Our True Identity

Our true Identity - Introduction

Our true Identity - Śrīla Prabhupāda presents in his teachings identity based on revealed scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gītā, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and the Caitanya Caritāmṛta. He firmly proposes to every conscious being to accept spiritual liberation - devotional service to the Lord - and to reject misconceptions of life such as materialism and impersonalism, which keep the living entity in material bondage. Śrīla Prabhupāda stresses that knowledge and understanding of the spirit soul and its relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead Kṛṣṇa and its practical devotional application are essential to properly apply one’s innate tendency to love.

Our True Identity

Our true Identity - Summary Article

Our true identity - Śrīla Prabhupāda presents a Vaiṣṇava ācārya's perspective on the topic refuting false identity. This article, sourced exclusively from the published archive of Śrīla Prabhupāda's books, lectures, conversations and letters, provides a summary of what Śrīla Prabhupāda had to say in regard to spiritual identity and its perverted material reflections. In addition, it includes a view into how Śrīla Prabhupāda interacted with followers of various forms of impersonalism, and followers of science based on blunt materialism.

Forgetful of our true identity

Covering of our true identity

Śrīla Prabhupāda explains why the true identity of a living entity happens to be covered. He says:

The living being, by his desiring to lord it over the material world and declining to cooperate with the Supreme Lord, contacts the sum total of the material world, namely the mahat-tattva, and from the mahat-tattva his false identity with the material world, intelligence, mind and senses is developed. This covers his pure spiritual identity.[1]

This brings up the question on how the living entity can become forgetful of his real identity as pure spirit soul and identify with matter. Śrīla Prabhupāda elaborates on this in the next section.

Prone to the influence of ignorance

Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that the living entity - one of the Lord's potencies - has the tendency to be overpowered by another of the Lord's potencies - the material energy. He says:

The consciousness of the living being is always present and never changes under any circumstances, as above mentioned. When a living man moves from one place to another, he is conscious that he has changed his position. He is always present in the past, present and future, like electricity. One can remember incidents from his past and can conjecture about his future also on the basis of past experience. He never forgets his personal identity, even though he is placed in awkward circumstances. How then can the living entity become forgetful of his real identity as pure spirit soul and identify with matter unless influenced by something beyond himself? The conclusion is that the living entity is influenced by the avidyā potency, as confirmed in both the Viṣṇu Purāṇa and the beginning of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The living entity is mentioned in Bhagavad-gītā (BG 7.5) as parā prakṛti, and in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa he is mentioned as the parā śakti. He is part and parcel of the Supreme Lord as potency and not as the potent. The potent can exhibit many potencies, but the potency cannot equal the potent at any stage. One potency may be overcome by another potency, but to the potent, all potencies are under control. The jīva potency, or the kṣetrajña-śakti of the Lord, has the tendency to be overpowered by the external potency, avidyā-karma-saṁjñā, and in this way he is placed in the awkward circumstances of material existence. The living entity cannot be forgetful of his real identity unless influenced by the avidyā potency. Because the living entity is prone to the influence of the avidyā potency, he can never equal the supreme potent.[2]

Having discussed why and how a living entity can become forgetful of its true identity and be covered by the material energy, in the next section of this presentation Śrīla Prabhupāda elaborates who and/or what the living entity is.

Intrinsic identity of the living being

Rejecting materialism, voidism, and impersonalism, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the spiritual nature of the living entity, and how it is related to the Supreme Lord, based on the teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and the Caitanya Caritāmṛta.

Eternal fragmental part

Śrīla Prabhupāda often cites in this regard Bhagavad-gītā 15.7 where Lord Kṛṣṇa expains to Arjuna:

mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke
jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ
prakṛti-sthāni karṣati

The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.[3]

Śrīla Prabhupāda comments about this verse in his commentary as follows:

In this verse the identity of the living being is clearly given. The living entity is the fragmental part and parcel of the Supreme Lord—eternally. It is not that he assumes individuality in his conditional life and in his liberated state becomes one with the Supreme Lord. He is eternally fragmented. It is clearly said, sanātanaḥ. According to the Vedic version, the Supreme Lord manifests and expands Himself in innumerable expansions, of which the primary expansions are called viṣṇu-tattva and the secondary expansions are called the living entities. In other words, the viṣṇu-tattva is the personal expansion, and the living entities are the separated expansions. By His personal expansion, He is manifested in various forms like Lord Rāma, Nṛsiṁhadeva, Viṣṇumūrti and all the predominating Deities in the Vaikuṇṭha planets. The separated expansions, the living entities, are eternally servitors. The personal expansions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the individual identities of the Godhead, are always present. Similarly, the separated expansions of living entities have their identities. As fragmental parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, the living entities also have fragmental portions of His qualities, of which independence is one. Every living entity, as an individual soul, has his personal individuality and a minute form of independence. By misuse of that independence one becomes a conditioned soul, and by proper use of independence he is always liberated. In either case, he is qualitatively eternal, as the Supreme Lord is. In his liberated state he is freed from this material condition, and he is under the engagement of transcendental service unto the Lord; in his conditioned life he is dominated by the material modes of nature, and he forgets the transcendental loving service of the Lord. As a result, he has to struggle very hard to maintain his existence in the material world.[4]

