying oneself with a body needs a conscious base. Therefore, we see that self-illumination still exists in the ignorant ātmā – but to a contracted extent – as the basis for the experience of illusion. The ātmā illuminates himself, there is no need of any other consciousness to reveal him. Only inert objects need another agent to illuminate them. So, even in ignorance the ātmā retains his nature of self-illumination. But his knowledge about being eternal (etc.) is lost, and thus illusion is produced. Loss here means the illumination or light is removed. Such illumination or light is not exactly within the nature of ātmā. It is more precisely a quality of dharma-bhūta-jñāna called prasara (lit. expansion). In other words, dharma-bhūta-jñāna possesses light which naturally spreads all around. This spreading is called prasara or expansion. The prasara can become contracted (saṅkoca) by karma. That is called conditioning or limitation. Thus ātmā never loses the attribute of dharma-bhūta-jñāna.  Expansion is not the same as lack of contraction. It is a positive entity itself which removes the contracting covering on the ātmā’s light, thus destroying illusion.

In summary, the ātmā inherently and eternally possesses the attribute of sentience, jñāna, and eternally possesses the constitution of consciousness. But the ability for these to shine can be expanded or contracted by the function of dharma-bhūta-jñāna.

Advaita-vāda, however, cannot answer this question about the loss of ātmā’s illuminating power. It says that ātmā is consciousness itself, without qualities. Thus it says that the illumination of consciousness cannot be a quality of the ātmā, it must be intrinsic to the ātmā himself. Therefore the loss of illuminating power and subsequent illusion of the jīva is an unsolvable conundrum for them. In their paradigm, it amounts to the destruction of an eternal entity – a logical impossibility.


The Ontology of the Jīva – Part 2

The sixth verse will make it clear that the cause of the ātmā’s union with prakṛti is his own inclination towards and infatuation with her (parābhidhyānena). The current verse hints at this by saying that the ātmā sees (abhyapadyata) the enchanting qualities of prakṛti and thus becomes inclined, attracted towards her. Lord Kapila explains that prakṛti is divine (daivi) and therefore can fulfill her role in the divine play of the Lord (līlayā) by reciprocating with the ātmā’s inclination and approaching the ātmā for union, somehow or other (yadṛcchaya). Therefore it is to be understood that the relationship of the ātmā with prakṛti is not intrinsic and permanent.

This is at odds with Advaita-vāda. Advaita-vādīs say prakṛti has two functions: āvaraṇa and vikṣepa. Through āvaraṇa, prakṛti covers proper knowledge. Through vikṣepa she grants improper knowledge. They also say puruṣa is of two types: jīva and iśvara, both of which are products of māyā. Māyā has two divisions: vidyā and avidyā. When Brahman is conditioned by vidyā, the outcome is Īśvara. When Brahman is conditioned by avidyā, on the other hand, jīvas are the outcome. Īśvara is puruṣa in control of prakṛti and engaging in the activities of universal creation, sustenance and dissolution. Jīva is puruṣa bound by prakṛti as a result of his inability to discern the difference between himself and prakṛti. They say the present verse describes how the puruṣa loses discrimination and becomes bound by the āvaraṇa potency of prakṛti.

Such an explanation is improper because it is impossible for the puruṣa, who is self-luminous and forever free from ignorance, to have lack of discrimination about prakrti.

Advaita-vādīs respond that the puruṣa intentionally falls into this illusion for the sake of līlā – to execute the functions of creation.

To express our disagreement, we ask, “Do you mean that līlā is the cause of illusion?” If so, it is an unacceptable proposition because “līlā (lit. amusement) cannot cause illusion and displeasure. No sane person engages in a sport to suffer and become bewildered. Moreover, this opinion is not supported by śāstra, which says, eko bahu syām – “I [the Lord] want to be many.” The Lord desires to manifest creation. Illusion cannot result from this because no living entity will desire to fall into bewilderment.

They may say, “He did not know illusion would result from this.” This would be preposterous because the Lord is omniscient.

They may say, “He is not omniscient.” This would contradict the Vedic statements.

They may say, “He creates the universe to get rid of his ignorance by acquiring discrimination.” We don’t agree. How can this be “līlā”? No one intentionally gets a serious disease just to amuse himself with the medical treatment.

They may say, “Līlā is not the cause of illusion, it is the effect of illusion.” This is at odds with śāstra, which describes the cause of līlā as the Lord’s will to become many.

