(Last Updated on : 14/05/2010)
According to the Visistadvaita Vedanta, jivas are infinite in number and are also different from one another. Both the Kathopanisad and Svetasvatara Upanishad say that chetanas (the individual selves) are eternal and many (nityanam bahunam cetananam). Apart from this scriptural authority, the plurality of selves is said to be evident from our own experience. The fact that knowledge, memory, desire, happiness and suffering, birth and death pertaining to each individual differ from each other proves that jivas are different from one another. Otherwise, everybody would be conscious of the feelings and thought of everyone else. Except on the ground of each jiva being different from another it is not possible to explain satisfactorily the variation in experiences of different individuals.
There are certain theories put forward by the Advaita Vedanta
which do not admit the plurality of individual souls. According to the Advaitin, the only one Ultimate Reality is the true self which is the very Brahman
. However, the same appears as many due to cosmic ignorance known as maya
or avidya. The plurality of jivas which is apparent to our ordinary experience is explained on the basis of limiting adjuncts (upadhi). The one true self or atman when conditioned by different internal organs (antahka rana) are regarded as jivas, in the same way as one akasa or space becomes many when conditioned by different pots. The plurality is also explained in a different way on the analogy of the single moon appearing as many when it is reflected in the waves. The self which is claimed to be one, appears as many when reflected in the different internal organs.
Both these theories are rejected by the Visistadvaita as unsound. The major defect is that with the removal of the adjuncts causing the appearance of one as many, the jivas cease to exist. Apart from the fact that the unreality of jivas goes against scriptural teaching, it does not explain satisfactorily the concept of bondage and release of different souls from the bondage. It does not also account for the individual's endeavour to attain moksha
by pursuing the prescribed spiritual discipline. If jivas were illusory in character, there would be no point in any of their attempts to attain a positive spiritual goal. The very doctrine of maya, on the basis of which the 'one' appearing as 'many' is sought to be explained, stands refuted since it is full of contradictions.
Hence the Visistadvaitin asserts, on the authority of both the scripture and experience, that jivas are eternal and infinite in number.