by Swami Krishnananda
Jiva is an appellation given to consciousness defined by the principles constituting individuality. It denotes the embodied being limited to the psycho-physical states. The notion of the Jiva is the basis of all world-experience. The concept of reality is arrived at by the analysis of the implications of this experience. We can observe in the individual self traces of the elements that go to form the universe as a whole. The delimited reflection of the eternal consciousness in the mind-stuff goes by the name of the Jiva. Understanding, feeling and willing are the primary functions of this reflected consciousness. The basis of the Jiva is Brahman, which is the substratum of all creation. But the arrogation of reality to itself by each form of the reflected consciousness becomes responsible for the notion of the ‘I’ in everyone. Though this ‘I’ has at its back the general reality of all things, it has reference to objectified conditions, and its reality is tremendously influenced by its perception of objects. Perception, inference and the other ways of valid knowledge, as well as wrong knowledge, doubt, sleep, memory, and the forms of error such as ignorance, egoism, likes, dislikes and the fear of death together with an intense love for life, are the principal psychological associations of the Jiva. Though the Jiva appears as a subject of knowledge in this world, it is not really the metaphysical subject, for its existence is not wholly independent of the appearance of objects; nay, its own body is part of the appearance. The organisation of individuality is relative to the framework of the contents of the consciousness operating through it. The empirical subject is itself an object from the point of view of the Atman, and when divested of its psychological cloggings, it gets down to the irreducible minimum of pure being. The ideas connected with doership and enjoyership are inseparable from the consciousness of duality. The Jiva is, in truth, not a being, but a becoming, a state of experience attempting to transcend itself every moment. Activity cannot be avoided as long as individuality persists. This world is a world of action, where struggle is the law, striving the rule. The mutations of the universe get erroneously identified with the self, and it is this that gives rise to the idea of agency and enjoyership. Birth and death are the consequences of such wrong identification, for it results in the rise of several desires which clamour for fulfilment, and the way of their fulfilment is the drudgery of transmigratory life. Agency, however, is not essential to the innermost essence of the Jiva, for, if it were so, there would be no chances of achieving freedom at any time. All activity, when carefully viewed, is found to be of the nature of pain, but the essential Self is blissful by nature. The activities of the Jiva are not properties of the Atman, but are contingent features of the outward adjuncts that get confused with what they are not. The sense of agency and activity is attributable to the Upadhis which go to make up the Jiva.
It can be said that, in a sense, the Jiva is eternal, for its individuality is never destroyed in all the births and deaths it undergoes. But it is non-eternal in the sense that it is transfigured in the realisation of Brahman. The principle of individuality is active in the waking and the dreaming states, but potential in sleep, swoon and death. But for its continuance even in times of the cessation of all its functions, it could not rise again in a new birth. When objective consciousness is absent, the Jiva exists in a latent form, ready to manifest itself in action whenever suitable conditions arise. Jivahood is completely negatived in Brahman. The Jiva is different from Brahman as long as it is confined to the body, the Pranas, the senses and the Antahkarana, but one with it in its fundamental nature which it realises in profound meditation. From the point of view of the body, the Jiva is a hack working under the oppressive yoke of the laws of Nature; as a limited soul, it is a part of God; and as pure consciousness, it is identical with Brahman. From the structure of Jivahood as such, its relation to Brahman cannot be strictly determined. It cannot be said to be different from Brahman, for there is no second to Brahman. Nor is it a part of Brahman, for Brahman cannot be divided into elements. It cannot also be said to be the same as Brahman in its present form, for its limiting characters are incompatible with the perfection of Brahman. The Jiva passes for reality within the universe of its experience, but gets lifted up gradually in the different stages of self-transcendence, until it attains Brahman.
The Jiva is a limitation as well as a reflection, a Parichheda as well as an Abhasa of Brahman. It is inferior to Brahman not only quantitatively but also qualitatively. As restricted to the internal organ and the senses, it is Parichhinna or limited, and as an image of the highest consciousness, it is an Abhasa. As the defects of a reflected image do not sully the original in any way, the defects of the Jiva do not affect Brahman even in the least. As a reflection, the Jiva is not genuine being but a process, and, as limited to the internal organ, even this process is not universal but localised. The nature of the mind is transferred to consciousness, and so the experiences of the Jiva are nothing but the feelings and the modes of the mind. The possibility of Jivahood has to be traced to the presence of Brahman in the background, albeit in the form of a reflection; but the content of this reflected consciousness is organically related to the movements of the Upadhis. The Jivachaitanya, thus, partakes of the double nature of reality as well as appearance.
