“When the living entity is encaged in the material body, he is called jiva-bhuta, and when he is free from the material body he is called brahma-bhuta.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.31.43 Purport)
What does it mean to be a jiva? Do we remain a jiva forever? Both Sanskrit words, “jiva” means a spirit soul and “bhuta” means a living being. Isn’t this redundant? In the Bhagavad-gita we learn that spirit is vibrant, always in existence, and impossible to destroy. A spirit soul is automatically a living thing. Why, then, the need for two terms?
Jiva is actually a specification that refers to the result of a choice. All bhutas, or living beings, have a singular source. Some traditions refer to that source as God. That is the extent of their knowledge of Him. They may have some basic rules to restrict behavior available to them. Perhaps they are told to pray a certain number of times each day. Others know that to be safe in the afterlife one should believe in Him.
The spiritual science is for understanding Him more, beyond the basics. A fundamental truth of that science is that God is the source of all living things. He is the chief living being, Ishvara. From Ishvara come other smaller chiefs. These are the living entities. Evidence of our small amount of superiority is seen in how we command the body. When we tell the body to get up out of bed in the morning, it does. When we tell it to speak, words come out of the mouth.
The sparks of spirit coming from Ishvara have a basic choice in association. When they choose material life, they are known as jiva-bhutas. Is there anything besides material life? What is the nature of this kind of existence? It is called conditional for several reasons. The conditions change; nothing is permanent. There are the larger changes of birth and death, and in between there are the highs and lows of the journey through life.
The jivas live a conditional life also because they get conditioned by the material modes of nature. Goodness, passion and ignorance mix together to cover up the amazing qualities belonging to spirit. As an example, no one should fear death. They should not fear loss, either. Things come and go in a material existence, but the spirit soul remains alive throughout. It will remain alive into the future. Similarly, it was always there in the past.
bahūni me vyatītāni
janmāni tava cārjuna
tāny ahaṁ veda sarvāṇi
na tvaṁ vettha parantapa
“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)
Conditional life means forgetfulness, of both past lives and sober truths that shouldn’t be so difficult to realize. A jiva-bhuta does not have to stay that way forever. When the living thing realizes their spiritual nature, they turn into a brahma-bhuta. Does this mean travelling to a different destination? Is there a specific ceremony in honor of the achievement? Does a ship come to beam the enlightened individual back to another planet?
Actually, the brahma-bhuta can remain exactly where they are, in the exact same body. Just the use of the material nature changes. Instead of being conditioned by the elements, the individual stays immune from them. Instead of being illusioned by nature, they learn to appreciate it. They stay steady in both happiness and sadness, heat and cold, praise and scorn. They no longer hanker or lament.
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.54)
Every jiva-bhuta has the potential to become a brahma-bhuta. Upon transforming, the immediate reward is immunity from subsequent birth. The next life does not have to be conditioned, and as mentioned before, the nature of the present life also gets transformed. In the modern day, where there is little time for reading or absorbing the highest knowledge in the methodical way that was standard in times past, the path to enlightenment is through a simple sound: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The awareness of Brahman, the singular spiritual energy of which we are a part, comes through associating with the original person, Ishvara in His complete feature of Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The shift has been made by countless individuals. They received practical realization of the change in nature. Life comes down to a choice. When I choose God and His association, I put myself on the path to becoming brahma-bhuta. From that platform I can take up pure devotional service, which brings the pleasure relished exclusively by the liberated souls.
Jiva and brahma, two bhutas there are,
Conditioned now, from liberation far.
But transforming through practice steady,
Brahma-bhuta for bhakti-yoga ready.
Immediate result a liberated state,
Not necessary for afterlife to wait.
Methodical not practical today,
Sound of holy names now the ideal way.