Based on the authority of the Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the eternal nature of the living entity which is characterized by personal spiritual individuality and minute independence that either facilitates loving service to the Supreme Lord or when independence is misused leads to material bondage or conditioning. In the next section, Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks further about the living entity's natural aptitude to serve and please the Lord.


Śrīla Prabhupāda explains in Mukunda-mālā-stotra verse three that neither the spirit soul nor his spiritual qualities can be killed:

In his original identity the living entity is indestructible, and so also are his original spiritual qualities. One can kill neither the spirit soul nor his spiritual qualities. To remember the Lord and desire to serve Him are the spiritual qualities of the spirit soul. One can curb down these spiritual qualities by artificial means, but they will be reflected in a perverted way on the mirror of material existence. The spiritual quality of serving the Lord out of transcendental affinity will be pervertedly reflected as love for wine, women, and wealth in different forms. The so-called love of material things — even love for one's country, community, religion, or family, which is accepted as a superior qualification for civilized human beings — is simply a perverted reflection of the love of Godhead dormant in every soul. The position of King Kulaśekhara is therefore the position of a liberated soul, because he does not want to allow his genuine love of God to become degraded into so-called love for material things.[5]

Śrīla Prabhupāda says: To remember the Lord and desire to serve Him are the spiritual qualities of the spirit soul. And to further establish the fact, he refers in the next section to the Caitanya Caritāmṛta.

Eternal servant of Krishna

Śrīla Prabhupāda often cites in this connection the Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā, Chapter 20, Verse 108 where Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu instructs Sanātana Gosvāmī in the science of the Absolute Truth:

jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya-kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’
kṛṣṇera ‘taṭasthā-śakti’ ‘bhedābheda-prakāśa’

It is the living entity’s constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa because he is the marginal energy of Kṛṣṇa and a manifestation simultaneously one with and different from the Lord.[6]

Śrīla Prabhupāda establishes that it is the living entity's natural position to serve the Lord. And in the next section he further elaborates on the fact that service for Lord Kṛṣṇa is based on love and that the living entity, by its choice, can either properly or improperly place its innate love.

Love for Kṛṣṇa

Śrīla Prabhupāda explains in a Bhagavad-gītā lecture given in Hyderabad:

Everyone has prema, love. This propensity to love others. That is... There is, everywhere. But that prema, that love, is originally for Kṛṣṇa. Nitya-siddha kṛṣṇa-bhakti. That is the original prema. But because we are illusioned, that prema is being applied or used for so many māyā. Prema I have got. I have got my love. That is a fact. But I do not know where to repose that love. That is my misfortune. Therefore Kṛṣṇa says that sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja (BG 18.66). "You have got prema. You apply it to Me. Then you'll be benefited." Prema is already there. You are simply misusing it. Therefore you are not happy. This is the process. Prema, you have got. But you are misusing it. But if you take Kṛṣṇa's word, that "Give your prema unto Me..." Man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru (BG 18.65). This is the beginning of prema. "Always think of Me." I think of my son. I think of my child. I think of my wife. Because there is prema. So if you think of Kṛṣṇa, then you will increase your prema for Kṛṣṇa. This is the process. Prema is not you have to get it outside. It is already there. Just like a young boy, young girl. As soon as they meet, there is natural attraction. That is already there. It is not that he has brought this attraction from, purchased from some shopkeeper. No. It is already there. Simply by combination, it becomes aroused. That's all. Similarly, kṛṣṇa-prema is there. Nitya-siddha kṛṣṇa-prema sādhya kabhu naya (CC Madya 22.107). It is not that by artificial means we are getting kṛṣṇa-prema. It is already there. But just like the attraction for young man and young woman, it comes at a certain stage, similarly, if you develop this śravaṇa-kīrtana, then that kṛṣṇa-prema will be aroused, automatically. It is already there.[7]

In the above lecture Śrīla Prabhupāda quotes from the Caitanya Caritāmṛta Madya 22.107. Here is the quote:

nitya-siddha kṛṣṇa-prema ‘sādhya’ kabhu naya
śravaṇādi-śuddha-citte karaye udaya

Pure love for Kṛṣṇa is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, this love naturally awakens.[8]

Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that love for Lord Kṛṣṇa naturally awakens when the living entity engages in the service of hearing and changing about the Lord. And in the next section Śrīla Prabhupāda elaborates on the prerequisites for the successful awakening of such love of Godhead.

