sva svarupam

sva-svarupam — The Nature of Self. The basic tenet of all schools of Vedanta is that every living entity consists of two components; (a) the insentient (non-thinking) material (physical) component and (b) the sentient (thinking) conscious component. The Self (jiva) is not the body/mind complex but the conscious entity which animates the body and uses it as a vehicle. There are varying views in each school of Vedanta about the ultimate nature of this unique spiritual entity which is referred to by several synonymous names; jiva, atman, jivatman or pratyag-atman.

The doctrines concerning the nature of the jiva/Self are as follows;

  • The Self is not the physical body nor the cognitive mind, but an atomic Spiritual Entity. This entity which is eternal resides within the body using it as a vehicle and controlling it from within. The Self is pre-existent and eternal and can never be destroyed.
  • The Self is that which is referred to as “I” by the individual; it is the subject of knowledge which perceives the body and mind as objects - it is not manifest to, and cannot be grasped by the external senses and is devoid of all parts.
  • The essential five attributes of the Self in its original state are chit (Consciousness), ananda (Bliss) and sat (Truth), amalam (Purity) and anantam (Eternality). These attributes are shared with the Godhead, the difference being in quantity not in quality.

The jiva (individual Self) is a prakara (‘particle’ or ‘expression’ or ‘mode’) of Brahman and stands in dynamic relation to Brahman as a body to the Self. The two are different, but inseparable, and together form an aggregate of being; like the Sun and its rays, or water and its wetness. Without the Self, the body is merely a conglomeration of chemicals, and without the body the Self has no means of self-expression. The individual Self is a amsha (scintilla) of the amshin (totality) which is God. The jiva is totally dependent upon Brahman for its existence but the defects of the jivas do not affect Brahman.

All jivas are subjected to reincarnation through a myriad of births. The origin of the cycle of re-birth is a very vexed philosophical issue and all attempts to reconcile why the jiva enters into the world of matter is purely speculative as the Scriptures do not give any clear answer to the problem. One of the theories is that the jiva originally lies dormant and inactive within the Divine Nature. The Lord longing to be re-united with the jiva awakens it from its sleep and projects it into the world of matter to begin its career of creative activity. At first the jiva manifests in the lower life forms and gradually evolves and ascends through higher and higher life forms until it eventually incarnates as a human being. Traditionally it is taught that a jiva passes through 8,400,000 births in the lower species before attaining birth as a human being. It is only in the human world that one can respond to the call of the divine, strive for perfection in devotional service and attain liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. In order to attain a birth as a spiritual seeker one undergoes about 200,000 births in various male, female and cross-gender bodies (the jiva itself is sexless).

The main and outstanding attribute of jñana svarupam (the jiva is consciousness). This consciousness or knowledge is the evidence of its existence. One does not need to have one’s own existence demonstrated to oneself. It is self-evident even to the most retarded individual. In its natural state of freedom, this attribute of consciousness expands and contracts freely without limitation. In the state of transmigratory existence or bondage, this consciousness becomes contracted in various degrees according to the evolutionary development of the individual jiva. In animals it is more contracted than in humans and the higher evolved a person is the more expanded the consciousness becomes.

All embodied jivas are constrained by four pasha (limitation or fetters);

  1. alpa kshetra — They become confined and limited by space.
  2. alpa buddhi — Their intelligence becomes limited.
  3. alpa siddhi — They are limited in their ability to achieve their goals.
  4. alpa-ayuh — The duration of physical body itself is limited by time.

These four fetters which are the result of karma can only be removed by the anugraha Shakti (compassion and Grace) of God.


1. Srivaishnavism, by Sri Rama Ramanuja Achari

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