Śrī Jīva Goswami has explained in the Paramātmā Sandarbha that knowership and agency are intrinsic to the pure jīva or ātmā. Some glean a novel, alternative meaning from his writings. These proponents state something like this:
“Knowership and agency are in the ātmā, but they are unmanifest, i.e. non-functional when the ātmā identifies with the material body. They only become manifest when the pure ātmā is with Bhagavān in His abode, where it renders service to Bhagavān. When it identifies with the material body, the ātmā, instead, uses the capacity to know of matter (material jñāna-śakti), and material agency of prakṛti. When it enters Bhagavān’s abode, or when it becomes a siddha bhakta, its inherent knowership and agency become manifest. This knowership and agency are Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti only, because inherently, the ātmā is Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti. “
Thus, in this view, all the many inherent qualities of the ātmā, that Śrī Jīva performed so much labor to establish, are all unmanifest in the conditioned state, and only apply when the jīva is performing bhakti to Bhagavān in His abode.
These proponents cite Śrī Jīva Goswami’s Paramātmā Sandarbha, and his Sarva-samvādinī commentary, to prove not only that he is consistent with the above view, but that he teaches it. Here, I will examine the Sarva-samvādinī passages cited by these proponents, to see if it supports such claims. I pick up the thread at around Anuchheda 33 of the Paramātmā Sandarbha. In translating these passages, I have liberally consulted Śrī Ānanda Gopāla Vedānta-tirtha’s Sanskrit commentary on the Sarva-samvādinī, and included notes loosely translated from his commentary in brackets. I highly recommend acquiring this book!
So here we go!
[The word ‘nitya’ in Jamatṛ muni’s statement is being supported by a Vedānta sūtra. ]
tatra nityatvaṁ cātmano “nātmā śruteḥ [ve.sū. 2.3.17]” ityatra prasiddhameva|
That the ātmā is nitya (eternal) is well-known, as indicated in Vedānta sūtra 2.3.17 ‘nātmā śruteḥ’, ‘the ātmā never comes into being, because śruti states this’.
[The sūtra nātmā śruteḥ states that the ātmā does not come into being, i.e. is not born, because śruti states this, and because it is nitya. Two reasons are given for the ātmā’s not coming into being, one of which establishes that the ātmā is nitya]
“jño’teva” ityatra “jñaḥ” [ve.sū. 2.3.18] iti vyapadeśena jñānāśrayatvaṁ ca svābhāvikam eveti |
And, being the substratum of knowledge (i.e. having the capacity to know) is in its inherent nature. This is stated by the word “jñaḥ” (a knower) in the śruti: “jño’teva” [ve.sū. 2.3.18] “that he is a knower is known from the śruti alone”.
[Now, having provided support with sūtras, he provides support with several quotations from the śrutis]
śrutayaś ca—vijñātāram are kena vijānīyāt [bṛ.ā.u. 2.4.14],
The śrutis state, “With what instrument can the knower be known?”
[The knower knows happiness, distress etc. with the mind. But there is no instrument to know the knower. This shows that knowership is the quality of the ātmā.]
na hi vijñātur vijñāter viparilopo vidyate [bṛ.ā.u. 4.3.30],
The capacity of the ātmā to know [cognitive capacity] can never be destroyed.
jānāty evāyaṁ puruṣaḥ [rāmānuja, ve.sū. 1.1.1, anu 66],
This ātmā certainly knows [happiness, distress, dharma, adharma etc.]
na paśyo mṛtyuṁ paśyati, na rogaṁ nota duḥkhatāṁ [chā.u. 7.26.2],
The liberated being does not know death, disease, or suffering etc.
[but he knows everything about Bhagavan’s abode, lila etc.]
sa uttamaḥ puruṣaḥ, nopajanaṁ smaratīdaṁ śarīraṁ [chā.u. 8.12.3],
He, the uttama puruṣa [liberated ātmā] … does not remember this body.
