The Spiritual Form of the Self

by Sriman Muralidhar das

Following is a critique of the philosophy of the Radha Kunda babajis who teach that when a disciple comes to a guru he should be "given" a spiritual body of a manjari. In this article, the author carefully presents the teachings of Prabhupada Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur who taught that this "siddha pranali" system of worship is a concoction and a deviation from the ways of devotion taught by Sri Rupa-Sanatana.

A significant aspect of the siddha-pranali doctrine as it is generally practiced nowadays is the proposition that a guru will assign a spiritual body to their disciple. Followers of this doctrine think the spiritual form of a liberated person is given by their guru to a devotee.

For example, in a book about manjari swarup written by Kunjabihari das Babaji he wrote:

"In the Lord's abode, there are an unlimited number of forms, all suitable for rendering service to him. Every one of those forms is non-different from him, being expanded from his effulgence; each one is eternal, full of consciousness and bliss. They are the crowning, central jewels of the spiritual world - its very life. These unlimited spiritual bodies are the perfected forms of the liberated souls which are awarded to an individual, according to his taste, when he reaches the state of absolute liberation. This state is called attainment of the spiritual body. All these spiritual bodies are eternal for they exist even before the liberated souls enter them and will continue to exist ever afterward. However, prior to the entry of the liberated soul they are in an inactive state."

As all of the unlimited souls are servants of the Lord, each one of them has a spiritual body in the Lord's abode just suitable for rendering service to the Lord. When an individual becomes qualified for direct service to the Lord by the grace of the Goddess of Devotion, then the Supreme Lord awards him that spiritual body.

According to this school of belief, a devotee must be “awarded” or “given” a spiritual body (siddha-deha) by their guru so they can practice the meditation that they are assisting Sri Radha in the divine pastimes of the spiritual world. If some disciple has not been given a spiritual body by their guru then how can the disciple engage in the practice of raganuga bhakti?

Yet it must be pointed out that according to the Vedanta Sutra (4.4.1) and Sri Sanatana Goswami (Brhadbagavatamrtam, 2.2), a soul never gets given a spiritual body at any time. The spiritual body is an eternal and inseparable facet of the individual soul, the jiva-atma. The spiritual form of the self is eternally and inseparably connected to the individual self. My spiritual body is inseparable from me and, though dormant, my spiritual body has been with me for all of eternity. When a soul desires to render service to the Lord in his spiritual form then the dormant spiritual body becomes fully manifest. This is clearly stated to be the case in the Vedanta Sutra and in more recent texts such as Sri Sanatana Goswami's book Brhadbhagavatamrtam. It is utterly wrong to think that a soul can be given a spiritual body. In the commentary by Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana to verse 4.4.1 (sampadyavirbhavah svena sabdat) of the Vedanta Sutra, Baladeva has written the following:

"The individual soul who, by means of devotional service accompanied with knowledge and renunciation, attains the effulgent Supreme, becomes free from the bondage of karma and attains a body endowed with eight virtues. This body is said to be the soul's original form. Why is that? The sutra explains, “svena-sabdat” (because of the word “svena”). The word “svena” here means, “in his own original form”. For this reason it cannot be said that this passage means, “the soul arrives there and then accepts a form which is an external imposition”. In that way it is proved that the form here is the original form of the soul."

In this section of Vedanta Sutra, the topic being discussed is: “When a soul attains liberation does the soul attain a body that is different from himself, as the bodies of demigods are different from their inner self, or does the soul manifest his original identity which is not different from himself?” In Baladeva's commentary, he emphatically declares that in his sutras Vyasa himself is saying that when a soul becomes liberated they realize their inner identity and see they are a purely spiritual self with an eternal body of full of spiritual consciousness and bliss (sat-chitananda).

Baladeva quotes the Chandogya Upanishad:

"Thus does that serene being, arising from this body, appear in its own form, as soon as it has approached the highest light, the knowledge of Self. He, in that state, is the highest person (uttama purusha). He moves about there laughing or eating, playing, and rejoicing in his mind, be it with women, carriages, or relatives, never minding that body into which he was born."
Chandogya Upanishad 8.12.3.

Baladev Vidyabhusan then quotes from the Padma Purana:

anur nityo vyapti-silas cid-anandatmakas tatha
aham artho 'vyayah saksi bhinna-rupah sanatanah

"The soul is atomic, eternal, is present by consciousness everywhere in the material body, is by nature full of spiritual bliss and knowledge, has a sense of individual identity, is unchanging, is a witness within the body, and is different from the Supreme."

