How is a jīva formed? When a man and a woman unite, sperms are pushed by prāṇa to interact with an egg. Out of several millions sperms produced, only one is able to unite with the egg and the resultant cell is known as zygote, which consists of DNAs of both the parents in equal proportion. This develops into embryo for the first few weeks and later on it is called foetus. This is the scientific explanation for the origin of a jīva.
Advaita explains more about the jīva. It talks about three bodies, known as śarīra traya and five sheaths known as kośa pajñcaka. Śarīra traya is gross, subtle and causal bodies and kośa pajñcaka is five sheaths encompassing the Self (kūṭastha) viz. annamaya kośa, prāṇamaya kośa, manomaya kośa, vijñānamaya kośa and ānandamaya kośa. These five sheaths and three bodies are interrelated, which can be observed from this image. They form as layers around the Self within. The three bodies are known as sthūla śarīra (gross), sūkṣma śarīra (subtle) and kāraṇa śarīra (causal).
These five kośa-s and three bodies constitute individual body, known as jīva with Self within, as explained in the above image. The Self is the subtlest of all; these five sheaths (kośa-s) are arranged in such a manner that subtlest is closer to the Self and the gross one is far away from the Self. Brahman can be attained only if these three bodies and five sheaths are transcended.
The above three bodies are connected to three stages of individual consciousness – active, dream and deep sleep states, and undergoes different experiences (avasthā-s). Jīva during active state (jāgrat), supported by gross body is known as viśva; during dream state (svapna), supported by subtle body is known as taijasa and during deep sleep state (suṣupti), supported by causal body is known as prājjña. Beyond these normal states of consciousness, there is fourth state, which is known as turīya, where one realizes Brahman. Only in the state of turīya, realization happens (jīvanmukti). The final state of avasthā is death (videhamukti) and these five avasthā-s together are called avastā-pañcaka. Jīvanmukti and videhamukti are only for realized souls.
Though the Self within remains the same, it is called by different names, based on avasthā-s and bodies. This is with regard to jīva, which is an individual. Names of avasthā-s when all jīva-s are taken together are different. They are known as vaiśvānara or virāṭ, hiraṇyagarbha and Īśvara. Virāṭ is the end product of the macrocosm within a fully developed universe that is realized from experiment and observation rather than theory. Pañcikaraṇam, a small treatise on advaita philosophy by Śaṃkarācārya says. “The virāṭ is said to be the aggregate of all the quintuplicate elements and their effects” (verse 1). Those subtle elements produced the gross ones, from which again the virāṭ (the macrocosm) or the objective totality comes into existence.” Again verse 11 says, “The gross elements are compounded. These produce, the sum total of all the gross bodies. This is the gross body of the disembodied Ātman.” This is also known as vaiśvānara. This is where manifestation of forms takes place and the gross form of the world is realized and is seen with biological eyes. But this is not everything. It is only a miniscule of the Brahman. Gross forms become perceivable when vaiśvānara or virāṭ gets associated with māyā.
Vedānta Paribhāsā a 17th century scripture explains hiraṇyagarbha. It says “Hiraṇyagarbha is the first soul to be born and is different from Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva.” The subtle body consisting of the five vital forces, the mind, the intellect and the ten organs is produced from the five basic elements. This paves the way for the soul to experience the result of actions or in other words, it causes karma-s. The subtle body is of two kinds, superior and inferior. The superior one is the subtle body of hiraṇyagarbha and the inferior is the subtle body of living beings. The subtle body of hiraṇyagarbha is called as mahat (sāṅkhya philosophy) or the cosmic intellect and the subtle body of living beings is called ego.
Īśvara which corresponds to causal body of a jīva is the cause for all the beings and this has been discussed in detail in the previous articles of this series. It is the Self of all beings. The entire manifested world is no way different from Īśvara (omnipresent nature).
When these five kośa-s are purified, it leads to Liberation. Mahānārāyaṇa Upaṇiṣad (66) says this.
अन्नमय प्राणमय मनोमय विज्ञानमय आनन्दमय आत्मा मे शुध्यन्तां ज्योतिरहं विराजा विपाप्मा भूयास स्वाहा॥
annamaya prāṇamaya manomaya vijñānamaya ānandamaya ātmā me śudhyantāṁ jyotirahaṁ virājā vipāpmā bhūyāsa svāhā ||
“By this oblation let my fivefold self, comprised of five sheaths become purified. I pray that I become the Supreme Light bereft of all obstructing sins and their cause, the passions in me. For this, may this oblation be offered into the consecrated fire.”