In the Bhakti Sandarbha course that Śrī Babaji is teaching, there was a long discussion on whether the jiva has some kind of prīti in it – not the full blown love for Bhagavān, but some kind of prema, synonymous with the word ānanda or bliss. I summarize the discussion below.
At issue is the use of the word ‘prīti-āspada’ for the ātmā by Śrī Jīva. So one proposition could be that the pure ātmā has some inherent prema in it – maybe not prema or prīti for Bhagavān- but some kind of bliss or ānanda. For example, people are seen to have relentless desire for happiness. And it is this nature of the ātmā, this inherent desire for bliss or prema, that makes it look for happiness in the world.
Because we have an insatiable drive for happiness, so this drive must be intrinsic in the ātmā. And we will continue to look for happiness till we are satisfied, and only bhakti will satisfy us. Not even liberation into Brahman can satisfy us.
Unfortunately, such propositions do not find support in the Sandarbhas. Below, I list some refutations of this notion.
1. There is no inherent prīti or prema in the ātmā of any kind.
The jīva has the capacity to know, and prīti is a type of specific knowledge. As the ātmā does not store any knowledge, it does not store any prīti. It has the potential to know, and the potential to identify with a body, and depending on what it identifies with, it can consider that as lovable – which is a type of thought – “I am this body and I need to protect this body”. This thought is consistent with a deeper principle- that the ātmā is actually the viṣaya of love and not the body. That is, the ātmā is the viṣaya or object of love *when it is loving the body*, and that is all Śrī Jīva means in his commentary in the Paramātmā Sandarbha by the word ‘prīti-āspada’.
2. There is no inherent drive for happiness in the ātmā of any kind.
A drive for happiness is also a type of thought – I want to be happy. This thought cannot be present in the ātmā – it is a vṛtti of the mind. So there is no inherent drive for happiness – I don’t see anywhere that Śrī Jīva says this is the case. The pursuit of happiness is a type of thought, and happiness itself is also a type of knowledge or experience, and both are in the mind. The ātmā is inherently devoid of misery, true. But this nature of itself, cannot create a specific content-filled knowledge, “I dont want to be unhappy”. Because the thought is a vṛtti of the mind, a product of māyā. The mind wants to be devoid of disturbance (devoid of thought) – and that is consistent with the state of the ātmā as duḥkha pratiyogi (that is the ātmā and misery do not co-exist), so it is a natural state for the jīva. The duḥkha-pratiyogatva does not give birth to any thought.
3. Satisfaction is also a thought. “I am satisfied” is also a type of thought.
That is also not present in the ātmā. That is why ātmās can lie in a state of near eternal identification with prakṛti, they can be in eternal identification with Brahman, and they can eternally identify with spiritual forms. So there is no question of the ātmā being dis-satisfied in Brahman compared to Bhagavān. When such statements are made, it is simply to indicate that there is more happiness in Bhagavad-prāpti than in Brahma-prāpti.
4. The pursuit of happiness in the material world is driven by māyā.
The reason the ātmā looks for happiness in its embodied state is because of māyā. Being mano vṛttis, sukha, duḥkha, icchā (desire) are all called part of the body (kṣetra) in the Bhagavad Gītā. Māyā gives rise to all these thoughts. The battery charges the laptop, which runs the program, but the program does not modify the battery in any way, nor does the particular content of the program derive from any intrinsic information about the battery itself. The ātmā remains unmodified in all circumstances. It is not a container of specific thoughts, knowledge or desire.
5. The ātmā is simply a container of potentialities.
The pure ātmā can experience, it can know, can act, can desire, but it does not have any way to know or desire anything specific. Because it is only a container of potentials to know, to act, to desire and so on.
My view is that once the notion enters the mind that the ātmā has love inside it or bliss inside it of some type, then it becomes nearly impossible to unlearn it. The problem is the extrapolation from the properties of the body to that of the ātmā. The notion is as insidious in my view as advaita-vāda.