The Simultaneous Inherency and Bestowal of Bhakti—Part 5: The Twenty-One Intrinsic Characteristics of the Soul

By Vrindaranya dasi

Additional articles in this series

Let us examine the soul’s intrinsic characteristics (svarūpa-lakṣaṇa), which Śrī Jīva says were enumerated by Śrī Jāmātṛ Muni, who is a very senior teacher of the Śrī Vaiṣṇava sampradāya. He mentions that Jāmātṛ Muni bases his list of intrinsic characteristics on the Padma Purāṇa. The Padma Purāṇa lists eighteen characteristics, and Jāmātṛ Muni adds three additional characteristics (being a knower, doer, and enjoyer).1 Here are the twenty-one characteristics:

[1] The ātmā is not a demigod, human, animal, or immovable being [such as a plant]. [2] He is not the body, senses, mind, vital force, or intellect. [3] The soul is not inert; [4] not subject to change; [5] and not just knowledge alone. [6] The soul manifests himself to himself [he is self-luminous] and [7] he reveals himself to others and reveals others to himself [like the rays of a lamp]; [8] the soul is of one form and [9] is situated in his own essential nature. [10] The soul is conscious, [11] pervades the body, [12] and is intrinsically of the nature of consciousness and bliss. [13] The soul has its own identity, [14] is distinct from other individual selves, [15] is atomic, [16] eternal, [17] and pure. [18] The soul is a knower, [19] doer, [20] and enjoyer. [21] By nature, he is a servant of Paramātmā at all times.2

These are eternal, inherent characteristics of the soul. When devotees argue whether bhakti is inherent or not, they will point to these characteristics. It seems, therefore, that it should be easy to determine whether bhakti is inherent or not. I will now explain why what seems like an obvious answer has become a controversy. 

How Some Svarūpa Characteristics Can Be Unmanifest

Importantly, although these characteristics are eternal, they are not all fully manifest when the jīva is conditioned by material nature. Thus, Jīva Gosvāmī devotes four anucchedas (Paramātma Sandarbha 23–26) to explaining that when the jīva is materially conditioned, some of his svarūpa qualities are hidden. For example, Jīva Gosvāmī quotes Śrīdhara Svāmī in anuccheda 23 as saying that the jīva’s bliss is hidden (apeta-bhāgaḥ) when he is conditioned by material nature. But what is the significance of this point in regard to whether bhakti is inherent? 

All the Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism included, say that one cannot be liberated without bhakti. Think about the relevance of this point in terms of the soul’s characteristic of ānanda (cid-ānandātmika). If the soul’s bliss is not fully manifest without liberation, then it means that the soul’s ānanda is either the bliss of Brahman or the bliss of bhakti. Why? Because a liberated soul is either identified with Brahman or enjoying the bliss of a relationship with Bhagavān.

But one may ask, why couldn’t cid-ānandātmika refer to the bliss of the jīvan-mukta? In other words, why couldn’t it refer to the bliss of the ātmā who is not identified with material nature but not identified with Brahman or Bhagavān? Jīvan-mukta is a term used by Śaṅkarācārya to refer to someone who is liberated while still in the material body, waiting for his prārabdha-karma to expire. The problem with this idea is that the Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas do not accept Śaṅkarācārya’s definition of jīvan-mukta. For example, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī says that only the Vaiṣṇava conception of jīvan-mukta is eternal:

There are two types of jīvan-mukta, one who is liberated in this life by bhakti and one who is liberated by jñāna. One who is liberated by bhakti is attracted by the qualities of Kṛṣṇa and worships him. One who is liberated by knowledge that has no fruit (śuṣka-jñāna) fall down due to offenses.3

For Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, the only way to be liberated while still apparently in a material body is to be a devotee with a perfected sādhaka-deha. I say “apparently in a material body” because the perfected sādhaka-deha is not considered material.4 According to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, a jīvan-mukta is a devotee with a relationship with Bhagavān. Therefore, the most that someone without bhakti can realize is that they are not the material body. However, such realization is a product of sattva-guṇa, so someone with such realization is still conditioned by material nature.5 Accordingly, it is not transcendental bliss, and it is not possible that one of the eternal characteristics of the soul is material. Therefore, we come back to the conclusion I stated earlier, that the bliss of a liberated soul is due to either identification with Brahman or a relationship with Bhagavān. 