[He does not remember the material body he inhabited in the past, which implies that he still has the capacity to know even in the liberated state].
evam evāsya paridraṣṭur imāḥ ṣoḍaśa kalāḥ puruṣāyaṇāḥ puruṣaṁ prāpyās taṁ gacchanti [pra.u. 6.5] ity ādyāḥ |
In this way, these sixteen elements of the seer, whose support is the supreme person, having attained Him, merge into Him.
[the sixteen elements are the eleven senses and the five tan-matrās. Here the ātmā is clearly stated to be a knower (seer)]
tad evaṁ tasya svābhāvike jñātṛtve siddhe, yad avidyayā deho’ham ity ādikaṁ jñātṛtvaṁ, tad api tasyaiva, kintu avidyā-sambandhāt tasya tat svābhāvikaṁ na bhavati, api tu vikriyātmakam eva |
In this way, it is established that the ātmā’s cognitive capacity is natural to it. The cognitive capacity to know that, “I am the body” etc., which is due to the influence of avidyā, also belongs to the ātmā alone, but it is not its natural state; rather it is subject to modifications.
[This passage is misinterpreted by some to mean that the ātmā’s cognitive capacity is unmanifest in the conditioned state, and that it uses the ‘material’ jñāna-śakti in that state. Note that there is no mention of anything being unmanifest in the above passage. Instead, it is explicitly stated that cognitive capacity in the conditioned state is also the ātmā’s alone. Except that its cognitive capacity in the conditioned state is subject to modifications (vikriyātmakam), which contrasts with the corresponding mūla, in which he writes:
jñānaṁ ca nityasya svābhāvika-dharmatvān nityam, ata eva na vikriyātmakam api –
And this cognitive capacity, being a natural attribute of the eternal self, is also eternal and thus does not undergo modifications.
[He will now explain how the cognitive capacity undergoes modifications in the conditioned state.]
etad apekṣyaiva śrutau—dhyāyatīva lelāyatīva [bṛ.ā.u. 4.3.7] ity atra “iva”-śabda-prayogaḥ kṛtaḥ | atas tat-tad-dehādy-upādhi svāsthya-tāratamyāt tasya jñātṛtvasya prakāśa-tāratamyaṁ bhavatīti jñeyam | śuddhasya jñātṛtvaṁ tūdāhṛtam eva |
It is with this intention only that the śruti uses the word ‘iva’ ,’as if’, in dhyāyatīva lelāyatīva “he seems to think, he seems to move”. As such, there is a gradation in the luminosity of his cognitive capacity, according to the gradation in the buddhi or intelligence, which in turn accords with upādhis such as the body etc. [such as human, deva etc.].
[The luminosity of the ātmā’s cognitive capacity, or the extent to which objects become revealed by it, differs whether the ātmā inhabits a human, a deva or an insect, because the intelligence differs between these species. This is how the cognitive capacity becomes modified. This principle is of course well known. Humans are more intelligent than an insect, i.e. their buddhi is superior to an insect, and as such, they can understand and know far more than an insect. And devas can know much more than humans. Again, there is no mention here of unmanifestation of the ātmā’s cognitive capacity, and its use of the cognitive capacity of matter. Matter has no cognitive capacity .]
[Now he will establish that agency or doership also is in the ātmā alone and not in matter. ]
tad evaṁ jñātṛtve siddhe, katṛtvam api tadvad eveti kartṛtvam āha—tac ca kartṛtvam | acetanasya svataḥ kartṛtvāsambhavāt, tathā caitanya-sāmānādhikaraṇyenaiva tat-pratīteḥ—tasyaiva tad-dharmaḥ |
That cognitive capacity belongs to the ātmā is established in this way [based on śruti and sūtra]. Likewise, agency is also to be established in the ātmā. It is impossible for that which is devoid of consciousness [prakṛti, or the mind] to independently possess agency. [That which is devoid of consciousness, the body] appears to possess agency only when collocated with consciousness. Therefore, agency is the quality of the conscious ātmā alone [similar to cognitive capacity].
