Jivas and the marginal plane

Jan 31 2005 - Krishna Talk 53

Devotee: I have read the book "Our Original Position" (OOP) published by the Iskcon GBC Press in which it is stated that the jivas (living entities) come to this material world after falling from grace in the spiritual world. Is this 'fall philosophy' correct according to sastra and previous acaryas?

Swami Narasingha: No, it is not at all the correct understanding of how the jivas came into material existence. The book (OOP) does not properly represent Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy nor does it properly represent the teachings and conclusions of our spiritual master Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada.

One of the authors of OOP has stated that in his opinion the views in OOP provide broad evidence of a fall/no fall paradox of the soul's origin being rooted in Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition as follows:

"OOP provides broad evidence from within the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition to show that Srila Prabhupada's paradoxical claims on the soul's origin are firmly rooted in that tradition." (Heresy and the Jiva Debate by Howard Resnick [Hrdayananda Dasa Gosvami] - The Hare Krsna Movement -The Post-charismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant)

Having gone through OOP in great detail, we fail to see how the authors have done anything other than ignore the crucial points surrounding the jiva issue, misinterpret the sastra (Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition) and create imaginary interpretations. Truthfully speaking, outside of the limited circle of Iskcon, no Gaudiya Vaisnava philosopher accepts the OOP book as authoritative. The book reads like the papal dogma of Christianity rather than the philosophy of Gaudiya acaryas. In fact the authors of OOP make statements that are so absurd, no intelligent person will take them seriously.

According to the OOP book A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada sometimes says the jiva falls from association with Krsna and sometimes he says the jiva does not fall. This then becomes a paradox. A paradox is a statement, proposition or situation that seems to be absurd or contradictory, but in fact is or may be true. OOP therefore suggests that the jiva falls and doesn't fall simultaneously. But when A. C Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada himself states the conclusion, then the so-called 'paradox' created by some of his followers, vanishes.

According to the Bhaktivedanta purport on Srimad Bhagavatam 3.16.26:

"The conclusion is that no one falls from the spiritual world, or Vaikuntha planet, for it is the eternal abode."

This conclusion, which completely negates the so-called paradoxical view created in the OOP book, is also upheld by sastra and previous acaryas such as Jiva Gosvami, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and all bona fide devotees in the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya. The conclusion is that the jivas, that are now conditioned by the modes of material nature and originate in the 'tatastha' or the marginal plane of existence, did not fall from the spiritual world.

Ignoring the conclusion of their spiritual master, the authors of the OOP book insist that the jiva falls from the spiritual world. Thus their opinions are taken simply as faulty interpolations.

The actual position of the jiva is marginal. The marginal plane, as the origin of the jivas between the material and spiritual worlds, has been stated in sastra and by previous acaryas. There, in that marginal plane, the jivas are in a state of equilibrium but due to their innate nature they gradually become attracted to either the spiritual or material energy of the Supreme Person.

When one accepts the direct meaning of the sastra (amnaya vakya) it is understood that the jivas are tattastha-sakti - i.e. they are the marginal potency of Godhead.

BRHADARANYAKA UPANISAD states the following about the marginal position of the jiva:

tasya va etasya purusasya dve eva sthane bhavata
idam ca paraloka-sthanam ca sandhyam trtiyam
svapna-sthanam tasmin sandhye sthane tisthan ete
ubhe sthane pasyati idam ca paraloka-sthanam ca

"The jiva-purusa should inquire about two locations, the material world and the spiritual world. The jiva is situated in a third position, called svapna sthana, on the border between these two places. Situated in this marginal place, he can see both the material and spiritual worlds". (Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 4.3.9)

tad yatha maha matsya ubhe kule'
nusancarati purvam ca param caivam
evayam purusa etav ubhav antav
anusancarati svapnantam ca buddhantam ca

"Just as a large fish living in the river wanders from one bank to the other, so the jiva is of similar quality, and is equipped to wander in the Karana waters between the material and spiritual worlds (svapnanta and buddhanta)." (Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 4.3.18)

JIVA GOSVAMI writes in his commentary to Sri Brahma-samhita 5.21 and quotes Sri Narada-pancaratra:

yat-tatastham tu cid rupam sva-samvedyad vinirgatam
ranjitam guna ragena sa jiva iti kathyate

"Although spiritual and conscious by nature, the jiva lives on the border between the spiritual and material worlds. When it chooses to enter the material world, it becomes contaminated by the modes of nature. That is said to be the spirit soul."