Furthermore, many of the twenty-one characteristics of the soul require śakti, and śakti is unmanifest when the jīva is identified with Brahman. Therefore, the full manifestation of the twenty-one qualities of the jīva occurs only when the soul has a relationship with Bhagavān. What is the relevance of all this? It means that when Jīva Gosvāmī states that an intrinsic characteristic of the soul is that he has ānanda, he is referring to the bliss of a relationship with Bhagavān. In other words, the ānanda of the ātmā is bhakti

Those who argue that bhakti is not inherent try to get around this problem by saying that Jīva Gosvāmī defined the bliss of the ātmā as the mere absence of suffering. I will refute this misreading of Jīva Gosvāmī in part 10 of this series.

Is it possible that the jīva’s natural state is not liberated? No, because Jīva Gosvāmī says:

…the jīva is liberated by its very own inherent nature, and it is due to ignorance alone that there is but an appearance of bondage. When knowledge arises, the liberated state is simply brought to light. So, the intended sense is that liberation is the jīva’s permanent state.6

Thus, we can see the problem with the idea of those who advocate bestowal-only. They say that the jīva’s intrinsic characteristics can be fully manifest without bhakti. But without bhakti one can’t be liberated.7 However, because Jīva Gosvāmī says that “the jīva is liberated by its very own inherent nature,” this position is illogical: how can you fully experience your inherent nature, which is a liberated state, and not be liberated? And yet, this is exactly the awkward position that those who say bhakti is not inherent are forced into. In the opening anuccheda of Prīti Sandarbha, Jīva Gosvāmī confirms: “As long as the jīva does not have devotion (prīti) for me, Vāsudeva, he will not be liberated from the body (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 5.5.6).”8 As such, those who reject inherency are backed into this troublesome corner. This fatal flaw of their understanding proves to be a checkmate.

The Four States of Consciousness

To further establish this important point that the jīva can only realize the full manifestation of his intrinsic qualities in liberation, let us consider the same point from another angle of vision—the four states of consciousness described in Paramātma Sandarbha 20. The three states of the jīva—waking, sleeping, and deep sleep—are material. God is famous as the fourth state (turīya). When the jīva (the ātmā covered by avidyā, or ignorance) realizes his true nature, he will experience the fourth state of consciousness.9 Tattva Sandarbha 63.4 clarifies this point: “When the mind, giving up the three states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep by bhakti-yoga, spontaneously enjoys the lotus feet of the Lord, at that time the conditioned soul realizes the Lord and gives up all material desires (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.7.20–21).”10 Bhagavat Sandarbha 105 confirms, “One cannot realize the real svarūpa described in scripture by being absorbed in the effects of māyā. Thus, for realization you must reject māyā. In the absence of māyā you realize prema.”11

As these quotations establish, bhakti is integral to experiencing the fourth state of consciousness, God-realization, which is beyond the three material states of consciousness. Since three of the states of consciousness are material and the other is God-consciousness, the jīva must either be in material consciousness or God-consciousness. There is no state of consciousness in which the jīva experiences himself separate from material or spiritual consciousness.12 Since the scripture establishes that the jīva is not material, it naturally follows that God-realization is our natural state. Obviously, the soul cannot be God conscious without bhakti. Therefore, having bhakti is the natural state of the soul. Indeed, this is precisely what Jīva Gosvāmī affirms in Bhakti Sandarbha 178 when he states that selfless bhakti “is natural for the jīvas” (iyam akiñcanākhyā bhaktir eva jīvānāṁ svabhāvata ucitā).

