First Wave: Siddhanta
“The Origin of the Jiva According to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura”
In ISKCON, the question of the origin of the jiva has come up again and again from the very beginning. The earliest record we could find, was in the question-and-answer period in a Caitanya-caritamrta class in San Francisco in 1967, were Srila Prabhupada said,
“They were never conditioned. They were never conditioned, never conditioned. They are called nitya-mukta, eternally liberated.”
He clearly says that the nitya-muktas, eternally liberated souls, never misuse their free will to leave Krishna, but later on in the same conversation:
“How could we make a poor choice if we were part and parcel of Krishna? How could we have chosen the material world?”
“Oh, because you have got independence. Don’t you see so many students come? They go away again. Yesterday Kirtanananda went to call Ranchora. He said, ‘Oh, I have forgotten this!’ So, you can forget. . ..”
“But Krishna will always be there if we want to go back?”
“Eh? Krishna is always prepared to accept you. He’s always prepared. But because He has given us independence, we misuse it and we fall under the clutches of maya. That is our misfortune. We create this misfortune, and we can create our good fortune. ‘Man is the architect of his own fortune.’ So, if you become Krishna conscious, it is to your good fortune. If you become maya conscious, it is to your bad fortune. You are the creator.”
“When the souls that were never conditioned at all… do they also have the independence?”
“Yes, but they have not misused. They know that ‘I am meant for Krishna’s service,’ and they are happy in Krishna’s service.”
“Could they ever misuse it?”
“Yes, they can misuse it also. That power is there. Yes?”
“Well, I believe you once said that once a conditioned soul becomes perfected and gets out of the material world and he goes to Krishnaloka, there’s no possibility of falling back.”
“No! There is possibility, but he does not come.”
On the one hand, Prabhupada asserts the infallibility of the liberated souls, and on the other, he stresses the misuse of free will as the reason we are here. Yet he says that the liberated souls never misuse their free will. The clear conclusion is that we were never liberated souls. And if so, where did we come from? But Srila Prabhupada never comes out and states clearly what is the case. But it is interesting that after stressing that liberated souls never become conditioned, he only talks about the process of going back. His examples all have to do with going from here to there, and not coming from there to here. Of course, in other places he said openly that we came from Krishna lila.
These contradictory instructions on the bondage of the jiva question have caused devotees to become divided. Some favor the fall position; others argue for the no-fall position. We have found that the debate cannot be settled strictly on the basis of Srila Prabhupada’s books, letters, lectures, and conversations. We end up in a deadlock of argument and counter-argument, quoting and counter-quoting. A better solution is to go back up the chain of parampara and determine which of Prabhupada’s two statements is confirmed as the siddhanta and which is to be taken as secondary. Relying on guru, sastra and sadhu to confirm each other is the way to resolve controversial issues.
Before the time of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, none of our acaryas wrote at length explaining the jiva’s origin prior to conditioned life. The question of whether the jiva fell from Vaikuntha or any other place simply did not come up. In Bhagavad-gita (13.20) and in other places the sastras state that both the material nature and the living entity are anadi, beginningless, and the acaryas repeated that. They understood that the relationship between the jiva and material nature is also anadi. Everyone understood that there can be no prior condition to a beginningless event and so the need for elaboration was nonexistent.
Our acaryas simply stated that the conditioned existence of the jiva is anadi, without any beginning. Then they go on to explain devotional service as the answer to the miseries of conditional existence. In Western culture, philosophy, logic, and in the English language we have no equivalent word for the concept of anadi; therefore, the term is not properly understood and thus, questions about the jiva’s origin prior to conditioned life arise. (Later on, we have three chapters explaining the philosophical import of the word anadi, both from the philosophical and the logical point of view).
Our predecessor acaryas did not have this problem. While it is a fact that they did not go beyond anadi to explain the origin of the jiva, they did clearly state that no one—whether a nitya-siddha or sadhana-siddha—falls from Vaikuntha.
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