I was asked the question that if we as spiritual beings (residing within the body) are truly eternal, meaning without a beginning nor an end, does that make us God-like? Are we then not different from God? And does this mean that we are somehow Gods?
The Vedic/Yogic teachings are that the individual soul (ātma/self) is a part and parcel of God and therefore “Inconceivably, simultaneously one yet distinct” from God –acintya-bhedābheda-tattva in Sanskrit.
We examined some authoritative Vedic verses about this:
This is the truth: As sparks of similar form spring forth by the thousands from a strongly blazing fire, so from the Absolute Truth are produced the various living beings, O gentle one, and there also do they go. – Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:1
As tiny sparks fly from a fire, so all the individual souls have come from the Supreme. – Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 2.2.20
auṁ pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaṁ
pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya
The Supreme Soul is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance. – Śrī Īśopaniṣad Invocation
nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām
eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān
nityaḥ – an eternal; nityānāṁ – a vast number of eternal beings; cetanaḥ – cognizant or conscious; cetanānām – a vast number of cognizant or conscious beings; ekaḥ – one alone; bahūnāṁ – of many; yaḥ – one who; vidadhāti – He awards; kāmān – desires;
He is the eternal among all eternal entities, and the chief conscious being among all conscious beings. Among the many living entities, He is the chief, who fulfills their desires. Śvetāsvatara Upaniṣad 6.13 & Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.2.13
Īśvara is a special Puruṣa, unlike other puruṣas, being untouched by afflictions, actions (material activity) and the fruit of actions, and latent impressions or material desires. In Him the seed of omniscience is unsurpassed (infinite). He is also the Teacher of all ancient teachers (sages), being not limited by time. The transcendental sound personifying Him is AUṀ. – Yoga Sūtra 1.24-27
Īśvara [Supreme Soul / Paramātmā] is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” – Bhagavad-gīta 18.61.
sa nityo nitya-sambandhaḥ
prakṛtiś ca paraiva sā
The same jīva is eternal and is for eternity and without a beginning joined to the Supreme Lord by the tie of an eternal kinship. He is transcendental spiritual potency. – Śrī Brahma-saṁhitā 5.21
By chance, two birds have made a nest together in the same tree. The two birds are friends and are of a similar nature. One of them, however, is eating the fruits of the tree, whereas the other, who does not eat the fruits, is in a superior position due to His potency.
The bird who does not eat the fruits of the tree is the Supreme Soul, who by His omniscience perfectly understands His own position and that of the conditioned living entity, represented by the eating bird. That living entity, on the other hand, does not understand himself or the Lord. He is covered by ignorance and is thus called eternally conditioned, whereas the Personality of Godhead, being full of perfect knowledge, is eternally liberated. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.11.6-7
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So I received a question a little while back that I think is actually quite interesting. I—unfortunately having been on this journey for such a long time I sometimes may take some things for granted. So when in one discussion I had made the point that the nature of the soul itself, the atma, is that it is eternal, eternal going both ways, meaning that it will never come to an end on one end of that spectrum, on the other end it means that it had no beginning, that we have existed since time immemorial, eternally.
And that sort of caused some questions to arise in someone’s mind, who then asked the question,
“I’m having a hard time understanding, when it says in the Vedic or yogic teachings that we as spiritual beings are eternal, meaning that there is no beginning to us, that we weren’t created but have always existed. Please correct me if I’m wrong. If I’m right I would like to understand that, because I thought that this would be an attribute that only God has, and that God has created us. If we are eternal, then we are non-different from God? Does this mean that we are somehow gods?”
So that’s—I think one of the difficulties that, particularly people from a Christian background have, or people that have been influenced even to some degree by Christianity—I mean different religions might put forward different understandings of this particular topic, but many Christian denominations teach that the soul is created by God, and from that point onwards is eternal.
So the Vedas present a different understanding, and what I feel to be an actually very wonderful understanding. In the Vedic, or yogic, philosophy there is the teaching that the soul, or the atma, as it’s called, meaning the self, that the atma is first and foremost a person, or the person. Your personhood doesn’t arise from the body, it rises from your spiritual being. And of course, that’s borne out, it becomes very evident at the time of death, when the person leaves the body; then the body instantly loses its attractiveness.