[This passage refutes the view of those who claim that the ātmā’s agency or doership is ‘unmanifest’ in the conditioned state, and that it uses the agency of the material body. The material body has no agency. It appears to have it only because the conscious ātmā has it. This topic can hardly be made more clear than this. ]
kvacit tv acetanasya yad dṛśyate, tad api jīva-bhāva-vaśād antaryāmi-sambandhāc ca | yathā stanya-kṣaraṇādi, yathā ca—etasya vā akṣarasya praśāsane, gārgi, prācyo’nyā nadyaḥ syandante śvetebhyaḥ parvatebhyaḥ pratīcyo’nyā yāṁ yāṁ ca diśam anu [bṛ.ā.u. 3.8.9] ity ādau, na ṛte tvat kriyate kiṁ canāre [ṛ.ve. 10.112.9] ity ādau ca |
Sometimes agency is seen in that which is not conscious. This agency of the non-conscious also results from the identification of the ātmā with it, or the relation of the non-conscious with Paramātmā. This is seen in the case of flowing of milk from the breast etc., and is stated in the śruti, “O Gārgi! Under the rule of the imperishable one, some rivers flow from the snow covered mountains toward the east, while others flow toward the West”, and, “without the ātmā, nothing whatsoever is done”.
tasmāc caitanya-rūpasya jīvasyaiva kartṛtvaṁ dharmaḥ | etad eva—kartā śāstrārthavattvāt [ve.sū. 2.3.31] ity ārabhya samādhy-abhāvāt [ve.sū. 2.3.37] ity etat-paryantaṁ sūtra-kāreṇaiva yojitam | śrutiś ca—vijñānaṁ yajñaṁ tanute karmāṇi tanute’pi ca [tai.u. 2.5.1] iti | na cedaṁ buddhy-artham—eṣa hi draṣṭa spraṣṭā śrotā ghrātā rasayitā mantā boddhā kartā vijñānātmā puruṣaḥ [pra.u. 4.9] iti śruty-antaram | yo vijñāne tiṣṭhan [bṛ.ā.u. 3.7.22] ity antaryāmi-śrutau tasya vijñānatayātiprasiddheś ca |
Therefore, agency is exclusively a quality of the conscious jīva (ātmā). This is what the compiler of the Vedānta sūtras has logically demonstrated starting from 2.3.31, “He is an agent, because scriptural injunctions are meaningful” to 2.3.37, “samādhi would not be possible [if agency was not in the ātmā]”. And the śruti states, “The conscious jīva performs Vedic and ordinary actions”. Here, the word vijñāna does not mean ‘buddhi’ because another śruti states, “He, the inherently conscious resident of the body, sees, touches, hears, smells, tastes, thinks, understands and acts”. And the ātmā is well known to be referred to as vijñāna, in statements such as “yo vijñāne tiṣṭhan”, “he, being situated in vijñāna”.
[Now he offers other evidence to show that agency is exclusively a quality of the conscious jīva (ātmā)]
ata eva—tad eṣāṁ prāṇānāṁ vijñānena vijñānam ādāya [bṛ.ā.u. 2.1.17] ity atra, prāṇān gṛhītvā [bṛ.ā.u. 2.1.18] ity atra ca prāṇa-grahaṇa-vijñānādānayoḥ kartṛtvaṁ tasya lauhākarṣaka-maṇivat kevalasyaiva gamyate | anya-grahaṇādau prāṇādi-karaṇam, prāṇādi-grahaṇādau tu nānyad astīti |
The agency of the pure ātmā alone is understood, like a magnet that attracts iron, from śruti statements that state its acceptance of the prāṇas, and infusion of them with the capacity to know, such as tad eṣāṁ prāṇānāṁ vijñānena vijñānam ādāya, “placing the capacity to know in the senses with the buddhi”, and “prāṇān gṛhītvā”, “accepting the prāṇas”.
