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IBSA (ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Sadhana Asrama), Govardhana, India
7 January 2004

What the Upanisads Teach
Part Nine

The Jivatma


When terms jiva or jivatma appear in the upanisads, they unambiguously mean the individual soul. The term atma means either the jiva or Paramatma. Jivati iti jivah: the jiva is that which lives or sustains life. Apnoter atter, atater va: atma means that which obtains, eats, enjoys, and pervades all. Jivatma pervades the body, Paramatma pervades the universe. The word purusa may refer to either jiva or Paramatma. Puri sete iti purisayah: that which dwells in the citadel of the heart is purusa. Cetana and cit (consciousness) apply to both also. Sariratma (the self encased in a physical body) is a synonym for jivatma.

About the individual self encased in the physical body, Chandogya VIII. 1. 5 states:

nasya jaraya jiryati na vadhenasya hanyate etat sarvam brahmapuram asmin kamah samahitah esa atma apahata papma vijiro vimrtyuh visoko vijighitso apipasah satyakamah satyasankalpah

The body ages, this atma does not; the body dies, this atma does not. It is eternal. In it, all auspiciousness is contained. It is the self that is free from evil, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger, free from thirst, whose desires come true and whose thoughts come true.

In the same upanisad, VIII. 12. 1, it is said:

In truth, this body is mortal. It is held by death. It is the abode of the self, which is immortal and incorporeal. This self is the victim of pleasure and pain. There is no cessation of pleasure and pain as long as the self is associated with the body. But when the self is totally dissociated from the body caused by karma, it is not touched by pleasure and pain.

Concerning the eternal, conscious nature of the jiva, Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to Bhagavad-gita As it Is 2. 20:

In the Katha Upanisad (1. 2. 18) we also find a similar passage, which reads:

na jayate mriyate va vipascin
nayam kutascin na babhuva kascit
ajo nityah sasvato 'yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire

The meaning and purport of this verse is the same as in the Bhagavad-gita, but here in this verse there is one special word, vipascit, which means learned or with knowledge.

The soul is full of knowledge, or full always with consciousness. Therefore, consciousness is the symptom of the soul.

Sage Yajnavalkya, speaking in Brhadaranyaka Upanisad IV. 3. 7, says yo 'yam vijnanamayah pranesu hrdy antarjyotih purusah: "The purusa (individual soul dwelling in the heart) consists of knowledge. He is in the midst of the subtle senses (pranas). He is the light within the heart. "

The existence of the jiva is rooted in Brahman. Mundakopanisad II. 1. 1:

yatha sudiptat pavakad visphulingah sahasrasah prabhavante sarupah
tatha aksarat vividhah soumya bhavah prajayante tatra caivapi yanti

As from a blazing fire sparks similar to it arise in thousands, even so many kinds of beings are born from the aksara (the infallible Brahman). They return to it again.

Srila Prabhupada's purport to Bhagavatad-gita As it Is 2. 17 offers two quotations from Svetasvatara Upanisad concerning the size of the jiva:

balagra-sata-bhagasya
satadha kalpitasya ca
bhago jivah sa vijneyah
sa canantyaya kalpate

"When the upper point of a hair is divided into one hundred parts and again each of such parts is further divided into one hundred parts, each such part is the measurement of the dimension of the spirit soul. "

kesagra-sata-bhagasya
satamsah sadrsatmakah
jivah suksma-svarupo 'yam
sankhyatito hi cit-kanah

"There are innumerable particles of spiritual atoms, which are measured as one ten-thousandth of the upper portion of the hair. "

Therefore, the individual particle of spirit soul is a spiritual atom smaller than the material atoms, and such atoms are innumerable. This very small spiritual spark is the basic principle of the material body, and the influence of such a spiritual spark is spread all over the body as the influence of the active principle of some medicine spreads throughout the body. This current of the spirit soul is felt all over the body as consciousness, and that is the proof of the presence of the soul.

