The Simultaneous Inherency and Bestowal of Bhakti—Part 14: The Soul Is Not Subject to Transformation

By Vrindaranya dasi

Additional articles in this series

Although Jīva Gosvāmī says that the soul it not just knowledge alone but rather also has jñāna-śakti, some devotees argue that the jñāna of the jīva only amounts to consciousness and the jñāna-śakti is only a “quality potential,” by which they mean that spiritual jñāna-śakti is not actually an inherent attribute of the jīva but one that has the potential to manifest in conjunction with the svarūpa-śakti. In other words, the actual potency (śakti) does not reside in the jīva but in the svarūpa-śakti. Such devotees explain that since the jīva is conscious, he has the ability to identify with either a material or spiritual body. By identifying with the svarūpa-śakti, they say that the jīva can become one with the svarūpa-śakti like an iron rod can become hot like fire. Although such an iron rod essentially acts as fire, it still remains constitutionally different than fire. Thus, they are forced to admit that in their conception, the potential actually resides in the svarūpa-śakti, not the iron rod. Hence the term “quality potential.” 

Along the same lines, these devotees argue that the jīva does not have inherent transcendental dharma-bhūta-jñāna [knowledge as an attribute].1 They say that dharma-bhūta-jñāna is received from devotees and that if such knowledge were present in an unmanifest state in the jīva, then its manifestation would create vikāra (transformation) in the jīva. Since one of the characteristics of the jīva is that he is not subject to change (na vikārī), they argue that the manifestation of transcendental knowledge would create an unacceptable transformation in the jīva if such knowledge were inherent. They uphold that the soul only has inherent jñāna-svarūpa, which they define as consciousness. They say that consciousness identifies with transcendental knowledge and becomes one with it in a similar way that an iron rod becomes one with fire.

In his Govinda-bhāṣya commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa discusses these two kinds of transcendental knowledge: jñāna-svarūpa (knowledge itself) and dharma-bhūta-jñāna (knowledge as an attribute). They are explained through the analogy of a lamp: a lamp illuminates itself and other things. The terms jñāna-svarūpa and dharma-bhūta-jñāna are used extensively in Śrī Rāmānujācārya’s Viśiṣṭādvaita system.2 When Jīva Gosvāmī uses the same analogy of a lamp in Paramātma Sandarbha, he uses the term jñāna rather than jñāna-svarūpa and the term jñāna-śakti rather than dharma-bhūta-jñāna.3

Devotees who assert that the manifestation of dharma-bhūta-jñāna would create vikāra in the ātmā also say that the same argument holds true for the spiritual body as for dharma-bhūta-jñāna.4 In other words, they say that if the spiritual body were inherent but unmanifest, its manifestation would create vikāra in the ātmā. Therefore, they opine that the jīva merely identifies with the siddha-deha in a similar way to how the soul identifies with the material body: influencing it like a magnet drags iron filings. They argue that because the soul and the siddha-deha do not contact each other (like a magnet does not contact iron filings to move them), there is no change in the jīva when he identifies with the siddha-deha. In other words, they believe that both eternal knowledge and the siddha-deha are external to the jīva (never directly contacting the soul). In this article, I will discuss the numerous problems with this understanding. I will also show the flaw in the primary assertion—that the manifestation of eternal knowledge would cause unacceptable vikāra in the jīva

Perhaps the most important point to consider is that although Jīva Gosvāmī often compares the material body to iron filings, he never compares the svarūpa-śakti to iron filings. Indeed, the analogy doesn’t hold because unlike material nature, which is compared to iron because it is unconscious, the svarūpa-śakti is conscious. It would thus be inappropriate to compare the siddha-deha to iron that is dragged by the ātmā (magnet). Notwithstanding, Jīva Gosvāmī does quote a verse from Viṣṇu Purāṇa that some may mistakenly think supports the idea that the relationship between the ātmā and the siddha-deha is like a magnet and iron filings: “O sage! The Lord bestows his qualities on the person who meditates on him by his śakti, just as a magnet produces similar qualities in iron.”5 You will notice that here it is the Lord who is compared to the magnet, not the jīva. The iron filings seem to refer to the jīva; however, reading the verses that come before and after Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.7.30 clarify that it is the practitioner’s material mind that is drawn to the Supreme Lord and thereby becomes spiritualized. Therefore, this verse describes the relationship between consciousness and matter in the same way as the other verses that use the magnet and iron analogy: consciousness/spirit drags matter but never contacts it directly.

