Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Jiva Tattva

November 30th, 2003 | No Comments

Q. If karma determines the happiness and distress of a human being, what determines this for animals? Why does one animal live a long life while another is eaten shortly after its birth? What law is governing the life of an animal?

A. Karma is acquired in the human form of life and animal life is but one karmic reaction to the way in which humans act. Thus some souls in human dress later wear the dress of an animal and the degree of suffering or enjoyment they have in animal life is directly related to what they did in human life.

Q. If the soul’s position in eternity is to be a servant of Lord Krishna then why don’t all liberated souls from all paths promote this understanding? By studying the lives of saints who have traversed other paths, one can see that they achieved symptoms of love of God similar to those mentioned in Vaisnava scriptures, so why did they not preach directly about love of Krishna?

A. Sri Krishna explains this in the Bhagavad-gita when he says that although all souls follow him, he reciprocates with them in accordance with how they approach him. All liberated souls experience some aspect of Krishna, such as merging into his effulgence, reverential love of god, etc. However, attaining love of Krishna (Krishna prema) and entering into his most intimate pastimes (madhurya lila) as discussed in Gaudiya Vaisnavism is a very specific path. Not everyone is intrinsically attracted to or eligible for this path.

Q. Would you please explain the meaning of the word nirvana and its application in a doctrinal way?

A. In the Bhagavad-gita nirvana refers to extinguishing material suffering while attaining salvation. Bg 2.72 states, “O Partha, having attained this divine state one is not deluded; if one is fixed in this consciousness even at the moment of death, one attains Brahman and the cessation of all suffering (nirvana).”

This verse describes the enlightened condition as brahma-nirvana. The word nirvana is distinctly Buddhist, although it is also found in some of the later Upanisads. Here Krishna includes it within Brahman (his effulgence/beatific vision). Literally nirvana means to “blow out,” as one does a candle to extinguish its light. The word has a negative connotation, and thus Buddhism has sometimes been considered a negative form of spirituality. It is negative, however, in a positive way. Its goal is to negate the suffering that it considers the world to consist of.

Cessation of suffering is also concomitant to the goal of the Gita, and thus all that is included in nirvana is within Krishna’s general conception of enlightenment. Brahman is, as is apparent in later chapters of the Gita, an aspect of Krishna. It is not the complete expression of divinity, which Bhagavan Krishna himself is. In the second chapter of the Gita, where the above verse is found, Krishna has not entirely revealed everything that the fully enlightened state of God consciousness includes, although he has hinted at it (Bg. 2.59, 2.61, 2.64).

In chapter 5, Krishna uses the word nirvana three times (Bg. 5.24-26) in the course of elaborating on the enlightened condition of samadhi (divine absorption) that he explained in the concluding section of chapter two (Bg. 2.55-72). In each of these verses, Krishna calls the enlightened condition brahma-nirvana. However, he ends chapter 5 by placing realization of himself within the equation of enlightenment (Bg. 5.29) when he says that the peace of enlightenment (sati) is attained quickly by acknowledging himself as the ideal of the contemplatives (Brahman), the yogis (Paramatma/Oversoul), and his devotees (Bhagavan/ God himself).

In chapter six, which involves an extended discussion of the spiritual practices of yoga that lead to enlightenment, Krishna elaborates further on the enlightened condition by including realization of the Paramatma feature of the Absolute within it, paramatma samahita (Bg. 6.7). In the same section of chapter six (Bg. 6.15), he reveals that the enlightened state of yogic attainment includes the supremely peaceful cessation of material existence in Brahman (santim nirvana-paramam), which is contained within realization of his person (mat-samstham/Bhagavan). He concludes chapter six by calling the yoga of devotion (bhakti) the highest expression of yoga. This is the yoga that corresponds with the Gita’s full sense of enlightenment—God-realization. Thus within this concluding section of chapter two, Krishna’s description of the enlightened person refers ultimately to his devotee.

Editors note: This answer has been taken from Swami Tripurari’s commentary to verse 2.72 in his book Bhagavad-gita Its Feeling and Philosophy. Information on that book can be found by clicking here.

Q. Are some souls created weak, and thus meant to fall down into material existence? Does Krishna put these weak souls into suffering and then make them take the blame for their own condition?

A. The baddha jiva (bound soul) who is implicated in anadi (beginingless) karma is part and parcel of Krishna, not a completely independent being. Can Krishna be blamed for doing something to himself when no one other than him exists in the first place? This is lila, which is not subject to reason. Play transcends reason, yet if you become a conscious member of his play you will understand. As I said in a previous Sanga: “We have nothing to say in the matter. Any objection is based on the illusion that we are independent from God.”

