In ISKCON, after the disappearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda, controversy arose over the question of jīva-tattva. Opinions varied over interpretation of Prabhupāda’s wrings in his books and letters on the subject of jīva-tattva. The majorly held that the embodied souls in material existence have fallen from Vaikuṇṭha, and they compiled extracts from Prabhupāda’s letters to support their claim. A minority of leaders argued that the jīva came from the taṭasthā region, as described in scripture and confirmed by the Gauḍīya Guru-varga, including Śrīla Prabhupāda himself as noted in various places in his official publications. As seen in one such quotation from the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.16.26:
The conclusion is that no one falls from the spiritual world, or Vaikuṇṭha planet, for it is the eternal abode.
On numerous occasions, various ISKCON leaders and members approached Śrīla Gurudeva for his opinion on jīva-tattva. In June 1992, in Vṛndāvana, one ISKCON member asked Śrīla Gurudeva, “If we spirit souls have not fallen from Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in Goloka Vṛndāvana, why do the scriptures say that we ‘revive’ our relationship with Kṛṣṇa, or that we have ‘forgotten’ that relationship? If we have never experienced it, where is the question of ‘reviving’ or ‘forgetting’ ?”
Śrīla Gurudeva responded, “We can understand this by the following verse:
kṛṣṇa bhuli’ sei jīva anādi-bahirmukha
ataeva māyā tāre deya saṁsāra-duḥkha
“The answer to your question has been given by the word anādi. Anādi means ‘no beginning.’ is means that the conditioned jīva has never met Kṛṣṇa.”
“Why is the word ‘forgotten’ used so often?” they asked.
Śrīla Gurudeva replied, “this word and other words like it have been used for beginners, for those who have no true understanding of spiritual consciousness. Moreover, there is no other word.
“Someone may say, ‘the sun is sitting on the branches of that tree.’ This is said just to give an indication regarding the direction in which the
sun can be perceived. If the sun were actually sitting on the branches, the tree would burn to ashes in less than a moment.
“Similarly, verses that contain words like ‘forget’ and ‘revive’ give us a mere indication of spiritual truth. It is certain that if one is able to see Kṛṣṇa, he will never be prone to fall in the trap of māyā. If a true sādhaka does not fall in the trap of māyā, than how could a perfect and liberated soul, who is always immersed in tasting the nectar of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s personal service, ever fall down?
“The word ‘forget’ can be understood in this way. There is an eternal undeniable truth which is inherently present in the identity of all living entities, but when an individual soul chooses to not accept this or to ignore this truth, then it can be said that the soul has ‘forgotten’ his true nature. This does not mean that the conditioned soul has at anytime had an intimate relation with Kṛṣṇa in His eternal realm. If a previous relation between Bhagavān and the conditioned soul did exist in the past, then at some point during sādhana when the jīva is coming closer to Kṛṣṇa, all of these memories and feelings of previous meeting with Kṛṣṇa would flood into the heart of the jīva. But this has not been described anywhere. This can be seen practically as well. We may have a relation with a dear one but due to some circumstance are separated for a long time and seem to forget this person. Somehow after a long time if we are again united, then the memories of our previous meetings will return and without any effort all our loving feelings will awaken and a sweet relation will be re-established. Yet for the conditioned soul, despite hearing about Kṛṣṇa, and seeing Kṛṣṇa’s Deity, without effort we will not develop our love for Kṛṣṇa. This is because the conditioned soul has never had a direct loving relation with Krsna before. Therefore strong sādhana under the strict guidance of guru is needed to develop a loving relation with Kṛṣṇa. And it may take many, many lives for this mood to awaken. Once an intimate relation with Kṛṣṇa is established the jīva becomes perfected. This is called svarūpa-siddhi. One can never fall down from this state once it is attained.
“A jīva present in Goloka Vṛndāvana cannot forget Kṛṣṇa. Spiritual rasa (the bliss of one’s relation with Kṛṣṇa) is more tasteful than this worldly rasa (mundane relations). The mind is made of matter and hence always engages in worldly rasa. However, if the mind experiences the more wonderful taste of loving service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa then it has no incentive to think about this world.”
“The jīvas present in Goloka Vṛndāvan are perfected souls. Those residing in Vaikuṇṭha possess the same form as Nārāyaṇa Himself. Nārāyaṇa’s associates can be seen as non-different from Nārāyaṇa. So to say that these perfected associates of the Lord have been affected and controlled by the inferior māyā potency is like stating that Īśvara Himself falls under the influence of māyā. This is the philosophy of Sankara and is opposed to factual siddhānta.