This conclusion is also indirectly confirmed in Paramātma Sandarbha, quoting Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: “Self-realization for the jīva, who is saddled with beginningless ignorance, is not possible by his own efforts. It is possible only if knowledge is imparted to him by another who knows the reality (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.22.10).”13 Why can’t the jīva realize himself by his own effort? It is because of the inconceivable power of māyā:

The extrinsic potency of Bhagavān acts contrary to logic [i.e., her behavior cannot be understood simply through logic]; otherwise, how is it possible that the living entity, who is the ruler of [i.e., superior to] prakṛti, being conscious and liberated, becomes bound and miserable? (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.7.9, quoted in Tattva-sandarbha)14

If self-realization were only the realization that one is separate from the material body, then it would be possible for the jīva to realize such even while conditioned by material nature, because such realization can be achieved with sattva-guṇa.15 Therefore, the reason why the bound jīva needs someone to impart this knowledge to him is because the knowledge is transcendental to the material world. Since the state of consciousness that is transcendental to the material world is God-consciousness—the fourth state of consciousness—self-realization means to realize of our true nature in relation to God.16

As we have seen in this article, to be fully situated in one’s intrinsic nature is to realize our relationship with God by bhakti. This intrinsic nature is eternal, but it is unmanifest and requires grace to realize. Thus, the situation is like the treasure described in part 3 of this series: although the man was wealthy (inherence), he needed the astrologer (bestowal/grace) to tell him where to find his wealth. Similarly, our natural state is to be established in God consciousness, but we need help to turn to God because we are covered by the inconceivable potency of māyā. In this way, we have seen powerful evidence that bhakti is both inherent and bestowed. In the next article, we will consider the matter from another angle of vision: whether the soul searches for bliss or merely for the absence of suffering.

Additional articles in this series: Part 1: The History of a Debate, Part 2: A Road Map, Part 3: The Swan, Part 4: Vaiṣṇava Vedānta, Part 5: The Twenty-One Intrinsic Characteristics of the Jīva, Part 6: The Search for Bliss, Part 7: The Soul is a Servant of Bhagavān Hari, Part 8: A Servant of God (Śeṣatva), Part 9: Unmanifest Qualities of the Soul, Part 10: Intrinsically of the Nature of Knowledge and Bliss, Part 11: Jīva Gosvāmī on Taṭasthā-Śakti, Part 12: Understanding Śakti, Part 13: The Bliss of the Jīva, Part 14: The Soul Is Not Subject to Transformation, Part 15: Identity/Oneness (Tādātmya), Part 16: The Manifestation of Śakti, Part 17: Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s Govinda-Bhāṣya, Part 18: Concluding Words.

