Interpreting shruti vAkya for eka jIva

upanishad  The Upanishads are the records of the “Knowledge” gained by the supremely dedicated Sages and Seers in the distant times through their incisive questioning and unbiased inquiry. They are written in the idiom and style of the day, at the same time taking a great care to see that the purity and pristine nature of the message is preserved for the posterity without getting mutilated by the passage of time. Hence, access to them was highly restricted. Their wording is very cryptic, symbolical and often too profound to be apparent to a casual reader. The Knowledge Itself, however, does not come with any tags of intellectual property rights or authorship claims. But expounding the real meaning of the text (called as ‘mantras’) demands expertise in many auxiliary fields like logic (nyAya), grammar(vyAkaraNa), prosody (chandas), orthology (nirukta) and linguistics in addition to a familiarity of the cultural milieu of the times. The Upanishads were transmitted orally to a closed group of eligible and committed students either by a father to son or teacher to disciple tradition. This method of imparting the Upanishadic Knowledge is known as sampradAya. In the absence of a Guru explicating them, it is impossible to make sense of them or understand clearly the meaning in-depth. Prakashananada’s interpretation of the svetaswatara Upanishad mantra IV – 5 following a dialectical approach of taking the thesis of the opponent and then providing its rebuttal to establish the eka jIva vAda typically illustrates the point made above. It is presented here as a conversation between an opponent and Swami Prakashananda Saraswati.


अजामेकां लोहितशुक्लकृष्णां
बह्वीः प्रजाः सृजमानां सरूपाः
अजो ह्येको जुषमाणोऽनुशेते
जहात्येनां भुक्तभोगामजोऽन्यः  — svetasvatara, IV – 5.

(Meaning: There is one unborn (avidyA) − red, white and black − which (appears to) gives birth to many creatures like itself. An unborn (jIvA) becomes attached to it and enjoys it. The unborn (jIva) transcends that (avidyA) which in reality is different from him.

The meaning of the first word in the above mantra is “the one, unborn.” It doesn’t tell explicitly who or what that ‘one’ is.

So the opponent immediately raises a question.

Opponent (O): “Well, how can you say this mantra talks about avidyA, as it is not mentioned here at all!”

PrakAshAnanda (P): “Yes, the word avidyA itself is not there. But the word अजां (ajAM) is in the feminine gender. Therefore, it refers to avidyA only.”

O:  “How can avidyA be one only and not many?

P:  “The avidyA is indicated to be one only by the use of the adjective ekAm. Further, it is said to have the ability to create.”

O: “How”

P: “The words red, white and black (loHita, shukla, kRishNa) show that it comprises the three guNa-s – rajas, sattva and tamas respectively.”

The use of the word ajAm, ‘unborn’, for the second time in the second line, negates the birth of jIva who is conditioned (upahita) by the avidyA described in the first line. The use of the word eka (one) for the second time as an adjective of the jIva, shows that there is no multiplicity and that he is one only.

O:  “How can you say that? The multiplicity of jIvA-s is available for common experience.”

P:  “The oneness is well-known because of the interjection ‘hi.’

[The sub-commentator explains that PrakAshAnanda is saying that the fact that there is only one jIva is well known through Upanishad sentences such as:

एको देवः सर्व्वभूतेषु गूढः    —  svetaswatara, VI – 11

(God, who is one only …);

नान्योऽतोऽस्ति द्रष्टा  नान्योऽतोऽस्ति श्रोता नान्योऽतोऽस्ति मन्ता नान्योऽतोऽस्ति विज्ञाता  brihadAraNyaka, III – vii – 23

(There is no other witness but Him, no other hearer but Him, no other thinker but Him, no other knower but Him…. );

एक एव हि भूतात्मा भूते भूते व्यवस्थितः  brahma bindu up.,  12

(Being the One, the Universal pervades all beings. Though one, It is seen as many);

etc. etc. etc.]

The logical argument presented here is that both the conditioning element (avidyA) and what is being reflected within it, viz,. brahman are (each)  one only. Therefore, jIva is also one only.

Thus, it gets established that there is only one jIva.


The dialogue, however, continues between Prakashananda and the Opponent as follows:

O:  “jIva is non-different from brahman, how did he “become” separate from brahman?”

P: (Quoting Upanishad): “The jIva will be as though asleep when he is in the grip of avidyA for, avidyA obscures his intellect. Being deluded thus, he experiences the same avidyA, now in the form of products, the objects of sense perception – and like a dreamer, he becomes a samsarI, an experiencer of his own ignorance in the form of external objects.”

O:  “If avidyA is beginningless (because the Upanishad says it is aja (unborn), it follows that it is endless too. If it cannot be ended, the entire moksha shAstra is useless.”

P:  “But the Upanishad also says that the Self-Knowledge that is directly understood from mahAvAkya sentences will allow the jIva to transcend this avidyA.”

O:  “If avidyA has to be anyway rejected, why did brahman manifest it at all?”

P: “Because the mantra says bhuktabhogAm. It is for experiencing. From the standpoint of the Self, the utility of avidyA is rejected and then jIva transcends (jahAti) avidyA.

O:  “By definition, the jIva includes avidyA. In other words, avidyA is inherent in the nature of jIva. How then can the jIva ever transcend it?

