The Relation between jiva and God
Ātmā is immutable and immortal; it was neither born in the past nor in the present times. Birth and death are the characteristics of the physical body, and out of the body, a fresh one emerges. Though associated with the mortal body, ātmā is distinct from the body as fire from the fuel it burns. Just as the sky in a pot merges in the unlimited ether with the breakage of the pot, the embodied self in a similar way, merges in the infinite Brahman after the destruction of the phenomenal body. The mind (manas), which determines and guides the quality and activity of the body is the product of māyā and owing to ignorance produced by the latter, the embodied self associates itself with the activities of the body. A lamp is supposed to give light so long as there is contact of the wick with oil and fire. Similarly, the noumenal self goes by the name jiva and suffers pain and miseries of the world so long as it is associated with the body, mind and the senses.
But know it for certain that the worldly existence really concerns the phenomenal body and mind and not the self. Though the fire of a lamp apparently vanishes with the cessation of its contact with wick and oil, yet it cannot be said that the fire so long visible has altogether perished. Fire in the shape of mahājyoti can never perish, though it may not be apparently visible. Do not in any way doubt the great message: though I am associated with the body yet I am not identical with it, I am verily paramātmā. I am Brahman and Brahman is I am.
[Sankaradeva, Bhagavata, XI]
The Relation between God and the jiva
He is God, the blissful One, who controls Māyā and that one is jiva who is dominated by Māyā and who exists in misery. God is all happiness, all-joy and all-consciousness. His Māyā shrouds the happiness and joy that are inherent in the real nature of the jiva. God is ever-free (nitya-mukta), while the jiva is chained to the worldly existence.
But the jiva can liberate himself through devotion and service to ever-auspicious God. God is all-purity. He is omniscient and unchangeable. He is the Lord of the three gunas, and without beginning and end, while the jiva is ignorant, apparently liable to change because of its association with the body and also unfortunate being under the influence of the gunas.
[Sankaradeva, Bhakti Ratnākara]
So long as the body, mind, karma and individual self are together, we call it jiva. God is the controller of the jiva. He of perfect vision sees everything in true light. He is ever-free from avidya (ignorance) but the jiva being deprived of the true knowledge by avidya remains in bondage.
“A part of the Highest Self, the individual self hath become endowed with a body; it is eternal; having decay, it is imperishable. It is subject to pleasures and pains and is restrained with the snare of illusion and tied up with karma and suffereth miseries in the world. It is unchangeable, all-pervasive and full of calm and nothing apart from the Highest Self. Being enveloped with misapprehension and ignorance, the jiva doth not know himself as such.”
Though the jiva is eternal (nitya) and indestructible (avināsi), yet it apparently undergoes modification and misery in consequence of its worldly activities:
sarirara sange jiva bhunje bisayaka
ātmā buli māne māyāmaya sariraka
dhare mahāmohe āti hove jnānasunya
sakāme aneka karma kare pāpa-punya
sehi karmaphala bhunji bhrame samsārata
nāhi anta jivara yātana-dukha yata
[Sankaradeva, Nimi Nava-Siddha Samvada, vv.110-11]
The jiva enjoys the worldly pleasures by the senses and identifies the soul with the unreal body. It becomes very much infatuated and devoid of jnana (knowledge). Full of desires, it performs (both) sinful and virtuous deeds. As a result, it suffers and moves in this world. There is no end of its sufferings.
The individual soul (purusa) becomes connected with ignorance and cannot therefore by itself attain knowledge of the soul. So it becomes necessary to find out a possessor of this knowledge, who could bestow it on others. This is the Supreme Lord or Super-person, known as Paramesvara, Parama Purusa or Purusottama.
Disappearance of distinction
Sankaradeva believes in the disappearance of distinction between the soul and the Brahman even in one's own lifetime and not only after death:
ahamkāra gucile brahmaka jive dekhe
māyā edi āpuni buddhira gucāi bhrama
nirmala hridaye jiva dekhe parabrahma
yi kālate jnāna-astra chede ahankāra
chinde karmabandha jive teve āponāra
hridayate parama ānanda hove jāta
paripurna ātmā hovai manata sāksāta
dehako nedekhe jive huyā brahmamaya.
[Sankaradeva, Bhāgavata, 12 th Book, vv. 177-79]
The jiva perceives the Brahman when egoism (ahamkāra) is removed. When the māyā and the error of intellect disappear, he perceives Param Brahma in his clear mind. When he tears off the egoism with the sword of wisdom, he breaks the bondage of karma off. The highest happiness arises in his heart and he perceives the Perfect Self (Brahman) in the mind. Turning himself into the Brahman, he does not see (even) his body.
sravana-kirttana, kare yito āka,
kariyā dridha bisvāsa
ehi janamate, guci manamoha,
hovaya Brahma apuni
He who hears and sings this with a firm belief, being relieved of his mental illusion, becomes himself the Brahman even in this birth.