:star2: Bhakti-Ratna Course 4 - (Registration open) :star2:
Prīti Sandarbha (continued) - By Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
Vaiśeṣika Sūtras of Kaṇāda with Praśastapāda Bhāṣya - By Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
Sanskrit for Beginners – By Gururaja
Vedic Psychology – By Dr. Joshika Richmond
Bhakti-Ratna Course 4
Prīti Sandarbha – By Babaji
Vaiśeṣika Sūtras of Kaṇāda – By Babaji
Sanskrit for Beginners - By Gururaja
Vedic Psychology - By Dr. Joshika Richmond
Enroll now Enroll
Enroll now Enroll
The Self and Free Will in the Caitanya Sampradāya – Conclusion
Articles by Satyanarayana Dasa Philosophy

The Self and Free Will in the Caitanya Sampradāya – Conclusion

Incompatibility between Ātmā and Prakṛti

One of the knotty problems in Vedānta is the relation of ātmā with the three guṇas of prakṛti. Ātmā, although conditioned by the material guṇas, never contacts them. The guṇas of prakṛti are not inherent in the ātmā and have no direct contact with it. The self does not have any type of relation with the guṇas, such as contact (saṁyoga), because ātmā is not corporeal. Nor is the relation one of inherence (samavāya) because objects are external to ātmā and contrary to its nature. Nor is the relation one of oneness (svarūpa) or identification (tādātmya) because ātmā and the guṇas are opposed to each other and identity between them is inconceivable. It is understood here that ātmā is not inert, while the guṇas are. Ātmā does not undergo transformation while the guṇas do, giving rise to subtle and gross elements.  Ātmā does not give rise to any products which can be experienced through the senses.

Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad (4.3.15) expresses that ātmā is not contaminated by contact with the guṇas: “The puruṣa is untouched.” Yet, by the inconceivable power of the Lord’s māyā potency, ātmā comes under the influence of prakṛti.

Bhāgavata Purāna (3.7.9) says: “This māyā of the Lord which cannot be understood by logic is the cause of the jīva’s bondage and ignorance although by nature the jīva is superior to matter and liberated.”

Bondage is Caused by Māyā

Jīva (ātmā) is superior to prakṛtic māyā because the former is sentient and the later is inert. Ātmā has the capacity to realize its own transcendental state, free from any misery. It is beyond any taint of guṇas, yet it is bound by them. This becomes possible because of ignorance (avidyā),  a feature of māyā. Māyā is a potency of the Lord with the power to act in inconceivable ways.

Bhāgavata Purāna repeatedly points to māyā as the cause of the bondage of a jīva. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says this to Uddhava (SB 11.11.1-2):

“The state of the jīva as bound or liberated is said to be because of its being influenced or uninfluenced by the guṇas of prakriti controlled by Me. These states are not related to the essential nature of the jīva. Because the relation with the guṇas happens by māyā, there is no real bondage or liberation. That is My opinion. Just as a dream is an illusory manifestation of buddhi, similarly grief, infatuation, joy and distress and acceptance of another body happen by māyā and are falsely attributed to the self.”

This conditioning arises from the ātmā’s identification with a subtle body. Because of this identification one accepts the qualities of the subtle body as one’s own.

In the next verse (11.11.3), Śrī Kṛṣṇa states that this identification has no beginning. The ignorance of the jīva about himself is not a positive entity but “pre-nonexistence” (prāg-abhāva) of knowledge. Being pre-nonexistent, it has no beginning. It is a beginningless lack of the positive entity known as accurate knowledge. Due to this beginningless ignorance, the jīva is oblivious of his true nature as a conscious being devoid of misery; he identifies instead with the body, its qualities, actions and modifications. This is called “misfortune.”

