One of the frequently asked questions in Caitanya Vaiṣṇava circles is about one’s svarūpa. Here the word svarūpa is typically taken to mean ‘one’s own form’, because the word rūpa means form. One person told me once how she was likely to be a stick or a bamboo in Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s Goloka Vṛndāvana. Another thought that they must be a cow; still others thought they were sakhās or friends of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. These people labored under the misconception that there was some original form they had, before they ‘fell’ from the spiritual world, and which they had to regain somehow. This of course led to anxiety – will I get my svarūpa? What if I start liking some other svarūpa? Can I choose something better than what I was? Ad nauseam.
Sadly, no ‘original form’ is waiting in Goloka for anyone. This is because
a) the jīva is formless (see Paramatma Sandarbha). Quite simply, the jīva has no rūpa!
b) because the jīva is in the material world from beginningless time. So there is nothing to ‘regain’ or go back to.
The primary meaning of the word svarūpa in the Sandarbhas
The primary meaning of this word as used in the Sandarbhas is ‘essence’, or ‘inherent nature’. Consider the usage of the word by Śrī Jīva in the Tattva Sandarbha (Anuccheda 52):
satyaṁ jñānam anantaṁ brahma [tai.u. 2.1.1] iti yasya svarūpam uktam – The Śruti has defined the nature (svarūpa) of this Absolute Truth (Brahman): Brahman is truth, consciousness, and without end or limit”.
Here the word svarūpa does not mean form, clearly, because of what the svarūpa is equated to: satya, jñāna, ananta.
Consider another similar use of the word in the context of the jīva in Anuccheda 56 of the Tattva Sandarbha;
evam-bhūtānāṁ jīvānāṁ cin-mātraṁ yat svarūpaṁ : the inherent nature of the jīvas which is pure consciousness
Here the word svarūpa again carries the meaning of ‘nature’. The inherent nature of the jīva is to be conscious. Sri Jīva clearly does not support any original form for the jīva.
As a third example, in the same Anuccheda, he writes
tatra ca daśamasya viśuddhy-arthaṁ tattva-jñānārthaṁ navānāṁ lakṣaṇaṁ svarūpaṁ varṇayanti – With the purpose of giving a lucid knowledge of the Tenth item, they describe the characteristics ( lakṣaṇaṁ= svarūpaṁ) of the first nine items.
Here again, svarūpa is used in the sense of nature or qualities or characteristics. It has nothing to do with ‘one’s own form’.
The word svarūpa is copiously used throughout the Sandarbhas. None of the usages refer to the existence of an original form for the jīva. In many places, Śrī Jīva uses the word to convey ‘inherent’ nature, specifically to refute the claim of the Advaitavādis that Bhagavān’s qualities such as His śaktis are not inherent in Him, but superimposed (āropita) by the agency of māyā on Brahman. Likewise, Śrī Jīva uses the word svarūpataḥ to convey the meaning that the jīva is inherently distinct from Bhagavan (jīvasya svarūpata eva parameśvarād vailakṣaṇyam, Tattva-sandarbha Anuccheda 32 ).
Does the jīva not have a form in Goloka Vṛndāvana?
Yes, it does, but only in the sense that it identifies with that form; the form remains external to it. This is similar to the jīva’s situation in the material body. But the form in Goloka is eternal and not material. As such, it can well be considered to have become ‘inherent’ to the jīva in the sense that it is permanent. But the jīva’s form is made of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti. This fundamental fact does not change.
What decides what form the jīva gets? The jīva’s bhāva or loving mood for Śrī Kṛṣṇa decides the form to be attained in Goloka. This bhāva is received through the agency of the guru. That is, disciples get the bhāva that their gurus have, who received it in turn from their gurus. As such, there is no choice in the matter.
The jīva is formless. It only identifies with an external form. The jīva’s bhāva at the completion stage of sādhanā determines the form that it will get. Bhāva is not under one’s control, but comes from the guru. As such, imagining one’s form, or worrying about one’s form, are a tremendous waste of time.