Jiva, Atman & Soul ! --- Are they not the same?  They are not. That is exactly the problem. This is the topic of this article.


These three words, are very often used by some readers and authors of messages or articles on spirituality, without the mathematical precision needed to distinguish them.  I shall try my best to sort this out.


In fact I shall not dwell specifically upon the word ‘soul’ at all.  I shall dwell on the word JIva elaborately and as we go on it will be clear that the English word ‘soul’ (whatever meaning it has) does not have the connotations that ‘JIva’ has. Left to myself I would not use the word ‘soul’ at all – though I have myself slipped in my books!



PART - 1

Samsara is a great time process in which every living being is involved. The state of each creature in a particular life is preconditioned  by the good and bad thoughts and actions of its previous lives. This very idea is based on the fundamental maxim of Sanatana Dharma  that each individual JIva travels from body to body. At this point, take the JIva to mean ‘the embodied Atman’ or the empirical Self.  What is individualized in this fashion is the conglomerate of the mind with all its ‘impressions’ clinging on to the Jiva (not to the Self or the Atman).


There is an Imperishable Purusha within us (to be shortened as IP in this article; The Sanskrit word is akshara-purusha). Purusha may be translated rather meekly as ‘Personality’. This Purusha is the real ‘I’ (the Atman). In ordinary conversation when we use the first person pronoun ‘I’ we mean the conglomeration of the body-mind-intellect which we claim as ours. Except for sages like Ramana Maharishi, very rarely do people distinguish between the real ‘I’ within and the common ‘transactional’ I. The real I, namely the IP within us does not do any action, does not think any thoughts,  does not feel any emotions. He is unaffected, unperturbed, uncontaminated, unsullied by any of the happenings to the PP (Perishable purusha which is the JIva). The IP  is the One introduced by Krishna very early in the Gita in verses 23, 24, 25 of the 2nd chapter and later, in many other contexts. IP, being the real ‘I’, can therefore very well say: “I am not the doer or the experiencer” -- like the street light that witnesses everything that happens under the light but is itself neither the doer nor the experiencer of the happenings, --


He is the non-participating witness to everything that happens to the PP. At the final end of the theory of non-duality one is told that the knower, the known and the knowledge are all one. But, ordinarily, the knower is the subject and the known is the object. The subject which knows the object is the centre of consciousness. It exists, and it knows. The object only exists and even that, only as a transactional reality.

The JIva (the PP) is the subject of all experience. It is a complex of Consciousness (ChaitanyaM) and Matter. When objects are in relation to the subject we have the stream of presentations called Vrittis. When there are no objects there will be no presentations but the consciousness that lights up the presentations will remain. That consciousness is the Witness, the non-participating Witness. Objects are not presented to Consciousness as such. They are directly presented to the JIva and only indirectly to the Witness. There can be no relationship between Consciousness and objects, because they belong to different orders of reality, like the rope and the snake. The subject, the centre of consciousness, is experienced directly in an intuition, like an ‘I-feeling’ (aham-pratyaya), but the object is known only from the outside like ‘this-feeling’ (idam-pratyaya). (To be continued)


Then how did this Pure Consciousness become the JIva or the empirical self and how was the JIva made the subject of all experience? Strictly speaking, there is no ‘becoming, no making, no transition, no transformation’. Pure Consciousness (Atman, Brahman) does not undergo any change of form or character. JIva is only Brahman in an empirical dress of BMI in which the sprouting of the thought of distinctness from Brahman has occurred.(God knows when! Neither the Vedas nor the Upanishads say when this occurred! They say it is anAdi, beginningless). This thought of individuality is the Ego, the starting point of the JIva.  JIva is therefore  Consciousness conditioned by Ignorance in the form of an ego of individuality. The Self can have no direct knowledge of the world except through the apparatus of the BMI. This apparatus as well as the small world which becomes the object of its knowledge is spoken of as the adjunct (upAdhi) of Consciousness. All this adjunct is matter. Consciousness (‘Chaitanyam’) which has this limited portion of matter for its adjunct is the JIva. Each JIva has its own knowing apparatus and moves in a small world of its own, with its own joys and sorrows and thus has its own individual existence. Though the Self is one, the JIvas are many.