BHAKTIVINODA THAKURA writes the following in numerous books:

ubhaya-kula dekhite dekhite bhogecchara udaya
haile tahara cit-surya-svarupa krsna haite bahirmukha haya

"The moment that the jivas desire to enjoy independently while gazing at the two banks of the river, they become averse to Krsna, who is like the sun."

tini cit u jadera sandhi-sthale tatastha-sakti-karttrka prakatita haiya sei sthana haite cijjagata u mayika-jagata ubhaya sthana dekhite lagilen. Ektu bhagavaj jnanakrsta haiya yahara sei jnana-samsarga-prasanga cidabhilasi hailen, tahara nitya-bhagavadusmukhata-prayukta cicchakti-vilasagata-hladini-bala-prapta haiya krsna-parsada-rupe cijjagate nita hailen. Yahara svecchakrame anyaparsvasthita mayate mohita haiya lobha karilam, tahara mayakarttrka ahuta haiya mayika jagate akrsta haoyaya mayadisa karanarnavasayi purusavatara-karttrka jada-jagate niksipta hailen. Iha kevala tahadera nitya bhagavadvaimukhyera phala. Maya-madhyagata ihavamatra mayavrtti avidya tahadigke lipta kavila. Avidyalipta haiya tahate abhinivesa karate avidya-bandh karme cakre padilena. Esthale karma-phala-bhoji paksira sahita tahadera tulana haila.

"The jiva appeared by the marginal energy at the dividing line between spirit and matter. From that position, he began to gaze at the spiritual and material worlds. Those jivas who were attracted somewhat to realization of the Supreme Person became desirous of the spiritual realm because of that contact of knowledge. They then obtained strength from the hladini potency of the abundant cit sakti, which made them favorable to the Lord eternally, and they were brought into the spiritual world as associates of the Lord. Those who, by their own free will, became bewildered and became greedy for maya situated on the opposite side, being beckoned by maya, then became attracted to the material universe, and were thrown in the universe by Karanarnavasayi Visnu, the controller of maya. That was but the result of their eternal aversion to the Supreme Lord. The moment they entered the material realm, they became overcome by ignorance, the function of maya. Overcome by ignorance, they fell into the wheel of binding karma in order to become fully absorbed in their task." (Mahaprabhura-siksa ch.7)

"It should be understood that the jiva soul is neither produced of this material world, nor created in the transcendental world. They are originated from the marginal line between the transcendental and mundane spheres." (Tattva Viveka 2.4,page 55)

"Among the unlimited potencies of Sri Krsna, there is one known as tatastha-sakti (border-potency). From that sakti comes out the jiva-souls remaining at the junction of the two worlds, viz., the transcendental and the mundane ones, may contact them both. In its composition it is only the atomic cit (pure sentience) . . . On account of the purity in its composition, it has got the capacity for being the eternal denizen with divine bliss in the transcendental power." (Jaiva Dharma, chapter 4)

"A jiva is a spark of the eternal consciousness. A jiva is first situated on the line of demarcation between the material world and the spiritual world. There those jivas who do not forget their relation with Krsna derive the power of consciousness and are drawn into the spiritual world, they come in eternal touch with Krsna and enjoy beatitude arising from the worship of Krsna. And those who forget Krsna and give themselves up to maya's enjoyments, maya with her own force draws them into herself. It is from that very moment that we fall into the misery of this world." (Jaiva Dharma, chapter 7)