“Sometimes a nitya-siddha-parikara will come to this earthly realm from Goloka Vṛndāvan and while in this world he may seem to be an ordinary jīva. God Himself also comes to this realm and performs human like pastimes—lokavat to līlā kaivalyaṁ, naravapuh kṛṣṇa svarūpa—but in actuality His activities are completely transcendental. Therefore Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gīta—janma karma ca me divyaṁ—My birth and activities are transcendental. Perfected souls who come to this world can be seen in the same way. They are never covered or affected by the illusion of māyā.”
On Mar 29, 1993, some GBC members aed Śrīla Gurudeva to explain a particular verse in regard to jīva-tattva. They said, “There is a verse in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta which says that the jīva in this world is eternally conditioned. The words nitya–saṁsāra means ‘eternally conditioned.’ Please explain this verse:
nitya-baddha—kṛṣṇa haite nitya-bahirmukha
nitya-saṁsāra bhuñje narakādi duḥkha
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.13
“The jīva is not eternally conditioned,” Śrīla Gurudeva responded. “In this particular verse, nitya does not mean ‘eternal.’ Nitya also means ‘perpetually,’ ‘constantly,’ or ‘regularly.’ In this connection it means anādi, or ‘timeless,’ meaning that the jīva has been conditioned since time immemorial (originating in the distant past). If it meant ‘eternal’ in the true sense, we would have no scope to get out of māyā. A careful translation of the verse reveals this truth.”
The GBC sannyāsīs asked, “Has the living entity who has been conditioned since time immemorial never had any dire relation with Kṛṣṇa?”
“Everything about the jīva’s relation with Kṛṣṇa is present in his svarūpa, but he has never experienced that relation. It cannot be said that in a seed there is no tree, no fruit, no branches, and no leaves. Everything is latent within a seed, but we cannot see it. This is also true of the jīva.”
On other occasions, when meeting with the ISKCON leaders, Śrīla Gurudeva quoted the fifteenth chapter of Jaiva-dharma, in an explanation of the following verse of Caitanya-caritāmṛta:
jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya—kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’
kṛṣṇera ‘taṭasthā-śakti’ ‘bhedābheda-prakāśa’
“The embodied souls in this world are from the taṭastha-śakti (marginal potency) of Kṛṣṇa.”
In the fifteenth chapter of Jaiva-dharma, Raghunātha dāsa Bābājī describes the taṭasthā nature of the jīva:
The borderline between the ocean and the land is called the shore (taṭa); but the place that touches the ocean is usually nothing but land, so where is the shore? The taṭa is the line of demarcation separating the ocean and the land, and is so fine that it cannot be seen with the gross eyes. If we compare the transcendental realm to the ocean and the material world to the land, that taṭa is the subtle line that divides the two. The jīva-śakti is situated at that place. The countless atomic particles that float in the rays of the sun give an inkling of the real position of the jīva. Situated in the middle place, they see the spiritual world on one side and the material universe created by māyā on the other. The Lord’s spiritual potency on one side is unlimited, and the material potency on the other side is enormous. In between them are situated the innumerable extremely minute jīvas. e jīvas arise from Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s marginal potency; hence their nature is also marginal.
Later in the chapter, Raghunātha dāsa Bābājī says: Both the mind and speech originate in matter. They cannot touch the transcendental truth, even with the greatest endeavor. the Vedas say (Taittirīya Upaniṣad 2.9):
yato vāco nivartante aprāpya manasā saha
Speech and mind return from their search for brahma, being unable to attain Him.
Śrīla Gurudeva described how the jīvas enter material existence from the taṭasthā realm.
“In the taṭasthā region,” Śrīla Gurudeva said, “when the jīvas desire to enjoy everything as independent lords, they turn away from the spiritual world and Kṛṣṇa’s service, and try to engage everyone and everything in their service in the material world. Māyā then catches the jīvas and binds them in gross and subtle bodies in material nature. They then perform karma, which leads to happiness and distress—and when they suffer, they blame God. The jīvas cannot be liberated until they renounce the tendency to try and enjoy independently from the Lord. Fortunate jīvas come in contact with sādhus. The sādhus remove the jīvas’ infatuation with māyā by their words—which are a like a sharp sword cutting illusory attachments—and then the jīvas can become established in the blissful position as a servant of Kṛṣṇa.”
