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Jada-jiva-bheda, or on differentiation between matter and self



By JanJM, June 2000



"Indra, king of the devas, and Virochana, king of the demons, once

approached Brahma to learn knowledge of the atma or self. To test their

intelligence, Brahma taught them that the self is the image seen in a

mirror or a pan of water. The foolish Virochana happily returned to his

kingdom and was hailed as guru by the demons, who eagerly embraced this

worthless doctrine. Indra, unsatisfied, had second thoughts. He returned

to Brahma and received the true knowledge of the self as eternal atma."

(Chandogya Upanisad, chap. 8)



* Introduction


Those who came in touch with Vaisnava scriptures, especially the books of

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, know terms like jiva and atma very

well. Their definition is clear because the whole Vedic philosophy needs a

solid basis.


But when these Sanskrit terms are translated into Western (or other)

languages there is suddenly a problem. Usually used equivalents - "soul"

or "spirit" - are too vague to carry their precise meaning. I have become

aware of this problem during my editorial work with the translations of

Prabhupada's books. It has also been my experience that even many of those

who are interested in Eastern philosophies and religions do not understand

the difference between the jiva and her subtle (astral) or even gross

physical body. I am convinced this has a lot to do with language. Reader

of Prabhupada's books will sooner or later reach the proper understanding

but this time could be much shorter provided there is a clear definition

of terms in target languages.


This article shows that the root of this problem exists already in

Judeo-Christian philosophies, the basis of Western society. Although the

original religious paradigm slowly dissipates due to secularization, the

use of these terms continues even though their meaning is even less known

today than 200+ years ago.



* Importance of differentiation


Great acarya Madhva (12th century) in his Dvaita Vedanta philosophy, the

antipode of Advaita Vedanta of Shankara, defines five essential

differences among three irreducible entities: jiva (individual living

being), ishvara (supreme living being, Vishnu, God) and jada (insentient

substance, matter):


- jiva-ishvara-bheda, or difference between the jiva and Vishnu;

- jada-ishvara-bheda, or difference between the insentient and Vishnu;

- mitha-jiva-bheda, or difference between any two jivas;

- jada-jiva-bheda, or difference between insentient and jiva; and

- mitha-jada-bheda, or difference between any two insentients.


Here, "insentient" is used to refer to _all_ matter, including so-called

"living bodies", and is also used to refer to such other insentients as

space, energy, linguistic or mathematical entities and their symbols, etc.


The understanding of these five differences is seemingly trivial, but upon

careful consideration, one sees that to properly understand them, one

needs to know the significant properties of every kind of entity in the

whole universe! Thus, such understanding is not easily gained, and it is

said that all misery and unhappiness is due to one's lack of understanding

of one or more of these differences.


The grief one experiences due to loss of beauty, strength, vitality, the

passing of a loved one, etc., is due to the false identification of the

insentient and ever-changing body with the sentient, immutable jiva. One

who correctly perceives all five differences is said to have attained

knowledge and to be fit for liberation.



* West: unclear philosophy influencing language


Soul (American Heritage Dictionary):

1. The animating and vital principle in human beings, credited with the

faculties of thought, action, and emotion and often conceived as an

immaterial entity.

2. The spiritual nature of human beings, regarded as immortal, separable

from the body at death, and susceptible to happiness or misery in a future


3. The disembodied spirit of a dead human being; a shade.


Although these definitions may serve general purposes, they do not help to

differentiate between material (subtle body) and immaterial (jiva). The

problem of lacking precise definitions can be traced back to the

Judeo-Christian tradition.


Klaus Klostermaier devotes a whole article to this topic (see Literature)

but already in the beginning he mentions a capitulation of Christian

philosophy while facing the problem of soul's identity:


"There is not a single statement regarding the nature and destiny of the

soul that would be accepted by all Christian denominations. The doctrinal

development in the various Christian denominations, and the disinterest

shown by many contemporary Christians in any formulations of 'metaphysical

doctrines' has reached a point where it is pretty meaningless to speak of

a 'Christian position' on questions like the soul and its destiny."


Then he gives an overview of main terms:


"Soul (Latin: anima) is the translation of the Biblical nephesh and

psyche, and etymologically both contain the idea of breath, blowing,

drawing breath. Sometimes psyche is used simply as a synonym for life, or

the principle of life, (Matt. 2:20; 10:28; 10:39; John 10:11) or for

'living being' - either animal or man; (1 Cor. 15:45; Rom. 13:1) in other

places it means the principle which is opposed to the body, (1 Pet. 2:11)

which is immortal and which is man's most valuable 'part': 'What does it

profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your soul? What can you

give in exchange for your soul?' (Matt. 16:26) And: 'There is no need to

fear those who kill the body but have no means of killing the soul; fear

him more, who has the power to ruin body and soul in hell. (Matt. 10:28)


[Connection to breath as well as mention of ruining soul in hell (only

matter can be destroyed, or rather transformed) suggest that this refers

to prana.]