Establishing real identity and refuting false identity

It all boils down to understand the real goal of life - service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead - thus accepting one's real identity and rejecting false identity assumed from the philosophical concepts of materialism and impersonalism. Śrīla Prabhupāda establishes in this section real identity based on the authority of the Bhagavad-gītā, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and the Caitanya Caritāmṛta.

Giving up the bodily conception of life

Śrīla Prabhupāda explains:

In the conditioned state of life, one does not understand that the goal of life is the Supreme Lord. Na te viduḥ svārtha-gatiṁ hi viṣṇuṁ durāśayā ye bahir-artha-māninaḥ (SB 7.5.31). The living entity tries to be happy within this material world, not understanding the target of his life. When he is purified, however, he gives up his bodily conception of life and his false identity as belonging to a certain community, a certain nation, a certain society, a certain family and so on (sarvopādhi-vinirmuktaṁ tat-paratvena nirmalam (CC Madhya 19.170)).[9]

Rejecting the Māyāvāda theory

Śrīla Prabhupāda further explains in Teachings of Lord Kapila chapter nine (Purifying the Mind for Self-realization) verse seventeen:

Self-realization means seeing one's proper identity as the infinitesimal jīva. At the present moment, we are seeing the body, but this is not our proper identity. We have no vision of the real person occupying the body. The first lesson we receive from Bhagavad-gītā (2.13) informs us that the body and the owner of the body are different. When we can understand that we are not the body, that is the beginning of self-realization, and that is called the brahma-bhūta (SB 4.30.20) stage. Ahaṁ brahmāsmi. I am not this material body, but spirit soul. And what are the characteristics of the jīva, the soul? First of all, he is aṇimānam, very minute, infinitesimal. We are also jyoti, effulgent, like God, but God is brahma-jyoti, all-pervading and infinite. According to the Māyāvāda theory, we are the same as that brahma-jyotir. Māyāvādīs give the example of a pot and the sky. Outside the pot there is sky, and within the pot there is sky. The separation is only due to the wall of the pot. When the pot is broken, the inside and outside become one. However, this example does not properly apply to the soul, as it is described in Bhagavad-gītā (2.24):

acchedyo 'yam adāhyo 'yam
akledyo 'śoṣya eva ca
nityaḥ sarva-gataḥ sthāṇur
acalo 'yaṁ sanātanaḥ

This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same." The Soul cannot be cut in pieces or segmented. This means that the soul is eternally, perpetually minute. We are the eternal parts and parcels of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. As Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself states in Bhagavad-gītā (15.7).[10]


In this section Śrīla Prabhupāda reaffirms that the living entity is a part and parcel of Lord Kṛṣṇa and that his constitutional position is to serve the Lord. Liberation is defined as perpetual devotional service unto the Lord and ultimately controlled by the Lord.

Liberation defined

Śrīla Prabhupāda thus explains in the Bhagavad-gītā 18.55:

In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, real devotional liberation is defined as the reinstatement of the living entity in his own identity, his own constitutional position. The constitutional position is already explained: every living entity is a part-and-parcel fragmental portion of the Supreme Lord. Therefore his constitutional position is to serve. After liberation, this service is never stopped. Actual liberation is getting free from misconceptions of life.[11]

Kṛṣṇa can revive one's original identity

Śrīla Prabhupāda further explains in Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.1.41:

Because the mind is ultimately controlled by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, the word apasmṛtiḥ is significant. Forgetfulness of one's own identity is called apasmṛtiḥ. This apasmṛtiḥ can be controlled by the Supreme Lord, for the Lord says, mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca: (BG 15.15) "From Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness." Instead of allowing one to forget one's real position, Kṛṣṇa can revive one's original identity at the time of one's death, even though the mind may be flickering. Although the mind may work imperfectly at the time of death, Kṛṣṇa gives a devotee shelter at His lotus feet. Therefore when a devotee gives up his body, the mind does not take him to another material body (tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti mām eti (BG 4.9); rather, Kṛṣṇa takes the devotee to that place where He is engaged in His pastimes (mām eti), as we have already discussed in previous verses.[12]

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