“The child cries to have the moon from the mother, and the mother gives the child a mirror to satisfy the crying and disturbing child with the reflection of the moon. Similarly, the crying child of the Lord is given over to the reflection, the material world, to lord it over as karmi and to give this up in frustration to become one with the Lord. Both these stages are dreaming illusions only. There is no necessity of tracing out the history of when the living entity desired this. But the fact is that as soon as he desired it, he was put under the control of atma-maya by the direction of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.1 Purport)
Friend1: Do you ever get into debates over the origin of the jiva?
Friend2: What is the jiva?
Friend1: Very funny. It’s the living entity.
Friend2: What is the distinguishing characteristic?
Friend1: Choice. The jiva is the marginal potency of the Supreme Lord.
Friend2: How is the Supreme Lord different?
Friend1: There are no distinctions between energies for Him. Nirguna, saguna, manifest, unmanifest, personal, impersonal – these are all dichotomies from our perspective.
Friend2: Exactly. And that perspective is flawed. We are proud of our eyes, but eyesight is limited. We need light in order to look around us. We can’t see through walls. If there is such limitation at the basic level, how are we qualified to understand God?
Friend1: Isn’t there a Dohavali verse you like to quote about this?
Friend2: Something similar is in the Shrimad Bhagavatam as well. The meaning is that if you can’t see that you are a living entity separated from God right now through maya, how are you going to understand His transcendental form? Just chant the holy names instead.
“[O mystic] First know yourself, then realize the Supreme Absolute Truth, and then see the material nature standing in between. O wretch, without seeing these how can you understand what the unmanifested [invisible] feature of the Absolute Truth [alakh] actually is? Chant Shri Rama’s holy name instead, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 19)
Friend1: Is that what it means to be marginal? The jiva is stuck in between?
Friend2: It has a choice. It can choose the spiritual energy or the material energy. That choice is always there. That’s what makes the soul a jiva.
Friend1: Okay, getting back to my original question. Is there an origin? When was that choice first made?
Friend2: I see. You want to know if we were ever with the Supreme Lord, God the person?
Friend1: Right. Did we make the choice while in Vaikuntha, the spiritual planets, or some other place? There is a major debate on this topic, as I am sure you are aware.
Friend2: I am aware. There are many statements from the acharyas saying that no one ever falls from Vaikuntha. The apparent descents due to bad behavior are arranged by the Supreme Lord. Like the case with the gatekeepers Jaya and Vijaya, who took birth in the material world as demons. They were merely actors. They were devotees the entire time, but their association with the material energy and tendency towards demoniac behavior illustrated key principles. The fall also allowed the Supreme Lord to show His transcendental form in this material world.
Friend1: Right. And so one argument goes that the jivas came from the impersonal spiritual energy, brahmajyoti. They were like mustard seeds falling on the edge of a sword. They could choose either side, God or maya. The choice to come to the material world was something like chance.
Friend2: And they stay in the material world for as long as desire is not purified. There is a verse in the Bhagavad-gita which describes how the living entities continue to appear and then get annihilated. The recurrence is tied to the day and night of Brahma, which are both extremely long.
“Again and again the day comes, and this host of beings is active; and again the night falls, O Partha, and they are helplessly dissolved.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.19)
Living in the brahmajyoti is something like being unmanifest. The souls are Brahman and it is the Brahman material energy, mahat-tattva, that Krishna impregnates to create the living entities in this world.
“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.3)
Friend1: Oh boy, that’s a lot to take in. What is the conclusion, though? Because I know that if you go to Krishna’s realm, you never come back. It is the unmanifest world, not subject to the cycles of creation and dissolution.
Friend2: You never come back. If you are with Him in the spiritual world, there is no chance to fall down. Listen, the issue is with time and the identity of the individuals.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: We don’t know other souls. We don’t know their history. Take a person at random. Isn’t it possible they are here temporarily, falling down from the spiritual world with a purpose?
Friend1: So you’re saying everyone is Krishna’s associate, here just as part of His lila? That’s kind of an optimistic viewpoint.
Friend2: It is possible. There is also the infinite nature of time. If we fell like mustard seeds on a sword to indicate our choice, where were we before that? We could have been in the spiritual world. Krishna says that never was there a time when we did not exist. It should be noted that the acharyas don’t devote a lot of time to this subject.
Friend1: Why not?
Friend2: Because tracing the full history of the jiva is immaterial. That was then and this is now. You know now how to get out of the cycle of birth and death. There is always independence. If you couldn’t choose against Krishna, then you wouldn’t be a person. You would be a robot. The choice is always there. Make the right one now and enjoy eternal bliss in service to the Divine, both in this life, the next, and any others that come after.
Living entities struggling right now,
First came to this world how?
Like seeds of mustard on sword falling,
One turning away, other Lord as friend calling.
But infinite is the nature of time,
Prior to falling what was history of mine?
Whatever the cause, path to escape clear,
Follow bhakti and death no more fear.