JIVA or living being is not merely physical or material body (deha). It is not even biological or vital breath (prana). Nor is it just a cluster of sense-impressions (manas), nor intellect (buddhi), nor ego (ahankara). The essence of jiva is something beyond all these. It is the Transcendent Self or Atman, which is the knower (saksi), the seer (drishta) and pure consciousness (chit).
The composite whole of chit and achit, drishta and drishya, karta and karana is the total personality called jiva, the embodied self.
The constituents of jiva, according to Vedant, are (i) Atman or Self, (ii) Avidya or ignorance enveloping the self, (iii) Chidabhasa or reflection of the Self in the Ego, (iv) karama sarira, the causal body, (v) linga sarira constituting prana (vital airs), man, ahankara and buddhi, and (vi) gross physical body.
In gurbani, jiva (also jia) essentially stands for living being, an organism. "Jete jia jivahi lai saha", all living beings live by breath (GG, 144), exemplifies this connotation. The same is also reflected in this line from Akal Ustati, jiva jite jal men thal men, as many living beings as abide in water or on land.
The term jiva also stands for atma or jivatma since that is presumed to be the source of life in any living being. Such lines as ishvar jiva ek im janai: thus reckon Ishvar (God) and jiva as one (Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth) or jiu eku aru sagal sarira: consider it the same one atma in all different bodies (GG, 330).
The term has also been employed to connote man or chit, i.e. mind or conscious-ness, as in jia sangi prabhu apuna dharta: He fixes his mind on his Lord (GG, 384).
In brief, jiva in gurbani stands for a living being or for any of the features—life, consciousness, mind or soul (jivatma) — 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
Above adapted from article By J. S. Neki