jīva-tattva

The jīva’s doership is real and not illusory – Part I

One of the pramāṇas propped up by some to support the novel concept that the jīva made an ‘anādi choice’ to enter the material world is Śrī Baladeva’s commentary on Vedanta-sūtras 2.3.31-40. Here we present a translation of Śrī Baladeva’s commentary. As will become clear, these proponents put the words ‘anādi choice’ into Śrī Baladeva’s mouth while he says nothing of the kind. He simply repeats what Śrī Jīva Goswami explains in the Paramātmā Sandarbha, as we shall see. I will present this material in parts for ease of reading.

kartṛ-adhikaraṇam: discussion of doership

idam idānīṁ vicārayati | vijñānaṁ yajñaṁ tanute, karmāṇi tanute’pi ca [tai.u. 2.5.1] iti taittirīyāḥ paṭhanti | iha sandehaḥ | vijñāna-śābdito jīvaḥ kartā na veti |hantā cen manyate hantuṁ hataś cen manyate hatam |ubhau tau na vijānīto nāyaṁ hanti na hanyate || [kaṭha.u. 1.2.19] iti kaṭha-śrutyā tasya kartṛtva-pratiṣedhān na sa kartā, kintu prakṛtir eva kartrī |prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ |ahaṅkāra-vimūḍhātmā kartāham iti manyate || [gītā 3.27] kārya-kāraṇa-kartṛtve hetuḥ prakṛtir ucyate |puruṣaḥ sukha-duḥkhānāṁ bhoktṛtve hetur ucyate || [gītā 13.20] ity ādi smṛtibhyaś ca |tasmān na jīvasya kartṛtvaṁ prakṛti-gataṁ tattva-vivekāt svasmin so’dhyasyati bhoktā tu karma-phalānām iti prāpte—

Translation: This now needs to be considered. The Taittirīya Upaniṣad says, vijñāna performs yajña, and also performs actions. [tai.u. 2.5.1] This creates the following doubt. Is the jīva, indicated by the word vijñāna, the doer or is he not the doer? The Kaṭha Upaniṣad states, “If the killer thinks he kills, and the killed thinks he is killed, both do not know that he does not kill and does not get killed”. [kaṭha.u. 1.2.19] From this, the jīva’s doership is denied. He is not the doer. Prakṛti alone is the doer.

[In addition to the Śrutis above,] the Smṛtis also support this:

“All actions are conducted by the senses that are composed of the guṇas of prakṛti. Yet, the person whose mind is deluded by egoic identification thinks, “I am the doer.” [gītā 3.27]

“Material nature is said to be the cause in regard to the agency related to the body [as effect] and the senses [as immediately preceding cause]. The conscious living being is said to be the cause in the matter of the experiential capacity for happiness and misery.” [gītā 13.20]

As such, consideration of tattva leads to the conclusion that the jīva does not have doership, and that doership resides in prakṛti. The jīva super-imposes doership on itself. But the experiencer is the jīva.

Notes: Here Śrī Baladeva lays out the opposing view. This view states that there is no doership or agency in the jīva, rather, it is actually in prakrti. Such a notion underlies the Sāñkhya and Advaitavāda doctrines. The Advaitavādis further propose that any doership felt by the jīva is an illusion, a super-imposition on itself. Note that the opponent’s view is also based in scripture, and not just arbitrarily proposed. Śrī Baladeva will now show how the sūtras below refute this notion.

|| 2.3.31 ||

kartā śāstrārthavattvāt |

Translation: [jīva is] kartā because the śāstra is meaningful.

jīva eva kartā, na guṇāḥ | kutaḥ? śāstreti | svarga-kāmo yajetātmānam eva lokam upāsīta ity ādi śāstrasya cetane kartari sati sārthakyāt guṇa-kartṛtvena tad-anarthakyaṁ syāt | śāstraṁ kila phala-hetutā-buddhim utpādya karmasu tat-phala-bhoktāraṁ puruṣaṁ pravartayate | na ca tad-buddhir jaḍānāṁ guṇānāṁ śakyotpādayitum ||31||