They also teach that the soul, all souls, have existed eternally along with God. But to clarify things, the atma, or the soul, is one of God’s unlimited energies. He has unlimited energies, and the living being, the jiva, is one of these. The Sanskrit word for energy is shakti, and so the actual technical term for the living beings as part of that energy, or as an energy, it’s called the tatastha, the tatastha shakti. And that name sort of speaks to one of the characteristics, that the spiritual being, known as the jiva, can either become overwhelmed by the influence of the material energy and be totally covered, or can alternatively exist in a purely transcendental state of consciousness. So both of these possibilities are there.
So in explaining how—the Vedas use an example of fire and the sparks that arise, or spring from, or manifest from a large blazing fire. So in the Mundaka Upanisad there is a famous verse where it states:
“This is the truth: As the sparks of similar form spring forth by the thousands from a strongly blazing fire, so from the Absolute Truth are produced the various living beings, O gentle one, and there also do they go.”
So the presentation of some of these ideas, philosophical ideas, particularly in the Upanisads, are very brief and very concise but at the same time very deep. So just as “…sparks of similar form spring forth by the thousands from a strongly blazing fire, so from the Absolute Truth are produced the various living beings, O gentle one, and there also do they go,” meaning eventually they return to their source.
And then in the Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upanisad they use a very similar, in fact practically the same example:
“As tiny sparks fly from a fire, so all the individual souls have come from the Supreme.”
So this is the example that’s given. And the understanding, or appreciation, was that each of these sparks of God are considered to be an expansion of God’s energy, and each one of them is complete and whole in and of itself. Speaking to this point in another one of the Upanisads the Sri Iso Upanisad there is—the invocation is very famous, and it goes
auṁ pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaṁ
pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya
So this word purna, it means that which is complete and whole. And the translation for this verse that was given by my spiritual master is:
“The Supreme Soul is perfect and complete, and because He is… all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.”
So this now becomes a little bit of a challenging idea, in the sense that it is beyond the experience of anyone within this domain, the material world. And what I mean by this is, in this world, if I was to take something, for instance say a sheet of paper, and I was to tear it or cut it into many pieces, so that all of these different pieces have come from this original piece of paper, the situation is that each of those pieces is not an independent piece of paper. It’s part of something else. And that original piece of paper having divided itself is considered only fully complete when all those parts are brought back together. So that’s the material experience.
But in this verse that we had just read they propose this principle, that the Supreme Soul, being full of spiritual potencies, can generate unlimited expansions. And the example was given in that verse of even the material creation, and while the material creation has been manifest, it, in and of itself, is also a complete whole. It’s not partial, it is complete.
And so in a similar manner, when we take the sparks of God, the spiritual beings, even though they are a manifestation of God’s energy, we are complete as individuals. That is our eternal spiritual nature, to be complete. And just as you take, for example, the spark from the fire, or a drop of water from the ocean, that drop of water has the same qualities as the ocean it has come from, but there is a vast quantitative difference between a tiny drop of ocean water and the ocean itself.
Explaining this, or explaining further, to give a complete understanding, there is an ancient spiritual aphorism in Sanskrit (and this might be a little difficult, but…) It’s called acintya-bhedābheda-tattva. So I’ll just explain what that means. The word acintya means it is inconceivable. It is not within the power of the mind to fully conceive or comprehend. Then we have this bhedābheda: it’s—there are two words here. One is bheda, which means that which is distinct, or something which is a division or a portion, where there is some difference between things. And then the word that follows it: abheda; so when you have this “a” sound in front it negates. So abheda means it is one with, or it is non-different, or it is identical. So therefore the term bhedābheda, it means that it is simultaneously one and yet different. And then the word tattva: tattva, it means essential truth, or a true principle, can also mean a real state of something. So when we hear this aphorism acintya-bhedābheda-tattva it means, “Inconceivably, simultaneously one yet distinct.” And this aphorism that was often spoken or put forward by Caitanya Mahaprabhu, is being used to explain a lot of wonderful transcendental principles.
So we have this oneness and yet distinction.
So what we’re doing here is we’re looking at—remembering what the original question was: “If I am eternal and God is also eternal, if He did not create me but I have existed along with Him, does that make me somehow something like a god also?” So in what we’re discussing is, yes, while there is some similarity, at the same time there is some distinction. And we’ll get to what the distinctions are.