Śrīla Gurudeva also clarified other controversial points in relation to jīva-tattva. He said, “The Bābājīs claim that the jīva’s final svarūpa is dependent on his association. They say, ‘As water can be colored differently by dyes, so the jīva attains a spiritual form in accordance with whom he associates.’ This false conception is contrary to our Gauḍīya-siddhānta. Sanātana Gosvāmī described in the Bṛhad–Bhāgavatāmṛta how Gopa-kumāra traveled through all the realms in the material and spiritual worlds, and even though he associated with devotees in different rasas, he was unsatisfied until he reached his own final destination in a spiritual form in Vraja. The soul’s svarūpa thus does not change by any sādhana or sāṅga. For example, one may plant and water any kind of seed in any pat of ground, but the seed of one species will never develop into the plant of another species. In Jaiva-dharma, Vijay kumāra and Vrajanātha both took dīkṣā from Raghunātha dāsa Bābājī and, with the help of his association, they matured and attained spiritual perfection in their eternal forms—as a sakhā and gopī, respectfully. We should pray to Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa to bring us into sādhu-saṅga favorable for our advancement in whatever spiritual forms our souls possess.
“The nitya-siddha-jīvas are not like the baddha–jīvas. The nitya-siddhas have always been Kṛṣṇa’s eternal associates in the spiritual world. When acting in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in the material world, if they descend with Him, they retain their original forms in the spiritual world, where they continue to serve in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in the transcendental realm. The nitya-siddha-jīvas who serve in Mahaprabhu-līlā also have svarūpas in Vraja.”
“One may ask,” Gurudeva said, “why did the living entities manifest—for what purpose? The living beings are a manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s śakti. Mahāprabhu proclaimed, with supporting evidence from the scriptures, the philosophical conclusion of śakti-parināma-vāda, the transformation of Kṛṣṇa’s energy, not Kṛṣṇa Himself, into the living entities and material world. During the Rāsa dance, Śrīmatī Rādhikā expanded Her form into the eight sakhīs, then into the principal 108 gopīs, then into 16,108 gopīs, and then into countless gopīs. All these gopīs are expressions of Śrīmatī Rādhikā’s myriad moods of love and desire to serve Kṛṣṇa. They are all unique and individual. It is from svarūpa-śakti, ultimately, that all jīvas manifest, and they appear simply for the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa. Every soul is unique.
When people realize that their true purpose is to serve and bring pleasure to Kṛṣṇa, then they can attain their spiritual forms and taste everlasting bliss as a beloved of Kṛṣṇa in one of the five prominent rasas.”
Many of the GBC sannyāsīs and ISKCON members who approached Śrīla Gurudeva could still not decipher the subject of jīva-tattva. It was difficult for them to reconcile some quotations of Śrīla Prabhupāda which indicate that the soul was previously in the spiritual world before falling to the material world. They cited many quotes of Prabhupāda such as: “The material creation by the Lord of creatures (Viṣṇu) is a chance offered to the conditioned souls to come back home, back to Godhead [Bhagavad-gītā 3.10, Purport].”
In Vṛndāvana, in 1993, a senior disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda asked Śrīla Gurudeva, “What did Śrīla Prabhupāda mean when he said, ‘Back to home, back to Godhead?’ ”
Using that disciple’s own life as an analogy, Śrīla Gurudeva explained that although her son was born and raised in Vṛndāvana, India, he considers himself American—because his mother is American. When the school holidays begin, he tells his friends and classmates at the Vṛndāvana gurukula, “I am going back home.”
Similarly, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s famous phrase “Back Home, Back to Godhead,” helps the conditioned souls to think of the Supreme Lord as their father, and wherever their father resides is home. This phrase helps us to understand that Kṛṣṇa is not impersonal, and that His home is our rightful home. This is explained in the excerpt below:
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmi ī Mahārāja said (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.2.11 discourse, July 25, 1971, New York):
“Back to Godhead means God is a person, a person like you and me. Just like your father is a person. That is practical knowledge. Your father’s father is also a person. His father is also a person. His father is also a person. Immediately you can understand. Therefore the Supreme Father must be a person.”
Srila Gurudeva Ki Jaya! (excerpted from “Sri Guru Darshan”, please order this wonderful book from [email protected])