"Spirit (Hebrew: ruah; Greek: pneuma; Latin: spiritus) is used often in

the Bible in different senses. Sometimes it is a synonym for life, soul or

living being, people. (Heb. 12:23) Occasionally it stands for the seat of

feelings, thoughts, intentions. Sometimes pneumata (spirits) describes the

deceased ones. (Rom. 8:4-13) With Paul we find very often spirit as the

opposite to 'flesh' (sarx). Spirit stands for union with God, and thus

also the body of the redeemed ones (as referred to here, the body of the

risen Christ) is 'spirit', whereas the whole existence of the sinner, who

is 'far from God', is 'flesh'. (1 Cor. 6:16) Spirit is the divine power

which justifies and sanctifies; flesh is the weakness in which sin is

dwelling and thriving. This 'spirit' is the 'spirit of Christ' - the

faithful become 'One spirit with Christ'.


[Ruah, or "breath of life"; pneuma; prana, or "life-force"; ki (Japanese);

cchi (Chinese) or mana (Polynesian) are all synonyms for the vital energy

that keeps the body alive and maintains good health. Deceased persons have

an airy, or pranic, body.]


"Spirit (Lat. spiritus, spirare, "to breathe"; Gk. pneuma; Fr. esprit;

Ger. Geist). As these names show, the principle of life was often

represented under the figure of a breath of air. The breath is the most

obvious symptom of life, its cessation the invariable mark of death;

invisible and impalpable, it stands for the unseen mysterious force behind

the vital processes. Accordingly we find the word "spirit" used in several

different but allied senses: (1) as signifying a living, intelligent,

incorporeal being, such as the soul; (2) as the fiery essence or breath

(the Stoic pneuma) which was supposed to be the universal vital force; (3)

as signifying some refined form of bodily substance, a fluid believed to

act as a medium between mind and the grosser matter of the body."

(Catholic Encyclopedia)


[Definition (1) describes jiva but (2) and (3) describe prana. Without the

help of Vedic scriptures it is difficult to differentiate between them.]


"There are some more expressions in the Bible which could be used in order

to show how 'soul' is to be understood: we find sometimes human essence

expressed as 'the heart' (Hebrew: leb; Greek: kardia). Also 'flesh' is

used as expressing human existence, not just in the negative sense. The

terminology of the Bible is far from uniform, and we do not find clear

definitions of the term. Life, soul and spirit stand for a reality which

is transcategorical. The Bible wants to make clear that the whole

existence of humans is from God, and depends on God, who is the 'living

God'." (Klostermaier)


[Heart is the seat of jiva and prana. During deep sleep (susupti) the

pranas withdraw into the heart cavity and rest with the jiva in the

Paramatma (dahara), aspect of God as the supreme witness. (Vedanta-sutra

3.2.7-8) It is mentioned also in Koran 6.60: "And He it is Who takes your

souls at night (in sleep), and He knows what you acquire in the day



Therefore even theologians like Thomas Aquinas mix jiva with mind and

intelligence (i.e. subtle body) and prana:


"We must conclude, therefore, that the human soul, which is called the

intellect or the mind, is something incorporeal and subsistent." (Summa

Theologica 1, 75, 2)


"We may therefore say that the soul understands, as the eye sees; but it

is more correct to say that man understands through the soul." (STh 1, 75,



"Now it is clear that the first thing by which the body lives is the soul.

And as life appears through various operations in different degrees of

living things, that whereby we primarily perform each of all these vital

actions is the soul. For the soul is the primary principle of our

nourishment, sensation, and local movement; and likewise of our

understanding. Therefore this principle by which we primarily understand,

whether it be called the intellect or the intellectual soul, is the form

of the body. This is the demonstration used by Aristotle (De Anima ii,

2)." (STh 1, 76, 1).