[It is clear that the agency of the ātmā functions in the material body. Nowhere is it stated here that it is unmanifest, leave alone that it manifests when the ātmā enters Bhagavan’s abode! Now he makes the conclusion even stronger. ]
tad etac chuddhasyaiva kartṛtvaṁ dharmatvaṁ yojayituṁ punaḥ, yathā ca takṣobhayathā [ve.sū. 2.3.38] iti sūtrayitvā sa ca jīvaḥ karaṇa-yogena sva-śaktyā ca kartā bhavatīty aṅgīkṛtam |
To establish that agency is a quality of the pure ātmā alone, the Vedānta sūtra 2.3.38, “yathā ca takṣobhayathā”, “just as a carpenter is an agent in both ways” is stated, and the conclusion that the ātmā acts as an agent by its own śakti and by contact with the senses is accepted.
[The idea that the ātmā does not act with its own śakti when in the body is thoroughly refuted here. It is the opposite! He even gives an example:]
takṣā yathā takṣaṇe vāsyādi-karaṇena vāsyādi-dhāraṇe tu sva-śaktaiva kartā syād ity ubhayathaiva kartā bhavati, tadvad iti sūtrārthaḥ |
The meaning of “yathā ca takṣobhayathā” is that as a carpenter chops wood with an axe, and holds the axe with his own strength alone, and is an agent in these two ways , in the same way [ātmā is an agent].
[if one objects that the sūtra yathā ca takṣobhayathā does not explicitly state the ātmā as an agent, he responds]
kartā śāstrārthavattvāt [ve.sū. 2.3.31] ity ataḥ kartety anuvartamānatvāt |
[No] Because the word “agent” is to be supplied [from a previous sūtra in the same section] “The ātmā is an agent because [only then] scriptural statements are meaningful”
[Now he turns his attention to statements in which agency has been ascribed to the material body. He reconciles doubts that may be created by such statements. The proponents of ‘unmanifested agency in the jiva’ take these statements out of context, instead of understanding them in the light of everything he has stated thus far.]
tatra jaḍātmaka-śarīrendriyādy-āveśena tair eva karaṇair yat kartṛtvaṁ, tac-chuddhāv eva puruṣāt pravartamānam api prakṛti-vṛtti-prācūryāt tat-tat-pradhānatvena tat-karaṇakatvam evety ucyate ity āha—yat tv iti | yat tu prāṇa-grahaṇādi-pūrvotkrāntyādi, tatra sva-kāraṇataiva sphuṭā | yathodāhṛtam—prāṇo hi jīvam upadhāvati tatra tatra [bhā.pu. 11.3.39] iti, etat sāma gāyann āste [tai.u. 3.10.5] iti | jakṣan krīḍan ramamāṇa [chā.u. 8.12.3] ity ādau muktānām api vihāra-lakṣaṇa-kartṛtva-śravaṇāt | na ca kartṛtva-mātrasya duḥkhāvahatvam eveti vācyam | kintu prakṛti-sambandhina eva kartṛtvasya |
In this context, the agency that is present due to the jīva’s identification with the material body, senses and so on, also flows from the pure ātmā alone. Yet, because there is a predominance of modifications of prakṛti [ in such agency due to the predominance of identification with the body], the body and the senses are considered agents due to their predominance [in action]. In contrast, the ātmā’s agency is clearly seen when it is stated to accept the prāṇas at the time of death [when it leaves the body]. Examples of this are, “prāṇo hi jīvam upadhāvati tatra tatra”, “the prāṇas follow the jīva wherever he goes”. The liberated beings are also stated in the sruti to have agency characterized by enjoyment, as in statements like “etat sāma gāyann āste”, “the liberated person sings hymns and enjoys”, “jakṣan krīḍan ramamāṇa”, “he eats, plays, enjoys”. Here, agency by itself should not be considered to be the cause of unhappiness; Rather it is only due to its relation with prakṛti that unhappiness results [owing to forgetfulness of the ātmā’s essential nature].
[Can it be made more clear? Consider the sentence, “the agency that is present due to the jīva’s identification with the material body, senses and so on, also proceeds from the pure ātmā alone”. This completely refutes the notion that the agency of the ātmā is unmanifest when conditioned. When agency is ascribed to matter, it is only because the body is seen to act and the ātmā is not visible in the action. He has very clearly explained everything. I now turn to the last part which is also misunderstood by the proponents of ‘unmanifested agency’.]
