JĪVA or living being is not merely physical or material body (deha) . It is not even biological or vital breath (prāṇā). Nor is it just a cluster of sense-impressions (manas), nor intellect (buddhī), nor ego (ahaṅkāra). The essence of jīva is something beyond all these. It is the Transcendent Self or ātman, which is the knower (sākṣī), the seer (drishṭā) and pure consciousness (chit).

         The composite whole of chit and achit, drishṭā and drishya, kartā and karaṇa is the total personality called jīva, the embodied self.

         The constituents of jīva, according to Vedānt, are (i) Ātman or Self, (ii) Avidyā or ignorance enveloping the self, (iii) Chidābhāsa or reflection of the Self in the Ego, (iv) karama śarīra, the causal body, (v) liṅga śarīra constituting prāṇa (vital airs), man, ahaṅkāra and buddhī, and (vi) gross physical body.

         In gurbāṇī, jīva (also jīa) essentially stands for living being, an organism. Jete jīa jīvahi lai sāhā, all living beings live by breath (GG, 144), exemplifies this connotation. The same is also reflected in this line from Akāl Ustati, jīva jite jal meṅ thal meṅ, as many living beings as abide in water or on land.

         The term jīva also stands for ātmā or jīvātmā since that is presumed to be the source of life in any living being. Such lines as īshvar jīva ek im jānai : thus reckon Īshvar (God) and jīva as one (Srī Gur Pratāp Sūraj Granth) or jiu eku aru sagal sarīrā: consider it the same one ātmā in all different bodies (GG, 330).

         The term has also been employed to connote man or chit, i.e. mind or consciousness, as in jīa saṅgi prabhu apunā dhartā : He fixes his mind on his Lord (GG, 384).

         In brief, jīva in gurbāṇī stands for a living being or for any of the features -- life, consciousness, mind or soul (jīvātmā) that are deemed to characterize a living being in general, more specifically man.


  1. Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970
  2. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

Jaswant Siṅgh Nekī