Shankara draws attention to this fact of one Self and several JIvas, for instance, in his commentary on B.G.2-12 where the Lord says There was never a time when I was not there nor you were not there, nor these leaders of men nor that we, all of us, will come to be hereafter. He comments: ‘The plural number (in we) is used following the diversity of the bodies, but not in the sense of the multiplicity of the Self’. Generally in his commentaries, Shankara uses two illustrations to bring home this point. One is the sun appearing as many reflected images in different pools of water. If the waters are dried up the several images get back to the original sun. The other illustration is the infinite space being delimited by artificial barriers. If these barriers are knocked down there will be no occasion to speak of the different spaces. These two illustrations of the exact mode of conceiving the relation between the Self and the JIva gave rise to two schools of argument in later advaita, namely,

the argument of original and its reflection (bimba-pratibimba-vAda),and the argument of delimitation (avaccheda-vAda).

The former is the VivaraNa school and the latter is the BhAmati school. Thus when Consciousness is conditioned by its association with Ignorance or Matter it is no longer Pure Consciousness but a complex of both, called JIva,  This does not mean however that Matter or Ignorance is outside of the Reality of Consciousness, because that would contradict non-duality. The relation between Atman and Jiva has therefore to be conceived in the following way.

 The addition of the adjunct is only a difference in the standpoint that we adopt. There are two standpoints – the intuitive and the intellectual. The intuitive is that of immediate and direct realisation. It is the method of the mystics. There is no dualism of subject and object there, nor that of doer and the deed, nor that of agent and enjoyer. These distinctions of duality arise only in the intellectual method of looking at reality. That is why the Gita says that it is “beyond the intellect” (III – 43). It is the nature of the intellect to break up the original unity and revel in these distinctions. At this intellectual level what we are doing is actually a come-down in the level of perception. The JIva is now perceived in relation to its own small world, the subject in relation to the object and the doer in relation to the deed. The Self thus reflected in the medium of the intellect becomes the JIva.

As per the VivaraNa school, the Atman or the Self is the original, the intellect is the reflecting medium and the JIva is the reflected image. In the case of the BhAmati school, the Atman is the infinite space, the adjuncts (upAdhis) are the limiting barriers and the JIvas are the small spaces. 



kUTastha : The Immutable or The Immovable; that which remains like the unchanging iron-piece (anvil = kUTa) on which the blacksmith does all his hammering. In Vedanta literature kUTastha is used to denote the akshara purusha, the imperishable Self or the IP (the Atman), who is the changeless non-participating witness of the doings of the outer self. The outer Self, which is the PP is involved in the actions of Nature, reflects the varied workings of the guNas of the individual's prakRti (this is just the store of the Vasanas of the Jiva earmarked for this birth  Shankara is very clear on this. He gives the meaning in his commentary to B.G.3-33. Prakriti that controls an individual, is his Nature, says he, meaning all impressions of work, righteous and unrighteous, done already, which manifest themselves in the present life ) PP identifies himself with the play of personality and assumes the doer-ship of all actions. He is under the constant spell of mAyA (meaning his own Prakriti); whereas the akshara purusha, the kuTastha, is the inactive non-doer and is only the witnessing Self. It is the Lord that appears as both the purushas. the kUTastha or the akshara purusha is witnessing everything. It is because of this existence of a continuous witness, that the outer Self when it goes to sleep along with its BMI, has however a memory of the sleeping act ('I slept soundly and happily' ) when it wakes up after sleep. This is a daily phenomenon that happens without our noticing it carefully. In yajur-veda, taittirIya-AraNyaka, 10 - 1- 67 there is a mantra: ‘aham-eva-aham-mAM-juhomi svAhA’, meaning, ‘I make myself (the finite self) an oblation into the fire of the infinite Brahman which I am always’. This mantra, truly enunciates the refunding of the individual self into its source, the Supreme Self, or the realisation of the identity between the JIva and the ISvara when the adjuncts created by ignorance are removed (by the oblation of the lower self into the Fire of the Higher Self). The outer Self (PP) goes and 'merges' as it were with the Inner Self  (IP) during sleep and that is what makes it conscious of the sleep after the event. It is this daily event that is the proof of the theory that the kshara purusha and the akshara purusha are essentially the same.