To expound on this a little bit—I hope you don’t mind when we kind of dissect things like this. One of the wonderful things about the Vedic learning was that it was critically important that if you were going to discover or present truth, you must go to an authoritative source. So you will see I frequently use, or in more recent months, I’ve been frequently using different quotes from different Vedic literature. And the reason I’m doing it is because the things that we’re discussing, I want to make sure that nobody thinks that somebody’s just making something up or just winging it as they go, that what has been presented is eternal and revealed spiritual truth that’s found in what’s called sastra. This is the term used for the authoritative Vedic literature.
So, speaking to this principle of oneness and yet difference there is a verse that you might have heard me use on a number of occasions before. The first two lines, or the two lines, the part of the verse that I’m going to speak about is found in two of the Upanisads. One is the Katha Upanisad, and the other one is the Svetasvatara Upanisad, where these two lines are used. This is the beginning part of the verse. The second part differs in both those texts because it’s speaking of two different things, but this first part is consistent and the same. In Sanskrit the first line is common
nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām
eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān
and what this means is, in the translation,
“He is the eternal among all eternal entities, and the chief conscious being among all conscious beings. Among the many living entities, He is the chief, who fulfills their desires.”
So what it’s speaking about is that amongst the vast ocean of living beings there is one that is incredibly unique, and is, on many levels and in many ways, uniquely different, yet there are common characteristics also amongst all these living beings. So we hear that there is this one chief being who is fulfilling the desires of all the other living beings.
If we go to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, in the first pada, or first chapter, he has four verses that also speak about this oneness yet distinction. And he was—had been presenting an understanding of the highest form of transcendental trance, or samadhi, where one is experiencing—or immersed—in a completely divine state of transcendental realization, and how one could come to that condition by the special mercy of this entity whom he named as Isvara. Isvara means the Supreme Controller.
And so Patanjali says that Isvara is a special Purusa. So before we continue reading I’ll just explain this term, this Sanskrit term purusa, which is found throughout the Vedas. It’s used in different ways and different contexts, and Patanjali in this Yoga Sutra also uses it in two different, two distinct contexts. One is that the living being, the soul itself, is sometimes referred to as being the purusa. This word purusa literally means the person, not the gross material body that covers the soul, but the soul itself, as being the person. This is one of the characteristics of the soul is that it is a person.
And so he says that Isvara is a special Purusa. And if you look at the Sanskrit here, it’s—I’ve highlighted the Sanskrit term, which is “purusa visesa isvara.” This word visesa, it means distinct and completely different from the others. So the translation,
“Isvara is a special Purusa, unlike other purusas, being untouched by afflictions, actions (meaning material activities) and the fruit of actions (or karmic fruit), and of latent impressions or material desires. In Him the seed of omniscience is unsurpassed [meaning that it is infinite] He is also the teacher of all ancient teachers [these are the rishis or sages] being not limited by time. The transcendental sound personifying Him is AUM.”
So what we are hearing here—and just going back again, it’s explained that the living beings are emanating from, not created by, but emanating from, the original fire, who is the Supreme Soul; that these sparks have many of the characteristics of God but to a limited degree, a much minuter, a smaller degree so therefore they are considered inconceivably, simultaneously, one with God yet different from Him.
And that’s borne out here with these other couple of verses that I’ve read, where you have one conscious being, one eternal conscious being amongst all the eternal and conscious beings, who is unique and different, who is the maintainer of all of the vast ocean of conscious beings. And you hear from Patanjali how the living being, while there is similarity amongst all of them, there is one living being that is unique and omnipotent. He has full and unlimited potency.
So in Sanskrit what they would do is to clearly make those distinctions. They would use, for instance, when we speak of purusa, or the person, when they reference the Supreme Person they would often use the term param purusa. So purusa, meaning like a person, a spiritual being, and when you put param in front of it, it means the Supreme Purusa, the Supreme Person. And similarly they would use the term to describe the soul as atma, or the self, but this term atma sometimes, in some cases, is used to reference the mind even, or the body, but in the majority of cases it’s used to clearly denote the spiritual being. Sometimes the Supreme Person is also referenced by this term atma, but in the majority of cases He is referenced as the Paramatma, the supreme atma.
