The ātmā is not like a drop to Bhagavān’s ocean

Some offer the analogy that the jīva is related to Bhagavān in the same way as a drop of the ocean relates to the ocean.

The drop of the ocean:ocean analogy has been used to propagate the notion that the jīva is ‘qualitatively similar’ to Bhagavān, but quantitatively it is minute. This appears to be supported by the Bhagavad Gītā which teaches the famous verse: mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ: The jīva in this conditioned world is an eternal part of Me alone”.

This analogy can be misleading, because one can start believing in the mistaken notion that the ātmā is sat-cit-ānanda, just like Bhagavān. The fact, though is, that these words, when applied to the ātmā mean the following:

sat = existence, cit = consciousness, and ānanda=absence of misery.

In complete contrast, these words have the following meaning when applied to Bhagavān

sat= sandhinī, or that śakti of Bhagavān which endows objects in the spiritual world with existence,

cit= samvit or that śakti of Bhagavān by which He knows and He enables others to know,

and hladinī = prema or that śakti of Bhagavān which bestows bhakti-ānanda on Himself and His devotees.

More information on these śaktis is here.

The jīva is different in its svarūpa or intrinsic qualities from Bhagavān

To quote Śrī Jīva on this topic, we will examine Anuccheda 37 below. Sri Jiva explains the meaning of the word paramātmaika-śeṣatva-svabhāvaḥ which is a svarupa laksaṇa or intrinsic quality of the ātmā:

Śrī Jīva Goswami establishes in the Paramātmā Sandarbha that the jīva is different in its svarūpa or intrinsic qualities from Bhagavān. This negates the drop and ocean analogy; the jīva is not qualitatively the same as Bhagavān. The only similarity, alluded to in statements like tat tvam asi, is that the ātmā has consciousness as its intrinsic nature, and so does Bhagavān. But the similarity in qualities stops there.

paramātmaika-śeṣaḥ= ekaḥ paramātmano’nyaḥ śeṣo’ṁśaḥ

Here, Sri Jiva explains the individual words:

paramātmaikaḥ = paramātmā+ekaḥ=paramātmano ekaḥ= paramātmano anyaḥ (ekaḥ=anyaḥ) = ‘distinct from Paramātmā’.

śeṣaḥ= aṁśaḥ = part


paramātmaika-śeṣaḥ = a part distinct from Paramātmā.

The jīva is a distinct part in its intrinsic nature; that this is its intrinsic identity is indicated by the word svabhāvaḥ. Śrī Jīva adds that this is the jīva’s eternal condition, even upon liberation (tathā-bhūtaś cāyaṁ sarvadā mokṣa-daśāyām api).

The meaning of the word aṁśaḥ

Part of the reason the misinterpretation sowed by the ‘drop:ocean’ analogy takes root easily in the mind is that the word used for the jīva is aṁśaḥ, which literally means part. A part has the qualities of the whole. For example, the leg of a wooden table is made of qualitatively similar material as the table-top. Likewise for the drop and the ocean.

Perhaps for this reason, Śrī Jīva spends considerable time to explain what the word ‘aṁśa’ means in the context of the jīva. It does not literally mean a part, like a drop of an ocean. The word according to him should be interpreted to mean śakti. Śrī Jīva explains that just as a person has different types of śaktis- the śakti to work, to sing, to know, and so on, the jīva is but one type of śakti of Bhagavān. It is actually one of three different types of Bhagavān’s śaktis, which he proves by citing the famous verse:

viṣṇu-śaktiḥ parā proktā kṣetrajñākhyā tathā aparā | avidyā karma-saṁjñākhyā tṛtīyā śaktir ucyate || [vi.pu. 6.7.61] iti, tayā tirohitatvāc ca śaktiḥ kṣetra-jña-saṁjñitā | sarva-bhūteṣu bhūpāla tāratamyena vartate || [vi.pu. 6.7.63] iti ca viṣṇu-purāṇe |:

Viṣṇu’s energies are designated as “the potency of inherent transcendence” (parā), “the potency that is other than, or apart from, inherent transcendence” (aparā), which is also called the knower of the field (ksetrajña), and a third potency called avidyā-karma (ignorance as causal entanglement), (vp 6.7.61). Being covered by ignorance (avidyā), O King, the potency called “the knower of the field” (ksetrajña) exists in graded stages of evolution throughout all species of life, (vp 6.7.63).

As if to underscore the point that the jīva is distinct from Bhagavān, Śrī Jīva adds that it is distinct or diferent from the other two types of śaktis:

tad evaṁ śaktitve’py anyatvam asya taṭasthatvāt | taṭasthatvaṁ ca 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 sūryasyātiraskāraḥ, tadvat

In this way, although the jīva is an energy, it is distinct from the other two [intrinsic and extrinsic] due to being intermediately situated (taṭastha). It is intermediate because it cannot be subsumed under either of the other two categories. The reason for this is that it is superior to the māyā energy; [but at the same time], it is subject to the defect of being overpowered by ignorance, which does not influence Paramātmā. Although the jīva is the energy of Paramātmā, the latter is not tainted by [māyā, or ignorance, like the jīva], just as the sun rays in a particular area may be covered by an object that shades them from view, but the sun [itself] remains uncovered.

As Bhagavān is composed of His intrinsic śakti, it is clear that the jīva is distinct from Him as the jīva is distinct from His intrinsic-śakti !


The analogy of ocean drop:ocean is misleading because it suggests a qualitative similarity between the jīva and Bhagavān. The fact is that the jīva is but one of the many śaktis of Bhagavān. Being only one kind of energy, the jīva does not contain other energies, such as prema which is a function of hladinī śakti, or knowledge which is a function of the samvit śakti. These śaktis are present exclusively in Bhagavān. Thus, the foregoing discussion proves in yet another way that there is no dormant prema, no knowledge, and no bliss in the jīva.

Categories: jīva-tattva

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