"The semblance or dim reflection of the internal Cit-potency is the jiva-sakti (potency) or tatastha-sakti stationed in between cit-jagat and a-cit-jagat or mayika-jagat whereas the shadow or perverted reflection of that internal cit potency is the maya-sakti or external a-cit potency. All the jivas emanate from the tatastha-sakti of God and accordingly the mundane worlds emanate from the maya-sakti of God." (Bhagavat-arka Marici-mala, chap. 1, Intro)

"The jiva-souls are emanated from the jiva-sakti of Sri Krsna and they are spiritual but atomic. In the very self of the jiva-soul or in his constitution practically there remains no maya. As jiva-souls are atomic in size and being emanated from the tatastha-sakti of Sri Krsna (viz. from the intermediary-potency which exists in between cit-jagat and mayika-jagat) jiva-soul is liable to be subjected to maya when he becomes averse to his constitutional right of serving the Lord. Jiva-soul in bondage misconstrues himself as the doer and enjoyer, therefore is affinated to the adopted bodies that are provided by prakrti. A jiva by dint of spiritual virtue may possess steadfast devotion to Sri Krsna and getting rid of worldly affinity goes back to the abode of bliss." (Bhagavat-arka Marici-mala, ch. 7, text 34, purport)

"The constituent particles, in the form of pencils of effulgence of Maha-Visnu are manifest as the individual souls (jivas)." (Brahma-samhita 10, purp.)

"The cit-potency of God is boundless, so is His maya-potency also enormous; between them are the innumerable minute jivas. The Jivas emanate from the tatastha-sakti (border potency) of Sri Krsna; so is the nature to tatastha (border potency) of Sri Krsna." (Jaiva Dharma, chapter 15)

"The root of all actions is the desire for acts, the root of which again is avidya. Avidya is the name for the forgetfulness of soul's essential nature that 'I am Krsna's servant.' This avidya did not commence within the course of the mundane time. That root of karma of the jiva arose when he was at the tatastha position. As such, the beginning of karma is not to be traced within mundane time, and, on that account karma is beginning-less." (Jaiva Dharma)

"There are two types of jivas liberated from maya, nitya-mukta, eternally liberated, and baddha-mukta, those who were bound but became liberated. The jivas who were never bound by maya are called nitya-mukta. The nitya-muktas are also of two types, aisvarya gata nitya mukta and madhurya gata nitya mukta. The former are the associates of Lord Narayana in Vaikuntha and are the atomic particles from Mula Sankarsana. The latter are the associates of Lord Krsna in Goloka. They are the atomic particles of Sri Baladeva situated in Goloka Vrndavana." (Jaiva-Dharma, Chapter 17)

BHAKTISIDDHANTA SARASVATI THAKURA has written on the nature of jiva as follows:

"Before acquiring material designations, the living entity is supremely pure. Even though he is not engaged in serving the Supreme Lord, he remains situated in the neutral position of santa-rasa due to his marginal nature. Though the living entity born from the marginal potency does not at that time exhibit a taste for serving the Lord due to a lack of knowledge of self-realization, his direct propensity of serving the Supreme Lord nevertheless remains within him in a dormant state. Though the indirect propensity of material enjoyment, which is contrary to the service of the Lord, is not found in him at that time, indifference to the service of Hari and the seed of material enjoyment, which follows that state of indifference, are nevertheless present within him. The living entity, who belongs to the marginal potency, cannot remain indifferent forever by subduing both devotional and non-devotional propensities. He therefore contemplates unconstitutional activities from his marginal position. As a sleeping person dreams that he is active in the physical world without actually being involved in activities, when the dormant indifferent living entity of the marginal potency exhibits even a little apathy to the service of the Supreme Lord and situates himself in a neutral, unchanging condition for even a little time, he is infected by impersonalism. That is why the conditioned soul desires to merge in the impersonal Brahman, thus exhibiting his mind's fickle nature. But due to neglecting the eternal service of the Lord and thereby developing the quality of aversion to the Lord, he cannot remain fixed in that position. In this way aversion to the Lord breaks his concentration of mind and establishes him as the master of this world of enjoyment.