In an earlier part of this series, we have seen Srila Prabhupada's quotation (found in the purport to Bg 13. 3) of Svetasvatara Upanisad in which the jiva is described as bhokta (the enjoyer). This jiva tries to enjoy bhogya, the objects of the senses that are presented by maya. The Lord, who is preritara (the controller), regulates the relationship between enjoyer-souls and the enjoyable sense objects. The same upanisad declares the jivatma to be responsible for his actions under the three modes of nature (gunanvayo yah phalakarma karta). Thus he is upabhokta, the enjoyer or sufferer of the consequences of his actions (karma). Karmanugany anukramena dehi sthanesu rupany abhisamprapadyate: the jiva successively assumes forms in various conditions of life according to his karmic activities.

To be continued, starting with the Relation between Jivatma and Brahman

Sketches of a Devotee's Pre-Krsna Conscious Life in India

Back in the late 1980's I tape-recorded a series of interesting stories told me by an Indian devotee, whom I shall not name to protect his privacy. These stories relate his life as a young man from a South Indian smarta brahmin family, and trace how he gradually turned away from material life to Krsna consciousness. What you will read below took place while he was working in a Kerala branch of the TV Sundaram company.

I soon came to be known to the Sundaram Industries management as a bright young star. I'd begun as a junior assistant, handling service records in the personnel department, but soon leaped into the ambitious role of 'office hero' by tackling tasks that others were not able to handle quickly or skillfully. Within a few months of my arrival, my vanity was gratified by a promotion to the post of senior assistant to the chief payroll accountant.

I had also discovered that because of my being the nephew of the Directing Manager, I could ignore the office dress code, which called for white shirt tucked into trousers. My attire was kurta and lungi. The kurta (the traditional collarless North Indian cotton shirt) would be worn long, down to my knees. The lungi (a white sarong worn by South Indian men) I would wrap up to my knees when I walked and let down below my feet when I sat at my desk. To top off my odd appearance, I sported long hair and a handlebar mustache.

One day a spare man with slicked-back hair and a peculiar gleam in his eye strode into the office and went from desk to desk collecting donations. He wore a lungi and a simple cotton cloth draped over his torso. His forehead was marked with a sindhur dot that indicated he was a shakta (a devotee of Devi, the female principle). I recognized him as a member of the Kerala brahmin caste known as Nambudri, who are sometimes feared for their reputed powers. There was a theatrical, effeminant air about him that I found silly. Still, everyone was giving him a few rupees.

When he saw me in my unusual attire he assumed I'd be a soft touch. Wordlessly smiling with lowered eyelashes, he put out his hand.

"For what?" I demanded irritably.

"I am collecting for the Bhagavati temple here at which I am the priest. I want to hold a great festival of the goddess. "

"I'm not giving you any money. " I turned back to work.

"But I heard you are very religious. "

Though my interest in religious experience was newly awakened, I hadn't lost my dislike for indolent and grasping brahmin priests. I saw no good reason why he deserved my money. "I said I am not giving you anything. "

"Be careful of your attitude," he snapped haughtily.

This only roused my bile. "What are you going to do if I'm not?"

He turned to the other office workers and demanded, "Tell him about me. " They looked at me disapprovingly. "You should give him something," one said with a hint of warning in his voice. "He's a tantric fellow. "

My eyes widened in mock surprise. "Oh," I marvelled in my best stage voice, "a tantric? Well, then . . . of course I won't give you anything. "

He raised a forefinger into the air and glared at me. "I dare you come to my temple on Friday and face my power. "

Sounding as unimpressed as I could, I parried, "Friday, you say? Well, you just might regret your invitation. I've seen power before, and I've also seen powerful silliness. Don't think you can fool me so easily. "

With a dramatic flourish, he stalked out of the office.

"You simply could have given him two rupees and avoided a scene," one of the staff reproved me. "Why this challenging attitude?"

"I just wanted to know what sort of good cause it is that you're all so eager to waste your money on today. "

"Look, youngster, that was a tantric! Be careful!" I made a rude sound and got back to work.

But that Friday I did go to the temple, bringing Ahmad with me. We came expecting at best a magic show, at worst a farce. In either case, we'd be entertained.