Srila Baladev Vidyabhusan states that the spiritual form of bliss the liberated being attains is the original form of the soul that lay dormant within when the soul was in illusion. The Vedanta Sutra tells us that the spiritual body of the liberated being is the soul's original form. This form is a form of eternity, knowledge and bliss, as is mentioned in the verse above (cid-ananda-atma). It is not that the soul attains liberation and enters into a spiritual body or a form of existence which is an external imposition, an external state of being different from the self itsef. Not at all. The liberated soul realizes the spiritual nature of one's own inner being.

Srila Sanatan Gosvami has also presented the same conclusion. In his commentary to verse 2.2186 of Sri Brhadbhagavatamrtam, Srila Sanatan Gosvami quotes Shankaracarya's verse, “mukta api lilaya vigraham kritva bhagavantam bhajanta”, which he translated as “Even the liberated assume a form and worship the Lord in his pastimes”. Srila Sanatan Gosvami then quotes Srimad Bhagavatam 6.14.5 “muktanam api siddhanam narayana parayana”, that is, “The liberated and perfected souls are engaged in Narayan's service.” Then Srila Sanatan Gosvami asks himself: “If liberated souls didn't have forms then how could they engage in the Lord's service?” The answer: “Bhagavati layam praptasyapi nri dehasya mahamuneh punar narayana rupena pradurbhavah”. Even those who have merged into the Lord have dormant human forms.

The statement of Srila Sanatan Goswami is clear and unambiguous. Even those souls who have never known Krishna and are merged in the formless light of Brahman have dormant human forms.

In another part of Brhad Bhagatamrtam, the commentary to verse 2.2.207, Sri Sanatana Goswami also wrote:

"O great sage, among many millions who are liberated and perfect in knowledge of liberation, one may be a devotee of Lord Narayana, or Krishna. Such devotees, who are fully peaceful, are extremely rare. Impersonalists generally imagine themselves perfect and liberated, and among them a very few may actually attain impersonal liberation. But those rare souls, like all others, are eternal servants of Hari, the all attractive Lord. Out of millions of such rare liberated impersonalists, one very fortunate soul may realize this natural fact. Since intelligence is dormant in the “merged” soul, it can be reawakened. Even the liberated souls who have merged into the formless divine light of the spiritual sky retain their eternal spiritual bodies, complete with spiritual mind and senses. Nothing, not even liberation, can ever deprive a jiva of these assets. Thus when a liberated soul gains the favour of the Supreme Lord's personal energy, his spiritual body and senses are reawakened for hearing and chanting the glories of Lord Hari and acting in other ways for the Lord's pleasure."

The spiritual body and senses are reawakened, so that the soul returns to his original state of pure siddha perfection. This soul in its pure state, still merged in Brahman, can develop a mood of submission to the Absolute and begin moving towards the gates of the spiritual world. Or, awakening with a false sense of ego, the soul may descend into the world of duality, birth and death. Again and again the jiva may attain Brahman and then fall again, developing an “exploiting” mentality that drags the soul back into samsara. However the soul who enters the kingdom of Narayana attains real immortality.

Elsewhere in Brhad Bhagatamrtam, Srila Sanatan Goswami gives a beautiful description of souls entering the spiritual world of Vaikuntha. The form of one's self that someone contemplates during one's life of devotional practice, the stage of sadhana bhakti, is the form you will have in your state of perfection. And that state of being of a soul is capable of further transformation and development.

Srila Sanatan Goswami describes souls entering the spiritual world:

"Some came with associates, some with paraphernalia, and some with both associates and paraphernalia. Some merged their associates and paraphernalia in their own selves and became like penniless solitary sages plunged in the nectar of meditation. Some moment by moment manifested different wonderful and charming forms, each opulent with different and wonderful ornaments, features and pastimes. Some were humans, some monkeys, some demigods, some demons, and some sages. Others carried the marks of being initiated in the orders of varna and ashrama. Some were like Indra, Chandra or the other gods. Some had three eyes, some four heads, and some four arms, some eight arms, and some a thousand faces. I will tell you the reason for this great wonder: How can they who taste the nectar of devotion to Lord Krishna not be handsome? The glories of Vaikuntha's residents, who are all beyond the material world of five elements, the glories of Vaikunthaloka and of Vaikuntha's hero, Narayana, cannot be described with the examples drawn from the world of five elements. "
(Brhad Bhagatamrtam 2.4.35-41)

Download the book, "Spiritual Successors of the Six Goswamis" (in PDF).

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