In the Vedic scriptures, the jīvātmā has been called the vibhinnāṁśa, separated part, of the Supreme Lord. Therefore, the jīva is constitutionally a servant of Kṛṣṇa. We have already mentioned that the one parā-śakti, or svarūpa-śakti, is manifested in three forms: cit-śakti, jīva-śakti and māyā-śakti. When sac-cid-ānanda para-tattva Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is complete in six opulences, is equipped only with His jīva-śakti, then His expansion is called vibhinnāṁśa-jīva. Alternatively, when sac-cid-ānanda Bhagavān is invested with all His potencies, such as svarūpa-śakti, then His expansion is called a personal expansion (svāṁśa). There is no difference in principle between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and His personal expansions such as Śrī Baladeva, Paravyoma-pati Nārāyaṇa (the Lord of the spiritual sky), Śrī Rāma, Śrī Nṛsiṁhadeva and the other incarnations. Only when we consider the degree of manifestation of śakti and rasa can we understand that Vrajendra-nandana Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the last limit of the Supreme Truth, the summit of all opulence (aiśvarya) and sweetness (mādhurya), and the origin of all incarnations (avatārī ) and of all expansions (aṁśī ). Śrī Rāma, Nṛsiṁha, etc., are called His incarnations (avatāras), and Śrī Baladeva and Paravyoma-pati Nārāyaṇa are called His vaibhava-prakāśa, or manifestations of His opulences. These are all bhagavat-tattva and the masters of māyā. However, this cannot be said in relation to the individual souls (jīvātmā), who are a transformation of Bhagavān’s jīva-śakti, or taṭasthā-śakti.
In the scriptures, Bhagavān has been described as undivided, immutable and without transformation. If the jīvas were direct expansions of Bhagavān, then He would have to be transformable, or mutable. However, to call para-brahma mutable, or divided, is not in accordance with scripture. In śāstra the jīva has been accepted as the transformation of the śakti of para-brahma. On account of the non-difference of brahma and His śakti, the jīva has been called the aṁśa, separated particle, of brahma, as it has been stated in the Bhagavad-gītā (15.7): mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ. However, after evaluating various scriptural statements, the Vaiṣṇava ācāryas who follow Śrīman Mahāprabhu have pronounced the jīva to be a transformation of śakti.
It is sometimes seen that a special jewel or a person accomplished in chanting particular mantras can manifest many other substances, although the jewel or the person who knows mantras, themselves remain untransformed. This is because the substances are manifested by their potency. In the same way, the cit-śakti of para-brahma Śrī Kṛṣṇa manifests the transcendental abodes such as the unlimited Vaikuṇṭha planets, Goloka Vṛndāvana and all their spiritual paraphernalia; the jīva-śakti, or taṭasthā-śakti, manifests unlimited jīvas; and māyā-śakti manifests unlimited mundane universes. Still, brahma remains immutable, undivided and pure. The jīva is a portion (aṁśa) of the potency of brahma, and not a direct fragmented expansion. That is why he is called vibhinnāṁśa, or separated expansion. It has been stated in Śrī Nārada-pañcarātra: “yat taṭasthaṁ tu cid-rūpaṁ sva-saṁvedyād vinirgatam – Being a particle of consciousness and an emanation from the cit-śakti, the living being is marginal, or taṭasthā.”
Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī further clarifies taṭasthā-śakti in Paramātma-sandarbha (37):
“taṭasthatvañca māyā-śakty-atītatvāt, asyāvidyā-parābhavādi-rūpeṇa doṣeṇa paramātmano lepābhāvāc cobhaya-koṭāv apraveśāt. tasya tac-chaktitve saty api paramātmanas tal-lepābhāvaś ca yathā kvacid eka-deśa-sthe raśmau chāyayā tiraskṛte ’pi sūryasyātiraskārastadvat.”
he meaning is: Jīva-śakti, which is called taṭasthā, is separate from māyā-śakti ; therefore it does not come in the category of māyā. However, the jīva is controlled by avidyā, ignorance, so he cannot be on the same level as Paramātmā, who remains ever uncontaminated by ignorance. Although avidyā is a śakti of Paramātmā, it does not cover Him, just as the sun itself is not covered when a cloud obscures its rays in one particular region.
