jīva-tattva

The jīva’s root problem: beginningless absence of awareness of the Absolute Reality

In a previous article, I presented Śrī Jīva Goswami’s formulation of the jīva’s basic problem that he defines in the Prīti Sandarbha:

atha jīvaś ca tadīyo’pi taj-jñāna-saṁsargābhāva-yuktatvena tan-māyā-parābhūtaḥ sann ātma-svarūpa-jñāna-lopān māyā-kalpitopādhy-āveśāc cānādi-saṁsāra-duḥkhena sambadhyata iti paramātma-sandarbhādāv eva nirūpitam asti |

The individual living being (jīva), although belonging to the Supreme Reality by its constitutional nature (tadīyo’pi), is overpowered by the latter’s deluding potency (māyā) due to the jīva’s being adjoined to the beginningless prior absence of awareness of that Reality (taj-jñāna-saṁsargābhāva). Being thus bereft of awareness of its own essential nature (ātma-svarūpa), the jīva becomes identified with the limiting adjuncts (upādhis) created by māyā, and on this account, it is subjected to the beginningless miseries of conditional existence (saṁsāra). This was detailed in Paramātma and Bhakti Sandarbhas.

Here, the cause-and-effect sequence is as follows:

  1. taj-jñāna-saṁsargābhāva: absence of awareness, i.e. direct experience of Absolute Reality.
  2. Due to being overpowered by māyā, an absence of awareness of one’s own essential nature.
  3. Identification with mind and body (upādhis of māyā)
  4. Miseries of conditional existence (like fear, unhappiness etc.)

In this article, I explore the scriptural basis for Śrī Jīva Goswami’s formulation. As a technical aside, the word saṁsargābhāva here refers to prāg-abhāva, which is defined in Tarka Sangraha as follows:

anādiḥ sāntaḥ prāg abhāvaḥ, utpatteḥ pūrvam kāryasya

prāg abhāva is that abhāva which is anādi, beginningless (i.e. it is not created at any point in time but exists from beginningless time), but which can be destroyed (at some point in time). The abhāva of effects which exists before the creation of those effects is prāg abhāva.

The key verse that supports jñāna-saṁsarga-ābhāva in the jīva

Śrī Jīva Goswami writes later on in Anuchheda 1 of the Prīti Sandarbha:

doṣa-mūlaṁ hi jīvasya parama-tattva-jñānābhāva eva

The root defect of the living being [i.e. impurity] is nothing other than the absence of awareness of the Absolute Reality.

His choice of words is important:

The root (mūlaṁ) defect (doṣa) = parama-tattva-jñāna-abhāva = the absence of awareness of the Absolute Reality.

We saw in a previous article that the word ‘jñāna’ or ‘awareness’ here means direct experience of the Absolute Reality (sākṣātkāra). Now he provides a citation to support the above assertion. He writes:

ityuktam—bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād ity-ādau, īśād apetasya [bhā.pu. 11.2.37] ity-ādibhiḥ |

This was stated in SB 11.2.37, with the words: “Fear arises from absorption in duality…which is rooted in the perpetual diverting of regard away from Bhagavān” (bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syāt… īśād apetasya).

He interprets the words “īśād apetasya” (one who is unaware of Bhagavān) in 11.2.237 as indicating the root cause; thus these words directly correspond directly to parama-tattva-jñānābhāva or absence of awareness of the Absolute Reality.

The verse in question is reproduced below, and is extremely important for Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavas:

bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād īśād apetasya viparyayo’smṛtiḥ |

tan-māyayāto budha ābhajet taṁ bhaktyaikayeśaṁ guru-devatātmā ||

I present a translation of Śrīdhara swamipāda’s commentary on it, which Śrī Jīva presents in its entirety in Bhakti Sandarbha Anuchheda 1. I will now examine the commentary:

nanu kim evaṁ parameśvara-bhajanena ? ajñāna-kalpita-bhayasya jñānaika-nivartakatvāt, ity āśaṅkyāha

Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “The following objection may be raised. Since fear is a product of ignorance (ajñāna ), it can be removed only by immediate awareness ( jñāna ). So what is the point of worshiping Parameśvara?