Aquinas also considers different koshas (layers of gross and subtle body)

as different souls:


"Whence we must conclude, that there is no other substantial form in man

besides the intellectual soul; and that the soul, as it virtually contains

the sensitive and nutritive souls, so does it virtually contain all

inferior forms, and itself alone does whatever the imperfect forms do in

other things. The same is to be said of the sensitive soul in brute

animals, and of the nutritive soul in plants, and universally of all more

perfect forms with regard to the imperfect." (STh 1, 76, 4)


Aquinas follows Aristotle (although he often disagrees with him) who is

considering mind to be immaterial:


"Mind is not composed of matter and form, for its ideas are not physical

but spiritual as their universality declares, they are abstract and not

tied down to matter or to the material conditions of time and place. The

mind is, therefore, a subsisting form, and is consequently immortal." (De

Anima 14)


Christian philosopher Justin Martyr (2nd century) in his dialogue with

Trypho the Jew, ch. 5, discusses the soul's nature. He promotes Platonist

approximate idea of jiva but is convinced by Trypho that soul is of

similar nature as world, i.e. material. Again, this refers to prana.


A side comment: in this as well as the previous chapter, Justin mentions

reincarnation of men into animals. Trypho disagrees but his

counterargument - that those punished in this way do not remember their

guilt and therefore such punishment has no meaning - is purely subjective.

The story of Maharaja Bharata from the Bhagavata Purana refutes it.


The result is that whatever transcends gross, tangible reality is labelled

as "transcendent(al)", "metaphysical", "spiritual" etc. This means a

problem for a Vaisnava translator:


"Complete knowledge includes knowledge of the phenomenal world, *the

spirit behind it*, and the source of both of them. (Bhagavad-gita 7.2,



"The difficulty in Dutch is the word 'spirit' which can be translated as

'ghost', 'mind', 'soul', 'character', 'mood', 'vitality' etc. Neither,

however, really seems to fit. Even the word 'soul' does not seem right

here for 'soul' indicates a person (at least in Dutch), so to later say

'..., and the source of both' may become impersonal."


The difficulty does not exist only in Dutch but in majority of languages.

They simply lack terms to describe higher reality outside of this material

world which is so elaborately dealt with in the Sanskrit language of the

Vedic scriptures. Here is most probably meant immaterial, internal energy



But even Bible translators have problems of this kind. Renowned Christian

linguist Eugene A. Nida says:


"In some languages, "Holy Spirit" means little more than a "white ghost,"

for "holy" has been equated with cleanness or whiteness, and "Spirit" is

more readily understood in such a context as "ghost" rather than as the

"Spirit of God." An even worse situation was encountered in a language in

which "holy" was rendered as "that which makes taboo" and "spirit" meant

primarily an evil or malicious spirit. It was quite understandable that

the people in this area were very reluctant to receive "a tabooing demon,"

especially when the possession of such a demon ruled out any sexual

relations with one's spouse." (...) For example, in Mark 1:12, it is

possible that people will understand "the Spirit drove him into the

wilderness" as being the activity of a demon rather than of the Holy

Spirit. In the Greek New Testament the term pneuma, "spirit," without

qualifier usually designates the Holy Spirit. In many languages, however,

the general term for "spirit" by itself may designate evil spirits. In

such languages, it is best in all passages in which the Greek uses simple

pneuma for the Holy Spirit to use whatever specific expression has been

adopted to refer to the Holy Spirit. In most cases this involves the use

of some qualifier, which provides the required contextual conditioning."


Let us turn to Vedic sources now.



* Vedic definitions


Bhagavad-gita (BG) 7.4: "Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind [manas],

intelligence [buddhi] and false ego [ahankara] - all together these eight

constitute My separated material energies [bhinna-prakrti]."


The first five elements - solid, liquid, radiating and gaseous substances

plus ether - are gross material and constitute the physical body. Three

other - mind, intelligence, false ego - are subtle material and constitute

the subtle (or astral) body. Witnesses of NDE/OBE describe this body as a

foggy cloud having a form of body. (Beings with only this body are called

ghosts). Subtle body is in a sense immortal because it stays with jiva

during her whole material existence.


Prana is a subtle material energy arising from rajo guna. It works as an

interface between gross and subtle body, enabling all the psychophysical

functions (i.e. animation - from Latin "anima"). Vedanta-sutra defines it

as a special type of air. Prana leaves the gross body together with the

jiva and subtle body at death and is reincarnated (Vedanta-sutra 2.4.13,

Bhagavata Purana 4.28.24). As such prana is also witnessed by the jiva

which is floating in prana in the heart cavity (Katha Upanisad 1.3.1).