It has also been stated as such in the Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad (4.3.9): “tasya vā etasya puruṣasya dve eva sthāne bhavataḥ, idaṁ ca paraloka-sthānaṁ ca, sandhyaṁ tṛtīyaṁ svapna-sthānam, tasmin sandhye sthāne tiṣṭhannete ubhe sthāne paśyatīdaṁ ca para-loka-sthānaṁ ca … – That jīva-puruṣa has two positions, namely, the inanimate material world and also the spiritual world, about which he should enquire. The jīva is situated in a third position, which is a dream-like condition, svapna-sthāna (taṭasthā), and is the juncture between these two. Being situated at the place where the two worlds meet, he sees both the inert and the spiritual world.”
Even though all the jīvas that manifest from the taṭasthā-śakti have arisen from Parameśvara, they are still separately existing individual entities. The jīva is compared to an atomic particle of the sun’s rays or to a spark of a fire. This has been stated clearly in the Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad (2.1.20): “… yathā ’gneḥ kṣudrā visphuliṅgā vyuccaranty evamevāsmādātmānaḥ … sarvāṇi bhūtāni vyuccaranti … – as sparks emanate from a fire, similarly the aggregate of jīvas is manifested from the Supreme Soul, Śrī Kṛṣṇa.”
From this it is clear that the jīvas, being atomic conscious particles and vibhinnāṁśa-tattva, are subordinate to the original ātmā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. They are eligible for both the spiritual and the material worlds because of their marginal nature. Being situated on the borderline between the two, if they look in the direction of the cit-jagat, the potency of yogamāyā empowers them and they become engaged in the service of Bhagavān in the spiritual world. However, if they look in the direction of the illusory material world, the desire to enjoy matter arises within them. Then, turning away from the spiritual sun, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, they become attracted by māyā. Māyā, who is very close by, immediately gives them a gross body with which to strive for enjoyment, and casts them into the current of birth and death in material existence.
The jīvas’ condition of being averse to Kṛṣṇa is without beginning (anādi). Kṛṣṇa is supremely compassionate, and He is not to be accused of putting the jīvas into an undesirable condition, because, being exceedingly sportive, He has given the jīvas a divine jewel in the form of independence, and He never interferes with it. The cause of the jīvas’ undesirable condition is their own misbehaviour in regard to misuse of their God-given independence.
In Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 20.108–109) Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī has stated:
jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya—kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’
kṛṣṇera ‘taṭasthā-śakti’, ‘bhedābheda-prakāśa’
sūryāṁśu-kiraṇa, yena agni-jvālā-caya
svābhāvika kṛṣṇera tina-prakāra ‘śakti’ haya
Kṛṣṇa’s natural potency is of three types. The jīva is a manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s taṭasthā-śakti. The jīva is related with Kṛṣṇa as a manifestation simultaneously different and non-different from Him. If Kṛṣṇa is compared to the sun then the jīva is like an aṁśa, an atomic particle emanating from Him. Or the jīva is like a spark emanating from fire (Kṛṣṇa).
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.2.37) it has also been stated:
bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syā-
dīśād apetasya viparyayo ’smṛtiḥ
tan-māyayāto budha ābhajet taṁ
The jīva who is averse to Bhagavān forgets his own constitutional nature because of being controlled by māyā. Due to this forgetfulness, he becomes absorbed in the material body and all things related to it, and a sort of mistaken and inverted identification arises in which he develops the conception that he is the material body: ‘I am a demigod’, or ‘I am a human being’. In this state of bodily identification, there are many things to be feared, such as old age, disease and death. Therefore, people who know the truth should see their guru as īśvara, their master, non-different from and very dear to Bhagavān. They should then perform single-pointed bhajana of their guru as īśvara by exclusive and one-pointed, unalloyed devotional service.
The monists say, “Jīvātmā and Paramātmā are non-different. In the conditioned state, when brahma is covered by ignorance, it is called jīva. Jīva and the world have no factual existence: ‘brahma satyaṁ jagan mithyā jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ – brahma is the truth, this world is false, and the individual soul is non-different from brahma.’ ” However, this conclusion of the advaita-vādīs is completely imaginary, opposed to śāstra and false in all respects, because in the Śrutis, para-brahma has been described as complete, flawless, undivided and composed of eternity, knowledge and bliss, whereas the jīva has been described as the minute, conscious and expanded part of para-brahma, the omnipotent Supreme Lord. Para-brahma is one, but the jīvas are innumerable.
bālāgra-śata-bhāgasya śatadhā kalpitasya ca
bhāgo jīvaḥ sa vijñeyaḥ sa cānantyāya kalpate
Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (5.9)
Though the jīva is situated in an inert material body, he is a subtle transcendental principle (tattva). If one divides the tip of a hair into one hundred parts and again divides one of those parts into one hundred parts, then however subtle one of those parts may be, the jīva is even more subtle than that. Although he is so subtle, the jīva is a spiritual substance and he is suitable for ānantya dharma. (Ant means ‘to be free from death’, and ānantya means ‘liberation’, or mokṣa.)
