Question: Is the ātmā a separate entity compared to Paramātmā?
Answer: The ātmā has its own distinct identity. It is not absolutely identical with Paramātmā. Advaitvādīs, however, believe that ātmā and Paramātmā are ontologically one.
Question: If the ātmā is an aṁśa or integral part of Paramātmā, how did it become separate?
Answer: The problem is the use of words such as aṁśa (part). These words have different meanings in our common parlance but have slightly different connotations in philosophy. However, because of the lack of a better word, we are forced to use imperfect words. In the present context, aṁśa does not mean “part” as we think. We have the experience of dead parts belonging to a lifeless whole. But we have no experience of a living object and its parts. Paramātmā is not some lifeless object, nor is the ātmā. Aṁśa here means “dependent” or “subservient.” The ātmā is eternal and as old as Paramātmā. It has no beginning or end. So, the question of it becoming separate does not arise. Separate, logically, means independent existence. For example, the leg of a chair existed before the chair came into existence. Such is not the case with ātmā in relation to Paramātmā. They have co-existed without a beginning, but ātmā, unlike the leg of a chair, cannot exist without Paramātmā. This fact is understood only from śastra.
Question: In Sāṅkhya philosophy, there is the premise of the Puruṣa, or ātmā, and prakṛti. How did prakṛti came into existence?
Answer: This is a wrong question. Your question assumes that once upon a time, there was no prakṛti. That is not true. Prakṛti has always existed. See verse 13.19 (13.20 in some editions) of Bhagavad Gītā, beginning with the word prakṛti:
“Know that both primordial nature and the conscious living beings are beginningless. Know also that all modifications, as well as the objects derived from the material guṇas, are born of material nature.”
Prakṛti, as well as Puruṣa, are both beginningless. Prakṛti is an energy of Paramātmā and is thus beginningless like Paramātmā, the possessor of it.
Question: Is prāṇa a link between consciousness (the field of the ātmā) and the physical body?
Answer: Yes, that is right.
Question: Is the ātmā plus the sūkṣma-śarīra of previous births equal to the jīvātmā?
Answer: Yes. In our conditioned manifest stage, jīvātmā also includes the gross body.
Question: Our own ātmā is a demarcated limited particle or a unit. At the same time, could it be considered an energy field?
Answer: Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī calls the ātmā cit-kaṇa—a conscious particle. He also calls it a particle of a ray—something like a wave and particle simultaneously. The exact phrase he uses is raśmi-paramāṇu (Paramātmā Sandarbha, Anuccheda 36), which literally means a ray-atom. From this phrase, it is clear that ātmā has a dual nature. The fact is that at the spiritual level, things are not distinctly a substance or energy. They can behave in both ways. Here at the material level, emotions are energies, but at the spiritual level, they are not only energies but can also possess forms, which means they can be substances. This also very well fits into our theology of acintya-bheda-abheda. Even here in the material world, at the quantum level, matter and energy are interchangeable. Photons display a dualistic nature.
Question: In Bhagavad Gītā 2.12, Kṛṣṇa says, “There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings.” This means we are all separate individuals. If the soul is insoluble, as mentioned in Gītā 2.24, then how can the soul merge into Kṛṣṇa in sāyujya-mukti? If it is possible for the soul to merge into Kṛṣṇa, is there any chance for it to come out again?
Answer: Merging does not mean becoming extinct or becoming one. If you put a drop of water in an ocean, the drop is merged into the ocean. But the drop has not lost its existence. Since we do not have the ability to distinguish the drop from the ocean, we may think that the drop got lost but this is not a fact. The molecules that constitute the drop continue to exist. Similarly, in sāyujya-mukti, the ātmā is not destroyed or lost. It continues to exist. If Kṛṣṇa wants, He can bring it out.
Question: Are souls eternally present or did Kṛṣṇa create souls?
Answer: They are eternally present. This is very clear from Bhagavad Gītā, verses 2.12-30.
Question: Can new souls be brought into existence or destroyed by Kṛṣṇa?
Answer: No. Such a question is asked by not taking into consideration that souls are innumerable. Therefore, there is no need to create new souls. If your question is asked from the point of view of whether Kṛṣṇa is capable of creating and destroying souls, then I would say, yes. He can do anything. But practically speaking, He does not do so because there is no need.
Question: Soul implies that there is consciousness, that one is fully aware, knowing past, present, and future. After liberation, the self-aware soul sees what is happening all around.
Answer: Not true. Awareness does not mean awareness of everything. The soul is limited. In the conditioned state, its awareness is limited by the conditioning of the subtle and gross bodies. In the liberated state, its awareness expands as per the need to do service.
Question: Who attains sāyujya-mukti? In this liberated state, is the individual soul fully aware of itself and can it see what is happening nearby?
Answer: Sāyujya-mukti is of two types—brahma-sāyujya and bhagavad-sāyujya. In brahma-sāyujya, there is no awareness of anything other than one’s own self, which identifies with Brahman. There is no such thing as nearby or far. In bhagavad-sāyujya, one is aware of things around through the awareness of Bhagavān.
Question: Is it the soul’s desire to attain sāyujya-mukti or is it God’s will?
Answer: It is the wish of the soul. The conditioned soul has to perform sādhana to attain it.
Question: If souls are eternal, then where did they exist before?
Answer: Before what? They are either present within the material creation or in Vaikuṇṭha.
Question: If someone attains sāyujya-mukti and then wants to come out of this state, can one do so? Does the soul have free will to do this? Or it is only Kṛṣṇa who can bring the soul back, by His wish?
Answer: The soul has no freedom. Only if Kṛṣṇa wishes, He can bring him out.
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