Question: What is the constitutional position of the jīva?
Answer: In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta we find this statement;
jīvera svarūpa haya kṛṣṇera nitya dāsa
kṛṣṇera taṭasthā śakti bhedābheda prakāśa
“The constitutional position of the jīva is that of an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa. The jīva belongs to the marginal potency of Kṛṣṇa and as such the jīva is considered a manifestation simultaneously one and different from Kṛṣṇa.”
The jīva is called taṭasthā-śakti or the marginal potency of Godhead. Kṛṣṇa’s potencies are classified into three categories; antaraṅga-śakti the plane of Divinity, Vaikuṇṭha, taṭasthā-śakti the marginal entities known as jīvas, and bahiraṅga-śakti the world of māyā, material illusion.
The taṭasthā-śakti, marginal plane, is located on the line of demarcation between the plane of māyā and Vaikuṇṭha. Marginal means that the jīva has got adaptability to either side — to māyā or to Divinity. Māyā is the land of exploitation and Divinity or Vaikuṇṭha is the land of dedication.
The taṭasthā or marginal plane is the Brahman effulgence, the bodily effulgence of Mahā-Viṣṇu and it is living and growing. That Brahman effulgence is the outer covering of the Vaikuṇṭha planets and it is the source of infinite jīvas.
Brahman is the marginal plane of non-differentiation. That plane is the unconcentrated principle of sat, cit, ānanda, existence, consciousness, and bliss. At this stage we find that the jīva is an atomic ray or particle of non-differentiated character. The concentrated form of sat, cit, ānanda is Śrī Kṛṣṇa the Entity of Absolute Concentrated Intensity. The living beings, jīvas, are His separated parts, vibhinnāṁśa-jīvas. Thus the jīvas have inherited a minute proportion of Kṛṣṇa’s qualities; therefore, the jīva is an embodiment of perception, the perceiver, egoism, the enjoyer, the thinker, and the doer. The constitutional distinction between Kṛṣṇa and the jīva is that Kṛṣṇa is Almighty while the jīva is atomic.
From that stage, a plain sheet of uniform consciousness, individual conscious units of dedication grow. These units of consciousness, jīvas, are endowed with seed adaptability towards both the spiritual and material worlds without ever having had participation or experience of either.
It is not that non differentiation is the origin of differentiation as conceived by the māyāvāda philosophers. But because the marginal position is on the verge of the higher eternal potency, svarūpa-śakti, differentiation manifests in that plane of uniformity. Svarūpa-śakti is a substance of eternal differentiation and variegatedness. Svarūpa-śakti means the internal potency and both the taṭasthā-śakti and the antaraṅga-śakti belong to the superior internal potency of svarūpa-śakti. The bahiraṅga-śakti belongs to the external potency, māyā, which is only a shadow reflection of reality.
Strictly speaking, the jīva is marginal and this means that he is in a position to analyse adaptability only. He can go towards the spiritual world and he can come towards the material world. But his ability is minute.
In that state the jīva is left to exercise free will. Because the jīva is a conscious unit he has free will. Without free will it is simply matter. Free will is all important but because the jīva is atomic his free will or discretion to analyse adaptability is defective. He may analyse correctly or not.
In the case of correct analysis of his adaptability the jīva can become a member of the eternal world of service to Godhead, nitya-siddha, eternally perfect. Or in the case of incorrect analysis of his adaptability the jīva falls down to the material world.
The question arises that why didn’t Kṛṣṇa endow the jīva with perfect discretion so he would make the proper analysis of his adaptability? If this were so then certainly all the jīvas would at once come to the spiritual world and this would create a compulsion among the jīvas. Compulsion means interfering with free will. But free will is guaranteed. Some are coming to this side and some are going to that side.
A jīva who is falling down from the marginal plane does not directly come in contact with matter. The jīva first comes to the stage of cidābhāsa. Before pure consciousness can evolve to material consciousness it must pass through a hazy stage of consciousness called cidābhāsa. In the stage of cidābhāsa the jīva becomes conditioned and is thus able to enter material existence. Cidābhāsa means preparation for a life in the land of misconception.
When there is creation again the fallen jīva is impregnated into a material universe by the glance of Mahā-Viṣṇu. To analyse the particular details of the history of the jīva is unnecessary. We are concerned only with how the transformation of material consciousness springs from pure consciousness.
