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Here's a verse from Chandogya Upanishad , chapter six.

"It (Being or Brahman) thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth."

My question is, when Brahman, the supreme cosmic spirit , wished to multiply and develop into many names and forms , did the supreme cosmic spirit split into multiple souls ... and created separate individual identities in the process, when it split or broke away from the whole?

As per the dualists there are multiple souls or jeevatmas.

The advaitists on the other hand say, there is no duality and that our original selves (jeevatmas) are the same as the spirit whole aka Brahman.

Yes it may be true, that the basic substance or essence of the jeevatmas, is actually Brahman. Just like the basic substance of a clay pot is actually clay. So when we speak of Jivatma A , Jivatma B and Jivatma C , i guess the basic substance/essence is the same in all these three individuals (they are fragments of the cosmic spirit Brahman). But IMO, when the spirit whole, divided or became many, it's fragments became separate souls (jivatmas) each having their own individuality. Like if Jivatma A gets injured, only A will feel pain thru the indriyas and not B or C ... If C commits a heinous crime , then C will go to hell along with it's subtle body to suffer and not A or B. So it seems that we (trillions of souls) are not one big soul, that has entered or penetrated various flesh bodies, just like air enters an empty house ... In other words, we are not connected to each other. If our flesh bodies were connected by one big soul Brahman , then we would all suffer, enjoy, laugh, cry, feel etc. at the same time. Isn't it so? Correct me if i'm wrong.

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The exact verse you are referring to is Chandogya VI.2.3. The division is only apparently so, and is only seen from the aspect of maya. Krishna says in Gita Chapter 13 verse 16 (Swami Nikhilananda translator):

It is indivisible, and yet It is, as it were, divided among beings. That Knowable Brahman is the Sustainer of all beings, and also their Devourer and Generator.

This is the crux of the Advaita of Sankaracharya. The division is only apparently so. To understand this better, read the section called 'Adhyasa or Superimposition' immediately after the Introduction here - https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras

  • Thanks. I'll check that out. Can you please explain how Nirguna Brahman is the devourer as mentioned in Gita verse 13.16? – The Crimson Universe Jul 30 '18 at 11:10
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    The Gita reference is to Saguna Brahman, not Nirguna Brahman. – Swami Vishwananda Aug 2 '18 at 4:31
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Your question is close to Shudda-advaita (pure monism), a philosophy by Vallabhacharya.

He explains Shuddadvaita in His Anu-bhashya (a commentary) on vedanta sutras and his Subodhini commentary on Srimad bhagavatam.

Did Brahman split into multiple souls?

Yes, according to his philosophy, Brahman splits into multiple souls. This is explained using "Fire and Spark" analogy. Jivas are the "parts of Brahman" and are identical with Brahman but there is no anand. The attributes of Brahman are Sat, chid, ananda and Jivas are sat and chid. When a jiva attains liberation then there is not difference between Jiva and Brahman.

Relation between Jiva and Brahman:

  1. Jiva is a portion of Brahm. It should not be doubted that as Brahm is Niravaya, Jiva cannot be its part. Brahman’s form is not like worldly forms. The Shrutis do not assert that Brahm is formless. On the contrary they say that Brahm has a form which differs from those of ordinary beings, whose forms are composed of bones, blood, skin etc. Brahm’s form consists of Anand. And as Anand, it is sakar. This is the meaning of Nirakar and Sakar Shruti’s. So no contradiction appears in saying that Jiva is a part of Brahm. This may again be disputed on the supposition that, if it be so believed in, then there will be no difference between Jiva and Brahman. This is also answered by the fact that, even though Jiva is a part of Brahm, in Jiva state of metempsychosis, he differs from Brahman because Jiva in its latter condition, after its separation from Brahman, does not possess Anand, as patent as in the case of Brahm. This Amsatva of Jiva is emphasized by the Sutrakara in 2-3-43.