And similarly we hear the term Brahman, which many people and many teachers in India only use the term to reference the impersonal ocean of light, this spiritual energy from which everything else emanates. But in the Vedas the term Brahman is used in different ways, and it can also refer to the nature of the living being, the soul. The Supreme Soul is then referenced as Param Brahman to—just to make these distinctions.
So when somebody asks, “Okay, if we’re all sparks of God—” and they haven’t heard the other things I was speaking about, people may draw the erroneous conclusion that somehow we are incarnations of God. And this idea is also commonly promoted in yogic circles in the world today, in the Western world, and even in India; but it is a complete misunderstanding to think that we are somehow equal to God as being like an incarnation of God. The living beings are like mini gods, if we can put it that way, that are emanating from the Supreme Soul, but they are very limited, and they have a unique nature.
So when they speak about these personal manifestations, these energies manifesting from the original Godhead, as expansions or expanded personal energies (and you don’t have to remember this but I’m just letting you know) they have two different words to describe the two principal categories of personal manifestation coming from God. The first one is called svamsa, and then the second one is vibhinnamsa.
So generally, the direct incarnations of God that may appear within the material world or are responsible ultimately for creation etc, they are also referenced as avatars. This category of personal expansions of God are called svamsa. (So I’m hoping that the words are going to show up on the screen for you.) This word svamsa is made of two parts, these two words joined together. One is the word amsa. Amsa, it can mean a portion, it can mean a part, a part of something, but the word that comes before it sva. It means one’s own. So one’s own manifestation. So the avatars or the incarnations of God in this category called svamsa, They are—They have His same potency and characteristics in the fullest degree.
This second category of personal (meaning that they have individual personality), personal expansion of God is the energy known as, as I mentioned before tatastha shakti, or the jiva atma. These are the living beings, and they are given the term to describe them as vibhinnamsa. This word vibhinnamsa is made up of two parts also. We’ve already discussed amsa, how it can mean a portion or a part, but it also can mean a relative, or a descendant, rather, more accurately. So when we understand the deeper meaning in Sanskrit then we have this appreciation of how this portion, this part, is actually directly related to the origin. But we have this other word vibhina. Vibhina, it literally means to be separated. Or, to be divided is another way this word can be used, or disunited. It can also mean alienated or estranged. So when we have this word vibhinamsa we are speaking about a portion of God who has become disunited and separated from God.
So the English word that’s usually used, the translation for this word would be as a—in the English terminology, a part and parcel. Part and parcel is quite a far-out word. The dictionary definition is that it is “an integral or essential component of something,” a part and parcel, or if you say something is a part and parcel of something else you are emphasizing that it is involved or included in it.
So what—I just want to make a distinction here, and I’m sorry if this is a little bit too philosophical: in Vedic teaching they make a distinction between what in English would be called an integral expansion, being different from an essential expansion. Essential means that it has a similar nature even though it has been completely separated, whereas the word integral means it is necessary to make up the whole. But as I mentioned before in that other verse, the “aum purnam” verse, that the Supreme Person is complete and whole, and from Him can come limitless emanations (that’s the jiva) who are also complete and whole, and even though limitless expansions of the jiva have emanated from the Supreme Soul, the Supreme Soul still remains complete and whole.
So the whole philosophy of yoga, the term yoga speaks to the union or the reuniting and then the perfect union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. This union is the most natural thing for every—it’s the most natural state for every single soul to be in, to be connected with the Supreme Soul. This is what we are looking for. This is what we are feeling is lacking in our life. This is what the process of yoga seeks to achieve, the reuniting of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, this Supreme Soul whom we had heard how Patanjali had referred to Him as Isvara. And so in the Bhagavad-gita the same terminology is used, that:
“Isvara, or the Supreme Soul, or Paramatma, the Supreme Atma is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine of the material energy.”
So you’ve got the living being who is like seated on a machine residing within the body made of the material energy, and within the heart of the heart of the living being, the innermost recess, sits this other personality Isvara, and there is an eternal bond between these two entities.
In another book called the Brahma Samhita, in the fifth chapter, the first verse, it states:
“The same jiva [because they had been speaking about the jiva and the nature of the jiva, the individual soul] the same jiva is eternal and is for eternity and without a beginning joined to the Supreme Lord by the tie of an eternal kinship. He is transcendental spiritual potency.”