The residents of Vaikuṇṭha and Goloka Vṛndāvana are also seen to come to the material world but that is only in the case of līlā, to assist the Lord in His pastimes or to carry out His mission. The Vaikuṇṭha servitors come here and when their work is over they return. Such servants of the Lord, like Jaya and Vijaya and others, even when they come to the material world are never considered fallen souls because they are never forgetful of their actual position. The fallen souls of this world fall down from the marginal position within the Brahman effulgence, never from Vaikuṇṭha.
If one wants to argue that the jīva falls down to this material world from eternal līlā with Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world, then that is tantamount to māyāvāda philosophy because that suggests the fallibility of the Vaikuṇṭha plane. The Vaiṣṇava ācāryas never admit to even a remote chance of fallibility in Vaikuṇṭha what to speak of Goloka Vṛndāvana.
The residents of the Vaikuṇṭha planets do not have any awareness of material existence, of the worlds of exploitation, enjoyment and suffering. The material worlds actually have no existence other than being a covered state of pure consciousness of the jīva. The residents of Vaikuṇṭha being always in pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness do not have any experience of matter.
With regards to understanding spiritual subject matters like the origin of the jīva, the nature of Kṛṣṇa and the nature of the spiritual world, a jīva in bondage is regrettably very slow in these matters. Understanding spiritual subjects largely depends upon the jīva’s adhikāra or acquired qualifications. Unfortunately, due to his meagre adhikāra and limited experience the jīva all too often wants to understand spiritual matters in relation to his mundane material consciousness.
What is Brahman, what is Kṛṣṇa, what is Vaikuṇṭha, what is svarūpa-śakti? What are all these things is unknown and unknowable to the conditioned jīva. Even those in the neophyte stage of devotional service, bhakti-yoga, cannot have a transcendental understanding of these subjects due to their still being covered by māyā’s influence. The neophyte is all too often dependent upon crutches like paintings and pictures for his understanding which although giving him some direction nevertheless leave him hanging in the mundane conception.
For example: We have seen the artistic rendition of the birth of Brahma on the stem of the lotus which springs from the navel of Garbhodākaśāyī Viṣṇu. There the lotus is red or yellow colour, large in size, and having a very long stem. Thus the neophyte is left to conceive of that lotus in relation to his experience of a lotus in this world. What is the actual reality of that “lotus” having sprung from the navel of Viṣṇu and being the birth place of Brahma the artist cannot actually inform us. But the conception of the neophyte becomes fixed in the conception that the substance of that lotus is also like the lotus of this world.
In his commentary on Brahma-saṁhitā, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has described that ‘golden’ lotus as cidābhāsa, “the hazy aspect or reflection of Divinity.” “That lotus, he says, “is the residence of the aggregate jīvas.” So what is that lotus? Is it simply a “lotus” or is it something more? We must try to think more deeply into these matters.
The point I am trying to make is that the ‘lotus’, the Brahman effulgence, the Vaikuṇṭha planets or any other thing having spiritual existence cannot be properly conceived when simply referenced to its mundane counter parts in the material world. Realization is required.
The śāstra and the self-realized devotees have tried to explain the realized truths about the Absolute Reality from different angles of vision for the purpose of helping the conditioned jīva to awaken his original pure consciousness. Still some jīvas are insistent on dragging their mundane mind and intellect to the attempt at understanding Reality. Thus the conditioned jīva is very slow to catch the real idea given in śāstra and by pure devotees.
To enter into proper understanding of the śāstra and revealed truths spoken by pure devotees the jīva has to put aside all mundane considerations and experiences. Only by advancement in pure devotional service are the pure and unalloyed truths regarding the Absolute Reality revealed to a jīva. Argument and word jugglery are useless attempts at realising the truth. On the other hand, to form a single line of thought or a single criterion by which all jīvas can understand the truth is also difficult. And it is for this reason that the śāstra and the ācāryas have expressed many angles of vision to enlighten the jīva, some of which even appear contradictory. However, the more the eyes of the jīva are anointed and adorned with the salve of Love, the more the Absolute Truth, Śrī Kṛṣṇa will reveal Himself.
The constitutional position of the jīva is to serve Kṛṣṇa. As such a jīva is never satisfied in material existence despite his wandering from the post of Brahma down to that of an insignificant ant. When by the grace of Kṛṣṇa the wandering jīva meets a bona-fide representative of Kṛṣṇa he can get the seed of eligibility, bhakti-latā-bīja, and thus he can attain to the stage of jīvan-mukta or that of a liberated soul from material existence.
This is what I have understood regarding the constitutional position of the jīva as I have heard it from the śāstra and from the lips of my spiritual masters.