Translation: The jīva is the doer and not the guṇas. Why? Because of śāstra. The śāstra says, “the person desirous of svarga should perform yajña”. These types of śāstric instructions are meaningful when the doer is conscious, and meaningless if the guṇas (which are not conscious) are considered the doer. By creating knowledge of the fruit, the śāstra engages the enjoyer of the fruit, the jīva, in actions. It is not possible to create such knowledge in inert guṇas.

vāstavam eva kartṛtvaṁ jīvasyety āha

Translation: That the doership of the [pure] jiva is real [and not super-imposed and illusory] is spoken of next.

Notes: The main point here is that the guṇas are inert, and therefore cannot comprehend any instructions from śāstra. The jīva can comprehend instructions, but it does so only through its mind. The pure ātmā does not have a mind, and cannot comprehend any instructions. The jīva is a dependent knower (Śrī Baladeva uses the word asvatantra below) and therefore a dependent actor, dependent chooser, and dependent experiencer. The pure ātmā has doership, knowership and experiencership in it, but these potentials can only manifest into doing, knowing and experiencing, when the pure ātmā is identified with a mind and senses.

|| 2.3.32 ||

vihāropadeśāt |

Translation: It is said that he enjoys after liberation [as such doership inheres in the pure jīva]

sa tatra paryeti jakṣan krīḍan ramamāṇa [chā.u. 8.12.3] ity ādinā muktasyāpi krīḍābhidhānād ity arthaḥ | ataḥ kartṛtvam atra na duḥkhāvahaṁ, kintu guṇa-sambandham eva, tasya svarūpa-glāni-karatvāt ||32||

Translation: The Śruti states that even the liberated person engages in play as in “There, he travels, eats, plays and enjoys” (chā.u. 8.12.3). Therefore, here doership is not the cause of misery. Rather, it is the relation with the guṇas that causes misery because it covers the jīva’s svarūpa (which is devoid of misery).

Notes: Here Śrī Baladeva astutely reminds us that the scriptures mention how liberated beings also perform actions. Post-liberation, there is no relationship with prakṛti. Yet scripture describes that the liberated person acts. This suggests that doership inheres in the jīva.

|| 2.3.33 ||

upādānāt |

Translation: Because [the jiva] accepts [the senses]

sa yathā mahārāja ity upakramya, evam evaiṣa etān prāṇān gṛhītvā sve śarīre yathā-kāmaṁ parivartata [bṛ.ā.u. 2.1.18] iti śrutau, gṛhītvaitāni saṁyāti vāyur gandhān ivāśayāt [gītā 15.7] iti smṛtau ca jīva-kartṛkasya prāṇopādānasyābhidhānāt lohākarṣaka-maṇer iva cetanasyaiva jīvasya kartṛtvaṁ bodhyam | anya-grahaṇādau prāṇādi karaṇaṁ, prāṇa-grahaṇādau tu nānyad astīti tasyaiva tat ||33||

Translation: In Śruti statements such as the one starting with ‘As the king’ and ending with ‘in that way, accepting these senses, he acts in his body as he desires’ (bṛ.ā.u. 2.1.18), and in Smṛti statements such as ‘he departs taking with him these six senses, just as the breeze carries odors from their fragrant source’, because the jīva-agent is said to accept the senses, the doership of the jīva is to be understood, similar to a magnet attracting iron.

yukty-antaraṁ cāha—

Translation: Now a different logic is offered.