As we saw above, ajñāna means jñāna-abhāva, and the solution of jñāna-abhāva is jñāna, as the two cannot co-exist in the same substratum. This leads to the question of why one should worship Parameśvara at all.

—bhayam iti | yato bhayaṁ tan-māyayā bhavet, tato buddhimān tam eva ābhajed upāsīta |

To address such an objection, the sage Kavi speaks this verse. He makes the point that because fear is the outcome of Bhagavān’s māyā ( tan-māyayā ), a person whose awareness has been awakened ( budha ) should turn his intentful regard exclusively in loving adoration of Him.

The reply is that fear is caused by Bhagavān’s māyā, and not by ajñāna. As such, one must worship Him; without worship, His māyā will not recede.

nanu bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syāt | sa ca dehādy-ahaṅkārataḥ | sa ca svarūpāsphuraṇāt |

Objection: A further question may be raised in this connection. The verse states that fear arises out of absorption in that which is secondary ( dvitīyābhiniveśa ), meaning in the body and its relations. This in turn stems from misidentifying the body as the self, which originates from the non-disclosure of the self’s intrinsic nature. So what role does Bhagavān’s māyā play in the arousal of fear?

The meaning is clear. One can conceive of a cause-and-effect chain that does not involve māyā at all. In this cause-and-effect chain, lack of awareness of one’s own svarūpa is upfront. The response is as follows.

kim atra tasya māyā karoti ? ata āha—īśād apetasyeti | īśa-vimukhasya tan-māyayā asmṛtiḥ svarūpāsphūrtir bhavati | tato viparyayo deho’smīti | tato dvitīyābhiniveśād bhayaṁ bhavati |


In answer to this, Kavi outlines the following sequence of events, beginning with īśād apetasya . For the jīva whose regard is perpetually diverted away from Bhagavān ( īśa-vimukhasya ), there is an absence of self-recognition (asmṛti), meaning the non-disclosure of the self’s intrinsic nature (svarūpa-asphūrti ), and this occurs through the influence of Bhagavān’s extrinsic potency (tan-māyayā ). As a consequence of this non-recognition, the jīva’s self-concept is reversed ( viparyaya ), meaning that he becomes identified with the body instead. This reversal of self-reference then leads to absorption in that which is secondary ( dvitīyābhiniveśa ) [meaning the body and its relations], and it is from this absorption that fear then arises [as the final link in the chain of events].

The revised chain of events is as follows:

  1. īśa-apeta, i.e. īśa-vimukha i.e. īśa-jñāna-saṁsargābhāva – absence of direct experience of Parameśvara
  2. By the influence of māyā, lack of experience of one’s own self (asmṛti)
  3. Identification with the body (viparyaya)
  4. Absorption in the body and its relations
  5. Fear

Compare this to the sequence presented at the beginning of this article, to see that there is exact correspondence. It is because māyā is involved in the causal chain of events, that there is a need for bhakti for overcoming māyā. This bhakti is obviously not ‘inherent’ bhakti, but rather the practice of bhakti which is carried with the mind, body and speech. Such bhakti must be practiced by anyone, and not only those who want prema. Thus, even for moksha, one must practice bhakti. This is the essence of the verse:

prītir na yāvan mayi vāsudeve na mucyate deha-yogena tāvat

As long as love (prīti) for Me, Vāsudeva, does not come into being, a person cannot be liberated from his bondage to the material body. (SB 5.5.6)

That priti is necessary, albeit temporarily, for attaining Brahman even, is discussed in this article. The prīti in such practice is not the prīti of uttamā-bhakti, but rather an ābhāsa or semblance of such prīti, because it harbors the desire for mukti, which is excluded from uttamā-bhakti. This is evident from Śrī Rūpa Goswami’s kārikā (BRS 1.3.41):

If symptoms of rati, such as softening of the heart, are observed in people who have desires [such as that for liberation] other than devotion in love, then these symptoms do not indicate real rati [but only its semblance or shadow].

