A week ago I said about jiva falldown issue that if one reads Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books it would never ever occur to him that we were never with Kṛṣṇa and so our goal is not to go back go Godhead because we were never there. Apparently, there’s a passage in our books that suggests exactly that, that we, as spirit souls, were created devoid of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and then placed under the illusion of material nature. If we were to go back, it wouldn’t be to Kṛṣṇa. This discovery demands an explanation, so far I haven’t seen one so I need to speculate about it myself.
Let’s not jump into the passage itself head first but look at a bigger picture. What I need to do is prove that this passage dovetails perfectly with everything else Śrīla Prabhupāda said on the issue. If that fails, I need to find a way to discount this passage as insignificant or unrelated, or find a different interpretation that suits me better. If that fails I might need to accept that Śrīla Prabhupāda contradicted himself on this occasion and then I have to find an acceptable way to deal with this contradiction. I might have to consider the possibility that Prabhupāda made a mistake. I might consider the possibility that editors made a mistake in transcription.
If everything fails, I might consider drawing different conclusions rather than the most obvious, no-fall-vada one. If I sit down and ponder this for a while longer I might find other ways of explaining this passage away without changing my opinion. From a debate POV none of them would be acceptable, our opponents might say that this is grasping at straws, that I’m being unreasonable, that I’m concocting ideas that are simply not there, that I’m not taking the message as it is. All of these accusations might be perfectly valid but the bottom line is fidelity to Śrīla Prabhupāda which should not be compromised no matter what.
Perhaps I’ll have to accept that this fidelity does not produce a perfect, acceptable explanation of this one point, meaning that Kṛṣṇa consciousness fails in face of logic. There are ways of dealing with this conclusion, too – we should always be humble and prepare to surrender to the Lord against all odds, as a leap of faith, not reason.
It would be appropriate to once again draw the difference between truth and facts here – truth is that Kṛṣṇa is God, Śrīla Prabhupāda is His representative, and so we should serve both of them no matter what. “Facts” can be whatever they are and cannot affect the truth. Between being right and being Kṛṣṇa’s servant we know what we have to choose. We should also remember that we cannot serve Kṛṣṇa without serving Prabhupāda. Fidelity to one means fidelity to the other, they cannot be separated. “Prabhupada might be wrong but Kṛṣṇa is still God” is not an acceptable solution here.
So, with this background in mind, let’s see what the problem here is. The passage in question is from a purport to one of the verses of Śrī Īśopaniṣad (Iso 16):
The all-pervading feature of the Lord—which exists in all circumstances of waking and sleeping as well as in potential states and from which the jīva-śakti (living force) is generated as both conditioned and liberated souls—is known as Brahman. Since the Lord is the origin of both Paramātmā and Brahman, He is the origin of all living entities and all else that exists.
1974 edition of Īśopaniṣad has this sentence exactly the same (here). There are pdf scans of 1969 edition online (here, for example) but it might take a while to download it, depending on your connection, and the sentence there reads essentially the same, minus silly punctuation mistakes and a couple of words that do not affect the meaning, so editor’s error can be counted out.
It’s the beginning of the last paragraph and from there Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks about necessity to engage in Kṛṣṇa’s service. In the previous paragraphs he discusses the relationship between the Lord and the living entities and various levels of realization and so nothing in this purport suggests it should answer the question of jīva’s origin, just this one sentence.
On the surface of it, Śrīla Prabhupāda says that living entities are generated from Brahman but note the term jīva-śakti rather than jīvas, and “living force” rather than “living entities”. We aren’t “living force”, we are souls possessing such force, though it could be argued that two terms here are interchangeable.
Note that in one of the previous paragraphs Śrīla Prabhupāda also states:
The living entities are also differentiated expansions of the Lord’s Self, and because some of them desire to be lords and imitate the Supreme Lord, He allows them to enter into the cosmic creation with the option to fully utilize their propensity to lord it over nature.
One could say here that there are two steps to generating living entities as expansions – first the Lord generates Brahman, and then from Brahman He generates souls. It’s a nice counter argument but still it’s not what Prabhupāda talks about in this purport, jīva origin is not discussed here, what he says forms only a basis for our own speculation of how it happened.
Brahman as the origin of souls can also be questioned in light of, well, light. This and the previous verse talk about dazzling light emanating from the Lord’s face, the brahma-jyotir, and Śrīla Prabhupāda cites several sources explaining this light, including Brahma-Saṃhitā and Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (in Iso 15). He also cites Jīva Gosvami’s Bhagavat-sandarbha where brahma-jyotir is equated with Brahman. In the purport to the next verse (Iso 17) he contradicts the conclusion that jivas are generated from Brahman when he states:
As we have learned from previous mantras, the brahma-jyotir emanating from the transcendental body of the Lord is full of spiritual sparks that are individual entities with the full sense of existence.
See how Brahman, or brahma-jyotir, is not anymore the “source of” of but “full of” living entities. This fits perfectly well with everything he said before and after on the topic – liberated living entities devoid of Kṛṣṇa consciousness end up floating in Brahman, or brahma-jyotir. It’s already a fallen position – fallen from service to the Lord. We don’t know how exactly the souls end up there, some are clearly elevated to that level from the material world, for example.
There are lots of other questions that can be raised about the original, doubt producing sentence: “The all-pervading feature of the Lord—which exists in all circumstances of waking and sleeping as well as in potential states and from which the jīva-śakti (living force) is generated as both conditioned and liberated souls..” Where does this “waking and sleeping” come from? These states describe conditioned living entities under the power of māya, not the ones with Brahman realization. What other potential states are there? Are some souls generated as conditioned while others are born liberated? It seems the sentence raises lots of unrelated topics but doesn’t clarify them and never mentions them again. *We* can draw various conclusions from it but Śrīla Prabhupāda clearly wasn’t interested in pursuing them, it wasn’t on his mind at all.
So, while it appears straightforward and “as it is”, it actually isn’t, the answer to jīva origin issue appears completely out of context there. The sentence also doesn’t state that we never have been with Kṛṣṇa, only that living force is generated from Brahman “as both conditioned and liberated souls”. We could easily read that from Brahman realization we can either enter the material world and become “conditioned souls” or pursue Kṛṣṇa consciousness and enter spiritual planets, meaning the sentence is not about our past but about our future.
I don’t think any of these explanations would satisfy no-fall-vadīs but they put my mind at ease, at least for now. Should that sentence be worded differently? Perhaps, but then I also appreciate the opportunity to discuss it as it is, I actually quite like it that way, spiced with a touch of controversy.
One thing is clear, as a verifiable fact – existence of this sentence hasn’t changed ISCKON position on the jīva origin issue. Thousands and thousands of devotees read and studied it and didn’t take it as proof that we were never with Kṛṣṇa, it didn’t even enter their minds to read it like that. Why should we start our own interpretation then? I don’t see a reason to step out of line here and risk putting my spiritual health in grave danger.
It’s just not worth it. It’s not that big of a fact to sacrifice or even doubt the truth.