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Also known as jivatma(Sanskrit: "the embodied atman") or the Individual Self. Jiva, denotes an atma when it becomes conditioned under the influence of avidya-maya or karma and falsely identifies itself with prakriti.

It is a common perception that there is no difference between a jiva and an atma and both words are commonly translated as ‘soul’. But there is a very significant difference between the two. Atma is eternal and pure self-luminous consciousness which has no limitations or conditioning. Jiva, on the other hand, denotes an atma when it becomes conditioned under the influence of avidya or karma and falsely identifies itself with prakriti.

All jivas are atmas but all atmas are not necessarily jivas. Jiva is a complex entity with atma at its core and many conditioning layers superimposed on it due to avidya. A conditioned jiva forgets its true nature as pure consciousness and wrongly thinks that it is the physical body, manas and buddhi. It superimposes the characteristics of body such as gender, old age, sickness, tallness, fatness upon itself and becomes a samsara-bound jiva.

Types of Jivas

There are three categories of jivas:-

  • nitya suri — These are the members of the Divine Ministering Assembly which, although being jivas, have never been subjected to transmigration. They are the eternal servants who make up the entourage of the Lord. (eg. Ananta, Garuda, Vishvaksena and others.)
  • mukta — Those jivas that have finally been liberated from the cycle of reincarnation after going through a myriad of births and which are now residing in the Supreme Realm (paramapada) in eternal communion with Sriman Narayana enjoying the fullness of Grace and the divine bliss.
  • baddha — Those jivas that are temporarily bound by karma which causes them to transmigrate through different bodies in the various realms of existence of which there are seven. These realms of existence are called Lokas and for the purpose of working through their Karma, the jivas incarnate in 6 types of bodies;

a. animal tiryak

b. human manushya

c. gods deva

d. antigods asura

e. hungry ghost preta

f. Hell-being naraki

There are six principle negative emotions associated with embodiment. Each one of these categories of sentient beings is dominated by one of these negative emotions. Animals are characterised by ignorance (moha), humans are characterised by desire (kama). The gods are characterised by pride (mada). The antigods are characterised by jealousy (matsarya), the hungry ghosts are characterised by greed (lobha) and the hell-beings are characterised by anger or resentment (krodha). Although these are taught to be actual physical incarnated states we can perceive their existence in the realm of human psychology.

Although it is popularly believed and taught that after a human birth one can regress and incarnate in an animal body, this is not necessarily the case. The animals do not have a moral sense of right and wrong and are governed by their instincts. The spiritual progress of animals is a passive not an active one and therefore they cannot actively participate in the achievement of Liberation (Moksha). They simply have a natural evolution from a lower to a higher life form. Whereas in the human form one has the ability to think and to undertake the entire responsibility for one’s own spiritual evolution. Virtuous and pious action (punya) and spiritual study & wisdom (jñanam) lead to progression and evolution but sinful action (papam) and spiritual ignorance (ajñanam) lead to rebirth in lower human species, and certainly one can see that there are certain human beings that are very much on a par with or lower th!an animals in their condition and behaviour!!

Those baddhas who have begun the journey back to Godhead can further be divided into another two groups:

Kevalas - or the super jñanis (wise-ones) who are the yogis who pursue the path of self-realisation/enlightenment alone and seek total isolation of the Self such as the Jains or the transcending of Self, such as the Theravadan Buddhists; as their ultimate goal through the practice of meditation.

Mumukshus - those jivas who have taken to the spiritual path and are seeking communion with the Lord either through Bhakti - devotion or sharanagati - the path of self surrender.