Some interpret the above verse 5.5.6 to imply that prīti is inherent in the ātmā, but that is a total misunderstanding of the verse. The main point from all this discussion is that Bhagavān’s māyā is involved in the conditioning of the jīva, and therefore bhakti is essential for getting rid of it, no matter what one’s sādhanā is. Returning to the main verse under discussion, Śrī Jīva elaborates:

uktaṁ ca bhagavatā

Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa also addresses this situation:

daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā |

mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te || [gītā 7.14] iti |

This divine extrinsic potency of Mine, constituted of the three guṇas of material nature, is very difficult to surmount. Yet those who take refuge in Me alone can cross beyond this māyā . ( GĪTĀ 7.14 )

Finally, he outlines the essence of such bhakti:

ekayā avyabhicāriṇyā bhajet | kiṁ ca, guru-devatātmā gurur eva devatā īśvara ātmā preṣṭhaś ca yasya, tathā-dṛṣṭiḥ sann ity arthaḥ ||37||

The verse under discussion [ SB 11.2.37 ] further states that the person whose awareness has been awakened ( budha ) should turn his intentful regard in loving adoration of Bhagavān ( bhajana ) through the medium of ‘one-pointed’ ( ekayā ), or in other words, ‘unswerving’ ( avyabhicāriṇyā ) devotion ( bhaktyā ). Moreover, such a person should regard his spiritual preceptor as a direct embodiment of Bhagavān, and also as his dearest self ( guru-devatātmā ). One endowed with such vision should worship Bhagavān. This is the intent of the verse.

In Anuchheda 1 of the Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Goswami presents a similar formulation. There he writes:

paramātma-vaibhava-gaṇane ca taṭastha-śakti-rūpāṇāṁ cid-eka-rasānām api anādi-para-tattva-jñāna-saṁsargābhāva-maya-tad-vaimukhya-labdha-cchidrayā tan-māyayāvṛta-svarūpa-jñānānāṁ tayaiva sattva-rajas-tamo-maye jaḍe pradhāne racitātma-bhāvānāṁ jīvānāṁ saṁsāra-duḥkhaṁ ca jñāpitam |

In the context of the elaboration of the potencies ( vaibhava ) belonging to Paramātmā, the living entities ( jīvas ) were classified as manifestations of His intermediary potency ( taṭasthā-śakti ). This signifies that although they are exclusively of the nature of consciousness, their immediate awareness of their own intrinsic nature is covered by Paramātmā’s extrinsic potency, māyā , owing to the deficiency in them of directing their intentful regard away from the Absolute Reality ( para-tattva-vaimukhya ), a state of being rooted in the beginningless prior absence of awareness of that Reality. By the further influence of māyā , they are identified with phenomenal inert bodies, generated out of the primary constituents of material nature, namely, sattva (luminosity), rajas (dynamism), and tamas (inertia). The fact that the jīvas are thereby subjected to the misery of conditional existence ( saṁsāra ) was made known on the basis of this understanding.

Here the sequence is:

  1. anādi-para-tattva-jñāna-saṁsargābhāva-maya-tad-vaimukhya: beginningless (anādi) prior absence of experience of Paramātmā, which characterizes vaimukhya, or diversion of awareness away from Paramātmā
  2. Covering of svarūpa-jñāna by māyā, i.e. absence of svarūpa-jñāna
  3. Identification with inert bodies
  4. Misery of conditional existence

Again, the correspondence is exact with the two sequences already presented above. Śrī Jīva Goswami supports this sequence by citing another verse from the Bhāgavata:

yathoktam ekādaśe śrī-bhagavatā—

ātmāparijñāna-mayo vivādo hy astīti nāstīti bhidātma-niṣṭhaḥ |

vyartho’pi naivoparameta puṁsāṁ mattaḥ parāvṛtta-dhiyāṁ sva-lokāt ||[bhā.pu. 11.22.33] iti |

This condition is summed up by Bhagavān in the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavata :
The debate as to whether or not the self ( ātmā ) exists distinct from the body is rooted in the comprehensive non-intuition of the self, and as such it is concerned only with dualistic determinations. Although this debate is devoid of intrinsic value, it assuredly does not cease in the case of human beings whose intentful regard is turned away from Me, the very ground of their existence. ( SB 11.22.33 )

In Anuchheda 54, we find the following statement from him:

The aspect of māyā known as avidyā [in turn] has two functions, called “the potency of concealment” ( āvaraṇātmikā ) and “the potency of projection” ( vikṣepātmikā ). The first is situated in the jīva alone, covering his inherent consciousness. The other continually causes attachment in the jīva by inciting cognitions that are other than the reality ( tad-anyathā-jñānena ).