Perhaps someone might argue that it is the siddha-deha (magnet) that drags the ātmā (iron filings). However, this suggestion also fails. The reason again is that the ātmā is not inert like iron. Being conscious itself, the ātmā does not need to be animated. Indeed, what would be the purpose of a conscious soul that is merely dragged around as if it were inert? The whole point of the magnet/iron filings analogy is that the real doer is the magnet, not the iron filings. Thus, if the soul is like iron filings, then it is not a real knower, doer, and enjoyer—which, of course, contradicts Paramātma Sandarbha.

But if we reject this understanding, then how do we answer the challenge that eternal knowledge cannot be unmanifest in the soul because its manifestation would transform the soul? Before I answer according to our Gauḍīya ācāryas, let me first point out that in Viśiṣṭādvaita not only the jīvasjñāna-svarūpa but also the jīvas’ spiritual dharma-bhūta-jñāna undergoes no change:

The dharma-bhūta-jñāna of Paramātma never undergoes any changes. For Him, an object need not be in contact with senses to receive knowledge of the object. He is fully cognizant of all objects at all times to the fullest extent (yaḥ sarvajñaḥ sarvavit). For mukta-jīvas also, the dharma-bhūta-jñāna is fully expanded, unbounded, and illuminates with a full intensity equal to that of Paramātma. For baddha-jīvas in the saṁsāra, the dharma-bhūta-jñāna becomes covered and the extent to which it gets covered depends on the body they take. The body is made up of senses and it is through the senses that one can perceive things. The body they take depends on their karma.6

One might protest that in Viśiṣṭādvaita dharma-bhūta-jñāna expands and contracts. The change from contracted to expanded is vikāra. The answer is as follows: in Viśiṣṭādvaita, dharma-bhūta-jñāna includes both material and spiritual knowledge. Fully expanded dharma-bhūta-jñāna is eternal spiritual knowledge, and it undergoes no change. It is only the expanding and contracting of dharma-bhūta-jñāna that causes change. In other words, it is only material knowledge that undergoes change. 

Unlike Viśiṣṭādvaita’s concept of expanding and contracting dharma-bhūta-jñāna, the Gauḍīya concept of spiritual knowledge manifesting does not result in a change occurring. This is because the Gauḍīyas say that there are two different jñāna-śaktis—material and spiritual—not one śakti that expands and contracts. Thus, when spiritual jñāna-śakti (svarūpa-śakti) manifests, it is not the same as dharma-bhūta-jñāna expanding because spiritual jñāna-śakti does not undergo material transformation.

Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa also refutes the idea that the manifestation of dharma-bhūta-jñāna creates vikāra in the jīva by stating that the jīva’s dharma-bhūta-jñāna is eternal [and is therefore not subject to change]. In his Govinda-bhāṣya commentary, he asks, “Is the knowledge which is manifest as a quality (dharma-bhūta-jñāna) of the jīva eternal or temporary?7 He answers in his commentary to sūtra 2.3.26:

Knowledge as a quality of the jīva is eternal. Why? Because other than the statement (pṛthag) that the jīva is the seer, there are teachings of the jīva having eternal knowledge in Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.5.14, avināśī vā are ‘yam ātmānucchitti-dharmā: the jīva is indestructible and has indestructible qualities.8

Clearly, the jīva’s dharma-bhūta-jñāna, although eternal, is covered when the jīva is conditioned by māyā. Therefore, the jīva’s dharma-bhūta-jñāna is considered intrinsic even though it is unmanifest, and its manifestation is not considered a change. 

A careful study of scripture reveals that it is material transformation that is problematic, not spiritual transformation. The Padma Purāṇa informs us that the Lord is not subject to the six transformations of material nature: birth, existence after birth, growth, transformation, decline, and death.9 However, the spiritual world itself abounds with spiritual vikāra (transformation). Indeed, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī herself is called Kṛṣṇa’s praṇaya-vikāra (transformation of love). The components of rasa are manifestations of spiritual vikāra, such as the aṣṭa-sāttvika-vikāra (the eight kinds of transcendental transformation). Although svarūpa-śakti undergoes spiritual transformation, Jīva Gosvāmī establishes that the svarūpa-śakti is unchanging: “Internal difference does not produce the fault of contradiction to the statement that Brahman is advaya (one entity alone) since internal difference is unavoidable as its very existence, though it is devoid of the six transformations (which are present in material existence).”10 He also says that the cit-śakti is separate from the material śakti and its transformations.11

