“Ishvara (the Supreme Lord), jiva (the living entity), prakriti (nature), eternal time and karma (activity) are all explained in the Bhagavad-gita. Out of these five, the Lord, the living entities, material nature and time are eternal.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)
The arguments are unavoidable. The conflict is inevitable. The competition is bound to occur. The differences are real. The Sanskrit word is vishesha. A distinction in the tradition of spirituality, in the manner of worship.
One side has their savior and the associated book. They are of the firm belief that anyone not subscribed to their ideas is destined for a hellish existence. A fate impossible to be rescued from, after the fact. Eternal damnation. No second chances. You either accept right now, today, within this lifetime, or miss the chance.
Your side worships differently. There are tall statues colorfully decorated and surrounded with pleasant aromas. There are corresponding lifestyle changes. Abstinence outside of the marriage institution. Non-violence towards all animals, to the best extent possible. A repetition of prayers, not out of fear or the need for something gained, but rather for the pleasure of the person to whom they are directed.
Total and complete happiness, both inside of the worship space and outside. A change in consciousness. A culture covering life completely, from beginning to end, from morning until night. A resulting happiness from knowing the connection every living being has to this almighty figure.
As the culture stands out from others, of course there will be disagreement. Some members of the first side cast aspersions. They try to reduce the credibility of the tradition with which they are unfamiliar. In the harshest assessment, they declare everything to be satanic.
“You are worshiping these false gods. You will pay dearly for that. Don’t accept these statues as saviors. They are nothing. Do not be led astray. God will not forgive you for this mistake.”
As a natural response, a wise person can only chuckle at the differences as to what is gained. This supposedly satanic leader, who happens to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, covers five topics in one of the most famous books associated with the culture. If another tradition even offers an attempt at explaining similar issues, then perhaps there could be a debate on equal footing.
The book of reference is Bhagavad-gita, but in Vedic culture there can never be only one book. This is because the person worshiped is unlimited in His glories. The Sanskrit word is guna, and right away we notice a distinction. There is a description of who God is, rather than a focus on whether He exists.
Ishvara is the most generic term for describing the Almighty. It speaks to His position as great controller. In the most basic understanding, knowing that God is in charge. He is the boss. What He says goes. No one is above Him. He cannot be compelled to do anything.
Bhagavad-gita covers these five topics and more, and other Vedic texts reinforce the same truths, with variations in presentation. Sometimes there are historical accounts. They give examples to support the ishvara description. They show how God is great. Even Bhagavad-gita could fall into that category. It is the song of God. Shri Krishna speaking the wisdom of the ages.
Jiva is not ishvara. These are the living entities, and they belong to their own category. They are controllers at the local level. I made the decision to rise out of bed this morning. I will volunteer to run errands during the day, such as picking up milk, juice and bread from the store. I sit in front of the computer and tackle problems from work.
It is easy to get fooled by the repetition of success in the exercise of control. Just because I am able to command the body in so many ways does not mean I am ishvara. The events of birth and death provide the most obvious evidence.
I had no choice as to where I was born. It just occurred, as it does for everyone else. Similarly, despite my best efforts to avoid the end, one day I will be forced to leave this world. The body stays behind, and the entity that continues forward is jiva.
The jiva is the individual living entity, and the body they temporarily inhabit is prakriti. This is the material nature. The association is not permanent. I could not remain in my mother’s womb forever. I no longer have the body from childhood. To those who say you only get one life to live, we could respond that there is only one childhood, then. It has since passed, and where are you now?
You and I are still here. We will continue to exist, as that is the nature of jiva. The differences and distinctions will be due to prakriti, which is an inferior energy. Matter is dull and lifeless; it cannot do anything on its own.
अपरेयम् इतस् त्व् अन्यां
प्रकृतिं विद्धि मे पराम्
ययेदं धार्यते जगत्
apareyam itas tv anyāṁ
prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām
yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat
“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.5)
4. Eternal time
The Sanskrit word is kala. This also means “death.” Kala is the agent for change. I look different today compared to ten years ago. I appeared in my mother’s womb because of kala. Time will be the cause of my eventual departure.
This time is eternal, and it operates on the creation. It has yet to see defeat. There is the fantasy to one day be able to stop time, but everyone inherently understands that is not possible. Kala is an important truth to learn; hence its inclusion in Krishna’s presentation.
This is the missing piece. We know that ishvara is in charge of everything. The jiva souls interact with prakriti, and there is constant change through the influence of time. Karma is the specification. It is because of karma that we have the changes that we do.
This explains why certain people never reach the age of rational thought, where they can make a decision one way or another with regards to a savior. Some people are born poor, while others have a silver spoon in their mouth. Some people live for a long time, while for others life is cut short.
These topics alone warrant a lifetime’s worth of study and more to fully understand. Let others bring similar knowledge to the table; lest they be accused of following blindly, of lacking intelligence, of living like animals, of not knowing anything about the Almighty. The followers of Bhagavad-gita can continue to be happy in their connection in yoga, always chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Wealth of information bringing,
Through Bhagavad-gita singing.
That not first birth of mine,
Operating undefeated is time.
That boss above and over me,
Influence in all spheres can see.
Karma for variety manifesting,
Liberation potential in everyone resting.
Categories: the five