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In Gita ch.13 v23 , the Lord says that the Supreme Purusha in this body is the upadrista (observer) , the anumanta (permitter) , bharta (supporter) and bhokta (the experiencer / the one who experiences).

upadrashtaanumantaa cha bhartaa bhoktaa maheshvaraha |

paramaatmeti chaapyukto dehesmin purushaha paraha ||

Swami Chidbhananda, in his Gita commentary, explained the bhokta part by saying that the jivatman which is the reflection of the Supreme Lord, 'experiences' the insentient Prakriti. (In his Gita, it's ch.13 v22)

So does this mean the soul actually experiences, pleasure & pain? Like when we feel sad, besides observing all the drama, does the soul also experience or feel sadness ... or ... experience/feel emotional & physical pain?

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    the very word 'feel' is only associated with sentient beings. insentient stone and water and air do not 'feel'. so, yes, it is the soul (sentient, conscious being) which experiences anything. – ram Aug 7 '18 at 17:47
  • I don’t think that the soul can experience pleasure or pain... – Hayagreev Ram Aug 7 '18 at 21:46
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    @HayagreevRam, if one is pinched hard, who screams ? – ram Aug 8 '18 at 2:50
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    @ram But if someone cuts our head with a sword, our body dies, not the soul. If someone puts fire on us, our body burns, not the soul. When we take a bath, our body gets wet, not our soul. This is mentioned in the Gita – Hayagreev Ram Aug 8 '18 at 8:15
  • @Hayagreev Then who feels burns of fire if not the soul? Somebody must feel it. – brahma jijnasa Aug 8 '18 at 12:48
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Yes, the jiva feels the pleasure and pain as long as he does not identify with the Atman.

Upon the same tree there are two birds, one on the top, the other below. The one on the top is calm, silent, and majestic, immersed in his own glory; the one on the lower branches, eating sweet and bitter fruits by turns, hopping from branch to branch, is becoming happy and miserable by turns. After a time the lower bird eats an exceptionally bitter fruit and gets disgustful and looks up and sees the other bird, that wondrous one of golden plumage, who eats neither sweet nor bitter fruit, who is neither happy nor miserable, but calm, Self-centred, and sees nothing beyond his Self. The lower bird longs for this condition but soon forgets it, and again begins to eat the fruits. In a little while, he eats another exceptionally bitter fruit, which makes him feel miserable, and he again looks up, and tries to get nearer to the upper bird. Once more he forgets and after a time he looks up, and so on he goes again and again, until he comes very near to the beautiful bird and sees the reflection of light from his plumage playing around his own body, and he feels a change and seems to melt away; still nearer he comes, and everything about him melts away, and at last he understands this wonderful change. The lower bird was, as it were, only the substantial-looking shadow, the reflection of the higher; he himself was in essence the upper bird all the time. This eating of fruits, sweet and bitter, this lower, little bird, weeping and happy by turns, was a vain chimera, a dream: all along, the real bird was there above, calm and silent, glorious and majestic, beyond grief, beyond sorrow. The upper bird is God, the Lord of this universe; and the lower bird is the human soul, eating the sweet and bitter fruits of this world. Now and then comes a heavy blow to the soul. For a time, he stops the eating and goes towards the unknown God, and a flood of light comes. He thinks that this world is a vain show. Yet again the senses drag hint down, and he begins as before to eat the sweet and bitter fruits of the world. Again an exceptionally hard blow comes. His heart becomes open again to divine light; thus gradually he approaches God, and as he gets nearer and nearer, he finds his old self melting away. When he has come near enough, he sees that he is no other than God, and he exclaims, "He whom I have described to you as the Life of this universe, as present in the atom, and in suns and moons — He is the basis of our own life, the Soul of our soul. Nay, thou art That." This is what this Jnana-Yoga teaches. It tells man that he is essentially divine. It shows to mankind the real unity of being, and that each one of us is the Lord God Himself, manifested on earth. All of us, from the lowest worm that crawls under our feet to the highest beings to whom we look up with wonder and awe — all are manifestations of the same Lord.