Will of Ātmā Dependent on Iśvara

According to Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, the luminosity of ātmā is dependent upon the power of the Lord. Ātmā is not completely independent. Iśvara is the primary knower, actor and enjoyer (jnāta, kartā and bhoktā). The jñātṛtva, kartṛtva and bhoktṛtva of ātmā are dependent upon Iśvara. In Bhagavad Gītā (15.15), Lord Kṛṣṇa says that memory, knowledge and forgetfulness of an individual being come from Him. He is the source of everything (10.8), the controller of all beings (BG 18.61) and He is the bhokta (BG 13.22). This obviously raises the question if the jīva has any true freedom to act at all. If jīva has no freedom to act, then the scriptural injunctions for jīva would become meaningless. Yet we can understand from our own experience that jīva is not completely free to act. Jīva has some freedom of choice.

According to grammar rules, a doer can be “one who inspires another to act” (prayojaka), or “one who acts under another’s inspiration or supervision” (prayojya).  The jīva is the latter type of doer (prayojya kartā). He is free to initiate an action, but cannot be effective without approval of Iśvara. In Bhagavad Gītā, Iśvara is called the overseer and permitter (BG 13.22). Iśvara is the prayojaka kartā because He gives the approval to the jīva’s will. This does not make Him the initiator or doer of the action, the jīva is the initiator, and thus the primary doer, and therefore the result accrues not to Iśvara, but to the jīva. This is rooted in the basic Vedānta concept that there is one independent Absolute Reality and everything emanates and is dependent upon it (BG 7.6, 9.10, Katha Upaniṣad 5.12, Brahmā Saṁhita 5.1).

Another reason, the will of jīva is not entirely free is that he is conditioned by his past karma. One becomes restricted in one’s freedom to act, proportionate to the intensity of one’s ignorance and slavery to sensual habit. But freedom is never completely lost. The conditioning and limitation of the jīva’s will is just like a citizen of a state who has some fundamental rights and freedom to function in the society, but if he commits a crime he is prosecuted by the state and put in prison. There his freedom is restricted, but not absolutely.


According to the Caitanya school, there is one Absolute Reality called Bhagavān which has variegated potencies divided into three categories, namely internal (antaraṅga),  intermediary (taṭasṭḥa)  and external (bahiraṅga). Bhagavān’s body, dress, attributes, abode and associates are all manifestations of the antaraṅga potency. The material creation is a manifestation of bahiraṅga potency. The individual living beings are part of His taṭasṭḥa potency.

Living beings are of two types: beginninglessly liberated (nitya mukta) or beginninglessly bound (nitya baddha). The first type has always been devoted to Bhagavān, and lives with Him in His abode. The second type has always been under the sway of the bahiraṅga potency (māyā) but can become free from it by becoming favorable to Bhagavān.

The jīvas are anu in size and unlimited in number. They are conscious by nature and have the potential to know, will and act. But in the conditioned state, this potential can manifest only through a material body consisting of subtle and gross divisions. All the functions of cognition, willing, acting and enjoying happen within the material body but are attributed to ātmā because it is the direct cause behind them.

The ātmā remains unaffected by all the actions it performs and enjoyments it experiences within the realm of prakṛti. This is inexplicable by logic and understood as the function of ignorance working as an energy of the All-powerful. It can be only understood on the authority of scriptures and the writings of the enlightened persons, and realized by following the prescribed process given in the scriptures.