"Due to being situated in the marginal position, living entities who are averse to Hari assume the nature of mixed consciousness; in other words, when the marginal energy living entities mix with the external energy, they consider themselves the enjoyers and then enter the material world. The cause of the spirit soul's coming to live in this world in aversion to Krsna is his misuse of his free will. When this aversion becomes strong, the living entities accept a material mind and body in order to enjoy the temporary material world and thus come under the control of fruitive reactions. And when, on the strength of pious activities, they become transcendental to the varnasrama principles, which distinguish superior and inferior behavior in this world, they become paramahamsas by perfecting themselves through sadhana. Those who become paramahamsas are the Hari-janas. And those who fall from the platform of paramahamsa and engage in fruitive activities while associating with matter are situated on the platform of varnasrama. (From 'Brahmana & Vaisnava')

"Lying in between the cit (internal spiritual) and acit (external deluding cosmic) potencies of the Lord, the jiva souls are freed from the shackles of the triple qualities of maya by the loving service to the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna." (From the essay - Sri Krsna)

"Jivas are of two kinds - (1) Nitya-Mukta (eternally free), (2) Nitya-Baddha (eternally enslaved). Free jivas are never enslaved. They are serving the Supreme God in five different functions in His eternal blissful abode, where there is no change, no destruction, no misery. Jiva, once entered there never comes back here. The inconceivably narrowest line of demarcation between land and water or the line where land and water meet is called 'tata'; so also the meeting line of the cit world or the eternal abode of the Supreme Lord and the acit world or the tata region of Maya is called tata. The power of the Supreme Lord displayed at the tata is known as the tatastha (lying at the tata) or marginal power. All the jivas being the display of this power, have the inherent oscillating tendency and capability of going to the cit or the acit world. Tata not being a resting place, jivas must go this side or that; those preferring the acit, fell into the clutches of the octopus Maya, when these mortal costumes of mind and body were put on him as a punishment. The satanic frenzy in which the jiva dislikes the blissful and eternal service of his Master and prefers to quench his thirstful desires of enjoying matter, opens before him a perpetual spring of liquid fire and poison at which he begins to drink deep. Thus in going to lord it over Maya, jiva became enslaved by her." (Vaisnavism -Real and Apparent)

SRIDHARA DEVA GOSVAMI MAHARAJA spoke of the origin of the jivas as follows:

"The brahma-jyoti, the non-differentiated marginal plane, is the source of infinite jiva souls, atomic spiritual particles of non-differentiated character. The rays of the Lord's transcendental body are known as the brahma-jyoti, and a pencil of a ray of the brahma-jyoti is the jiva. The jiva soul is an atom in that effulgence, and the brahma-jyoti is a product of an infinite number of jiva atoms.

"Generally, souls emanate from the brahma-jyoti which is living and growing. Within the brahma-jyoti, their equilibrium is somehow disturbed and movement begins. From non-differentiation, differentiation begins. From a plain sheet of uniform consciousness, individual conscious units grow. And because the jiva is conscious it is endowed with free will. So, from the marginal position they choose either the side of exploitation or the side of dedication.

"Because the soul is very small, his freedom is also imperfect; a soul in the marginal position is very vulnerable. Freedom does not mean absolute freedom. Because the soul's existence is small, his freedom is defective, there is the possibility of committing a mistake. Freedom of the minute soul does not mean perfect freedom. Complete freedom would be perfect reality, but the minute soul is endowed with the smallest atomic freedom. This is the position of the atoms of consciousness, and this is why they are vulnerable. They may judge properly or improperly; that is the position of those who are situated in the marginal position. If the soul were not endowed with the freedom to determine his position, we would have to blame God for our suffering. But we cannot blame God. The starting point of the soul's suffering is within himself." (Sri Krsna - Reality the Beautiful, ch-4, Origin of the Soul)


"When the thoughts of a jiva in the tatastha realm, which is in between the spiritual and material worlds, gravitates towards independence and its accompanying temporal, material pleasures; the immediate result is forced descent to the material universes." (Vaisnava-vijaya)

SRI PURI GOSVAMI MAHARAJA has this to say about the jiva:

"The characteristic of the marginal potency is of its being able to be influenced by both the spiritual and material energies.

