"Temporary" vs "Eternal":
"Temporary" (may be sat-asat) means, something which keeps changing. It survives by repetition. "Eternal" (may be param akshara) means, with respect to which all these changes are happening. Both are permanent, but one is cyclic and other is constant.
A very over-simplistic analogy is:
-- In typical routine, you wake up every morning, get ready, go to work, come back, have dinner and sleep. Ideally these actions can repeat forever. All the above actions are "temporaries". They happen & vanish for a while, but again repeat. However, your home is "eternal", because with respect to your constant "home", everything happens.

To me, it appeared that jeevas are not eternal based on studying Gita. However I can be wrong. Below are some points which made me believe that.

During pralaya there is only 1 "nature" (bhAva in Sanskrit) which remains, when everything else is annihilated. There is absolutely no verse suggests that apart from this nature, the other jeevas would also continue to remain somewhere as separate identities.
I feel that the word "All" in various below verses is quite explicit and doesn't leave the slightest chance of separate existence of jeevas.

BG 8.18 — All become from unmanifested to manifested at the beginning of (Brahma's) day; At beginning of night, certainly (all are) destroyed into what is understood as unmanifest-able.

BG 8.19 — Like this, these elementary world (made of "5 elements" or "पञ्चभूत") certainly happens again and again; Upon arrival of night, it's destroyed; upon arrival of day it flourishes.

BG 8.20 — But there is an eternal Nature, which is beyond manifested & unmanifested; When all elementary world is destroyed, that remains.

BG 9.7 — O son of Kunti, all elementary entities enter my nature at end of cycle(Kalpa); Again I create them at the beginning of the cycle.

Possible source of confusion: "Soul"

Atma (BG 2.many) actually means "(true) Self" (Gita also uses I/me). It is also a representation of nirguna/nirAkAra Brahman (BG 8.20). Some call it "soul", as a synonymous. Now many people use "soul" to refer jeeva as well. However Atma and jeeva are not same. But because sometimes "soul" refers to both as a common English term, certain misunderstanding is created.

Atma ≠ Jeeva

This is clarified in wiki of Jeeva. Unfortunately, such articles also become source of confusion. They have cited BG 2.12, 2.16-21, 2.23-25, 2.30 to prove that Jeevas are eternal. However, all these verses describe Atma and doesn't have anything related to jeeva.

Here jeeva means something which differs between you and me. But it's same among your past births & my past births. As a matter of taste, some call it [individual] "consciousness" (chetanA).

Nirguna Brahman is eternal. Is jeeva "eternal" or "temporary"?
In other words, what happens to jeevas after pralaya (or towards end of Kalpa or Brahma's night)?

Note: Some answers suggest that, if "xyz" part (say mAyA) is removed from jeeva, then it's eternal. But if we remove something from jeeva then we are no longer referring jeeva. A specific quote which says jeeva (or equivalent) is eternal will be helpful.

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    Jeevatma is eternal but the conditions in which it lives (i.e with Avidhya/Ignorance) isn't eternal. "Jivo bramhaiva na parah" After realizing the ultimate reality, it isn't called as Jeeva!
    – Pandya
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 9:36

5 Answers 5


From our discussions in the chat room, since we stumbled upon this, I will formalise it as an answer:

Gita Chapter 15, Verse 7

mamaivāḿśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ
manaḥ-ṣaṣṭhānīndriyāṇi prakṛti-sthāni karṣati

Gambhirananda: It is verily a part of Mine which, becoming the eternal individual soul in the region of living beings, draws (to itself) the organs which have the mind as their sixth, and which abide in Nature.

Word to word: Among the living world, the living being (bhuta = body) is my eternal fragment only; It (fragment or body) keeps attracting 5 senses & mind as the 6th towards the material nature.

Thus from the Gita it is said that the jiva is an 'ETERNAL' fragmented part.

This is without getting into any particular Vedantic Philosophy. As discussed by other answers, in Advaita, there is one more addition to this. i.e. You are not a Jiva (individual consciousness). You are Brahman (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss). This makes all of "jivahood" illusory.

  • Thanks. Can you put the original translation of the Sanskrit for 15.6. BTW, it's also important to add a note that the Prakruti from where the Jiva (mentioned as Jiva-bhUta) is formed is also eternal according to 13.20. So in a way everything is eternal, but not changeless. Only the Brahman/Atma is changeless. However, if this is not agreeable yet then it will be clearer for audience to know how the Jiva is defined?
    – iammilind
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 16:40

"Above observations don't mean that Bhagavad Gita is the final authority." Let me preface this by saying that the Bhagavad Gita is definitely an infallible authority, and if you're interpreting it in a way that it would contradict the doctrines of the Vedanta school, you're probably misinterpreting it.