The JIva is thus a complex of Consciousness (Chaitanyam) and matter It is Pure Consciousness with a limited adjunct of matter, namely, the BMI. (In other words, Matter permeated by Spirit).  This limited adjunct is spoken of as the Ignorance (avidyA) of the JIva. This Ignorance is a colossal age-old Ignorance (as we have already mentioned). It is the wrong (=mistaken) identification by the JIva of itself with whatever is the (external) personality of BMI, in which it currently resides.  This is what makes the JIva the (individual) PP. That is why the JIva suffers and goes through birth after birth. The JIva has to learn to identify itself with the IP.  When the Jiva strips itself of its adjunct it loses its individuality and is then nothing but Pure ChaitanyaM.

The anaysis of the three states of waking, dreaming and sleeping is intended to show that Consciousness is the only constant factor running through them all. Even in the sleeping state, this Consciousness is there. That nothing is seen (made aware of)  in that state is because, although seeing then, it does not see; for the vision of the Witness can never be lost, because it is imperishable. But then no second thing exists there separate from it which it can see. (Br. U. IV – 3-23). Shankara quotes this passage in his commentary to Br.S. II-3-18 and adds his own explanation: This appearance of absence of awareness is owing to the absence of objects of knowledge, but not owing to the absence of consciousness. It is like the non-manifestation of light, spread over space, owing to the absence of things on which it can be reflected, but not owing to its own absence.It is in the fourth state called ‘turIya’, that transcends the three states of waking, dream and dreamless sleep, all traces of Ignorance disappear.

When the JIva is thus disassociated from Ignorance and therefore from all material vesture, the spiritual core of the JIva comes into its own. Shankara sets forth (in his commentary on Br.S. I-3-19) the nature of this transcendence of all adjuncts in the following way. A white crystal placed by the side of something red or blue appears red or blue on account of the adjunct. But in reality the crystal is only white. When the adjunct is removed, it does not ‘acquire’ its white colour but only shines in its own natural colour. Before the onset of true enlightenment the Spirit (Consciousness) on account of its association with the BMI appears as the JIva. But the rise of true knowledge does make a real difference. All false notions disappear and Spirit rises to its true stature. The self-hood of the empirical self falls to the ground and the Self shines forth in its original splendour. To know the highest truth is only to know the self in its true nature. The moment true enlightenment dawns on man he realises that he is no other than the non-dual self, that very moment he sheds his finitude and rises to his full stature. There is no question of the JIva merging in anything other than itself. It simply comes to its own.



It is to come into its own, that the individualized Jiva (with all its ‘carry-on’ baggage  of prArabdha karma and coating of vAsanas)  -- a note in a lighter vein: sancita-karma is ‘checked-in’ baggage! --travels from body to body and acquires further experience.  If these experiences and doings of the individualized JIva are  of the sAtvic kind (rid of all attachment), slowly, the balance of acquired karma diminishes and, hopefully, ultimately dives to zero. That is when the Jiva comes into its own, and then there is no more of this individualized Jiva.

This is where certainly the Hindu concept of Jiva has to be distinguished from the western concept of ‘soul’. The soul of the western philosophies is also individualized, but it does not carry any vAsanAs, nor there is any concept of Vasanas. There is no comparison between the long journey of transmigration of the JIva until its own non-existence and the soul’s long sojourn of rest in the grave, until it is one day redeemed by the Supreme. That is why, one says RIP (Rest in Peace) for the soul and one says ‘May the Jiva go to a noble destination, which enables its upward spiritual journey in its future lives’.

In truth, -- now this may jolt you; but this is where Advaita Vedanta clean-bowls you! – (from the standpoint of the Absolute Reality), there is no entity as the JIva at all. It is not among the things created. It is a false creation due entirely to adventitious (‘Agantuka’) or incidental circumstance, that is, coming from without and not pertaining to the fundamental nature. “The idea of embodiedness is a result of nescience. Unless it be through the false ignorance of identifying the Self with the body, there can be no embodiedness for the Self” ( ‘sa-sharIratvasya mithyA-jnAna-niimittatvAt …. kalpayituM’ : Shankara’s Commentary on Br. Su. I-1-4 ). JIva has always remained Brahman. Only the adjuncts have to be removed for this truth to stand out. Once this realisation is there, the finitude of the JIva will disappear, as also its misery and its supposed agency and enjoyership. “When that Brahman, the basis of all causes and effects, becomes known, all the results of the seeker’s actions become exhausted” (Mu.U. II–2-8). The transmigration of the JIva which is due to its false association with the adjuncts, will also come to a close. That is when the ego-thought of separateness from the Supreme Self, with an ‘I’ of its own, will get destroyed. That is what we mean by saying ‘JIva attains mokSha’. The two things are simultaneous, like the simultaneity of disappearance of darkness with the lighting of a match. But that does not mean that JIva ‘obtains something’. ‘JIva sees the Truth’ simply means that it sees that it is itself Brahman. In other words, it wakes up to the Truth that was always there. Not waking up to the Truth was the Ignorance. Ignorance is not in Brahman, which is pure and self-illumined, but in the JIva. So long however as the latter does not realize his identity with Brahman, ignorance is said, rather loosely (and metaphorically), to envelop Brahman. And that long, will the JIva keep transmigrating from body to body, in fact from death to death! (To be continued and concluded)


