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Recently, a devotee shared their perspective on the perpetual “fall of the jiva” question. The devotee’s position is this: the Bhagavada Gita says once we go back to Godhead we never return, their Guru confirms this, and those who disagree are guilty of philosophical deviation.
I had previously formed my own opinion about the jiva fall. I considered it an inconceivable, unresolvable issue–one in which people can have differing, yet equally valid, views. So I told the devotee we need not see those with different views as deviators.
At the same time, inwardly, I did not accept their position at face value. I am pursuing graduate studies in Conflict Resolution and have learned that in most cases the real conflict is other than the surface debate. We must identify the root cause of the conflict or there is no hope of resolution. Resolving the surface issue may create some temporary remedy, but the conflict will continue to arise. It seems the history of this issue in our movement fits that description.
My opinion that, in this regard, divergent views can be equally valid, is ideal for someone involved in conflict resolution, but after researching Srila Prabhupada’s teaching (cited below) I could no longer remain neutral. Srila Prabhupada’s position is not contradictory or ambiguous.
In this way I have identified the root issue. The real question is whether or not we accept Srila Prabhupada as the ultimate authority.
Some may say that Gaudiya Vaisnava Acharyas can have differing viewpoints, therefore a different perspective from a previous acharya in our line can be held as equally valid to Srila Prabhupada’s. But we must acknowledge that often, the seeming contradiction among acharyas can be reconciled by understanding the nature and context of presentation.
This must be the case here because the nature of the jiva is an ontological issue (ontology is defined as “the nature of existence”). There can be disagreement amongst acharyas on certain issues, but all Gaudiya Vaisnavas agree on the nature of existence. Thus, we can be certain that anything said by a previous acharya, in this regard, that seems to contradict Srila Prabhupada is a product of our inability to understand the presentation of that previous acharya.
This ontology is not complicated. As we’ll see below, in Srila Prabhpada’s direct responses to this question, free will is an eternal attribute of the jiva. We cannot love Krishna in the spiritual world unless free will exists there. Therefore the chance of falling down always exists.
The concept of eternality is a bit harder to grasp. But it is clearly stated by Srila Prabhupada that our relationship with Krishna always exists, not that it ceases to exist when the jiva becomes conditioned. Rather, we simply forget our relationship. In this way, we can say that in one sense we never fall, but Srila Prabhupada clearly states that we were with Krishna before becoming conditioned.
In other words, if a previous acharya says it not possible to fall from the spiritual world, we can accept this as another way of saying what Srila Prabhupada says: our relationship with Krishna in Krsnaloka never ceases, even when we are in the conditioned state.
But, if we accept Srila Prabhupada’s teachings we cannot deny that we were in the spiritual world before becoming conditioned. It follows: those who deny that conditioned souls were previously in the spiritual world do not accept Srila Prabhupada’s teachings as absolute. This is the root of the controversy.
So if we want to continue the discussion, let us not confound the issue with the “fall of the jiva” question, but instead discuss the root issue only– whether or not we accept Srila Prabhupada as the ultimate authority.
Srila Prabhupada, letter to Jagadisa 4/25 1970
Regarding your second question, have the conditioned souls ever seen Krsna? Were they with the Lord before being conditioned by the desire to lord it over material nature? Yes, the conditioned souls are parts and parcels of the Lord and thus they were with Krsna before being conditioned.
Letter to Madhavisa Siksamrta V.2 page 1172
We cannot say therefore that we are not with Krishna. As soon as we try to become Lord, immediately we are covered by maya [illusion]. Formerly we were with Krishna in his lila or sport. But this covering of maya may be very, very, very, very long duration, therefore many creations are coming and going. Due to this long period of time it is sometimes said that we are ever-conditioned.
Srila Prabhupada, letter to Jagadisa 8/9/1970
Regarding your several questions: Where are the spirit souls coming from that are taking microbe bodies? It is not a matter of any particular body. These spirit souls and all spirit souls are coming from Vaikuntha, but in these material worlds they are taking various grades of bodies according to their material activities.
Evening Darsana, July 8, 1976, Washington, D.C.
Prabhupada: So even in the Vaikuntha, if I desire that “Why shall I serve Krsna? Why not become Krsna?” I immediately fall down.
Srila Prabhupada to Upendra 10/27/1969
Constitutionally every living entity, even if he is in the Vaikuntha Loka, has chance of falling down. Therefore the living entity is called marginal energy. But when the fall down has taken place for the conditioned soul is very difficult to ascertain.
4/25 1970 to Jagadisa
Regarding your questions about how and from where did the conditioned souls fall, your first question if someone has a relationship with Lord Krsna on Krsnaloka, does he ever fall down? The souls are endowed with minute independence as part of their nature and this minute independence may be utilized rightly or wrongly at any time, so there is always the chance of falling down by misuse of one’s independence.
Room Conversation Feburary 19, 1976 Mayapur
Acyutananda: “…….. But in the Gita, it says, “Once coming there, he never returns.””
Prabhupada: But if he likes, he can return.
Acyutananda: He can return.
Prabhupada: That independence has to be accepted, little independence. We can misuse that.… That misuse is the cause of our falldown.
July 8, 1976, Washington, D.C.
Vipina: Why doesn’t He save me from thinking like that?
Prabhupada: That means you lose your independence.
Vipina: And no love.
Prabhupada: That is force. (indistinct) prema. In Bengali it is said “If you catch one girl or boy, ‘You love me, you love me, you love me.’ ” Is it love? (laughter) “You love me, otherwise I will kill you.” (laughter) Is that love? So Krsna does not want to become a lover like that, on the point of revolver, “You love me, otherwise I shall kill you.” That is not love, that is threatening. Love is reciprocal, voluntary, good exchange of feeling, then there is love, not by force. That is rape. The… Why one is called lover, another is called rape?
(Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.28.54, purport)
The original home of the living entity and the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the spiritual world. In the spiritual world both the Lord and the living entities live together very peacefully. Since the living entity remains engaged in the service of the Lord, they both share a blissful life in the spiritual world. However, when the living entity, misusing his tiny independence, wants to enjoy himself, he falls down into the material world.”
Sita Rama dasa
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