They may say “That will is also an illusion.” If so, how can it produce līlā (a blissful thing)?

If they agree that the Lord’s will to become many is not an illusion, it cannot be the cause of illusion. Something which is not illusion cannot be the effect of something which is illusion.

They may say, “Līlā is also illusion. It is only an illusion that the One becomes many – like the illusion of seeing two moons when you press your eye with your finger.” We do not find this plausible because it means that the entire creation, everything that exists, is illusion. No learned person enjoys illusions.

The Advaita-vādīs may raise another argument: “The Lord remains free from illusion, but deludes others as His līlā.” But no good person enjoys the sufferings of others. In fact, since Brahman cannot be deluded, he must be fully aware of his non-difference from the jīvas so he would cause himself to be deluded by throwing a jīva into delusion. Thus this argument is self-defeating.

Further, if everything except the original Brahman is illusion, the undeludable, omniscient Brahman will know that all other entities and all varieties of substances are unreal. Therefore enjoyment of līlā would be impossible for līlā requires variety. Indeed, this is why Brahman, which has no qualities (nirvisesa), cannot enjoy any līlā.

The proper conclusion is that the Lord is devoid of any inferior qualities and is an ocean of all wonderful attributes. He controls māyā as an instrument for his līlā. This māyā controls the living entities, who have no beginning and are distinct from the Lord. The relationship of the Lord with the jīvas is like the relation between ātmā and body. The Lord engages in the acts of universal creation etc. as His pastime to liberate the jīvas.

Therefore the Lord’s līlā is neither a cause of illusion, nor an effect of illusion, nor an illusion itself. This is the meaning of the verse.

The above explanation was given by applying the words līlayā and yadṛcchaya to the Lord. Alternatively these two words can be combined with the terms upagatam (the one who came near) and abyapadyata (accepted). In that case the words līlayā and yadṛcchaya are in the third grammatical case, generally used instrumentally to indicate cause, but used here in the sense of outcome or result. This is not an uncommon usage of the third grammatical case; here is a common example: adhyayanena vasati (“he lives for the sake of studying”). Here the third case in adhyayanena has not been used to convey instrumentality; it has been used to convey the outcome of his living at a particular place. In the same way, līlayā here means the outcome of the jīva accepting prakṛti. In this alternate explanation the meaning is, “The jīva attained prakṛti who approached him by the will of the Lord, and thus a līlā would transpire [of the Lord rescuing the jīva from bewilderment].”

In the first explanation līla was the cause of creation and in the second explanation līla is the outcome.

Verse Five

guṇair vicitrāḥ sṛjatīṁ
ūpāḥ prakṛtiṁ prajāḥ
vilokya mumuhe sadya

sa iha j

He became bewildered and lost his intelligence to her as soon as he [ātmā] glanced at prakṛti. She emanated so many wondrously attractive qualities, which take the form of so many wonderful sense objects.

A question arises at the conclusion of the previous verse: “The ātmā may approach prakṛti for union, but so what? What does this have to do with the issue at hand: explaining whether the ātmā is an agent involved in material activity?” Lord Kapila speaks this verse to address such a question. He says that ātmā’s approach to prakṛti results in ātmā’s true nature becoming covered; he then becomes bewildered, which will result in his believing himself to be an agent of material activities.

The previous verse mentioned the subtle state of prakṛti. The current verse describes how subtle prakṛti manifests gross prakṛti: her many wondrous subtle qualities become so many wondrous gross sense objects. Vicitrāḥ implies that these sense objects are varied. Sarūpāḥ indicates they are all of material nature.

Lord Kapila describes ātmā’s bewilderment as an outcome of his inherent nature (svarūpa) being covered by prakṛti. The living being looks at prakṛti in her functional state, engaged in birthing her offspring (prajā) – the various wonderful sensorial objects and embodiments – by combining her wondrous qualities (guṇaiḥ, i.e.sattva, etc). The awareness, or proper knowledge (jñāna), of the living being is thus covered or overshadowed (gūhayā) by the intoxicating influence of this vision of prakṛti. Therefore he immediately (sadya) becomes bewildered (mumuhe).

Verse Six

evaṁ parābhidhyānena
ṛtvaṁ prakṛteḥ pumān
karmasu kriyam
ṇair ātmāni manyate

Prakṛti is the entity that carries out material activities, but the ātmā thinks that the deeds done by prakṛti’s guṇas are his own deeds, because he completely absorbs his self identification in her.