The Atman, as the Kutasthachaitanya or the witnessing Self, is the ground of the Jiva, though in itself it is absolutely free from the limitations of Jivahood. The Atman does not modify or transform itself into the Jiva but exists only as an unrelated witness. There is the same inexplicability about the relation of the Jiva to the Atman as of Maya to Brahman, or of appearance to Reality. When the limiting conditions are withdrawn, the Jiva turns back to its source, which is the light of eternity. The birth, growth and death of the individual have meaning only in relation to its accidental circumstances. As the limiting features are incidental, Jivahood is non-eternal. The whole history of the Jiva is but the procession of the activities of these external vestures,—nothing real to the Atman. The diversity of things is adventitious, their ultimate unity is essential. As long as there is a clinging to the conglomeration of the elements composing the individuality, there is bound to be the sorrow attending upon the pain of transformation and death. The salvation of the Jiva consists in the giving up of its fictitious conceit of doership and enjoyership in the world and recognising the absolute perfection of Brahman.
An analysis of the nature of the Jiva is virtually a study of the various vestments in which the empirical consciousness is shrouded and which principally constitute its existence. Swami Sivananda, in his Jnana-Yoga (pp. 112-136), details this fascinating theme, and conducts the enquiry as follows:
There are three bodies, viz. the gross, the subtle and the causal. Contained in these bodies are the five sheaths, viz. the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the blissful. That which is seen by the physical eyes, that which is composed of flesh, bones, fat, skin, nerves, hair, blood, etc. is the physical body, the outermost sheath covering the inner consciousness. This body undergoes six kinds of change,—empirical existence, birth, growth, change, decay and death. It grows in youth and decays in old age. It develops when nourishing food is given, and becomes weakened if food is withdrawn, or if it is overtaken by disease. This body is subject to decline and disintegration. The subtle body is composed of nineteen principles,—the five senses of knowledge, the five organs of action, the five vital forces, the Manas, the Chitta, the Buddhi and the Ahamkara. This body grows and develops through egoism, attachment, love and hatred, and breaks down when it is freed from these encumbrances. It is affected by three kinds of misery,—the psychological, the physical and the heaven-ordained. The essence of the subtle body consists in Avidya, Kama and Karma—ignorance, desire and action. The causal body develops through the ideas: ‘I am a Jiva,’ and falls off when this idea gets weakened in intensity or is annihilated in the unification of the real ‘I’ with Brahman. The subtle and the causal bodies get thickened in worldly-minded persons on account of lust, greed and anger, and get thinned out in earnest spiritual aspirants who are free from these impurities. The subtle body is also called the Lingadeha, or Lingasarira, for it is the symbol or mark (Linga) of one’s individuality. It is the subtle body that materialises itself as the physical body, and is itself an expression of a part of the potencies lying dormant in the causal body.
We can clearly see the physical body as an object of the senses. But the subtle body does not become an object in this way, for the instruments of objective knowledge are contained in the subtle body itself, and it is too subtle to be perceived physically. The existence of this finer body can, however, be inferred from the effects produced as the nineteen principles constituting it. It is this ethereal aggregate that really carries on all the functions of the individual personality and uses the physical body as its instrument of action. Fire cooks food and also does other kinds of work with the aid of fuel; it cannot work without the instrumentality of some material. Yes, it is not the fuel that cooks food but the fire that burns through it. The functions of seeing, hearing, etc. that are performed by the subtle body depend upon the gross body for their outward expression. The real doer and enjoyer is the Jivachaitanya, animating the subtle body. The physical body is inert, it cannot manifest intelligence, and so cannot be the real doer of anything. The Antahkarana or the internal organ in the subtle body is transparent owing to its being formed of the derivatives of Sattvaguna, and so it can reflect consciousness, though imperfectly, and keep up the busy life of the world.
The causal body is nothing but Ajnana or primitive ignorance. It is devoid of consciousness, for in it the Sattvaguna is subordinated to Rajas and Tamas. The causal body gets destroyed when the knowledge of the Atman dawns on the Jiva. The Atman is entirely different from the three bodies, the latter being external to consciousness. Their existence and intelligence are borrowed from another source which is infinite existence and intelligence.
The five sheaths are comprised in the three bodies, and the Atman is different from the sheaths. Just as clouds which are generated by the rays of the sun, and which exist on account of the sun, cover the sun itself; just as smoke which draws its existence from fire conceals fire itself; just as the snake which is erroneously perceived in a rope, and which owes its existence to the rope, hides the rope itself; just as a jar which exists on account of clay hides the perception of the clay in itself; just as ear-rings, etc., which owe their existence to gold, hide the incidence of the gold in them; so do the five sheaths, which owe their existence to the Atman, hide it from experience. It is the natural tendency of the mind to identify itself with the sheaths, and vice versa. This superimposition is mutual, and is caused by Avidya. One has to realise one’s distinction from the five sheaths by the practice of the method of ‘Neti, Neti’, declared in the Vedanta.