A summary of Paramātmā Sandarbha

Śri Jīva Goswami’s Paramātmā Sandarbha is an extremely important book which teaches saṁbandha jñāna, or knowledge of our self and our relation with our source, Paramātmā. Here we provide a summary of the book.

As we saw in a recent post, śāstra is सर्वप्रमाणागोचरविविधानन्तज्ञानमयं- that is, śāstra teaches us that which cannot be known from any other source. As Paramātmā Sandarbha is śāstra, we must ask – what knowledge does it give us which is not accessible to us with our senses?

Before we answer the question, we could ask – what knowledge is accessible to our senses? The answer to that is relatively easy: we perceive ourselves to be the body, we perceive the world around us, other people, other life forms and so on. We perceive ourselves as independent actors with agency. We do not perceive any controller outside of ourselves and material nature. 

The Paramātmā Sandarbha informs us that we are not the body, or kṣetra, but we are the kṣetrajña, knower of the body, and so distinct from it. We, the pure ātmā, each have 21 qualities which are distinct from the body. Each of us has an I-ness intrinsic to us. When we start with a sentence, I am this body, then “I” is the subject and “this body” is the predicate. This predicate, for each of us, is currently the body. The reason is that our I-ness has become tied up with material I-ness, called ahaṅkāra, which is a software program present in the subtle body. That identification makes us identify the predicate as “the body”.

There are two types of jīvas, bhagavad unmukha and bhagavad parañmukha. We are beginninglessly bhagavad parañmukhas, while the unmukhas are beginninglessly in Vaikuṇṭha.

Our independence is an illusion. We are each, a śakti, of Paramātmā (not of Krṣṇa), and utterly dependent on Him for all actions, thought, and experience. Our very ability to be conscious is derived from the consciousness of Paramātmā. Our minds, our bodies, our senses, are all actually derived from the śakti of Paramātmā called māyā śakti. In this way, everyone and everything is actually non-different from Paramātmā, being His śakti. But Paramātmā is different from everyone and everything because He is independent; He is more than a sum of māyā and jīva śaktis. He has His own svarūpa which is distinct, and He is eternally the controller of māyā and jīvas; He is never controlled by māyā or the jīvas.

Paramātmā is independent, and carries different names like Narayana, Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Karanodakasayi Visnu, Garbhodakasayi Visnu, Ksirodakasayi Visnu, according to the functions He performs.

Our bondage to this body is not real. It is only imagined. Even though each of us is pure, untouched in any way by māyā, by māyā’s acintya śakti, we who are conscious, identify with matter which is not conscious.

This Paramātmā is the cause and the universe is the effect of that cause. As the independent Paramātmā, He is the nimitta kāraṇa of the universe. As the māyā śakti, He is the upādāna kāraṇa, which itself has two divisions- nimitta, which is kāla, karma, svabhāva and daiva, and upādāna consisting of the dravya or tan-mātras, sutra or prāṇa, ahaṅkāra, and modifications of prakṛti – five mahābhutas and eleven senses.

The nimitta portion of māyā has two further divisions, vidyā and avidyā. Of these avidyā has two more divisions, āvaraṇa and prakṣepa. Avaraṇa is the potency because of which we are unaware of our identity. prakṣepa is the potency by which we consider ourselves as another- that is, we consider ourselves to be the body.

The world is an ever changing reality- it is a pariṇāma or transformation of Paramātmā’s śakti and obeys satkāryavāda- that is, the effect is present in potential form in its cause. When the effect manifests, generally the cause is unmanifest like milk turning into curd. So does the Paramātmā become modified when the world is modified? To protect Brahman from modification, the advaitavadis explain that the world is mithyā- fundamentally unreal i.e. non-existent but existent in a vyavahārika sense. But Śri Jīva explains that the Paramātmā does not undergo modification in His svarūpa. Rather, His śakti undergoes modification. When the universe is destroyed, Paramātmā remains intact. Even the universe, upon destruction, does not cease to exist; it simply becomes unmanifest.

