The Jiva is illusionary

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Dec 6 06:14:37 CST 1999

Earlier I had written that the Advaita understanding of Moksha depended on
the assumption that the jiva has no independent reality but is deluded by
Maya into thinking it is seperate from Brahman.

This topic is covered in the Amshaadhikarana of the Brahmasutras
(2.3.43-53)  Below I will present the sutras of this adhikarana with a
paraphrase of the commentary of Shankaracharya and the Bhamatikara and
some notes.  The translation is my own so corrections are gratefully

Shakaracharya begins by noting in the previous adhikarana it was
established that the jiva is dependent on Brahman.  But does this mean
dependent in the way a servent is dependant on his master[1]
or the way a spark is dependent on the fire that produced it? [2]

A part because difference is taught yet some read "Fishermen and
Slaves"  || 43 ||

The Jiva is an amsha (part or fraction) of Brahman.  Because the Vedas
teach a difference between the two.  For instance Chandogyopanishad 8.7
says "That we must search out, that we must understand."
Brhadaranyakopanishad says "He who knows Him becomes a muni" (4.4.22) and
"He who lives within the Self pulls the Self in".  None of these passages
would make sense if Brahman (He or That in the above passages) was the
same as the individual self.

Yet in a particular shakha of the Atharvaveda, there is a mantra "Brahman
is the Fishermen, Brahman is the slaves, Brahman is the gamblers..."
etc.[3] In the Shvetashvataropanishad 4.3. it says "You are woman, You are
man, You are boy, you are girl, You are like an old man leaning upon his
staff, You are born with your face turned everywhere."  These passages
show that Brahman pervades all creatures no matter how high or low, young
or old.  So how can Brahman be different yet non-different?  It only
makes sense if we assume that the souls are just parts of Brahman.

And a mantra says || 44 ||

The Purushsukta says "One quarter is all the beings, three quarters are
immortal in Heaven."  This mantra is discussed in Chandogyopanishad

Also it is stated in Smrti || 45 ||

Smrtis like the Bhagavadgita concur.  Krshna Bhagawan says in Gita 15.7
"An eternal part of me becomes the jiva."

The opponent raises anther objection:

"If the Jiva is part of Brahman, rather than a distinct reality, Brahman
will suffer all the pains of samsara that the Jiva does.  Furthermore the
knower of Brahman will actually be worse off because he will posess the
pain of all Jivas!"

Like light etc. not the Highest. || 46 ||

Just as light from the sun or moon is bent when passing through water or
being reflected in a mirror which causes the image to appear distorted or
in a different position.  The distortion is an optical illusion, the real
sun or moon is not affected.  The Jiva appears to undergo pleasure and
pain but this is a distortion caused by Maya.  Brahman the Highest is not
affected by samsara.  An ordinary man does not realize this so hearing
"Your son is dead.  Your friend is dead" etc. they will become overcome
with grief.  Because they identify themselves with a Jiva.  They believe
they have connections to other Jivas.  But the Sannyasi has freed himself
from such imaginings.

And the Smrti says it || 47 ||

Maharshi Vyas and others make statements in the Mahabharata etc such as
"That highest is eternal, devoid of qualities [4], neither is it stained
by the fruits of actions [5] anymore than a lotus leaf is stained by
water." [6]

Now the opponent raises another objection:

"If the individual self is the same as the universal Brahman, not
distinct, what is the point of performing any actions which enjoin or
prohibit wether worldly, or Vedic?" [7]

Injunctions and prohibitions are from the connection with a body like
light.  || 48 ||

If the moon is shining, light reflected off the water will appear to have
the image of the moon.  If the sun is shining, it will appear as the image
of the sun.  In both cases it is not the light which reaches your eyes
lwhich is different but it's appearence in the reflective substance.  If
the jivas appear to be performing actions which have different positive
and negative effects, it is only because they are reflections of Brahman.
Brahman Itself is not performing any actions.  The reflection is caused by
the ignorance of the Jiva.

The opponent asks:

"So the Jnani is not bound by injunctions and prohibitions only the
ignorant person?"

Shankaracharya replies:

"This is correct--for the Jnani."

"Then", the opponent argues, "this is a license for immorality as the
so-called Jnani can do whatever he pleases and the injunctions and
prohibitions of the Vedas are futile."

This is not true because the notion "I want" is tied
to the identification with the body.  A Jnani does not think that so will
not act at all.  Such a concept is meaningless for him.  For the ignorant
person, injunctions and prohibitions are in full effect.[8]

Another objection:

"If the Jiva is the same as Brahman than if one Jiva does something, they
will all do them.  If one doesn't do something, it will be as if all do
not do it.  Cause and effect will be confused and either liberation is
impossible or everyone is already liberated."

Because of non-extension there is no confusion. || 49 ||

The ignorant man does not identify his own self as the universal Self of
all so there is no question of his identifying his karma (and its'
results) with those of others.

And only a reflection || 50 ||

The Jiva is only a reflection of Brahman so the changes apparently
happening in it do not affect Brahman.  Just as if the sun is reflected in
water, and wind blows upon the water, the image will appear to shimmer and
shake but the real sun is not affected.  In the same way, Brahman is not
affected by the apparent effects of Karma on the Jivas which are just

Shankaracharya observes that the idea of one Brahman appearing as multiple
Jivas doesn't cause as much problems in explaining karma and its results
for Advaitins as it does for those darshans who maintain the reality of
multiple all-pervading atmas.  Two such are Samkhya and Vaisheshika.

The proponent of Samkhya explains his view as follows:

"The differences in the results of various karmas performed by the Jivas
is due to the mula prakriti[9] in them searching for release."