Finally, in his commentary on Bhagavat Sandarbha 8, Jīva Gosvāmī confirms that spiritual śakti does not change when it goes from unmanifest to manifest. He says that if śakti did not exist when it was unmanifest, that would mean that its very svarūpa would be destroyed. This is impossible because the svarūpa of spiritual things is eternal. Therefore, spiritual śakti still exists even when it is unmanifest. He emphasizes, “One should not worry that there will be contrary action in Brahman (producing change where there should be no change) since the manifested object reveals itself. … The meaning is this. Because he does not have guṇas, he is without change.”12 This truth is beautifully explained in Sanātana Gosvāmī’s Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta, when he describes the inhabitants of Vaikuṇṭha: “Those devotees have attained the absolute limit of changelessness, yet they playfully show all kinds of transformations while taking part in their Lord’s pastimes.”13 Sanātana Gosvāmī comments: “The devotees who take part pretend to undergo transformations just to create the varieties that give the Lord pleasure.”14

As these quotations establish, there is no validity to the assertion that the manifestation of transcendental knowledge would create unacceptable vikāra in the jīva. Thus, unlike a magnet and iron filings, which never make contact, the ātmā and the siddha-deha are nondifferent, having an identity relation (a relation of something with itself, not to be confused with something identifying with something else). How could it be otherwise? If we didn’t have oneness with our own spiritual body and if we never directly contacted it, then we would be different from it. The one who identifies with the spiritual body would be forever distinct from that spiritual body because identification implies duality. Mere identification with the siddha-deha also implies that the identification happened at a point in time, indicating that the relationship isn’t eternal. This understanding also gives rise to the troubling doubt that our spiritual existence is akin to watching a movie that we don’t directly participate in. Therefore, in the next chapter, let us fully dispel these doubts by continuing to examine what the scriptures say about the nature of the relationship between the ātmā and the siddha-deha.

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. In Viśiṣṭādvaita, dharma-bhūta-jñāna can be both material and transcendental knowledge. []
  2. Jñāna-svarūpa is alternatively called svarūpa-jñāna, svarūpa-bhūta-jñāna, or dharmi-jñāna. []
  3. Each pair of terms is analogous in some ways, but there are distinctions. In Viśiṣṭādvaita, dharma-bhūta-jñāna can be both material and transcendental knowledge. It refers to knowledge of everything other than the self. Jīva Gosvāmī divides the parallel term jnāna-śakti into spiritual and material divisions, with spiritual jñāna-śakti being part of the jīva’s svarūpa-lakṣaṇa and material jñāna-śakti being part of the jīva’s taṭastha-lakṣaṇa. []
  4. It should be noted that the spiritual body is not considered dharma-bhūta-jñāna in the Viśiṣṭādvaita system. Furthermore, svarūpa-jñāna is self-awareness, knowledge of oneself. But as the self in Viśiṣṭādvaita teachings has śeṣatva as one of its essential properties, true knowledge of the self includes knowledge of the Lord, as well as knowledge of one’s relationship as an eternal servant of the Lord. After all, the Lord is the Soul of the soul. Thus, knowledge of the self cannot be isolated from knowledge of the Lord. []
  5. Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.7.30 quoted in Paramātma Sandarbha 37, commentary. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Paramātmā Sandarbha. []
  6. “Swarupa Jnana vs Dharma Bhuta Jnana,” May 23, 2022, Pravachanam, []
  7. Vidyābhūṣaṇa, Śrīla Baladeva; Swami, HH Bhanu. Brahma Sūtras: With Govinda-bhāṣya commentary of Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa (p. 256). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  8. Vidyābhūṣaṇa, Śrīla Baladeva; Swami, HH Bhanu. Brahma Sūtras, 256. []
  9. Quoted in Bhagavat Sandarbha 60. []
  10. Bhagavat Sandarbha 8, commentary. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Bhagavat Sandarbha: With commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī (Ṣaṭ-sandarbha Book 2) (pp. 261–262). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  11. Bhagavat Sandarbha 8, commentary. []
  12. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Bhagavat Sandarbha: With commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī (Ṣaṭ-sandarbha Book 2) (p. 262). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  13. Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta 2.4.47. Dasa, Gopiparanadhana. Sri Brhad-bhagavatamrta: Volume Two. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Kindle Edition. []
  14. Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta 2.4.47, commentary. Dasa, Gopiparanadhana. Sri Brhad-bhagavatamrta. []

About the Author

2 Responses to The Simultaneous Inherency and Bestowal of Bhakti—Part 14: The Soul Is Not Subject to Transformation

  1. Mātājī, Śrī Bhaktivinoda Thākur says in His Vaiśṇava Siddhānta Mālā [Chapter Three] that svataḥ-siddha-jñāna is inherent in the jīva. Does this mean that the entire wisdom of Vedas [Vedic Mantras; Rituals etc.] is also present in the svarūpa of the jīva?

