“The Upanishadic verse runs as follows: nityo nityanam chetanash chetananam. The purport is that amongst all the living entities, both conditioned and liberated, there is one supreme living personality, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who maintains them and gives them all the facility of enjoyment according to different work.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 15.17 Purport)
“How to define an existence? How to explain the concept of living to a small child or someone just entering the world of learning? Anything unique the Vedic perspective has to offer, or is everything the same as what can be reached through mental speculation?”
While the explanation can be as endless as the universe, key Sanskrit terms help to refine the idea; a juxtaposition with concepts that represent negations.
As an example, take a rock. It is stone. Typically dull in the sense of sharpness, that factor can be changed, but the dullness in terms of lack of animation cannot. It can only move through the application of an external force.
The lack of mobility is not the lone disqualification. Plants cannot move, but we know that they are alive. Certain animal species stay where they are for a long time, yet the comparison cannot be made to the rock in that respect.
Chetana refers to consciousness, vibrancy, and even knowledge – an animating spark within a covering that lacks the living feature. It is the difference between spirit and matter. The living beings are chetana; this is not exclusive to the human species. Anything with a soul inside, a spark responsible for living. That force within whose absence equates to death and whose presence indicates life.
The living being is chetana, and as they are distinguished from matter, there are accompanying qualities. When we see water, we identify it as distinct from other aspects of nature, such as fire and air. Water has qualities that define its existence. If wetness is lacking then the object is not water. For fire the necessary components are heat and light.
These defining characteristics are known as dharma. The chetana living beings have a dharma, as well. Consciousness itself is a distinguishing feature. Vedic teachings say that chetana brings a tendency towards service. No matter the type of body accepted, some type of service will take place.
For the chetana in the human form, dharma becomes service to a higher being. Actually, dharma is always the same, but in the lower species the opportunity for engaging in that service is missing. Yet this is not full condemnation, since there is a chance to progress.
This is the concept of a lifetime, a period of living. A chetana spark enters the form of a tree and can stand in one place for thousands of years, accepting everything thrown its way. The brutal heat of the summer, the bitter cold of winter, the squirrels and monkeys climbing up and down, the swirling wind – the tree has no other choice but to endure.
This duration of time is jivana. The living spark does not have to stay in a particular form forever. They move on through the process known as transmigration. The spirit soul can advance or regress. That is to say a living being can move to a higher species in the subsequent jivana. The human birth is ideally the last stop, the place where dharma can shine. For this reason dharma in the human species is often equated with religion, though at the foundation the meaning of dharma is always the same. Real religion matches the intrinsic characteristics of the soul.
One jivana after another. It could be millions or just one more. Whatever the case, the chetana entity is nitya, or eternal. They continue to live. Never was there a time that it did not exist, nor will it ever cease to be in the future.
न त्व् एवाहं जातु नासं
न त्वं नेमे जनाधिपाः
न चैव न भविष्यामः
सर्वे वयम् अतः परम्
na tv evāhaṁ jātu nāsaṁ
na tvaṁ neme janādhipāḥ
na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ
sarve vayam ataḥ param
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)
The Upanishads say that the many chetana beings are supported by the chief conscious being. He is just as eternal as they are, except the difference is that His jivana is always tied to the same body type. There is no distinction between matter and spirit for Him, since such dualities only apply to a temporary existence; i.e. the material world.
Once I better understand my properties and specifically my identity as spirit soul, the proper direction in life becomes clearer. I should take advantage of the opportunity of the human jivana and engage in the dharma that is as eternal as my existence. Fortunately, in this age the way towards transcendence is easy. Simply maintain proper association and chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
This jivana hopefully the last,
In this age success coming fast.
Holy names chanting through,
And association of pious too.
As chetana a conscious being,
As nitya real death not seeing.
Dharma the defining feature so,
Way towards transcendence to go.
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