Now since you referred to Nirguna Brahman in your question, I assume you're question is about Advaita. As a way of explaining the Advaita point of view on this issue, let me first go through the points of view that different Hindu philosophies have on this:

  1. There are two kinds of entities in the Universe: Purushas or souls, and Prakriti or matter/energy. All Purushas are completely separate from each other and from Prakriti, and both Purushas and Prakriti are eternal. When a Purusha interacts with Prakriti, Prakriti takes on the form of gross and subtle elements, which ultimately take the form of gross and subtle bodies for that Purusha. The goal of all Purushas is to achieve Kaivalya, or eternal separation and freedom from Prakriti. This is the viewpoint of Kapila's Samkhya school, and it is the subject of a fictional dialogue I wrote here.

  2. This is very similar to viewpoint 1. There are still two kinds of entities, Purushas and Prakriti, and they are still totally separate and Prakriti develops gross and subtle bodies for Purushas, etc. The only difference is that out of all the many Purushas there is one special Purusha, known as Ishwara. Ishwara is the Purushottama or best of all Purushas. And unlike in viewpoint 1, where Prakriti is just blindly taking forms due to interactions with various Purusha, here it is Ishwara that directs the behavior of Prakriti. Ishwara has no goals, except perhaps compassion toward other Purushas, but the goal of those other Purushas is to separate themselves from Prakriti and perhaps attain association with Ishwara. This is the viewpoint of Patanjali's Yoga school (as I discuss here), of Madhvacharya's Dvaita philosophy (as I discuss here), and of the philosophy of the Shaiva Agamas as most people interpret them (as I discuss here).

  3. This is very similar to viewpoint 2, in that Purushas are still eternal, Prakriti forms gross and subtle bodies for Purushas, there is one special Purusha known as Ishwara, etc. The only difference is that while most Purushas are completely seperate from Prakriti, there is one Purusha that is not: Ishwara. In this view Prakriti is not an independent substance at all, rather it emerges from Ishwara. So Ishwara doen't just direct the behavior of Prakriti, here Ishwara is also the substance that Prakriti is made of. This is the view of the Vedanta school as almost all commentators of the Brahma Sutras interpret it, and this is the view of the Pancharatra Agamas as almost all Vaishnavas interpret it (see my question here).

  4. This is very different from the other viewpoints. Here there is only one entity, the formless Nirguna Brahman, and there was never such a thing as Purushas, Prakriti, Ishwara, etc. This is the ultimate reality according to Adi Shankaracharya's Advaita philosophy.

Now to understand Adi Shankaracharya's philosophy of Advaita, we have to distinguish two perspectives. Advaita subscribes to viewpoint 3 in the relative perspective, i.e. the perspective of someone who is still subject to the illusion of Maya. But from the absolute perspective, i.e. the perspective of someone who has overcome Avidya, Advaitins believe that viewpoint 4 is what is the ultimate reality. I think your confusion stems from conflating the two perspectives.

In any case, if you want to understand how Adi Shankaracharya views this issue, it's instructive to look at his criticism of the Pancharatra Agamas, the foundational texts of Vaishnavism which I discuss here. As I mentioned above, most Vaishnavas interpret the Pancharatra Agamas as advocating viewpoint 3. But as I discuss here, Adi Shankaracharya believed that the Pancharatra Agamas diverged from viewpoint 3, and he criticized them for it. Here's what he says in his commentary on Adhyaya 2 Pada 2 Sutra 42:

tatra bhāgavatā manyate bhagavānevaiko vāsudevo nirañjanajñānasvarūpaḥ paramārthatattvam sa caturdhātmānaṃ pravibhajya pratiṣṭhitaḥ vāsudevavyūharūpeṇa saṃkarṣaṇavyūharūpeṇa pradyumnavyūharūpeṇa aniruddhavyūharūpeṇa ca vāsudevo nāma paramātmā ucyate saṃkarṣaṇo nāma jīvaḥ pradyumno nāma manaḥ aniruddho nāma ahaṃkāraḥ teṣāṃ vāsudevaḥ parā prakṛtiḥ itare saṃkarṣaṇādayaḥ kāryam tamitthaṃbhūtaṃ parameśvaraṃ...