Prana's movement leads to jiva's identification with the gross body (SB

4.29.71). Prana is one but acts in different ways. Lower pranas control

the senses and are under the control of main prana controlled by the

Paramatma according to desire and karma of the jiva. Vedanta-sutra 2.4,

Bhagavata Purana 4.25-28 (serpent analogy), Prasna Upanisad and other

scriptures contain elaborate descriptions of prana. Various Eastern

healing methods and martial arts work with prana.


BG 7.5: "Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior

[para] energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities [jiva-bhuta]

who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature."


Second chapter of Bhagavad-gita and other scriptures (like Padma Purana)

give detailed description of jiva. Ravindra Svarupa Dasa says:


"The jiva or atma is described as a separated, minute fragment of God, the

Paramatma. God is like a fire; the individual jivas, sparks of the fire.

As the analogy suggests, the self and the Superself are simultaneously one

with and different from each other. They are the same in quality, for both

they are brahman, immaterial substance. Yet they differ in quantity, since

the Superself (param brahman - supreme brahman - in Bhagavad-gita 10.12)

is infinitely great while the individual selves are infinitesimally



Gross body undergoes six types of changes which are listed in the Niruktam

(1.1.2): jayate 'sti varddhate, viparinamate, apaksiyate nasyati ca - "The

body takes birth, exists, grows, reproduces, ages, and finally dies." The

jiva, however, does not undergo any of these changes. Krishna explains

this in the second chapter of Bhagavad-gita. In the thirteenth chapter the

body is described as the field of activities (ksetra), and the jiva as

ksetra-jna, the knower of that field.


The argument for the jiva not undergoing these changes is that she

observes all these changes and activities of the mind and intelligence as

well. Scriptures like Bhagavata Purana (SB) 4.28.40 confirm this: "King

Malayadhvaja attained perfect knowledge by being able to distinguish the

Paramatma from the individual jiva. The individual jiva is localized,

whereas the Paramatma is all-pervasive. He became perfect in knowledge

that the material body is not the jiva but that the jiva is the witness

[saksin] of the material body."


SB 7.7.23: "There are two kinds of bodies for every individual soul - a

gross body made of five gross elements and a subtle body made of three

subtle elements. Within these bodies, however, is the spirit soul

[purusa]. One must find the soul by analysis, saying, 'This is not it.

This is not it.' Thus one must separate spirit from matter."


The observer of a change is not affected by the change or he ceases to be

an observer. A passenger sitting in an airplane and unable to look out the

window cannot fathom its speed, but a man on the ground is able to observe

and measure it easily. Similarly, everyone has the experience of the six

types of changes occurring in one's own body, but the observer of these

changes is not the body - she is the jiva. Hence the very experience "I am

sick" proves that I (the jiva) am not sick, because if I was sick I would

be unable to perceive that sickness.


The "body-mind-jiva" system can be compared to a computer. The gross

material body can be compared to a hardware, the subtle body and the prana

to a software, and the jiva to their user. While living in the material

world, she has to communicate through them like a paralyzed person using a

computer substituting voice etc. If she becomes cured by a proper practice

she will not need this "bodily computer" - she can live in a immaterial

world in her own immaterial form (svarupa). This is the natural, original

position of each of us.



* Conclusion: jiva versus prana


Terms "soul" and "spirit" in Judeo-Christian tradition often describe

prana which is different from the jiva. Everyone speaks about "my soul"

which means that soul is outside of us. Nature of the jiva is

sac-cid-ananda vigraha (eternal, cognizant, blissful form). While in the

material world (whose nature is exactly the opposite) she is inactive and

subtle material body and prana serve her as a tool for manipulating gross

matter. Using the word "soul" for the jiva should be therefore considered

a makeshift choice due to lack of proper term in Western and other

languages. This should be remembered while translating Vedic texts and

reading their translations as well.



* Literature:


American Heritage Dictionary, 1993

Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica (www.newadvent.org/summa)

Aristotle, De Anima

Bhagavad-gita (www.iskcon.org/sastra)

Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam)

Bible (bible.gospelcom.net/bible?)

Catholic Encyclopedia (www.newadvent.org)

Chandogya Upanisad

Dvaita FAQ

Klostermaier, Klaus, The Soul and its Destiny: Christian Perspectives


Nida, Eugene A., "The Theory and Practice of Translation" (Helps for

Translators prepared under the auspices of the United Bible Societies,

vol. VIII), 1982, Chapter Six.

Ravindra Svarupa Dasa, The Nature of the Self: A Gaudiya Vaisnava

Understanding (www.rsdtm.com/PUBLICATIONS/SELF/self.htm)

Vedanta-sutra with Govinda Bhasya commentary of Baladeva Vidyabhusana


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