Lastly, it is imperative that all these various Yogas should be carried out in, practice; mere theories about them will not do any good. First we have to hear about them, then we have to think about them. We have to reason the thoughts out, impress them on our minds, and we have to meditate on them, realise them, until at last they become our whole life. No longer will religion remain a bundle of ideas or theories, nor an intellectual assent; it will enter into our very self. By means of intellectual assent we may today subscribe to many foolish things, and change our minds altogether tomorrow. But true religion never changes. Religion is realisation; not talk, nor doctrine, nor theories, however beautiful they may be. It is being and becoming, not hearing or acknowledging; it is the whole soul becoming changed into what it believes. That is religion.

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 2, Practical Vedanta and Other Lectures, The Ideal of a Universal Religion

  • ... Upon reading carefully Swami's above example, where the lower bird is taken as the shadow aka reflection aka the human soul ... and at the same time Vivekananda says that this lower bird or human soul eats various types of fruits (feels joy and pain) ....... But isn't it the subtle body (manas, ahamkara, chitta) and the gross body, which are parts of prakriti, that does all activities & at the same time experiences joy and pain ... I mean how can the individual soul (which is beyond pain, pleasure, injury, activities) actually eat fruits of joy&pain? – The Crimson Universe Aug 10 '18 at 20:56
  • The expression human soul means the embodied Atman or Jiva. It does not mean the Atman. The Atman is a mere witness. However, the jiva or the embodied Atman identifies with the subtle and physical body and the ego and hence its ego 'eats' the bitter and sweet fruits. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Aug 11 '18 at 14:10
  • Hmmm, so the embodied human soul is the experiencer or bhokta. Fine. But what about the Atman. Is it non embodied (dwells outside the body and witnesses everything?) ... coz if this Atman, is inside the body then it becomes jivatman and also becomes the experiencer and cant possibly observe once it becomes jivatman. In order to observe/witness, without being affected by joy or pain of prakriti, it must stay outside the body right? – The Crimson Universe Aug 12 '18 at 9:17
  • The same soul in a gross body can't possibly remain both under Maya (as embodied jivatman / bhokta) & at the same time, being embodied, remain outside the influence of Maya as paramatman (as the witness/observer) ...... The explanation you gave above seems kinda like the philosophy of vishishtadvaita, which states, within the depth of the individual soul aka jivatman, resides another supreme soul, who even being embodied stays outside the influence of prakriti and simply witnesses. – The Crimson Universe Aug 12 '18 at 9:26
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    Yes, you are right. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Aug 25 '18 at 13:26
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Yes in Vyavhara (practice) and No in Paramartha (absolute). It's well explained by following verse of Rigveda (1.164.20):

द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षं परिषस्वजाते ।
तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्त्यनश्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति ॥

Two birds of beautiful plumage, who are inseparable friends, reside on the self-same tree. Of these, one eats the fruits of the tree with relish while the other looks on without eating.

I've explained the meaning quoting commentary of Adi Shankaracharya here. Atman due to the ignorance (which can be called Jivatma) constitutes the subtle body and experience the joy and grief through subtle body. Whereas Atman (supreme self or true self or can be called Paramatman) who is omniscient and is only sees these as witness.

In other words, According to Advaita, in the influence of Maya or at Vyavharika level, Brahman can be seen as 1.Jiva and 2.Ishwara out of them Jiva experience fruits of Karma (Bhokta) and Ishwara is seer (Upadrashta and Bharta). So, the properties of Atman described in the verse of Bhagavad Gita you mentioned in question are combination of properties of Jiva and Ishwara. In absolute individual self is not different with supreme self. So, due to ignorance or upon the influence of maya Atman can be said Bhokta.

I recommend to go through commentary of Adi Shankaracharya on that verse of Bhagavad Gita.

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Jiva suffers as long as it remains deluded by Maya. Strive for realization and suffering will come to an end.

Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna / Volume 1 / The Master's Birthday Celebration at Dakshineswar

God alone exists, and all else is unreal. The Divine Mother has kept all deluded by Her maya. Look at men. Most of them are entangled in worldliness. They suffer so much, but still they have the same attachment to 'woman and gold'. The camel eats thorny shrubs, and blood gushes from its mouth; still it will eat thorns. While suffering pain at the time of delivery, a woman says, 'Ah' I shall never go to my husband again.' But afterwards she forgets. The truth is that no one seeks God. There are people who eat the prickly leaves of the pineapple and not the fruit.

