Srimad-Bhagavatam: Canto 11 - Chapter 1 - Verse 38


नात्मा जजान न मरिष्यति नैधतेऽसौन क्षीयते सवनविद् व्यभिचारिणां हि ।सर्वत्र शश्वदनपाय्युपलब्धिमात्रंप्राणो यथेन्द्रियबलेन विकल्पितं सत् ॥ ३८ ॥


nātmā jajāna na mariṣyati naidhate ’sauna kṣīyate savana-vid vyabhicāriṇāṁ hisarvatra śaśvad anapāyy upalabdhi-mātraṁprāṇo yathendriya-balena vikalpitaṁ sat


Brahman, the eternal soul, was never born and will never die, nor does it grow or decay. That spiritual soul is actually the knower of the youth, middle age and death of the material body. Thus the soul can be understood to be pure consciousness, existing everywhere at all times and never being destroyed. Just as the life air within the body, although one, becomes manifest as many in contact with the various material senses, the one soul appears to assume various material designations in contact with the material body.


The Vedic aphorism sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma, “Everything is Brahman,” has been explained in this chapter of the Bhāgavatam. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the original source of everything. By expanding His internal potency, He manifests the spiritual world, and by expanding His external potency He manifests the material cosmos. The conditioned living entity is originally part and parcel of the superior, internal potency of the Lord, but being in contact with illusion, he falls under the clutches of the external potency. In any case, since everything is an expansion of the potency of the Supreme Brahman, everything is part and parcel of the Lord’s spiritual potency. Bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād īśād apetasya viparyayo ’smṛtiḥ. When a living entity thinks that the material world is not part and parcel of the Lord’s potency but is a separate existence, liable to be controlled and enjoyed by the tiny jīva soul, he is under viparyayaḥ, or a wrong conception. Asmṛtiḥ. Thus the living entity forgets that the Supreme Lord is the proprietor of everything, everything being an expansion of the Lord. Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī has pointed out that although the Lord’s external potency is subject to transformations such as birth, growth, decay and death, one should not foolishly conclude that the Lord’s internal potency, the living entity, is also subject to these changes. Both the living entity and material nature are ultimately Brahman, being expansions of the Supreme Brahman. But the Vedas clearly say, parāsya śaktir vividhaiva śrūyate: the Lord’s potencies are vividhā, or multifarious. Thus, according to this verse, nātmā jajāna na mariṣyati naidhate ’sau na kṣīyate: the soul is never born, nor does he die, and he certainly cannot grow or decay like a material body. Although the visible material body passes through boyhood, adolescence and old age, or although one may take birth as a demigod, human being, plant or animal, the spirit soul never changes his eternal constitutional position. Rather, he falsely identifies with the external transformations of the material body and thus imposes upon himself a psychological condition called illusion. This miserable illusory experience of seeing oneself transformed and ultimately annihilated by the laws of nature can be nullified by transcendental knowledge of one’s eternal status as the superior energy of the Lord. The word sarvatra in this verse should not be foolishly misinterpreted to mean that the individual jīva soul is all-pervading. The soul is not born, nor does he die. Yet in our present conditioned state we falsely identify with the birth and death of the body. Therefore, because an all-pervading soul would never fall into illusion, sarvatra cannot indicate that the individual soul is all-pervading. Illusion implies an incomplete understanding of reality, which would not be possible for an all-pervading entity. Therefore, the word sarvatra is understood to mean that the pure spiritual soul exists in all material conditions. In deep sleep, for example, consciousness may not overtly be manifest, and yet the spirit soul is understood to be present within the body. Similarly, it is understood from Bhagavad-gītā that the spirit soul (nityaḥ sarva-gataḥ) may exist even within fire, water or outer space, since the existence of the soul never depends upon material conditions but is an eternal fact. The consciousness of the soul is more or less manifest according to the possibilities offered by a particular material situation, just as electric light is manifest in a particular intensity and color according to the bulb available. The electrical energy is one, but it is manifested variously according to material conditions. The argument may be raised that although the spirit soul is pure consciousness (upalabdhi-mātram), it is our practical experience that consciousness is constantly transformed. If I am thinking of a blue object such as the sky, then my previous thought of a yellow object such as a flower is destroyed. Similarly, if I become aware that I am hungry, then my consciousness of the blue sky is destroyed. In this way, consciousness is constantly being transformed. Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī has replied that consciousness itself is eternal, but in contact with the material senses it may be manifest in various ways. The example of the life air is very appropriate. Prāṇa, or the life air, is one, but in contact with the different senses it is manifest as the power to see, the power to hear, and so on. Similarly, consciousness, being spiritual, is ultimately one, but when in contact with the various senses it may be perceived in terms of particular sensory functions. But the state of consciousness is an eternal fact that cannot be changed, although it may be temporarily covered by māyā. When one becomes Kṛṣṇa conscious, he is understood to be dhīra (dhīras tatra na muhyati). At that time one is no longer subject to bewilderment by falsely identifying his consciousness with the transformations of material nature. From the statement tat tvam asi, found in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, it is to be understood that spiritual knowledge is not impersonal but entails gradually perceiving the pure spiritual soul within the material body. Just as in Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa repeatedly says aham, or “I,” this Vedic aphorism uses the word tvam, or “you,” to indicate that just as the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the individual spark of Brahman (tat) is also an eternal personality (tvam). Therefore, according to Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī it is to be understood that the individual spark of Brahman is eternally conscious. Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura has further pointed out that instead of wasting time trying to understand the truth in its impersonal aspect, which is merely the negation of temporary material variety, one should try to understand oneself to be an eternally conscious entity in the jīva category. In other words, one should understand oneself to be eternally a conscious servitor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In this regard Śrīla Madhvācārya has quoted the following statement from the Mokṣa-dharma section of the Mahābhārata: “The living entity, known as jīva, is not different from Me, for he is My expansion. Thus the living entity is eternal, as I am, and always exists within Me. But you should not artificially think, ‘Now I have seen the soul.’ Rather, I, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, will bestow this benediction upon you when you are actually qualified.”