Karanam Aravinda Rao, Monday, September 7, 2015 9:08 am

The Nature of Jiva


While recently trying to explain the sloka – ‘dehino’smin yath? dehe’ – of the Gita, I was having a doubt whether the listener would consider it a piece of pop Vedanta. The verses tell Arjuna not to worry for those departed, as their ?tm? is something eternal. Quoted out of context, these verses can have a strange effect. They are sometimes recited during funerals so as to create an ambience of sobriety and solemnity, and people are even coming to feel that Gita has to be recited during funerals.

The difficulty is in explaining the logic behind the advice such as – ‘do not grieve for those departed or alive’, or ‘it is not as though I was not there at any time’, or ‘the embodied self will get another body  just as it discards old clothes and gets new ones’ and so on. In order to avoid the impression that it is all pulp Vedanta, I had to take shelter under the explanations given in the third pAda of the second chapter of Brahma-sutras. It was easier to tell the arguments advanced therein and justify the advice of Krishna.

The advice of Krishna can be easily tallied with the series of discussions and decisions in the portion of Brahma-sutras noted above. The questions asked there are:

  • Does j?va undergo birth and death?
  • What is the essential nature of j?va? Did he emerge from Brahman just as the space and other elements which constitute jagat?
  • What is the size of this j?v?tm??
  • Is he essentially sentient in nature?
  • Does he have doership in the actions he does?
  • What is his relation with Brahman?

The first question is handled by sutra 2-3-16 where the operating line of ?ruti is from the Chandogya Upanishad (6-11-3). [The topic-wise discussion in the Brahma-sutras is based on some operating line or lines of some Upanishad]. This ?ruti clarifies that the j?va is present in the moving and non-moving bodies (car?cara) which are of fleeting nature. Shankaracharya uses the expression – sth?vara-ja?gama-?ar?ra-vi?ayau janma-mara?a-?abdau, which means that death and birth apply to the moving and non-moving bodies which the j?va may take. It includes the plant kingdom.

The next question is about the nature of j?va. Does it emerge from the Brahman in the same manner as space and other elements? The answer is ‘no’. This is discussed in the BS 2-3-17.The line from Chandogya Upanishad clearly says – ‘I will enter in the form of j?va and give name and form’ (6-3-2). The body is an ‘up?dhi’, i.e. a tentative limiting factor, which gives a form and name to the otherwise formless consciousness. If we admit death to j?va, then there would be none to experience the fruit of his good or bad deeds. If we admit birth afresh, then, he would be experiencing the fruit of some action which he had not done earlier. This is called the flaw of ‘loss of what is done and accrual of what is not done’, – a flaw which is not acceptable. Hence, in this it is shown that j?va is of the same nature as Brahman.

The question about whether the j?va is sentient or otherwise stands answered in the above sutra itself and so it is merely mentioned in the next sutra – BS 2-3-18. It states that j?va is a conscious entity.

The question on size of j?v?tm? is a favorite discussion for philosophers. The j?va is supposed to transmigrate from body to body, may be from an elephant’s body to an ant’s body. In such a case a question arises about the size. Vedanta envisages three possibilities, i.e. it could be atomic in size, or of the size of the body it occupies, or it could be all-pervading. After a lengthy discussion into apparently contradictory statements of ?ruti it is decided that the j?va is a vibhu, i.e. all-pervading (BS 2-3-29). The difference we find is only in terms of bodies but not in terms of the ?tm?.

The question whether the j?va is the doer is discussed next in BS 2-3-33to 40. If j?va is of the same nature as Brahman, then it follows that he cannot be a kart?, i.e. the doer. However, the j?va identifies himself with the BMI and superimposes the qualities of the body and mind on the immutable self. The decision of the Brahma-sutras is that the identification with BMI makes him the doer and freedom from such feeling frees him from being the doer.

A summary of the above discussion leads to the last question about the j?va’s relation with Brahman. In 11 sutra-s there is a broad outline of the avaccedav?da and the ?bh?sa v?da. The former is an argument that the all-pervading consciousness is delimited by several bodies just as the sky appears delimited by several places by which it is circumscribed. The second analogy is that of a reflection of the same sun in different water bodies. The stillness and purity of the water bodies determines the purity of the image.

A comprehensive discussion on the nature of j?va is thus presented in the text of Brahma-sutra mentioned above.



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