[He has explained that the agency in the body flows from the pure ātmā alone. His goal in this entire passage is to show that agency or kartṛtva is the ātmā’s alone in all four states: 1) conditioned, 2. Brahma sāyujua mukti, 3. bhakta in the material world, 4. bhakta who has attained pārṣadtva:]
tad evaṁ śuddhāt pravartamānam api tat-sambandhi-kartṛtvaṁ taṁ śuddhaṁ na malinayati, cic-chakti-prādhānyāt |
In this manner, while the agency that is related to the material body flows from the pure ātmā, that agency does not pollute the pure ātmā owing to the predominance of its cit-śakti.
[I have modified my original translation here. Please see comment below. As I had anticipated, Babaji agrees with me that the word ‘cit’ here refers to the pure ātmā’s consciousness. This is because the verse śuddho vicaṣṭe hy aviśuddha-kartuḥ which he cites below, specifically discusses the conditioned knower, and not a mukta (see Anuchheda 1 of the Paramātmā Sandarbha). The meaning here is that the ātmā is untouched by the activities of the material body because it is conscious].
ata evāsyaivaudāsīnyād akartṛtvādi-vyapadeśaś ca kvacid asti | ata eva śuddho vicaṣṭe hy aviśuddha-kartuḥ [bhā.pu. 5.11.12] ity uktam |
Therefore, owing to the disinterest in material actions, a lack of agency is stated in some places. It is for this reason [i.e. disinterest in material actions] that the verse states, “śuddho vicaṣṭe hy aviśuddha-kartuḥ, “the pure knower of the body merely witnesses these beginningless modifications of the impure actor, the mind.”
[i.e. the mind does not have agency although it is called an agent. Only because of disinterest of the real actor, the jīva, the mind is considered the actor, and the jīva, merely the witness. Again, here the point is that the ātmā is not actually affected by the activities of the material body. It does not actually feel hot or cold, happiness or distress in the body].
guṇāḥ sṛjanti karmāṇi guṇo’nusṛjate guṇān |
jīvas tu guṇa-saṁyukto bhuṅkte karma-phalāny asau || [bhā. 11.10.31] ity ādikaṁ ca |
This is also how the following verse is to be understood:
The senses generate actions, and guṇa of prakrti generate the senses. The jīva, endowed with the senses, enjoys the fruits of the actions.
[i.e. it is not that the pure jīva only enjoys; he is also the agent, but because of his indifference, he is not called an agent. Here again, the context is not of a mukta jīva].
[Now he will consider two scenarios and explain them. First, he explains the agency of the mukta]
śuddhasyaiva kartṛtva-śaktau ca
While agency is in the pure ātmā alone,
yasyāpi brahmaṇi layas tasya brahmānandenāvaraṇāt karma-saṁyogāsaṁyogāc ca kartṛtva-śakter antar-bhāva evety abhyupagantavyaṁ,
the agency of one who has achieved Brahma-sāyujya-mukti must be considered to become subsumed [into Brahman] owing to its becoming covered by the bliss of Brahman, and because of an absence of contact with actions.
yasya ca bhagavad-bhakti-rūpa-cic-chaktyāviṣṭatā, cic-chaki-vṛtti-viśeṣa-pārṣada-deha-prāptir vā, tasya tat-sevā-kartṛtve tu na prakṛti-prādhānyam | pūrvatra tām upamardya cic-chakteḥ | prādhānyāt, aparatra kaivalyāc ca |
And material prakṛti is not predominant in the performance of service to Bhagavān by one who has become imbued with Bhagavān’s cit-śakti in the form of bhakti, or who has attained a pārṣada-deha, which is a special modification of the cit-śakti. [Material prakṛti is not predominant] because in the former case (of performing bhakti while in the material body), the cit-śakti overrides prakṛti and is predominant, while in the latter case where one has attained a pārṣada-deha, there is only cit-śakti (i.e. no prakṛti).
The jīva’s knowership and agency are fully functional in the material body and in a pārṣada-deha, while they are present but subsumed into Brahman in Brahma sāyujua mukti.
Śrī Jīva Goswami Prabhupāda ki jaya!