From Brhadaranyka-sruti 2.1:

yathagneh ksudra visphurlinga vyuccharanti
evam eva asmad atmanah sarve lokah sarve devah sarvani bhutani vyuccharanti

"Just as many tiny sparks are emitted from a blazing fire, similarly many varieties of minute living entities are produced from the Supreme Lord. This living entity has option to either stay in the material world or attain the spiritual world, he is in the middle position at the demarcation between these two worlds and has equal opportunity to go to either of these worlds. This marginal position can be described for more clarity: Just as a huge fish can move either to one bank or the opposite bank, similarly the living entity, from his MARGINAL POSITION can go either to the material or spiritual worlds, and is dependent on whether he is dreaming (in illusion) or awake in knowledge. The word 'tatastha' is further examined. The boundary between the land and the water is called the bank (tatastha). This is usually a narrow strip so minute that it cannot be seen with a naked eye. If we compare the spiritual world to the ocean and the material world to be the land, that minute strip or boundary is the corresponding position of the living entity. Both these worlds are huge in comparison to the minute living entity. Thus in the middling position being the marginal energy, partial characteristics of both sides are present in the living entity. By proper spiritual cultivation, he can be spiritualized or conversely in being ignorant, can fall into the material whirlpool. Originally, the living entity is constituted of spiritual elements, not material. Nevertheless, it can be overcome by the force of material attraction. Without the association of pure devotees, the living entity cannot be released from his precarious position. In Caitanya-caritamrta is described how the living entities, though minute sparks of the Supreme, are either bonded or eternally liberated." (Bhakti Siddhanta Sara - Essence of Pure Devotion, ch -Yogamaya & Mahamaya)


From sastra and the opinions of acaryas as quoted above it is quite clear that there is no possibility of fall down from the spiritual world, Vaikuntha or Goloka Vrndavana. That Iskcon leaders continue to preach the apa-siddhanta (false conclusion) of the fall of the jiva from the spiritual world (as they have done in the OOP book) is indeed unfortunate and misleading.

In 1981 Iskcon leaders challenged the wisdom of Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami when he tried to help them with a correct understanding of the marginal position of the jiva, but they returned his kindness with insult and offense. Having offended such a pure Vaisnava and calling him a 'mayavadi' for upholding the position of the jiva as marginal, Iskcon has now adopted the 'fall philosophy' that is tantamount to impersonalism (because such a 'fall philosophy' suggests the fallibility of the spiritual world) as their institutional doctrine. This is clearly an anartha (bhrama-tattva) that results from Vaisnava-aparadha.

In 1987 Iskcon leaders made an official apology to Srila Sridhara Maharaja for their offensive behavior towards him but then they continued to neglect his instructions and guidance in the matter of properly understanding Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy. That Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja should be approached and accepted as an authority on philosophical issues and questions was the direct instruction of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada to his disciples shortly before he departed from this world in 1977. The statements of Iskcon leaders in this regard have been documented in the book, Our Affectionate Guardians.

In order to gain an accurate understanding on the origin of the jiva and numerous other philosophical and devotional topics, literally a thousand devotees or more have turned away from Iskcon to seek spiritual guidance elsewhere. One would think that losing so many devotees and even losing prominent leaders and gurus would urge that society to re-assess their understanding of Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy, but unfortunately it does not. Iskcon leaders continue to lead their members into a philosophical abyss, while they feast on the bitter fruits (nimboli) of misconception.

The onus is now on Iskcon leaders to either accept the conclusions of sastra and acaryas as mentioned in this article or to prove the statements of sastra and the acaryas to be faulty. In particular we would be interested to see how they will prove the statement of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada as faulty when he states, "The conclusion is that no one falls from the spiritual world, or Vaikuntha planet, for it is the eternal abode."

(Extensive quotes on this topic from sastra and acaryas are available at the following URLs):

Jiva Tattva Articles

Tulsi Deva & origin of the jiva

Kala Krsnadasa