yatpunaridamucyate vāsudevātsaṃkarṣaṇa utpadyate saṃkarṣaṇācca pradyumnaḥ pradyumnāccāniruddha iti atra brūmaḥ na vāsudevasaṃjñakātparamātmanaḥ saṃkarṣaṇasaṃjñakasya jīvasyotpattiḥ saṃbhavati anityatvādidoṣaprasaṅgāt utpattimattve hi jīvasya anityatvādayo doṣāḥ prasajyeran tataśca naivāsya bhagavatprāptirmokṣaḥ syāt kāraṇaprāptau kāryasya pravilayaprasaṅgāt pratiṣedhiṣyati ca ācāryo jīvasyotpattim nātmāśruternityatvācca tābhyaḥ iti। tasmādasaṃgataiṣā kalpanā

The so-called Bhâgavatas are of opinion that the one holy (bhagavat) Vâsudeva, whose nature is pure knowledge, is what really exists, and that he, dividing himself fourfold, appears in four forms (vyûha), as Vâsudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. Vâsudeva denotes the highest Self, Sankarshana the individual soul, Pradyumna the mind (manas), Aniruddha the principle of egoity (ahankâra). Of these four Vâsudeva constitutes the ultimate causal essence, of which the three others are the effects....

We, however, must take exception to the doctrine that Sankarshana springs from Vâsudeva, Pradyumna from Sankarshana, Aniruddha from Pradyumna. It is not possible that from Vâsudeva, i.e. the highest Self, there should originate Sankarshana, i.e. the individual soul; for if such were the case, there would attach to the soul non-permanency, and all the other imperfections which belong to things originated. And thence release, which consists in reaching the highest Being, could not take place; for the effect is absorbed only by entering into its cause.--That the soul is not an originated thing, the teacher will prove later on (II, 3, 17). For this reason the Bhâgavata hypothesis is unacceptable.

It is also instructive to look at Adi Shankaracharya's commentary on Adhyaya 2 Pada 3 Sutra 42, where he refutes the notion that humans don't have control over our actions by arguing that we have had infinitely many past births going infinitely far back in time, so it is us, not Brahman, who are ultimately responsible for our actions. Here's what he says:

naiṣa doṣaḥ parāyatte'pi hi kartṛtve karotyeva jīvaḥ kurvantaṃ hi tamīśvaraḥ kārayati api ca pūrvaprayatnamapekṣya idānīṃ kārayati pūrvataraṃ ca prayatnamapekṣya pūrvamakārayaditi anāditvātsaṃsārasyeti anavadyam। kathaṃ punaravagamyate

[F]or although the activity of the soul is not independent, yet the soul does act. The Lord indeed causes it to act, but it acts itself. Moreover, the Lord in causing it to act now has regard to its former efforts, and he caused it to act in a former existence, having regard to its efforts previous to that existence; a regressus against which, considering the eternity of the samsâra, no objections can be raised.

I provided both Sanskrit and English so there's no issue of translation.

  • If you remember, I asked you a question related to the last sutra which you haven't been able to answer. So now if your confusion is cleared, you can clarify on that.
    – Pinakin
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 5:18
  • Now I feel that my Q well understood; thanks! The last para of "Free Will" is debatable but not relevant to this Q, so let's leave. I had removed sentence on "Gita's authority", but if we believe in it then 2 points are still rock solid: (1) BG 8.20 suggests that everything except 'that bhAva' is destroyed for the full night (2) BG 9.7 suggests that out of 'this' unmanifested bhAva everything is created. BG 13.20 says Purusha is forever, but it doesn't suggest plurality. So in that sense, Pursha can be considered saguna Brahman. I see more discussions, hence would prefer a chat room.
    – iammilind
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 5:29
  • @ChinmaySarupria Well, I did answer your question, you just didn't find my answer satisfactory. But I'll try again. Your question is actually the same as the objection Purvapakshin (the opponent) raises in that section: "But if the activity of the soul is dependent on something else, this having regard (on the part of the Lord) to former effort is inappropriate." Adi Shankaracharya's response is the quote I gave above. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 21:29
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    @iammilind Like I said, I think you're simply misinterpreting the Bhagavad Gita. Gita verse 8.20 just says there is something which survives when all Bhutas or living beings are destroyed, but that doesn't mean that that something is the only thing that survives. Verse 9.7 is again talking about the creation and destruction of living beings. And verse 13.20 just says that the Purusha is eternal, that doesn't mean that there's only one Purusha. If someone said "the body is made of five elements", that doesn't mean that there's only one body in existence, it's just making a general statement. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 22:06
  • @ChinmaySarupria This conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 23:58

The physical body of a Jiva is manifestly not eternal. All the koshas that form that Jiva complex is also not eternal. So the only thing that is left is the Atma. Jiva when not emancipated thinks of himself as the physical body, subtle body, causal body and the Atman with a clearly identified ego. Jiva after emancipation is simply the Atman with no ego. Since the Atman is eternal, Jiva is also eternal.