Bhagavati, also called Devi, Mahamaya, Durga, Parvati and many other names, is the divine Shakti (potency) known universally as Mother Nature (mulaprakriti). In India she is worshipped by people who seek to enjoy her attributes like rati (the erotic), bhuti (riches and prosperity), tushti (pleasure), pushti (pro- gress) and so on.

Tree temples dedicated to Bhagavati are a common sight in Indian villages, and the temple in Kalamassery was one of these, near the edge of a pond. It consisted of a small brick room built around the tree's base. Inside the room, in a hole in the side of the trunk, was the altar to the goddess.

When Ahmad and I got there, we found a group of local people standing in two lines before either side of the door of the tree temple, praying in unison: "Amme-Narayana, Devi-Narayana, Lakshmi-Narayana, Bhadre-Narayana. . . " These are names of Bhagavati that describe her as the energy of Lord Narayana (Vishnu).

The shakta pujari arrived on a bicycle from his job at a chemical company. Parking his bike next to the pond, he jumped into the water, clothes and all. He climbed out dripping wet, entered the small temple room and closed the door behind him. From within, sounds of a ringing bell and the chanting of mantras could be heard.

The crowd got wilder, singing and clapping to the rhythm of a hand drum. The men were all black-skinned, many with bushy- heads and beards, the younger ones wearing colorfully printed shirts open at the neck. Exchanging fierce looks of some shared inner awakening, their eyes and teeth flashed a fearsome white as their limbs jerked about in an increasingly aggressive display of energy. The women flocked behind the men, swaying in unison, eyes closed, brows furrowed, some with hands clasped or uplifted.

Suddenly the door opened to loud cries from the assembly. The shakta priest did arati, a ceremony in which incense and a brass- handled ceremonial lamp are waved before the murti.

After setting the lamp down he came out of the room and started hopping around on stiff legs with his feet held together, somewhat like a bird. I heard someone shout, "Now he is in trance!" To a non-Indian, all this might seem bizarre, even devilish. But to my friend and I, it was so rustic as to be incredibly funny.

The mad priest hopped through the crowd handing out strands of colored thread to be worn against disease. When he came before me he announced dramatically, "I will show you the spiritual world. Don't doubt what you see. " He bounced over to a row of stones laid out on the ground, and while standing over them, his body bent ninety degrees at the hips and his head swiveled left, right, up and down. He then announced, "I am going to build a great temple on this spot. These stones will transform themsel- ves into worshipable murtis!" He suddenly straightened and demanded money from me for wada-malas (garlands of wadas, or South Indian dumplings) to be offered to these stones when they changed their shapes.

Vainly struggling contain my mirth, I snickered, "I'm sorry, but I won't give you anything. "

He looked me black up and down, trembling with exaggerated scorn. The crowd, now gathered around us, had become ominously quiet. His voice raised to a woman's shriek, the shakta challenged, "Oh, you don't believe me?"

I said no and stood my ground. He asked someone to bring a coconut. Seizing it in both hands, he broke it over his own head.

"This doesn't mean anything to us except that you've got a very hard head," I deadpanned, shrugging. Ahmad laughed out loud. His laughter was shared by the crowd, and that broke the tension, but it did not deter the priest.

"You will yet acknowledge the potency! Wait here. " He went back into the temple room and finished his worship. In the meantime the crowd drifted away, sensing that the show was over. Ahmad also left, his interest spent. I loitered, waiting for the man to finish, curious about his crazed determination to prove something to me. When he came out he brought me into his modest house just a few steps away.

Scattered around the place were all sorts of weird paraphernalia --strange weapons, masks, staring painted eyes, artificial teeth. In one corner was a massive two-foot tall brass floor lamp with five wicks burning in its plate-shaped oil reservoir. Directly over it, about four feet above, another oil lamp hung suspended by a chain from the ceiling. A ceremonial sword lay on a small wooden table before the two lamps.

Picking up the sword, the shakta eyed me through fierce slits. "You still don't believe me?"

More curious than apprehensive about what he would do next, I said, "No, I don't. "

He held the sword upright in the space between the two lamps. After a moment, he let go of it. It remained in mid-air.

"Let me see how you did that," I said, moving in closer. Instead of trying to stop me as I expected he would, he stood by and grinned vengefully. I gripped the sword and tugged with all my might. It didn't budge an inch. I waved a hand above and below the sword. No wires.