Notes: Here Śrī Baladeva provides another reason for accepting the jīva’s doership- jīva is described in the scripture as accepting the mind and the senses. The act of accepting implies that the jīva has doership distinct from any doership in prakṛti. This is because the act of accepting is not occuring through prakṛti, but rather prakṛti is the object that is being accepted. (the mind, senses etc. are composed of prakṛti). This establishes a distinct doership in the jīva.

|| 2.3.34 ||

vyapadeśāc cakriyāyāṁ na cen nirdeśa-viparyayaḥ|

Translation: and because [the jiva] is stated [to be the primary doer] in actions; if not, then the case endings have to be changed [which is a fault].

vijñānaṁ yajñam [taitt.u. 2.5] ity ādinā vaidikyāṁ laukikyāṁ ca kriyāyāṁ mukhyatvena vyapadeśāt jīvaḥ kartā | atha cet vijñāna-śabdena jīvo nābhidhīyate, kintu buddhir eva, tarhi nirdeśa-viparyayaḥ syāt | vijñānam iti prathamānta-kartṛ-nirdeśasya vijñāneneti tṛtīyānta-karaṇa-nirdeśo bhavet | buddheḥ karaṇatvāt | na cātra tathāsti | kiṁ ca, buddheḥ kartṛtve tasyāḥ karaṇam anyat kalpyaṁ sarvasya karaṇasyaiva karmasu pravṛtti-darśanāt | tataś ca nāma-mātreṇa visaṁvādaḥ, karaṇābhinnasya kartṛtva-svīkārāt |

Translation: The jīva is indicated as the primary doer in Vedic actions in statements like ‘vijñāna performs yajña’ [taitt.u. 2.5], as well as in ordinary actions. If the jīva is not indicated by the word vijñāna, but rather the buddhi or intelligence is meant by it, then the case endings have to be changed. The word vijñāna which is in first case to indicate the doer or subject of action, would have to be read as vijñānena, which is the third case to indicate the instrument of action. This is because buddhi or intelligence is an instrument. This is not the case here, however. Moreover, if we accept vijñāna to mean buddhi, and buddhi as the doer, then we would have to imagine another instrument for the buddhi, because all instruments are seen to be engaged in actions [such unnecessary imagination is to be avoided]. By accepting that the agent is non-different from the instrument, one give rise to an argument in name only [that is, the opponent also accepts that the doer and the instrument are different, and is just arguing for no reason].

Notes: Here we see a grammatical argument for the jīva’s doership. One would have to reverse several statements in the scripture in order to make sense of them.

nanu jīva-kartṛtve hitasyaiva, na tu ahitasya sṛṣṭiḥ syāt, svatantrasya kartṛtvāt | maivam | hitam eva sisṛkṣor api sahakāri-karma-vaicitryeṇa kvacid ahitasyāpy āpātāt | tasmāt jīva eva kartā | evaṁ sati kvacid akartṛtva-vacanam asvātantryāt | kartṛtve kleśa-sambandha-darśanāt na tatra śrutes tātparyam ity ādiku-sṛṣṭāyas tu darśa-paurṇamāsādiṣv apy atātparyāpattyādibhir nirasanīyāḥ ||34||

Translation: Objection – if the jīva has agency or doership, then because he is an independent doer, his actions should always produce a beneficial result [but this is not observed]. This is not so. Even though he wishes to produce a beneficial result, because the assisting causes are variable, sometimes non-beneficial results also accrue. Therefore, the jīva is certainly the doer. Even so, sometimes doership is denied in the jīva, because he is not independent. Because doership is seen to be [causally] related to suffering, Śruti does not intend to ascribe doership to the jīva- such objections are rejected due to the fault [of ignoring doership] in Śruti statements like ‘perform the darśa and paurṇamāsa sacrifices’ [which obviously bring happiness if performed].

Notes: One may naively come to the conclusion that the jīva is an independent doer. This erroneous notion is swiftly rejected by Śrī Baladeva. He states that the jīva lacks independence in two ways. First, when he acts, the intended result may not accrue because the assisting causes do not cooperate. For example, one may farm the land, but it may not rain. Second, the doership itself is dependent (asvatantra) as evident in scriptural statements that deny it in the jīva.

Śrī Baladeva’s commentary has nothing to do with the jīva’s anādi choice!