A good analogy to understand this is to imagine the jiva as a pot in an ocean of consciousness. The pot is the ego and there is consciousness both inside and outside the pot. A Jiva who is not emancipated identifies himself with the pot or the ego. A Jiva who is emancipated identifies himself with the consciousness and realizes that he is eternal.

The above picture also follows from the Upanishad Mahavakya 'aham Brahmasmi' or Soham (I am He).

Narendra [Swami Vivekananda]: "The 'I' that is implied in 'I am He' is not this ego. It is that which remains after one eliminates mind, body, and so on."

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna translated by Swami Nikhilananda, p. 979

The 'I' of a Jiva, minus the physical, subtle and causal body, is eternal since that I is He.

  • Thanks for making all the clarifications. So here is a doubt now. You say in nutshell: "Jiva = Body + Koshas + Atma. Body & Koshas are not eternal. But because Atma is eternal, Jiva is eternal." Isn't it a selective interpretation? It's similar to, "A pot is made of soil. Which contains air and water. The soil & air are not drinkable, but the water is drinkable. Hence the pot is drinkable." Am I missing anything? Such questions are coming, because you haven't cleared the stance of Jiva. In your analogy, is jiva the pot or consciousness or both?
    – iammilind
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 11:51
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    As long as Jiva identifies with the pot, i.e., jiva has an ego, jiva is separate from Brahman. Moksha happens when he ceases to identify with the ego. There is no way to go beyond this since all language is dualistic in nature while moksha is non-dual. For us who have not attained moksha, Jiva is the pot. When one says 'Jiva is eternal' one means 'Jiva is really the consciousness within the pot and this consciousness is eternal.'. Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 13:52
  • what is distinction between causal and subtle body in advaita? Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 10:01
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    The three koshas (Pranomaya, Manomaya and Vijnanamaya) make up the subtle body. The word prana means life and is the vital energy that permeates all existence. Our physical life is sustained by prana. The word manomaya means mental. This manomaya sheath is the mental sheath. The word vijnanamaya means intellect and is the intellectual or discriminating sheath. The Anandamaya Kosha is the causal body. This last sheath is blissful because it is very close to the blissful Atman. This sheath is also called the causal sheath because the record of all karmas is kept here and causes rebirth. Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 11:01

Jeeva does not exist in the very first place. If you believe that Jeeva is separate from Purush/Brahman, than that is very big mistake. Advaita(Non-Duality) is reality.

"Ayam Aatma Brahman" My soul is same as Supersoul

This is Anubhav Maha Vakya from Upanishads which describes experience of enlightened person, after which he never experiences waking, sleeping or deep sleep, but remains in turiya forever.

The Jeeva, is created out of ignorance as explained here

Just as a wall illumined by the rays of the sun is more illumined when the light of the sun reflected in a mirror falls on it, so the body illumined by Kutastha is more illumined by the light of Kutastha reflected in the intellect

Brahman is uniform infinite consciousness, and every Jeeva's soul is drop of it. Imagine Purush to be ocean and self is drop of that but in reality drop never got separated from ocean as it had no individual existence from the beginning itself.

This is how relation between Prakriti-Purush as described in Kashmir Shaivism

There is a dichotomy between subject and object; the knower and the known; the Cosmic Self and this self; I (aham) and this self (idam).

  1. Shiva Tattva (cause of Aham)

  2. Shakti Tattva (cause of Idam)

They are in reality one with Parmshiva. They are considered to be two tattvas only for the convenience of philosophical thinking and as a way of clarifying the two aspects of the one Absolute Reality-Parmshiva. Shiva tattva is transcendental unity and shakti tattva is universal diversity. The changeless Absolute and pure Consciousness is Shiva while as natural tendency of Shiva towards the outward manifestation of divine activities is Shakti.

When someone says "I am so and so". Here, "I am(Aham)" is constant for everyone and comes from real Purush, while "so and so" is objectification(Idam) of infinite, created by power of Maya, which fools Purush in identifying itself with temporary body under ego/ignorance. This is called Adhyasa or superimposition of Prakriti(Maya) over Purush(real self).

Thats why, Adi Shankaracharya composed "Shivoham"(Shiva + Aham)"I am Shiva" containing Neti Neti("Not ita/idam") which covers rejection of all Maya/Ignorance.

