Question: What is the constitutional position of the jiva ?
Answer: In the Chaitanya-caritamrta we find this statement;
jivera svarupa haya krsnera nitya dasa
krsnera tatastha sakti bhedabheda prakasa
"The constitutional position of the jiva is that of an eternal servant of Krishna. The jiva belongs to the marginal potency of Krishna and as such the jiva is considered a manifestation simultaneously one and different from Krishna."
The jiva is called tatastha-sakti or the marginal potency of Godhead. Krishna's potencies are classified into three categories; antaranga-sakti the plane of Divinity, Vaikuntha, tatastha-sakti the marginal entities known as jivas, and bahiranga-sakti the world of Maya, material illusion.
The tatastha-sakti, marginal plane, is located on the line of demarcation between the plane of Maya and Vaikuntha. Marginal means that the jiva has got adaptability to either side — to Maya or to Divinity. Maya is the land of exploitation and Divinity or Vaikuntha is the land of dedication.
The tatastha or marginal plane is the brahman effulgence, the bodily effulgence of Maha Vishnu and it is living and growing. That brahman effulgence is the outer covering of the Vaikuntha planets and it is the source of infinite jivas.
Brahman is the marginal plane of non differentiation. That plane is the unconcentrated principle of sat, cit, ananda, existence, consciousness, and bliss. At this stage we find that the jiva is an atomic ray or particle of non differentiated character. The concentrated form of sat, cit, ananda is Sri Krishna the Entity of Absolute Concentrated Intensity. The living beings, jivas, are His separated parts, vibhinnamsa-jivas. Thus the jivas have inherited a minute proportion of Krishna's qualities; therefore, the jiva is an embodiment of perception, the perceiver, egoism, the enjoyer, the thinker, and the doer. The constitutional distinction between Krishna and the jiva is that Krishna is Almighty while the jiva is atomic.From that stage, a plain sheet of uniform consciousness, individual conscious units of dedication grow. These units of consciousness, jivas, are endowed with seed adaptability towards both the spiritual and material worlds without ever having had participation or experience of either.
It is not that non differentiation is the origin of differentiation as conceived by the Mayavada philosophers. But because the marginal position is on the verge of the higher eternal potency, swarupa-sakti, differentiation manifests in that plane of uniformity. Swarupa-sakti is a substance of eternal differentiation and variegatedness. Swarupa-sakti means the internal potency and both the tatastha-sakti and the antaranga-sakti belong to the superior internal potency of swarupa-sakti. The bahiranga-sakti belongs to the external potency, maya, which is only a shadow reflection of reality.
Strictly speaking the jiva is marginal and this means that he is in a position to analyze adaptability only. He can go towards the spiritual world and he can come towards the material world. But his ability is minute.
In that state the jiva is left to exercise free will. Because the jiva is a conscious unit he has free will. Without free will it is simply matter. Free will is all important but because the jiva is atomic his free will or discretion to analyze adaptability is defective. He may analyze correctly or not.
In the case of correct analysis of his adaptability the jiva can become a member of the eternal world of service to Godhead, nitya-siddha, eternally perfect. Or in the case of incorrect analysis of his adaptability the jiva falls down to the material world.
The question arises that why didn't Krishna endow the jiva with perfect discretion so he would make the proper analysis of his adaptability? If this were so then certainly all the jivas would at once come to the spiritual world and this would create a compulsion among the jivas. Compulsion means interfering with free will. But free will is guaranteed. Some are coming to this side and some are going to that side.
A jiva who is falling down from the marginal plane does not directly come in contact with matter. The jiva first comes to the stage of cidabhasa. Before pure consciousness can evolve to material consciousness it must pass through a hazy stage of consciousness called cidabhasa. In the stage of cidabhasa the jiva becomes conditioned and is thus able to enter material existence. Cidabhasa means preparation for a life in the land of misconception.
When there is creation again the fallen jiva is impregnated into a material universe by the glance of Maha Vishnu. To analyze the particular details of the history of the jiva is unnecessary. We are concerned only with how the transformation of material consciousness springs from pure consciousness.