P:  “The Upanishad negates that avidyA is the nature of the jIva, by the use of the term anya (“other”)

What it means is that the nature of the unborn one, i.e.  jIva, is different from avidyA. avidyA is not inherent in jIva‘s nature. The attributes of the AvaraNa (the covering) do not belong to what it encloses. avidyA is inert by nature, whereas the jIva is a conscious entity.


VedAnta siddhAnta muktAvali“, authored by SvAmi PrakAshAnanda, published by Achyuta granthamAla kAryAlaya, Kashi, 1993, pages 17-19.

“ShankarAchArya and DrishTi-SrishTi VAda,” by Venkatraghavan, S., May-2016, For  free download Click

[Acknowledgements:  The above Post is an adaptation using material from the first reference which was kindly made available by Shri Venkataraghavan. His article on ‘Shankara and DSV’ brings much clarity to the topic. Further, he has been kind to correct and vet the draft version of the present post. I am obliged for his help and support. I thank Shri Venkat too for the nudge he provided in shriveling my disinclination in posting this write up. The figure appearing at the top left is from: ]

6 thoughts on “Interpreting shruti vAkya for eka jIva

  1. Thanks for posting that, Ramesam (only just found it!). An impressive analysis. Let it rest there for a while. It is my intention to post something similar eventually (probably based on Br. U.), to express my understanding of the situation and which will still not support EJV. But I acknowledge that, at present, your view is more persuasive.

    Best wishes,

    • Dear Dennis,

      Thank you.

      I was confident that you will see reason and therefore, I persisted. Sorry, if I sounded a bit aggressive in some of my comments.

      2. Hope you have heard the 10 min Audio posted by Shri Subbu (I gave the link at one of my comments at the last thread).

      3. I found a lot more shruti indications for EJV as I looked into on the Internet, but all that can rest for now, as you said.

      4. I have been reading Prof. Sthaneshwar Timalsina’s “Consciousness in Indian Philosophy – The Advaita doctrine of ‘Awareness only’ ” Routledge, 2009 (ISBN 978-0-415-77677-6).
      A comprehensive presentation, sounds very authentic; but not easy to read. Almost all his analysis goes by dRiShTi-sRiShTi and EJV as the thrust of Advaita.

      5. Incidentally, I am also curious to know what is the view expressed by Sw- C & D on EJV — you may like to add a line when you choose to make your next write up on this subject.


  2. Dear Ramesam

    Thanks very much for posting this – and also the article by Sri Venkatraghavan.

    I have always found Mandukyakarika a superlative, clear and direct text, on the nature of experience in the waking state and therefore the logic of EJV.

    We always say that reason supported by experience, together with sruti, must be the basis for understanding the nature of reality. If I examine my experience the only thing I know for certain is that I exist and am conscious. Everything else, especially my ego and identification with a body-mind, is an a priori assumption.

    Vedanta points you back to the fundamentals of what you are, and tries to disentangle you from the various assumptions that you have held. EJV, in teaching that all perceived objects are unreal, is I think, the “occam’s razor” of pointers.

    Mandukyakarika talks about asparsa yoga – to be untouched by duality. What better way than EJV teaching?

    Krishnamurti too talks of this asparsa yoga:
    “The ecstasy of solitude comes when you are not frightened to be alone, no longer belonging to the world or attached to anything.”

    Best wishes

  3. Dear Venkat,

    Thank you for the kind observations.

    The two sentences that you wrote, viz., ” EJV, in teaching that all perceived objects are unreal, is I think, the “occam’s razor” of pointers,” and “Mandukyakarika talks about asparsa yoga – to be untouched by duality. What better way than EJV teaching?” express very well the crux of the matter.


  4. It amazes me to think that discussions like this can lead anywhere. It reminds me of a conversation that an old friend of mine had with UG. He asked UG how do you get passed all this junk, garbage, this vast knowledge and conditioning about everything and into direct experience.

    UG:Which means you have memorized these phrases very well. Like the Vedantins sitting on the banks of the river indulging in hair splitting discussions. They discuss everlastingly these abstractions: the observer and the observed, the thinker and the thought—we have been through all this for too long.

    So what is the good of you people sitting here and discussing the same things again and again. There is no such thing as experiencing without an experiencer and the experienced. Even if it is there, it cannot become part of your conscious structure. So what are you going to do about it? You just throw in the towel. That’s it. Then, there’ll be tremendous energy for you to deal with this reality. This is the only reality and there is no other reality and you cannot run away from it.

    Then you’ll find out that it is utter nonsense to talk about the religious mind. You have imposed all these abstractions, your profound ideas of religious mind, stillness of mind, self realized state, atman, Brahman and all that, and that is the unnatural movement of life. It is moving out in the direction of something else outside of you and that is what is creating that division in you.

    How long can you go on this way, chewing the cud like the cows do? You can’t help yourself and that is the situation. You must just let go. But as long as you accept any mystery, any miracle, any agency outside of you, you are going to be caught up in this mischief. There is no power outside of you. If there is a god, you are that god, not the abstractions, absolutes, and all that nonsense. There is no intelligence outside of you and you have to just let that intelligence come into operation.

    • “It is in the simplicity of your ordinary work, in the monotonous details of each day, that you have to find the secret, which is hidden from so many, of something great and new: Love.” (Saint Josemaría, Founder of Opus Dei).

      Anonymous, please hold your nose because you may find a stench inside the church, just as you find a stench everywhere in the world, except near your buddy, you know who!

      Best regards,
      Shishya, trying to grow up.

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