  • Madan Gopal Das July 2, 2014

    Hare Krishna. Dandavat pranam. Thank you for this article. Yes, according to sastra, jiva as a conscious being has eternal relative free will as you have shown. And in Govinda bhasya to Vedanta sutra 2.3.26, Baladev Vidyabhusan Prabhu mentiones that due to jiva’s aversion to Bhagavan (by her own free will) she obscures awarenes of her eternal conscious nature (maya envelops her) and by being devoted to Bhagavan she is aware of it. (Govinda bhasya 2.3.26 na ca manasā saṁyogād ātmani jñānotpattiḥ niravayavayos tayoḥ saṁyogāsiddheḥ | bhagavad-vaimukhyenāvṛtam idaṁ tat-sāṁmukhyena, tasmin vinaṣṭe saty āvirbhavatīti smṛtir). This is in accordance with isad-apetasya in SB 11.2.37. By this it is not implied that jiva fell from Goloka/Vaikuntha, but that she is bound by maya due to her own freedom to choose whether to be averse or devoted to Bhagavan. And since jiva is anadi (there was never a time when she didn’t exist) and her freedom of choice is also anadi, so bondage or karma is also stated as being anadi. So, not all tatastha sakti jivas were/are first bound and then can be liberated, as some were never bound because they voluntarily devoted themselves to Bhagavan. And by this, Bhagavan’s creation lila is not conditioned by jiva’s free will, because there are unlimited number of jivas and unlimited can decide for karma and unlimited for bhakti. Mahaprabhu also said in Siksastaka 5, that “O Nandanandan, I’m your eternal servant (being your tatastha sakti) but due to my aversion to you, I fell (patitam) into this horrible world, kinldy please take me as a dust (servant) of your lotus feet”. Hare Krishna.

  • scooty ram July 3, 2014


    Thank you once again for the article.

    I would like to know why relationship between jiva and prakriti is considered complex. If it because both has opposite qualities (one is chit and other is Achit) , then the same complexity applies to Lord and prakriti. How lord(Chit) controls(contacts) prakriti(achit) ? If it is through maya ,How lord contacts maya is another question!

    In my understanding, Jiva is bound by karma. This is accepted. Having said that, it implies jiva is entitled for freedom. It is Lords WILL/POWER to treat jivas based on their papa and punyas.
    Punya or Papa is nothing but the Lords pleasure or displeasure on a jiva based on its actions..Jivas action is based on its knowledge and field of action. Field of action is the body or prakriti.Jiva is bound by karma which is nothing but making the jiva turn outwards.This karma is felt as sukha and dukha through the medium of body and by identifying with the body.

    When a person identifies himself as a father to a new born, this identification gives joy. When the identification is to a dead son, the same identification gives pain. Hence it is not mere identification that gives pain or pleasure but lords will(based on karma) which gives pain and pleasure to the jivas. Since jivas are entitled for happiness when they rightly identify themselves as jivas, the medium of prakriti is used to divert their identification from inward to outward. Karma makes the jiva identify with prakriti. Ofcourse this is anadi.

    As you stated in earlier articles, jiva is mere knowledge and also a knower. Identification of Jiva happens through the atma’s quality as Knower. This knowership is controlled by Lord based on jivas karma. Lord makes the jiva know itself as a human or dog based on the karma . This is a vritti jnana of jiva muddled by karma. When there is no karma, jiva knows itself.Hence jiva’s
    knowership is what that determines what is bondage and what is liberation. When the knowership is on prakriti, it is bondage. When knowership is on the self, it is liberation. Hence I do not see why we need to explain if there is a contact between chit and achit as in the physical sense of 2 objects.Prakriti as Content of knowledge is different from contacting prakriti.

    Also I would like to know why responsibility of Jivas bondage is shown as Maya and Not directly the Supreme Lord. I understand there are many verses which indicate so.
    If maya is the medium through which Lord interacts with jiva, I would like to know why maya is inconcievable while functioning as a medium of giving jiva’s, its due karmic results.
    Is it not obvious that good work gives good results ? Where is the inconceivability? If inconcievability is in knowing the order of receiving results of actions(if 2 action with 1 good and another bad is performed, will the result also come in same order), then such an order is very much the WILL of the lord.There is nothing inconceivable here. Lord is merciful and his mercy is evident in the way he gives the result of jiva’s action.

    The ultimate intent of karma theory is to ensure Jivas turn towards the Lord. This way Lord arranges the karmic reaction in such a way that Jiva gets some way or the other benefitted. If this intent of the Lord is not accepted and if we say Lord is exclusively impartial while giving results(without judging with a motive), it amounts to reducing Lord as mere Adhrista/kalpa vriksha .
    When a jiva comes to take shelter from the Lord, Lord does not differentiate them based on their past. The impartiality is in ensuring the jivas gets the highest benefit.

    Please let me know your thoughts.


Comments are closed.