Śāstra and ācāryas have given an elaborate explanations of various types of “eternality.” To break it down in a simple way:
- something which has no beginning and no ending is eternal in the fullest sense.
- something that has a beginning but no end is also eternal in a sense (its ending point is undefinable by time)
- something that has no beginning but has an end is also eternal (its starting point is undefinable by time)
When śāstra wants to refer to #2 or #3 it uses these words “an-ādi” (without beginning, #2), and “an-anta” (without an end).
See Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s own teaching on this issue in cc madhya 20, especially…
jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya — kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’
kṛṣṇera ‘taṭasthā-śakti’ ‘bhedābheda-prakāśa’ (108)
“The constitutional nature of the jīva is to be an eternal servant of Krishna, because it is a one-yet-different manifestation of Krishna’s own energy (‘taṭasthā-śakti’).”
The question arises, if the jīva is Krishna’s eternal servant, why is it not currently engaged in service to Krishna, but instead is engaged in serving itself through Māyā? Mahaprabhu addresses this question in his next instruction to Śrī Sanātana Goswāmī:
kṛṣṇa bhuli’ sei jīva anādi-bahirmukha
ataeva māyā tāre deya saḿsāra-duḥkha (117)
“Disregarding Krishna, the Jīva beginninglessly turns away from him. Therefore Māyā gives him to the miseries of saṁsāra.”
The question then arises, can the jīva ever fulfill its original, constitutional purpose and become engaged in Krishna’s service? Mahaprabhu addresses this in his next instruction:
sādhu-śāstra-kṛpāya yadi kṛṣṇonmukha haya
sei jīva nistare, māyā tāhāre chāḍaya (120)
“If through the mercy of sādhu and śāstra he turns towards Krishna, that jīva becomes liberated, Māyā lets go of him.”
So, the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya siddhanta concludes that the jīva is eternally bound by māyā, but “eternal” in the sense of being from the very beginning of existence (“anādi”, without a markable beginning), not in the sense of being endless. Therefore the jīva can turn towards Krishna and become free from saṁsāra-duḥka.
Q: I thought they are called nitya-baddha figuratively. That is, the nitya-bhaddhas are ever-conditioned because they do not know when they came in touch with this material world.
Yes, no one knows when it happened, because it is anādi – it does not have a traceable beginning. It begins with the beginning itself.
Q: On the other hand, the nitya-siddhas never come in contact with this material world, and even when they descent under the order of the Supreme Lord, they do not tangle in the material world, and remain always transcendental.
This is perfectly correct, in my opinion — and vividly demonstrates the principle that no associate of Krishna can fall into the grip of māyā.
Q: Are all of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s associates nitya-siddhas?
No. Nor are all of Śrī Krishna’s associates nitya-siddha. The descent of the līlā to this world is for the purpose of inducing souls from this world to the higher plane. So when it descends, the nitya-siddhas are joined by sādhana-siddhas and a few kripa-siddhas. Even non-siddhas also participate by observing (directly, or by hearing the recordings – Śrīmad Bhāgavatam) or participating incidentally, and thus being induced to join ASAP.
Q: Is there any clear sastric statement that every being in the spiritual realm is a nitya-siddha?
Certainly there are many. Śrīla Jīva Goswami’s analysis of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhāgavata Sandarbha, Anuccheda 51 is devoted to this exact statement. He says “tato’skhalanam” (no one falls from there), and quotes dozens of verses from Bhāgavatam and Śruti to support the statement.