I will continue Śrī Baladeva’s commentary on the remaining sūtras in another article. One may note here that this entire discussion so far has *nothing* to do with the jīva’s anādi choice to enter the material world or the lack of it. All Śrī Baladeva has done is outline Śrī Jīva’s exposition of the jīva’s intrinsic properties. The pure ātmā has knowership, doership and the capacity to experience phenomena. However, to actually know, do and experience, the pure ātmā must become identified with the mind and senses. Without these instruments, it cannot do anything, experience anything, know anything, or think/desire anything.

Given this, the notion that the pure ātmā made the choice in the spiritual world to enter the material world is nonsensical. To make a choice which is a thought of the following type: “Let me enter the material world”, the pure ātmā needs to be able to think! For that, it needs a mind!

Lets say, for argument’s sake, that the pure ātmā made an anādi choice with a mind. Is this mind material or spiritual? If it is spiritual, it is made of Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti, and therefore cannot think any thought that is contrary to Bhagavān’s service. If it is material, then the pure ātmā could not have acquired it without first making a choice to acquire it, as the pure ātmā does not have a material mind. And a choice without the mind is not possible. The only way the pure ātmā can acquire a material mind is if it already chose to enter the material world. Both cases are opposed to scripture and the latter case is robustly absurd, and thus the notion that the pure ātmā made an anādi choice is refuted.

For completeness, note the following: When the pure ātmā achieves Brahman (as a fruit of yogic practice), it is devoid of any mind and senses, and does not experience anything other than oneness with Brahman. If the pure ātmā attains a permanent place in Bhagavān’s spiritual abode, it becomes identified with a mind made of Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti, which can only think of thoughts favorable to Bhagavān’s service. This mood or bhāva is the goal of bhakti.

The kind of propositions I am trying to refute here are fanciful flights of the imagination, and have nothing to do with scripture. They are novel ideas that would have been dismissed without a second thought if anyone had proposed it a few hundred years ago even. Today, strenuous effort is needed to refute these and many other related silly notions. This is because unfortunately, they are being propagated to the general public by a large number of misguided people, and/or by those who know better but have impure motives. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry!

Categories: jīva-tattva

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5 replies »

  1. Cheers for the great readings of these passages in Govinda Bhasya.

    Regarding VS 2.3.33, in the translation of the bhasya, etān prāṇān gṛhītvā, is rendered as “accepting these senses”. I am wondering why prāṇān is translated as senses? And also why gṛhītvā is translated as “accepting” in lieu of perhaps “holding” or “taking”? I also wonder how grahaṇa would be translated in the last line of ṭīkā if a translation were to be offered of this sentence as well?

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  2. According to Sri Babaji, the word prāṇa here refers to the senses, because it can be used in such a way depending on the context. The Gita is cited here where the jiva is described as being identified with the mind and senses. I translated the word ‘gṛhītvā’ as accepting, sub-consciously without giving it much thought. But in hindsight, it was probably because a) I needed a verb that indicates agency, b) it is not physical agency but agency in the sense of identification, as in accepting an identity, 3) grahaṇa can mean acceptance, and so can the word upādāna. In any case, ‘takes’ also works for me.
    I forgot to translate the last line! anya-grahaṇādau prāṇādi karaṇaṁ, prāṇa-grahaṇādau tu nānyad astīti tasyaiva tat – The senses are the means to accept (or take) other things, while there is no means to accept the senses etc.. Thus, doership [in the act of accepting the senses] is in the jiva alone.

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    • Thanks so much for the clarifying reply.

      I have a further question on this: I have understood from the Sankhya described in the Third Canto that it is through the agency of [material] ahankara that the atma identifies with or “accepts” the mind and buddhi and then through these that the jiva engages with the senses. So, how is it that the jiva’s acceptance of the mind and senses necessarily implies doership in the atma itself? It seems the example given could also allow for the idea that doership is a function of the material ahankara and thus not necessarily inherent in the atma itself?

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