Bhakti is not possible if the living entity does not have individuality and free will separate from the Supreme Personality. A relationship can only be possible when there are two individual conscious personalities. Hence, bhakti presupposes two principles -
- The living entity and the Supreme Personality have a separate individual conscious existence.
- The Supreme Personality is the predominating principle and the living entity is the predominated.
Actually, the Vedic literatures conclude that the living entity and the Supreme Lord are simultaneously both one and different. The living entity is considered to be the energy of the Supreme Lord, which is quite evident from the following verse of the Bhagavad gita –
bhumir apo ’nalo vayuh kham mano buddhir eva
ca ahankara itiyam me bhinna prakrtir astadha
apareyam itas tv anyam prakrtim viddhi me param
jiva-bhutam maha-baho yayedam dharyate jagat
Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego—all together these eight constitute my separated material energies. Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature. (Bhagavad gita 7.4-5)
Hence, the living entity is a part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, yet the living entity cannot be considered to be the Supreme Lord himself. Elsewhere in the Srimad Bhagavatam (1.2.11) it is mentioned that the Supreme Lord is considered to be advayam (non-dual).
One may wonder that if the Supreme Lord is the one non-dual Absolute Truth then how is there a distinction between his person and his energy. An analogy may be given about the sun and the sun’s rays. Though the rays of the sun emanate from the sun and is one with the sun, nevertheless it cannot be considered to be the sun. Similarly, the conclusion is that the living entity and the Supreme Lord are simultaneously one in quality and different in quantity, and that this fact is inconceivable to an ordinary living entity. This philosophy is called Achintya-bhedabheda, which has been accepted as the original conclusion of the Vedic scriptures by the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya.
Two major philosophical schools, namely Advaita (monism) and Dvaita (dualism), with diametrically opposite philosophies have emerged to explain this subject about the ontological relation between the living entity and the Supreme Lord. Though firmly grounded on the Vedic scriptures, each lacks what the other has.
The monists and the dualists believe that the principle of oneness and difference existing together in the same place transgresses the boundaries of reality. They think that if oneness is true it must be true universally, and if difference is true it must also be true universally. In their minds, both cannot co-exist indepentently.There cannot be both duality and oneness – one of these doctrines must have supremacy over the other. However, the monists find their attempts to practice the doctrine of oneness impossible. Similarly, the dualist will find his position untenable. However, the philosophy of Achintya-bhedabheda – inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and distinction – is the highest harmonizing principle.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains in ‘Mahaprabhu’s Teachings’ that different philosophers hold different conclusions about the nature of the living entity based on their predominating nature (goodness, passion and ignorance). He concludes that those who succeed in piercing these three modes of material nature can reason without prejudice, and thus accept with devotion the words of Chaitanya-charitamrita:
‘mayadhisa’ ‘maya-vasa’——isvare-jive bheda
hena-jive isvara-saha kaha ta’ abheda
gita-sastre jiva-rupa ‘sakti’ kari’ mane
hena jive ‘bheda’ kara isvarera sane
The Lord is the master of the potencies, and the living entity is the servant of them. That is the difference between the Lord and the living entity. However, you declare that the Lord and the living entities are one and the same. In the Bhagavad gita the living entity is established as the marginal potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yet you say that the living entity is completely different from the Lord. (Caitanya-charitamrita, 2.162-3)
Innumerable living entities originate from the marginal potency of the Supreme Lord. There, in that marginal plane, the living entities are in a state of equilibrium. But, due to their innate nature they gradually become attracted to either the spiritual or the material energy of the Supreme Person.
The Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad explains the following about the marginal position of the living entities –
tasya va etasya purusasya dve eva sthane bhavata
idam ca paralokasthanam ca sandhyam trtiyam
svapnasthanam tasminsandhye sthane tisthannete
ubhe sthane pasyatidam ca paralokasthanam ca
The living entity has two locations, the material world and the spiritual world. The living entity is situated at a third position, called svapna-sthana, on the border between these two places. Situated in this marginal place, he can see both the material and spiritual worlds. (Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad 4.3.9)
tadyatha mahamatsya ubhe kule’
nusancarati purvam caparam caivam
evayam purusa etavubhavantav
anusancarati svapnantam ca buddhantam ca
Just as a large fish living in the river wanders from one bank to the other, so the living entity is of similar quality, and is equipped to wander in the waters between the material and spiritual worlds. (Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad 4.3.18)
This marginal plane is not a resting place, hence the living entity are bound to choose between either the spiritual plane of spiritual dedication or the material plane of material exploitation.
Srila B.R. Sridhara Maharaja, an illustrious stalwart of the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya, explains the origin of the minute living entities and how they come to this material world, thus –
Because the soul is very small, his freedom is also imperfect; a soul in the marginal position is very vulnerable. Freedom does not mean absolute freedom. Because the soul’s existence is small, his freedom is defective; there is the possibility of committing a mistake. Freedom of the minute soul does not mean perfect freedom. Complete freedom would be perfect reality, but the minute soul is endowed with the smallest atomic freedom. This is the position of the atoms of consciousness, and this is why they are vulnerable. They may judge properly or improperly; that is the position of those who are situated in the marginal position. If the soul were not endowed with the freedom to determine his position, we would have to blame God for our suffering. But we cannot blame God. The starting point of the soul’s suffering is within himself.
Also, we find the following verse in the Chaitanya- charitamrita, which explains that the living entity is constitutionally an eternal servant of Krishna – the Supreme Personality, but it forgets this fact and enters the material world, the plane of exploitation.
‘krishna-nitya-dasa’——jiva taha bhuli’ gela
ei dose maya tara galaya bandhila
The living entity is bound around the neck by the chain of maya because he has forgotten that he is eternally a servant of Krishna. (Chaitanya- charitamrita, 2.22.24)
Getting entangled in the material world, the living entity acts under the influence of three modes of material nature and becomes entitled for its reaction, or karma. In this karmic cycle of birth and death the living entity misidentifies itself with its temporary body and experiences the flickering pleasures and pains that comes along with it.
Only when the living entity comes in contact with a pure devotee of Krishna does he acquire true knowledge and realize his true position as an eternal servitor of the Supreme Lord. In such a position one may serve the Lord in his supreme abode in one of five relationships – in a neutral state, in reverence, as a friend, as a parent or as a lover. Attaining such a high position in the Lord’s personal entourage is not a cheap thing and cannot be imitated. It can only be evoked by the perfection of pure devotional service. This is the special gift that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to bestow to the world.