Gaupavan śruti-vākya, quoted in the Aṇu-bhāṣya on Vedānta-sūtra (2.3.18), states:
“aṇurhyeṣa ātmāyaṁ vā ete sinītaḥ puṇyaṁ cāpuṇyañca – the ātmā is minute in size. Sin, piety and so on can take shelter of him.”
uṇḍaka Upaniṣad (3.1.9) confirms this: “eṣo ’ṇurātmā cetasā veditavyo – this ātmā is minute in size.”
In Bhagavad-gītā (7.5) Śrī Kṛṣṇa declares:
apareyam itas tv anyāṁ
prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām
yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat
O mighty-armed Arjuna, the māyā-śakti, which I described in the previous verse, is my aparā, or inferior, potency. In addition to this potency, there is another potency of Mine, the parā, or superior, potency, in the form of the jīvas. You should know that by My jīva-śakti, this entire creation is being maintained.
The constitution of the jīva is purely spiritual, and in his constitutional state he is designated by the word aham (I) [I am the eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa and an eternal individual]. The jīvas have manifested from the taṭasthā-śakti, which has come forth from the inconceivable potency of Paramātmā, and therefore their dharma is also taṭasthā, always. At the same time, because of being minute, the jīva is naturally susceptible to being controlled by māyā. Therefore he is neither completely different nor completely non-different from Paramātmā. The jīva can be controlled by māyā, whereas Īśvara is the master of māyā. It is clear from the scriptural statements accepted by the disciplic succession that the jīva is an eternal principle distinct from Īśvara. Therefore, the jīva’s simultaneous difference and non-difference from Īśvara are both established by Śruti. Kevalādvaita-vāda is completely non-Vedic.
The jīva is aṇu-caitanya, atomic consciousness, and is endowed with the quality of knowledge. Described by the word ‘I’ – he is an enjoyer1, a thinker and one who comprehends. The jīva has an eternal svarūpa which is extremely subtle. Just as the different parts of the gross body – hands, legs, nose, eyes, etc. – combine to manifest a beautiful form when established in their respective places, similarly, a very beautiful atomic spiritual body is manifest, which is composed of different parts. This transcendental body, or svarūpa, is the jīva’s eternal constitutional form.
When the jīva is conditioned by māyā, its eternal body is covered by gross (sthūla-śarīra) and subtle material bodies (liṅga-śarīra). It is not māyāvāda to say that the jīva is controlled by māyā. According to the māyāvādīs, the jīva is a temporary principle of brahma covered by māyā or a reflection of māyā. However, when we say that the jīva is ‘controlled by māyā ’, it is clear that the conscious particle, the jīva, is prone to be defeated by māyā because of his minute nature. Māyā is the aparā-śakti, or inferior potency, and the jīva is parā-śakti, or superior potency. The false identification with inert matter is the function of māyā. The jīva is a transcendental substance beyond this māyā. Even when the jīva is free from māyā, his quality of being an individual living entity is not destroyed.
Māyāvāda is an erroneous theory. According to this philosophy, brahma is non-dual, pure, undivided and uncontaminated. If, for the sake of argument, we accept this siddhānta, then what is it that becomes covered or reflected? How is it possible for brahma to be reflected or covered? Who is the seer of this? What is the place of reflection? When is there any other substance apart from brahma? When we examine māyāvāda in this way, we see that it is ridiculous to the fullest extent. The evidence of the śruti-mantras becomes useless when philosophers stretch their meaning to concoct an interpretation in support of their own sectarian doctrine.
The consistent opinion of the Vedas is that the inherent principle of simultaneous and inconceivable difference and non-difference between Bhagavān and His potencies is true, eternal and meaningful. The jīva, being in a separate category from Īśvara, is vibhinnāṁśa-tattva, and he is manifest from Kṛṣṇa’s taṭasthā-śakti. The jīva is a pure substance and by nature engaged in his constitutional activities in relation with Kṛṣṇa. This is the factual understanding of the living entities’ intrinsic characteristics.