The residents of Vaikuntha and Goloka Vrindavana are also seen to come to the material world but that is only in the case of lila, to assist the Lord in His pastimes or to carry out His mission. The Vaikuntha servitors come here and when their work is over they return. Such servants of the Lord, like Jaya and Vijaya and others, even when they come to the material world are never considered fallen souls because they are never forgetful of their actual position. The fallen souls of this world fall down from the marginal position within the brahman effulgence, never from Vaikuntha.
If one wants to argue that the jiva falls down to this material world from eternal lila with Krishna in the spiritual world, then that is tantamount to Mayavada philosophy because that suggests the fallibility of the Vaikuntha plane. The Vaishnava acharyas never admit to even a remote chance of fallibility in Vaikuntha what to speak of Goloka Vrindavana.
The residents of the Vaikuntha planets do not have any awareness of material existence, of the worlds of exploitation, enjoyment and suffering. The material worlds actually have no existence other than being a covered state of pure consciousness of the jiva. The residents of Vaikuntha being always in pure Krishna consciousness do not have any experience of matter.
With regards to understanding spiritual subject matters like the origin of the jiva, the nature of Krishna and the nature of the spiritual world, a jiva in bondage is regrettably very slow in these matters. Understanding spiritual subjects largely depends upon the jiva's adhikari or acquired qualifications. Unfortunately, due to his meager adhikari and limited experience the jiva all to often wants to understand spiritual matters in relation to his mundane material consciousness.
What is brahman, what is Krishna, what is Vaikuntha, what is swarupa-sakti? What are all these things is unknown and unknowable to the conditioned jiva. Even those in the neophyte stage of devotional service, bhakti-yoga, can not have a transcendental understanding of these subjects due to their still being covered by maya's influence. The neophyte is all to often dependent upon crutches like paintings and pictures for his understanding which although giving him some direction nevertheless leave him hanging in the mundane conception.
For example: We have seen the artistic rendition of the birth of Brahma on the stem of the lotus which springs from the navel of Garbhodakshai Vishnu. There the lotus is red or yellow color, large in size, and having a very long stem. Thus the neophyte is left to conceive of that lotus in relation to his experience of a lotus in this world. What is the actual reality of that "lotus" having sprung from the navel of Vishnu and being the birth place of Brahma the artist can not actually inform us. But the conception of the neophyte becomes fixed in the conception that the substance of that lotus is also like the lotus of this world.
In his commentary on Brahma-samhita Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura has described that "golden" lotus as cidabhasa, "the hazy aspect or reflection of Divinity." "That lotus, he says, "is the residence of the aggregate jivas." So what is that lotus? Is it simply a "lotus" or is it something more? We must try to think more deeply into these matters.
The point I am trying to make is that the "lotus", the brahman effulgence, the Vaikuntha planets or any other thing having spiritual existence can not be properly conceived when simply referenced to its mundane counter parts in the material world. Realization is required.
The sastra and the self realized devotees have tried to explain the realized truths about the Absolute Reality from different angles of vision for the purpose of helping the conditioned jiva to awaken his original pure consciousness.. Still some jivas are insistent on dragging their mundane mind and intellect to the attempt at understanding Reality. Thus the conditioned jiva is very slow to catch the real idea given in sastra and by pure devotees.
To enter into proper understanding of the sastra and revealed truths spoken by pure devotees the jiva has to put aside all mundane considerations and experiences. Only by advancement in pure devotional service are the Pure and Unalloyed Truths regarding the Absolute Reality revealed to a jiva. Argument and word jugglery are useless attempts at realizing the truth. On the other hand, to form a single line of thought or a single criterion by which all jivas can understand the truth is also difficult. And it is for this reason that the sastra and the acharyas have expressed many angles of vision to enlighten the jiva, some of which even appear contradictory. However, the more the eyes of the jiva are anointed and adorned with the salve of Love, the more the Absolute Truth, Sri Krishna will reveal Himself.
The constitutional position of the jiva is to serve Krishna. As such a jiva is never satisfied in material existence despite his wandering from the post of Brahma down to that of an insignificant ant. When by the grace of Krishna the wandering jiva meets a bona fide representative of Krishna he can get the seed of eligibility, bhakti-lata-bija, and thus he can attain to the stage of jivan-mukta or that of a liberated soul from material existence.
This is what I have understood regarding the constitutional position of the jiva as I have heard it from the sastra and from the lips of my spiritual masters.