    Q. How can one know the truth about the Lord (bhagavat-tattva)?

    A. He can be known by the soul̍s own self-manifest innate knowledge (svataḥ-siddha-jñāna).

    Q. What is self-manifest knowledge (svatah-siddha-jñāna)?

    A. There are two types of knowledge: (1) self-manifest, or svataḥ-siddha-jñāna and (2) that which depends on the senses, or indriya-paratantra-jñāna. Self-manifest knowledge is inherently a feature of the pure soul̍s original spiritual form or svarūpa. It is eternal, just like all spiritual reality. This inherent self-manifest knowledge is called Veda or āmnāya. This pure knowledge, or svataḥ-siddha-jñāna, has appeared along with the conditioned soul in the material world in the form of the Vedas, namely the Rg-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sāma-Veda, and Atharva-Veda. Ordinary people collect knowledge of various objects with the help of their material senses. This is called indriya-paratantra-jñāna.

    Q. We have heard that Bhagavān is perceivable only through bhakti (devotional service). If this is true, then how can we say that He is perceivable by jñāna (svataḥ-siddha-jñāna)?

    A. This svataḥ-siddha-jñāna is another name for devotion (bhakti). It is not different from devotion. Some refer to the realization of the Absolute Truth as jñāna, while others call it bhakti.

    • Dear Ojas,

      While some Gaudiyas teach that there is no jnana inherent in the self and that it can only experience the “potential quality” of knowledge by identifying with the svarupa-sakti in which knowledge inheres, even while the self is eternally distinct from that svarupa-sakti, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, like Jiva Goswami, teaches that jnana and jnana-sakti are inherent in the self as eternal characteristics. What Bhaktivinoda Thakura is saying in the text you cited is that the essence of the Vedas is the knowledge that the self is an eternal servant of Bhagavan and that this knowledge is bhakti. “svataḥ-siddha-jñāna” means “self-illumined perfect knowledge,” which is bhakti.

      As quoted in the article, Baladeva Vidyabhusana’s commentary to sūtra 2.3.26 says, “Knowledge as a quality of the jīva is eternal. Why? Because other than the statement (pṛthag) that the jīva is the seer, there are teachings of the jīva having eternal knowledge in Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.5.14, avināśī vā are ‘yam ātmānucchitti-dharmā: the jīva is indestructible and has indestructible qualities.”

      Baladeva Vidyabhusana clarifies:

      This knowledge becomes covered by turning away from the Lord and it manifests by turning towards the Lord when aversion towards him is destroyed.

      Just as light is not created in a jewel by washing away dirt, so knowledge is not created in the jīva by destroying faults.

      Just as water is not created by digging a well, an existing thing simply becomes manifest. How can something not existing appear?

      Similarly by destruction of bad qualities, the obscured qualities, which are eternal in the ātmā, manifest. They are not created. Viṣṇu-dharma

      [Vidyābhūṣaṇa, Śrīla Baladeva; Swami, HH Bhanu. Brahma Sūtras: With Govinda-bhāṣya commentary of Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa (pp. 256-257). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

      Jiva Goswami quotes the verse that comes before the one that Baladeva Vidyabhusana quoted (Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.5.14) in Jiva Goswami’s commentary on eka-rūpah svarūpa-bhāk (the soul is of one form and is situated in his own essential nature): “Just as a mass of salt has no interior or exterior but completely consists of taste, so the ātmā has no interior or exterior but completely consists of concentrated knowledge. (Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.5.13)”

      [Paramātmā Sandarbha 19, commentary. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Paramātmā Sandarbha: With commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī (Ṣaṭ-sandarbha Book 3). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

      Of course, several of my other articles discuss the eternal qualities of the soul as well as how the qualities can be unmanifest when the soul is identified with matter.

      In service,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