Otherwise, it is Maha Visnu who desires to become many and thus manifests as the baddha jiva. It is said that the jiva is conditioned because of Visnu’s proximity and relationship with maya. To remedy the problem resulting from his involvement with maya arising from his desire to become many, he enters the world of maya (as the avatara) and saves the baddha jiva.

Q. In the Brahma sutras written by Bhagavan Veda Vyasa it says that whosoever worships saguna brahma attains Brahmaloka and will not return to the birth and death cycle, meaning that they are liberated. However, according to Bhagavad-gita 8.16 attainment of Brahmaloka is subject to return to the cycle of birth and death. Why the contradiction between the Brahma sutras and the Bhagavad-gita?

A. Depending on how it is used, the term Brahamloka has two meanings. One meaning of Brahmaloka is the abode of Lord Brahma, which is described in Bhagavad-gita as being within the material plane. This Brahmaloka is not eternal and one who takes birth there is subject to repeated birth and death, although for the most part souls who have attained this planet attain liberation along with Brahma at the time of his death. The second meaning of Brahmaloka is “Brahman,” the Absolute. This refers to the land of no return, as discussed in the Brahma sutras.

Q. What does it mean when the scripture says that the living being (jiva) takes his first birth in the material world as Brahma?

A. It is not that every jiva is born first as a Brahma and after a lifetime as Brahma falls into lower forms of life. The correct understanding is that Brahma represents what is referred to as samasti-jiva, the collective of jiva souls. This is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam SB 3.20.16, sarva-jivanikayauko yatra svayam abhut svarat. It is also explained in SB 11.3.12, where the samasti-jiva is referred to as the vairaja-purusa. According to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the word vairajah in this verse indicates the totality of the individual conditioned souls who originally take birth from Brahma and are amalgamated back into him at the time of annihilation. Thus Brahma represents the collective of jivas and in this sense the jiva is born first as Brahma, who is also the first-born jiva.

Q. What does the term sakti-tattva mean and what is the difference between sakti-tattvas and nitya mukta souls?

A. The term sakti-tattva refers to all aspects of Krishna constituted of his energy (sakti), as opposed to himself (saktiman). This includes maya sakti (illusory energy), svarupa sakti (internal energy), jiva sakti (individual souls), etc. Nitya-muktas are eternally liberated souls (jivas) and thus are also constituted of his sakti.

Q. It is stated in Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s book Jaiva-dharma that sandhini sakti transforms into many levels of sattva (existence). Does this mean that sandhini-sakti is composed of spirit souls and that the paramanus (atoms) of this material world are spirit souls?

A. The sandhini sakti is a division of the svarupa sakti, its existential aspect. Thus it is responsible for the manifestation of the spiritual realms. Maya sakti is a shadow of this svarupa sakti. That which within the maya sakti corresponds with the sandhini sakti makes up the atomic particles (paramanu) of the material world. This does not imply that each atom is a jiva soul, but rather that consciousness is at the foundation of matter.

Q. Jaiva-dharma states that souls emanating from Maha-Visnu have some kind of vision of both the maya world and the spiritual world and from that vision they choose which of the two worlds to enter. This and various statements in Prabhupada’s books support the contention that the jiva does not fall from Vaikuntha (the spiritual world). But there are other statements in Prabhupada’s books that seem to say that souls fell into the material world from an active relationship with Krishna in Vaikuntha because somehow or other they became envious of Krishna. Why the difference in these accounts?

A. Acaryas offer different explanations in consideration of their audience. Such is the nature of preaching. What is common among all of these explanations is the attempt to exonerate God from any fault for the suffering of souls in the material world. In my experience, all answers to this question fall short of entirely satisfying the intellect, thus emphasis should be placed on the fact of our material conditioning and the means to remedy it, more than on explaining its origins to the satisfaction of the intellect.

Spiritual progress is based more on faith and spiritual practice than it is on intellect. Saints and scripture teach that through faith and spiritual practice one can transcend the limitations of mind and intellect and gain entrance into the world of spiritual experience, at which point this question can be put to rest once and for all. Once we know what it means to be a soul, we can fully understand the nature of its material conditioning.

Otherwise, I have written in greater detail on this subject in the past, and I suggest that you search the Sanga archives if you have further interest.

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