Shankaracharya replies:

"This doesn't prove much.  Why is this Prakrti searching for release from
the Purush?  Why does the release of one not cause the release of all the
others?  All the objections you made against us can be turned against you
and you don't have an answer."

"Well, perhaps it is the differing qualities of the manifest Prakrti[10]
in the Jiva which cause its actions to have different results.  In some
cases it binds the Purush to it tightly, in others it 'expels' it as it

"According to you the Prakrti is the active element and Purush is just an
inert witness.  If Prakrti alone is responsible for setting the conditions
of liberation, it would essentially be random.  And you could just as
easily fall out of the liberated state.  Why would this Prakrti want to
release itself in the first place?  Again you are making assertions not
answering the question."

Now the representative of Vaisheshika attempts an answer:

"For us, the Jivas are insentient containers like jars for the
atma.  The body contains an internal organ, manas (mind) which although it
is also not sentient, connects the atma with the external organs of
perception to create consciousness.  Manas and consciousness is a property
of each individual jiva. Liberation occurs when the atma through manas
frees itself from consciousness leaving nothing but the atma."

"If however as you maintain this atma is all-pervading than it will be
connected to every manas.  This also does not explain why the actions of
one Jiva have one set of results and the actions of another Jiva have
different results."

Both Samkhya and Vaisheshika get around these difficulties in a similiar

>From the irregularity of the unseen || 51 ||

There is an unseen (adrshta) force which connects karma to its
results.  Different results are caused by varying quantities of this

But according to Samkhya this unseen force is part of Prakrti.  In
Vaisheshika it is caused by the contact of the atma with manas.  In both
cases these are not partical to indivuidual Jivas so the difficulty is not

And it so even in intention etc. || 52 ||

The opponents suggest that it is the Atma that decides "I will do this"
or "I will not do that."  It is the firmness of its resolve to act which
causes the adrshta to manifest in various strengths.

But according to Samkhya, the Purush is just a witness.  Activities take
place due to its conjunction with Prakrti.  According to Vaisheshika, it
is only due to the conjunction of the Atma with manas.  "Pure" atma does
not exist in their systems except for the liberated and the possibility of
liberation is just what they are trying to prove!  So they are right back
where they started.

If it said because of location, not so the Self is in all bodies || 53 ||

Vaisheshika argues as follows:

"Although every atma is all pervading, each ones connection with manas
only takes place in the part which is limited to a certain body and it is
because of location that the difference of adrshta and hence results of
karma is variable."

Shankaracharya replies,

"Once again, you believe that each if these multiple atmas are infinite in
scope.  Thus you have no right to arbitrarily limit them to particular
bodies.  If something is infinite, it is located in all spaces by
definition.  If there are multiple infinite things than they must all
occupy the same spaces.  If Devadatta has a particular amount of pleasure
or pain due to some activity at point p and then Yajnadatta does the same
thing at that place and has the same amount of pleasure or pain, then by
your theory there must have been an equal amount of adrshta.  But
Yajnadatta and Devadatta have two different atmas right?  Else how do you
explain that at point q, they had differing amounts of pleasure and pain?
However if atma + location = adrshta and we know the adrshta is the same
at point p, and the location is the same at point p, how can we be sure
there were two atmas present and not one occupying two bodies?  After all
they are infinite so there is no reason to assume that they cannot occupy
more than one body.  So location as  be the source of the adrshta also
cannot solve the problem of confusion of cause and effect.

"Location is like color etc. a universal quality.  Every physical thing
has location, just as it has color, width, height etc."

"There is no difference in qualities amongst your atmas.  They have no
height, weight, color etc. You do not consider them to be physical things
in the same way a pot is.  So how do you justify saying they have a
location too?  If location is not a propert of atma, how can you tell that
an action performed at point p, is caused by one atma and not another?"

"The atma is like akasha[11] which pervades all things (i.e. is in all
locations.), yet is devoid of qualities."

"Ok, but there is only one akasha and you are saying there are multiple
atmas.  If you say there is only one atma then we have no problem with
this.  It is what we have been saying all along!"

Conclusion:  The idea that there could be multiple selves causes more
problems than it solves.  In fact there is only one which appears as many
due to ignorance.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

[1] Yet retains his individuality.

[2] But the spark and the fire have the same essence.  They just look

[3] This shakha no longer seems to be extent.

[4] nirguna

[5] karmaphala

[6] I haven't tracked down exactly where that quote is from.

[7] Vidhi and nisheda.  Note these concepts apply to "worldly" actions as
much as to "religious" ones.

[8] Note while Shankaracharya could have said "Ok, the commandments of the
Vedas are futile so what?"  like the Buddhists etc. he did not.  He was
not out to start some new religion but only to reaffirm the teachings of
the Vedas.

[9] Samkhya-yoga is dualistic.  It believes in two ultimate realites
Purush and Prakrti.  Purush is the soul, an inert witness of pure
intelligence and devoid of qualities.  It is Prakrti which is active and
transforms into the physical universe. A jiva is the connection of Purush
and Prakrti within a body.

[10] Prakrti is of two kinds unmanifest and manifest (avyakta and vyakta.)
In the manifest state, it is made up of the three qualities
(gunas--sattva, rajas, and tamas) in various combinations and qualities.

[11]  Akasha is the 5th element along with air, earth, fire, and water in
traditional Indian science.  It is the medium of propogation of sound and
as such is usually translated into English as ether.  However this doesn't
really capture the nuances of the word.  In modern Indian languages such
as Gujarati, akash means sky.

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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