He cackled at my growing confusion. "You're having trouble uncovering the method of my magic?"

"Well," I replied as calmly as I could, "swords don't just stand in mid-air. So what's the trick?"

"This is the potency of tantra. It's not a trick. " I didn't say anything, not knowing what to say. Turning to leave the room, he said, "I'll be back in a moment--you're free to study this mystery however you like. "

I checked the lamps and examined the sword from all angles. There were no signs of fakery at all.

He returned. His voice ringing in defiance of all the faithlessness I represented, he declared, "I will put on a festival two weeks time, and if people don't care enough to help, I will have to use tantric power to arrange everything,"

"Let me help you," I heard myself say as I marveled at the sword glinting in the flickering lamplight. "I'll organize this entire festival for you. " Whatever the explanation was, I found this man's sword-magic the most unearthly thing I'd ever seen in my life.

Now that I'd finally accepted his power, the shakta's bluster evaporated. Now truly sorry for my former indiscretions, I made friends with him. He smiled warmly, looking me full in the face. "Let us not only be friends, let us be fellow tantrics. You're a smart young man. You'll learn quickly if you just behave yourself. "

The next day I returned so he could introduce me to his con- gregation. They held me in great regard, considering me an educated and religious young brahmin come from far-off Tamil Nadu to assist their own local priest. I broke the barrier of caste by mixing with them, visiting their homes, helping them in whatever way I could. Thus I won their support as well as their respect.

A week before the festival I called the young people of the village together and engaged them in decorating the town, cleaning the streets, hiring elephants, buying fireworks, and sending inviations to the local political leaders. The organiza- tional talents I'd learned in the DK came in quite handy.

I printed flyers featuring a photo of the Bhagavati murti. These I had distributed from house to house as part of a fund-raising drive; we collected more money than the shakta pujari had ever seen in his life. The festival lasted four days. Each day, I led a procession around town with two elephants at the front. In a small community like Kalamassery, this was an event that would be talked about for years. After the festival ended, I got the Hindus to donate regularly to the pujari so that he'd not be in need.

Later the Muslims of the village asked me to organize a festival for them at their mosque; this I did likewise with great success. I suppose I could have become a leading political figure among the locals.

Around this time one Mr. Murlidharan Karta came from Calcutta and joined our TVS branch. We became friendly. His hereditary house was in Ernakulam, and once he drove me there to meet his family. Later that evening he took me to Chottanikara Bhagavati Pitha, an important place of Devi worship in the countryside. We arrived for the midnight puja.

The shrine was representative of the cleanly evocative style of Kerala temple architecture, being a simple, compact structure beneath a low, pagoda-style tiled roof. The small courtyard within was illuminated by rows of brass oil lamps hung by chains from the ceiling. The walls were decorated by intricately carved motifs of mystical significance.

I went down a narrow dark stone stairway into a cave beneath the shrine, where I saw rites being performed to a stone that reputedly grows in size each year. In the dancing orange glow of fiery oil lamps, I saw ceremonial white chalk mandalas drawn on the cave floor and markings of red sindhur on the walls. The ceiling was bedecked with banana bark and leaf trimmings, and there were strange figurines made of white flour positioned here and there. The effect on the mind of this ancient ethnic cultism was palpable. The atmosphere was heavy with the preternatural.

A huge tree grew from out of the cave floor up through the ceiling and into the courtyard of the shrine, where it spread its branches above. I watched as a group of haunted lunatics were brought into the cave, each to have a tuft of hair wrapped tightly around a nail that was then driven into the tree. In their madness they tore their heads away, leaving the hair--and the ghost--on the nail. Their disturbed symptoms immediately vanished.

The experience did much to change my attitude to life. I came away convinced that I should delve as deeply as possible into the secrets of tantra. I went back to the Kalamassery pujari and learned all I could about Devi-worship from him.

The word tantra means 'thread' or 'woven pattern' in Sanskrit; it refers to the underlying order of the universe. This knowledge may be colored by one or a mixture of three types of desire: tamas (base desire), rajas (desire for material success), and sattva (desire for spiritual enlightenment and peace). Usually the term 'tantric' only applies to someone who practices tamasic tantrism.