Evam (“in this way”) refers to ātmā’s condition, described in previous verses, of having forgotten his true nature due to infatuation with prakṛti. Parābhidhyānena (completely absorbing his concentration in another being) indicates that the self (pumān) completely identifies with a being other than himself, prakṛti. This is why he thinks (manyate) that the deeds carried out by her qualities (guṇas) are actually his own deeds (ātmāni).

The conclusion is that the position of being an agent of material actions is not within the inherent nature of the self, ātmā-svarūpa. Rather it is merely a conception arising from his identification with prakṛti’s guṇa (sattva, rajas and tamas). The meaning is that all actions happen in the mind-body complex made of material nature but the self identifies with them as his own.

By desiring union with prakṛti, the living being desires union with her products, and thus comes to unify its identity with a particular material body. Thus he becomes conditioned and bound.

 (to be continued)

The Ontology of the Jīva – Part 1

By Satyanarayana Dasa

This article describes the nature of the individual living being (jīva). It is based on a commentary on verses three through seven of the 26th Chapter of the Third Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam by Śri Vīrarāghava Ācārya of the Śrī-sampradāya. I have included my own explanatory statements where required.

In this chapter of the Bhāgavatam, Lord Kapila describes Sāṅkhya Philosophy to his mother Devahūti. The basic principle of Sāṅkhya is the distinction between prakṛti (matter) and puruṣa (the conscious living being, which includes both the jīva and Paramātma.) In the first two verses of this chapter, Lord Kapila informs his mother about the importance of Sāṅkhya.  In the third through eighth verses, he describes the puruṣa. From verse ten until the end of the chapter, he describes prakṛti.


Bhāgavatam 3.26.3

 anādir ātmā puruṣo
ṇaḥ prakṛteḥ para
āmā svayaṁ-jyotir
śvaṁ yena samanvitam

“The ātma is the puruṣa who has no beginning, is beyond the senses and free from the guṇas of material nature. He is transcendental to prakṛti. He is conscious, self-effulgent, has a spiritual abode, and pervades the universe.

In this and the next verse, Lord Kapila clarifies the nature of jīva / ātma, distinguishing him from prakṛti.

The word puruṣa means jīva. The two characteristic features of the jīva’s nature are described by the words svayaṁ-jyoti and pratyag-dhāmā.

Svayaṁ-jyoti means self-luminous. In other words, it describes something that illuminates itself and other things, just like a lamp illuminates itself and the objects around it. Objects which produce no illumination (like a table, for example) require a light to shine on them before they can be perceived. But we do not need another lamp to see a lamp, it illuminates itself. It is “svayaṁ-jyoti.

Then, is ātmā like an ordinary, insentient lamp? Lord Kapila answers this by using the term pratyag-dhāmā. Ātmā is not insentient, he is conscious by nature. That which reveals to itself it called pratyak (conscious). Inert things are not revealed to themselves, they are revealed to others – thus earning the title parāk (inert, insentient). The word pratyag-dhāmā describes the ātmā as an entity inherently and naturally aware of himself. The categorical difference between ātmā and other luminous things like lamps, is that ātmā is a sentient illumination. To make this point, ātma is often described as jñāna svarūpa (“an entity who is constitutionally full of awareness”).

The term pratyag-dhāmā establishes that consciousness is the intrinsic nature of ātmā . The term svayam jyoti specifies that sentience (jñāna – “knowledge, awareness”)  is an attribute of ātmā . This is why ātmā can also be described as jñāna guṇaka (“an entity who possesses awareness”). Ātmā is conscious by nature, and also possesses consciousness as a quality. This stands in opposition to the Advaita-vada concept that the pure ātmā is merely consciousness which does not exhibit the quality of consciousness.

This is similar to a candle situated in one place with a flame two inches high. The flame is pratyag-dhāma (intrinsically full of luminosity) and the effulgence is svayam jyoti (the illumination it possesses). The effulgence of the candle illuminates the objects around it, and the flame illuminates itself. Consciousness as the attribute of ātmā illuminates objects around him by his own effulgence, svayaṁ-jyoti. Consciousness as the intrinsic nature of ātmā reveals itself to itself, pratyag-dhāma. Ātmā is both pratyag-dhāma and svayam-jyoti – the illuminator of himself and the illuminator of other things.