  1. “Why does Śrī Jīva prefer Jāmātṛ Muni over Padma Purāṇa when Jāmātṛ virtually repeats the words of the Purāṇa? Our guess is that Jāmātṛ adds three characteristics that are not stated there explicitly, namely, knowership (cognitive awareness), doership (conation), and experiential capacity (affectivity).” Dasa, Satyanarayana. Śrī Paramātma Sandarbha: The Living Being, Its Bondage, and the Immanent Absolute (p. 204). Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies. Kindle Edition. []
  2. The Sanskrit for this characteristic is paramātmaika-śeṣatva-svabhāvaḥ sarvadā. Śeṣatva is a specialized and highly important term in Visiśtādvaita thought and is regarded as synonymous with dāsatva [the quality of being a servant]. I will discuss śeṣatva in part 8 of this series. The Paramātmā is the form of the Absolute who presides over the souls who are conditioned by material nature. When the soul is free from material nature, the soul’s worship of Paramātmā becomes identification with Brahman or worship of Bhagavān in one of his forms in the spiritual world. []
  3. Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.24.129–30. Translation mine. See also Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.2.32. []
  4. “The body of a devotee is never material. It is considered to be transcendental, full of spiritual bliss.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.4.191) vedabase.io/en/library/cc/antya/4/191/?query=deha#bb1115564 []
  5. “Knowledge concerning the jīva apart from the body is in sattva. Knowledge with various options of doubt is in rajas. Knowledge of material life is in tamas. Knowledge concerning me, however, is understood to be beyond the guṇas.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.25.24 quoted in Bhakti Sandarbha 134–35) Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Bhakti Sandarbha: With commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī (Ṣaṭ-sandarbha Book 5). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  6. Dasa, Satyanarayana. Śrī Paramātma Sandarbha: The Living Being, Its Bondage, and the Immanent Absolute (p. 406). Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies. Kindle Edition. []
  7. See Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.2.32 and Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.24.129–30. []
  8. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Prīti Sandarbha: With commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī (Ṣaṭ-sandarbha Book 6). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  9. Or the fifth state: turiyātīto gopālaḥ (Gopāla, who is beyond the fourth dimension, Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad 2.95). []
  10. Swami, HH Bhanu; Ṭhākura, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Twelfth Canto: with Sārārtha-darśinī commentary. Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  11. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Bhagavat Sandarbha. []
  12. As Brahman is an aspect of the Absolute (see Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.2.11), Brahman realization is considered a form of God-realization. One cannot realize impersonal liberation without some bhakti. “Jñāna which destroys upādhis and is none other than Brahman, if devoid of bhakti (bhāva) to Acyuta, is not glorious (śobhate) at all (alam). It is not suitable as a complete realization.” Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Bhagavat Sandarbha: With commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī (Ṣaṭ-sandarbha Book 2) (p. 181). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  13. Dasa, Satyanarayana. Śrī Paramātma Sandarbha: The Living Being, Its Bondage, and the Immanent Absolute (p. 354). Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies. Kindle Edition. []
  14. Dasa, Satyanarayana. Śrī Tattva Sandarbha: Vaiṣṇava Epistemology and Ontology (Ṣaṭ Sandarbha Book 1) (p. 285). Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies. Kindle Edition. []
  15. “Knowledge concerning the jīva apart from the body is in sattva. Knowledge with various options of doubt is in rajas. Knowledge of material life is in tamas. Knowledge concerning me, however, is understood to be beyond the guṇas.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.25.24 quoted in Bhakti Sandarbha 134–35) Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Bhakti Sandarbha: With commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī (Ṣaṭ-sandarbha Book 5). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  16. Even impersonal liberation cannot be realized without bhakti. Because Brahman is a form of the Absolute, the path of jñāna is a form of tat-sāmmukhyam (turning to the Absolute). See Bhakti Sandarbha 3. []


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3 Responses to The Simultaneous Inherency and Bestowal of Bhakti—Part 5: The Twenty-One Intrinsic Characteristics of the Soul

  1. Very grateful for sharing your discoveries in this genius gradual build up!

    So the bestowed side of Bhakti is her knowledge aspect or divya jnana that guides the jiva out of beginningless ignorance and assists to locate the wealth of his own blissful relationship with bhagavan?
    Does that mean that such jnana shakti originates from the jivas ananda and not from his cid?

    What is the origin and nature of the bhakti samskaras we receive in association?
    Another more subtle form of such direction?

    • Thanks so much, Sevaniddhi. In Mahāprabhu’s analogy, the bestowed side of bhakti is like the astrologer who tells the man that he has a treasure that he doesn’t realize that he has.

      As far as śakti goes, in this article I introduce Jīva Gosvāmī’s point that some of the soul’s inherent characteristics can be unmanifest until the soul is liberated from material conditioning. In Part 9: Unmanifest Qualities of the Soul, I discuss this point in more detail. Part 12: Understanding Śakti will also be very helpful for understanding this topic.

      The śakti that is inherent in the soul cannot manifest without the mercy of devotees or God due to the inconceivable power of māyā. As for jñāna-śakti manifesting from ānanda, we know from Cc. 2.6.158–59 that sandhinī-śakti comes from sat, samvit-śakti comes from cit, and hlādinī-śakti comes from ānanda.

      • Thanks for the answer.
        Will try to be more patient, but honestly, patience now is difficult!
        Some jigsaw parts of the siddhanta puzzle have been “almost” fitting, but realize they have been unknowingly strained. Dislocating them and awaiting a better fit.
        In the above article it was relieving to learn about how some intrinsic parts of the jiva requires shakti. Cant wait to sort this out!

        I wonder how “bestowal only” advocates can come around the above checkmate. What to speak of the following articles fatal blow!

        This is exciting!

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