A soul conditioned by the tamasic quality is obsessed by lust to the point of madness and illusion. He is compulsively drawn to dark, degraded activities that are ruinous to his spiritual progress. The tantric scriptures, spoken by Shiva to Devi, prescribe a code of religion that is attractive to such unfortunate people addicted to sex, intoxication and meat-eating. They are advised to ceremonially engage in these sinful acts as a way of worshiping Shiva and Devi. The goal is to overcome these obsessions and rise to a higher standard of life. As inducements, Shiva and Devi offer material benedictions to faithful followers of tantra.

There are two paths (margas) in tantra. The shaktas, like my new friend the Kalamassery pujari, follow the dakshinamarga (right- hand path). Shaktas seek communion with Devi through temple worship and trance; from her they get powers of prophecy and healing. The right-hand path of tantra is considered 'clean' because the rituals are confined to symbolism that only suggests the offering of meat, fish, wine and sexual congress. It is rajasic worship.

But the vamamarga (left-hand) tantrics practice a most unclean ritualism. Like the voodoo sorcerors of Haiti (who, interestingly, are known as the bokor, 'the priests who serve with the left hand'), the left-hand tantrics of India seek to attain black magical powers by methods strange and terrible. This is tamasic.

Strange displays of power were the food of my teenage enthusiasm for the occult, so the pujari recommended I take up studies under a master of the left-hand path. He explained that in vamamarga there are two specialties. One is necromancy: the summoning of evil spirits, ghosts, goblins and the like for particular tasks. Ghastly rituals are performed to bring these entities--known by such names as Yaksha, Yakshi, Dakini, Shakini, Mohini, Chatan and Udumban--under control. Their home is the underworld, but at the bidding of an expert tantric they rise to the earthly plane and perform wonders.

The other specialty is a kind of short-cut siddha-yoga, a method of gaining magical powers by meditation upon fearsome expansions of Shiva or Devi. The yogi offers some type of vow, sacrifice or ritual to these threatening, lascivious forms. After satisfying them, he receives siddhis (yogic perfections) in return.

A vamamarga master may perfect one or both of these means to power, and he may perform right-hand rituals as well. There are so many intertwining branches within the general divisions of tantra that it is not always possible to make clear distinctions between them.

On the advice of the pujari, I sought out a vamamarga master at a small village close to Chottanikara Pitha. The center of town had just one real building, a temple, surrounded by huts and shanties. When I arrived, there was a competition going on in the marketplace between two tantrics who'd selected an onlooker from the crowd to be their instrument. They had him standing stiff as a board, in trance. One tantric pointed a stick at him and said, "Lie down. " He fell flat. The other pointed and said, "Get up. " He rose up straight without bending a limb.

One of the tantrics placed a figurine made from rice flour and eggs on the ground. It was about six inches long, with two bones stuck in the bottom like legs and a knot of hair stuck on the top. The tantric recited a charm and the doll stood up and started moving towards him, rocking back and forth on the bone- legs.

The crowd grew restless. People edged away from the tantrics, muttering fearfully among themselves. I soon found out why. In their zeal to outdo one another, the tantrics called more people out of the crowd, causing them to perform increasingly dangerous acts. Finally, to the relief of everyone, they ended their duel with a challenge to meet each other again on another date.

The crowd broke up. I walked around the little bazaar where I saw one of the tantrics going from stall to stall demanding goods and receiving them for free. Everyone was deathly afraid of him.

After he left I asked some of the stallkeepers why they allowed this to go on. One man answered, "If I don't give, he'll change all these vegetables into creatures. " Someone else said, "He can make snakes fall from the sky. " A third told me, "He'll change the color of my wife's skin. " Another said, "Anything may happen. This man is heartless. He can do what he likes, and no policeman will dare touch him. He has Chatan working for him. "

The word chatan is derived from the Sanskrit chetana (conscious- ness). Whether or not there is a relationship between this and the Arabic Shaitan or Hebrew Satan is a question for etymologists.

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