If someone were to ask why, if Paramātmā is in control of everything and the only independent existent entity, He doesn’t remove material suffering and allows the offensiveness in the world to continue. The answer is that He lacks the ability to experience anything material, and therefore He is unable to empathize with the suffering of people. Therefore His compassion is not aroused. However, His devotees feel compassion and try to remove suffering.

If someone were to ask why Paramātmā creates the world at all, the answer is not because this is His way to perform līlā, because He is fully satisfied in Himself and has nothing to gain by creating this world. Rather He creates to allow those devotees who are sādhakas, the chance to perfect themselves.

Using the six criteria of upakrama, upasamhāra, abhyāsa, apūrvatā, phala and arthavāda, Śri Jīva concludes the Sandarbha by mapping the first verse of the Bhāgavata purāṇa to the Brahma sūtras and to the Gayatri mantra. He finally establishes that Bhagavān Śri Krṣṇa is the topic of the Bhāgavata. This allows him to transition into Krṣṇa Sandarbha which is the next Sandarbha.

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12 replies »

  1. Thank you for your blog, posts, scholarship and association. Great help, Tanmay Krishna.

  2. Dear Tanmay Krishna ji,

    Thank you for your blog. You say that

    “If someone were to ask why Paramātmā creates the world at all, the answer is not because this is His way to perform līlā, because He is fully satisfied in Himself and has nothing to gain by creating this world. Rather He creates to allow those devotees who are sādhakas, the chance to perfect themselves.”

    This is an eye-opener for me. I have always thought that it was for Him to perform His līlā.

    Based on what you have said can one understand it as follows.

    If one is aspiring to be an expert swordsman, one has to start training empty-handed to build strength and muscle memory, then train with sticks and then train with blunt-edged swords till he is perfect and ready to handle a real sword. Similarly, the material world is created so one can evolve one’s consciousness through sādāna before one is eligible to perform true bhakti. The material world is the training ground for the spiritual world with its own rules and one has to perfect himself here before he can enter the spritual world.

  3. Dear Tanmay Krishna ji,
    In the opening section of the paramātmā-sandharba, the vyūha are nicely equated with the three types of parāmātma. It’s also stated that the vyūha are situated in the spiritual reality; this seems to be a widely accepted description of the carur-vyūha.

    Then it proceeds to explain that from Saṅkarṣaṇa-Vyūha emanates the vyūha who then manifests as the three types of paramātmā.

    Where can I find scriptural references for this emanation from Saṅkarṣaṇa-Vyūha? as it is a very engaging explanation that seems unique to jīva Goswami.

    Thanks for your work !

    • Namaste.
      The supra-cosmic Sankarshana vyuha who is present in Vaikuntha, manifests as Karanarnavashayi Purusha(the cosmic Sankarshana) to manifest Maya and the jīvas. He is an emanation from Vāsudeva(this is the same Being who was seen by Krishna and Arjuna by travelling beyond Maya and Brahmajyoti, when they went to retrieve the Brahmana’s sons and who is the point where Yogis get liberation). But here the three Purushas are called amshas/manifestations of the three vyuhas in a more general sense referring to their supra-cosmic forms.

  4. Namaste,
    Does our body contain one soul (jiva-atma) or two souls (jiva-atma and Parama-atma)?
    When a jiva-atma attains Brahman realization, it realizes that atma and Brahman are the same. Is that correct?
    What happens when a jiva-atma attains Parama-atma realization?
    Thank you

    • Jivatma and Paramatma are both present.

      The jivatma experiences oneness with Brahman. Atma and Brahman are not the same, just as the atma and body are not the same. But just as the atma identifies with the body, it can also identify as Brahman.

      When jivatma attains Paramatma realization, after death, it will either attain Brahman or it will attain Vaikuntha. What it will attains depends on what it’s goal was when it began sadhana.

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