“So he referencing the jiva, the soul, is a transcendental spiritual potency, but for all eternity one is bound by an eternal bond of kinship to the Supreme Soul, the fire from which the spark has come.
In the Bhagavat Purana there are two verses that explain what is our situation in this world, what is our condition, and what should be our goal. So it uses the example that I’ve spoken of before, of two birds sitting in the same tree, and it goes:
“By chance, two birds have made a nest together in the same tree. The two birds are friends and are of a similar nature. One of them, however, is eating the fruits of the tree, whereas the other, who does not eat the fruits, is in a superior position due to His potency.”
So just—it’s made it very clear that while there are two birds in this tree one is uniquely different than the other, which is what we have spoken about earlier, this distinction, that while there may be some similarities in the example given here that they are both birds, one of them does not engage in the same activity as the other. One bird is busily trying to eat the fruits of the tree. The other one is simply watching, and it’s described that he doesn’t—both doesn’t eat the fruit, and He is in a superior position due to His potency, His unique spiritual potency. And then the following—the verse that follows on from that:
“The bird who does not eat the fruits of the tree is the Supreme Soul, who by His omniscience perfectly understands His own position and that of the conditioned living entity, represented by the eating bird. That living entity, on the other hand, does not understand himself or the Lord. He is covered by ignorance and is thus called eternally conditioned, whereas the personality of Godhead, being full of perfect knowledge, is eternally liberated.”
So this reference to the living beings who find themselves within the material world and covered by a material body and trapped in material consciousness; that while there are two birds in the same tree within our own body, there are two beings, myself and my eternal friend—and here the example is given that the living entity does not understand himself, his true self, nor does he understand the Lord, whereas the other bird is fully cognizant of all spiritual truth. So there is a vast difference between them.
The process of yoga is for the individual soul to reunite with the Supreme Soul, rekindle this lost relationship, this kinship, like an experience of ecstatic and limitless love.
So, just referencing the question again, or the last part of the question that was initially asked: in speaking about the fact that the living being the soul is eternal, “I thought this would be an attribute only God has,” and of course, the answer is, no, the living being also, “and that God has created us.” So if you use the term created it means there was a time when you did not exist and you came into being. So the Vedic understanding is, while we are emanating from God, we are eternal as He is.
And they use the example of like the sun: the sunshine, all the particles of light, the photons and the rays that are emanating from the sun, it is not that there was a time when you had a sun and no sunshine coming from it, that for as long as there has been a sun there has been sunshine emanating from it. And they use that example and say, in a similar manner the Supreme Soul has unlimited potencies and unlimited manifestations coming from Him that exist along with Him, but there is distinct differences between Him and His energies in the form of the individual souls. There is this simultaneous and inconceivable oneness and yet difference.
And then the last part of the question was, “If we are eternal then we are not different from God? Does this mean that we are somehow Gods?” And of course, it has now hopefully been clearly explained what that distinction is, what that difference is.
I don’t know if you find this particularly interesting. I think anybody on the spiritual path, it’s important to come to know these things. We refer to this evening, these conversations, as being about yoga wisdom. If we understand the principle of what I’ve just discussed, then you will see when you look at the world and I look at myself, what’s wrong with things.
In this world we have limitless living beings all trying to be like gods. We see ourself as being the centre of everything. We see, we feel that I see everything in relation to myself. I am like endeavoring to be the central enjoying agent of things. And this is considered in the Vedas to be a state of rebellion against the Supreme Soul, because it is as if we are desiring to imitate, to usurp His position.
And it’s when we surrender our hearts, we give up this quest to be the center of everything, and we reconnect with the actual Lord of our heart in a submissive mood of surrender and love that the living being experiences the highest transcendental blissfulness, and they experience full transcendental love, this condition of spiritual love.
So with that thank you so very much for joining us. And we will chant. You know this Mahamantra, it can be understood as a pleading, the yearning living being wanting and seeking to reunite with the Lord of my own heart, this eternal friend, my eternal and true soul mate. And in chanting this mantra I am requesting that I be blessed with the spiritual strength to again become a fully surrendered and loving servant of the Lord. This is one way that a person can understand this Mahamantra, or the Hare Krishna mantra.