To summarize, the difference between the light of ātmā and the light of a candle is that the light of a candle can only reveal objects to a third-party observer, not to itself (it is “parāg-dhāmā”) but ātma is the observer of the objects he reveals, which includes the ātmā himself. Both the candle and the ātmā possess luminosity (svayam-jyoti), but only ātmā is a conscious observer, aware of himself (pratyag-dhāmā).

Ātmā is distinct from insentient luminous objects because he is sentient (jñāna svarūpa / pratyag-dhāmā) and utilizes his consciousness to comprehend himself and the objects around him (jñāna guṇa / svayam jyoti).

Lord Kapila also describes ātmā as “beyond prakṛti” (prakṛteḥ para). By his very nature, ātmā is completely distinct from the evolutes of prakṛti – the body, senses, mind and vital airs. That is why Lord Kapila also describes him as nirguṇa, devoid of the guṇas of prakṛti, such as sattva, rajas and tamas. Lord Kapila describes the ātmā as “pervading everything” because ātmā  enters into a physical body and sustains it. He therefore pervades the entire universe of gross and subtle bodies beginning from Brahmā, down to a blade of grass.

Lord Kapila uses the singular case in the word yena to refer to the ātmā as a class of puruṣa. This does not imply, as Advaita-vāda claims, that there is only one ātmā . One entity can represent an entire class, just as it is said, “One grain of rice nourished the whole of humanity.” The use of this grammar expresses that all bodies – devas etc. – are pervaded by a singular type of entity, the very subtle ātmā.

Bhāgavatam 3.26.4

 sa eṣa prakṛtiṁ sūkṣmāṁ
daivīṁ guṇamayīṁ vibhu
abhyapadyata līlayā

“Although he is very powerful, that ātma became attracted to the divine qualities of subtle prakṛti, and moved towards her. Prakṛti reciprocated by approaching the ātma, as was the will of the Lord.”

The previous verse described that the ātmā pervades all the material bodies in the universe, is very subtle, and has no beginning. In this verse, the words sa eṣa refer to the ātmā under discussion. Vibhu (lit., all-pervading) is an adjective describing ātmā as an entity capable to pervade all types of bodies, as a result of being very subtle. Since the ātmā is especially “subtle”, he must be distinct from the body and mind. He is not born when the body he adopts is born, nor does he die when that body dies. Only the body takes birth and dies, not the ātmā .

After hearing this, a doubt may arise: “If the ātmā does not take birth along with the body, then why do we experience oneness between body and  ātmā such that we feel and express things like, I am a deva, I am a human being, I am fat, etc.?”

The current verse answers this doubt. The characteristics of a body – such as ‘I am a deva, I am fat’ – are superimposed onto ātma as an outcome of the good and bad deeds done in the past. Therefore, ātmā is not born along with the body. To make this clear, Lord Kapila says that when a dreaming person wakes up, everything in the dream is destroyed, but the dreamer himself is unharmed. Similarly when the ātmā awakens from the dream of identification with the body, the body is destroyed but the ātmā is not.

But a doubt remains: “Since the ātmā is so distinct from the body and world, how can he interact with the world and enjoy or suffer the results of actions? Since ātmā and prakṛti are fundamentally different entities, how can they interact and have union?”

Lord Kapila answers by saying that prakṛti grants the ātmā a sense of being an active agent in her world. He will explain in the next verse how this allows ātmā and prakṛti to develop a union.

The current verse describes prakṛti with the adjective sūkṣmāṁ (lit. subtle), indicating prakṛti in a very subtle state in which there is no possibility of divisions by name or form. Therefore, we understand that the verse describes a condition at the beginning of creation, because it is only then that prakṛti exists in subtle, un-manifest state (sūkṣmām). In other words, the relationship between the ātmā and prakṛti did not occur at a particular time in history. It happened prior to the activation of the modes by time – and is therefore beginningless (anādi).

Universal dissolution destroys only the gross and subtle bodies of the ātmās, who enter unharmed into the body of Lord Viṣṇu. But the accumulated karma (sancita) of each ātmā persists even during the period of dissolution. At the next creation, Viṣṇu injects those ātmās  into prakṛti again by His glance.  This is the meaning of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s statement that He impregnates prakṛti (Gīta 14.2):

“Material nature (Brahman) is My great womb wherein I place the seed of all beings. From that, O descendent of Bharata, follows the birth of all beings.”

At that time, prakṛti is in its subtle state (sūkṣma) and functions according to the līla of Lord Viṣṇu (daivim).

(to be continued)