The cause of the jīva’s misidentification with the body

As we saw in an earlier post, the jīva misidentifies with the mind and body, causing it to undergo suffering. Here we will examine Śrī Jīva’s explanation for the cause of this misidentification.

In Anuccheda 91, Śrī Jīva Goswami cites the following verse from the Bhāgavata purāṇa:

yad-arthena vināmuṣya puṁsa ātma-viparyayaḥ |

pratīyata upadraṣṭu sva-śiraś-chedanādikaḥ ||

[it is because of this māyā] that the self assumes a position that is contrary to its inherent nature, just as it appears to a witness of the dream state that he has been beheaded and other similar contradictions, even though such dream cognitions are without reality, (sb 3.7.10)*

In the verse, Śrī Jīva explains the word ‘yad’ in ‘yad-arthena’ as yasyāḥ māyayā hetor, that is, “because of māyā”.  

Later, he comments:

svapnāvasthāyāṁ jīvena sva-śiraś-chedanādiko’tīvāsambhavo’rthaḥ pratīyate | na hi tasya śiraś chinnaṁ, na tu vā sva-śiraś chedaṁ ko’pi paśyet | kintu bhagavan-māyaivānyatra-siddhaṁ tad-rūpam arthaṁ tasminn āropayatīti, māyā-mātraṁ tu kārtsnyenānabhivyakta-svarūpatvāt [vs 3.2.3] iti nyāyena ||

In the dream state, a completely impossible effect, such as seeing one’s own head being chopped off, appears to be experienced by the jīva. Certainly his head is not being cut off, nor can anyone witness his own beheading. Rather, it is Bhagavān’s māyā, which superimposes such an effect occurring to some other person in some other circumstance on the witness itself of such an event in the dream state. As is said: “Dream objects are, however, products of māyā alone, because they are not perceived by anyone other than the dreamer” (vs 3.2.3).

Śrī Jīva cites more verses which explain the state of the jīva through more analogies,

yathā jale candramasaḥ kampādis tat-kṛto guṇaḥ |

dṛśyate’sann api draṣṭur ātmano’nātmano guṇaḥ ||

Just as the shimmering of the moon observed in water comes about due to the attributes of the water, so the attributes of the non-self [i.e., the body] seem to belong to the self, the witness, although they do not [factually] exist in it. (sb 3.7.11)


nṛtyato gāyataḥ paśyan yathaivānukaroti tām |

evaṁ buddhi-guṇān paśyann anīho’py anukāryate ||

Just as a man, who sees others dancing and singing, imitates them, so the self, although actionless, is made to follow the movements of the states of the intellect (buddhi) when it observes them, (sb 11.22.52)

Insights to be gleaned from Śrī Jīva’s analysis

The essence of Śrī Jīva’s explanation is that

a) the jīva’s bondage is not real, but only appears to be so, and

b) the bondage occurs by the inconceivable influence of māyā.

Of course, we have seen elsewhere that the jīva’s misidentification with the mind and body is without beginning, and as such, does not have an ‘original’ cause. So what is meant here is that the māyā has conditioned the jīva from beginningless time.

Notice here that Śrī Jīva does not attribute the jīva’s condition to any choice that it made to leave the spiritual world and enter the material world. In fact, such an absurd idea is mentioned nowhere in his writings, nor the writings of any of the Goswamis. Unfortunately, such false notions have crept into the Caitanya Vaiṣṇava sampradāya and in fact, are the dominant viewpoint among most Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas.

Finally, we have seen elsewhere that we are not living in a dream, and that the universe is really real. Given that, how is it that our misidentification with the body is unreal? Consider the analogy that we are watching a video captured by someone, such as a video of a car accident. The video is real, captured by a real person, of a real event. When a person watches such a video, he or she may experience fear. But the event is already past, and not happening to the person. This is just like when a person mistakes a rope for a snake. It is in this sense that the misidentification is false- nothing happens to the pure jīva; rather real events are happening to the body and in the mind.

Categories: Māyā

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9 replies »

  1. What would be an appropriate name for this particular khyAtivAda as explained by Sri Jiva Goswami?

      • Thank you. So if I am understanding it correctly, this is anyathā-khyāti-vāda only but where the reason of such perceptual error of the jīva is due to Bhagavān’s paradoxical māyā-śakti

      • I wrote back to Sri Babaji with your question. I havent heard from him. I dont think anyathā-khyāti-vāda applies here, because as far as I can understand, the error is due to remembrance of the wrong object (a snake) when you see an object like a rope. The error is due to an error in pattern matching because the snake is similar to the rope in shape. The atma considers itself the body not because of a similarity between the two.

      • Also Krama dipika commentary of Sri Jiva on SB 11.16.24 indicates this by using the words “sarvatrācintya khyātitvam” 🙂

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