(PART 5)

All the injunctions that are given by the Vedas to man are given to him in his state of ignorance because activity is natural to man in that state. The Self is never the doer. The injunction is only a restatement following what is given in experience.  All the ritual purifications through chanting of mantras and the results of such actions are enjoined on, and enjoyed by, that entity which has the idea “I am the doer”, as stated in the Mundaka Upanishad mantra “One of the two enjoys the fruits having various tastes, while the other looks on without enjoying” (Mu. U. III-1-1). The misery that falls to the lot of the JIva, the empirical self, is entirely due to its fancied association with its adjuncts. This association imagines such ‘realities’ as ‘I am a brahmin’, ‘I am a renunciate’, ‘I am a JIva’ and the like. When the JIva sheds these imagined realities and all adventitious adjuncts and realises its true nature by a discrimination between the permanent and the ephemeral, then there is an end of all its misery. Except by such knowledge of the Ultimate Self, misery and finitude cannot be overcome.

While JIva is matter permeated by spirit, the concept of Ishvara, the SaguNa brahman, arises when spirit is taken in association with  insentient matter, or, what is the same thing, Brahman is viewed through our intellect. The essential content of JIva and Ishvara  is the same fragment of the consciousness aspect of Brahman. While the para Brahman , the Supeme Absolute Brahman, is without attributes Saguna Brahman is the form of Brahman which we can worship, pay reverence to, adore, serve and pray to.  It is the greatness of advaita philosophy that it brings down the attributeless absolute Brahman to the level of ordinary man by means of the ‘ther form’ (apara-svarUpa) of Brahman, for purposes of worship as the god of religion and thus synthesizes  the apparently conflicting thoughts in the maze of multifold Upanishadic expressions.

 TheMahAvAkya  ‘That Thou Art’ states the essential identity of consciousness between jIva and Ishvara.  Inspite of the difference in their adjuncts, they are identical in so far as their real self is concerned.  In the case of the JIva it is our own Ignorance (avidyA) and thus it is consciousness delimited by avidyA.  In the case of Ishvara it is consciousness delimited by Cosmic AvidyA, that is mAyA.AvidyA and mAyA are extraneous adjuncts. If the JIva and Ishvara are rid of these there will be nothing to distinguish them  from each other or both from Brahman.The analysis of the three states of consciousness is intended to show that it is Brahman, in its fragmentary form of JIva-Ishvara, that is the constant factor running throughall the three states: the gross, the subtle and the causal – sthUla, sUkshma and kAraNa. These three are elaborated in Taittiriyopanishad as five koshas (sheaths).   The gross body  (annamaya-kosha) is perishable.  The subtle body (consisting of the prANa-maya, mano-maya, vijnAna maya koshas) is something like a pemanent annexe of the JIva throughout its transmigratory career which comes to an end when it has acquired the knowledge that it is Brahman and has rid itself of the adjunct of Ignorance. Merit and Demerit will have exhausted themselves. The subtle body will then drop off. The causal body (Ananda-maya kosha: kAraNa sharIra) will also drop off, because it is nothing but the vASanA factor and the store of vAsanAs would have come to nil since no vAsanAs are acquired  by an egoless jIva. The JIva will then cease to be jIva and rise to its true stature as Brahman.This is the glorious consummation towards which each JIva is striving always, knowingly or unknowingly.

Om ShAntiH ShAntiH ShAntiH

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© 2017 by V. Krishnamurthy