Further Shiva and Shakti are same in reality which is realized after enlightenment.

According to Sankara, aham (I-sense secured in introspection, visayi) and idam (thou-sense sense secured in extrospection, visaya) are polarly related, they are as opposed as light and darkness. Idam Brahman refers to etadakshara - Brahman as the objective unity and the tadakshara – Brahman refers to the subject, the Atman i.e. Brahman as Itself, which cannot be an object matter of pramana-jnana since the Atman is non-dual and does not have the knowing and the known in it. Reality is to be cognized objectively as an idam as the goal by looking inwards otherwise the vidhi-vakyas would serve no purpose. Beyond "I" is not any person knower or doer but the transcendental ground of "I", the unspeakable; the indeterminate cannot be spoken about directly.

The idam aspect of ahamkara reflected by the light of the pure self becomes the object of the "I-sense". Brahman cannot be known in the objective attitude as an object somewhere in the beyond as an idam. Advaita Vedanta holds Brahman as the Atman and Brahman as idam sarvam ("all this")

Understanding Adhyasa is the key

Adhyasa is the illusory appearance, in another place, of an object seen earlier elsewhere. It is similar in nature to recollection. For instance on seeing a rope in dim light and not recognizing it as a rope, a person mistakes it for a snake which he has seen elsewhere. The snake is not absolutely unreal, because it is actually experienced, and produces the same effect, such as fear and so on, as a real snake would. At the same time, it is not real, because it is no longer seen when the rope has been recognized. It is therefore described as Anirvachaneeya or what cannot be classified as either real or unreal.

when there is superimposition of one thing on another, the latter (the substratum) is not affected in the least by the good or bad qualities of the former. (e.g., nacre does not become more valuable because it is mistaken for silver, nor does a rope get the qualities of the snake which it is mistaken for). The implication of this statement is that the self which is identical with Brahman does not undergo any of the changes, nor does it experience any of the joys and sorrows, of the body, mind and organs which are superimposed on it. It is, however, only because of this mutual superimposition of the self and the non-self that all action, both secular and religious, including the study of Vedanta, becomes possible. The self, by itself, is neither a doer of actions, nor an enjoyer of the results. It becomes a doer and an enjoyer only because of this superimposition, as a result of which, as Adi Shankara says, the real and the unreal, namely, the self and the non-self, are blended into one, as it were. All action, including the various rites laid down in the Vedas, thus come within the sphere of Avidya or nescience, which is the cause of the superimposition.

Samkhya also explains the same thing that, manifestation happens because of presence of Prakriti, which is superimposed over Purusha and Vedas dont have much relevance in the path of enlightenment.

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    Your answer is good. But 2 of your statements are negating each other: "Jeeva does not exist" & "Jeeva is created out of ignorance". Both can't co-exist in same context. Probably you meant similar to Pradip's answer that, once the avidyA is gone only Brahman/Atma remains. That's fine. But currently we are in the context of avidyA. So an embodied Atma with your body is your jeeva, my body is my jeeva & so on. These drops are yet to merge in the ocean. Until then, we term these drops as jeevas. Some people say that these drops are separate from Ocean. If it's true or not, is the Q.
    – iammilind
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 12:58
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    I think you have already figured it out by now, since im replying to a very old topic. Jiva is not just the drop, but the subtle & causal body along with the drop. Jiva is a compound entity. This jiva transmigrates, but the drop doesn't travel along with the sheaths by remaining trapped in them. No, it doesn't happen like that. The drop only pervades the sheaths & makes them sentient. The drop is like electricity that makes the sheaths alive, but can never be trapped since atman is indivisible and also it can never travel with the sheaths, since atman is achala/static and omnipresent too. Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 14:56

Yes Drops separated from ocean in view of size & location but not from the properties of water. The character of water in the ocean will continue in the character of water in the drop. It is called Ocean & drop because of their size only & in the similar manner it will be called as atma & paramatma. Just like you can not destroy water so you can not destroy the atma only changes taking place. The property & original quantity remain same which proved by the science that law of conservation of mass or in the spiritual knowledge we call our God as achyuta. This paramatma is a spirit just like the electric energy. Electricity work differently with different instruments. Similarly this parameshar in its energy form works differently with different entity. God in its energy form is shape less, infinite & nirguna, indicates that he does not have life but he has everything to support life, is eternal only. But same energy when manifested with body is short lived. All the incarnation come to an end means body is not eternal but spirit is ever lasting.

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    Please cite some sources to back your answer. Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 12:55

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