Correlating this statement with the sequences I have presented above, we find that the concealment or covering function of avidyā induces the lack of awareness of the ātmā’s svarūpa in step 2, while the vikṣepa function of avidyā induces step 3- misidentification with the body.

Summary

The sequence of events in conditioning of the ātmā is to be understood as follows:

  1. taj-jñāna-saṁsargābhāva: beginningless absence of awareness, i.e. direct experience of Absolute Reality.
  2. Being overpowered by māyā, a lack of absence of awareness of one’s own essential nature. This is called āvaraṇa or covering of avidyā.
  3. Identification with mind and body (upādhis of māyā). This is called vikṣepa by avidyā
  4. Miseries of conditional existence (like fear, unhappiness etc.)

Categories: jīva-tattva

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8 replies »

  1. Namaste T.Krishna Das ji,
    Would it be correct to say that in “taj-jñāna-saṁsargābhāva” the “tat” can refer to either Brahman or Paramatma or Bhagwan aspect of advaya jnana? Or does Sri Jiva Goswami specifically means Bhagwan?

    I am asking because in the scriptural verse SB verse 11.2.37 cited by Jiva Goswami for supporting jiva’s basic problem cited at the start of the article, the parallel is drawn between “ taj-jñāna-saṁsargābhāva “ and “ īśād apetasya” where īśād is generally Paramatma.

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    • Namaste. Depends on the sadhana. A bhakta gets sakshatkar of Bhagavan because the goal is Bhagavan. Paramatma and Brahman are subsets of Bhagavan so the sakshatkar of Bhagavan includes them both. A gyani will experience Paramatma and then withdraws the mind away and experienced Brahman. A yogi will experience Parmatma similarly.

      Strictly speaking the atma is an amsa of Paramatma, and therefore tat refers to ignorance of Paramatma. But depending on the sadhana, one may get Bhagavat sakshatkar.

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      • Understood. Thank you for the clarification.

        Is there any article on this website or reference in sat sandarbhas delineating sakshatkara of Paramatma aspect? I know you have written articles related to Brahman realization. Wanted to know if there is similar article or reference relating to Paramatma realization.

        Also would like to know what exactly is the difference between Paramatma and Bhagwan sakshatkara?

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      • The article on Brahman realization contains a mention of Paramatma realization. I dont think I have written more on this topic. I will have to think about where this is described more in Sat Sandarbhas.

        Paramatma is not Bhagavan, so the saksatkara is different. Bhagavan has a cowherd form. Paramatma does not. Depending on one’s goal, one can have priti-abhasa for Paramatma. One has priti for Bhagavan. The experience is different, the form is different, and the destination after death is different.

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  2. Paramātma refers to the three puruShas who are immanent in all tattvas-achetana and chetana. Experiencing Him(in his various forms like indriyAtmA, pradhAnAtma, in chitta(as Vāsudeva), ahankara(as Sankarshana), in buddhi(as Pradyumna) in Manas(as Aniruddha) etc. as AtmA of Virat, Hiranyagarbha, Māyā, etc. And of one’s own body and AtmA and considering then inseparable and non different from Him(Vāsudevam sarvam iti) and having samadarshana would be the features of Paramatma realisation. It doesn’t lead to an end in itself but at last the sAdhaka realises Vāsudeva(Bhagavan) only as the AtmA of all. Of course some others go to brahma-kaivalya mukti not having developed Priti for Paramatma’s form.

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  3. Paramātma refers to the three puruShas who are immanent in all tattvas-achetana and chetana. Experiencing Him(in his various forms like indriyAtmA, pradhAnAtma, in chitta(as Vāsudeva), ahankara(as Sankarshana), in buddhi(as Pradyumna) in Manas(as Aniruddha) etc. as AtmA of Virat, Hiranyagarbha, Māyā, etc. And of one’s own body and AtmA and considering then inseparable and non different from Him(Vāsudevam sarvam iti) and having samadarshana would be the features of Paramatma realisation. It doesn’t lead to an end in itself but at last the sAdhaka realises Vāsudeva(Bhagavan) only as the AtmA of all as per their previois sAdhana qualification. Of course some others go to brahma-kaivalya mukti not having developed Priti for Paramatma’s form.

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