  2. Another objection to the Amsatva of Jiva of that, if Jiva is a Part of Brahman, then, the misery and unhappiness of Jiva will make Brahm also miserable and unhappy. It is the common experience of all persons that if a part is affected, then, the whole of which it forms a part is also affected. If a foot receives injury, will not the body suffer? The sutrakara allows the legality of this objection, but to strengthen his position, he cites a case of Prakash light. We know that heart of a lamp causes burning sensation in others but itself is immune from this effect. In the same way, Brahm is free from the experience of misery and unhappiness. Just as any Dosh in Prakash does not affect it, in the same way the Dosh of Jiva, which is a portion of Brahm does not affect Brahm. This point is cleared in B.S. 2-3-25.

  • Thanks. And how do you think the jivatma attains videha mukti after death, as per shuddha advaita? Does all souls merge back into the big spirit Brahman? – The Crimson Universe Jul 29 '18 at 10:37
  • @TheCrimsonUniverse I didn't read whole philosophy, you can go through his books. And followers of this sect are much into devotion and serving Krishna (Brahman according to them). They don't seek for mukti I guess. – Krishna Shweta Jul 29 '18 at 15:57
  • @KrishnaSweta, Yeah they serve Krishna. Guess i'll go thru their books once I'm done studying Shankara's Advaita :) – The Crimson Universe Jul 29 '18 at 20:37
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Basically this question is asking about the relationship between Brahman and Jivas (creatures). The short answer is that Brahman did not split into multiple souls. There are many theories in Advaita Vedanta.

Advaita theories of relationship between Brahman and Jiva are:

(1) Pratibimba-vada (The theory of reflection) A sub-school of Advaita Vedanta (Padmapadacharya and Vivaranacharya) propounds this theory. The relationship between Brahman, Jiva and Jagat is very similar to the relationship between a face and its reflection in a mirror.

(2) Abhasa-vada (The theory of Appearance) The world and individuals are only appearances on the Brahman.

(3) Avachchheda-vada (The theory of limitation) Space seemingly enclosed by a pot represents the jiva or Atman. The space outside represents Brahman. This apparent limitation of outer space by the pot is false because the enclosed space or ghatakasha is in reality the same outer space or mahakasha. When the limiting adjunct or upadhi such as the pot is removed , the true unity of both spaces (the Atman and Brahman) becomes known.

(4) Drishti-Srishti-vada (The theory of Perception is Creation) Seeing is creating. This theory is also called Eka-Jiva-vada.

Journey from many to one essentials of Advaita Vedanta by Swami Bhaskarananda

The most popular theories are Pratibimba-vada and Avachchheda-vada.

In Pratibimba-vada the mind of a Jiva acting like a mirror reflects the consciousness of Brahman. The upadhis or adjuncts (ego for example) give the jiva the feeling of separateness from each other.

Avachcheda-vada has been already adequately explained.

  • Thanks Pradip for introducing me to these various sub schools of advaida. I feel like hugging you ;-) May i know who started the theory of Avachcheda vada. Is it the RamaKrishna mission people or is it the bhamati sub school? – The Crimson Universe Jul 28 '18 at 13:33
  • There's a similar theory or belief , that we jivatmas emerge from Brahman and later merge back into Brahman. It's almost like Avachcheda vada, but here they use the word emerge. Now i think, emerging from something, means you're actually splitting away or breaking away from the original object. Right? So here if we take the word 'emerge' as splitting away or breaking away from something else, then there should be multiple souls (as parts or fragments) of the bigger cosmic soul, that will again merge back into this whole ... Not sure which school holds this emerge/merge theory. – The Crimson Universe Jul 28 '18 at 13:40
  • But the Avachcheda vada that you mentioned, there i'm imagining the cosmic soul to be not splitting but 'spreading' or 'expanding' or 'pervading' and entering into the pot or flesh bodies. :) – The Crimson Universe Jul 28 '18 at 13:42
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    @TheCrimsonUniverse, think of our body as a tray and our mind and ego as water which reflects the light of the sun. Here light is an analogy for consciousness and sun is an analogy for Brahman. The reflected consciousness is called conditioned consciousness because this consciousness is experienced through the filter of the mind and ego and not the pure consciousness known as Brahman. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Aug 1 '18 at 11:38
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    Yes, the conditioned mind gives us experience of some aspects of sat and chid of the satchidananda (Brahman). We don't get the Ananda aspect at all. To get the entire experience we need to stop our mind as stated by Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Aug 2 '18 at 5:30

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