Generally there is a great misunderstanding about the characteristics of the individual soul and Supersoul, or jiva-atma and param-atma.

Some transcendentalists claim that the soul and Supersoul are absolutely one and the same whereas others claim them to be different.

The truth, however, is that the individual soul and Supersoul are two different entities which are similar in their spiritual natures but distinct in their quantitative function.

Jiva-atma, or the individual soul, refers to the living entity which is embodied in a physical form, produced by material nature.

Param-atma refers to the Supreme Lord who expands Himself as the Supersoul and who enters into the hearts of all living entities as well as all the atoms. Thus param-atma is the localized aspect of the supreme, situated in everyone's heart as the transcendental witness.

This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-Gita [15.15] where Lord Krishna says "I am seated in everyone's heart as the all pervading Supersoul and from Me comes remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness."

The entrance of the Supreme Lord into everyone's heart as param-atma sometimes bewilders the impersonalists, who think in terms of the equality of the living entities with the Supreme. They think that because the Supreme Lord enters into different bodies along with the individual soul, there is no distinction between the Lord and the individual entities. According to them, both the Supersoul and the individual soul are on the same level; they are one, without any difference between them.

However, according to the Vedanta-philosophy there is a difference between the Supersoul and the individual soul, and this is explained in Bhagavad-Gita, where the Lord says that although He is situated with the living entity in the same body, He is superior due to His transcendental situation. He is directing the living entity by giving knowledge and intelligence from within.

Mayavadi philosophers, or impersonalists, mistake the living entity for the param-atma, who in actuality is sitting side by side with the living entity. The Supersoul acts as the neutral observer, witness, adviser, guide and friend of the individual soul. Because the param-atma, the localised aspect of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the individual living entity are both within the body, a misunderstanding sometimes takes place that there is no difference between the two. But there is a definite difference between the individual soul and the Supersoul, and this is also explained in the Mundaka-Upanisad by the following example.

The individual soul and Supersoul are compared to two birds which reside in the same tree. One of them (jiva-atma) is eating the fruits of the tree, while the other (param-atma) is just witnessing the activities of his friend. The witness is the Lord, and the fruit-eater is the living entity. The fruit-eater (living entity) which is overcome by the reaction of his enjoyment, has forgotten his real identity and is overwhelmed in the fruitive activities of the material conditions, but the Lord (param-atma), who is always transcendentally situated, is not affected by the material atmosphere. That is the difference between the Supersoul and the conditioned soul. One should not think that the Supreme Lord becomes conditioned when He incarnates on earth or expands Himself as the Supersoul.

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