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Probably here the answer will vary depending on which philosophical school one is answering from.

My answer is from ShAkta Tantra which is purely Advaitic in nature (Not to be confused with a man made philosophy though).

According to Tantras, that the Jiva enjoys is a myth. It's actually the Kundalini Devi who enjoys and suffers.

Lord Shiva says:

MuladhAre tu yA shaktirbhujagAkArarupini |
JivAtmA parameshAni tanmadhe vartate sadA ||
BhojanecchA bhavet tasmAtnirlipto jivasamgyakah |
Saiva sakshAd gunamayi nirguna jiva uchyate ||
Jivasya bhojanam devi bhrAntireva na samshayah |
GunayuktA kundalini chandrasuryAgnirupini || 6


O Parameswari ! In the region of MulAdhAra the snake-like Kundalini Shakti resides and within it the Jiva resides always. It is the Kundalini Shakti from which the desire generates; the Jiva is completely indifferent regarding this. And that Kundalini is of the form of three Gunas the Jiva is Nirguna (devoid of qualities). The jiva (embodied human) is devoid of qualities. Devi, for the jiva, pleasure is delusion. There is no doubt about this. Kundalini, the form of Sun, Moon and Fire, is endowed with qualities.

MAtrikA Bheda Tantram Patala 3, Slokas 4,5,6.

(NOTE - For verse 6 the translation is borrowed from here).

So, the enjoyment and suffering, the Jiva is unaffected by both in truth.

In the Tantras, there are three types of aspirants:

  1. The Pashu - The Tamasik and the dualistic one. They are deluded into thinking that they themselves (i.e the Jiva) are suffering and enjoying but in truth level it is not so.

2,3- Vira (the heroic) and the Divya (divine) aspirants however both have the understanding that it's not they themselves who are enjoying/suffering.

So, while eating, for example, they imagine the Devi extended from the MulAdhAra to the tip of the tongue and consume their food by chanting a Mantra " ... Juhoyomi kundalimukhe ... " (I'm offering the oblation to the mouth of Kundalini Devi).

The result of the Pashu like behavior is repeated births in lower/higher worlds but that of the Vira and Divya like behaviors are liberation from bondage forever.

So, according to the Tantras it is only a delusion (or myth) that the Jiva or soul enjoys or suffers. It's actually not so in absolute level of reality.

  • Interesting. I'm not at all familiar with tantra. So by jiva you mean the individual soul jiva-atman right? You said above its the embodied human ... I think you meant to say embodied soul. Right? – The Crimson Universe Aug 10 '18 at 19:52
  • That's how the translator translated. I gave a link from where i took the translation of verse 6. Yes i meant the Jivatman only @TheCrimsonUniverse – Rickross Aug 11 '18 at 5:43
  • Thanks. Could you please enlighten me, a bit more about this kundalini shakti, like is it prana shakti (the vital life force) ? ... Also if the jivatman doesn't suffer according to shakta tantra, then who suffers when the desires are generated by this kundalini shakti? Does the subtle and gross body suffers? – The Crimson Universe Aug 13 '18 at 8:46
  • The Divine Mother (Parashakti) after creation takes rest in each Jiva at a place near the Muladhara Chakra, So Kundalini Shakti is no other than Divine Mother. For sake of creation Shiva and Shakti has to separate from each other. While Shakti stays at the base Shiva stays at the top (Sahsrara Chakra). If some one can raise this sleeping Shakti upwards and unite it with Shiva then that's Moksha. Creation exists as long as Shiva and Shakti are separate, creation dissolves when they are one again. As said in my answer the Jiva is Nirguna so it can't enjoy/suffer. It's Kundalini which/who enjoys. – Rickross Aug 13 '18 at 11:52
  • @TheCrimsonUniverse It's Divine Mother's free will to create and destroy so it's she only who enjoys and suffers. The Jiva who's basically the Brahman (Sadashiva) in bondage can not do anything but just witness Mother's Lila (sport). – Rickross Aug 13 '18 at 11:54

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