Question: Are there a precise number of souls at the beginning of creation, or do the souls multiply?
Answer: Do you mean to ask, at the beginning of this particular creation? This is not the first creation but the latest one. Creation follows dissolution, and then it repeats. The cycle of creation and dissolution has no beginning. Our mind is very limited and it has only experience of limited objects and activities. It does not have experience of objects that are unlimited in time and space. Therefore, the mind assumes that there are no unlimited objects. The souls, or jīvas, neither multiply nor are there a definite number. Rather, there are an infinite number of jīvas. Although we use the word infinite, and we may have studied some series or numbers in Mathematics that are infinite, yet it is not easy to truly encompass what the word “infinite” means. It is just a convenient word for something that our mind cannot comprehend. One of the names of God is “Unlimited,” Ananta. Although He may be depicted in a apparently limited form, He is unlimited, and everything about Him is unlimited. The jīvas are His parts, and as God is unlimited, the parts are also unlimited. An unlimited object cannot have limited parts. Indeed, to say that jīvas are His parts can also be misleading because we think of parts as constituents of a whole. A whole is thus conceived to be made of parts. But the jīvas are not parts in that sense; they are called parts because they are dependent on Him.
Like the jīvas, the material universes are also infinite in number. There is not only one world. So everything about God is unlimited, and everything about human beings is limited unless they become united with God; then they also become unlimited. Because we are limited and God, whose parts we are, is infinite, we have the tendency to be unlimited. We are all trying to be unlimited; that is why we want more and more.
There is a popular saying in the USA, „Shop until you drop“. Shopping is not just because one has a need for something. It is also a means for satisfying the craving to possess. People know no limit, but if the limit comes, it is because we cannot digest it or manage it, or afford it.
Otherwise, we want to eat more and more, we want to possess more and more, and if we have the ability, we want to have more and more friends or followers. So everybody is trying to be unlimited because we are limited. But we will always be limited unless we come to be united with God.
There are two ways to be united with God – by identifying with His infinite aspect, called Brahman or to unite with Him in love. The first one is not a smart solution because it is devoid of any reciprocation. Thus the only proper choice is the second one. That is the highest possible achievement. Without that, we will always remain incomplete and limited. And therefore, we will never be perfectly happy. No matter what we do or achieve, there will always be something lacking.
Śāstra prescribes to limit our needs, lābho jīveta yāvatā (SB 1.2.10). The very first limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga prescribes aparigraha, or limited possessions. Otherwise, even the wealthiest person feels that he needs more. If his property is worth 90 billion, he wants another property worth 100 million. He appears wealthy to others but he himself still feels unfulfilled. So this is the problem. Therefore, we have no choice but to become devotees of God. That is the only way we can become perfect, sa ca anantāya kalpate (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 5.9). There is no other way. Many celebrities whom people look up to and praise drink and take drugs. This means they are not satisfied. If they were satisfied and happy, they would not do so. Such behavior is a sign of their dissatisfaction.
In conclusions, the number of souls are unlimited but an individual soul is limited.
Question: How much greater is the bliss of Kṛṣṇa and His abode? Can it be expressed with a number, since saying “unlimited” gives no clear idea?
The Ānandavallī chapter of the Taittiriīya Upaniṣad gives a progression, where the happiness of a young, healthy, and wise emperor of the entire earth planet is considered one unit of happiness. If this happiness is multiplied by 100, that equals one unit of the happiness of a human Gandharva. In each higher heavenly realm, the unit of happiness is multiplied by 100-fold. Eventually we reach the bliss of Brahma-loka, which is 1020 times the bliss experienced by our imagined human emperor of the earth.
It is further described in Bṛhad Bhagavatāmṛta that the bliss of the souls living in the first shell around the universe is millions of times greater than the bliss of those living in Brahma-loka. The bliss of the residents of the second shell is again millions of times greater than that of the first shell. The bliss of the third shell millions times greater than that of the second shell, etc.; this amplification of bliss continues throughout the eight shells of the universe.
Beyond the coverings of the universe, there is the Brahmajyoti, then Maheśa Dhāma, Vaikuṇṭha, Ayodhyā Dhāma, Dvārakā Dhāma, Mathurā Dhāma, and finally Goloka Vrindavan, each with increasing levels of ānanda. By my calculations, the bliss of Kṛṣṇa’s abode is 10108 more splendid than what we experience on our planet Earth, so there can be no resemblance between Kṛṣṇa and matter.
One could then reason that numbers are finite and are only used to express a comparison of superiority. Still, the concept of “unlimited” bliss has little meaning or value. It seems to make Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa’s abode invisible, unapproachable, unknowable, sort of nonexistent in its infinity. Can it be expressed with a number, since saying “unlimited” gives one no idea?
Answer: I have not seen any number. But generally, parārdha is considered the highest number. So you can take “unlimited” as more than that. This way you can give a figure instead of saying “unlimited.”
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It might well be that the numerical expressions of bliss are merely poetic, not to be taken verbatim. It seems problematic to compare numerically such experiences, which for being of different types can’t be compared quantitatively just as tāmasic sukha cannot be digitally related with rājasic sukha.